Search For the Perfect Q-Ban – This Ain’t Easy – Take Two

This past week – and I mean FULL week of seven days, we have had weather to rival any Caribbean country – say, like… Cuba!  I’m talking a most disgusting average of 35°C (95°F) with that humidex factor making it feel like 45°C (115°F).  What’s a girl to do?  Continue on her search for that perfect Montreal version of the Cubano sandwich, of course.  Her partner in crime, Julie, ever the willing participant, agreed to meet me today, Friday, on my day off.  So what was today’s temp? 22°C (72°F) and it felt downright chilly!  Now for us Quebecers, who start wearing shorts when it hits 15-16°C (60°F), – sooner for some locos – this may seem silly.  But it has been hotter and muggier than the inside of Hades mouth so, this cool-down was quite the shocker.  And me, wearing a sundress…

Now I know Linds B. and Marc, over at Sorryless are done with the whole Cubano Sammy thing but they did encourage me to keep on it.  They apparently like when other peeps crash their party…

Right.

On my way to destination number two, I was struck by the sheer amount of garbage everywhere.  You see, here in Quebec, the official moving day is July 1st.  That means peeps are moving from one apartment to another and leaving shitloads of stuff behind.  I’m thinking garbage day in the area I was driving through still had not come…

Destination number two was suggested to me by a friend whose boyfriend just so happens to be Cuban.  He says other Cubans go there:  Café Cubano, still on the outskirts of Little Italy but now, on Beaubien East Street.  Traffic for Jules was horrendous, so I sat outside on a park bench in the sunshine (it was still warm, then).  Then I took a few pics in preparation.  Cute little brother and big sister skipped by.  I was amused as it seemed everyone who passed by sounded French from France.  Had me wondering what area I was in after all.  Very residential with little business like this one on the ground floor and apartments above.

Julie arrives and we pick a table.  Always a good sign when the other patrons speak the lingo.  We get the menus and I see that the Cuban Sandwich is NOT there.  And yet, when I Googled it, it was.  Hmmm…. I ask the waiter if they do do Cubanos and he says, get this:  “Not today”.  What?  “I am sorry, tomorrow you can have some.  Today we cook the pork and it takes hours. There are none today.”

Fuck.

Looked at Julie and said, “What to do now?  I am on a Cubano Sammy search.”  She agrees we need to find another place so here we are sitting in this restaurant, with our glasses of water we dare not touch, Googling for other restaurants in the vicinity.

We come upon La Bodeguita de Montréal on St. Laurent Street, a 7-minute drive away.  We decide to go with just my car – why look for two parking spots?  While I’m driving, Jules says.. “Hmmm.. their Facebook page says it’s closed.”  Dammit.  On the Google page, it says Fridays it is open from noon.  We keep going, not knowing who to trust.  We get there.  Door is locked.

Fuck.

More Googling, and by now, our stomachs are starting to auto-digest and we need us some grub.  We do NOT want to drive to downtown as that will take us a good 23-40 minutes.  Julie finds one on Park Avenue – but it’s a Mexican joint!  BUT the comments on whatever site she is looking at says you MUST try the Cuban Sandwich.

We need no further reason.  What a fabulous find!  Lemme tell you, Linds and Marc, if I decide to crash your taco party, Imma go back to this spot called Ta Chido on Park Avenue.

Colourful, joyful, smell of fresh bread cooking, kitschy as all get-out, we are charmed immediately.  Screw the Cubano, if we must.  By now it is quite cool and we choose to sit inside.  Then move to outside.  I did NOT know there exists some Mexican Heavy Metal… Thankfully it was playing pretty low (so wish I had Shazamed it 😉 )

I have to share some of the decor with you…

Okay, I’ve made you wait enough, haven’t I?  Let’s get to serious bidness.  As we were starving, we ordered a bowl of guacamole with the usual chips and chicháronnes. We stuck with water for today.

I explain to our waitress – sweetest gal ever – that I am on a Cubano mission and though I realise that this is a Mexican place, they do have what they call a Cubano… She says:  “Well that is what WE call it too.  But.. I am so sorry to tell you, we are out of jamón.”

Sigh.

Julie suggests we get two different sandwiches and share.  And frankly, that is a great idea.  So, Jules gets the “Tinga de pollo” – pulled chicken sautéed with onions and chipotle peppers, mayo, black bean spread, avocado, tomatoes, sour cream and feta cheese.

And I had the “Cubana” – breaded beef cutlet, pulled pork and ham (though there was none), mayo, cheese, black bean spread, avocado, tomatoes and caramelized onions.

Julie found the chicken needed some oomph and was glad to pour on the jalapeño sauce that was brought to the table.  I agree.

The “Cubano” had nary a Cubano element… but was very tasty for me.

We are 0 for 2 in the authentic Cubano search.

However.  After some discussion, and poor Julie still has no idea what a real Cubano is…I give it a solid 6/10.  Why so high when there were only two elements in the sammy?

