Last Saturday I got invited to a dinner party unlike any other dinner party I had ever been invited to. To give some backstory: There used to be this kick-ass (or so I’ve been told) restaurant in Long Island City called M. Wells. And there is this Montreal based taco truck called Grumman 78. Apparently the folks behind M. Wells and Grumman 78 used to work at a place called Au Pied de Cochon, a fabled place in Quebecois food history. Anyhows, for a variety of reasons I Bixi’d my way down to the western end of Saint Henri to a garage for what I initially thought was going to be some sort of culinary n’est plus ultra. As it turned out it was a n’est plus ultra, but not for the reasons I had initially thought.
$60 for bar inspired food while watching a Canadiens’ hockey game in a converted garage with the latest and greatest in the Quebecois food scene. I figured what the hey! There are times when I can run up a $60 bill just eating hamburgers. This had a possibility of being not only good, but memorable. When I arrived (earlier than my five other dining companions) things looked a little unsettled. As I was not quite in the loop, I took a seat at the bar waiting for everyone else to show, when in fact I should have staked a claim to a table directly in front of the Big Screen and waited for everyone else to arrive.
I also had in my head some sort of idea that it was going to be some sort of gourmet festival. You know where the wine/food pairings are kind of like music of the spheres and everyone is dressed perfectly. Remind me next time I have a thought like that, that the previous time I was wrong, very wrong.
I don’t quite remember exactly when it hit me, but at some point it did, that this was not some sort of gastronomical encounter where food was king, but more like your local bar with better than average food. I went from thinking “for my $60 my mind is going to explode because of the flavor combinations” to “hey this shit is good. If I’m going to get the average down below $6 per serving, I better start eating more.” Kinda like going from a concept of the latest in cuisine actuelle to an all-you-can-eat buffet. Or for the Americans in the house, going from Next to Thanksgiving.
As I deliberately left my camera at home (I thought initially I was just going to kick back and enjoy myself instead of writing about it) I am quite grateful and appreciative of Huge Galdones and FoodieDateNight both of whom wrote down what they ate and took pictures of what was served. But by relying on other people’s descriptions, I was quickly reminded that taste is one of those elusive senses; one person’s “sharp” is another person’s “bitter” is another person’s “spicy.” And it is made even more obvious by the titles of the various pictures which for the most part give a good general idea, but when you get down to the real nitty-gritty are world’s apart.
While the hard boiled egg whites were exactly that, there’s not much you can do with a boiled egg white, the yolks were extremely smooth. I’d venture a guess a ton of mayonnaise was used. The snails were definitely breaded and then fried, although the coating didn’t really stick. Initially I thought the idea was to eat the egg with a snail, but quickly realized that since there were five snails and only three deviled eggs that it wouldn’t quite work like that. Normally I’m not a real big fan of hard boiled eggs in any form, but in this case I had two servings or six halves. They were that good. Approximately 400 calories.
Initially I thought that this was some kind of Puerto Rican boy band soup. But Menudo and Menudo are two different things, and apparently this had clams as well. After the deviled eggs this was fairly weak. Tripe is mostly about the texture, but there wasn’t much. And clams after snails is like drinking a Mosel kabinett riesling right after a bourbon. The subtleties don’t quite shine as well as they could. Approximately 300 calories
I’m not certain what makes these Quebecois-style, I didn’t taste any maple syrup or cheese curds, but again I was pushing the limits of my palate. Mussels are kind of like Tequila to me. There was one night a couple of decades ago when I just overdid it (not on both at the same time) and as a consequence neither one is high on my list of things to order or eat. But when served, my mom taught me well, I eat what’s put in front of me. To me these tasted like what I would presume tinned smoked mussels would taste like. But my companions quickly corrected me, informing me in no uncertain terms that smoked mussels from a can would be way more mushy. As the crackers were tossed on the bar and the soup and the mussels showed up pretty much at the same time, I actually used the crackers (plain old Saltines) in the soup. Even though they were swimming in oil (maybe that ‘s why it was Quebecois-style, maple oil!). Approximately 200 calories.
Raw Salmon, dynamite mayo, fennel, tobiko, croutons according to FoodieDateNight or Fennel salad topped with Asian-inspired salmon crudo, sesame oil, tempura bits, and spicy mayonnaise according to Huge Galdones.
Going three-for-four in the challenging food categories (hard boiled eggs, mussels and fennel are never going to be number one with me) this was actually quite tasty, I had two. The chunks of salmon were very large, the pieces of tempura were very crunchy, I didn’t taste any of the sesame oil and there was just a light coating of spicy mayonnaise. I ended up eating the fennel separately and covered in spicy mayonnaise it was also quite nice. Approximately 800 calories.
