Petite Bourgogne

Petite Bourgogne

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Best Tea Around Montreal: Traditional Afternoon Tea

It all started when a friend posted on the MEETin discussion board that she was "jonesing for a good cup of tea" and wondered if anyone would join her for a tea event. That simple post sparked the most discussion ever and our group of tea lovers have been exploring tea shops for the past six years. We have sampled the whole range from the traditional afternoon tea experience at some posh places to a good cup of tea in a tiny shop. In fact, we have visited too many tea shops to include in just one review. For Part 1 in this series, I will cover a few of the great places for traditional afternoon tea around Montreal.

Afternoon Tea at Birks Café par Europea

Birks Café par Europea

On the mezzanine of Birks' flagship store on Philips Square, it is one of the grandest locations to have afternoon tea in Montreal. I called ahead to ensure the vegetarian in our group would have a comparable plate, but a gluten-free friend joined us at the last minute and the kitchen had no problem accommodating her dietary needs. Both friends' plates were just as creative and delicious as the regular plates. We couldn't get enough of the tender, rich scones with Devonshire cream and homemade jam. The selection of green and black teas from Mariage Frères all sounded so exotic and wonderful, it was hard to choose just one.

$26.50
1240 Place Phillips
514.397.2468
website

Ritz-Carleton

The Ritz-Carleton Montreal is famous for its luxurious style and impeccable service and the afternoon tea is no exception. Usually served in the Palm Court, you can also enjoy tea in the peaceful garden in the summer. If you have your heart set on the garden, check whether there is a wedding or another event in the Oval Ballroom when making your reservation. The three-tiered plate has all the traditional favorites - tender scones, finger sandwiches and a variety of pastry selections - all made with high quality ingredients. Any one of the interesting choices of black and green teas will pair wonderfully with the food. Combine the afternoon tea with a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts on the next block for a thoroughly cultured and civilized afternoon.

$32
1228 Sherbrooke St. W
514.842.4210 ext.1222
website

Fairmont Queen Elizabeth

The afternoon tea is served in the spacious Le Montréalais, so they are able to accommodate larger groups, birthday or engagement parties, or a baby shower. Even for our table of eight, everything was already prepared when we arrived, including special dietary requests. All we had to do was choose from a wide selection teas and enjoy the service. If you are sensitive to caffeine in the afternoon, they offer two tisanes - Cascade Peppermint and Rooibos Provence - in addition to a wide selection of green and black teas. All the food was delicious. The incredibly rich desserts seemed to be their speciality, so be sure to arrive with an appetite.

$26
900 Rene Levesque Blvd. W
514.954.2261
website

Gryphon D'Or

While Gryphon D'Or is a small, casual, funky tea shop on Monkland, their afternoon tea service is as serious as the luxury hotels. Everything but the butter is made on the premises, so you can taste the love with which the food is made. The last group that went there enjoyed the scones and sweet cream so much they ordered a second helping. One even took home a batch fresh from the oven! Since the tea seems to be served on the lighter side, you will need to specify if you prefer your tea strong.

$25 (full service) / $14.95 (scones and dessert only)
5968 Monkland
514.485.7377
website

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Cronut Wars!

In 2013, cronuts became a hugely popular sweet treat in many major cities in the USA and Canada, creating long line-ups outside pastry shops and even a black market in New York City. Originally launched on May 10, 2013 by Dominique Ansel Bakery in NYC, other bakeries and pastry shops quickly caught onto the craze, creating their own versions. Montreal was no exception.

A few weeks ago, a friend posted an event on MEETin to find out what all the fuss was about. We sampled the treats from three different shops around Montreal. Unlike our In Search of the Best events, we were not able to determine which one we liked best. Each interpretation of the cronut was very different, so which one was best depended on personal preference.

La Cornetteria (6528 St. Laurent)


This charming pastry shop in Little Italy put an Italian spin on the cronut with a choice of vanilla custard or ricotta filling. Thinking the ricotta might be a little rich, we chose the vanilla. The pastry turned out to be very light, along with the vanilla custard, with the sugar coating providing most of the sweetness. The host of our group compared it to a churro, but the pastry was more layered, out of respect to the croissant part of the cronut. To me, it was an Italian pastry - a sweet little treat to be enjoyed with a shot of espresso. Since the vanilla version was so light and tasty, I bought a ricotta one to bring home to my husband, which was just as light and not as sweet as the vanilla.


