Montreal's senior monthly since 1986

Feb '10

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Redefining an understanding of pita

In a picture, on the menu of Carveli Restaurant, a grandmother bakes in her stone oven a piece of bread the length of your forearm.

It’s traditional Greek bread and it is called carveli.

Though Carveli did not have this amazing loaf on its menu, their pita bread keeps the homebaked freshness that the image calls to mind. I can honestly say Carvelli’s fresh-baked pita bread, made as soon as you enter the door, redefined my understanding of pita. When I received the pita, buttered with margarine and grilled until crispy, I polished it off and wanted more.

As we looked at the lunch menu, I imagined myself sitting in a Greek house on a cliff, looking out to the Aegean Sea through the painting behind the fake windows. The décor is quite convincing, one of the greatest features being the ancient Greek-style painting on the wall of a woman holding a bird, as if taken right off an amphora.

Carveli offers pasta, a grill menu, entrées, and even omelettes. You can order traditional Greek bean soup alone or with a meal for $3. It was creamy, with carrots and vegetables so soft they practically dissolved in my mouth. For extra enjoyment, dip your pita in your soup. I ordered the Linguine alla Primavera ($7.45) to get the flavour of Carveli’s Italian food while my friend Jodie had the chicken brochette in a pita, a grill favourite ($8.45). Some of Carveli’s Greek food options include tzatziki as an entrée (a full portion for $3.45), Carveli salad, which has chickpeas, mozzarella, and a whole egg ($7.45), butterfly shrimp ($12.95), lamb brochette with pita ($6.95 plain, $7.95 with pita), and Greek Moussakka ($8.25). And if that isn’t Greek enough for you, you can top it off with baklava for dessert ($2.65). If you feel like Italian for dinner, there is penne Arabiata ($6.95), eggplants Parmigiana ($7.45), or simple spaghetti with meat or tomato sauce (6.75), which can be served with linguine or rigatoni.

Our food was served quickly, since it was just after the lunch rush. Both the Primavera pasta and the chicken brochette sported vibrant colours, the red and green of peppers in my pasta and the grilled tomatoes of Jodie’s salad.

I smelled the peppers in the pasta and added more hot spices and cheese. I had the pasta with chicken, cooked just right. Jodie enjoyed the grilled vegetables with her brochette. She said the tzatziki was “tasty.” She had golden French fries thick with genuine potato fluff. Our waiter was nice, the food was good, the pita original, and the fries excellent, so if I am ever in the area again, I shall certainly return to this little Greek island.

Carveli: 6860 Côte St. Luc Rd. corner Rosedale. 514-489-7575

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A taste of Slovenia – without the airfare

December, 2009

Walking on Ste. Catherine St. past the Pepsi Forum, you may spot the terrace of a fine café and bakery, with its name displayed in earthy colours near the door. Pekarna’s tour-de-force is the cake display with its impressive diversity of flavours including chestnut, carrot, apple, cherry, mocha, and triple ganache. I had the strawberry cheese cake and was surprised that it had a hint of lemon zest. The cakes come in two sizes, and the bakery also makes children’s birthday cakes, wedding cakes and caters celebrations.

Other bakery foods include generously sized gingerbread men, strawberry tarts, apple pockets and chocolate chip muffins that are crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. There are European candies, a range of gelato flavours and some chocolate confectionery.

Pekarna also serves large wrap sandwiches that have a distinct Mediterranean flavour. You can order just one or, if you’re feeding a crowd, a deluxe platter. To drink, you can get coffee – try the Viennese coffee – or tea, hot or cold. A lesser-known beverage on Pekarna’s menu is Euro Soda, a combination of club soda and flavoured syrup, served to the rim.

This is an authentic Slovenian pastry shop you can enjoy without having to travel to Eastern Europe. Pekarna is located in the Pepsi Forum, 313 Ste. Catherine W., Suite 103. Info: 514-228-5222.

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Daou delights with delectable delicacies

Barbara Moser

December, 2009

When you dine at Daou, be sure to go with a group. That way you can sample a selection of the restaurant’s delicacies.

This authentic Lebanese restaurant has two locations: 2373 Marcel Laurin in Ville St. Laurent, and the one we visited, at 519 Faillon E.

We went on a Thursday evening with our friends Avrum and Marnie, their daughter, Hardial, and her boyfriend, Addison. We constituted a rather large and demanding bunch of hungry and eager diners, which meant we got to sample many items from the long and luscious-sounding list of cold and hot appetizers. Most come in two sizes, and we opted mostly for the larger ones, which more than satisfied our pangs and palettes.

We sat in the centre of the sleekly decorated, airy room and were immediately greeted by our waiter, who served us complimentary pickled turnips, green olives and pita.

We were a somewhat complicated group and full of questions, but the waiter was calm as he walked around answering all our queries. He was obviously used to diners who don’t know their fatouche from their foule. We kept changing our minds about whether we wanted large or small portions and whether we wanted to order the chef’s suggestions of grilled meats ($25.95), a vegetarian platter ($18.95), combined platter ($21.50), and appetizer platter ($25.95). Two such dishes might be perfect for a couple, but for a group of six, sharing larger portions of appetizers seemed like a better option. Here are the dishes we finally settled on, in no particular order:

The feisty fatouche salad ($11.95 for the large size) was an entertaining mix of veggies, oil, lemon, small pieces of pita and Middle Eastern herbs that tasted like zatar or oregano. This was yummy and fed us all at regular intervals. It was indeed much bigger than it looked on the plate.

Ground chick peas with pine nuts (Hommus & Snoubar in Arabic; $10.25 for the large size). This is one of my favourite dishes, and at Daou it’s fresh, lemony – and hard to stop dipping your pita in. Marnie described it as not sticky, but light with texture as well as flavour.

Red pepper & walnut dip (Muha­mara $6.75). It’s an original and another of my favourites. It’s tangy and spreadable, but I wouldn’t advise too much spreading or you won’t have room for the other dishes.

Pressed cream yogourt with garlic (Labneh $6.95). You’ve never had it so good, except maybe in the Druze village of Daliat-el-Carmel, Israel.

Fava beans with oil, lemon and garlic (Foule $7.50). This filling, vegetarian Lebanese comfort food was done to perfection with just the right amount of garlic and lemon, although some in our party found it too salty.

Cooked meat stuffed with minced meat (Kebesanieh $9.95) This pie was a favourite with the meat lovers.

Cheese rolls (Rakakat $7.95). We gobbled these up fast. They’re wrapped in a flaky filo dough and filled with soft white cheese. A favourite of Addison’s. Lebanese sausage ($5.95 for a small portion) is done up in a rich tomato sauce. Irwin’s favourite.

Spinach pie ($2.25) and Thyme pie ($1.75) are not-so-little morsels meant for individual diners. The thyme pie was a puffed-up pita loaded with thyme, which Marnie thoroughly enjoyed. I dipped my spinach pie in a few dips.

Babaganoush ($8.95 for the large size). This blend of eggplant, sesame, garlic and lemon, was a masterpiece of smooth, mouth-watering goodness.

Of the stuffed vine leaves with either meat or rice, most of us preferred the vegetarian ones, although Irwin was a fan of the meaty ones. Even our $37 bottle of Lebanese wine was divine.