That bread.  That bread was so bloody divine, I cared not one whit that it had never seen the inside of a press.  So good, in fact, that Imma go aaaaalllll the way there to buy some to make MY OWN Cubanos…  And for my celiac friends, they also make gluten free… though I would check out the facilities to make sure there is no cross-contamination.  I didn’t go look, to tell the truth.

The pulled pork was tasty, as was that piece of beef and caramelized onion.  Avocados are a favourite ingredient of mine and pretty much end up in all of my sandwiches.

The chicháronnes were light and crunchy and addictive.  the guacamole was delicious with just the right amount of smooth and chunk.

We felt we had made quite the discovery after all the shenanigans of finding a bloody place to eat.  Plus, Julie still wants to be my cohort for the next run.  Win-Win-Win.

As a result…

A little extra “blah-blah-blah” as our day was not done…

Traffic was gonna be crap for both of us, so we decided to go to the Marché Jean Talon to browse all the wonderful produce, get inspired for supper – right, like I was gonna eat supper – and maybe flirt with Frank from Birri Farms.  (What?  He’s gorgeous, Italian, single and such a flirt…)

On our way there, as we were approaching a stop light, I was pointing out a restaurant we had talked about when BANG!  I got hit from behind.  WTF?  Both of us were stunned.  I got out of the car and the guy behind got out of his apologising profusely.  First thing he asked was if were we hurt, then we checked our cars.  Mine had nothing, his, a cracked bumper.  I asked him if he wanted to fill out papers and he declined (I might add his car was a clunker).  Asked again if we were okay, apologised again and we were on our way.  We turned at the next street and pulled over to really check.  Nothing.  We both felt it in our necks – a light case of whiplash.  I know we are going to feel it tomorrow or the next day.

 

Joining in on the Search for the Perfect Q-ban Sandwich – Take One

Marco and Linds over at Sorryless have been on a quest to find the perfect Cubano sammy. ‘Course they are way out there in Pennsylvania – a good 8.5-hour drive for me – so there ain’t no way I can play with them direct-like, so I am crashing their party from way over here in the Great White North …

I mentioned my latest adventure plans to my friend Julie who was more than willing to keep me company. Now… we were supposed to do this weeks ago, but you know how that goes. Life gets in the way and all that. Neither here nor there. We finally made it.

Turns out, there are a lot more places making Cubanos than I ever expected. I even solicited my Latina friend, Naira to see if she had an opinion. Despite her boyfriend being Cuban, she had NEVER been… Sigh. She did suggest a place and we shall be trying that place next. I was wanting to be nice to Jules and pick a place ‘twixt us so I chose La Cecilia, just outside of Little Italy on Bélanger Street.

I parked a few blocks away on purpose. Figured I’d need to walk off the extra calories and this is a ‘hood I don’t really know. Turns out it is more Latino than Montreal’s official Quartier Latin What up wit’ dat? I heard more Spanish a-speaking here than I ever did in the Berri area… Our colourful character (see below) confirmed this to us… He said this ‘hood had more Latino-influenced establishments than they did. Apparently, Mtl Blog agrees.

Julie needed to leave by 2:30-3:00, latest, to drive her son to his grad (ball), so we didn’t have all that much time, but really? How long does it take to eat lunch? We met in front of the restaurant at around 12:45.

Such a tiny place! We liked that. The owner (we presume) spoke in an extremely heavily Spanish-accented French. I made the mistake of saying hello in Spanish and he let ‘er rip… Señor! No habla l’español (though I can understand if spoken s-l-o-w-l-y). Second good sign.

I explain to him that we are on a mission to discover wonderful Cubano sandwiches and probably would have taken some kind of appetizer but we were able to take a “combo” of sandwich with soup or salad or fries and a drink. We both opted for the salad. As for the drinks, Señor Chef/Owner suggested a “Maracuyá drink”, or, as they call it, in his native Dominican Republic (uh-oh, not so good sign), “Chinola” – turns out that this is the term for Passion Fruit blitzed with milk into a sorta milkshake if, you please.

Absolutely delicious!

This character came in. What a hoot and a half. Obviously an employee (could be family, who knows?) and said that it was all wrong… How can you have a Latin-inspired restaurant such as this and have no music? Up on a chair he went and turned on the music. Ahhh… now it was perfecto!

Talk about adding colour to the joint

Along comes our sammy and “salad”. Um. OK. I had explained to Julie what the components are supposed to be, which is why she jumped on the bandwagon to have one: pork, ham, cheese (I won’t get mad if it’s not Swiss, but it better have flavour), pickles and mustard on a pressed bun.

I’ll start with the salad. Cut up iceberg lettuce, a few slices of tomato “artistically” placed on top and a little container of bottled Italian dressing. I couldn’t even take a picture. I know, I know, I should have. Hang on… lemme see if I can replicate it… Ya. Never mind. I am positive you can picture it.