Les 3M Pâtisserie (1459 Mont-Royal Est)


Next was Le 3M Pâtisserie in the Plateau. These were cronuts from the French point of view. While we were tempted to try the caramel, we stuck with the vanilla to make the comparison easier. At first bite, it was clear the croissant part of the cronut was the focus. The pastry was layered like a buttery croissant, but the outside was fried instead of baked with the vanilla frosting providing most of the sweetness. The pastry was a little on the greasy side, but overall a tasty cronut.


Simplement D'Liche (3964A St. Denis)

Only made on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, these cronuts were not part of the MEETin tasting event. However, since these were the first cronuts I had ever tasted, I had to include them in this comparison. I first tried one of D'Liche's vanilla cronuts during the In Search of Montreal's Best Lemonade event last summer. As I expected from a pastry invented in New York City, it was big, rich and decadent, channelling both the croissant and the donut. 


To be sure I was up-to-date on the D'Liche cronut, I bought one shortly after the MEETin event. I was delighted to discover their recipe got better since the summer! Still maintaining its New York inspiration, it was still the largest and most decadent of the three, but the ratio of pastry to filling to frosting was more balanced so every bite had the right amount of crunch (pastry), creaminess (filling) and sweetness (frosting).  


Conclusion

With Italian, French, or New York interpretations, each of the cronuts were too different to decide which one was the best. Which ever one you choose, it is a decadent treat which should be enjoyed with a good coffee or tea and conversation with friends.




Sunday, March 2, 2014

On Patine! The Best Outdoor Skating In And Around Montreal

In Montreal, there are two ways to deal with winter: hide from it or embrace it. Considering there is snow on the ground for four to five months of the year, I decided soon after my arrival to learn how to enjoy the season. Near the end of my first winter here, I bought an inexpensive pair of recreational skates to enjoy the abundance of outdoor skating.

Every neighbourhood has at least one skating rink within easy walking distance. Some are specifically set up for playing hockey while others are free-skate rinks or decorative paths. Enjoying the winter scenery while I skate is important to me, so all of my favourite skating places are the decorative paths in the larger parks.

My reviews below are only a few of the many places to skate in Montreal. For an interactive map of all the rinks and their current condition, check out patinermontreal.ca.

Full Service Skating

If you are new to outdoor skating and not sure you want to invest in a pair of skates, I recommend trying out one of the full-service skating rinks. You can rent skates at all of these locations, usually around $6-$8. If you already own skates, they also have sharpening services.

Bonsecours Basin (Bassin Bonsecours)


If you are uncertain about outdoor skating, Bassin Bonsecours will convert you. Open from 10am to 9pm (weekdays)/10pm (weekends), you can enjoy skating surrounded by the beauty of the Old Port day or evening. For $6, you can skate on the ultra-smooth refrigerated rink or skate with more freedom on the natural ice in the basin. Each evening is a different musical theme, adding to the festive air. Bring your own lock to store your boots and other personal items in the bench lockers in the chalet.

Beaver Lake (Lac des castors)

The refrigerated rink at Beaver Lake
On top of Mont Royal, Beaver Lake also offers the choice of a smaller refrigerated rink or the freedom of natural ice on the lake itself. There is no charge to skate, but there is a full service equipment counter inside the chalet if you need to rent. A popular spot on the weekends, it is best to go early or, since it is open until 9pm, try the evenings during the week. Bring your own lock for the bench lockers in the chalet.

Parc Lafontaine


A neighbourhood favourite in the Plateau, Parc Lafontaine is one of the most scenic of the outdoor skating paths. The long natural ice path winds around the chalet and toward the south west corner of the park, giving you the feeling of skating along a meandering river. Also a popular spot on weekends, it is best to go early, when the ice is the smoothest and less crowded. Skating is free and you can store your boots in the bench lockers inside the chalet.

Parc Jean Drapeau during Fête des Neiges

The skating path during Fête des Neiges 2013
Fête des Neiges is the annual winter festival usually held at Parc Jean Drapeau on the weekends from mid-January through early February. For the past two years, you can skate for free along a scenic path near the St. Lawrence river. Because it is during the festival you can also take in one of the other winter activities or enjoy hot chocolate and Beaver Tails while you're there.


Favorite Neighbourhood Skating

You will need to bring your own skates to these fantastic free neighbourhood spots.