For dessert, we shared Daou’s homemade Ricotta Cheese Crêpe with pistacchio and rosewater – a medley of textures and flavours. Avrum and Irwin ordered Baklava, “like my mother never made,” Irwin said.

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Delectable and charming, Galo grills up Portugal on a platter

Barbara Moser

October, 2009

As many of you know, Irwin and I love to eat… out, especially when the dining establishment reminds us of our trips abroad. So we jumped on the chance to review Restaurant Galo in Town of Mount Royal, not exactly our stomping ground but as we discovered, well worth the taxi ride.

This family-run Portuguese Grill serves up, among other delicacies, grilled sardines, which are few and far between in Montreal. Fresh ones are a staple for me when I travel abroad so it didn’t take me long to decide what I’d order once we walked through the charming white exterior with its bay window into the equally charming interior that holds no more than 12 tables covered in white tablecloths. Our server is the sister of co-owner, Tanya Santos. Tanya explained that her partner Martine Meunier holds the fort in the daytime and she and her mother and sisters work the evening shift. The restaurant quickly filled up on this Thursday evening.

Alexandra was quick to offer us the specialty of the house, which comes either as an appetizer ($7.50) or a main course with home fries or rice and salad ($12.50). They are called Rissois in Portuguese. These are half moon croquettes filled with either cod or shrimp. Both were crispy on the outside. The shrimp variety were larger and stuffed with Bechamel giving them a creamy texture. The cod croquettes were my favorite of the two, with more of a spicy bread crumb consistency. Alexandra told us that her grandmother, Analia Lopes, makes the Rissois. We highly recommend her cooking.

Our salads arrived in glass bowls, very elegant, with tomato slices atop frizzy lettuce, cukes, and a slice of red pepper, drizzled with a light dressing of white wine vinegar and oil. I liked the idea that the salad was its own course, not a side on the plate with the main course.

The mains come with home-made fries or rice and salad but you can substitute grilled veggies for the carbs for $2. I chose Sardines ($14) and Irwin chose the Mixed Meat Grill ($17 for one, $27 for two) both with Grilled Veggies, which was actually an original, a grilled tomato filled to the brim with chopped zucchini, onions, and peppers, topped with a generous slice of Portugese goat cheese. Irwin ordered a glass of what Alexandra described as full-bodied Portuguese red wine ($6.50). While we were waiting for our main courses, we enjoyed the bright, friendly atmosphere with a mix of customers, lots of bubbly conversation and the joyous and lively Portuguese dance music.

Just before our mains were served, Albert and Susan Weiner approached us and asked if it was our first time at Galos. They have been neighbourhood regulars since Galo opened two years ago, September 10, 2006 to be exact, says Albert. Susan loves the chicken and fries. Albert loves the sardines and so did I. There were four big ones, about 8 inches long and quite succulent, grilled and marinated, then basted with the special house sauce, which, we were told by Tanya, includes as one of its ingredients the hot sauce that is on every table. Don’t use this stuff like ketchup though. Take it easy.

Irwin’s plate of mixed grilled meats included two pieces of chicken. a large sausage called chorizo, and a piece of pork filet, all marinated and brushed with two sauces, and all of which Irwin pronounced “delectable.”

The grilled tomatoes were a surprise. They were huge and tasty complementing the fish and meat perfectly. We cheated and ordered an extra plate of the home fries ($2) not wanting to miss out. We both thought they were “dangerously exquisite” – Irwin’s words, but I agree fully. And full I was, even before we were talked into trying the home-made desserts: a chocolate mousse, not too rich or gooey, and homemade cream “beaten by us (the family)” layered on tea biscuits dipped in espresso, and topped with strawberry garnish. The cream was sinfully rich.

Our lattes were perfect, with a light and creamy foam. What better way to end our first experience at Galo, which obviously will not be our last. So friends, if you have a car and can pick us up here in NDG, we’re ready to introduce you to Portugal in TMR.

Galo Portuguese Grill, 1970 Graham, corner Kindersley. Reservations: 514-504-5110.

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Home at Mesquìte: our neighbourhood southern BBQ

October, 2009

Michael Minorgan (chef Michel), Lauren Reynolds and Gulam T. Rahman Photo: Barbara Moser

I am at home at Mesquìte. It’s half a block away from my home and office, but there’s more to it. I don’t have to shop for groceries, prepare meals, cook, bake, or clean up! And I can enjoy Mesquìte’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week.

When I come in, I am always greeted with a “Hi Barbara” from owners Gulam T. Rahman or Michael Minorgan.

And now for the ultimate feeling of home: They’ve named a burger after me in their new menu! It’s called Barbara’s Portobello Mushroom Burger “with roasted red peppers, creamy goat cheese, guacamole and tomatillo mango relish” – all my favourite foods on one plate. The menu, of which I got a sneak preview, coincides with Mesquìte’s 5th anniversary.

I can’t believe it’s been five years since they opened on the corner of Decarie Blvd and NDG Ave, a block from the Villa Maria Metro and in front of the 24 bus stop. There is not a week that goes by when I’m not at Mesquìte two or three times with family, friends and the Senior Times team. We ST ladies are always celebrating birthdays.

Lunch specials are all served with Chef Michel’s daily soup or tomato juice and coffee or tea. The soups are exquisitely spiced. I’ve never been able to replicate one — although I’ve tried. Sandwiches come on grilled baguette with one side. It’s always hard for me to choose between the home-made russet fries, coleslaw, onion ribbons or mixed garden salad although my favourite is the black beans, which also come as a breakfast side.

Two sandwich favourites among my friends and family are BBQ Brisket and the Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese, which on the new menu, includes bacon and avocado slices.

The nice thing about Mesquìte is that they’re flexible. as my favorite server Lauren Reynolds can tell you. If you don’t want the bacon, no problem. As a matter of fact, this was the genesis of my namesake: I ordered the meat burger with portobello mushroom and asked Chef Michel to hold the meat and add goat cheese, roasted red pepper and guacamole. Sometimes I even say: hold the bread and onions. For my omelette of spinach, mushroom, and cheese on those leisurely Saturdays and Sundays (brunch is served till 3 pm), it’s like this: egg whites only, hold the toast, add spicy hollandaise (no extra charge for this) and two sides (since I don’t have the meat).

For dinner the choices are endless, even for this pesky pescetarian.

Here are a couple of sensational sounding chioces on the new menu, which by the way, is not pricier than the old one: Appetizers: Corn Meal Flash Fried Baby Calamari with Roasted Tomato Remoulade ($8.95), BBQ Chili Lime Tiger Shrimp (4) with Pico de Gallo ($8,95). Mains: Atlantic Salmon Salad Grilled or Blackened ($17.95) – one of my favourites – and Mahi Mahi Grilled or Blackened ($17.95).

I have yet to try Chef Michel’s Ultimate Country Salad of shaved pickled beets, romaine, baby field greens, cucumber ribbons, shaved fennel, goat cheese, toasted walnuts, sweet corn and fresh tomato vinaigrette ($14.95), but I will. I love the fajitas ($13.95) with a choice of BBQ pulled pork (Irwin’s favourite salad), BBQ brisket, BBQ chicken, vegetarian (my choice) or a combo of two meats served with “pit smoked black beans, sour cream, guacamole and pico de gallo.” For carnivores, Mesquìte’s St. Louis Ribs are so popular there is a rib-eating contest at least once a year, which, I’m not keen on — especially for seniors with heart problems!

