Saturday, May 30, 2015

Fuente Baena

With food addiction on the brain lately, I recently grabbed a wonderful brisket sandwich at Hof Kelsten on St-Laurent just north of Mount Royal avenue.

Seeing I was already well up the Main, why not go the extra kilometer or two? Kind of a distance equivalent of being 'in for a penny, in for a pound'.

Which forces me to digress, as I often do. Bear with me.

This is one of those things that causes my childhood to collide with my present. That old penny and pound expression never made sense to me as a kid, in spite of my still very British grandmother.  Another expression that was lost on me was when my Dad would say to me "p'tit train va loin". Why would a little train go farther than a big one?  If you risked a penny, why would you risk a pound? A pound of what? Currency and weights, machines and distance? It took years of advancing age coupled with liberal doses of education and perspective, for the true meaning of those expressions to dawn on me.

Now if they had bothered to update them to match my mid-century Canadian Anglo context, and said "slow pace, travels far", or ''in for a cent, in for a dollar", I would have stood a chance. Though why you might squander a dollar with the same carefree abandon as flipping a cent into a fountain, is still beyond me.

When I hear the siren-song of uniquely exceptional, extra-virgin, Spanish olive oil humming my name, the kilometers that separate Hof Kelsten from the Jean-Talon market mean nothing.  I suppose the English gentleman who coined that expression about squandering pound notes was wealthy beyond dreams.

A Vespa will do for squandering distance, what egregious wealth will do for squandering dollars and pounds.

My tummy full, I hopped on the Vespa and sailed off north up the Main, on a quest for liquid rapture.

I've done this many times before.  
Montreal has a whole bunch of farmers' markets scattered around the metropolis.  We're very European that way.  The most celebrated of our markets are the Atwater Market, southwest of the downtown core, and the Jean-Talon Market.  Both those markets offer a wondrous array of fresh locally grown produce, meats that make your mouth water, and a selection of cheeses to make any epicurean stall, hog-tied by indecision.

The Jean Talon Market is home to Olive & Olives.
What can I say about Fuente Baena, a delectable extra virgin olive oil lovingly produced by the oliverera in Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in Spain? It's fruitier than any other olive oil I've ever tasted (which is not to say it's sweet, which it's not), with none of the heat or bitterness often sought after in extra virgin olive oils.  Spanish olive of any type is a relative rarity.  Unlike Italy, Greece and other olive oil producing countries, Spain seems to export very little of its annual production, making finding Spanish olive oil a tad of a challenge. 

Fortunately, this particular delicacy can be ordered online, either from the producer in Spain, or from Olive & Olives.  If you can't find Fuente Baena in a local specialty store where you live, it's worth an online ordering adventure for sure, or a trip to Olive & Olives in the Jean-Talon market.

Trust me.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Black Betty gets to work

 - or - Horses for Courses...

I've got choices.  I'm blessed.

Pouring rain in the forecast?  Take the black Civic.

No real precipitation expected?  Take the black Vespa.

No real precipitation expected, and feel like a total retro badass? Take the Black Betty!

And that my friends, is precisely the kind of day it was today.  Plus I had an early doctor's appointment.  The prospect of sitting around the waiting room with the (mostly) geriatric set sealed the deal.  Badass it had to be, and badass it was.

Though I don't look the part of a renegade with that stupid goofy grin plastered on my face, now do I?  Who can tell once the faceguard's down?  Oh, right, the real badasses all wear those ridiculous tiny black helmets.

Since I am a barely competent shifter and frequent embarassing staller, I took the slow coastal route with lots and lots of stops, and a few little-ish hills and inclines. I only stalled once, on the final hill, just before the parking lot entrance.  Not so bad.  I'm now at least twice as good at shifting without stalling as I was this morning, when I stalled in the driveway, on a slight downhill incline (let out the clutch thinking I was in neutral).

In my defense, a good number of my starts were semi-flawless.  Other than the full face helmet, a casual observer might have mistaken me for Travolta in Wild Hogs.

Sonja is fidgeting with impatience... "So how was the ride!?!?!"

It was great.  The Shadow handled the six or eights sets of railroad crossings like a champ, the des Seigneurs bridge across the Lachine Canal with the steel grate road bed was only just a tiny bit squirelly, and motoring down to P3 in the parking garage wasn't the reverberating nightmare of rolling thunder I feared it might be courtesy of those damn Cobra pipes.
Black Betty is a truly a great, quintessential retro badass ride, that's for sure.

