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Theford Mines 2018: eating & dining

Things we ate in Theford Mines~

It’s been three years since my original trip to Quebec and 1.5 since my partner saw his parents. So we figured it was as good of a time as any to visit, so here is our travel recapped in food.

There are three main pillars that make up Québec cuisine: cheese, potatoes, and bread. More often than not, you will find one of three, if not all three on your plate.

First cheese, it is everywhere and it is so good. Not just cheese sticks or bricks of cheese. But cheese produced with snacking in mind. They are available from any convenience store or gas station mart. They are often delivered fresh every morning with the brand varying from town to town, based on what their local dairy farmer and cheese producer is. They are available in small serving packets in flavours like barbecue, black pepper, spicy, or salty. Some of them come in sticks, others braided like rope. But I personally like the squeaky cheese curd kind. This is the proper cheese that goes into traditional Quebec poutine. If fresh they actually squeak when you take a bite into them, hence the name.

Second, potatoes. Potatoes make an appearance in almost any meal, easy to do given then are such a versatile ingredient. The French fry is the most popular. “cross crutes” (little convenience fast food counters) all around town offer brown paper bags of fries to go. They are enjoyed as is, with ketchup, or as part of the classic poutine. Fries are enjoyed on the side of burgers and sandwiches, a side to chicken, and even as a popular add on to an order of pizza. But you can also have your potatoes mashed for a nice creamy side or as a topping to a shepherd’s pie.

Next is bread. It is available in all forms, across all meals, the only requirement is that it needs to be fresh and spongy with butter available for spreading. You have bread toasted for breakfast, buns for buttering during dinner, and a bread-like crust on your favourite pizza, which too is enjoyed with butter.

And as an honourable mention ketchup is another fairly common sight in Quebec cuisine. It is a dip and a sauce that is so versatile in adding flavour to any dish. Quebec style pizza sauce tastes faintly of it and so does the red sauce in lasagna, they even have a type of salsa that is a mix of ketchup, vinegar, and fruits.

The following are a few of the meals we had, majority of it home cooking by my partner’s mother, which includes elements of the above.

The success of Quebec-style pizza is dependant on its crust. It needs to be fluffy and doughy like bread, as they eat it with butter. The family’s favourite is from “Resto Santorini”, a Greek restaurant in town. This is their “Pepperoni and all dressed “garnie” split pizza. The all dressed side has a variety of toppings like mushroom, pepperoni, green pepper, cheese, and the traditional red sauce. We had them with a side of fries and onion rings. I found the pizza sauce a little bland, and the toppings a little salty. At least the bread was perfect, it was the crust that made you reach for another slice.

For breakfast a collection of fried classics like bacon and seasoned potato wedges go hand in hand. Naturally bread makes an appearance here, but not just butter is available as a spread. In Quebec cuisine, creton (the white paste pictured above) is traditionally served on toast as a part of your morning. “Creton” is a meat spread made from a mix of ground and lean pork meat and fat. It is prepared by grinding, sieving, or puréeing said ingredients for the desired lumpy, slightly chalky texture. It isn’t as flavourful as paté, nor does it actually have its own distinct taste. I can see it more as a heartier, more filling spread used for texture.

A common homestyle Quebec lunch may feature a protein (in this case pork roast), some sort of potato side, fresh bread with butter, and ketchup to taste. Here the ketchup is an assembly of diced tomatoes, pear, peach, and onions in a mixture of ketchup and vinegar. Not to be confused with salsa. It is surprisingly good, enough that I want to take some back to Vancouver with me.

For in between meals, a traditional French Quebec snack is “orielle de crisse”, which translates to “the ear of Christ”. They are essentially pork rinds you fry crispy and they curl up like fusilli (the spiral shaped pasta noodles). I was able to bring a pack home with me to Vancouver. Where I was able to fry them in my own home, dip them into maple syrup (as is a popular sauce for these), paring it with a beer craft to best be taken with this treat, or any other salty snacks (according to its packaging). It is also called “orielle de crisse”.

For dessert my partner prefers the Canadian classic: sugar pie. I have only seen it available at French Canadian restaurants in Vancouver, but here it is offered at every local grocer’s. It is a delicious sugary-rich pie with a tender crust. A mixture of butter, flour, milk, eggs and brown sugar. The filling is so smooth that it melts into a pudding, from the warmth of your mouth.

But my partner’s favourite treat is the chocolate dipped, vanilla soft served cones from local, fast food joint “Dairy Joy”. I found it a little too sweet for my taste.

For those who only want a sample, they have these adorable “micro” ice cream cones. They are the tiniest serving they have, available in all sorts of flavours. I opted for the green apple twist flavour to match my manicure. It was slightly tangy to balance out all that sweet.

As my partner’s father hunts, he stores his kill in the freezer, after it has been broken down and processed by the local butcher. We were able to dip into his reserves having moose spaghetti and moose burgers. Both tasty renditions of this game meat. Given how lean and less flavourful the meat is, you can tell this isn’t beef.

Valentines is a popular cafeteria in Thetford, like all their other quick and easy restaurants, this one too offers meat sandwiches, crispy fries, and steamed hot dogs.

Here we had smoked meat sandwich with mustard and a side of fries and coleslaw. You can also have smoke meat in a club with lettuce, mayo and tomato. This is in place of the traditional chicken club.

The chicken club came with plenty of white meat chicken breast toasted and pressed tight between white bread with mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato. We upgraded and got the poutine as a side.

We had poutine a few more times, other than at “Valentine’s” above. We enjoyed an authentic at one of the oldest “casse-croute” in the city: the “white trailer” (as its translated to in English). It was established in 1948 and since has seen many renovations and upgrades to keep them trending with the times.

Here my partner had his classic poutine with gravy and cheese curds over French fries, along side a steamed hot dog in a grill pressed bun with ketchup and mayo. It was exactly as you expected it to be.

Where as if you are ever looking for the best poutine in Thetford it has to be “Sgt. Pepper’s” twist on the most iconic of  Canadian dishes. This bar double fries their French fries so that it is extra crispy and stays that way for longer, under the weight of a thick peppery gravy and generous amount of cheese curds.

But my most memorable dining experience at Thetford had to be our sushi lunch at “Le Rouge Poisson” (the red fish). Here their sushi is more like the fusion rolls popularized in North America. It makes a cuisine better known for its simple flavours, over the top with unique ingredients and toppings with speciality sauces, not just soy and wasabi.

I got two rolls, served together with two option of dipping sauces. Each diner get’s their own sauce dish of each. If you are looking for soy sauce, you have to ask specifically for it, just like the wasabi, they don’t have the pickled pink ginger available though.

The sake roll had raw salmon (which they refer to as “salmon tartare”), shrimp tempura, spicy mayo, honey, cucumber, avocado, and peach. Sadly, I didn’t get much of the peach, considering how I ordered it for the fruit; never having had sushi with peach before.

The “strawberry” roll was one of their panko crusted, deep fried rolls. Filled with strawberries, shrimp, cream cheese, and avocado. I liked the crunch of it, and I noted the presence of strawberry right away.

 

For more detail on how they tasted and the experience of ordering at a French only restaurant, check out my YouTube channel: MaggiMei! Where I explore the sushi scene in small town Quebec, and lived to tell the tale!

 

On our last night we went for a fancier dinner, checking out the newest restaurant to open its doors in Thetford Mines. This was “La Face De Boeuf”, “The Face of Beef”. Sadly the service and the fare did not live up to the buzz.

The nachos that was ordered as an entree came well before the other dishes. So one person was eating, and would later have to watch the others do so. “The face of beef nachos” with salsa, tomato sauces, olive, mozzarella, red onions, green onions, tomato, hot pepper, bacon, and thin slices of beef. Sadly, only half of the beef slices were prepared well. Majority of it too tough to chew through and swallow. Sad, considering that I find nachos a safe dish and one that is hard to mess up, or at least it should be. Especially as they are claiming to be the beef experts.

The “Rib eye in jus” was just as disappointing. This was a thick slab of meat that had so much fat to it, that you were left feeling like you did get your money’s worth. Plus the jus made it too salty. Luckily it came with two sides to help balance things out. I opted for the baked potato and the veggies of the day. But had to to pay extra for the potato to be dressed with sour cream, green onion, cheese, and bacon bits.

The “New York strip loin” was a better cut, 12oz or meat and most of it lean, served with a Caesar salad and in house fried crispy chips.

