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Highlights of the Highlights Festival

Posted by Amie / February 28, 2011

Montreal Highlights FestivalThe Montreal Highlights Festival finished for the year this weekend. It's been 11 days of art, theatre, and music, but most importantly it's been about food and the legions of invited female chefs and wine-makers that descended upon Montreal's restaurants. Here's a list of the best (and worst) food and drink of the festival, and some suggestions on where you can do better for good eats in this city now that the festival is over.

: Best Ninja-Themed Dish, Best Watered-Down Hummus, Best use of Food in an Unnatural State, Worst Jelly, Best Sustainable Seafood, Best Sugary Alcohol, Best Beer, Best Cheese, Best Shake 'n Bake Chicken, and Best Sorbet That Doesn't Make You Hate the Fact That You're Lactose-Intolerant and Can't Have the Molten Chocolate Cake With Salty Caramel.

Best Ninja-Themed Dish: O-Ren-Ishii (Guest Chef Elizabeth Faulkner at DNA Restaurant)

The dish: A shot glass of bright red rose and lemon purée with a square of dark, oaky, and bitter "Ninja Bitch" chocolate with vanilla-coconut ice cream, orange confit, shortbread crumbs, and raspberry powder. You've got a food homage to a "Kill Bill" fight scene:And you've also got to love thinking about spurts of blood when drinking from your shot glass and wiping up the raspberry powder on a mess of a delicious plate.

Best Watered-Down Hummus
: Restaurant de L'Institut (Menu by Guest Chef Reine Sammut)Le Restaurant de L'Institut chickpea soup at the Montreal highlights FestivalThis was what the menu called a "soup," but I'm pretty convinced it was hummus with some broth added. It really was great hummus, though, with tasty green olive oil, tangy diced tomatoes, a tiny bit of toasted cumin, fresh dill, crispy crouton (better than cold pita), and pea jelly cubes that probably took ages to make, but unfortunately didn't taste like anything besides "geometric."

Worst Jelly: See above.

Best Jelly: Elizabeth Faulkner's little squares of cranberry and apple that came with mango-curry and raspberry-rose macarons and two little chocolate squares of caramel and fleur de sel at DNA Restaurant. The jellies remind you of little one-cent candies, but soft ones that hadn't been sitting in plastic candy display cases for months.DNA Restaurant - The video makes it look more stuffy than it really is. 1/2 price on Canadian bottles from 5-7 on weekdays makes it a whole lot more accessible.

Runner-up: Zawedeh

Zawedeh's hummus and pita bread wasn't really watered down, so it was definitely too good to win the category. Their olive oil with za'atar was pretty good too:
Zawedeh: Olive Oil with Sesame Seeds, Thyme, and SumacBest Use of Food in an Unnatural State: Liquid Pecorino (Guest Chef Cinzia Mancini at BU Wine Bar)

I'm a bit torn on this one because part of me thinks this is just cheese fondue, but the sheep's milk cheese that came on top of a single, thick piece of tortelli pasta with rapini and prosciutto was so intense that I'm going to assume it took a lot more work to make than setting up a double boiler to melt the artisanal fromage.

Best Sustainable Seafood: Quebec Cultivated Scallops from Gaspé and Iles-de-la-Madeleine in La Chronique's risotto and Portus Calle's guest chef Johanne Vigneault's scallop tasting trio.20110226_Portus-Calle-Wine-Cellar-with-Hanging-Sausages.jpgThe wine cellar at Portus Calle - notice the hanging sausages...

Best Shake 'n Bake Chicken: DNA Restaurant's Sommelier Alex Cruz's milk-poached chicken breast and leg with fettucine in sunflower oil

This dish was a real blend of classic comfort food and locavore cred. No olive oil in this restaurant; just lots of breaded, tasty fowl and a heap of fresh, oily noodles. The sommelier and chef switched for the night, putting Chef Derek Damann in charge of wine and music. The change in music from Coeur de Pirate a few nights before to classic rock for the role-reversal shows that he might have fun making blood-splattered "Ninja Bitch" plates of dessert. He said, however, that he wanted to just play the hockey game on the main speakers, and he didn't get his way on that one.

Best Sugary Alcohol: Vidal Ice Wine 2005 from Ontario's Southbrook Vineyards

You smell this wine and your body immediately leaves the restaurant. Suddenly you find yourself in a memory of the happiest, calmest, most relaxing moment of your life where you didn't have a care in the world. The taste doesn't compare to the aromatherapy qualities of the dessert wine, but the sad thing is that if you drink all of this wine you can't keep smelling it.

Best Beer: Microbrasserie Charlevoix's Blanche

The brewery's rep, Luc Van Steene, says the Double is better but he didn't have a sample of that one at the Jean-Talon Market Route des Saveurs du Charlevoix a few weekends ago. So you'll have to go to any specialty beer store to find it in the city.

Best Cheese: Au Grés des Champs at the Festival of Quebec cheeses at Complexe Desjardins

Best Sorbet That Doesn't Make You Hate the Fact That You're Lactose-Intolerant and Can't Have the Molten Chocolate Cake With Salty Caramel:
Sweet: Blueberry Sorbet as part of a pavlova with cream at La Chronique. Yes, lactose-intolerants will have to avoid the cream, but the blueberry flavour is very strong and not watered down, and the intense sugar of the meringue brings it out even more. The molten cake and ice cream were nothing special anyway. Juliette et Chocolat's intense brownie with a small pot of chocolat chaud à l'ancienne with old-fashioned vanilla ice cream (maybe 4 blocks west on Laurier, past avenue du Parc) is a much better bet.