If you’re not a big dinner spender, you can choose a BBQ sandwich ($8.95) with one side of pulled pork, turkey or chicken or brisket (unpulled). I’m at Mesquìte right now on a Saturday morning about to order my favourite Florentine Benedict ($9.95) with spicy hollandaise, a side of beans and an extra of tomatoes.

Speaking of tomatoes, Michael and T. have recently decorated the place in rich red tones to go with the original rich red wood bar, tables and chairs. Unfortunately it’s a bit cold to enjoy the terrace.

Oops, I almost forgot the desserts. How could I? The bread pudding and the frozen key lime pie are to die for!

Mesquìte has a full bar, featuring daily cocktail specials, and two big-screen TVs. Happy 5th anniversary to my friends at Mesquìte! Thanks for bringing Southern BBQ to NDG and making me feel right at home.

Prices start at $6.95 for the half sandwich of the day with one side, soup, and coffee.

Reservations: 514-487-5066.

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Garden-fresh Asean fusion

June 2009

The entranceway to Asean Garden is a large, sunny, stone terrace. As you enter there are comfy booths to the left and a bar that stretches the length of the restaurant to your right. At the back, there is a colourful fish tank (the contents are not for eating) and the kitchen, open to viewing. The owner greeted us immediately and led us to a table at the centre of the restaurant.

Asean Garden offers three different menus and options. The lunch special includes soup, a spring roll and rice and starts at $7.25; the all-you-can-eat option is $22.95 Sunday through Thursday and $25.95 Friday and Saturday. This is not your buffet style. You order from the menu and choose from sushi, Thai, Chinese, dim sum and Szechuan dishes. Of course, you can also order à la carte; main dishes start at $11.

The chef has 20 years of experience, which is evident in the taste. Everything is fresh, from the sushi to ever ything in the all-you-can-eat choices. The owner told us the fish is never frozen. Chicken dishes are made from all white meat jumbo chicken breasts.

Upstairs, a large dining area for parties and catering seats up to 85.

We got the royal treatment. We sampled a variety of dishes from the all-you-can-eat option. First came rainbow and veggie maki. The presentation was beautiful with the wasabi sculpted into the shape of a leaf, soy sauce in teapot-shaped dish, and the rolls arranged in a circle with lettuce adornments. The chilled, just-prepared sushi was excellent. It was served with the good kind of chopsticks that don’t break apart and splinter in your hand.

Next came the salt and pepper squid. It was a little bit spicy, but not excessively so and arrived garnished with red and green peppers and onions. The squid was breaded and not too salty.

The last dish we tried was the Pad Thai, served with jumbo shrimp, lime, nuts and tofu. It was hearty and the sauce was thick.

Asean Garden is located at 5828 Sherbrooke W., corner Regent, in NDG. The restaurant delivers to Montreal West, NDG, Hampstead and downtown. Open daily from 11am to 2:30pm and from 5 to 11pm Thursday to Saturday; 5 to 10pm Sunday to Wednesday. Info: 514-487-8868

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Pull up to the London Bus Stop for afternoon tea

May, 2009

When you’re invited for afternoon tea at the London Bus Stop on Ste. Catherine across from Westmount Square, you might expect it to look classic and old-fashioned, but this café/teahouse is anything but conventional.

Owner Jeremy Searle, former city counsellor for Côte des Neiges NDG, describes it as “so un-cool that it’s retro cool.” Right in the middle of the room is a London telephone box. A food counter stretches across one side and fresh flowers adorn nearly every surface in well-arranged bouquets.

The transportation theme is evident. Searle drove a London bus 30 years ago and says that he is passionate about transportation. You can buy the tiny replicas of London buses and taxis that are on display behind the food counter.

There is no invasive music playing in this relaxing space. Instead there is a flat screen TV displaying beautiful, calming scenes.

Since we were invited to enjoy their afternoon tea ($10 per person), we were immediately greeted by Searle’s partner, Jeannie Oh, who took our coats and hung them up in the back saying that coats were not allowed by the tables. We were led to a round table covered in white linen, adorned with porcelain teacups.

This was the first time Barbara, my dining companion, had ever experienced afternoon tea and she was like a kid in a candy shop – or shall I say tea shop. I was also excited, because I hadn’t had afternoon tea since I was a child. We were eager to begin our adventure, especially when Searle referred to Jeannie as the “kitchen genius.”

We were offered a choice of Earl Grey or English Breakfast served in a glass teapot. Then came the lovely little crustless cucumber sandwiches with thin slices of cucumber and just the right amount of mayo and seasoning. Next came two warm scones and little plates of strawberry and lemon cake, oatmeal cookies, small pieces of brownies and four fresh strawberries. Delightful, delectable, delicious and divine all describe the desserts.

While we savoured, Searle quoted Shakespeare, told us about his children’s successes – and it turns out that I know his son. Jeremy and Jeannie also told us about the variety of people who come for afternoon tea, including birthday celebrants, grandchildren with grandparents in tow, and a pair of starstruck Dawson lovers who came day after day.

With reservations, scones are served warm with jam and cream. Or you could order them diabetic-friendly. If you are looking for something more hearty, London Bus Stop offers a full selection of somewhat British fare ranging from a very affordable $5.50 to $8.50. I arrived lunchless and before starting my cucumber sandwiches, I sampled a cabbage roll and a piece of quiche. I was offered a taste of the beef stew, but had to decline.

The generous portion of spinach and tomato quiche was a lot of quiche, rather than a lot of crust. The crust was cakey as opposed to flaky. The cabbage roll was excellent. The cabbage was crispy and created a perfect crust for the filling of ground meat topped with a delectable tomato sauce. Two cabbage rolls with veggies are $8.50. Quiche served with soup or salad is $5.50. Every addition to your meal, including coffee, soup or salad, costs a dollar.

Breakfast begins at 6 a.m. and features two slices of Première Moisson bread, two extra-large eggs, two slices of real cheddar, two slices of capicolla ham and tea or coffee for $6.20.

There is a large terrace outside which should soon start filling up as it is the only one on the block and it’s on the right side of the street, meaning it gets little exposure to the hot sun.

London Bus Stop, located at 4126 Ste. Catherine W., is an affordable and delectable addition to the downtown core. As part of the Dawson College community, we will surely frequent this fine eatery again. Reservations for afternoon tea are encouraged. Catering services are available, including afternoon tea catering. Call 514-931-5571 or visit cafelondonbus.com

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Good ol’ fashioned home cooking

March 2009

When we walked into Fireside, a friendly family oriented restaurant on the corner of Van Horne and Victoria, we were showered in hospitality. The smoky smell of meat cooking was mouthwatering. The walls were adorned with paintings of landscapes and orange lighting that would put any diner at ease. Anyone over 50 will feel like they’ve stepped back into their youth.

