Petite Bourgogne

Petite Bourgogne

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Reviews

Considering the perpetual "In Search of the Best" series of dinners, what better way to summarize 2008 than to review the most memorable Montreal restaurant experiences? We've been to so many places that it would take me a week to review them all. I'm also writing this blog without all the business cards I've collected to remember where I've been. So this review is not comprehensive. I've included links for more details on the restaurants I've mentioned.

I'll start with one of my favourite types of food - Greek. For simple, high quality Greek, and best value for the money, Marven's is the winner. The restaurant is in the middle of a residential neighbourhood and blends in with the homes, but it's a Montreal institution that everyone knows about. Go early to avoid a long wait in line and go hungry. The portion are huge! For $13 I had enough calamari to feed me three times. Literally. It reheated wonderfully in the toaster oven, staying tender and crisp. If you're looking for a Greek place with a bit more atmosphere, then I recommend Ouzeri, which is conveniently around the corner from my place. The dishes are served family style, so an order of meat, a vegetable and one of potatoes easily feeds two to three people. On theatre nights it's packed, but service is good so you may still be able to get a table for two or sit at the bar. For a lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous experience, then Trinity is the restaurant for that. Seriously, dress up in your "want to be seen" clothes and be prepared for a significant bill at the end of the meal, especially if you go in a group and order family style. I left with my stomach very full and my wallet empty. The food is very good and the atmosphere is vibrant, but I have spent less on better meals.

One such place was Alep - a Syrian restaurant with great atmosphere and fantastic food. Our group was served family style in two rounds. The first was a variety of salads and appetizers which alone were a meal in themselves. The second round were the main meat dishes. The food could best be described as spicy Mediterranean where classics such as hummus and babaganoush are kicked up a notch.

Moving further east in the culinary world, Khyber Pass Afghan restaurant was another unique experience. The group was directed to a basement restaurant, which was made up to look like a cave. The food was still Mediterranean, but with some influences from India, such as the three different versions of basmati rice served with the meat dishes. It was also my first bring-your-own wine experience. I must say that the BYOW concept is brilliant. Aside from being more budget-friendly, there is nothing better than sharing a favourite wine along with good food and interesting conversation with new or old friends.

Other great BYOW places we enjoyed were Nantha's Kitchen/Cash and Curry, a Malaysian restaurant we enjoyed on Formula 1 weekend, Il Piatto Pieno Trattoria, an authentic Italian Trattoria in Little Italy, and Le Piton de la Fournaise, a small African Reunionaise place in the Plateau. All the places were great experiences, but I really loved the last place. We were served by the owner, who was fantastic. I had an unusual shark curry, but most memorable was the chocolate cake, which pretty much ends the debate about whether chocolate is the best experience in the world. We're still talking about that dessert months later. A repeat event was planned for Valentine's Day, but, alas, the restaurant is only booking couples that night.

One more BYOW place I want to note is Apres le Jour where we held our "year end" (it was September) staff party. The $35 fixed-price group menu was wonderful - fine dining without the fine dining price - and accomodating to our vegetarians. The staff handled a large group beautifully. Service was always prompt, which is impressive for a group of almost forty people.

Considering it's a wine bar, Pop! was most memorable for it's unique menu. We spent quite a bit of time pondering what "candy cap mushroom milk foam" meant on the dessert menu, even switching between French and English to see if it was a translation problem. As best as we can tell, there was a comma missing between mushroom and milk, but there was so much going on in that dish that it was hard to tell if it involved mushrooms. For dinner, most of us had various Flammekuechen, the traditional recipe of which I think I've managed to duplicate at home.

I would love to return to Bistro le Porto for the overall experience. The menu is authentic Portugese, the Port list is astonishing, and the atmosphere encourages a long, leisurely dinner. If you wish, the meal starts with Port and ends with Port. I had grilled sardines, which are significantly larger than what we're used to. While it was delicious, it was tedious to eat since the bones are not pleasant to eat or eat around.

As we got into winter, our appetites turned more toward warm comfort food. La Toulousaine near Atwater market specializes in Cassoulet - French comfort food. Be sure you're really hungry when you order it - the beans, duck and sausage are rich and very filling. If you feel like you want a mini Jamaican vacation but can't afford to travel, I recommend Mango Bay Tropical drinks, Jerk chicken with peas and rice, sweet potato pudding in a small, brightly painted restaurant with island music will transport you far away from the ice and snow, even if only for a short while.
We're also doing a tour of local tea shops. So far, we've had afternoon team at Une grenouille dans la théière in Rosemont and high tea, complete with cucumber sandwiches, at Gryphon D'Or in NDG. Both were good, but so far I preferred the first.

Finally, I need to bid a fond farewell to the old Old Dublin. It's the oldest Irish pub in Montreal, which moved around the corner from it's original location in the Fall. I haven't visited the new location yet, but the old one has fond memories. It was my first experience there that convinced me to move to Montreal. I hope they've maintained the same old pub atmosphere in the new location.
Here's to 2009 and more memorable adventures in Montreal!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Just a Blog

With the passing into a new month, and having a weekend to myself for the first time in two months, I thought it was a good time to update my blog. Then I started thinking about what has been going on in my life since Thanksgiving. It's been less than a month since my last blog post, but it feels like much longer.

