Bouillon Bilk, Montreal and other Montreal eats

Breathe, breathe… in 5 days, my youngest, baby sister will be getting married!

Well, until then, I wanted to share my favorite eat that I think we had when we were in Montreal for her bachelorette party. It’s also one of her favorite dining experiences while we were there. Because we have excellent taste. And, sisters.

After taking a red-eye from Portland to Newark, I then embarked on a puddle jumper to Montreal, Canada. As soon as the plane landed, I connected to the wireless at the Montreal airport and on the long hallway towards customs, found a sign next to a bench for this selfie…

At the airport in baggage claim, I met up with two of Judy’s friends. After a stop for some sugar and caffeine at the airport’s Tim Horton‘s – a place I would recommend for meeting people, as they have seats and tables, and you can then use the airport wireless while having a snack/waiting, and the taxis or Metro Network shuttle bus 747 into the city all leave from basically in front of that anyway. We took a selfie proof of life/arrival to send her before we left baggage claim though!

I had found a place for all of girls to stay all in one loft to maximize all our time together, at the request of my sister. Thanks AirBnB. I picked our final location not just based on the number of occupants, but I had mapped various activities we were interested in, most of them being um restaurants and bars, and based on where they all ended up clustering on Google Maps picked a home base convenient to that…. which meant we were in walking distance of Old Montreal and downtown.

After dropping off our luggage, we killed some time before our official check-in and when our friends would arrive by walking to the dining on tapas at Tapas 24This is a Montreal outpost of the Barcelona tapas place, which one of the ladies had visited and raved about there, and wanted to try the one here. Unlike the version in Spain, the one here in Montreal was spacious and full of light, with a hip black, orange, and maple wood theme.

Here, our lunch consisted of various tapas and a whole bottle of wine between the 3 of us. Yep. You can pick whichever wine you want and they can make sangria with it. This is also where I think I had my favorite poutine of the whole trip.

Tapas 24 had a whole section of the menu dedicated to “manda huevos” (Send Eggs) so we thought we should have at least one. We picked “manda huevos…con FOIE GRAS. fried eggs – potatoes – foie gras poêlé. We had no idea it would be essentially fries that absorbed the scrambled eggs which I’m pretty sure were just cooked in fat and then topped with foie. But I think I maybe ate half of this dish myself. Foie and eggs are excellent together.

This is also how I found out that these two ladies are not much in terms of drinkers… so maybe I was assisting a lot in trying to drink that pitcher. And so I really needed that dish! I was trying to carefully balance between how sometimes alcohol can help perk you up and be social, and other times start to make you sleepy (which I already was tired from the redeye here!).
Pick a bottle and they will make sangria with it at Tapas 24  Foie eggs and potatoes - a Tapas poutine at Tapas 24

Overall, with Tapas 24, my friend was disappointed that they didn’t have the variety that the Barcelona Tapas 24 has, and for the price the food portions were tiny.

We didn’t think much of the McFoie burger that is really the size of a Mc-sandwich and whose only saving grace is the foie mousse on the side…which I ate without the dried out meat of the burger and bun.

With all the deliciuosness that Montreal has to offer, this had promise but didn’t deliver. After this lunch, we spent the next couple hours walking the Underground City to keep busy, as well as buy snacks (I love buying international flavors of chips) and champagne to welcome our friends when they arrived.
A collage of our eats at Tapas 24 that day for lunch, 3 people and one big pitcher of sangria Tapas 24 on Urbanspoon

My favorite dinner of the 3 evenings was at a restaurant called Bouillon Bilk, which we dined at on very same day, Thursday evening. Looking back at my Google spreadsheet where I was copying and pasting various ideas for restaurants and their addresses, hours, cuisine type, and url, Bouillon Bilk was one of the first 10 restaurants I highlighted as it ranked high on Tripadvisor in their restaurant list, was mentioned on Eater, and in other reviews I read online as a wonderful experience.

They were all exactly right.

Sign of Bouillon Bilk, snuggled between two electronic shops in Montreal Menu of Bouillon Bilk

This was the beginning of ordering family style, where we essentially would order “we’ll have this entire section except X and Y”. So I was able to try most of the menu. Every dish was plated like a work of art, and the flavors were either fresh and best ingredients, or layered on top of each other so even with a little bite you wanted to let it just dissolve on your tongue.