We were seated immediately in a comfortable booth, with high backs to give the illusion of privacy. As we were removing our outer gear, we were presented with a generous portion of tangy coleslaw, two giant pickles and four slices of rye bread to munch on while we perused our extensive menus. Both my guest and I ordered from the table d’hôte, which includes soup, dessert, and coffee or tea. We chose from chicken, filet mignon, lamb chops and burgers, among other offerings. Our waitress was friendly and catered to our every need almost immediately.

Both the beef and barley and the chicken noodle soups were and flavourful – obviously homemade. My chicken brochettes, done to perfection, were served with french fries and salad. The home-style fries, made with real potatoes, were crispy outside and soft inside. The salad was served with a house dressing that was both light and savoury. The portions were so large that we took home leftovers. My guest ordered the grilled chicken breast with mashed potatoes and salad. The meat was juicy and tender. It was well done – but not burnt – well-seasoned and flavourful.

For dessert my guest had rice pudding that was thick and fresh. I ordered a baked apple, sprinkled generously with cinnamon. Both were tasty blasts from the past. Another dessert option was prunes. For a good old-fashioned meal, Fireside is definitely a good choice.

The prices for the dinner special range from $12.50-$28.95, with appetizers starting at $3.25. Fireside is located at 4759 Van Horne, corner Victoria. Call 514-737-5576.

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Comfort food: sin, guilt, lardoons

I write this as I push through a head cold. The appetite is dulled. The diet leans towards liquids and thin flavours: soup over steak, tea instead of coffee, and, above all, comfort foods.

Each of us has a comfort level established long ago. Mine starts with a thick Swiss cheese sandwich on freshly buttered pumpernickel. This brings me back 50 years to the Snowdon Deli, where my father got our weekly Sunday brunch to take home. It took a while because his routine required a long schmooze with the Marantz brothers, who owned the deli, while I was hived off to my own table with a glass of milk and my sandwich.

What else? Oreo cookies, rice pudding, even congee, which is a Chinese rice gruel with pieces of fish or meat and bits of preserved salty vegetables. Some, but not me, revert to Spam or Marmite as comfort foods. Each of us has a couple of dishes to get us through a rough day.

The ultimate comfort food has to satisfy basic requirements. It must be filling. Celery sticks don’t qualify. It must be gratifying in the sense that we are grateful to eat it, which means we probably don’t enjoy it everyday. We save comfort for solace. This also means that it is, perhaps, a private sin. “This is really good,” we think as we eat. “I need it.” It might not be good for me, in terms of nutrition (how much ice cream do I need to feel good?) but it is good for me in the sense that it reaches a deeper level. Comfort food is, at its essence, soul food.

Comfort food is rarely a pure food, in the sense that an apple, a piece of toast or a slice of chicken is a food by itself. Comfort food involves preparation. It brings together different textures and flavours. As we eat slowly,we move through one level to another. While a slice of chicken does not rate high on the comfort food scale, a piece of last night’s roast, still with a crackling skin, warmed just a little,maybe with a bit of grease, salt and garlic to chew on, is much more comforting.

This brings up another point. Comfort food must have fat – melted cheese on toast, the buttery flavour of a good cookie, a dollop of whipped cream on hot chocolate. Fat does two major things: It spreads the flavour around and it helps us feel full. Then there is the sin quotient. If you want a little comfort you might feel a little guilty. Fat gives us that reassurance as well. “I shouldn’t but…it tastes so good.” This is important: Something that tastes good makes us feel better, which is why we seek out comfort foods in the first place.

As the Flavour Guy, my ultimate comfort food keeps changing. Currently it is a Tartiflette – a dish made with cheese, onions, potatoes, cream, and lardoons or bits of smoked bacon. You could layer it, bake it in the oven and present it in a casserole or onion soup dish, but I like it best the way it was recently served to me, ladled from a huge cauldron that was stirred constantly. Here’s a home version: Use a large fry pan, wok or deep cooking dish. For each person, take two medium-sized boiled potatoes (you want them soft but not crumbly), a small to medium-sized onion, and Reblochon cheese. It’s available in Montreal cheese shops, but if you don’t find it, use a good Emmenthal and add a little grated Parmesan.

Heat the pan over medium heat and add enough butter to give it a coating. Add the bacon bits and the sliced onions and cook them until they are soft. You can throw in some finely chopped garlic, too, if you like. Slice the potatoes moderately thin, add them to the pot and cook until they break easily. Add a thick slice of cheese and a tablespoon of table cream (about 15%). Grind a little black pepper over this. Stir slowly until the cheese is completely melted.

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Del Friscos an assuredly class act

DDO’s Del Friscos brings a chic urban feel to Italian American dining on the West Island.

On setting foot inside, refined surroundings inspire immediate confidence in the experience to come, in a sleek and airy space featuring high ceilings that let in an exceptional amount of daylight at lunchtime, bouncing off brilliant white linens gracing every table like fresh unblemished snow.

Fresh-baked round crusty buns come with a little show beforehand, olive oil and balsamic vinegar artfully dispensed on the plate and then jiggled up in the air so vigorously it’s hard not to brace oneself for a spattering. But as with everything in the establishment, it’s relaxed and self-assured. The service bears special mention as not merely unobtrusive, but professional and sophisticated.

Easily overlooked, the house salad is clearly designed to raise expectations, not as a typical afterthought – nary a trace of iceberg lettuce, cabbage, or carrot, but a tour de force of fancy greens, translucently sliced radishes, julienne cucumbers and tomatillos competing for attention. Not many salads in life stick out in your memory but this one will.

The rack of lamb, falling off the bone in a meaty teepee with a memorable side of asparagus and yellow peppers, is a recommended pick, and the exemplary wine selection ensures something to please the palate of every guest. For outings that have to go just right, it’s an unbeatable choice for putting your mind at ease.

Del Friscos is at 3237 des Sources.

Info: 514-683-4444 or delfriscos.ca

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Veggie takeout never the same twice

You may have passed Santé-Vous Bien walking through Monkland Village and never noticed it, but it’s a location worth checking out. This mother-daughter establishment, run by Gigi Cohen and her daughter Jessy, serves great vegetarian and vegan food that will satisfy those familiar with the cuisine, and surprise those still skeptical of its capability to be made delicious.

On a crisp autumn afternoon my companion and I took advantage of these last beautiful days to sit at one of the patio tables and sample two dishes: quinoa with sun-dried cranberries and toasted walnuts, and tofu with noodles and marinated vegetables in a tangy peanut butter and ginger sauce. Quinoa and other grains often get a bad rap for being boring and bland, as does tofu, but these were filled with many flavour surprises.

Cooking is Gigi’s creative outlet, and her passion. “There are no set recipes, and no dish is ever exactly the same,” she animatedly explained to us. “I used to paint when I was a little girl – I loved expressing myself creatively. Now the kitchen is my canvas.” She and Jessy offer an ever-changing variety of vegan and vegetarian meals, including pastas, soups, salads, quiches, tofu, vegetable patties, muffins, cakes, cookies and energy balls.

Everything comes in 3 container sizes for takeout, and is made daily from scratch. A specially-marked shelf offers a variety of half-price day-old dishes. Our sampling proved they are still fresh and delicious.

In addition to cooking these delights, Gigi and Jessy offer a catering service and prepare made-to-order food for specific needs, such as nutritional juices for people on a temporary liquid diet, or dishes adapted to those with diabetes or food sensitivities or post-surgical dietary restrictions.