Parc Maisonneuve


With a beautiful view of the Olympic Stadium on one end, the huge oval at Parc Maisonneuve will inspire your inner speed skater. The ice is well-groomed and not too busy on a Saturday morning, so it is very easy to pick up some speed and get a good workout. On the other side of the oval, the park is a beautiful winter wonderland with trails for cross-country skiing and walking. If you want to lock up your boots and belongings, there are lockers in the heated chalet if you bring your own lock.

Parc St. Viateur


This scenic path has been a favourite in Outremont for generations. The well-groomed, natural ice path circles the park, taking you under a small bridge and by the charming heated chalet, where you can safely keep your boots warm. Since it gets busy on the weekend, it is best to go early and then warm up with hot chocolate at one of the nearby cafés.

Road Trip!

If you are inspired to do a winter skating road trip, these two are worth the drive!

Domain de la foret perdue (Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel)


Outside Trois Rivière at Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel, Domaine de la Forêt Perdue has a 10km labyrinth of groomed skating paths winding through forested farmland. In addition to great skating, there is a small zoo of goats, sheep, llamas and more, your can try your hand at ice fishing for trout, and sample some maple syrup taffy cooled on snow. If you're hungry, you can buy a pretty decent hot lunch on site or heat up your own in a microwave in the food chalet. For $12, you enjoy a full day at the Domaine and leave with your choice of a small bottle of honey or maple syrup or a small package of buckwheat flour. 

Rideau Canal (Ottawa) 

Winterlude 2013
Famous for being the world's largest outdoor skating rink, the Rideau Canal is worth the drive to Ottawa. Because it is natural ice, its condition is very weather dependent, so the best time to go is usually during Winterlude in February. For the full experience, start at Dow's Lake and skate toward downtown, which is 7.8km one-way. If you get tired, you can rest and refuel at one of the many rest and snack stations every 1-2km along the way. The canal can get very crowded during Winterlude, especially downtown, so its best to start early.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Léché Desserts: A Bit of Gourmet Donut Heaven

Variety of Donuts on display
Best to arrive early. These disappear quickly!
A couple of weeks ago a couple of friends and I checked out Léché Desserts as a MEETIn event. This is not your ordinary donut shop. Since it opened, the Montreal food scene has been buzzing about the tasty creations from internationally trained pastry chef Josie Weitzenbauer. We couldn't wait to try them!

Still recovering from all the sweets at Christmas, I first wanted to try something on the lighter side. I chose the lime coconut donut, which was exactly right. The cake was light and not too sweet while the lime, coconut and sugar coating was nicely balanced.

Lime Coconut Donut
Lime Coconut

My friends got a box of six, so they could sample a wider variety. Since one friend is a vegetarian, she cannot eat marshmallows, so I got to try her sample of the Mexican hot chocolate donut (not photographed). The chocolate glaze had a good kick of cayenne, which was tempered at bit by the marshmallow.

Of course, I cannot go to a gourmet donut shop without bringing something home for the hubby. For that night's dessert, I picked up a mulled wine and orange sugar and a pistachio cream. Of the two, I preferred the mulled wine and orange sugar. The filling was warmly spiced, just like mulled wine, which was balanced by the orange and sugar coating. The pistachio cream is for pistachio lovers. The top is covered with a crunchy layer of nuts while the inside is filled with a rich pistachio cream.

Two filled donuts from Leche Desserts
Pistachio Cream (left) and Mulled Wine with Orange Sugar (right)

The shop itself is also charming. While most of the customers that day took their treats with them, there are a few tables and a side bar where you can sit and enjoy your food and a coffee. If you are in the St. Henri neighbourhood or near their Old Port location, I highly recommend stopping by.

Woman mixing in a brightly lit kitchen
Donut creation in progress!

640 Rue De Courcelle Montreal, QC.

Monday to Friday: 9am to 6pm
Saturday to Sunday: 9am to 3pm

Phone: (514) 903-2301


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Montreal Adventures - A Look Back At 2013

With the year winding down, it's a good time to reflect on adventures I wanted to have in Montreal in 2013. Most of the year was consumed with finishing and shipping Batman: Arkham Origins, but I still managed to get out and enjoy myself from time-to-time.

Embrace winter (if it ever comes)
Go skating, tobogganing, maybe even snowshoeing - at least once a week.  Find and enjoy more tea or hot chocolate.