“The face of beef ribs” ended up being the best dish of the night, a full rack with a baked potato and Caesar salad. They were slow cooked on low, after a slow marinade of homemade spices and their special “face of beef” sauce. They were seasoned in a salty and sweet sauce that thickly coated each fall off the bone rib.

Overall I enjoyed all that we had in Thetford, but after a week’s stay I was missing the diversity that Vancouver allows. Travel always makes me appreciate home and the city that I have chosen to live in. Don’t deny your cravings!

Theford Mines 2018: sights & activities

The things we did in Theford Mines~

It’s been three years since my original trip to Quebec and 1.5 since my partner saw his parents. So we figured it was as good of a time as any to visit the land of the French Canadians. This is a visit so different than what I am use to that I continue to absorb the culture and learn with everything that I do here. Although most of this is due to the large differences between city and country living and the pace in which they both operate in. Here I tend to stick out like a sore thumb; between my ornate clothes, to my ethnicity, and lack of French language. This isn’t so much in Montreal, but all the more the further into Quebec farm land that we travelled. The following is an account of all that we saw in and around Thetford Mines, and what I noted as interesting or unique, compared to my life in urban Vancouver.

This recap will be split into two parts: “Things we ate”, and “Things we did”. This is the latter.

We were fortunate enough to get our hands on the new 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross for the week. It was the ideal sports utility vehicle for our adventuring. It was rugged enough to take on those unpaved paths, yet dressy enough for a cruise around downtown. And best of all it has a great fuel economy, so our money went further as we drove and drove. Although it also helped that gas is 131.9 in Thetford.

The landscape of rural Quebec is flat, the mountains I take for granted in Vancouver, are not visible here. At most the land is given some height from the quarries and the sand dug up from mines long ago. These holes in the ground were carved up to harvest asbestos, well before we found out how long exposure to the stuff was harmful to the miners and the surrounding homeowners. The result is mounds of this black sand piled high to resemble peaks. But unfortunately it is so slippery and potentially hazardous that this sand cannot be redistributed or repurpose to ski slopes or hiking plateaus. Instead here they stand, untouched and perfect for our photo op, above.

A few of the afore mentioned mines (holes in the ground) have since been filled with water which allow for diving, given how deep they go. Although with its black waters, they are often used as a junk pits, and not so much a scenic dive. You can tell these were man made features given the rings around them created by precision digging, from wide to narrow as they descend.

Instead, farm land take up most of the green acres, along side sprawling wooded forests. This untapped greenery is available for hunting in during the fall season. Here is where we would take our time exploring. Playing in the great outdoors, doing much of that which we don’t or can’t do as easily, living in urban Lower Mainland, Vancouver.

Hiking isn’t really all that engaging here. There isn’t much of a view, nor is there really a climb to ascend too. Instead the rugged wilderness is best explored on four wheels. We procured a couple of ATVs and were bound for the forest. They are powerful enough to go up hills and over tree trunks, but you still need to steer yourself down the right path to avoid any necessary tipping.

Here you can ride to the base of one of the town’s 57 windmills. These propellers are the newest thing to add interest to Thetford’s landscape. They harness energy from the wind, which gets processed and stored, before being sold to the US. They offer you that same small feeling when looking up at one, as you would get from BC’s Rockies.

My partner’s father is a hobby hunter, he knew of a couple of places where the forest was dense, but assessable. He took us on a tour of his look outs and quite cabins, where he sits in wait for his prey.

Prey in the form of elk, moose, and deer that he lays year long traps for. He sets up feeding stations of salt blocks, and he digs up water holes to have them congregating within range of his scope and gun, should the season and his permit allow. During non-hunting times, like the summer of our visit, he has surveillance equipment up and running. This allows him to see if his “traps” are working. Motion sensor photos capture the above mentioned hoofed animals. Photos of brown moose licking his blocks and indents of their hoofs in the soften ground that surrounds them.

We would try our hand at the cross bow he can and has hunted with. But instead, our goal was to scoot at a burlap sack stuffed with rags, a makeshift target he uses for shooting practice. The scope and neon orange bullseyes make this an fairly easy feat.

The abundance of water ways and lakes I also take for granted in Vancouver are far and few in between in Thetford, despite Quebec being referred to the “land of lakes”. My partner’s aunt has a cabin on one of the only lakes. A nice place to sit and relax at, but it just isn’t the same when not surrounded by dominating mountains surrounding you.

But if you like farm animals, there is an abundance to drive by and moo at. Cows and horses grazing in the fields, even a llama or two in an enclosure. We visited a dairy farm and got a look at the bovine under chains and visited a fowl sanctuary with rare and fancy ducks, plus black and white swans.

As for the town itself, Thetford Mines doesn’t offer much in terms of tourists attractions or really any art to brighten up the neighbourhoods. Instead you look out into the wilderness, as we did above.

However the following are a few sights worth noting. The first is Thetford’s oldest mill: King’s Mill. It has long since stopped operating, and has recently been renovated into the city’s lone tourist attraction, much to the town’s folks dismay. The city choose to pour monetary resources and labour into the project, which includes refurbishing its rusted facade and paving roads to get to it. This was done instead of repaving the rough main roads that have long lasted the harsh Quebec winters; or filling the potholes created from the filling of water and the expanding of ice within them. All this and not many more people have visited the attraction. We did to take this photo, but even in the middle of the day the mill and attached centre wasn’t open to visitor. We left without getting the full experience: the history of the mill and the town that grew around it.

Next are the churches. There are a handful of them in each town, many of these buildings are hundred of years ago. Erected by those that immigrated to Quebec with their religions. Tall steeples, towering crosses, and ornately carved doors keeping the Christian and Catholic religion alive en mass. A couple of these churches were so old that a new one were built next to the original, and the former stood firm as a memoriam. One such town has a couple, resulting in their church count to hit 11.

Thetford did have a view point, however it just doesn’t have the same gusto without the elevation needed for a successful outlook, or the bustling city below to gander at. You pretty much look right across the land as it runs parallel to the sky’s blue and streaky clouds.

 

For a longer cruise and more to see, we drove to the neighbouring town of “D’Israeli”, established in 1867, with a population of around 2,500 according to records from 2009.

In D’Israeli, we stopped at the Marina and the “Marina pub” by the water. This is Aylmer lake, it connects many of the cities by water.

At the pub they offer fun cocktails with tiny colourful umbrellas, but given the heat and the area, went for the “Lake Lager”, a hoppy and refreshing beer when enjoyed on the upper deck of their two storey building. Calming waters with boats docked and county twang playing. This is only the second summer this new patio has seen.

We also stopped at one of the town’s popular cafeterias offering fast food like hot dogs and poutine, along with drinks and ice cream. One of “Le Mont Blanc’s” most popular offerings is the their soft served ice creams. We grabbed their largest cones to share, choosing the “twist” option. What I assumed was a mix of chocolate and vanilla swirled together, was actually vanilla and maple syrup soft serve. I never had maple soft serve before, but leave it to Quebec to highlight their favourite flavour like this. Worth noting is how the actual cone has little maple leaf prints encircling it.

Seeing a poster advertise “bubble tea”, I had to order it for curiosity sake. I was surprised that the idea of it got all the way out here. Naturally, I had to order the most “exotic” flavour, which wa the “mango”, made with peach juice and black tea. The “pearls” are actually popping juice balls. I asked for the “black ones”, thinking they would be the regular tapioca balls, however they are actually just blueberry juice balls. Don’t know what I was expecting given Frenchy’s dislike of bbt and having to chew his drink. The clerk admitted that it isn’t ordered often, and this was in fact her first time having to make it. No regrets, but no repeats.

For more of what I ate and the food scene in Thetford Mines, check out part two to my Thetford trip:

Theford Mines 2018: eating & dining

Quebec City Trip 2018

During our visit to Quebec, we drove down to Quebec City for the evening. We spent our time exploring and eating within “Old Quebec”, the oldest part of the town, featuring architecture from hundreds of years ago. The exterior of such buildings have been restored and many of the interiors renovated into more modern places of business. Thus making it a great destination for tourists to come, soak in some history, and to shop for souvenirs to their heart’s content.