Insanity at work continues. I once worked with a project manager who compared long, difficult projects with giving birth to a baby. I think it's a perfect description for several of our projects at work. The biggest "baby" is taking most of my time and energy and trying all of our patience. It's confirming my long held belief in the importance of adequate project planning and having simple processes to deal with and communicate change. For anyone who has complained about their project manager, please imagine what life would be like without one at all. Just think about what it would be like to work in chaos. For those of you who work with one, go give your project manager a pat on the back. Mixed in all the project fun was, I kid you not, a 40 minute debate on the word "yet" in one of our soon-to-be-published company values. I know words are important, but c'mon, that was unnecessary.

On a better note, my social life is active and I'm trying to pace myself well.

D and I did a road trip to Cobden, Ontario to see his sister and family. I was looking forward to a drive filled with Fall colours. Instead, it was pouring rain. We had better weather on the drive back, but many of the trees were bare from the storm. On the way up we stopped by La Gantoise in Lefaivre, Ontario to pick up some Belgian Blue Beef. I was told about this place from xtreme foodies friends, who also wanted me to pick up orders for them... which they forgot to place. Oh well, I now have a couple of exceptional roasts in the freezer. It was great to see the in-laws, which I haven't seen in about 3 years. The kids are growing up fast!

Halloween is big in Montreal. Two sets of friends, one from Kingston, one from Kitchener, came up for the event. Halloween night I had two events - a birthday party at a great cocktail and tapas place called L'Assommoir, followed by meeting the out-of-town friends and D at a goth club on St. Laurent. Both were costumed events and I amazingly pieced together a French Maid outfit from clothes already in my wardrobe. (Yes, pieces of it were from another costume.) The festivities didn't end with Halloween night. The next day, L wanted to go to mass at St. Joseph's Oratory (pictured above), which gave me an opportunity to see that Montreal landmark. That night was a French Cassoulet dinner followed by accompanying the out-of-town friends to another goth club on St. Denis. Unfortunately, I was so tired from staying out late the night before and the rich cassoulet dinner that I had to call it a night relatively early. After two nights dressed in black for goth clubs, I didn't wear any black on the Sunday.

I watched the US election at home and was happy to see that my American friends had a real choice this election. I was also happy to see that America was ready to elect Obama. He has a big job ahead of him...

One MEETin friend is heading back to Nairobi this week so a few of us had a send-off dinner at a local Vietnamese restaurant near Jean Talon market. We all hope A gets another UN project here in Montreal and we see her here again soon.

Last night I hosted an Alumni event - a university hockey game against a long time rival school. I'm happy to say that the few Alumni and students in attendance were good ambassadors for my Alma Mater. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about the host students, particularly those from the Rugby team. I remember what it's like to be a student, cheering for your team and putting down the other team, but these students only put down the other team and rather viciously at that. It just made them look bad.

Whenever I log in to update my blog, I check out the latest Blogs of Note. I'm adding a link to the One Minute Writer blog. I highly recommend my writing friends check it out. Now I just need to follow my own advice...

Monday, October 6, 2008

Fall Vacations!

Mental note for next year: take my vacation in the summer with everyone else. Considering I don't have children, that statement seems like I've lost all sense of reason. Why would I take vacation at the same time as everyone else? Well, insanity set in after everyone else got back from vacation after Labour Day, so my fall vacations felt like great escapes worthy of at least a little respect from the great Houdini.

The first escape was to Quebec City the first weekend after Labour Day. This year is Quebec's 400th Anniversary so I wanted to see Vieux Quebec before the end of the year and before the winter. It was also a weekend getaway for D and I - the first in over a year. We had a great time walking around the old city and the Citadelle. I was even treated to a horse and carriage ride. We're thinking we would like to go back for the Winter Carnival.

The next weekend I flew to San Francisco to spend a week in northern California. It was basically a photo vacation; I had to show California to my new camera. It was also an opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet some of their new babies. It was nice to have an extra week of summer weather and visit almost all of my favourite places. I took about 138 pictures in San Francisco, 160 pictures at Stanford, Los Gatos, 17 Mile Drive and Point Lobos, and a whopping 320 pictures at Yosemite. The 17 Mile Drive and Point Lobos were as spectacular as I remembered them, but the entry fees doubled over the past five years. (It was still worth it!) Because it was mainly a photo vacation, I made a point of exploring almost all of Yosemite Valley and even drove up to Glacier Point. I saw more of Yosemite on this trip than I have with all my other trips their combined. Capturing wildlife with my camera, though, was more challenging on this trip. I had some great potential shots of pelicans at Point Lobos and deer and racoons at Yosemite, but I didn't have my camera ready. The exception was the squirrel at Wayburn Point - it was like he was a professional model. It was tough choosing that as my favourite picture to post on this blog.

The weekend after I got back from California, I joined the xtreme foodies gang on another trip to Vermont. The mission this time was microbrewery tasting and viewing the fall colours. Most of the day was spent on a very scenic drive through Vermont. The fall colours were gorgeous and we were treated to rural postcard scenes with cows, sheep and even a camel (!). The beer samplers in the group enjoyed the offerings at Otter Creek microbrewery and other microbrews over lunch and dinner. We made it to Magic Hat brewery... just in time for closing. At least we got some interesting photos there. It was the same case for the wildflower farm. Another mental note to self... pass on Vermont red wine. It wasn't bad; it just wasn't worth ordering.