Santé-Vous Bien is the only establishment of its kind in the area. It’s primarily takeout but there’s seating inside if you can’t help yourself and have to eat on the spot.

Santé-Vous Bien opens 10-7 weekdays and 10-6 on weekends at 5568 Monkland, between Second Cup and Ben & Jerry’s.

Info: 514-487-7575

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A mango, a cup of coffee, and a carrot

Adam Leith Gollner wants to make the case for mangoes. Gollner is the author of The Fruit Hunters, a wonderfully bizarre voyage through the realms of those obsessed with fruit. The book is a great read – how many of us will travel to the Seychelles in search of the Lady Fruit? Gollner takes us there and a dozen other places we’re unlikely to visit, all in search of a nice piece of fruit!

Gollner, a Montrealer, was back in town recently, speaking at a public meeting sponsored by the Quebec Writers’ Federation. I was the moderator and one person asked about the current movement toward eating local food. Some have described this as the 100-mile diet, but it’s not that trendy. 50 years ago most food came from local farmers. No one had much of a choice.

Now we have options. If I buy cheese from the Charlevoix, it means that my money stays here rather than going to Provence. Ditto for Quebec versus New Zealand lamb, and fruit harvested from Chateauguay Valley orchards instead of hauled in from Florida.

The Flavourguy is willing to pay a little more for food that’s local and likely fresher and tastier. Quebec garlic has a sharp sweet zest. Chinese garlic reminds me of last night’s bad breath.

But then along comes Gollner. He agrees that buying locally has its benefits but argues that it poses problems. As an example, he offers mangoes.

If I’m shopping for dessert, I’ll probably skip the mangoes and spend my grocery money on something local like Quebec apples, now available year round. But Gollner asks us to think about the political ramifications of only buying locally. He reminds us that Haiti, which is a banker’s note away from bankruptcy, has only one decent export crop left – mangoes, which he says are delicious.

And this makes me reconsider how I shop. No matter how much I buy locally, I am not going to stop having my morning tea or coffee. It will be a long time before global warming means that I can buy these from a Quebec producer. So, already I’m willing to compromise. Actually Haiti does have one other major food export. It’s coffee. So, as I seek out Haitian food products, I’m helping to hold a fractured nation together.

Gollner brings common sense to the 100-mile diet. He’s urging us not to go overboard. Other countries depend upon us too. The 100-mile diet is great at motivating us to support local food producers but, as with everything, sensibility and moderation are equally important as we push our carts through the supermarket. Buy locally when it makes sense but think globally and look for food that tastes great, wherever it’s from.

A propos local food, I was given a foot-long, two-inch-thick carrot by a farmer at the Jean Talon Market the other day. “Cook it in the oven,” he said. I set the oven to 350°F, brushed the carrot lightly with olive oil and loosely folded it in foil. I then did the same thing with a dozen small onions. After 45 minutes, they were sublime. I’m going to be doing a lot of vegetables this way from now on: broccoli, cauliflower, beets, sweet potatoes. It’s easier and tastier than boiling or steaming and needs much less oil or butter than sautéing or stir frying. Best of all, if I forget them for bit, they may get a little softer but the flavour will still be intense.

You can reach Barry Lazar at

flavourguy@theseniortimes.com.

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Food for thought

Bonnie Soutar at NDG Market

October 16, declared to be World Food Day by the United Nations, is observed worldwide as a day of raising awareness and rallying support around the issues of hunger. In Montreal, that day, one out of six people, including children, will miss a meal. “It’s been the same for the last 10 years,” says Josee Belleau, coordinator of Nourrir Montreal, a committee composed of various organizations dedicated to building food security in the city. “About 15% of the population is food insecure; some a few times during the year, some all the time.”

According to the Canadian Association of Food Banks, food bank use in Canada has escalated by 91% since 1989, the first year such statistics were collected. Though the economy has improved and unemployment rates are down, 50% of lowest income households and 30% of lower middle-income households across the country experience food insecurity. The most vulnerable groups are single people, families or seniors, relying on disability or social assistance or the “working poor” — representing 16% of the workforce — trapped in low paying/temporary jobs.

Advocates say children are over-represented at food banks. At the NDG Food Depot over 3,200 people are helped each year, with 30% being below the age of 14. Exe­cutive director Michael Kay says that over the last 10 years he’s seen the same people being poorer for longer. “In very concrete terms, this deepening and broadening of poverty is: the new-born who is not given enough nutrition in the early years of life and suffers the consequences of that lack for the rest of his/her life; the normally bright child who is hungry three out of five school days and is often listless; the loving parents who develop depression because they blame themselves for not being able to provide the necessities and make ends meet; the busy senior who has to go without essential medication in order to buy food, thereby posing unnecessary dangers to his/her health.”

Food banks were set up in the eighties as a temporary emergency measure. As it becomes more evident that for the time being food banks are here to stay, the thinking about hunger and its consequences is changing as people try to understand its root causes. Statistics are kept with the reservation that they only represent the tip of the iceberg. “The research on household insecurity indicates that only a fraction of the people who are experiencing income-related food problems uses food banks,” writes Valerie Tarasuk, professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto. In her foreword to CAFB’s Hungercount 2007 (a yearly survey of food bank use) she says: “We now have a very good understanding of the circumstances that render individuals and families vulnerable to problems of food insecurity. We also understand that food insecurity is a serious public health problem, linked to nutritional vulnerability. What we haven’t figured out though is how to get our political leaders to take this problem seriously enough to do something about it.”

The concept of food security is a direct outcome of the recognition that hunger is a human-rights issue that is not simply caused by a lack of food. Long term solutions are needed to persistent problems such as a shortage of full-time jobs that meet a family’s basic needs adequately, an income security system that allows many to fall “between the cracks” and the lack of affordable housing and child care.

These new solutions involve the community in activities such as collective and community gardening, group purchasing of food, cooking and nutrition activities, skills-exchange workshops, and other programs.

On each Saturday in September, a pilot project brought citizens and farmers together in several boroughs in a pilot pro­ject organized by Nourrir Montreal. “We made public spaces such as schoolyards and city parks available to citizens and food producers to provide access to healthy food for the harvest season,” Belleau said. In five boroughs 1890 people visited the market the first Saturday it opened, attracted by the proximity, the prices and the country fair atmosphere.

The Good Food Box, a collective buying group that started out in NDG but now is city wide and spearheaded by Harvest Montreal, did much of the purchasing of the food. It operates year-round to provide fresh vegetables grown by local farmers at low cost to everyone.

“We have clients from all income levels,” says Bonnie Soutar, Good Food Box coordinator. “The larger the number of people who participate, the more you can buy for your money.” Access to fresh foods is not to be taken for granted, Soutar says. “In some areas there are only depanneurs or supermarkets with very high prices.”

Now operating in 10 boroughs, the Good Food Box is great for the value conscious shopper, the struggling local farmer and the discriminating cook alike. It comes in three sizes and may be ordered in advance at a pick up point in participating boroughs.

“We are in the midst of rebuilding a real sense of community,” Kay writes in the Depot’s annual report, “one without exclusions, one that does not let its members go without food or health care, one that values the abilities and contributions of all — and also one that demands that its governments and businesses undertake their full responsibilities in relation to the general population. Attitudes and projects addressing these issues need to be furthered or created.”