The drive to was a lengthy one, and unfortunately Quebec’s landscape is a flattened one. Where as we have water ways and mountain highs to appreciate when we travel within our province of BC, Quebec has farm lands as far as the eye can see. Therefore this does become quite the tiring drive, luckily our trusty 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, for the week provided us with an easy and comfortable ride.

My partner was worried about the drive within the large city and the aggressiveness of the drivers, who cut you off every chance you get. Luckily the eclipse cross has plenty of safety features to help you battle the above. This includes very clear view of the rear, thanks to the mirror magnifying the segmented back windshield.

But once you get into the city there is so much to see. You can literally behold the history of the city with ivy lined brick buildings, chipped away stone facades, and colonial style roof tops. This all comes with being North America’s oldest city, founded in 1608. The original French settlers brought with them an architectural style similar to what they were familiar with in Europe. This architecture is what really sets the French Canadian city apart from all the other much younger cities across Canada.

In fact, in 1985 Quebec City was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is the only remaining fortified city north of Mexico, a fort equipped with antique cannons defending its shores. Both are artifacts and memories of a battle to defend the land long ago. They currently make for a great photo op.

But certainly the focal point of the city, and the most photographed hotel in the world is the Fairmont Frontenac. The Château Frontenac is one of Canada’s grand railway hotels, located in Quebec City, Quebec. It is a prominent feature in the skyline of Quebec City, overlooking the water with more than 600 rooms across 18 floors. My wish would be to return, and stay for the night… one day.

The area referred to as “Old Quebec” is separated into two different levels. The stone gateway is at the upper. And in order to reach the lower half, you can either take the walk down, or ride the tram down. We opted for the latter, only to deem it the most expensive elevator ride we have ever been on. $3 per person, per ride (up or down). In a glass box you watch the the horizon shrink or grow as you ascend or descent. We would take it down and scale up stairs later to get back up.

The streets are like those of a European Village. Cobble stone roads, windows with colourful shutters and flower boxes, and lights strung over head from one side of the narrow lane way to the other. If our streets in Vancouver looked more like this, you would see me walking for the sake of enjoying them more.

The following are a few of the decorative sights I took note of.

Wonderful murals.

Strung up lights.

And art installations.

We stopped at “Lapin Sauté” for dinner. It’s exterior caught my eye, as well as the prospect of dining at a rabbit themed restaurant. The patio shared a courtyard with a few other restaurants. This scene included over reaching tree branches and paper lanterns hanging over head. All this and a warm night made for a romantic dinner session. It is just a shame that the food didn’t live up to it.

They are famous for their cassoulets, so I had to try their braised rabbit leg, with duck sausages and bacon. All their rabbit comes from Quebec, it is naturally farmed without antibiotics, hormones, animal meal, or fat. I didn’t like it, I found it a dull meal to pick at. The rabbit leg was tough, the beans grainy, and the dish overall didn’t have enough interest to it. The spices in the sausage was the only element satisfying in flavour, yet there wasn’t enough of it to pair all that rabbit meat with.

Although disappointing, it was still better than the pork chops marinated in herbs with maple and soy sauce. This was the driest pork chop I have ever had, at any restaurant. So bad that my partner agreed that we ought to send it back, instead of suffering through it. And we did.

I should of had the rabbit poutine or the rabbit pot pie. Maybe even the warm rabbit liver and kidney salad. We were thinking about ending our meal with their maple syrup crepe brûlée, but after not enjoying your two entrees all that much, we rather not chance any more disappointment.

Still hungry we continued to roam the city looking for another, more convenient place to finish our dinner at. We did so as the sun set and the sky turned shades of coral and pinks before black replaced blue in the sky.

Here we were able to enjoy the city in a different way. I liked how the city lit up and glowed with flickering bulbs.

We ended up at “Sapristi Bistro Bar” to continue our meal. We were once again able to enjoy the warm night, on their backyard patio. A section between two brick buildings, decorated with potted plants and strung up with patio lights.

The margarita pizza was disappointing in size. This sad looking single serving was actually the “large” at $14. This wasn’t enough food for two, but luckily I ordered enough wine to fill me up.

And thus ended our night in Old Quebec. We took in most of the sights and enjoyed the city in its splendour. And now with all the traffic dispersed, we were free to drive back home, in our 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross.

The recap of our travel will conclude in the next travel blog on Thetford Mines.

 

Formula 1 & Montreal Trip 2018

It’s been three years since my original trip to Quebec and 1.5 since my partner last saw his parents. So we figured it was as good of a time as any to visit the land of the French speaking Canadians, especially as our timing coincided with the Formula One in Montreal, Canada’s only Grand Prix.

We would attend the weekend of racing at its finest: “the highest class of single-seater auto racing”. For those unfamiliar, it isn’t just about going fast around a track. There are a set of rules to adhere to regarding how specialized drivers race and what they race in. The vehicle’s build, the engine’s make up, and the tire’s composition are just a few of the moving parts to consider. Then there is the matter of when to change the tires, how to maneuver to keep all participants safe, and everything in between. The sport invites all walks of fans, visiting various locations all around the world, in splendour. Each location on the tour is its own “Grand Prix”. This is a full weekend of racing with a grand champion at the end of the 3 days, with podium celebrations and the spraying of champagne to end each. I won’t be getting into more of the logistics here, but let’s just say it is more than just watching fast and low cars going round and round. And take it from a first hand account, fans of the sport go deep into these regulations, enjoying the ability to follow stats and the rules that keep it “interesting”.

We attended two days of the four day occasion: the qualifying match and the actual Grand Prix. This being our first time, we really didn’t know what to expect, so weren’t as ready as we could have be. Therefore we went for the general admission tickets, only to learn spending more for the grand stand set seats is well worth the elevated cost. Though it is often $100s of dollars more for these better seats with the best views. But when travelling we were looking to save and ended up still spending quite a bit: $65 each for general admission on day one and $98 for general admission on the second.

General admission meant unassigned standing room, and the need to go early to mark your claim. This also meant that we spent our entire day guarding our spot in one of the designated general admission areas. This ended up being track side behind two layers of chain fencing. For our protection from debris, but to our visual dismay. So without any elevation, we were only able to see the cars drive by on our peripheral area of track. Luckily the televised monitor high above, was within our eye line and we caught most of the action from it. We choose our position by the hair pin of the track. A position where the cars comes at the corner from a straight really fast; then they break hard, only to accelerate again on the straight after.

After the first day on our feet, with flatten bottoms from the hard concrete; we learned the necessity of comfort. We procured cheap folding chairs. $9.95 for each gave us hours of ease and sitting. They also functioned as place markers, although if you are not seated in them, these can be easily moved aside by anyone looking to improve their vantage point. Overall a great investment as we spent the entire day on the track. 9am to 6:30pm on the first day and 8:30am to 4pm the second day.

Friday was the less busy day out of the two. All the races were qualifying matches, set to decide how each of the cars would position themselves on the actual race day. Although all the grand stand seats did sell out on this day as well as the next. It was just less busy because there were just less looky loos wandering the compound with their general admission tickets. This toned down traffic allowed us the time to explore the expanse of the compound early, engaging in some activities and casing out our ideal spot (the one described above).

There was lots to see and do, more than just watching the races themselves. And plenty of time to line up and do them on in between matches, with often 1-2 hours in between.

We visited a few of the booths that had race simulators, offered photo ops with F1 vehicles, and gave out free merchandise for doing a survey. We most enjoyed trying our hand at the Red Bull Test pit stop. In two man teams you remove a tire and exchange it for a new one, just as the real pit crew would during a time sensitive race. The fastest time (the professional time) recorded is a microsecond over 2, this was a large discrepancy from ours. We fell far short in our three attempts at 11 seconds.

There was also plenty to shop with F1 and auto themed stalls offering merchandise like caps, shirts, and printed posters. And of course food vendors were on-site offering all day-ers the option of tacos, burgers, hotdogs, and rotisserie chicken for their three meals in the day. Naturally this wasn’t the cheapest: arena quality at arena prices. A dried bun, cold hot dog cost us $6.50. A serving of poutine with half cooked fries, runny gravy and not enough cheese cost us $11. So disappointed by its look, I didn’t even capture the former.

There was also plenty to quench your thirst with, given the clear skies and the hot sun this proved necessary. Energy drinks, pop, cocktails, and beers. But to avoid having to use any of the porto-potties excessively I avoided drinking too much. Although keeping it just water and sipping only as needed still proved pricy. $4.25 for a bottle, and to not get dehydrated cost us over $25 for the day. We got smart the second day bringing our own snacks and drink.