In addition to the vacations, both MEETin and my alumni association have been active. For Alumni, we held a successful wine tasting at a lovely home in Outremont. As we walked to the metro, we spotted a wild fox hanging out in the very civilized neighbourhood. The MEETin "in search of" dinners are starting up again with a Portugese bistro. A group of us went the the Chinese lantern festival at the Botanical Gardens where we viewed and photographed the largest display of silk lanterns outside of China. We also started up a German conversation group which will be meeting monthly, which I fear will continually affirm that my German is better than my French. I really, really, really need to start going to the weekly French conversation group. Yesterday was the inaugural event for a series of teashop visits. For $4 per person, we sampled three different teas for which our hostess made two large tea pots for 7 people. Needless to say we were all well caffeinated after that event. Good thing I could balance my tea buzz with red wine and lots of cheese at a party afterwards.

I missed the homestyle Japanese dinner with my Mom's visit over Thanksgiving. I more than made up for it by cooking a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner. It was the first time my Mom has been in Montreal since landing in Montreal when she emigrated from Germany 48 years ago almost to the day. While she was in Montreal, I showed her Old Montreal, Atwater Market, Jean Talon Market and a bit of the shopping in the Underground City. We had gorgeous sunny weather - a perfect time to visit here. I love Fall in this corner of the country.

Friday, August 15, 2008


It feels like we're living in the tropics. Almost every day starts out sunny and then winds up raining in the afternoon or evening. Despite the wet weather, I still managed to have some summer fun in Montreal. I can't believe September is around the corner already.

I was too busy with moving to get tickets to one of the Just for Laughs shows. I did manage to walk through the street festival in the Latin Quarter one evening. It was pretty cool. There were people on stilts, giant insects (picture above), bands, living statues, someone creating a sand sculpture, giant balloons, acrobatic street performers... the list goes on.

Fireworks are a big part of Montreal in the summer with the international fireworks competition. In total, I saw three shows - one from Terrasses Bonsecours in Old Montreal, one from the fire escape of my building and one, which was by far the best, from La Ronde, where the fireworks are set off. The picture above is from the last show. China put on a spectacular display! It is definitely worth the ticket price to see the show from La Ronde. Speaking of La Ronde, I am completely convinced that it is guaranteed to rain whenever I go there. Fortunately, it stopped raining in the evening so we got in a few more rides and could enjoy the fireworks.

Even after selling my car, I still went on a couple of road trips. A group of us from MEETin spent a relaxing Sunday at the Cascades Rawdon. We never go hungry at MEETin events. There was enough food for the BBQ to feed a group almost twice as big. "Swimming" in the rapids was like being in a giant, cold jacuzzi. Fortunately, the threat of rain kept the crowds away, but the rain held off until the drive home. A few weeks later, the xtreme foodies group did a day trip to Vermont where we sampled chocolate, cheeses, tea, and did a pilgrimage to the home of Ben and Jerry's. Since we couldn't bring anything back across the border, we wrapped up the trip with a picnic in a park in the mountains. We're now planning to go back in the fall when the mountains change from green to yellow, red and orange.

The "search of the best" restaurants continued. I enjoyed shark curry at an African-Reunionaise restaurant. We're planning to go back when the weather gets colder, but the event will have an "over-18" advisory because the chocolate cake was very... satisfying. Even the guys got the look that usually only women get with good chocolate. We also sought out the best Thai, Pho, southern BBQ, Old Montreal bistro, and one really good dessert place. We also enjoyed another pastry tasting, courtesy of our group's pastry chef.

Other summer fun included The Tempest at probably the only dry performance of Shakespeare in the Park, a New France ghost hunt in Old Montreal, and a walking tour of my new neighbourhood - Plateau Mont Royal.

In between all the summer activity, I'm slowing getting settled in my new place. An anniversary also came and went, which was marked with a conversation for the first time in six months. It's the start of many conversations. It's a good thing. I'll leave it at that for now.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

On the move

It has been another adventure in moving this past month. The previous owners moved out of my condo in mid-June, so I have been spending the past few weeks making it home. I've painted the bedrooms, moved in most of my stuff and I am in the process of getting settled - finally! The move itself went remarkably well, but my new appliances are late, so I'm living without a fridge and stove until next week. Good thing I always plan an overlap when I do local moves, so my refrigerated and frozen food is still living at my old place. I still have some odds and ends to take care of at my old place, so at least my food isn't getting lonely ;) Meanwhile, I'm learning all the good or not-so-good take-out places in my new neighbourhood.

I have also been on the move with various road trips. On my birthday, I drove to Ottawa to order a digital SLR camera as a gift to myself. It was a beautiful summer day and a roadtrip was a great way to spend it. The next weekend, the Extreme Foodie group from MeetIn did a roadtrip to Marieville in the Eastern Townships for the Slow Food Festival, followed by wine tasting... somewhere around there. The Slow Food Festival featured a variety of locally produced food, mostly organic. The week after was the St. Jean-Baptiste long weekend, so I drove to Ottawa to pick up my new toy, then to Stouffville to visit friends, then to Whitby for a pig roast and hot tub party. Men in a mid-life crisis really should avoid the alcohol and hot tub combination. I was merely an observer, but it was like watching a train wreck. The next morning I drove with a friend to Kitchener to hang out there for the weekend. We decided to try out my new camera in Stratford - the most photogenic town in the area and one of my personal favourites. I drove back to Montreal the next day. At least I'm putting the kilometres on my car before I sell it this weekend. A blog exclusive picture from Stratford is above.

