Review:Montreal:Beauty’s

With limited time and a hectic schedule in an unknown city, I often rely on the experts (including urbanspoon and yelp writers) to tell me where to go.  In the case of Beauty’s, I relied on Gail Simmons’ recent article in Food and Wine magazine for an over-the-top breakfast. In particular, she recommended the Mish-mash omelette and the banana bread.

I hopped in a cab with a colleague and headed out of the downtown core and into the Mont-Royal area.  Nestled on a corner, Beauty’s sports all the hallmarks of a classic diner including vinyl benches, signed pictures of famous people pledging their love and support and a table of old people sitting near the door engaging in some kind of social event.

The menu is a straight forward mix of diner classics such as burgers, salads, sandwiches and melts.  I stared blankly at the menu pretending like I might order something other than Gail’s suggestion.  So when the waitress arrived with diner coffee in a diner cup I ordered the famous Mish-Mash omelette which is stuffed with hot dog, salami, green peppers and fried onions and a side of home fries for $12. It was served like something called a mish-mash should; with large chunks of each ingredient busting out of the rather crispy egg. An added touch was a messy mound of home fries all over the plate.  It was good and was somewhat enhanced by those secret ingredients called nostalgia and celebrity endorsement although I’m not sure it would win you Top Chef Canada anytime soon.

Mish-Mash Omelette $12
Mish-Mash Omelette $12

I know Gail is a sucker for a good dessert so I purchased a loaf of banana bread for $10. The minute I inquired one of the older gentleman got up from the table by the door and pitched it like he was selling me a car.  It weighed a stone or two but was moist and not greasy.  I brought some back to Ontario and dressed it up with homemade caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream which was ironically the dish which allowed me to meet Chuck Hughes the week after.  I’m surprised Gail forgot to mention the rice pudding which was spectacular. I’m a huge fan of this diner (and hospital) classic and this was one of the better ones I’ve had.  I brought it back to the hotel and when I realized I was spoonless, I resorted to gluttony and consumed half the container using my first two fingers and my thumb with no remorse.

My Take

I get the nostalgia of the place. In addition to being hustled into large dessert purchases by the senior’s table, it has all the components of a classic diner and has been a part of the community since 1942. There’s a relatively inexpensive and diverse menu highlighted by signature dishes which have caught the attention of food gurus like Gail Simmons.  It’s a fun stop and allows you to explore another area of this great city outside of Old Montreal and the downtown core.  That said, if you’re not up for a $15 cab ride for a hot dog omelette,  this may not be your place.  Maybe the beauty of Beauty’s is not in the decor or presentation of the food  but in the fact that places like this, which set the foundation for the future of restaurants from fast food to fine dining, continue to thrive in 2013.

Beauty's on Urbanspoon

Review: Ottawa: Sidedoor

I consider it another sign of synchronicity when I had a chance meeting with Top Chef competitor  Jonathan Korecki on a random Ottawa street mere minutes before I went to his restaurant, Sidedoor. After convincing myself  (and him) that I wasn’t a stalker, I took the opportunity to ask him the one thing on the menu I should try. His priceless answer was “One thing?” Good point.

When I arrived, no fewer than 4 employees greeted me and I was seated quickly and Cameron took over for the rest of the night. He reaffirmed my theory that in Ottawa, the service often matches  the food. He spent at least 2 minutes explaining the ins and outs of the asian-influenced menu, notably the fact that in each section the dishes go from lightest to heaviest.

There is a good selection of cocktails and draught beer. I opted for the bourbon-based SIDEDOOR cocktail which was crisp and satisfying.

Must

On Jonathan’s recommendation,  I ordered the tuna sashimi which was one of the best dishes I’ve had in a while.  The tuna was sliced thin and presented beautifully.  The fragrant yuzu marmalade  was delicate with a complexity which smacked my  taste buds  in all kinds  of directions.  I was tempted to lick the plate when the tuna was gone.

Tuna Sashimi with Yuzu Marmalade

In a previous blog, I questioned hawker bar’s son-in-law eggs, particularly the prik nam pla sauce.  Sidedoor’s version (another suggestion from Jonathan) blew my mind.  Tearing into the soft yolk and watching it saturate the surrounding rice and salad made me feel like a MasterChef  judge. The taste matched the visual appeal and the sauce was not overpowering.

Son-in-law eggs

I love pickles and I’m known to ask for a sample whenever they are homemade.  I noticed a mention on the menu so  I pitched the idea at Cameron.  Instead of a small ramekin filled with 2 or 3 gherkins,  he returned with a plate of pickled vegetables that surpassed all expectations.  It contained pickled beets, jalapenos, carrots, daikon radish, Jerusalem artichoke, melon rind and sea asparagus adorned with mustard seed pickled in a bread and butter style .

Pickle Variety

Jonathan’s third suggestion was the donuts.  In this case, who can turn down the chef’s creation, a peanut butter stuffed donut topped with a cocoa glaze and banana.   Better yet, they were served warm.  All I can say is…they taste how they look although a tad bit more filling would of been even better.

Chef’s Feature Donuts

Maybe

I tried the spicy beef and Bajan crispy fish tacos.  They are a bit small for $9 but the shells were delicate and tasty.  The spicy beef was hardly spicy but a bit of the homemade chili oil at the table helped. The Bajan tacos had a bit too much of the sauce which drown out the taste and texture of the fish a bit.   I agree with  their slogan, “Make Tacos, Not War” but can’t quite get to the state of “Make Tacos and then Make Love”.

Spicy Beef and Bajan Fish Tacos

Mundane

I was looking forward to the “Peking style” chicken but I was a bit disappointed.  Big in size but modest in flavour, the texture and interior pinkish colour almost made it look underdone.  I found the surrounding broth a bit curious. The fish sauce was overwhelming which I didn’t think complemented the rest of the dish.

Peking Style Chicken

My Take

I wouldn’t hesitate to sneak in the sidedoor again.  Bold  flavours seem to lace every dish and there is enough diversity to visit a few times and get a very different experience.  The tuna sashimi is a must and I can’t speak highly enough of the service.  The staff is energetic, knowledgable and not phased by a large table of what seemed like the  offspring of the “Real Housewives of Ottawa” partying it up a few tables down.

I was once told I should always listen to my mother and not talk to strangers.  Based on this meal, I’ve learned I should always listen to chefs as well, even if I don’t know them.

Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen & Bar on Urbanspoon