As I said, this was my favorite of where we dined, with other dining destinations that weekend including Jardin Nelson for lunch (a glimpse from a collage photo below – it does have an extensive menu and is great for groups, but only takes reservations for lunch not dinner), Le Deux Gamins for dinner, carry out lunch at Olive & Gourmando (a place I would also try again, but definitely not with a group as they are too small and busy to accommodate a large party. I had a lovely Housemade Ricotta “salty” with Summer tomatoes, sweet summer corn and pine nuts served with toasts shown below), and Au Pied du Cuchon. My sister’s other favorite dining experience was Au Pied du Cochon, so I’ll write a separate post about that later.

A glimpse of a lunch at Jardin Nelson grabbing lunch to go at Olive et Gourmando - my Housemade Ricotta

Here’s what we had between the 7 of us that evening at Bouillon Bilk. These photos are not mine, I believe they came from my sister’s camera but we all put our pictures together so it’s hard to tell. All I did was crop and clean up the photos slightly if I could.

Starters

melons, blackberries, pistachios, goat cheese, heart of palm. I liked this refreshing dish with its play on various textures.
Bouillon Bilk in Montreal, melons, blackberries, pistachios, goat cheese, heart of palm
dumpling, pork, plum, celery, rice stem. This was one giant dumpling!
Bouillon Bilk in Montreal, dumpling, pork, plum, celery, rice stem
risotto, carrot, basil, passion fruit. this usually also has shrimp but we asked for it sans for the vegetarian.
Bouillon Bilk in Montreal, risotto, carrot, basil, passion fruit
hamachi, yuzu kosho, raspberry, fennel, cucumber. That hamachi was melt in your mouth.
Bouillon Bilk in Montreal, hamachi, yuzu kosho, raspberry, fennel, cucumber
lobster, tomato, chili, avocado, nectarine
Bouillon Bilk in Montreal, lobster, tomato, chili, avocado, nectarine
tuna tartare, which was INCREDIBLE. It was a special for that night and almost ordered it again because it was so good, but they ran out!
Bouillon Bilk in Montreal, tuna tartare

Mains

scallops, zucchinis, shitake, pear, watercress, beurre noisette
Bouillon Bilk in Montreal, scallops, zucchinis, shitake, pear, watercress, beurre noisette
ravioli, corn, lamb, porcini, olive, swiss chard
Bouillon Bilk in Montreal, ravioli, corn, lamb, porcini, olive, swiss chard
salmon, artichoke, romano, tomato, apricot, fennel vadouven
Bouillon Bilk in Montreal, salmon, artichoke, romano, tomato, apricot, fennel vadouven
duck, a special that night of magret or duck breast filet
Bouillon Bilk in Montreal, magret or duck special that night
guinea fowl, lentils, radish, yellow feet mushrooms, figs
Bouillon Bilk in Montreal, guinea fowl, lentils, radish, yellow feet mushrooms, figs

I would definitely come back here if I return to Montreal again. Montreal has a big beer scene, and I didn’t see any of that as we were mostly focused on wine and cocktails and shots…

I hope to see you again, Bouillon Bilk, Montreal. Wonderful dinner and company with Team Thursday of Montreal on September 11, 2014. After this incredible dinner, we were revived and continued on to the club Velvet within L’Auberge Saint-Gabriel and even bagels at Fairmont Bagel (note: next time take a BAG of Montreal bagels back home, don’t just buy 1!). It was a fantastic start to our Bachelorette Weekend!
Team Thursday at Judy's Bachelorette Party, dining at Bouillon Bilk in Montreal on September 11, 2014 Team Thursday at Judy's Bachelorette Party, dining at Bouillon Bilk in Montreal on September 11, 2014

Have you been to Montreal? What would you recommend the next time I visit?

What did you think of my dilemma of ordering a pitcher that includes a whole bottle of wine and then finding out they each probably can’t drink more than 2 glasses, if that? Have you ever flown a redeye and what did you do to keep yourself up and lasting for the day?