I did appreciate that there were plenty of portable washroom stalls around popular gathering points. There were even certain portos designated for men and women; and due to there being less women than men at this event, there was often no or little lines for them. Although clean to start the day, this would deteriorate as the day wore on. Many ran out of toilet paper and hand sanitizer, with no one to replenish either. Either way going in one of these is never a fun experience.

There weren’t set ticket quantities for general admission, so the traffic and my complaints swelled Sunday (our second day). This was to the point that there were lines to walk about. And some of them were longer than the lines for the washroom or to purchase food  from vendors. No paths to pass, no room to walk up and down stairs, with patrons claiming steps and rails as their “spot”. This continue even after security tried to maintain a path and some order. Therefore we were very fortunate for our claimed position, being able to inch up as the day wore on, on Sunday. Just walking pass the bodies shoulder to shoulder squinting at the monitor from afar we could not imagine paying $100 for their view. Though we did work hard for it. With sore legs from standing, sun burnt backs, and bug bites.

 

As for the race itself, highlights and better photos of the action are available on any sporting network. So instead enjoy what I saw, taken from my phone, by shoving it through one of the holes in the chain link fence.

I enjoyed how they had mascots shooting tee shirts into the crowd with guns. They were your favourite race car drivers in their driving suits with blown-up cartoon bobble heads. The Lewis Hamilton one was spot on.

After the F1 qualifying there was the Ferrari Challenge and Porsche GT3 cup qualifying races. We didn’t stay to watch that show, but instead rushed to where they pitted so that we could watch them roll in after their match. It was a parade of Ferrari 488s and Porsche GT3s all set to the same specks. Meaning, the race is based on the better driver and how well the garage maintains its vehicles. Each race ends with rigorous tests to ensure the strict regulations are met. It is down to tire pressure, amount of fuel in tank, ride height, alignment settings, etc.

It was a behind the scenes affair where you were able to talk up the mechanics that serviced these impressive vehicles and the men who worked for the companies that sponsored them, such as Pirelli the only tire manufacturer that services all of Formula One and the Ferrari Challenge.

On the second day we were able to watch these amazing vehicles round the track. Not that I wish for any, but complications and accidents make for better entertainment during these races. There were so many crashes in both series that it kept fans on their feet, urging on their favourite driver to pass one another. Whereas once the F1 race started the top three held their places and from lap 40-60 nothing happened.

We ended up leaving the actual F1 race with 10 laps left, hoping to make our way closer to watch the podium ceremony live. However given the thickness of the crowds and the traffic we would have to endure, we thought it best to just escape the park and ride the subway home as soon as possible. In hindsight this was the right idea. Surprisingly this didn’t take us all that long, the city was prepared for the influx of bodies. The subway stop, the park, and the track are only in use during F1, so the additional bodies on foot isn’t cutting into anyone’s commute time.

In fact, the city celebrates the weekend, acknowledging the tourist boom the event brings. Stores invite people in with black and white checkered flags and pendants cheering on their favourite drivers. Popular roads were closed off with makeshift patios to eat and drink on. We visited “Corneli” on Friday for a late lunch. It is a restaurant and pizzeria within Montréal’s Little Italy. It is located on Saint Laurent, one of the popular streets shut down for the Grand Prix weekend. We took advantage and sat on their covered patio.

Our meal began with a complimentary loaf of ciabatta, served with a spicy pepper and olive oil mix.

The “Margherita pizza” is prepared in their stone oven with tomato sauce, melted mozzarella, and fresh basil. It had too much cheese, more than what is enough for the tangy tomatoes and dried basil. I found it too salty, and in need of something refreshing like real tomato slices and fresh basil leaves.

We had their “Fettuccini Alfredo con pollo” without the red peppers that was listed on the menu. The broccoli was a nice healthy touch and the grilled chicken was tender. Both were well covered in their thick enough cream sauce with fresh Parmesan. It was good, but a little too watery and light in flavour for my tastes.

The “Spaghetti bolognese” was more hearty, a classic with their homemade meat sauce and served with a giant meatball on top.

We also explored downtown Montreal Saturday night. Many more streets were closed off for their night time block party. Here all car enthusiasts were cruising these busy streets showing off their expensive rides, and you were lucky if you could find a place to stop yours.

Restaurants had their wood and metal patios set up to attract party goers with candlelight and wine. There were displays of show-cars lining the sidewalks for carboys and cargirls to gawk at. But most impressive was the makeshift stage and night club with a second floor made from shipping containers. Here the DJ blasted the music, and even though you didn’t pay for cover, you could enjoy the ambience and dance house music from your sidewalk perch.

After exploring Saturday night, we grabbed a beer at “Bier Markt”. There would be no hope of getting a patio table on the busy streets, without reservations or knowing the right people. “Bier Market” is a chain restaurant offering over 150 beer from 25 different countries, 40 of the beers are from Quebec.

I grabbed a beer flight and made sure to order the one from Quebec. Brasseurs du minded l’Infuse three tea white ale – 5.4%, Jukebox new wave milkshake ipa – 6.1%, Peche mortel imperial stout – 9.5%, and Frampton brasse nuit d’automme dark strong ale at 10%.

And after that we visited one of the most noticeable landmarks in Montreal: “Gibeau Orange Julep”. A giant orange that serves as a fast food snack joint. They are open until late making them the ideal place for car meets and late night snacking stops. And luckily we were able to represent with the 2018 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross that we had on loan from Mitsubishi of Canada. We put it to go use travelling around Montreal, Quebec, and Thetford Mines with it,

At “Gibeau Orange Julep” we tried one of the orange smoothie drinks. It is light and creamy like a creamsicle, similar in flavour and blend to that of “Orange Julius’” orange drink. To go with it, I had one of their stuffed pretzels. A doughy bite filled with extra cheese.

We didn’t do much else during our time at Montreal, it was very F1 focused so I barely took in any sights or ate from any of the restaurants that was recommended to me. But during our limited time stay, we did visit two very French Canadian themed restaurants.

The first was “Mache” at “Berri-Uqam” station. It was a more stereotypical Canadian restaurant with wooden planked walls and art prints of wild animals and vintage skis and sports equipment hung on it.

I had their “Le ginger bitter” with rhum blanc, old fashion bitter, ginger ale, and bleuet et romarin. It tastes like a fruit and herbed flavour sparkling water beverage. Thirst quenching, but not alcoholic-ly satisfying.

And given that the name of the restaurant translates to “mash” in English I went for one of their name sake’s shepard’s pie. Although in French what is shepard’s pie directly translates to “Chinese pie”, despite its origin being the United Kingdom. This is their “Le “new” style”, an interpretation on the traditional potato mash, ground beef, and sweet corn mix. Instead this was a combination of pulled pork, leak, corn, and mashed sweet potato. It was interesting, but lacked everything I liked about shepard’s pie, and was a little too watery and bland for my liking. Luckily ketchup was the easy fix here, like it would be for traditional shepard’s pie.

My partner had the “8oz seasoned Canadian beef sandwich” with a side of fries. In between their spongy soft bun was two stacked battered onion rings, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, and spicy mayo. The fries were amazing, burnt slight and crispy. I liked the juicy homemade beef patty, but there was a flavour in its seasoning that just didn’t jibe with the otherwise delicious handheld.

And a trip to Quebec just isn’t the same without a stop at “St Hubert”. In my books modern Quebec cuisine is made up of three pillars and “St Hubert” has all three: cheese, potatoes, and chicken.

This is their classic rotisserie chicken platter with dark leg meat (my preferred type of meat). Their chicken is roasted for 3 hours and served with sides. The bowls of their popular coleslaw are unlimited and come in either normal or creamy. It is hard to tell that we got the latter, given that it tastes as dry at it looked. Their famous bbq sauce is prepared in their kitchen every day using their original recipe that was created in 1951. It is watery in texture and tangy in taste. Not bad, but I prefer a thick and meaty gravy, or a sauce that is sweeter for chicken. Ironically both my partner and I liked the plain and simple, toasted half white hamburger bun the best, enough to order another two. The last side is your choice between fries, salad, rice, vegetables, or any of their upgrades for extra. I got the mashed potato, thinking I would like the gravy more and it would be good to pair with the mash. It wasn’t.