For information on The Good Food Box call Bonnie Soutar at 514-582-6908.

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Potluck Pizza: how to astound your friends and keep it simple

The request was cottage country basic. "We're doing potluck. Bring over what you have." A simple request but we were at the cottage and the store was half an hour away. The cupboard was almost bare: a package of whole wheat flour – now why had I bought that? – lots of tomatoes, and some cheese from the farmer's market. Some salad stuff, but someone else was bringing a salad.

A-ha! Pizza. Everyone loves pizza, but few make it. Frankly, after you've baked it a couple of times, you won't want to buy it. I had to make the dough from scratch at the cottage, but the Flavour Guy isn't averse to last-minute inspiration, and will buy raw pizza dough at the supermarket or even beg it from a pizza parlour.

For cottage country pizza, I was going to prep everything and then bring it to the neighbour's for baking. The neighbour had pans and, most importantly, an oven – something lacking chez nous.

For the toppings, the simpler the better. Take fresh tomatoes, 1/3 of a pound or 150 g per person, cut them into small chunks, salt them and let them drain in a strainer or colander for an hour or so. Add fresh herbs – basil and oregano are nice – and ground black pepper. For the cheese, grate a half cup per person of soft cheese such as Mozzarella, mild cheddar, Gouda, Bel Paese, Fontina – these all work well – and mix in a little freshly grated Romano or Parmesan. Mild goat cheese (not feta) is good instead of the others but break it into small pieces and dot it over the pizza. Remember, this is potluck – work with what you have. If you don't have tomatoes try canned or fresh asparagus, thin slices of sweet pepper, cooked broccoli, sliced mushrooms, etc. But don't overload the pie or the crust will be soggy.

The flavour punch comes from the oil: heat a cup of olive oil in a small pot and add a tablespoon or more of finely chopped garlic and a teaspoon or less – depending upon your personal heat quota – of chili pepper flakes. Cook this slowly until the garlic just starts to sizzle and remove the pot from the stove. This spicy oil is fantastic brushed on any flat bread, like stale pita, and cooked on a baking sheet in the oven at a moderate heat – 375°F or 190°C – until the bread is golden.

When everything is ready, turn the oven to as high a temperature as it will take without broiling, around 500°F or 260°C. For baking, a pizza stone is nice but the Flavour Guy is adept with cast iron frying pans or a thick cookie sheet or whatever is handy. Use two oven racks, one at the oven's highest level and the other at the lowest. After the oven is at the right temperature, put the pans in for about 10 minutes and be careful. Use thick oven mitts to bring them out just before you put in the dough. The hot pans give the pizzas a great crust.

Once the pans are in the oven, go into action. Lightly flour your hands and the counter surface. Take a wad of dough about the size of a small grapefruit. Flatten it between your hands and stretch it to a 6-inch circle. Then roll the dough using a rolling pin. No pin? Try a wine bottle! If the dough sticks, shake a little flour over it. Turn the pizza 90 degrees after each pass to keep from overstretching one side. You're aiming for a shape no larger than the pan you're putting it in.

Timing is everything. Take the pan from the oven and put something under it – a wire rack, a trivet, a towel – to not burn the counter. Put the dough in the pan, and slip the pan back to the top rack in the oven. Wait a couple of minutes until the dough comes easily off the pan and the bottom starts to brown. Remove the pan, flip the dough, brush it all over with the spicy garlic oil, then cover it with a handful of tomatoes and another of cheese. Put the pan back on the top rack for about 5 minutes or until the top of the dough starts to brown. Work on the next pizza. When that's ready, take the one from the top rack and put it on the lower rack. Keep doing this until you have them all done. Serve at once with a salad, a bottle of wine and a towel to wipe the sweat from your brow. This is pizza that you've worked for, and it's worth it.

Barry Lazar is the Flavour Guy. You can reach him at flavourguy@theseniortimes.com.

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Chalet BBQ a beacon of stability in an ocean of change

Over 62 years into its hot streak, NDG's landmark Chalet BBQ on Sherbrooke has made an enduring business out of sticking to one specialty — slow-cooked charcoal-grilled chicken with a unique, smoky trade-secret sauce handed down through the ages and shrouded in mystique. The flavour, unlike any standard chicken joint fare, prompts enough fan testimonials — spanning multiple generations — to give the most jaded aficionado reason to try.

"It's still the same family that runs it," says Daniel, head of the establishment for the past 20 years. "We haven't changed a thing, that's the beauty of it. Staying with what you know best, that's the secret. When I started, the boss said, 'Danny, just make sure you serve good food, and lots of it, at good prices, and don't worry about the rest.'"

Apart from the sage advice and distinct barbeque recipe, he attributes his lasting success to a few other key ingredients: "Other places use natural gas. We use charcoal. Most of our customers like it well cooked, a bit crispy. Others like it a bit different. Our policy is we do it the way you like it. Everybody's got a favourite. My staff know by heart what our regulars like. And we never charge for extras."

Sampling the half chicken dinner, accompanied by fries and coleslaw, the singular taste raises an eyebrow at first bite. Special enough to stir talk and idle speculation on its constituent parts, it raises one burning question: how has such craft stayed confined to NDG all these years and not propagated worldwide?

"People ask us about opening another location," says Daniel with a laugh, "but you think you can find people like Carmie every day?" A celebrity waitress by any measure after 15 years at Chalet BBQ, Carmie and her contribution to the ambiance are cited by fans as often as the recipe among reasons to visit. Another top draw is queen of seniority Lucia, serving customers for over 50 years. "I have great staff," he attests. "It's not me. I've got great kitchen people and fantastic waitresses. That's why people are loyal. We get to know them."

Such accolades were borne out during a Thursday lunch visit, with zealous service and speedy refills in a relaxed, low key environment suited to quiet conversation. It's unbeatable for business lunches, as long as you keep your fingers off the paperwork once the food arrives, and even a first date, wherever a vintage oldschool vibe is called for.

Daniel guesses about three quarters of the clientele are over 40. He notes that the flipside of loyalty is a strong preference for continuity. "We moved one thing," he says of a minor redecorating effort, "and everyone's asking me, 'Why did you move that? I liked it there.' So we learned if it ain't broke don't fix it." Patrons of all ages will thus find the atmosphere comfortingly retro.

As a specialty outfit, their menu doesn't take long to read, but there's a deeper logic to doing one thing well, learned from prior restaurateur experience: "Sometimes they ask, 'Why don't you put ribs on the menu, or this or that on the menu?' When the place gets busy like this, you know how much that slows things down? Our chicken takes an hour and a quarter to cook. This way it's ready right away when you order." And the food does indeed arrive at breakneck speed, making any big discussion a better idea to leave until afterwards.

This find, already familiar to many readers of The Senior Times, is a top candidate for any Best-Of itinerary when showing out-of-towners around. Chalet BBQ is at 5456 Sherbrooke W, by the Decarie Expressway overpass, and has free parking in back.

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Search out local food and drink

Excuse my wine-ing… but did someone make a decision that liquids and solids are no longer to be consumed at the same time? Am I a better person if I detect the herbal notes from a high-priced “extra virgin” (which means low acidic) olive oil? Have I failed to achieve a level of wine-aficionado satori because I can’t tell my Gris from my Albarino? When did food start being work and stop being fun?