I'm still maintaining my local social life, though at a slower pace. To add to the list of MeetIn dinners, we experienced the best of Malaysian, Northern Indian, Persian, and Italian. We also went to see U2 3D at the Imax, followed by a late dinner in Chinatown. For an event of a different pace, we also had a strawberry picking event in the West Island. One of the best things about summer are strawberries that are red all the way through the fruit. For a 40th birthday party from the Alumni crowd, I experienced a very trendy Greek restaurant. It seemed like the place to be that night. Speaking of the Alumni crowd, we held our first Alumni award dinner in five years -- a cocktail dinatoire at the McCord Museum. Everyone had a great time and I got to wear "the perfect dress". At work, the movie night in June was to see Kung Fu Panda. Ever since I started working in the game industry, I can't watch 3D animated films the same way. Every once in awhile I caught myself looking at the art and wondering what techniques were used to create it. I do have an increased appreciation, though, of what goes into those movies. OK, so maybe it would have been better to say my social life was at a slowing pace. The rest of July and August will be slower.

Summer is festival season in Montreal. I enjoyed bits and pieces of the Jazz festival on my way home from work every night, since the festival was literally next door. I tried to attend the big Bran Van 3000 street party after a quick MeetIn dinner at a cafe in the Gay Village (yes, that's what it's called). According to the Gazette the next morning, there were 100,000 people crammed in the street between Place des Arts and Complexe Desjardins. After spending the whole day painting, my tolerance for crowds was at an all-time low so I felt like toothpaste in a tightly squeezed tube. I tried to find a better spot with no luck, so I went home... where I promptly fell asleep. Just For Laughs is on right now. I plan on going to see the street performances in the Latin Quarter tomorrow night. I have been too swamped with moving to get tickets to one of the shows. Next year...

Monday, June 2, 2008

Whoosh! Part 3 - The rest

In between my social and photographic adventures, regular life still happened. Why bother writing about regular life? Partly to give a more balanced view on my adventures. Partly because some interesting stuff still happens in regular life.

Adventures in bureaucracy continued. I did finally get my health card at about the same time I got a cheque from BC MSP. Seems that Quebec canceled my BC insurance when I applied in Quebec, so I was effectively without insurance for about a month. Good thing I didn't get sick. It's taking longer than expected to sell my car, so I had to change my car insurance. Car insurance is MUCH less expensive in Quebec. I think gas is about the same - currently $1.34 - $1.44 per litre, depending on the day.

One of our benefits at work is in-house language lessons. The lessons are 90 minutes twice a week over lunch. I was put in the beginners French group, but I'm very happy I'm not a complete beginner. We had one guy from the UK in our group who didn't speak a word of French. Poor guy - he was completely lost and gave up after two lessons. The French I learned in high school is quickly coming back, but I still haven't found the confidence to have even simple conversations outside of the class. Our HR technician gave me a good piece of advice: practice my French with friends (or strangers) over a few drinks. I may try that at some point. In one meeting I unintentionally said a number (vingt-quatre) in French, and everyone got excited that I said something in French. To give some context, meetings typically go back and forth between English and French, but a lot of software development vocabulary is in English with "er" (pronounced "ay") at the end. For example, to check in code (into Perforce) is "checkiner le code" in French. My team has been kindly adding French vocabulary and phrases to my white board. It recently got a summer addition: les gougounes.

Speaking of work, our big move the last Friday in May was impressive... and chaotic. It was the biggest move ever done. We moved pretty much everyone on the 6th floor - about 100 people - in under an hour. It was kind of like July 1 - the day when most of Montreal moves. I was moving out of my office while equipment was being moved in. Everyone was helping everyone else. IT and facilities did a great job making sure we had the connections and power we needed. We're in an old building that has "character". The real test was the following Monday morning when my entire team turned on their computers, build machines and Devkits. No brown outs, but our air conditioning was definitely being challenged. In addition to the move, IT even managed to get the computer set up for our new employee starting Monday. Not bad for a relatively small company.

The rest of work is... work. I can't really say anything specific. The experience has similar elements from all the companies I've worked at before. It's a bit like deja vu that way. The major difference is that my team has over 30 people. I only have one project manager and I have lead developers instead of team managers. As a result, I'm very busy dealing with the day-to-day. It's going to take awhile to coach the team to where they need to be so I can spend more time on what I should be working on.

After over three months of no communication, I got an email from the ex last week with a bit of an update. I won't get into any detail, but I learned something from my less-than-positive reaction. It's a good thing.

So, that has been my life outside of my more exciting adventures. Just like everyone else, it's not just about exploring a new city and a bunch of social outings. Other stuff happens, too.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Whoosh! Part 2 - So much merriment

I wanted the title to be "Eat, Drink and Be Merry", but it would have made the link too long. As the title suggests, April and May continued to have a lot of culinary and related events.

One MeetIn member is a pastry chef and he holds pastry tasting events every couple of months. I was finally able to attend one in early April. For a nominal charge, we sampled artisan tarts, mousses, cakes, chocolates and truffles on a Friday evening. Loaded up on sugar, we then headed out to Les Deux Pierrots for some merriment. It was described to me as a traditional Old Montreal hangout. The crowd spanned all ages, all there to have some drinks, listen to the live music and, if the music is good, dance. For those of you with some Kingston context, it's kind of like the Wellington (circa mid-90's) mixed with Clark Hall Pub on two floors. The music covered traditional Quebecois music (which is very similar to traditional Irish, Celtic, Newfie, etc. music) to rock covers spanning the 60's to this decade. We were the group of 30-somethings dancing off to the side while the students crowded the stage. I had so much fun that I went back with my Vancouver visitor over the May long weekend.

