My unhealthy love for cafés

I’ve never done a post about an espresso bar or café before, but I really think it’s time. I mostly frequent cafés in montreal, but on my recent trip to NYC, I’ve discovered just how much I’m in love with the whoel culture behind cafés and how terribly awful the coffee is at all the chain stores.

Back when I was completing my first degree in Physiology, I fell in love with Starbucks. I went there whenever I needed to study because I’m someone who can’t just stay home to study all day, everyday. My friends started to know me as an avid Starbucks fan, and I embraced that. I knew exactly what I wanted everytime I went, I knew their drinks well and opted for healthier options on a regular basis.

When I started my second degree, moving to Montreal was extremely difficult for me. I had no friends in this very foreign city where everyone hated me because I didn’t speak French. In the recent months, I’ve really grown to love Montreal with regards to the life in the city, the diversity of various cultures (ethnically related or not), and first and foremost, their cafés.

I’ve been café hopping for a year and a half and still haven’t tried the majority of them yet. I’d like to say I’ve tried half of the more popular and well-known ones, but what do I know!

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Currently, my favourite in Montreal is definitely Kitsuné. This is for several reasons. Firstly, they are quite close to where I live. Many of the cafés I’ve yet to try are situated in the Mile End, which is a big further for me and requires me to not be extremely stressed about exams (aka, Clinical Nutrition). The second is how easy their payment is. $4, $3.50, $2.50…no fussing with those cents, and the baristas are subsequently a little more at ease and “chilled out” with ordering and paying. They have a sleek iPad to card terminal system which I love and is definitely trending in NYC (from what I see). My favourite to order are their lattes. Be it hot or cold, it always hits the spot for me. Definitely not as rich and creamy as the next café I will mention, but I definitely think in my taste range. Last but not least, the croissants they serve!! The croissants are from a boulangerie called Regal Matinal. They deliver freshly made croissants everyday, and I’ve seriously contemplated having them deliver it to my house – obviously that’d be terrible news for my cardiovascular health and weight, so I restrained myself. Not to say they’re the best croissants I’ve ever had, but they’re the type I like: doughy, soft and only a slight crunch to it. It is the combination of all this that makes me love Kitsuné so much and regard it somewhere I will always come back to. I love the owner and the baristas he’s hired, I love that they’ve built a small outside patio in the back, and I love the industrial décor they’ve put in place.

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The other café I fell in love with is a little out of my reach. It’s La Coloumbe near Soho in NYC. tfung was looking for his tonic at a liquor store on Lafayette when I knew I needed some caffeine in me. I spotted a café across the street and decided I might as well try it. I ordered a latte for myself and damn. The latte was very smooth and creamy (evidently using a milk with higher fat percentage), but the richness of the espresso still pulled through without tipping the balance. The harmony between the espresso and the milk was near perfection. I hate to say something is perfect until I’ve lived my last breath, but I wouldn’t mind living off this latte for the rest of my life…

Other notable mentions in Montreal are: le couteau, st. henri.

~ kehwon

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Eataly – Flatiron District

So my colleague during the month of June is a traditional Italian living in Montreal. Obviously we chatted during work and he had highly advised me to go to Eataly, because it’s simply amazing. And that it was, and more! I absolutely love this market and it was really only at this point that I was truly jealous of the people of New York City, wishing that I also lived in (or close enough to get to Eataly) in the City.

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To start, the market is incredible. Fresh pasta by the pound, amazing seafood, cooking utensils and endless ingredients for you to peruse through. I definitely felt that I could spend a whole day in there, reading about every type of pasta I could bring home. Sadly, I couldn’t do so, but maybe next time.

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We decided to situate ourselves in the pasta section after what felt like forever of going back and forth between deciding where to eat. It was a 25 minute wait, so I did end up buying some black truffle as souvenirs since they were in small enough packaging that I could fit in my suitcase.