To me this is where I diverged from what was written on the menu. To me this was much more like a General Tao Fried Chicken than Buffalo style chicken. Basically a chicken breast with the wing still attached, coated in a tangy, sweet, sticky and vibrantly red sauce. I kept waiting for the dark meat to show up, but it never did. Nonetheless I had two servings, lets call it a conservative 2,000 calories.
Fried tortilla chips w/ taramasalata & pickled eggplant n’ olives according to FoodieDateNight or taramosalata and eggplant-olive salad according to Huge Galdones.
No funky business here, taramasalata is taramasalata, pickled eggplant is pickled eggplant. The fried tortilla chips were huge. Personally I prefer my taramasalata to have enough garlic to save me from vampires for at least a month, this one would have prevented someone from biting my neck for maybe 30 minutes. The eggplant was nice, but not earth shattering and the fried tortilla chips ended up getting soggy. How about we add another 1,350 calories?
Again I diverge from the written menu, there might have been ricotta in there, but they were doused in Parmesan and some kind of tomato sauce, nice and large, but meatballs are kind of like hard boiled eggs, real tough to fancy up. I had two. How about we call it 400 calories?
Tourtiere tamale, turkey gravy, red pepper jelly according to FoodieDateNight or “Tourtière tamale”: ground pork and spices with gravy and plum sauce according to Huge Galdones.
This is where things got interesting. As we were being served camp style (ie everyone at the same time) sometimes descriptions got lost in translation. These came to the table simply as “tamales.” I asked all my dining companions what they thought the sauce was, because I thought it was some kind of, again tangy, raspberry or strawberry sauce. Between the four of them, I got two red peppers, one chili, and one cranberry. To me it definitely wasn’t spicy enough for chili, and in hindsight, given the turkey gravy the cranberry was a brilliant guess. But tourtiere is normally served with ketchup. I have no idea where the “plum sauce” comes from, and I will go to my grave insisting that it was a tangy raspberry coulis. Call it 300 calories.
Lamb belly w/ cumin & sesame according to FoodieDateNight or Cumin-rubbed lamb spare ribs with sesame and cilantro salad according to Huge Galdones.
This is pretty much where I kicked the bucket. After consuming approximately 6,750 calories (don’t forget the booze) I though to myself, are baby sheep ribs really all that meaty? And after having one bite, realized in fact that they weren’t. And now that I start thinking about it, I cannot remember ever seeing, live, or in pictures a hefty lamb. And if you’re not hefty there ain’t gonna be much meat around your belly or on your ribs. So I took one bite, confirmed what I thought and said “ok, enough’s enough.” I did however eat all the cilantro…
Black forest chocolate & pumpkin cream cheese whoopie pies according to FoodieDateNight or Pumpkin-cream-cheese and Black Forest cake Whoopie pies according to Huge Galdones.
I didn’t try the pumpkin (and maybe I should have) but I was very disappointed with the, quote; Black Forest; unquote whoopie pie. I don’t know about you, but the words “Black Forest” make me think of chocolate, maraschino cherries and whipped cream, double bonus points if some of the chocolate is in shavings. You get the all-time high score if your chocolate cake is moist. These made me think more along the lines of oversized Oreo cookie. The cake was a little bit dry and yeah after pushing 7K calories I wasn’t quite in the mood to really analyze them further.
Along the way we had five different bottles of wine, I told you not to forget the booze. A Gruner Veltliner, Terraces 2010, domaine Wachau. VDP Cotes Catalanes, Muscat sec 2010, Domaine de Blaines. Cotes du Rhone, Petite Jeanne 2010, La Roche Buissiere. Calabuig, Bobal 2010, Bodegas del Levante. And Fleurie, La Chapelle des Bois 2009, Arnaud Aucoeur. But as I was sitting with the importer, how about I just say that they were spectacular and wonderful, and leave it at that.
Overall it was a fun time, from my perspective I think it was more Grumman 78 than M. Wells, but I have been wrong before, and I will be wrong again. In retrospect there was nothing that was completely mind blowing, but there was nothing that was horrible either. The Canadiens didn’t win, but it was a close game that ended up in a shootout. The food was similar to the game, entertaining and enjoyable, but not earth shattering. I’m not certain that I am enough of a hockey fan to go watch every game there, but for things like the Daytona 500, it would be amazing.