My partner got their ribs with the same sides I did above, and his choice of fries. The ribs fell off the bone, texturally they were perfect, but like the chicken they were tasty, but you just wanted more of its taste to come through. More zip, more pop, it tasted bland and it is already established that I don’t like the gravy.

For dessert we had a choice of five different sweet and cakey treats. “Chomeur pudding” is a Quebec classic. An upside down cake with vanilla ice cream and a sugar cream sauce topping it. This was far too sweet for me. I find my partner tends to eat his desserts too sweet, and now know why, it’s because he was raised on it. This was like eating a soggy sponge cake with chunks of burnt sugar and cream in melted vanilla ice cream.

On our way back to Vancouver, we once again stopped in Montreal. Here we would be catching our Air Canada flight back home. But not before a brisk meal at “La Carreta Suchitoto” for some El Salvadorian & Mexican cuisine. I like how many such small bistros create their own patio with fencing and artificial turf on the sidewalk. It makes eating with them feel like a garden party.

Deep fried plantains served with a spicy sauce. The mustard-like dip turned this sweet starchy treat into a savoury snack

“Trio tacos “La Carreta” with beef”. The beef was a little over cooked in this, luckily with plenty of tomatoes and a thick slice of avocado topping each, it helped to give the dish some moisture and freshness. And for some punch the tangy tomato sauce was a great drizzle.

Beef and Chicken fajitas. The chicken was very dry, the beef only a little better. Both a little flat on their own, but with a few scoops of the table side coleslaw, the dish found some crunch and personality,

The beef enchilada was the tastiest of them all. Well seasoned ground beef and diced veggies over a fried crisp tortilla. Best to eat this one right away before it gets soggy from the meat juices.

And with that, this ends the recap for my time in Montreal with the focus in and around Formula One. The recall for my time in Quebec will continue in my next post, focusing on our adventures in my partner’s home town of Theford Mines, 2 hours from Montreal.

Mannie Casse-Croûte

IMG_2893IMG_2911It is day six and I am finally having poutine. It seems blasphemous to have held off for so long, especially in the birth place of poutine. The place where fries, cheese, and gravy were combined for the very first time. Apparently there is a feud between two families claiming its creation.

Today we were visiting the neighbourhood diner where poutine, among other items were offered. The term for such a place is translated to “breaking crust”, or a place to dine and break bread at. Such places usually start off as an old house or office that has been converted to a restaurant. There are a bunch of these little shacks around town, this just happened to be the closest to my partner’s childhood home, only a block away. Driving up to it, I wasn’t able to tell it was a restaurant. I guess those in the neighbourhood just knew. It was a large building painted green, it looked like a barn with a laundry mat at the back. It was the ideal set up wheee those doing their whites and darks could wait with a hot coffee and a warm snack. The diner was owned and operated by two women. When we drove up to the building they were taking a smoke break outside. They entered before we did to continue their conversation behind the counter. They both worked out of the opening kitchen.

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Given the look of the room it was definitely refurbished from a old home. Counter tops across their stainless steel kitchen and an average size seating area. The booths were some of the most uncomfortable I have ever sat in. Hard and stiff they were early not designed for extended stays. Though they and the rest of the dining room was very well maintained. The paint on walls were crisp, the furnishings were new, and the room as a whole was well organized. Not a lot of clutter aging the space. A few IKEA style, restaurant themed paintings hung on the walls, a white and black board showcased specials by the kitchen and each setting was set with a white and blue paper placemat welcoming diners.

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The menu was pretty standard to everything else I have seen or had: sandwiches, poutines, burgers, and fries. There was also a steak entree available, but we discussed the risk in ordering it and hoping for quality at a place like this. This was your mother’s kitchen, the cooking was self taught, and the food homemade. It’s done with love, but not with the quality that you expected for what you had to pay for.

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I couldn’t believe it possible, but the common fast food fare offered almost everywhere else, just got faster here. With a few spins of the microwave I was cautious of our meal to come. They used it two times after we placed our order. Given the low traffic it is easy to assume that the food would not be made from scratch, but instead assembled to order. There would be no prep done, just things made to keep with the possibility of reheating. Though given the prices expected, I was a little surprised. A fairly large order of poutine for $7 and a sandwich for $5.50. Those aren’t too far from prices asked for at fast food restaurants like “Subway”, but there the chain is able to guarantee things will be always fresh and made your way. Either way in was walking in knowing what to expect. I was able to accurately judge this book by its cover so ate preparedly. With lowered expectations I, for the most part, enjoyed what I had. And good thing too, as one of the owners came around to ask what we thought of the food. When my partner said, “good” she said, “thank you”. She had clearly taken it personally. I would hate to see what the conclusion would be if we said only “okay”.

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Their medium poutine was our large in Vancouver. The sticks of potato were deep fried to a crisp, leaving a few plated with a darker hue. They were a nice mixed texture of chewy and crunchy. Good on its own, but a second fiddle to the cheese. They did not skimp on the squeaky cheese, with kitchens producing their own batches daily, and bags offered at every shop, there was no reason to have to. The cheese was not only sprinkled on top, but was added to the middle of the French fry mound as well. Enough cheese to finish all the fries with. Enough gravy to flavour each fry without drowning it. The perfect ratio of the three. There were even dry fries at the bottom of the plate that weren’t soggy. A very important point as poutine is best with crisp fries, squeaky cheese, and luscious gravy.

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My partner ordered the “Italian sandwich” to my dismay. At a place like this you stick to the basics. What I would imagine would be a sandwich filled with meatballs, mozzarella, and marinara; was a salami sub with pickle slices, tomato wedges, leafy lettuce, melted mozzarella, green peppers, and diced onions. It was a salty mix, made tolerable when I removed the two slices of salami. It wasn’t anything special. Just crispy bread and regular ingredients. There wasn’t even a lot of any one thing. To not waste it I finished half, mostly enjoying the bread. Though it find use for the sandwich as a break in between bites of heavy poutine.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
The shop is best as an easy stop to grab a bag of fries at. Sold in brown paper bags, by how many it will feed, they were convenient diner for young teens and busy families. I would not dare to try anything else, but can definitely recommend the poutine. Poutine does not get anymore authentic then at a place like this. Don’t deny your cravings.

MANNIE
253 rue 4e, Thetford Mines QC, G6G5A3
418-338-0222
Mannie Casse-croûte on Urbanspoon

L’Gros Luxe

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“The very fancy” is located in the “English part” of Montreal, I was finally about to be included in a dinner. This week has felt so long, not being able to communicate with anyone other than my partner. I was dependant on him and required him to speak on my behalf. So when I saw that the menus had some English on it and majority of the staff and patrons spoke both languages, I was thrilled. I would be able to choose what I ate and order for myself.

The restaurant was large, good thing as there were plenty of people looking to dine here tonight. Inside was surprisingly loud. The thud of the base kept the beat and tempo of the conversations uplifting. A ongoing roar of chatter and the clacking of tongues. Shouting to be heard was a norm and a requirement if you wanted to be heard. The lighting was set dim for ambience, it matched well the antique feel of the place.

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The smaller room that we were situated in created some intimacy, allowing for a quieter setting. It was papered in a black and white pattern. A collection of flora and cherubs, animals in play, birds in flight, and ladies lounging in leisure. Over this detailed wallpaper hung pictures and antiques that matched its time period. Coloured drawings of Victorian women, a wooden and brass clock that chimed, and a cast iron chandelier that centred it all. The table our group of eight was seated around was worn and heavy in wood. It added character and matched well the upholstered couch half of us sat on. In contrast was the flat screen television broadcasting the habs versus the red wings game, and the security camera in the corner.

The menu was modern casual. Soups, and salads mingled with share plates, and hand held entrees. Everything that would compliment a glass of foamy beer. Good thing too as many beers were needed to cool down. The server recommended their tacos in either pork, fish, or tofu; and said that their house poutine with tater tots and green onions was good. However most of us were sold on their burger special.

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The burger special was not listed on the menu. At $10 it was only $1 more than the mushroom burger, and came with so much more. Between its toasted buns were three onion rings, enoki mushrooms, arugula, tomato, mozzarella, fried onions, and a pickle; over an all beef patty. I got it with a side of fries instead of soup. It was too hot for soup, and beer doesn’t go well with a creamy soup. The tomato was refreshing and the arugula a nice change of pace instead of lettuce. I liked the enoki mushrooms as the wild card the best. I liked their stringy texture and found them enjoying to eat. The burger as a whole was heavy, a two handed job that became messy with the juice of a moist patty. One of the guests found the burger too sweet from the BBQ sauce. And none of us three that ordered it finished it.