The "In Search of the Best..." theme dinners continued. They fill so quickly that I often wasn't able to RSVP in time. Still, my culinary adventures included Japanese shabu-shabu (fondue), traditional Mexican (think: mole rather than fajitas), Tibetan, a very unique wine bar (every hear of candy cap mushroom milk foam in a dessert?) , couscous, and Greek. Outside of the official MeetIn theme dinners, I also experienced a more traditional fondue place and a couple of terrasses in Old Montreal, an Irish pub, a fine Italian restaurant, and an all night Chinese food place after one pub night. Although it seemed like a good idea at the time, I'm not sure about the last experience. Next time I'll stick with poutine. I've started collecting business cards from all the restaurants and will keep a scrapbook, just so I remember where I've been.

As much fun as the restaurants have been, I wanted some more culture in my life. In April, I attended "Shakespeare Unplugged" at the Atwater library. The two-person play expertly wove together scenes and lines from a variety of Shakespeare's best known plays. I was surprised at how many I recognized.

The first Friday in May, I hosted my first MeetIn event to attend a concert/cocktail party at the contemporary art museum. That was a unique experience. For the price of admission to the museum ($8), we could sip yummy cocktails from the cash bar, enjoy the museum (which we didn't manage to do) and attend an hour-long concert in the performance hall. The museum holds the Vendredi Nocturnes every month and it's so popular that they don't announce the name of the band until the day of. We saw Bob, a dark, eclectic local band which included "go-go boys" (read: performance art) in their act. The band was excellent, though not exactly my thing. A picture of a "go-go boy" and a toy reminding me of a Replicator from Stargate SG-1 is below:A little more of a traditional cultural event, a friend from MeetIn and I went to see Neil Simon's The Odd Couple at a small theatre. The acting was fantastic and the intimacy of the theatre put G and I in the "splash zone" of flying beer spray and chips as Oscar was demonstrating his typical hosting style.

Working for a company that builds games for licensed movie franchises has its benefits. Our social club sponsored two movie nights to see Iron Man and Indiana Jones. Both movies were great fun. We'll be going to one more movie in June.

Since moving to Montreal, I've been watching Sex and the City reruns on TV. May was capped off with a girl's night out to the Sex and the City movie last night. I'm pretty sure every woman in Montreal was at the movie theatre last night. The movie was great, which we discussed over cosmos (what else?) and martinis at Jello Bar. Once again, I wish I had had my camera. The lava lamps were mesmerizing. Ah... more for my cell phone photo gallery.

Stay tuned for Whoosh! Part 3...

Woosh! Part 1 - So Many Photos

Woosh! Where did April and May go? There were a lot of adventures and they are becoming a blur. I thought I'd write my updates in several parts, based on some major themes this spring. Montreal went from winter to spring/summer almost instantaneously. With the warm sunny weather, my camera has been getting quite a workout.

The first weekend of April was gorgeous, so my camera and I walked around Old Montreal. Basilica Notre Dame, Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours Chapel, architecture spanning about three centuries, cobblestone streets, and fabulous art galleries were all part of the 92 photos I took that day. I also started coveting digital SLR cameras that day. Everywhere I went there were other locals taking pictures with some pretty cool cameras. Suddenly, my little Kodak felt limited. I'm still very happy with how my photos turned out. I've been consistently posting my favourites on Facebook. I'll put fresh ones here.

The next week, a few of us from Meetin went to the annual butterflies fly free at the Botanical Gardens. I was like a kid in a candy store, taking 135 pictures of plants, flowers and butterflies, as well as thinking about which plants I want to make part of my soon to be jungle at home.

The photo above is a blog exclusive. I didn't put my photos from the Cabane a Sucre and hike on Mt. St. Gregoire. Cabane a Sucre, or Sugar Shack, is a Quebec tradition, involving a lot of food and maple syrup, but not so much on the shack part. The feasting occurs in very large halls reminiscent of those used for Oktoberfest. It was during the hockey playoffs, so there were a lot of Canadiens jerseys and "Go, Habs, go!" chants. To burn off our meal, we hiked up Mt. St. Gregoire. The views were beautiful, but didn't translate so well on camera - the browns and yellows really washed out in the sunshine. It was only the end of April, but I got SO sunburned.

I wore my sunscreen a couple weeks later for the hike on Mont Royal and the tamtams at Parc Mont Royal. The views from the mountain (relative to the rest of the geography, it's a mountain) were fantastic. One guy described the tamtams as a timewarp back to 1967. Every summer Sunday people gather at Parc Mont Royal, play drums, dance, play, partake in Vancouver's finest export (grown locally, I'm sure), whatever. There was even someone dressed as an apostle, carrying a flagstaff. I still need to edit that photo.

Fabulous friends visited from Vancouver over the long weekend and into the next week. It was an action-packed tourist weekend, including partying in Old Montreal, shopping downtown (and buying the perfect dress), a boat trip from Old Port, and La Ronde in the rain. I think I saw more of Montreal in four days than I have the previous four months. Thanks, J! Both sets of friends are also BSG fans. I now have a renewed passion for the series, just to see whether our speculations were right.