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Little Bird Lunch 2014: the Little Bird Burger

It was a good thing I had that chicken fried trout back in DecemberLittle Bird Bistro has revamped their menu to be more French for 2014, so I had a huge reason to go back and use that $14 gift certificate to try some of their new items. Of course, I was definitely coming back anyway- after all, I saw they have a steak tartare with gribiche, poached egg, fries that they ground fresh to order at lunch.
Little Bird Bistro's steak tartare with gribiche, poached egg, fries and that they ground fresh to order at lunch

I’ll have to wait until dinnertime to try their new appetizers of “Escargot, egg noodles, chili marrow butter, gremolata”, “Comté Soufflé, green peppercorns, dijon cream”, or “Roasted Pork Belly, apples, sour cream, smoked apple purée” – both sound so classic in French flavors or their new entree for two people of “Crispy Tails and Trotters Pork Shank, roasted root vegetables, pork jus, caper berries”. Yum.

But, available on their lunch was one new item which caught my eye- they have replaced the Le Pigeon burger that they have had for a while with their own (I had it back in 2011 ), custom Little Bird burger. It still comes with a knife triumphantly stabbed through the middle to celebrate the bounty and success of the hunt, and still with the same tasty ground chuck.But, the bun has been switched to a seeded brioche bun, which I welcome- I thought although the ciabatta was tasty it made for a formidable amount of bread ratio and makes you full faster. A seeded brioche bun just is more traditional.
Little Bird Burger- Seeded brioche bun,grilled onions, butter lettuce, Cypress Grove Chevre goat cheese, and a pickle relish. Of course, with fries

Grilled onions, butter lettuce, Cypress Grove Chevre goat cheese, and a pickle relish top the burger, with an option to also add cured seared foie gras if you wish (you can see a table comparing the two burgers at the Oregonian article here). Of course, you can still get the Le Pigeon burger at, where else, Le Pigeon, if for some reason you aren’t ordering the Chef’s Tasting Menu!
Little Bird Burger- Seeded brioche bun,grilled onions, butter lettuce, Cypress Grove Chevre goat cheese, and a pickle relish. Of course, with fries

Well, the burger at Le Pigeon is listed as a starter… so that means I can get the steak tartare AND the Little Bird burger right? And with that $14 gift certificate, it basically pays for the steak tartare… rationally justified, it is a go.
Little Bird Burger- Seeded brioche bun,grilled onions, butter lettuce, Cypress Grove Chevre goat cheese, and a pickle relish. Of course, with fries

So my thoughts on the burger? As I anticipated, I really liked the seeded brioche bun better. I also really loved the taste of the meat patty, and the cleaning flavors of the butter lettuce with the tart and bit of spicy in the pickle relish. I even took a deliberate picture of that lovely pickle relish that includes Mama Lil’s pickles.
Little Bird Burger- Seeded brioche bun,grilled onions, butter lettuce, Cypress Grove Chevre goat cheese, and a pickle relish. The pickle relish is a star with that meat Little Bird Burger- Seeded brioche bun,grilled onions, butter lettuce, Cypress Grove Chevre goat cheese, and a pickle relish. The pickle relish is a star with that meat

I liked the taste of the grilled onions, but wished they had been diced so there were not a couple awkward moments where I pulled away with a bite and an onion strand followed me. And, the part that was a surprise to me was that after a while, the goat cheese got a bit overwhelming. I love cheese- and I have eaten goat cheese by the spoonful myself, and I was pleased to see how generously it was smeared in the burger at first.
Little Bird Burger- Seeded brioche bun,grilled onions, butter lettuce, Cypress Grove Chevre goat cheese, and a pickle relish. Of course, with fries

But, on a burger, I found myself craving a cheese that could have melted and melded with the burger patty. Towards the second half of the burger, I found myself dividing the burger in half- the bottom part of the bun with the cheese and grilled onions that I was eating with the butter lettuce I moved over, and then the other half so that my tongue could get direct access to the meat and relish without the big creamy fog of the goat cheese. I understand the intent of a French bistro perspective so stepping away from the Tillamook cheddar. And, I still ate everything, even if I deconstructed the second half.

What are you thoughts on the change to the new burger- have you had it yet? What do you think about goat cheese with a burger instead of a cheese that melts?