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“Fried pickles served with sriracha mayo”. Their heavily herbed breading took this classic to a next level. You didn’t really need the mayo for dipping as the pickle was already so tasty, but it did make a good creamy addition to its crunchy and crisp texture. Spicy and tangy, juicy and warm; not for those who don’t like the sour tang of a hot pickle.

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The “Flatbread pizza” with caramelized onions, grape tomatoes, basil, pesto, goat cheese, wild arugula, and a balsamic glaze was my favourite taste of the night. Served on naan bread it was light while being full of depth. It had layers of ingredients and layers of flavours that all complimented one another. They didn’t miss anything. Sweet from the balsamic glaze, salty from the goat cheese, refreshing from the tomato, and peppery from the arugula.

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“Fish N’ Chip Poutine” made with beer battered cod, fries, cheese curds, and gravy. A classic poutine with the addition of fried fish. As a whole it was too heavy, and seasoned with too much salt. The fish was flaky and served crisp, but without a side of tartar sauce to cut through the frying most was left uneaten.

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The “Beef burger” was your standard burger made with a homemade patty, aioli, tomato, lettuce, and pickle on a toasted bun. With an option to add cheese, bacon, pulled pork, mushroom, fried egg, cheese, Brie, and even a second patty; you can make this your own. The single beef patty was the highlight, and as a whole the burger was pretty uninspiring compared to the other dishes.

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The “Pulled pork sandwich” had an interesting twist. Made with BBQ pulled pork, roasted squash, pickled vegetables, and arugula on a ciabatta bun. Served with fries or a salad, with the option to upgrade to a poutine, soup, or onion rings. My partner got the latter, you can’t turn down a good onion ring and these were good. The sandwich was on the drier side. There was not enough sauce, a heavier coating of BBQ over the pork, or maybe some honey could have helped. Even a dish of generic gravy on the side would have been an improvement. The pickled vegetables were a similar mix to coleslaw, but without the creamy mayo. It offered a nice crunch, but only dried up the sandwich even more. The squash was the interesting twist and a great addition. Good in the sandwich, but better on its own. It was sweetened with honey or maple syrup and melted in your mouth. I could eat a portion as a side. This was the healthiest tasting of all that was ordered.

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Poutine grilled cheese made with thick cut fries, cheese curds, a three cheese mix, and veggie gravy; all packed in between two pieces of sourdough bread. If the above was the healthiest, this was the greasiest. This order too could have its side customized, but one of our guests went with the standard French fry side. Which in my opinion was overkill, fries in your sandwich, with an additional side of more fries? I personally would have looked for a tomato based soup. The sandwich itself was decadent, with the first bite being the best. Satisfying with gooey cheese, and crisp fries. I recommend this for the cheese lovers out there who are not afraid of getting a little extra grease on their fingers.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
This was the restaurant most like something I would visit in Vancouver. I would be surprised to spot something similar in Gastown. A unique decor with a casual dining menu, a modern theme with delicious dishes. I can see this doing well back home, especially with their custom cocktails and decked out Caesars. Caesars topped with mini burgers, sandwiches, spring rolls, and onion rings. Don’t deny your cravings.

L’Gros Luxe
3807 St-Andre, Montreal Quebec, H2L3V9
514-447-2227
lgrosluxe.com
L'Gros Luxe on Urbanspoon

Fameux Viande Fumée Et Charcuterie

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We were in Montreal for the day, visiting my partner’s sister with his family. She lives in the south side of Montreal, in an area known as Plateau Mont-Royal. Truthfully it is an older and less glamorous part of town. Walking around, there wasn’t much to see in terms of boutique shopping or finer dining restaurants. The blocks were punctuated with weather worn double story housing and colourful street art representing pop culture. On busier corners were churches with high steeps and parks when leaf barren trees. The rain and the cold of the season didn’t make for a visually appealing tour of the city. I was quickly learning that the age of the city was accurately reflected in its appearance. Most of the buildings were older than 100 years. And the residents have been walking these streets for double that time.

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The age of it all and the wear and year also also transitioned to the restaurant that we would be lunching at today. After multiple walks around the blocks we settled here. Opened since 1957 it looked and smelled like it; historic, like everything else. The staff seemed to have aged with the place and were just as weary. Or maybe we were getting subpar service because we were tourists. Our grumpy server greeted another table with so much enthusiasm that it appeared she favoured them.

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Like everywhere else we have been thus far, this restaurant too served classic North American comfort food: burgers, fries, pizza, and pasta. With Quebec classics like Montreal smoked meat sandwiches and poutine, of course.

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Poutine, the basic: fries, gravy, and cheese. Traditionally it only comes one way, although there are 20 different options available here. A way to give their patrons options and to keep things interesting. But we got the basic, because there is only one way to make poutine, and you don’t mess with a good thing. But sadly they did not represent well with this “famous” version. The fries were soggy from the start, the gravy one dimensional. The cheese was more like mozzarella, sad given the abundance of cheese curds round.

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Their all dressed pizza is what we refer to as the deluxe. Green peppers, pepperoni, and mushrooms, all on the Quebec style thick and bubbly bread-like crust. The pizza was salty and bland. The sauce needed more herbs and the ingredients didn’t add anything to the mix. The crust, which normally is the best part, wasn’t that warm spongy kind of bread that went well with a smearing of butter. However we still ate it with butter.

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Between 11am to 9pm certain dishes included coffee, soup and a dessert. What we though was great combo was a disappointment. The soup was a tomato vegetable with orzo rice. It was watery and simple. It reminded me of the soup our elementary school use to make during thanksgiving, a basic water broth with boiled vegetables. As a silver lining I found the noodles tender and enjoyable to eat, and the vegetables just melted in your mouth. The salted soda crackers were a nice touch, but the bowl didn’t need any more salt, so they were left untouched.

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I kept in the Quebec tradition and ordered a hot chicken sandwich. Two slices of white bread filled with large cuts of chicken breast. The chicken was dry, but the heavy dousing of gravy not only made the bread soggy, but helped to moisten the chicken as well. The peas were a nice touch in taste and texture. They burst like little bombs and offered a fresh component, but sadly there were not enough of them to go around. Served with a side of fries and coleslaw this was a large order. The fries were nothing special, and the coleslaw served as no more than an easy palate cleanser. Not to waste food, I just finished the chicken and peas.

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My partner ordered the baked lasagna with melted cheese. It was regular at best. Soggy noodles and a very peppery sauce. The two slices of garlic bread included was the best part.

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Dessert was either rice pudding or jello, a fact we were told after our entrees. We chose one of each, but were not excited about either. You can’t screw up jello, or so we thought. The strawberry jello was stiff, if possible. It could have use a little cream for interest and moisture. The rice pudding was like eating cooked rice with the texture of oatmeal. The cinnamon helped but not by much, it added to the dessert feel, but also made it closer to breakfast. In short is not my sort of texture, but my partner’s dad loves the stuff and was happy to have what I didn’t want.

Would I come back? – No.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – No.
The menu is so big that it is impossible to have everything good, or in our case anything good. They can’t afford to specialize with over 60 items offered. I can only imagine how their Chinese interpretations would be? The menu advertised a smoked meat fried rice and Chinese spaghetti with beef and vegetables. Given what we had, I imagine this horrible. Overall the food below average, nothing worth remembering. Everyone left disappointed for the price we had to pay. I was especially disappointed considering it was all basics and all what other diners and cafés offered. Maybe pass this one, but don’t deny your cravings.

FAMEUX
4500, rue Saint-Denis, coin Mont Royal Quebec
514-845-8732
Fameux Viande Fumée Et Charcuterie on Urbanspoon

Sugar Shack

The Maple Syrup Harvest

My interpretation of the maple syrup harvest was drilling into trees and allowing its sweet, thick maple goodness to seep out. I believed that I could just put my lips to any maple trunk and suck hard enough to siphon out syrup. So when I saw the tapping of my first tree and tasted what came out I was curious to learn how maple syrup is actually made. And lucky me, typically the harvest is between March and April so we were in time for the season.