The last photo adventure was a walking tour of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve last weekend. In addition to pictures of the Olympic Stadium, Marche Maisonneuve, and a variety of other historical buildings, I also added to my collection of pictures of doors and front stairs. I'll be printing my favorites and replacing some vacation photos soon.

The walking tour wasn't the only adventure last weekend. A group of us, all from MeetIn, went on a foodie roadtrip to the Eastern townships. We planned to go to the chocolate festival in Bromont, but didn't quite make it. We wound up touring farms and towns... and I forgot my camera! I've got a great picture of a goat on my cell phone.

Stay tuned for Woosh! Part 2...

Saturday, April 5, 2008

In Search of the Best...

A couple of foodies from MeetIn launched a series of theme dinners called "In Search of the Best..." and fill in the country. I thought it was a good way to summarize my non-bureaucratic adventures in March. (This might be a good time to note that I still haven't received my Quebec health card.)

The first theme dinner was Afghan food at Khyber Pass on the Plateau, near where I bought my condo. The best way to describe the food is Mediterranean with a taste of India - spicy, flavourful food, no curry, not hot. I had lamb braised in a tomato sauce with three kinds of basmati rice. It was also my first experience with a BYOW (bring your own wine) restaurant. Everyone but the hosts brought wine and everyone shared. We also wound up having a great conversation about wines of the world. The other cool thing about Khyber Pass was the atmosphere. At first I was a bit worried when I entered the restaurant and then told to go outside and two doors to my left. Group parties were in the basement, which was made up to look like a cave. It was wonderful and unique. It was a warm, snowy night, so I decided to walk home and explore a bit of the neighbourhood. I am so glad I bought on the Plateau. There were all sorts of interesting stores, restaurants and theatres. Even though it was snowing, there were a lot of people out on the street, spending the night on the town.

The next week was an evening at the House of Jazz. It's a Montreal must-see. For a $5 cover charge you get an excellent live jazz performance with dinner. The food is one step up from Swiss Chalet, but you really go to the House of Jazz for the music and the atmosphere. We had a perfect view of the stage and the spectacular chandelier featured on their business cards and marketing material. I can recommend the experience. If I ever go by myself, I'll probably just sit at the bar.

Easter Weekend had several adventures. Friends from Toronto came to visit... bearing goodies from their stop over at the Big Apple. For those of you who travelled the 401 between TO and Kingston, you know the landmark. Well, we had no shortage of apple pies, apple cheesecake, apple teas and apple jelly for the weekend. Good Friday we went to Atwater Market where we emptied our wallets on all sorts of treats. That evening we met up with a couple of MeetIn friends at l'Entrecôte Saint Jean, considered a Montreal institution. They only serve one thing - steak-frites (steak and french fries) - and they do it very well. Afterward, we walked to the Planetarium to catch the show "The Milky Way: Our Galaxy". The next day was Dim Sum, again with a group from MeetIn, at Kam Fung in Chinatown. Dim Sum is always best done in groups since you get to sample a little bit of everything. We started off very hungry and wound up leaving very full. We certainly weren't hungry an hour later. I capped off the weekend by cooking a roast lamb feast in what I swear is the tiniest kitchen I have ever cooked.

Last weekend was Peruvian cuisine, at Villa Wellington, followed by tea at Cha Noir, in Verdun. Both places smelled wonderful as soon as you walked through the door. The conversation over dinner was lively and covered a variety of fairly intellectual topics, which carried over to the tea house. The monthly Meet-n-Greet the next night at Brutopia had a record 57 people turn out. I swear, we found 57 of the most interesting people in Montreal and brought them under one roof. We played a mingling game where we had to match interesting facts to the people. I chatted with someone who had tea with the Queen, someone else who had met three Prime Ministers, and someone else who had climbed a volcano in South America. That list barely scratches the surface.

Hmmm... after reading what I've just written, I should consider posting my reviews to Chowhound. The theme dinners continue out to the end of May and I'm pretty sure all the dinners in April are fully booked. It's going to be a yummy spring :) Oh, yeah, and I'm still losing weight, even with all these great dinners. I completely credit all the walking I've been doing since moving to Montreal.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Adventures in Bureaucracy

There is a whole new layer of fun that comes with moving to a new province which can be like moving to a new country. Since this is my 4th major move, I thought I would share my perspectives on navigating a new province's bureaucratic system.

Today I got my new driver's license, which was a pleasant surprise. It wasn't because Quebec has a new form of driver's license photography that makes my picture look less like a mug shot. The surprise was that it took less than a week to get my plastic license. This was even over the Easter long weekend! This coming from an office who asks you to make an appointment, sends you across town, but you still have to stand in line, take a number and wait your turn. Fortunately for me I had been told, by a friend, that my driver's licenses has to be in my maiden name so I came with the appropriate documentation that the SAAQ didn't specifically tell me to bring. Am I the only one who finds in mildly amusing that the abbreviation for the department of motor vehicles (SAAQ) is one letter off than that of the liquor store (SAQ)? Importing a car into Quebec, even from within Canada, requires a mechanical inspection from a specific inspection shop. I got to see new areas of the city with this adventure, including the antiques district where the inspection shop is.

I applied for my health card at the end of February. Still waiting for that card, though going through the application process was a very pleasant experience. Because I was forewarned about the maiden name thing, I had all the appropriate papers and was in and out of the RAMQ office in 30 minutes. Considering if I want to see a doctor I have to go to a private clinic, I'm wondering what is the point of having a Quebec health card. I've decided to postpone any adventures with the health care system, beyond getting the card.