The Flavour Guy likes food, likes to eat, likes to chew the fat and then some. The Flavour Guy likes going into an Italian grocery store and having the clerk advise him that the $39.99 bottle of olive oil is actually pretty tasty and would work nicely with whatever salad or meat marinade is going towards dinner. Sure a $39.99 bottle of olive oil is sharp, earthy, buttery, grassy, peppery (choose your adjectives here) and tastes pretty nice on its own – just like that magnificent 1998 Pomerol makes for ambrosial sipping and self-satisfied inhaling – but few people make a dinner of a mere chunk of bread dipped in olive oil and washed down with a glass of wine.

Food tastes best when it’s enjoyed in the company of other food (and other people). Even Château Dépanneur is acceptable in the right company – hamburger for instance, or almost any strongly flavoured dish. The more garlic in the main course, the less likely the Flavour Guy appreciates a sincere Sancerre.

Here’s how to do it: eat some food, drink something refreshing, pause and then do it all over again. Repeat as often as necessary until either the plate is clean or the stomach is full. After a little practice you are likely to be able to achieve both conditions at the same time. The idea is to enjoy what we eat and not be cowed because we don’t know what Angus beef is (it’s a popular breed of cattle).

Why are we looking outside – and feeling ill at ease inside – because we can’t choose the perfect liquid to go with our solids? We live in a region blessed with great beer, superb apple cider, and frankly, lousy wine – however we ignore our natural riches and spend fortunes on imported wines and olive oils (often at the same price). The Flavour Guy favours searching out local foods and supporting indigenous agriculture: PEI mussels steamed with a St. Ambroise blond and later, maybe a slice of mignon de Charlevoix cheese with a small glass of very cold Pinnacle ice cider on the side.

Barry Lazar is the Flavour Guy: flavourguy@montrealfood.com

Mussels for two

  • A tablespoon of butter
  • A cup of finely sliced Quebec seasonal vegetables (all or some of onion, tomato, leek, garlic, celery, red peppers, carrots)
  • Lots more chopped garlic (make sure it’s from Quebec, it’s worth it).
  • A half bottle of beer (I’m afraid you’ll have to drink the rest).
  • A ¼ teaspoon of salt
  • A kilo bag of mussels (if the mussels come in a 5 pound bag – double the other ingredients). Make sure the mussels are tightly closed when you buy them.
  • A handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped

Melt the butter and cook the veggies over low heat until the onion is soft but not brown. Add the beer, salt and mussels. Bring it to a boil and then quickly reduce it to simmer. Cover. Stir the mussels once or twice. It’s ready when the mussels are open. If a few don’t open, discard them. Sprinkle parsley over the mussels. Serve with a baguette, Quebec cheeses and a green salad.

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Daou family serves up Lebanese cuisine with flair

My companion and I drove to Ville Saint-Laurent for a late afternoon lunch at Daou and found an oasis of calm. Upon entering, we were greeted by Gladys, one of four co-owners of this family establishment.

She led us into the dining area, a spacious room flooded amply by daylight thanks to large windows topped with draped valences. Smartly appointed tables, covered in green and cream tablecloths, were set with fine china sporting D for Daou. The cushiony upholstered chairs signalled the Daou family’s aim to ensure patrons the utmost comfort. Artistic photographs of Beirut, nature and an Egyptian goddess graced the room, whose ceiling bore a wooden trellis, reminiscent of a garden patio. Soft music of Middle Eastern strings allowed easy conversation.

Daou offers an equal opportunity menu: there’s no need for a magnifying glass to read the English explanation of classic Lebanese dishes. For the modest budget, three-quarter of the dishes listed come in half orders; for the smaller appetite, there’s a pita sandwich or ½ plate of salads; and for the vegetarian, there’s a large selection of salads and cooked dishes such as Foule médamas (fava beans) at $7.50 or Falafel (fried balls of crushed beans and chick peas), half order at $5.50 or full order at $7.95.

The menu features grilled meats and fish, and the restaurant is completely licensed, offering aperitifs, spirits and liqueurs, or beers from $5.25 to $7.25.

As we perused the menu, our waiter, Bassam, brought us a little dish of pickled turnips of a lovely deep pink colour and green olives with a basket of fresh soft pita bread on the house. According to Bassam, Daou is a good place to work. He feels like he’s part of the family, having served at their restaurants for 16 years.

Under Gladys’ guidance, we were treated to plentiful half-orders of cool and warm appetizers:

Fatouche is a mixed vegetable salad of diced tomatoes, lettuce and parsley, onions, lemon and oil, at $7.50. Chopped parsley is visible and texturally integral to the salad. A chopped baked pita, the Middle Eastern version of the French crouton, provides added crunch to the fresh crispy vegetables, lightly tossed with oil and lemon. “It’s like spring in your mouth,” my companion said. Bassam explained that all the ingredients are freshly sliced and chopped for each new order.

Hommos-Tahineh, a chick pea dip with sesame juice, garlic and lemon, at $5.75, was the silkiest I had ever tasted.

Rakakat are slim hot cheese rolls, crispy on the outside with lovely smooth but not too salty fetah cheese on the inside, at $7.95. Scrumptious!

Yabrak are warm little fingers of rolled vine leaves, at $6.75, stuffed with rice and beef. The vine leaves have a nice tart and spinach-y taste, but it’s the mix of textures, the smooth lemony vine leaf joined to minced meat that makes this appetizer so delightful.

For the main course, Bassam brought out the “pièce de resistance”, the Grilled Chicken Breast with generously cut fries at $13.95 for the half-plate, or $20.95 for the full plate, garnished with a special mayonnaise of garlic, lemon and oil. Grilled to perfection and seasoned with a touch of oregano, the breast was succulent and plump. Not a morsel was left.

To end the feast, we treated ourselves to Katayef, a fluffy crepe stuffed with whipped ricotta cheese and crushed pistachio in syrup perfumed with rose water at $4.75. All desserts are reasonably priced, so leave room.

Gladys told us that since 1975, they have served loyal customers at their older establishment at 519 Faillon East (near Berri). After opening in Ville Saint-Laurent 14 years ago, they now have weekly returnees to 2373 Marcel Laurin. “When the family was in Lebanon,” she said, “they had cooked, but just at home. They decided to open a restaurant when they came to Montreal.”

The Daou family continues to grace Montreal’s culinary landscape with Lebanese fine cuisine. My companion decided she would bring her whole family to Daou next time. I suggest you do the same.

2373 Marcel-Laurin, Ville Saint-Laurent.

Info: 514-334-1199

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Vegging Out - the fast-food experience

After five years of being a vegetarian, I’ve learned a thing or two about eating meat-free ─ especially how to maintain my lifestyle while out and about.

At first, I avoided restaurants. I was skeptical about finding meatless meals to eat.

As it turns out, vegetarian options are not as elusive as I once believed. In the first of a series on meat-free restaurant dining, I tried popular fast food joints for their green alternatives to good old hamburgers.

The first veggie burger I sampled was Burger King’s Veggie BK, which resembles the standard fast-food burger – lettuce, tomato, onion and ketchup on a white bun. The only difference is the soy-based, meat-free patty.