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Portland Food Adventure at Tasty n Alder

I have been loving the idea of Chris Angelus’ Portland Food Adventures for some time. The idea is that a group of food adventurers meet to enjoy a multicourse dinner including beverage pairings and tip for a set price. And so you arrive and find yourself sitting with all these other lovers of food about to embark on a menu that has been entrusted to the chef and his staff with freedom to take you on this journey. There was no one else with us – our private party had the restaurant all to ourselves. At the end of the dining experience, the chef has recommended some of his favorite restaurants, and you are presented with gift certificates as an incentive and introduction. And no chef is going to send you to a merely mediocre restaurant.

The event overall reminds me of attending a wedding but the occasion is to celebrate the union of food and deliciousness. It doesn’t matter who you are seated with as you mill around the tables during the cocktail portion, looking for your name on the top of a printed menu that designates your seat at a shared table. Everyone here is a fan of food, as if you are all alumni of the same alma mater and you will probably spend the evening talking about the food you are current eating, food you have eaten in the past (sometimes comparing tales at the same establishment as if we all took that same required class), and planning more food you want to in the future eat based on swapping recommendations.

There may be a time where the chefs mingles with all the guests, and there is definitely a time where the stories and ideas behind the courses are shared, as if they are one of the department heads of this University of Tastyness- of which John Gorham certainly is qualified for tenure. This food adventure at Tasty n Alder was marking the opening for dinner of this West Side  restaurant- he is also the mastermind behind Tasty n Sons and Toro Bravo on the East Side.

In this case, he explained how he hoped Tasty n Alder would be a new kind of steakhouse that let diners compare the meat sourced from multiple locations locally and worldwide, and would include cuts that are more unusual and under-appreciated. The menu would vary often based on what was available from his providers, noting another difference from a traditional steakhouse where some classic steak selections would be expected to always make an appearance day after day. Shortly after, dinner head chef Morgan Brownlow explained each of the dishes we would be enjoying.

John and his staff continue to collaborate to fuse their various experiences and ideas to re-imagine dishes to a new level. For instance, while Tasty n Alder is alternative steakhouse by night, by day they offer a brunch that incorporates influences from the rest of the world, including chocolate potato doughnuts, potatoes bravas, glazed yams with cumin maple, baked egg bread puddings, pork schnitzel, korean fried chicken and bim bop with bacon and eggs- certainly not your typical breakfast fare. I love the Toro Burger and the Tasty Bloody Mary- there are new takes of these available here that I must try. Must. Seriously, I’m thinking about whether I can stop by after posting this and before getting on the Bolt bus to Seattle today.

Unlike his two other locations, Tasty n Alder is surrounded on two sides with large windows that are left unadorned, just frames to the boutiques and church on Alder. He is in good company here: just across 12th street is Gruner and another half block down is Lardo and Blue Star Doughnuts. Inside the look is simple woods just like at Tasty n Sons, with white bucket seats. A small bar area doesn’t offer the large communal table of Tasty n Sons, but has an impressive wall of liquors, and there is a small counter with seats by the open kitchen offering a chance to dine while observing the inner workings of the restaurant.

After walking around the block twice so I wasn’t too eager, I entered Tasty n Sons right at 6:30pm, where only a few people of the 45 total of adventurers had arrived. I was immediately provided a lovely Brandy Fizz cocktail of applejack, pampelmousse, lemon, and topped with sparkling wine bubbles and encouraged to snack away, and had my choice of any of the seats at the bar, though the standing portion of the bar with a ledge to hold your glasses and appetizer plates also has convenient hooks underneath. I relaxed at the bar and admired as Mindy, beverages goddess, shaking up a storm, keeping up as everyone began to arrive.

Already on the bar were cheese boards re-purposed for serving of “Chips n Dip”, made in house and better than what you could ever hope for at any Superbowl party. These chips were light and non-greasy, and you could easily be lulled to eating that whole plateful just by yourself if you aren’t paying attention. The sour cream and chives and cracked pepper dip was a cool refresh after the kickass Blaze’s Smoked Wings. As soon as those emerged from the kitchen, the wondrous aroma of those wings was arousing everyone even before we had seen them.

