Sunday, January 5, 2014

BEST OF 2013

While a handful of sophomore players kept the fires burning this year, the freshman class of 2013 notwithstanding a few exceptional debuts, was relatively bleak compared with years past. Suburban big-box chain restaurants and superficial openings heavy on investment but light on expertise flooded social media. We stood on the sidelines as agents provocateurs lauded a haphazard resurgence of the main between Sherbrooke and Prince Arthur where Pogos and macaroni & cheese tacos appear to have replaced the albeit trendy stomping ground that set in motion many of our city's most recognizable culinary ambassadors. Meanwhile, savants relied on faithful tables and mourned the losses we've all endured as some of Quebec's best restaurants like MAS Cuisine and L'Eau A La Bouche quietly shut their doors forever. 
A chasm of content caused tension to rise as food bloggers and critics turned on one another time and time again, all of which under the scrutiny of the new kid on the block: Eater Montreal- an entity which many are still learning to adapt to, and contend with. The proof of the dreary diagnosis was in the proverbial pudding as Lesley Chesterman doled out her first two zero-star reviews in over a decade, and the backlash was so thick you could cut it with a knife. While some grasped at straws in the trenches, enduring glitzy opening after cut-and-paste PR invitation, others got creative with theme driven subject matter in place of restaurant reviews. Entries from south of the border graced the Gazette's fine dining column when inspiration was in short supply locally, and we took note, filling nearly half of our own entries for the year with meals from abroad.

Not everything in La Belle Province was so grim though. We overflowed with joy (and food) as we attended a brilliant dinner where restaurants and restauranteurs a generation apart collaborated to benefit The Montreal Children's and Ste Justine Hospitals. With style and class the team from Joe Beef celebrated Moishe's age and agelessness as a Montreal institution turned 75. 

Two of the year's most heralded inaugurations were Boulangerie Hof Kelsten and Boucherie Lawrence, enriching our community and spearheading a shift back to the grassroots. Following an era of jaded disconnect, in recent years diners began to look on and admire restaurants who made the effort to outsource less and devote the time required to create the things many had come to take for granted. The response was transformative, and as people have come to care more about what they eat, chefs are reacting, getting back to the bread and butter (literally and figuratively speaking), and reigniting the trades we have eschewed in the advent of convenience, a reemergence of respect for the fundamentals. 

And who could forget the food trucks? After an antiquated ban was finally lifted in the summer of 2013, Montreal ushered in the 21st century and got down and (not-so) dirty with street meat. Reviews and reactions to the limitations these mobile entrepreneurs are faced with came under fire, and some griped about the prices but ultimately, the lineups indicate that the majority of us are happy to have them around; even if a couple of curmudgeonly restauranteurs have bellyached over the "unfair" competition. As is the case with anything new, a period of acclimatisation should be expected, so to the naysayers we say, be patient. 

So, here it is. It's already 2014 and we've missed our imaginary deadline but what's a blog if not flexible? A day late and a buck short, here are our 10 favorite dishes of 2013, in no particular order. 

Cochinillo Asado

Cochinillo Asado at Casa Botin should be on every globetrotting gastronomes bucket list. A three week old suckling piglet roasted whole in the restaurant's 300 year old wood burning oven is a sight to behold and a taste to experience. Proprietor of the Guinness Book of World Records' title for the world's oldest restaurant (established 1725), tradition and technique seamlessly meld to produce an otherworldly combination of milky-white, tender meat beneath a layer of perfectly rendered, shattering skin. "We could be in Madrid tomorrow. Tapas on those narrow streets off the Plaza Mayor, Cochinillo Asado at Casa Botin." Barney's Version, Mordechai Richler.

Click HERE to see the full post of our original visit.

Restaurante Botin
17 Calle Cuchilleros
Madrid, Spain
+34 913 664 217

Omelet Souflée, Calf's Brain, Lardons

Martin Picard's band of merry maple purveyors struck gold again this year with, amongst a plethora of heartwarming (and clogging) concoctions, this soufléed omelet topped with nuggets of creamy fried calf's brain and maple lardons. Over the years we've had multiple incarnations of this lofty omelet garnished with everything from lobster to smoked meat and both at the same time but this years variant was it's own brand of delightful decadence. Can someone please pass the defibrillator?

Click HERE to see the full post of our original visit.

Cabane A Sucre Au Pied de Cochon
11382 Rang de la Fresniere
St-Benoit De Mirabel, QC

Gambas Roja a la Plancha

It's a big claim, but we're making it. We found the best shrimp on earth at Cerveseria Catalana in Barcelona. Head-on red shrimp cooked on the flat top with a timid kiss of garlic and parsley were so spectacular a second visit was inescapable. With nectar confined in the heads as intense as the most concentrated shrimp bisque you can venture to conjure, these crimson crustaceans alone just might be worth the trip to Spain.

Click HERE to see the full post of our original visit.

