Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Quebec Malt Beverage with Real Fruit Juice

I discovered these Muse fruit cocktail beverages during our recent heat wave in Montreal. I'm not generally a fan of alco-pops--they tend to be full of sugar and far too sweet for my taste--however these caught my eye because they had some interesting flavours and are made with real fruit juice. Although, exactly how much of the beverage comes from fruit juice, I'm not exactly certain. The drink also uses sugar and flavours.

Like most alco-pops sold in convenience stores in Quebec, Muse cocktails are malt-based. Made in Quebec, they come in three flavours: blood orange, pineapple and pomegranate. I decided to try one of each. Like other alco-pops they are very sweet. Straight out of the bottle, the blood orange cocktail reminded me very much of orange pop; and I found myself drinking it quickly like a pop. It had almost no discernible malt flavour and it was easy to forget that it was an alcoholic beverage. The pomegranate and pineapple cocktails were similar: very tasty, very sweet, and very smooth. Because they taste so much like pop, I would be very leery of having these out at a party with children around.

For my own palate, I found that serving the pomegranate or blood orange cocktail over ice and slightly diluted with club soda worked well to reduce the sweetness of the beverage and to resist the urge to devour the bottle in a matter of minutes. The cocktails would probably work really well in some punches as well.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Montreal Harvest Season in Full Swing

August is a season rich in local harvest and tastes. Across the province, the semaine québécoise des marchés publiques kicks off this Saturday. Over 40 public markets will participate, each scheduling its own array of special events. Close to Montreal, these include a Garlic Festival theme at the Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue market (Saturday), a bébé-écolo theme at the marché Rosemere (Saturday), and cooking demonstrations by chefs at the Marché Atwater (Saturday and Sunday). More events continue over the week and into next weekend. Consult the website for more information.

For a day trip out of the city, the Lanaudière region just northeast of Montreal is full of tasty gems, many of which get showcased this weekend at Les Fêtes Gourmandes de Lanaudière. In its fifth year, the festival is held in Saint-Jacques-de-Montcalm, about one hour north of Montreal, and showcases over 75 local food growers and artisan producers. The festival kicks off on Friday, August 21st and wraps up on Sunday the 23rd.

We're also spoiled for choice in the coming weeks for rural fairs in the area. The Montreal Gazette Blog--Shop, Chop, Eat--has a quick list of what's going on, including the Compton Fair this weekend. Country fairs offer a really good peak into the rural life of the region, featuring livestock, produce, baking and craft competions, as well as good food, music and conversation. It can be a great way to hook up with local farmers for a freezer-full of meat or produce, fresh from the farm, next season.

Monday, August 17, 2009

L'Origine in Old Montreal Disappoints

I'd really like to say that I enjoyed dining at Bistro L'Origine recently, but the truth is I didn't; neither did my dining partner. We both expected more. Located in front of the science centre in Old Montreal, L'Origine has been open since 2005 and bills itself as using local, organic or fair-trade ingredients in its menu which is inspired by Montreal's cultural heritage. You can see why I really wanted to like this place! Alas, it was not to be.

We started our meal with drinks. Disappointingly, most of the wines and beers were imports, I settled on a cocktail and my friend on the only local beer on tap on the menu. My Gingermania --a blend of gin, 7-up, ginger and other spices--was delicious and refreshing, however my friend had less luck. His pint of Chambly Blanche beer was served warm. Very warm. Not exactly refreshing on a hot summer's day.

The food was equally erratic. My soup of the day, maple-lentil, was delicious and an interesting blend of flavours. The market-fresh salad was also very good, and the plates of nachos and charcuterie we saw floating by headed to other tables looked fabulous. Our main courses, however, were both disappointing. I chose the Table d'Hote: a chicken in a tomato sauce served over couscous. It was quite tasty, but very ordinary. The server also couldn't confirm if the chicken was organic or not, which is odd in a restaurant billing promoting itself on sustainable principles.

My partner fared less well with his choice, roast beef and portabello mushroom on a bun with caramelized onions. It was simply horrible. On the menu, the combination sounded intriguing, but the caramelized onion was so sweet, and there was so much of it, that it just overwhelmed any other flavours. (Yes, that is all onions you see in the photo!) There was also only a single thin slice of roast beef in the sandwich. I'm not sure that we would have tasted it even without the onion disaster.