The Cubano. Yes. Bread was pressed and nice and crunchy. Pork was the equivalent of pulled pork – I’m not too bothered by it because it was so tasty. Found a small slice of ham in the second half of my sandwich. Cheese? Was there cheese? Pickles… Yoooo hoooo? Where are you? They must have been held hostage by the cheese… I think there might have been some caramelized onions, but that may be because of the pulled pork. There were a few little pieces of lettuce but not even enough to give it crunch… There was some mustard on the bread. Wasn’t there? Yes, there was. A very light coating.

My expectations were not sky-high high… but they were higher than what we got. While the sandwich was missing too many ingredients to qualify as an Autentico Cubano in my books, it was tasty. That Maracuyá (or Maraculla, as another patron spelt it for me) drink was the BOMB. Don’t even talk to me about the salad. Combo, my ass. Next time I’ll splurge on soup or fries… In case you did not bother clicking on the link to the restaurant, here is what they show their salad and sammy to look like…

Which goes to show that I did NOT look at the pics because… does that look like a Cubano to you? Does it? No, it does not. So… my bad for choosing the joint.

I will score it a 4/10. NOT for the Cubano, but for the drink, the friendly owners/employees and the fabulous company. Plus, Jules did say she would accompany me on my next Cubano hunt which will be sooner rather than later. (Jules is more generous than I… giving it a 6 – but then, she had nothing to compare it to.)

Me and my beautiful friend, Julie

B, I think you hexed me this morning when I told you the name of the joint we were going to…

Date night at Restaurant L’Ardoise Gourmande

Bummer! I’m behind on my challenge of posting once per day! I did not take into account that I was having guests over and that I would spend the ENTIRE DAY cooking and preparing…I truly thought I’d have a spare half-hour or so. Not!

So, here it is!

Hubby and I had a date night on Friday night. We like to take advantage of the various coupons like “Living Social”, “Tuango”, etc. I truly believe these coupons are opportunities for restaurants to advertise their existence and for people like me to discover new eateries, in this case, Restaurant Ardoise Gourmande (sorry, no English version), a lovely old house transformed into a restaurant, situated on a charming street in Old La Prairie. (Thank goodness for GPS or we never would have found it!) There was plenty of parking, which is always a worry in this type of neighbourhood.

We were seated at a table by the terrasse, not wanting to sit outside as it gets cool quickly at this time of year. Service was friendly and our waitress (I believe she was the co-owner) was lovely. The decor was nice and welcoming.

I do not know this place so I don’t know if it is normal to serve bottled Italian vinaigrette with their salads (I don’t truly believe the House Caesar was “house” at all) or if it was an emergency backup, so to speak. I do understand that many items can be bought pre-made and frozen (including the cute little balls of butter) and that it does save time and effort. (However, I do NOT expect to pay the same price as when it is not an in-house creation!) Hubby ordered a Melting brie and dried cranberry in filo pastry, He is still trying to find some brie! There may have been a tiny smidgen in one corner but he wasn’t sure. (The size of the pastry was a good 6″ by 3″…. Just sayin’ there was enough room….) As for me, I ordered a “Mushroom, wine crisp” which I will admit had some flavour to it but really an enhanced cream of mushroom soup in a cute little ramekin; something a home cook would get kudos for. Again, not so much in a restaurant.

Let us move on to the mains. Mister took the filet mignon and I had the marinated skirt steak. His was cooked and seasoned to perfection and mine was nice and tender and had good flavour. The size of the steak would have been perfect for a child; though in today’s “bigger and fatter world”, maybe it was just right! The baked potato was also perfectly cooked (but really small) and served with a generous amount of sour cream. As for the rest of the veg, they were cooked to death! The snow peas were grey and the baby carrots just shy of mush; there were little cuke slices with a nice type of spicy salsa on top and I can only imagine what Gordon Ramsey would say about the plating! It would have gotten a scathing review, I’m sure. It was amateurish, to say the least. I should have taken a picture.

It was a beautiful evening so the smokers passed by our table to go outside on the terrasse. Unfortunately, with each opening of the door, a new swarm of those tiny little bugs came in. By the time we were to order dessert, the owner/server suggested we go sit by the bar as it looked like a mini tornado above our heads! We took her up on it!

We sat beside the owner’s daughter and chatted with the remaining staff. It seemed to be a family affair, which I really love. I was served my “profiterole” which was not the usual three little balls of pastry, filled with ice cream and drizzled with chocolate – it was one mega one (obviously not made in house), flat, mushy and not very good. Hubby had the “Reine Élisabeth”, which tasted just like the one you can buy at Costco.

According to their website, this restaurant has only been in business since December 2012, not yet a full year, and I feel the owners just lack experience. They need to cut corners a little less and put more of their own personalities into their food. Better a smaller menu with items that are done to perfection than a large one where it’s hit or miss.