Cerveseria Catalana
236 Carrer de Mallorca
Barcelona, Spain
+32 932 160 368

Honey & Pine Nut Tart, Buffalo Milk Yogurt

Buttery pine nuts and sweet, floral honey combined in a fork-tender crust was too much to resist at one of the year's standout restaurant debuts. Michele Forgione's pasta is tough to beat on the island of Montreal, but whatever you do don't forget to save room for dessert at Impasto. Topping this chef-d'oeuvre with a tangy quenelle of "Run de Lait" buffalo milk yogurt from Société Orignal was a checkmate, tempering the calculated sweetness ideally.

Click HERE to see the full post of our original visit.

48 Rue Dante
Montreal, QC

Humboldt Squid

When west coast fishermen told chef Derek Dammann that they were using giant Humboldt squid that inadvertently came up in their nets as bait, he made it his business to find a more fitting fate for this beast than fish food. Reaching upwards of a meter in length, Humboldt squid hoods are meatier than the typical variety and that's precisely why we loved it so much. Scored heavily and seared on the flat top, it was served over small pasta shells in a creamy sauce studded with sweet green peas and salty diced ham, but we were equally seduced by it's inclusion in a saffron aioli laced chilled seafood salad on a separate visit. To us, chef Dammann's ability to transform by-catch into bliss exemplifies why Maison Publique's distinctly Canadian menu graced Canada's Top 10 Best New Restaurants of 2013 in En Route Magazine.

Click HERE to see the full post of our original visit.

Maison Publique
4720 Marquette
Montreal, QC

Paella Marinera

In Spain, opportunists the country wide are looking to lure tourists off the streets with the promise of authentic paella. Determined to discover an exemplary specimen, we held the course to Valencia on the east coast where the dish's origins can be traced. Once there, we followed our noses (and repeated local recommendations) to La Marcelina, a beachside restaurant founded in 1888 that's specialized in preparing paella for 125 years. Though the seafood was predictably perfect, like a risotto, it's the rice that should be considered the cornerstone of the ultimate paella, and this rice was sublime. You can spend your whole life in search of perfection, or you can find it in a plate of seafood paella at La Marcelina overlooking the mediterranean sea. 

Click HERE to see the full post of our original visit.

La Marcelina
8 Av de Neptuno
Valencia, Spain
+34 963 712 025

Red Mullet in a Butter of it's Own Liver, Almonds & Bread.

In the pastoral hills of Errenteria 20 minutes outside of San Sebastián resides one of the most revolutionary restaurants in the world. Mugaritz's objective to tantalize not only your taste, but all of your senses as well as your intellect have served it well, securing it's position amongst the top ten of The World's 50 Best Restaurants every year since 2006. Deciding which dish to include from our unforgettable 23 course meal there this summer was a daunting task, but a fillet of red mullet enhanced with a fierce butter of it's own liver was a masterpiece that couldn't be overlooked. A crunchy crumble of bread crumb and ground almonds imparted a textural component to the ravishing fish, sustaining a meticulous and unrelenting attention to detail prevalent throughout the meal. 

Click HERE to see the full post of our original visit. 

Longitude 1° 55' 4'' West - Latitude 43° 16' 22'' North
Errenteria, Spain
+34 943 522 455

Chipirones En Su Tinta

Meaty squid stuffed with their own tentacles floating in a murky, extraordinarily oceanic sauce of their own ink at Casa Salvador in Madrid were a clinic in the classics. White jacketed waiters were consummate professionals serving humble cuisine that's stood the test of time. In the episode of No Reservations that inspired our visit, Anthony Bourdain says "Casa Salvador is just the kind of place I love. Frozen in time, confused a bit by what's going on outside its walls but inside, confident of what it does well". And while his flattering monologues have at times lead us astray in the past, this was definitely not one of those times.

Click HERE to see the full post of our original visit.

Restaurante Salvador
12 Calle Barbieri
Madrid, Spain
+34 915 214 524

Pork Belly, Aged Gouda, Oyster Mushrooms

On a menu that's constantly evolving, a mainstay says two things to us. First, that the customers respond well to it and second, that the chef hasn't fallen out of love with preparing it. At Tuck Shop, a generous hunk of luscious pork belly endures the changing of the seasons amidst its puddle of delectable aged gouda mornay sauce and subtly earthy, sautéed oyster mushrooms. The invigorating acidity that the richness of this dish screams for comes courtesy of a healthy pinch of mustard seed studded radish slaw. Here's hoping that the chef's affection for this dish doesn't burn out and that the sensational pork belly at Tuck Shop never fades away.

Click HERE to see the full post of our original visit.

Tuck Shop
4662 Notre-Dame Ouest
Montreal, QC

Mini Airbags Stuffed With Manchego Cheese Foam

Whimsy is king at Tickets in Barcelona where Albert Adrià's imagination persists post El Bulli. From the game changing "Olives" to tomatoes in gazpacho gelatin and everything in between our serendipitous reservation delivered a vivacious, eye-opening experience where the type of refined, innovative technique normally reserved for ceremonious fine-dining unconventionally blended with the informality of tapas. Hollow crackers filled with an etherial Manchego cheese foam were topped with slivers of Manchego that eluded to their filling, and tiny spheres of encapsulated hazelnut oil that echoed the nuttiness of the cheese. 

Click HERE to see the full post of our original visit. 

164 Avinguda Parallel
Barcelona, Spain


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