We arrived at 5pm. At this time the bistro had live entertainment. It was simply a singer and a guitar player, which would normally be fine, but it was so loud through the speakers that we could barely have a conversation. We were both relieved when the duo took a break. The subsequent 'chill' music provided by the dj was a much better match to the atmosphere.

On the plus side, our waitress was very nice and friendly; the prices are quite reasonable for Old Montreal; many of the local suppliers are mentionned by name on the menu; and the overall ambiance is perfectly suited to a terrace on the Quai. If I'm looking for a quick nacho nibble and a drink with friends while soaking in the sun in the Old Port, I'd probably go back. But I'd ask for a glass of ice alongside my drinks, and give the main courses a miss.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Saveurs et Tentations at the Old Port

If you're looking to explore local or organic food around Montreal this weekend, you may be spoiled for choice. In addition the Fete Bio Paysanne at the TOHU (previous post), the new Saveurs et Tentations kicked off on Wednesday at the Quai Jacques-Quartier in the old port. The event mostly showcases local food producers and agri-business, but also includes imported artisanal products. Over 80 exhibitors from different regions of Quebec are represented, including a lot of local microbreweries, cidreries and wine-makers. Yes, samples are available. When I was there earlier this week, some producers were giving free tiny tasting samples, whereas others were offering more substantial tasting portions that you could purchase using tickets. Some gems I found are Le Grimoire Microbrasserie (Granby), La Vallee de la Frambroise (raspberry wines and liqueurs; Val-Brillant), Les Viande Biologiques de Charlevoix, Les Delices de L'Ile D'Orleans and a really good absinthe stout from Brasserie de Montreal (Griffintown).

In addition to food to buy and taste, the festival also has free presentations, workshops and cooking demonstrations, as well as more substantial cooking classes ($50).When I was there earlier this week I took in an excellent presentation on the history of cider and wine-making in Quebec (it repeats Saturday at 5pm) and on on culinary tourism in Montreal. I'm hoping later this weekend to get out to one of the interactive workshops on Quebec farming presented by Quebec farmers and the UPA. Slow Food Vancouver, Slow Food Nova Scotia and Slow Food Prince Edward County also have presentations planned, giving the event a much broader scope than simply Quebec.

Saveurs et Tentations runs until Sunday at 6pm. Admission is free. If you're planning on going, I recommend public transit. You can access Quai Jacques-Cartier by walking south from Champ de Mars metro or Place D'Armes metro.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Fête Bio-Paysanne This Weekend

Did you know that Montreal is home to the largest organic-environmental fair in Canada? La Fête Bio-Paysanne is held at the public square of La TOHU in the St-Michel Environmental Complex in Montreal every August. Now in its sixth edition, the festival attracts over 20 000 people and brings together almost 100 exhibitors displaying organic foods and products, as well as booths with tricks and products to help you reduce your environmental foot print. The event also has workshops, tastings, live performances, and family activities.

The event kicks off this weekend on Friday at noon and continues until Sunday at 5pm. Admission is free. A quick ride on bus 193E from Jarry metro station, or bus 94N from Jean Talon metro station, will get you to the festival. By car, take exit 74 or 75 from Hwy 40.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Wine Festival in Terrebonne this Weekend

Looking for something tasty to do this weekend? Consider a wine tasting trip to L'Ile des Moulins in Old Terrebonne, just north-east of Montreal.

Described as the second most important vinticultural event in the province, the Festival des vins de Terrebonne brings together wine producers from across Quebec and internationally for two days of wine and cheese tastings, as well as showcasing of other local foods. The programme also features wine tasting workshops for those of us looking to discover our palate, and musical events.

Admission is $3 per day, plus any tickets you purchase for tastings. There are also lots of little shops and restaurants in the old town and surrounding area.

Terrebone is about 30 minutes by car from Montreal: From either highway 13 or 15 take autoroute 440 east, which turns into the 25 north. Exit 22-E onto route 344 into Terrebone.

By bus, take the 19A from Montmorency metro station to the Terrebonne bus terminal (about 25 minutes). From there you can walk to Ile des Moulins (about 15 minutes) or take bus #8 (about 5 minutes).