Later, John Gorham would tell us the story of how he met Blaze, who was a friend of someone he knew. It was a dark day because of some personal circumstances, but he went to a planned gathering anyway, as he knows food can be comfort. As soon as he took one bite from a tray of chicken wings that someone had brought, his spirits were immediately lifted as he aggressively started to seek out who brought those wings. When he discovered Blaze was just making these at home as a casual home cook, Blaze was hired on the spot.

Seriously, these are at least “2 napkins” wings, but I also admit I licked my fingers (while making a mental note not to shake anyone’s hand as everyone was mingling and introducing each other). If I had any bread I would have wiped up the plate with it, or mixed it with rice and eaten it just like that as a dish on its own.

Then we were encouraged to find our seats, and after a few minutes of introductions and having just enough time to read the menu and get excited, the family style dinner began with a Radicchio salad. Just like at Tasty n Sons, it is served in a large clear bowl to mix and serve yourself, and this version came topped with plenty of lardons and chunks of boiled egg.

Shortly after was a mix it yourself steak tartare, as well as clams casino, a broiled clam with breadcrumbs and bacon served on rock salt. As you can see, I loved the steak tartare and could also just eat that whole plate by myself. These three items were paired with the citrus balanced flavors of a 2011 Mahonia Vineyards Chardonnay that had enough roundness to compliment the dishes but a finish of minerality to balance the richness.

Next was the ingenious pairing of the Sexy Filipino Fish Stew (also courtesy of Blaze) along with Hofbrau Hefeweizen whose hints of clove (thankfully no banana) and carbonated effervescence did compliment the depth of complex savory and sour and salty notes in the stew. I think everyone wanted more of that stew, especially given the size and depth of the bowl it was served in that had us breaching etiquette by not remembering to tilt the bowl away from us in trying to get every last drop. Maybe I should always make sure to have bread on hand here so I can be sure to always be ready to sop up every last bit of liquid from all these plates.

The steaks and side came as they were ready from the kitchen: a Pork Skirt from Iberico, Spain that was served simply with a sprinkle of salt to really taste the meat; a flat iron Washimi Wagyu allowed to just cook in its own fat and juices and didn’t really need that touch of romesco it was served with as it was already so juicy and flavor; and Teres Major from St Helen’s OR, a shoulder cut that was topped with chimichurri. Of the three, I would have to say the flat iron was my favorite.

Everyone was in love with the skillet cornbread whose moistness and little touch of melted butter on top was more reminiscent of spoon bread than cornbread. The other sides included a baked spinach offering an attempt at pretending to be healthy because see we had vegetables! and pato potatoes prepared in foie butter. All of these were paired with a 2009 Aia Vecchia, Lagone, Toscano Cabernet Blend and also a NV Valdespino Palo Cortado Viejo whose sherry profile worked well to enhance caramelized sweetness.

For dessert, the table shared small tastes of Grown Ass Milkshakes in the flavor varieties of Grasshopper, Brandy Alexander, and Creamsicle. Our gift certificates to Raven and Rose, Mirakutei, and a pizza at Lovely Fifty Fifty were promises of more tastyness to come in the future.

It was a great experience, although apparently after having the Toscano Cabernet Blend “topped off” and having second helpings of extra servings of the Brandy Alexander and Grasshopper desserts, my camera hand was not as steady as I hoped. I would love to take my brother and his great photography skills and equal love for food here, and I’m sure the blog entry covering this event at Portland Food Adventures’ site will make me yearn for graduating from my point and shoot camera and learning some food porn taking skills. Sorry about that. Well, partially sorry. Thank you to my tablemates for their patience as I tried to quickly snap a few shots each time we were served.

Portland Food Adventures are scheduled for Tuesdays, Thursdays. or Sundays, generally one adventure planned each month.  It is totally worth planning to start a long weekend earlier/extending it later or planning your vacation time just to be able to be a part of this. How else will you ever get to try so much food at this level of restaurant in one sitting while meeting equally like-minded new people? For me, in purchasing my ticket to this event, I had been torn and thinking about it for days because of a lot of unanticipated January expenses and couldn’t seem to find any other interested friends, but obviously in the end I decided to go ahead and blow my dining out budget for the month and go alone- and I scored the last ticket!

Next time, I definitely won’t be as hesitant.

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