What else is there to say?  I feel like the most blessed person.  A very minor version of Doug Cooper, but instead of a Jay Leno style barn, I have one half of a two-car garage full of really, really cool motorbikes.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Hof Kelsten

As lunch time drew near I realized I hadn't brought a lunch.

I had been distracted by the morning paper and forgot to throw a lunch together.

One of the distractions was an article about local Montreal businesses that the city had recognized with design awards.  Many of them were restaurants, and quite a few I hadn't heard of.  Among them was Boulangerie Hof Kelsten, a Jewish bakery cum deli counter on St-Laurent barely north of Mount-Royal avenue.

What better time to check this modest eatery out, than when you forget to pack a lunch?  Especially if you commute on a Vespa.  Parking for four-wheelers in that neighborhood is hellish.  For a Vespa, it's a no-brainer.  I tucked my GTS between two trucks right across the street, and strolled in for lunch.
Though this lunch counter on the Main is barely more than that, it's more than worth a visit.

As the name implies, Boulangerie Hof Kelsten it is a bakery first.  A Jewish bakery, in the French tradition.   You won't find racks of bread sliced and bagged in plastic, supermarket fashion.  You also won't find lots and lots of loaves.

What you will find on the shelves, and in the display, is to-die-for freshly baked bread, croissants, and pastry.  The kind you can only make in small batches, by hand, with a lot of talent, much love, patience, and passion.
Having read the write-up in the Gazette, I knew what I was after long before I got there.  I was having the brisket sandwich.

And here you have it:
OK, calm down, I know, it doesn't look like it's worth the trek, now does it?  Even the iced tea looks drab.

Brisket, mainly smoked brisket, is as quintessentially and famously Montreal as the Canadiens, Mount Royal, Leonard Cohen, and now poutine.  

Every casual restaurant seems to have smoked meat on the menu.  When you go to Halifax, or Toronto, or Vancouver, some restaurants claim to offer 'Montreal-style smoked meat'.  But appearances are most often deceiving.  The smoked brisket that made Montreal famous, and causes acute withdrawal pangs in ex-pats, is only available in a handful of iconic restaurants: Scwhartz's, Smoked Meat Pete's, Dunn's, and maybe, just maybe, the Snowdon Deli.

So when a Montreal lunch counter offers a 'brisket sandwich', you know it won't be smoked meat.  When you see it wrapped in wax paper, you know it's not a smoked meat sandwich.

But... you are justified in expecting something special.
I wasn't disappointed.

Hof Kelsten is a boulangerie so you expect really, really good bread.  And yes, the bread in this sandwich was really good bread.  Crunch in the crust where you want it, nice, fresh and moist when you sink your teeth into it, with that dreamy fresh-from-the-oven subtle aroma.  But great bread alone won't make a great sandwich.  It's all about the ingredients nestled between the slices.

What makes a great dish great, whether it's elegantly plated in a Michelin-star restaurant, or just a lunchtime sandwich, is contrast.  It's all about contrast.  Rich fatty proteins, a touch of acidity, saltiness that dances on your taste buds, and a hint of sweet to set it all off.  You take a bite, and it's all there: crunch, toothy texture, the meat (always the star!), and then the rest of cast, conspiring to create that explosion of flavours that makes you close your eyes in rapture and smile a foodie smile.

So how did they do it?  Freshly baked artisan bread, generous slices of warm mouth-watering beef brisket, pickled borscht-like purple cabbage, a wonderful concoction of mayonnaise, ketchup and chopped pickles, and thinly sliced apple.  Wow! It was that good.

The iced tea was the perfect drink to have.  Unassuming, quiet, playing its unsung supporting role in the wings.

That hit precisely the right spot.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Station W

I should have asked.

I didn't, so I don't know how this cafe got its name.

I got there on a whim, on my way to the office.

Station W was the last of the five Montreal coffee spots singled out by the Tastet's. As soon as I read Elise's article I wrote the places she mentioned down on a piece of paper and stuck it under a magnet on my office white board. A caffein addict's hit list. I dropped in on the other four last fall. Two on foot, one on two wheels, the other with Susan on a snowy Sunday: Myriade, Le Couteau, Pikolo, and Café Plume.