Banking and property laws in Quebec are completely different. Montreal is on RBC's eastern banking system, so now I've lived in all three of RBC's banking districts, causing no end of confusion. Notaries have a lot more power than anywhere else I have lived. Everything connected to purchasing my condo had to go through the notary, including signing the mortgage, which I did at the bank in BC. Beneficiary designation on existing investments is nullified. Only a Will, recommended to be written by a notary, can designate beneficiaries. Family laws are also different. I guess I will be navigating that later this year.

Provincial income taxes are definitely higher than anywhere else I have lived. One other recent BC transplant at work is setting up a support group for all of us who have recently moved to Quebec and have to file our first tax return here. Apparently, how that's done is different, too.

I have done a few moves that were within the same province or city. By comparison, they are much easier since you only have to pack, move, unpack and do a change of address on everything.

Monday, March 10, 2008


The move to Montreal took a lot out of me, so I was definitely ready for some rest and relaxation. I took a few well earned vacation days and hopped on a train to Toronto on a Wednesday afternoon. From there, friends and I drove up to Port Severn to the Inn at Christie's Mill. Even in the middle of winter, the Inn can only be described with one word: wow. It was a beautiful drive up to the Georgian Bay with the fresh snow and bright sunshine highlighting the bare trees and rolling hills. The Inn is on an inlet where ducks and swans swam even in the middle of a snowstorm. With three of us we booked a suite, which had a gas fireplace, luxurious, majestic beds and a bathroom that would appeal to anyone's inner diva. Going to the spa in the middle of the week not only saved us a bit of expense, but it was also a lot more peaceful. I think there were a total of five people at the spa, including us, and maybe ten people at the Inn. The weekends are nuts, according to the staff at the spa.

Thursday afternoon we all indulged in a reflexology and pedicure treatment, making our happy feet quite photo-worthy. I also indulged in a Swedish massage to work out the kinks in my shoulders. Heaven! Our spa day was bookended with a swim in the salt water pool and soak in the salt water hot tub.

Dinner was included with the spa package. We all went for the beef tenderloin with exotic mushrooms, which was so tender it didn't need a steak knife. Judging from the face of the one who ordered it, the chocolate mousse dessert was... well... better than sex ;) For those of you in the Toronto area, it's worth driving up to Port Severn for dinner alone.

No one goes to country inns for the night life. We spent the night in, playing Scrabble and enjoying chocolate martinis, which was a little less good for the body but oh so good for the spirit.

The inn was still quiet on Friday, so the staff encouraged us to stay and enjoy the facilities for awhile. We checked out, went for a swim, had lunch at the restaurant (best burgers ever!) before heading back to Toronto for a weekend of hanging out and watching classic movies. Ahh... a lazy, girlie weekend... how luxurious!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Art, Wine and Movies

February was definitely a series of adventures in Montreal. As many of you may have seen on Facebook, I officially became a homeowner again. Buying property in Quebec is an adventure in of itself, partly due to Quebec property laws and partly due to a fresh, newly licensed notary handling my rather complicated transaction. The condo is 2 bedroom, 1 bath, 1000 or so square feet in the heart of the Plateau - near St. Denis and Mont Royal. I'm looking forward to living there... in July. Everyone tells me the neighbourhood is worth the double move.

Socially, February was a roller coaster ride. The MeetIn group had a lot of fun events. I had a chance to check out Montreal's Chinatown during Chinese New Year when a group of us met at Mon Shing, which apparently has the best wonton soup in the city. The next weekend, four of us met for brunch and then went to Le Musée des Beaux-Arts to see the Cuba Art & History. It took over two hours to walk through the exhibit. Since it covered Cuban art and history from 1868 to today, I also learned a lot about Cuba. I'd love to go someday. Maybe next winter... It might be interesting to go now after Fidel Castro resigned the Presidency. As for the museum, I only saw a small section. I need to go back and see the other exhibits. Last weekend was the monthly meet-n-greet on Saturday and watching the Oscars at a local movie theatre on Sunday. The meet-in-greet was at Brutopia on Crescent Street. About 40 people of all ages and backgrounds showed up. I even met someone who lived near Kelowna airport for several years. Small world! In addition to MeetIn, I also got back involved with my Alumni Association... and became the branch Director of Communications. The down side to February was Valentine's Day, which was particularly hard this year, followed by the final exchange of stuff without even a single word exchanged. Now all I can do is wait until the year is up.

On a more positive note, my apartment is pretty much unpacked. Yay! Now I can really spend more time enjoying Montreal!

Saturday, February 9, 2008


Winterlude wasn't the only reason I needed to escape my boxes in my tiny apartment to go to Ottawa and hang out with friends... but it was a great one! Montreal has a similar winter festival, but for the first time in 25 years it was canceled due to a labour dispute. So, last Saturday morning I hopped on a bus to Ottawa. By the time I arrived, the sun was shining and the city was digging out of a major overnight snowfall. It was winter at it's finest - fresh, fluffy white snow, sunshine and it wasn't freezing cold. What better way to spend the day than having brunch with a friend followed by baking the best brownies ever. The evening was sort of a reunion of former coworkers and friends I haven't seen in years. Good food, good wine, and the sweetest little kids you've ever met running around.