We had a short, fairly mild winter again, so I only managed to go skating three times in January/February, but two of them were during winter festivals: Fête des Neiges and Winterlude. I hope we get the same ice skating path in Parc Jean-Drapeau this year! As for new tea places, we enjoyed tea at Maison du Macaron and at Birk's Cafe. Highly recommend both places!

Embrace summer (when it comes)
Find and enjoy new terrasses.  Eat outside on my own. Finally attend a show at the Just For Laughs festival.  Spend time at the Jazz Festival.  Have a picnic in a park.  Watch the fireworks from Jacques Cartier bridge.  Find and enjoy more shop-made ice cream.

Street entertainers on stilts

D and I finally went to two Just For Laughs shows - one gala and one of the smaller shows at Club Soda. I also happened to be walking around Place des Arts at the time and enjoyed a bit of the street festival. A friend got some tickets to the Fantasia Film festival and invited me to a film from Taiwan made in the style of a 1950's American musical (but sung in Mandarin). In September, I spent four crazy days exploring Montreal with tourists from the USA and Europe during the MEETin Invasion. That was about it for this goal. Fortunately, many of the other goals are summer-related :)

Walk or ride my bike just for the fun of it. 

This was by far my most successful goal of the year. In the Spring, a friend at work got me to join him on his daily walks at lunch. We usually walk 30 to 45 minutes through either the Village or Old Montreal. Those walks have really helped maintain my sanity. In August, a friend and I started doing major cycling, with our longest ride being about 60km, taking us to and around Iles-de-Boucherville. 

More solo street photography (outside of my monthly MEETin photo walks)
Old Montreal Courthouse

I didn't do any solo photo walks outside of a brief wander around Queen's University campus after the ice storm this week. However, my lunchtime walking buddy found the Wiki Loves Monuments photo contest, so we spent September seeking out and photographing the monuments around work. It was a lot of fun and we discovered some places we didn't know were monuments.

Go to Jean Talon or Atwater market every week.

It wasn't every week, but I did go to the market regularly. As a result, I cooked and brought my lunch to work more regularly.

Go to the Botanical Gardens (my favorite) or some other park once a month.

With Mosaïcultures at the Botanical Gardens this year, the outdoor gardens did not have free admission for Access Montreal card holders from July through September. However, I did get to see the Mosaïcultures exhibit twice this year and it was spectacular! The bike rides usually went to a park, so there were still plenty of nature moments.

Visit museums.  
Glass art by Chihuly

I took advantage of a web deal and became a member of the Musée des Beaux-Arts this year. So far, I have seen three of the temporary exhibits, my favourite of which was the glass art by Chihuly. I also thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the new planetarium and the Canadian Centre for Architecture. Both are worth visiting.

Explore more restaurants, especially in my own neighbourhood and around work.
Sadly, I didn't do much in this area. Most of the new restaurant experiences came from travelling, rather than around Montreal. However, I did finally get to try Les Filles du Roy during MTL à Table. The food is delicious and the historic setting is worth experiencing.

Wear fashionable clothes.  
My wardrobe continues to evolve. I have been investing in some items from Katrin Leblond, a local designer who has a boutique in my neighbourhood. I love shopping there and always leave feeling fabulous!

Do more travelling.
Beautiful, colorful wrought iron balconies in the French Quarter of NOLA

Almost all of my travel was work related, none of which I would have predicted at the beginning of the year. I went to Frankfurt in May, Los Angeles (with a day trip to San Diego) in June, and New Orleans for the annual PMI Leadership Institute Meeting in October. The only vacation travel was spending a week at the same cottage where we spent our honeymoon and a Thanksgiving weekend roadtrip to Bois-Franc and Arbraska tree-top adventures in Rigaud.

Update this blog once a month.
This will be the 15th post on this blog this year. It wasn't exactly a monthly schedule, but I'm still happy with the amount of content I posted. I also wanted to make this blog more interesting. I didn't do anything special for that, so I don't think I made much progress on that goal. My weekend at Blissdom got me thinking about what I could potentially do with this blog. I'll do some more thinking this week and include any new goals with my 2014 goals.

As for my 2014 goals... I will be publishing them in the first days of January. If you have any suggestions on adventures in Montreal I should try, please let me know in the comments! I would also love to hear about any of your most memorable adventures this past year.

I hope everyone had a great 2013 and hope you enjoy the rest of the holiday season!
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