Sunday, May 25, 2014

Top Ten #54


1.  John Jeremiah Sullivan, "The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie," The New York Times, April 13, 2014

sample tracks:  Geeshie Wiley, "The Last Kind Words"

Elvie Thomas, "Motherless Child Blues"

butcher shop, NYC

2.  M. Wells Steakhouse, Long Island City, NY

lost in the dream

3.  The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream (Secretly Canadian)

sample track:  "Red Eyes"

sowing seeds

4.  Le Semeur (2013), dir. Perron

watch the trailer here

iggy pop

5.  Iggy Pop, Lust for Life (Virgin/4 Men With Beards)

sample track:  "Neighborhood Threat"

radicchio pie

6.  Pizza Night in Canada


7.  Motorino, New York, NY

country funk

8.  V/A, Country Funk (Light in the Attic)

sample track:  Link Wray, "Fire and Brimstone"

finding vivian maier

9.  Finding Vivian Maier (2013), dir. Maloof

watch the trailer here

music is painting in the air

10.  Sensations' Fix, Music is Painting in the Air (1974-1977) (RVNG Intl')

sample track:  "Dark Side of Religion"


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Spring Break New York, pt. 2

As I was saying...

That charcuterie and wine apéritif I was telling you about was meant to get us primed for dinner that night, but it was also partly strategic--we had a late reservation at M. Wells Steakhouse and we figured showing even just slightly sated might act as an insurance policy.  We had a feeling the experience of eating in this fully reconditioned former body shop/pleasure palace would be jacked up enough without us showing up parched and famished.  We were positive the barrage of temptations would come fast & furious, and we were absolutely right.

butcher shop, NYC fig. a:  meat lover's paradise

Yes, enticement was in the air that night--

every99¢thing fig. b:  hard sell

quite literally, actually, because the perfume of that wood-fired grill began to charm and seduce us from the moment we stepped into the restaurant.

Our chief mechanic that night was our homeboy Étienne (Go, Habs, go!), and it turned out we weren't the only Montrealers in the house that night.  He seated us right next to another table of Canadiens who were already reeling from the gastronomic assault that was being meted (meated?) out to them by the M. Wells kitchen when we showed up.  We took one look at their glazed expressions and promptly explained to Étienne that we'd gotten off to an early start and that we were ready to start in with our wine and victuals without any preliminaries.  In fact, we'd already decided what we wanted.  He took our order, bellowed to the kitchen, "Let the games begin!," and we began to tremble with anticipation.

...A few hours later, we were just a tiny bit stunned, but mostly we were delirious with satisfaction.  The festivities had included the following:
wedge salad with dehydrated ketchup & blue cheese dressing (quite likely the best, and definitely the most inventive, we've ever had) 
a very generous Caesar salad (almost hilariously so) 
stack of super-thin pork chops with anchovy butter (kind of brilliant, totally irresistible) 
truite au bleu (delicate & delicious) 
grilled lobster tail (wood fired, or course) 
t-bone steak (wood-fired, of course) 
pommes aligot (the very cheesiest we've ever experienced--complètement débile!) 
French peas w/ lardons (peas, please) 
& a great bottle of Charly Thevenet Régnié, Grain & Granit (which went beautifully with our food, but also prompted a heated discussion over who's hotter, Charly Thevenet or Brad Pitt?*)
Actually, as we wrapped up our savoury courses, we felt pretty wonderful.  Our strategy seemed to have worked like a charm.  Thing is, we'd forgotten about dessert, but the M. Wells kitchen hadn't forgotten about us.  After all, Michelle is a pastry chef--a known one, even.  Now, it's not like we were going to skip out without sampling their dessert cart--in fact, we had designs on M. Wells' highly touted Paris-Brest, a delicacy we've been fans of for a long time now--but the point is that they never would have let us if we'd tried.  So we ordered our Paris-Brest, and it was excellent, truly excellent.  Beautiful to the eye, a total crowd-pleaser, and a perfect finish to a rather perfect meal.  But that wasn't all...  Because they also sent out a sugar shock-style tarte tatin graced with an enormous slab of foie gras.  And that was what killed us--or, at least, that was what killed me & R, because Michelle & MA wisely decided to forego.  The problem was that this, too, was excellent--and that's how they get you.  You know you should stop, but once that combination of apple, caramel, and foie gras gets its hooks in you, you just don't want to.

All in all, this was one of those meals that you just couldn't stop talking about--later that night, all the next day, and all the following week, too.  We're not even half way through 2014 yet, so the year's still young, but so far that night at M. Wells Steakhouse is the one to beat.

carousel fig. c:  la ronde

Not surprisingly, it took us a while the next day to start thinking about eating again--me & R, especially.  It was gorgeous out, though, and Central Park was just throbbing with springtime energy, so we spent most of the afternoon walking, and gradually those "foie handles" that appeared on my torso overnight seemed to burn off.