I was going to be late, but I would have been late anyway. I can't remember why. Oh, right, the service guy came to kick start the heat pump and I needed to witness the deed. These days, as this leg of my career ebbs, the tension that once could get me to the office at six a.m. is slipping away. It's high time for a change. A monumental change.

Soon two years will have passed.

Bob, Karen, Steve, Paul and I shared a hearty breakfast in State College on a sunny summer morning. There was much camaraderie, animated discussion, shared experiences, much joie de vivre.

Just a few days ago Steve had a heart attack. He listened to his body and his wife, and made it to the ER. That's where it happened. He's fine now. Less than a year ago Bob left us in his sleep. What the heck?

Paul and I (separately) visited Italy last year. Each of us toured the Italian countryside on two wheels. What an experience, right Sonja? Remember the snake crossing the road Roland? We took chances. Not crazy chances, but chances all the same. That's the way to live. Bob took chances too, so does Steve, so does Karen. I am a much better person for it. I have all of them to thank, truly I do. Moto bloggers rock

If there's a lesson here, it's that life is best when it's really lived. Live your life on two wheels. I promise you won't regret it.

A fragment of that devil-may-care adventurous spirit took me to Station W, slightly off my commute's beaten track.
All winter long Station W taunted me from the white board. Spring is a long time to wait once the snow flies.

Station W is a nice place to stop for coffee. It has a bohemian feel that dovetails nicely with the evolving Wellington street vibe.
Tourists are few here.

It's easy to tell the gentry from the long-time residents. Thirty-something new moms pushing brand-new strollers in nice trendy clothing are clearly gentrifying old Verdun. The working class folks they share the sidewalks with are the people who live here because it has long been an affordable place to live in the city. Evidence of hard-scrabble lives isn't hard to find. The contrast between the haves, and the have-nots, is plain to see. Wellington street is one of the front lines in the gentrification phenomenon.

 There is social tension here. It's written in the graffiti.

 That said, Wellington is not one bit a mean street, and the neighborhood is not in the least seedy.
 It's clean, and it's honest. Quintessentially Montreal. Yet it is gentrifying at a good clip.

Station W's interior is new, and the decor is simple, evocative of home. There are built-in book shelves with books, pictures in frames, teapots, cups, mugs and nicknacks.
 It's a little contrived, but homey nonetheless.

The coffee is the clear standout, as it should be. My cappuccino takes a little longer than its Starbucks cousin, but the wait is justified. I feel that if I blink, I might re-open my eyes in Myriade, or Café Plume, or any of the other micro-roastery cafés that Elise recommended.

I must apologize for a complete inability to describe the flavour. And I'm at a loss to explain how the flavour is obtained. I think it must be the roasting. One thing is certain, the flavour is outstanding. It's rich, full-bodied, exotic. I imagine that the coffee roasted, brewed, and served right on the plantation must taste like this. Unlike any coffee you'll find in the chains, or in any home brew. That's what makes going out of your way so worthwhile.

I should point out that it's not for everyone. Susan is not a fan. At least not when we went to Café Plume.

If you live here, you have to try one of these places. If you're a tourist, try Myriade or Pikolo. You won't regret it.

Friday, May 8, 2015

What happened to spring?

I've been neglecting my duties here.

Mainly my moto time has been devoted to the shop instead of the pen.  That, and commuting.

The weather this week has been nothing short of glorious.  July in early May, truly.  Temperatures in the high 20's, blue skies, little to no rain.  If anything, it's a little worrisome.  Everything green is bursting out, sprouting from every branch and patch of earth.  We're expecting rain all weekend and into next week.  The earth will drink it up greedily, and shoot out ever more foliage.

On the shop side, there is a task underway: installing a really nice pair of Viking Bags Lamellar hard saddlebags on the Honda Shadow.  There will be much more on this later.  For the time being my challenge is to find longer screws.  The ones supplied with the mounting kit are about an inch too short.  Sometime this weekend I need to ferret out longer metric screws.  Once I have them, the rest of the installation should be very straightforward (he writes, crossing his fingers).

Here's a shot of the right side saddlebag held in place with some mooring line.

The remaining task on the Honda is removing the Cobra pipes and re-installing the original Honda exhaust.  The head of the service department at my dealer says the bike will be happier with the Honda pipes, mechanically-speaking.  I'm hoping the persistent backfiring that occurs when slowing the bike on compression will go away.  Fingers crossed on that one too.
The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.