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Frenchy’s family owns two maple trees on their property. Two trees that required many years to grow to this size. Today the weather was nice enough and the trees large enough that his father began the harvesting process. He tapped the tree to find the ideal point to puncture. A handheld drill broke through the tree’s bark and a “tap” was inserted in this gap. Typically the tap is a specially created metal piece, but as you can see a finger’s length of plastic tubing works just as well. Gravity helps you gather the sap towards the bottom of the tree and the tube directs it all into your bucket hanging below. This clear liquid dripping drop after drop is essentially sweetened water. Tasting it, there isn’t much to it, as this is just the first step to achieving actual maple syrup. The sap will eventually be boiled down to evaporate its water content, and what is left is the sugar we know as maple syrup. This whole bucket full of sap will only result in a tablespoon’s worth of actual maple syrup. A lengthly and worth while process we would get to see at an actual sugar shack.

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Frenchy’s father brought us to his friend’s property. He is one of many farmers privately harvesting maple syrup. Their finished products get sold to a federation of producers and distributed to various brands of maple syrup to use as their own. His property is located in the Quebec country side. Where large acres of farm land are still frozen and large sheets of snow still blanketed the ground. It was a bumpy ride over cracked pavement that eventually turned into muddy roads. Luckily we came in a pickup and ATV. The latter with its loose suspension allowed us to enjoy the scenic view whist crusting at a top speed of 100kmh.

The weather is still brisk so the proper outerwear is required. I was dressed to the nines of warmth with a set of down over alls and matching jacket. It is as heavy as it looks and as awkward as you imagine it to be because of the bulk. Proper boots are waterproof and fleeced lined, making them ideal for both snow and mud. And as we were traveling by ATV, and as it is required by law, a helmet finished off my outdoorsy look. I was ready for the cold and the dirt that country life would throw at me.

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Driving out I realized that every realistic painting depicting Quebec in winter was true. White as far as the eye can see, punctuated with mountain tops and slender pole-like trees. Dirt roads, and still clearings, and every now and again a wood cabin. After a rough and messy ride we found ourselves at this privately own sugar shack for an exclusive showing of how their day to day operations during maple syrup season. We were going to get a guided tour that not many could enjoy.

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Our tour began the pumping station. A separate shack where all the sap from all the maple trees converge. The farmer own over 3000 maple trees just on this property. He had another piece of land with even more trees a little further out. Each tree is connected with blue tubing. A maze of trees and plastic often indicates the presence of a sugar shack nearby. The tubes are how the sap travels. A vacuum system sucks the sap to this shack. This is the modern maple tapping system. Gone are the single taps on a single trees and the individual buckets under them. Although traditional and great for show, it isn’t the most economical way to harvest sap. Therefore you may still see buckets and taps present at sugar shacks for aesthetics.

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The pumping station is centred around this blue machine. It has seven cords vacuuming sap from over thousands of maple trees. Each cord takes in sap from 250 trees at a time. The liquid pools from section to section and eventually gets dumped into the large tub below. Once enough sap gathers at the bottom of the tub it is then suctioned to the main sugar shack, where it gets filtered for the first time. The pumping machine requires a daily cleaning as sap has sugar, and when sugar crystallizes it can jam up the machinery. Despite the process being automated it still requires overseeing. To ensure all the mechanics are in working order and the flow is being maintain, a farmer can spend up to 14-16 hours a day tending to his maple syrup production. Therefore during the few months of the maple syrup harvest a farmer is here everyday. A small price to pay for a pretty decent reward.

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The sugar shack was what I imagined it to be, a cozy cabin in the woods. In the beginning it was probably someone’s summer home, a comfy place to bring the kids to, to enjoy fresh air at and have the ability to stretch their legs within. A home passed down from generation to generation, surviving all the elements Mother Nature threw at it. You could definitely tell the age of the place. This wasn’t the Ritz. A row of rocking chairs by the vats and a separate warm room upfront spoke of the time dedicated to the place, comfortable seating and a warm kitchen to cook out of were necessities. I immediately noticed a few hallmarks of Canadian life present: snowshoes, shovels, and logs for burning in real fires. It was everything I envision a cabin out in the Canadian woods would be.

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In the same room was also where the rest of the equipment needed to finish the maple syrup process was. Now that the fresh sap has been pumped to the main sugar shack it passes a filtering system before pooling into a second vat. Here the liquid drips through a semi permeable bag. Any loose debris is captured in this cloth and the sap is what gathers at the bottom. Not that the sap was very dirty to begin with. I have drank sap straight from a tree and it is as refreshing as water and as sweet tomatoes. From here the filtered sap is pumped into a separator where majority of the water content is removed. This process leaves the sap 30% sweeter. This sweeter and now smaller pool of liquid is then funnelled into a boiler. A multi walled maze that heats the sap. The water travels weaving around heated barriers, getting hotter and hotter. More than half of the syrup’s water content evaporates on its journey through.

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After, it flows slowly through a channel connecting the boiler with a final vat. The goal here is to achieve a 66% syrup consistency. A process that starts with 3 gallons of sap now ends here with a single gallon of maple syrup. We were privileged enough to get a taste of the sap through each of the above processes. How it gets sweeter and thicker, until it is fit to be called maple syrup. Having tried the real deal maple syrup straight from the farm, I can now see why my partner puts such a large emphasis on real maple syrup. Why he only wants real maple syrup from Quebec. It just tastes better. The depth of flavour is one you can’t find in ordinary grocery stores and one you can’t buy from Aunt Jemima. Yes it costs more but the price is certainly worth it. You are definitely getting what you paid for here.

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Although the conclusion of maple syrup is official, its story does not end here. At this point the syrup is so thick and so sticky that in order to bottle it, it needs to be pressed in. This device does just that. Though unfortunately without any syrup ready for this stage we were just walked through the process and told to use our imagination.

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This has been quite the experience, one that I don’t think most people get to enjoy, nor is it one I will get to duplicate. I come out of this with a new found appreciation for maple syrup producers. The time it takes to perfect the batch and the difference time and quality adds to the taste. Go buy real maple syrup! Make sure its says made in Quebec!

Le Rougue Poisson

IMG_2616 IMG_2615 My partner insisted that I try the sushi available in his home town of Thetford Mines. One of the only two places in town to get sushi at, not including the fast food kind at I.G.A. He was convinced it was good because his cousin recommended it, and has given it her highest endorsement. I raised my eyebrow in response and skepticism. I had to remind him that there are no Japanese residents in this town, no one travelled to Japan to learn the art of sushi crafting to bring their talents back here. That what the people living here described as good is only good them. Good because they haven’t had any better. Good because it is made to their taste. I continued to remind him of all the sushi options we have in Vancouver. How seafood is available fresh to us. How there is at least one small shop offering rolls around every corner. And how Vancouver is more multicultural and there for the quality of our sushi would be more on par with what is offered in Japan. And to conclude my argument, I recalled how we have just come back from Japan, less than two months ago. Japan, where sushi originated from and Japan, where I had the opportunity to try real authentic sushi. So needless to say I was wary of how good this “sushi” would be. I made my mind to go in not comparing it to anything. But instead to enjoy it as the gathering of ingredients that it was. The shop’s name was in French after all and their “red fish” was a clown fish with red and black stripes. They were definitely not going for authenticity so why should I expect it.  IMG_2618IMG_2619 The restaurant was a renovated house. You walk through two doors to enter the foyer. Double doors are common here, the extra barrier traps in hot air and keeps our cold. Plus it allows extra mats and carpet to catch the drips from slushy boots in winter. Given its older exterior and the overall look of the town I was surprised at how modern the interior or restaurant was. My partner spoke of how he went to school with the owner. A young man who left Theford to travel out West. There he learned of sushi and was able to bring back his learning in an interpretation that catered to his beloved community.  IMG_2617

We took our order to go, but I was able to enjoy the red, black, and green theme setting as we waited. Cushy chairs, chandeliers, and abstract art. It was a lot posher than I anticipated. It certainly earned the “lounge” in its title. I can definitely imagine something like this in Vancouver, though not serving sushi. The theme didn’t really match the cuisine. Maybe as a wine bar?