By late afternoon, it was time to head back to Montreal, but by then my appetite had returned, I was in the mood for one last food adventure before we left the Big Apple, and I still had a number of places on my hit list that we hadn't managed to fit in to our itinerary.  That's when I remembered how easy it had been to scoot down 2nd Avenue from Midtown the day before.  And that's when I decided we were going to motor on down to Motorino for a couple of last-minute pizza pies.  I had a hankering for a clam pie, and we'd never ever tried Motorino's East Village location (though we had been there way back when, when it was still Una Pizza Napoletana).  So we zipped down to the East Village, and--wouldn't you know it?--there was a parking spot waiting for us directly in front.  The pizza gods were smiling on us.

the lord works in mysterious ways fig. d:  AEB mobile unit @ Motorino

We took a look at the menu, but we'd already decided.

Untitled fig. e:  Motorino menu

One clam pie and one margherita.

Untitled fig. f:  pizza perfection

The margherita was phenomenal, but that clam pie was the stuff of dreams:  cherrystone clams, fior di latte, oreganata butter, extra-virgin olive oil, and lemon.  That final squeeze of lemon is what really takes things over the top, but the entire ensemble is enlightened.  Plus, their pies are so tender, so full of savor, so perfectly baked.  What a treat!

We watched the bicycle delivery guys take off with one pizza after another, and tried to imagine living in a town where such insanely good pizza is not only readily available, it can be delivered to your door (!).

Half an hour later we were crossing the George Washington Bridge with a couple of slices of leftover Motorino pizza, some M. Wells steak sandwiches (made with leftovers from our t-bone), and a whole lotta Italian specialty items.

M. Wells Steakhouse, 43-15 Crescent St., Long Island City, NY, (718) 786-9060,

Motorino, 349 E. 12th St., New York, NY, (212) 777-2644


* Answer:  they're both pretty hot, but Channing Tatum's got 'em both beat on dance moves.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Spring Break New York, pt 1

While others might make their way to Daytona Beach or St. Pete for Spring Break, in search of sun, sand, and sin, we headed to New York, in search of, well, spring (that would be nice), sun (that would make things even better),

Untitled fig. a:  the gang's all here

and fine dining (always important).  And good wine.  And specialty foods, especially Italian.  And, last, but not least, some quality social time with our friends R & MA.

Turns out, we picked the right weekend.  It was downright warm, with plenty of sunshine, all weekend long.  And, apparently, it was the first time New York had had such nice weather since 2013.  It sure seemed like it.  It felt like the entire city was out on the streets and in the parks, taking it all in.  And the first signs of spring started to appear on the landscape.

Untitled fig. b:  spring comes to Manhattan


Sullivan Street Bakery still bakes some fine flatbreads, and when you're heading to East 57th via the Henry Hudson Parkway, it makes an easy stop.  We picked up three different kinds this time, but our favourite was the potato pie once again.

The Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant remains one of New York's great dining rooms and one of our favourite places for seafood & beer--plus, the service is always classic.  All it took was a few dozen oysters, some clams casino, a smoked fish platter, a couple of pan roasts, and a few cold ones to make us forget we'd ever been on the road that day.

We'd been to the Chelsea Market plenty of times back in the day, but it turns out we'd never been to the elaborate food court version of the Chelsea Market.  The Chelsea Market claims that its shops, restaurants, and stalls attract somewhere in the neighbourhood of 5 to 6 million visitors every year to its repurposed and reconditioned former National Biscuit Company factory location, and, having visited on a busy Saturday afternoon, I don't doubt that figure.  It felt like a teeming hive in there, but at least there was just cause for those throngs:  there were definitely a lot of tempting treats to be had.  But we already had lunch plans in the works, so we put the blinders on and focused our attention on two places:  Buon Italia and The Lobster Place.

Buon Italia had a great selection of Italian specialty items, but what we liked about it the most was its no-frills approach and its reasonable prices.  Actually, that's not true--what we liked about it the very most was its Sardinian pane carasatu.  And its Easter displays, like its marzipan fruits (and mushrooms).

fruit platter fig. c:  Easter treats

We had to keep our purchases at The Lobster Place to a minimum, because it was early in the day and it was going to be hours before we returned to our accommodations.  So all we got, really, were a few cans of Spanish canned anchovies, but the place was driving us nuts because this was the very best, freshest, most beautiful selection of seafood we'd seen since Cape Cod.  If the circumstances would have been different, we would have gone to town.

Michelle has had to listen to me wax poetic about Umami Burger for a few years now, and L.A. has proven elusive since then, so when I read that they'd opened up shop in New York City, we decided to make a visit a priority.  Man, am I ever glad that we did.  I didn't love the location as much as the Hollywood one, but the burgers--three Originals and one green chile-laced Hatch burger--sure tasted good.  And the fried pickles and onion rings were pretty choice, too.  Our entire party was hugely impressed.  In fact, I had to physically restrain Michelle to keep her from ordering a second Original burger (parmesan crisp, shiitake mushrooms, roasted tomato, caramelized onions, house ketchup) "for dessert."  That, my friends, is the power of umami.