Sunday morning started out snowy and cloudy as we headed to the canal. I haven't skated since, oh, 1998 or 1999, so at first I was taking tips from 4-year-old James. After awhile I found my skating legs... and James was skating piggy-back with his dad. By the time we stopped for Beaver Tails, the sun was shining and it was an absolutely perfect day. For my friends out west, Beaver Tails are an Ottawa must. It's a whole wheat, deep fried pastry roughly shaped like a beaver's tail - kind of like a crispy flat donut. My favorite is the Killaloe - cinnamon, sugar and lemon juice on the top. As we passed under the Banks street bridge, we stopped to look at the paintings on display - and laugh at a portrait of Wayne Gretzky from 1983. At the 5th street rest stop, we had a nutritious lunch of hot dogs and had to call it a day. I had totally forgotten how uncomfortable ice skate can be!

James and I spent the afternoon playing "spaceship" with the couch pillows, imagining we were flying around Pluto and capturing aliens who were plotting to destroy all the planets. For the record, that was completely James' imagination. I was just along for the ride. Playing with kids is a great way to feel 20 years younger :) By the time I got back into Montreal Sunday night I had made a new friend and I was both completely revitalized and completely exhausted. All in all, a perfect weekend!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Human Nature

Last week I attended my university's Business Club event where the author of Gimme! The Human Nature of Successful Marketing presented a summary of the book and his research. It was absolutely fascinating! The discussion was less about marketing and more about how we received and retain information and how our senses and emotion tie in. He referred a few times to a few of the mistakes Starbucks has made over the years. The experience of going to a Starbucks has changed, which even Starbucks' former, now current, CEO identified in a memo last year. I hadn't thought of it, but the sights, sounds and smells have changed over the years, changing the experience. Frankly, though, all the major coffee house chains are guilty of it. Good reason to go out and support the independents!

The event was introduced by the Dean of the School of Business. He talked about all the great things that were happening with both the undergrad and MBA programs. It was really good information that, personally, I think should be shared with all Alumni, especially those in a professional field. One comment struck a nerve, though. He was describing the revamped Science and Technology MBA program and said that the focus is on changing who people are. Hmmm. Am I the only one who finds this a little disquieting? The former Science and Tech MBA attracted people with Science and Engineering backgrounds... who are likely leaders in Science and Tech companies... managing scientists and engineers. I completely agree that the MBA program should develop an in-depth understanding of business principles and create a bridge between traditional rivals - engineers and marketing/management (take your pick). But changing who people are sounds like we're just adding to the divide. You're either in the business club or you're not. That's my opinion. I'm sure one day I'll finally decide to do my MBA and officially become part of the club. Change can be good.

I'm glad I am in the game industry where diversity (cultural, artistic, technical, business... ) is the norm and is required for the industry to work. For my friends in the game/movie industry (and fans of computer graphics), you might find the Character Design blog interesting. I added the link to my links list.

(Wow! My first semi-rant on a public blog. I hope I didn't offend anyone!)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

How to Swear Like a Quebecer

Quebecers seem to swear a lot... at least the people I've been in contact with. Well, I learned tonight that swearing is just different in Quebec. (Don't worry, I'll keep this clean in both English and French.) For example, when speaking English a lot of people use the f-word very liberally, even at work! However, in French, it just doesn't have the same meaning or impact. On the other hand, one of Quebec's most famous profanities (the one refering to a tabarnacle) is the word that equates to the f-word. For the more curious, I added a link to a Wikipedia page on Quebec French profanity.

Where did I receive such a cultural education? I found a social networking group called Meetin where people, much like myself, are either new to the city and/or just looking to meet new people. The members organize events for people to get together and socialize. Gathering at a coffee house and learning how to swear like a Quebecer was one of those events. Tonight I met people from all around the world and from just down the highway. It was fun! The next event is a pub night at the end of January. I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Welcome 2008!

Goodbye 2007! Welcome 2008!

The friends I spent Christmas with arrived in Montreal Saturday night. It was cozy in my "cute" little "junior suite" so it was bit like having a 3-night sleep-over. We spent Sunday shopping, mostly at Atwater Market. If you're the least bit a foodie, you must visit Atwater. We bought fabulous tourtieres, cheese, pate, teas, strawberries that were actually red inside and croissants that are supposedly the best in the world. We even sampled ice cider -- similar to ice wine, but made from frozen apples. One friend got addicted to wild Madgascar black pepper and proceeded to add it to everything (tea, red wine, you name it!) all weekend. Going to the market will now become a weekend ritual for me. At some point, I'll have to try Jean Talon market and compare.

New Year's Eve was spent at Les Trois Minots bar on St. Laurent. We knew one of the bands - Schomberg Fair (pictured above). The bar is a tiny alternative music hang out, reminding me a bit of Clark Hall Pub but the floors were not as sticky. All the bands were young and ranged from punk to alternative to rock-a-billy. It was a cool way to welcome 2008.

My friends had to drive back to Toronto on New Year's Day in yet another snowstorm, unfortunately. I had tickets to the Salute to Vienna concert at Place des Arts. The best way to describe it is that it's a Viennese classical variety show -- a bit of symphony, a bit light opera, a bit of dancing. Of course, one of the encores was the Blue Danube waltz with the dancers waltzing. It was also a trilingual event, confirming that my German is definitely better than my French.

All in all, a delicious and musical way to start the new year.