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Pizza oven next door

We had a pasta each. First was the tagliatelle al Ragu di Manzo, which was a short rib ragu with parmesan cheese. Absolutely incredible pasta, the tagliatelle had the bounce and almost slight crunch to it that we love in noodles/pasta. The flavour of the ragu was just right; very slightly spicy, lots of meat flavour in a non-overpowering tomato flavour. Definitely the better of the two.2014-06-25 15.06.37

The other pasta we ordered was the Lamb Gnocchi. The gnocchi was a little stickier and more cheesy than I’d like it. The gnocchi had the heaviness it should have, and paired with the lamb, I thought it was a little too much. As a result, I had to swap with tfung. I’m a little disappointed by this dish for sure, as I do love gnocchi, but it is often not how I like it done. Perhaps I just don’t like traditional gnocchi. There isn’t too much extra flavour from the sauce of the pasta. It just added the moistness that the dish needed.2014-06-25 15.06.44

Overall, I definitely think that everyone should go to Eataly and experience the vast and sheer volume of products they offer. It really give syou perspective about how awful commercial supermarkets are in terms of giving you depth of a culture. We only tried the fresh pasta, and had mixed feelings about the gnocchi. But next time, I’d definitely try the pizza and the seafood. The only con to the market is that it’s not foodcourt style even though your group may want different things. For example, we wanted one dish of pasta and one dish of fish, but because they were in separate “restaurants”, we were unable to do so. They had a restaurant that serves all types of food, but we wanted to experience the excitement of the open kitchen.

Service: 3.5/5
Food: 8.9/10
Atmosphere: market
Price: $20-30/person

~ kehwon

Sushi Nakazawa – West Village

I was very lucky to have been able to go to Sushi Nakazawa on the eve of my 24th birthday. Tfung was incredibly sweet to take me, and we were able to book the bar. The bar seats 10 guests, and since they were all pairs, I believe there were 5 reservations made at 12am, exactly 30 days prior. This is important when booking: make sure you have fast internet connection, and you have the windows open at around 11:50pm to wait for the 12:00am mark!

We were promptly seated when we walked in (even though we were embarrassingly 7 minutes late). Luckily, there were a fair few couples that had not showed up yet, so I felt a little more at ease. To be seated, we were told to climb up onto the high chair and then the hostess had to physically push us in while on the chair, due to the design of the bar. They are very nice about it, though I did find it a little annoying if you had to go use the restroom.

Already placed were the black lacquer serving plates, chopsticks and two glasses (wine and water). As we sat down, the waitress came around with hot towels, to clean our hands with. She then asked for our choice in water, brought it, and then set down little white plates with a folded wet napkin sitting on it. This was for cleaning the fingers if one chooses to use their hands to eat the sushi.

When all the guests were properly seated, Nakazawa greeted each of us with formality, as per tradition. (I revel in this kind of stuff). Then he said we would begin. He explained generally how it works, that the sushi is served as it is to be eaten. There will be 21 pieces, and asked if we were hungry, as it will be filling. He added that if we were starting to feel too full, we can tell him and he would reduce the amount of rice, as everyone is to finish each piece of fish.

Then, he started. There were 5 chefs total. Chef Nakazawa, 2 sous chefs (one on either side of him) and 2 assistant chefs. Everyone was well situated into their roles and had no hesitation. The role of the sous chefs were to slice the fish, torch the fish, and to cook the shrimp. The other sous chef was in charge of the plating. Chef Nakazawa puts the sushi together, the fish, the rice, the wasabi and the soy sauce. I was buzzing in my seat from the excitement that is about to unfold. I felt like I didn’t have enough eyes and brain capacity to take in every detail that I wanted to.

The chefs had very particular ways of handling their tools. Everything is wiped down and cleaned before commencing the next step. Tools and equipment are always placed in the space they should be filling after each use. Everything is clean, sanitary, and of top quality. Having taken lots of food safety courses, I often scrutinize restaurants (especially if they have an open kitchen) on their sanitary practices. There was nothing that made me raise a red flag so far.