Flatiron Building, Summer, New York, 1947/1948, Rudy Burckhardt fig. d:  Flatiron District

Later that same afternoon we found ourselves inside that multi-ring circus that is Eataly, just off Madison Square Park and right across the street from the Flatiron Building (you can see there in the photograph above, off to the right).  I thought I'd never been there before, but, as it turns out, I had:  I was in that very same location over a decade earlier for a wedding, back when it was an event space.  With the drinks flowing, a red-hot band on stage, and some dirty dancing on the floor, that wedding had been a pretty crazy occasion, but, I dare say, Eataly on a Saturday afternoon is even crazier.  The gelato line alone was about half a mile long.  Elsewhere, the store had the feel of a department store on Christmas Eve:  pure mayhem.  But, once again, if you hung in there and kept your wits about you, there were amazing finds to be had:  more pane carasatu, anchovy juice, artisanal mostardas, and every style of pasta imaginable, including a number of different kinds of our favourite, corzetti.  We were seriously tempted by the notion of having a late-afternoon snack at Il Pesce, the in-house seafood restaurant that's under the oversight of Dave Pasternack.  And the charcuterie section was pretty tantalizing, too--voracious diners were downing beautiful platters of cheese and cold cuts with their wine.  In the end, we decided to replicate the charcuterie section back in the comfort and splendour of R & MA's apartment--so I picked up some mortadella, some prosciutto, some salumi al finocchio, and a selection of cheeses and we were off!

To be continued...

Sullivan Street Bakery, 533 W. 47th Street, NYC, (212) 265-5580

Grand Central Oyster Bar, Grand Central Station, NYC, (212) 490-6650

The Chelsea Market, 75 9th Avenue, NYC

Umami Burger, 432 6th Avenue (a.k.a., Avenue of the Americas), NYC, (212) 677-8626

Eataly, 200 5th Avenue, NYC, (212) 229-2560


Monday, May 12, 2014

Sowing Seeds

kamou style fig. a:  Kamouraska style

You might remember a couple of posts having to do with Kamouraska, that fabled region of the Bas-Saint-Laurent, that we posted back in 2012.  One having to do with a late-summer weekend getaway?  The other having to do with eel hunting in early autumn?  Not ringing any bells?  Suffering from a case of memory loss?  Well, you can get reacquainted with our adventures here and here.

In any case, both trips were long-awaited pilgrimages of a sort--pilgrimages to la Société des plantes to visit our friend and permaculture hero, Patrice Fortier, who's been a recurring character in the pages of " endless banquet" since 2004 (!).

For years, we talked about going out to visit Fortier in the height of season to see the gardens of la Société des plantes in full bloom.  For years, we never made it out there, and had to rely on Patrice's occasional visits to Montreal to sell his phenomenal produce (first, in a series of guerrilla-style street sales; then in a number of different venues, from bike stores to wine importation houses; and, finally, directly to restaurants like Toqué and the Foodlab) and to pay social calls to sustain and nourish our relationship.  But now that we've gotten un p'tit goût de Kamou, we're hooked.

The physical splendour of Kamouraska is already something to behold.  And the same goes for the poetry, the abundance, and the passion of la Société des plantes.  But it's the spirit of the region that really makes it magical, and la Société des plantes--as a place, as a developing project, and as a labour of love--truly is a perfect embodiment of that spirit.

kamou style 2
sowing seeds figs. b & c:  permaculture

It's hard to fully capture the splendour of Kamouraska in words and photos.  And it can be equally challenging to fully express the beauty of la Société des plantes.  But, lucky for you, now there's a film about Patrice and la Société des plantes that does a fantastic job of doing both.  It's called Le Semeur (a.k.a., The Sower), it was directed by Julie Perron, it's received acclaimed at les Rencontres internationales du documentaire de Montréal (RIDM), the Berlin Film Festival, and, most recently, the DOXA festival in Vancouver and Hot Docs in Toronto, and it's playing at Cinéma eXcentris here in Montreal this week.*

le semeur fig. d:  Le Semeur

And we're maybe a little biased (after all, not only are we good friends with Patrice, but we just happened to chance upon the shooting of one of the film's principal scenes on our first visit, so we have a bit of a history with Le Semeur), but it truly is a beautiful film, one that wisely kept the focus primarily on Kamouraska, one that really provided a lot of space for Patrice's irrepressible personality to shine, and one that fully grasped the artisanal, artistic, and folkloric aspects of the project, as well as the dedication that's made it all possible.

PF carrotes fig. e:  the art of food

Want to get a sense of what Le Semeur looks, sounds, and feels like?  You can check out the trailer here.

Want to order some of Patrice's heirloom seeds?  You can find them online here.

Bon cinéma et bonne dégustation!


* French only.  There is a subtitled, English-language version, however.  If that version gets released here in Montreal, we'll let you know.