Savoury: Celery Sorbet as part of the Tatin à la Pomme with Hefeweizen beer sabayon (sweet egg yolk sauce) Québec bleu cheese ("Bleu d'Élizabeth", after the guest chef)
It worked! The apples were sweet and sour, the cheese was deliciously salty, and the sabayon was smooth and a little bubbly from the beer, so the celery sorbet was refreshingly bitter and the plate had just about every flavour and texture you could want in every mouthful.

Best Chocolate: The Tire Éponge/Sponge Taffy au Pur Caraibe from Les Chocolats de Chloé at Pullman Wine Bar

The downstairs of Pullman seems to be the best place in the city to make out with someone any day of the week. Upstairs is classy and downstairs is...well, dark. If the rest of the downstairs patrons could keep their smooching away from my sponge taffy, I'd appreciate it. Pullman offers trios of 2 oz. wine samples from different wine-making regions or types of grapes. For food you're supposed to share expensive plates of things such as venison tartar for $12. For $5 all you get are some almonds and pecans... I really don't know how most patrons managed to get any of their pink champagne into their mouths anyway, as their lips were obviously otherwise occupied.

A man and his wife asked me how I didn't gobble up all the chocolate in one bite, as they'd just had to order another plate of something that he'd inhaled before she could even have a taste. I explained that you take just a little nibble of the chocolate and let it melt into different parts of your tongue so you pick up on the sweet and salty tastes separately, and savour the entire piece.

The woman's husband looked at me for a minute.

"Yes, sir, I am talking about the chocolate." Men...

Now that the Highlights Festival is over it's true that you can't get these menus anymore, but you can get a lot of these same products, and even better meals for less money, at these same restaurants. Les Chocolats de Chloé are local, as are the cheeses and beer (you can even find the champagne beer from the same brewery around the city. I spotted it at Au Coin Duluth last week on special, and also at Jean-Talon Market in the Marché des Saveurs du Québec). La Chronique's lunch was their own inspiration, but their risotto is on the regular lunch menu of three courses for $25 (the same price as the festival) and comes with sustainable Arctic char instead of local scallops. DNA will always be expensive, but delicious.

Portus Calle with Helena Lourreira at the helm will always some of the best "made-with-love, but fine-dining" Portuguese in the city. BU has very affordable trios of 2 oz. glasses of wine carefully selected by region for about $20 including amazing champagnes and pinot noir. Their small menu of tapas-style snacks are good bets if you don't want to cough up a small fortune for a full dinner at the Mile End wine bar.

Until next year...



Steph / February 28, 2011 at 03:34 pm
We had a HORRIBLE experience at DNA this weekend. Saturday to be specific. We didn't even get to the meal and I have a funny feeling that we weren't the only ones that walked out. We couldn't get over the shoddy service, the lack of wine pairings (!!!!! YES THEY HAD NO WINE PAIRINGS !!!! ) and a dinner where 2 of the 4 "courses" included Garlic Bread (that is not a course - they don't even call it a course at Olive Garden) and Mashed Potatoes (Again NOT a course I believe that is considered a "SIDE"). I don't really care how good the "shake n bake" chicken was there. We wouldn't go to a restaurant like DNA for "shake n bake" style anything. Loblaws does a great job at supplying that for me.
Some Guy replying to a comment from Steph / February 28, 2011 at 08:29 pm
Steph, I believe that your comments are being a bit heavy-handed. How can you call walking out before your meal an experience at a restaurant? How can you then go on to comment about the quality of their garlic bread, mashed potatoes, or shake-n-bake chicken without having sat around long enough to try it? Perhaps your table wasn't ready when you walked in, and perhaps you didn't like what you heard from your server when they described the menu and lack of wine pairings (but, would you really want wine paired with mashed potatoes?) Perhaps, then, it's more levelheaded to then call that simply that you "didn't like what was being offered and therefore chose not to partake in their evening?" The meal was only $40, if I can recall correctly, which is a steal compared to other multi-coursed meals being offered that weekend, even if you consider two of the courses to be sides ($40 isn't bad for a solid table d'hote). Yes, Loblaws does have chicken, and Olive Garden does have garlic bread. But, maybe the versions being offered this evening would have been something a little more special than those at the aforementioned establishments, and maybe if you wanted a meal at DNA with wine pairings and a more refined tasting menu, then you shouldn't have made a reservation at a fixed menu special event which cost much less than a normal meal there.
Some Girl / March 1, 2011 at 10:30 am
I walked away as well but really for the lack of explanation as to why there were no more wine pairings. I love DNA's selection of wines, although I am not much of a connoisseur, and my reason for going to the evening was precisely for the chance to have wines suggested to me but someone who knows what they are doing! When I was told that I could simply pick off the list, it just made the evening no different than any other night. Even if the original pairings were no longer available - I assume an effort could have been made to suggest other wines! And what really upset me is that I was called to confirm my reservations twice, and at no moment was I advised of this change. I was just plain dissapointed even if the food might have been good. Plus, how do you select a wine when the waitress proposes to keep the menu a secrect for excitment value...
golu dolls / January 17, 2019 at 10:14 pm
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kanchipuramsarees / January 17, 2019 at 10:15 pm
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kanchipuramsarees / January 17, 2019 at 10:15 pm
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herbal powder / January 17, 2019 at 10:15 pm
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