Thus, the meal commenced:

The experience was amazing. He did not disappoint. From food, to service, to decor, to experience, everything was on point. He explains every fish right before he serves it, even using his Samsung Galaxy Tablet to show us what the fish actually looks like in the ocean (for the less common ones like Trigger fish). He looks like he enjoys what he does, cracks jokes with the clients, creating a different atmosphere and tone each time you visit. Everything is timed perfectly, for example, the cooking of the shrimp. Everyone’s minds are sharp and they know exactly what to do next, without ever losing complete focus on the task at hand. You can tell their minds were not wandering to their hot date tonight or any such trivial matters. Their passion was sushi, and they try their best to create perfect pieces of art.

My verdict: if you can afford the hefty price, you should definitely go. It is probably as close you can get to Jiro’s sushi without needing to know too much Japanese. Due to Nakazawa’s fluency in English, there is no language barrier. I will say though, that if you don’t get a bar reservation, it might not be worth your time (especially if you’re from out of town). There is no experience, and the sushi will not be prepared by Nakazawa himself. It is simply just not the same. It was definitely one of my most memorable birthday memories, and I’m so glad to have shared it with someone who loves eating and sushi as much as I do!

~kehwon

Momofuku Noodle Bar – East Village, New York

Due to the recent visit to momofuku (to), I decided to dig up my photos of when I went to momofuku (ny)’s noodle bar.

It was for a New Years trip with some of my university friends, and was definitely one of the times I ventured out of my comfort zone, did things without firm plans and just let my friends take me around.

However one place we did make a good effort to visit was the famous momofuku noodle bar. We promptly arrived at 4:45pm as the noodle bar opened at 5:00pm. There was a small line, about 5 people in front of us, so we were seated at the bar right away when they opened their doors. Tfung had visited just a couple months before me and had highly recommended me the pork buns, so me and my good friend ordered one order to share between the two of us, as it came with two buns.

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Their buns are actually Chinese styled buns, with the white flour type bread as the bun. They’ve simply folded it in half to fit the fatty pork, hoisin sauce, green onion and cucumbers. The flavour of the pork with the hoisin sauce was pretty much explosive. The fat with the meat contrasted by the crunch of the cucumber and green onion was the perfect pairing. The hoisin sauce enhanced the flavour of the pork in the best way possible. Obviously the bun offered a more substantial mouthful without adding much flavour, save for a slight sweetness. Overall, I thought this bun was out of this world. Although it’s priced at $9 per order (at least when I went), I didn’t mind paying for it. In fact, the gentleman next to us at the bar just ordered that and then left.

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I also ordered the momofuku ramen, which comes with pork shoulder, pork belly and an egg, along with the usual ramen goodies. At first bite, I did not like the ramen at all. The soup base had a woody, smokey flavour to it which I do not enjoy. I like my ramen broths to be tonkotsu-based, and this was definitely not. Furthermore, the noodles weren’t cooked well, and I could still taste the uncooked flour taste. The bowl was fairly small, which was just as well since I didn’t like eating it. The egg was okay, not as soft-boiled as I would have liked but definitely still had a golden centre. Overall I thought the execution of the ramen just isn’t what I look for in ramen. Maybe others enjoy the smokey flavour, but the flour-taste in the noodles is definitely a fail for me.

I thought that the hype for this restaurant was way too high and I was pretty disappointed in their ramen. I always recommend my friends to get their pork buns though, since I do think they are extremely well balanced, full of flavour, and a nice twist to “pork buns” as you would see at a dim sum place. I do believe that is where the chef had originally thought of the idea, as he is Chinese.

There wasn’t anything remarkable about the service, and they were fairly efficient. The price is a little on the more expensive side, but it is New York, and rated quite high as a restaurant.

Service: 3.5/5
Food: 8.4/10 (saved by the pork buns)
Atmosphere: modern, asian,
Price: $15-20

Momofuku Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

 

~ kehwon