IMG_2632 Interestingly the rolls came in a cardboard box, the kind you would store cakes or pastries in. There was an attempt at displaying them in a decorative fashion, but overall it seemed clumsy in its packaging. They were true to tradition using sesame seeds, including soy sauce as a accompaniment, and providing chopsticks as the tools to eat them with. But that is were the similarities ended. There was no wasabi anywhere, there was no raw fish used, and there was no artistry in its composition. Overall the ingredients threw me off, but in a surprisingly good way. Once again, I opened my mind up to this, I didn’t not consider it sushi, but a new and convenient way to eat a rice dish. With a menu listed solely in French I relied on my partner to do the ordering. He choose a combo with three unique rolls. We got the chef special, the “celebrity”. A set that included 15 pieces of what they categorized as “Futomaki”. Given the actual definition of “Futomaki” this was a fitting title, minus the non traditional presence of seaweed on the inside. “Futomaki” are thick and large cylindrical pieces of sushi with nori on the outside. Typical five to six centimetres in diameter, they are often made with two, three, or more fillings that are chosen for their complementary tastes and colours.  IMG_2633IMG_2636 The first roll was the “Dragon”. In it had salmon, ginger, green onion, avocado, and tempura. Its deep fried coating naturally went well with the side of orange coloured mayo provided. Dipping fried and crispy foods into luscious cream is always a win. Think fish and chips with tartar sauce, and yam fries dipped into garlic aioli. Given an option I choose the sweet mayo over a spicy one. I was not surprised to see cooked salmon in its centre, as apposed to raw salmon. My partner and his father are not a fans of fish let alone raw fish. Eating meat raw is not common in a town like this, and the practice may even seem savage. The flakey, drier texture of the pink fish went well with the creamy ripened avocado chunks and the pickled tangy ginger slices. The same pickled ginger that is often used as a palette cleanser in between different pieces of sushi, was a star ingredient here. However, it tasted like it belong. IMG_2634IMG_2637 The “Kazam” roll had lobster, shrimp, apple, tempura, avocado, cucumber, and Sriracha and honey. The roll had visual interest, with the sprinkling of black sesame. It was filled with more cooked seafood, seasoned heavily with spices and dressed with a tangy vinaigrette. Its spicier nature paired well with the cooling tartness of chopped up Granny Smith apple slivers. This roll went well dipped in both the creamy sweet mayo and the light soy sauce.  IMG_2635IMG_2638 The “Honeymoon” roll has salmon tartar, mango, honey, tempura, and cucumber. Dressed in regular golden sesame seeds this the most interesting roll. It was filled with a slushy mixture of salmon and fresh fruit that resembled the taste and texture of salsa. I wondered how it all held in place with its juiciness. The fried puffs of tempura added some much need crunch and an interesting textural component. The roll was surprisingly good when dipped into soy sauce. Like sprinkling salt on to fruits, the saltiness of the soy only made the filling taste sweeter. Their menu included many more interesting Japanese adaptations and sushi variations. The “strawberry” roll had shrimp, strawberry, cream cheese, tempura, and panko. The “sweet and salty” roll had smoked salmon, wonton, pear, avocado, and green onion; all coated in wafu sauce. The wonton and the wafu sauce definitely came from Chinese influences instead of Japanese. Similarly was the the”yin yang” roll made with shrimp, smoked salmon tartar, salsa, and tempura; coated in a sweet chilli sauce. You don’t often did chilli sauce in sushi, let alone it paired with salsa. The “Peddington” roll had salmon tartar, apple, mango, cream cheese, tempura, and coco nibs. Would chocolate in sushi make it a dessert roll? Maybe without the salmon it could be considered as such. And of outse they had to represent Quebec with a “seafood poutine”. It was prepared with fries, baby spinach, crab, green onion, lobster, and shrimp. The lot of it was coated in a sweet and spicy sauce instead of the traditional gravy. Would I come back? – Yes. Would I line up for it? – No. Would I recommend it? – No. Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes. This is the Caucasian interpretation of sushi, specifically the French Canadian understanding of sushi. They took the principal of rolling ingredients between seaweed and rice, and used to the word “sushi” as more the technique applied and less the concept of fish on rice. I have had creative rolls in Vancouver, rolls created to meet the North American palette, but none that was this creative, none this good. A merger of ingredients I have never seen before or tasted until today that just went. Don’t deny your cravings.

LE ROUGE POISSON
236 Notre-Dame Est, Thetford Mines Quebec, G6G2S2
418-755-0886
rougepoisson.com
Le Rougue Poisson on Urbanspoon

Dairy Joy Snack Bar

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Located on the main road going in and out of the town, this is the most well known ice cream place in the small town of Thetford Mines. It only opened last Thursday in time for the sunnier days ahead, it closes every year for the winter season. Given that you order outdoors and that ice cream isn’t the greatest in cold weather, it makes sense to offer their wares in tune with the sun. Large snow banks continued to line the roads, black ice was prominent on colder nights; and the residents travelled cozy in down jackets, toque, gloves, and boots. The snow wasn’t going anywhere the first week of April, but the sun was definitely warming faces and bodies enough for a cold treat. Though for those not ready they offered hot fast food as well.

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The restaurant is on a large lot with plenty of parking in the front and even more at the back. With rows of outdoor picnic tables, and a separate building just for eating in, you could tell this place gets busy. I was informed from experience, that during their peak in summer the lot is normally full, there are crowds gathered around each table, and there is often a line just to grab a seat in doors. The seating area was in a separate building to the side. It was warm like a green house and looked like one with the artificial greenery strung around.

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You order from under the covered area. Their kitchen and the hub of operations is behind a row of counters and windows. Today was slow, the traffic was low, and all the orders were taken from just one open counter. However as soon as the weather improves and the bodies start making the trip out, multiple windows are opened up for better service and quicker delivery. Today you approach and a staff member on the other side pulls open their glass window. My partner remembered the staff servicing us today. They were the same individuals that he had seen on the otherwise of the same window ten years ago.

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You make your choice from their posted menu, in coloured photos and in French print. A different menu on either sides of the restaurant eludes to their normal process of separating hot and savoury from cold and sweet. On the right, your standard fast food offerings like wings, corn dogs, burgers, sandwiches, and fries. And savoury items specific to Quebec cuisine like the hot chicken sandwich coated in gravy and topped with peas; and the ever popular poutine with real homemade cheese curds.

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On the left, desserts. All soft serve ice cream, but with enough variations to compete with its salty counter part/menu. Sundaes and Parfaits topped with their own list of ingredients and given their own name with photo to match. “Strawberry shortcake” with actual cake bits, “banana splits” made with two whole ripe bananas, and the “carres au chocolat” was a tower of soft served accompanied by enough chocolate brownies to share with a group. The “souriceau” aka “baby mouse” was the most visually appealing. It was named after its resemblance to mice. Head of mice made edible with Oreo ears, gumdrop eyes, and a mini cone for its pointy noise. They were just missing the candy rope or twizzlers for whiskers.

This tray of hotdogs, onion rings, and orange drink came to about $6.70. That’s the small town life and prices for you.

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The hot dog was grilled and dressed with mayonnaise and ketchup. The regular pork wiener was sandwiched between what looked like a cross between a hot dog bun and toast. Both sides of the bun was void of crust. Pressed flat, it had the grill marks to prove it. Taste wise it was simply salty. I could not enjoy more than one bite, but my partner being use to the cuisine lapped it up.

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The onion rings were fried to order. They were a golden brown crisp with the grease to prove it. Like the hot dog before, it was good but standard.

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For dessert we had to have their ice cream. The miniature (“micro”) chocolate soft serve cone was fairly large, even with it being the size smaller than small.

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And by comparison this small dipped cone looked like a large. This was a maple twist soft serve cone, dipped in chocolate. Coated in milk chocolate with a pocket of caramel in the centre and even more caramel intermingled on the twist itself. This was sweet. I have never declared an ice cream too sweet for me to finish, this would be my first. I should have just ordered plain vanilla. I am quickly learning that, if it is salty it is really salty. And if it is sweet it is really sweet. There is no in between.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Truth be told, there isn’t much going around town and as the most noticeable ice cream place and the most accessible fast food lot, you will eventually find yourself visiting here for either of the two. A stand up place for your standard carnival and ball park fare. They just need to get their serving licence to be able to offer beer. Nothing like beer or wings, beer and a burger, or beer and anything deep fried. Plus beer is almost as refreshing as ice cream on a hot summer’s day. Don’t deny your cravings.

DAIRY JOY
3723 Boulevard Frontenac Est, Thetford Mines Quebec, G6H4G3
418-335-3341
Dairy Joy Snack Bar on Urbanspoon

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