A Veggie BK trio ($5.49) includes a drink and a side of fries, onion rings, baked potato or salad.

Burger King is the only fast-food restaurant I’ve encountered that offers veggie burger kids meals. These are perfect for little vegetarians or for those with smaller appetites.

At Harvey’s, customers can personalize their veggie burgers trios ($5.85) with their choice of sides, and a variety of vegetable toppings and sauces for their burger. My favorite is the pickled hot peppers.

The choice of sides are limited to fries or onion rings. Athough Harvey’s veggie burger easily satisfies fast-food cravings, it isn’t exceptional. In fact, I enjoyed the onion rings more than I did the burger.

A&W’s Veggie Swiss (the most expensive trio at $7.09) features a Portobello mushroom patty, topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, Swiss cheese and a ranch-style sauce on a whole wheat bun.

The Veggie Swiss is one delicious burger − well worth its price. The difference lies in the Portobello patty, which is juicier and more flavorful than the soy-based alternative.

Lafleur offers both veggie burgers ($6.57 for a trio) and tofu dogs, ($6.93 for a trio) topped with ketchup and mustard, make a great midnight snack. For more substance, try the veggie burger.

Thanks to these restaurants, Montreal’s vegetarian community need not deny their fast-food cravings. Even the meat-eating population can profit from these healthier alternatives.

Next month, I’ll let you in on the Asian vegetarian experience.

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Every need anticipated at La Belle Province

A classy establishment always goes the extra mile for its patrons, and La Belle Province on St-Jacques is hard to forget in this respect.

Featuring exceptionally attentive staff and friendly, diverse clientele eager to extol, unbidden, the virtues of the establishment at astounding length, this popular institution is swollen to the point of bursting on a Saturday afternoon with eager patrons fond of the gigantic portions and bottomless coffees for which it’s known. The table service is snappy and responsive, while the atmosphere is relaxed and busy enough to have a good belly laugh without disturbing anyone.

Tommy, a hardworking hands-on kind of boss, when probed as to what inspires such profound loyalty in diners who keep coming again year in and year out, is quick to credit the family-friendly ambience – notably complimented by a widescreen tuned to the latest sports updates and surrounded by personal touches, movie posters and sporting collectibles. At his prompting I tried the Chef’s Special, with two eggs, three meats, French toast, home fries, baked beans, fruit and coffee, and my guest tried the spinach omelette plus, at my insistence, the poutine, since no review would be complete without it. The verdict, verbatim: “Best. Poutine. Ever.” I kid you not.

The special showed up in a flash and was done exactly as requested. It’s definitely worth a try. After diving into our saucy dishes with heady abandon, the coffee came fast and furious, without the service ever feeling rushed nor anything less than exemplary, as we sat, chins dribbling with syrupy excess, satiated and happy.

Equally worthy of recommending for either a family outing or a morning bounce after a hard night, La Belle Province is found at 6752 St-Jacques W, just west of Cavendish (bus 90 from metro Vendôme).

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Worrying about the glass of wine

In my assessments of individuals with cognitive impairment, I have noticed that many include a history of lifelong struggles with excessive worrying, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and/or depression. This alone is something to worry about. Children of affected parents are concerned about their own future as it is, and now we have more to worry about as we try not to worry, knowing that excessive worrying could be a factor in this disease.

People who have experienced clinical depression are 2.5 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s, according to a study published this April in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology. If depression occurs before age 60, the likelihood increases nearly 4 times. There are several theories as to why this may be, and further studies are expected to explore the relationship between depression and Alzheimer’s.

Recent headlines warned women that drinking a glass of red wine daily might raise their risk of breast cancer. Should we worry? I was happier when I read that there may be constituents in wine that protect against dementia. More confusion. Are we to choose which disease we would most like to prevent? Are these studies causing us more anxiety, therefore putting us at greater risk for Alzheimer’s? Dr. Nathan Hermann, head of geriatric psychiatry at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, cautions that this is only "one of a number of studies" that have examined the issue and that "the literature is very divided on whether depression predisposes to dementia or not, and is seriously flawed methodologically, and there are no firm conclusions that can be made." So he's not stressed about it, but how do the rest of us know when to worry? Short of digging into the entire body of peer-reviewed research ourselves, the best antidote to this kind of news might just be a good Merlot.

We all need to find ways to relax, but it is especially important if we are caregivers living the 36-Hour Day (like the book of the same name). What works for one person may not be the right stress buster for another. I like to relax after a hectic day by having a glass of red wine. I rationalize that it’s good for my health. A hot bubble bath surrounded by candles also works. But does the glass of wine enhance my risk of breast cancer, or prevent dementia and heart disease? Will I worry now about having this glass of wine? Will the worry affect my cognitive functioning as I age? Will I have the opportunity to age if I have the wine?

Tonight, after a stressful day, I plan on having a glass of red wine and treating myself to a long hot bubble bath. I won’t allow myself to worry. I will simply enjoy my personal choice of de-stressing.

Please address questions and comments to bonniesandler@gmail.com.

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A balance of flavours perfected at Anancy

When Anancy's George Grant found Jamaican chef Dave Holness out of 150 applicants to cook up authentic Jamaican dishes for his 3-month-old dream restaurant, he was ecstatic. Holness trained at Jamaica’s HEART Institute, was the executive chef for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and garnered cuisine kudos in Grand Cayman. Now Montreal diners can enjoy his palette-pleasing creations at Anancy Restaurant. Holness has refined Jamaican dishes, creating a balance between herbal input and taste bud appeal for the public up here. My dining companion Dale Newton and I were surprised by the recurring ‘lightness’ in our choices — each devoid of grease and pungent spices.

We started with the chicken soup. Pumpkin seasoning with thyme added flavour accent to the fabulous string bean-shaped dumplings, potatoes, carrots and chocho (similar to small shallots). This soup was my thumbs-up favourite. Dale went crazy over Anancy’s conch fritters. She last sampled such treats in the Bahamas. Rumour ranks these fish cakes as aphrodisiacs, but we didn’t attribute our love of main meal selections to these awesome appetizers. Still, my amorous sentiments were heightened when I bit into the jerk chicken. Wow! It was so tender — utterly pleasing with its Holness balance of seven herbs. I tasted ginger, garlic and pepper, and spied pimento and bits of red and green pepper, but the rest remained a mouth-watering mystery. Dale chose ackee, a yellow veggie resembling a cooked egg yolk in taste and texture. It was exotic. Salty cured cod pieces added great flavour.

I snuck one of the dumplings that go with ackee’s tasty salad mixture. They were sensational — like a donut without the hole or the sweetness. In fact, I quickly became an Anancy dumpling addict, stuffing myself with ‘festivals’ as they are called — three are on the menu as extras. I allowed Dale the last one. She found festivals exciting. I replaced dessert with Blue Mountain coffee. Dale sipped chocolate chai tea — a perfect finale for our Jamaican feast. All we needed now was a beach to stretch out on. There was, however, a waterfall cascading down the glass at the entrance. Art-filled terra cotta walls enhance the warmth. Incredibly affordable, Anancy is a treat on all accounts!

Anancy is located at 6587 Somerled. Info: 514-486-2629

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