Sunday, November 2, 2008

Profanity, Cold and Lessons in French

Disclaimer: I didn’t take my camera this week so all photography was the result of Googling.

I love writing now. I believe in drawing people in with vivid description and witty prose. The beauty of language, fully taken advantage of, has always managed to engage me; make me feel a part of the writing. Conversely, cheap short cuts appall me. Profanity for example, while prolific in my daily life, is something I strictly avoid in writing. I just find that I’d rather lift you up to the writing than jab you with an easy way out. If you are wondering where I am going with this, I’ll tell you. I’m in Montreal. And FUCK its cold!!!!

A few weeks ago, I wrote about really enjoying the fall weather in Westerly, Rhode Island and Mystic, Connecticut. I think I mentioned that I was finally coming around to the notion that fall is a welcome time. I was wrong. The trees that once had a bright, crisp glow now look like spiked demons waiting to impale any careless passerby. Blue skies have been replaced by steel gray that I’m told will last for months. Suicide rates are on the rise due to depression and its only October (OK November by the time this is posted).

But in Montreal, thank god for the people and the food. I’m going out on a limb here because there are so many places I have yet to visit but Montreal might be the sexiest city on the planet. Frankly, the people are hot. Model hot. Magazine cover hot. So hot that people like Beyonce and Jessica Simpson would look at these people and say, “Wow they’re hot!” It is challenging to carry on a conversation with the women because they are so striking. I sat next to a local gentleman at a bar the other night who, with a little teeth bleaching, could have easily passed for George Clooney. And Montrealites can cook too. The districts surrounding St Laurent and St Denis are so filled with fantastic eateries that the bitter temperatures and a busy work week could not hinder my exploration.

One such place was Café Cherrier near my hotel on rue St-Denis. Stumbling across this little brasserie was a stroke of good fortune. As I walked the streets in this neighborhood (freezing my ass off and trying to look hot to blend in), I peered into the storefronts and chose the place that had the most people inside. That’s always a sign of a good gathering spot. Once seated at the bar, a tall thin man with a rich voice, salt and pepper hair and distinguishing features offered a resounding “Bonjour”. After establishing that this was the extent of my understanding of the French language, Phillo immediately switched over to English. I ordered a Canadian Club and accepted the English version of the menu. I have found that most restaurants in Montreal will have an English version although sometimes you have to ask it.

The chap sitting to my left, a pleasant, smiling, middle aged gentleman who was engaged in a lively conversation with folks to his left, turned to me and suggested I try to order in French and that I abandon the English menu. He went on to describe in a true story teller fashion how beautiful his native language was. According to Sam, the romance and passion of French was almost a necessity in courtship. Suddenly feeling a bit inadequate, I was ready to tackle this French menu. Fortunately for me, many food words have the same latin derivative, so there are enough similarities to sort of get by. Veau is veal and saumon is salmon, for example, but champipgnon are mushrooms so there are still landmines to negotiate. Then Phillo and Sam wanted me to order with the French pronunciation. While I required a bit of coaching, I eventually got out an appetizer and an Entrée.

As a starter, I once again enjoyed a Black Pudding, or Boudin Noir. Coming down off a black pudding kick in the UK, I found this French version to be more delicate, succulent and rich. That makes more sense really. Where British style (yes they do have a style and yes it can be tasty) is more hearty and warming, French tends to be more sophisticated and refined. This is by no means a negative to the British style at all but enough different that it bears description. So what I found to be a touch on the dry side in England was perfectly moist with a buttery flavor.

For my entrée I had pan fried veal liver with a medley of roasted squashes and whipped parsnip. The liver was perfectly rich and pate like. Each unctuous bite hinted of the rich nature of this delicacy. Sliced as thinly as possible and served with a simple pan sauce this was heavenly. Phillo suggested a French house mustard. Now in the states, the idea of serving raw mustard with a delicate high end entrée would be insulting but as pretentious as the French reputation is, the food is not. Flavor is never sacrificed for snootiness. I like that. The mustard was perfectly complimentary and light. Just hints of vinegar and wine that elevated this dish to another place. A place I’d like to spend more time.

So my conversation continued for what seemed like only moments but soon I realized a good bit of time had passed and a fair amount of Canadian Whiskey had been consumed. By the way, I do like our whiskey’s better. After jotting down a couple of must try restaurant choices from my new friends, I meandered (a far better word than staggered) back to my hotel to rest for what would be a grueling couple of work days.

I did try Sam and Philo’s other recommendations. They were fine places as well with interesting folks too but still, the challenge of the French menu and fantastic personalities I met at Café Cherrier were the highlight of this trip. Combine that with the youth and beauty seen in the people of Montreal, and for just a moment I can envision myself nestled into this community. Moments later I step out into the cold and windy street and I suddenly realize, “FUCK, its cold!”

1 comment:

Lou'sMom said...

Next year let's cook at my house...where ever it might be.

Thanks for making my birthday so special,
Love, Mom