I returned a bit early from a mini-vacation in Ohio to visit family and friends over Labor Day weekend because I had business travel planned the Tuesday we returned to work. Once again, I found myself traveling with a wonderful coworker (and one who knows good food!). Loren and I established “home base” in Montreal, but hit the highway and drove (yes, I was behind the wheel that week) approximately 260 km over to Quebec City. We returned that same day, but we did take a quick drive through the downtown area. I’ve marked QC as a place to which I’d like to return. It has a very European feel to it – so much charm in the architecture! I’d love to take a long weekend sometime and really explore the city.
During our only proper evening in Montreal, my coworker chose to take me to a local French Cafe, Le Tire Bouchon. You can see from the images on the website that it’s a small, cute cafe. We were very warmly greeted (in French) by our server, Alexandra. She acted both as hostess and our server that evening.
After reviewing the French menus, Loren politely requested English menus. With he and I in this French-speaking city, it was the blind leading the blind, so to speak! We were ignorant Americans. But…we were polite in our ignorance! 🙂
While we were perusing the menus, we were served a delicious olive tapenade and chickpeas to snack on.
Even in English, I wasn’t certain what everything was! I did decide that if I really wanted to be adventurous, I would put my fate in Alexandra’s hands.
The way the menu works is that each entrée is served with either an appetizer or a dessert. The extent of my decision-making was: appetizer or dessert? I like this! And, for the record, I chose to have an appetizer and an entrée.
When I explained that I would have her choose for me, Alexandra’s eyes went wide, and with a huge grin she asked “Really?” and then replied “Okay!” Her response made me even more excited for the wonderful food I was sure would be served up that evening.
I did lead Alexandra down a path, inadvertently, by choosing to have a glass of Malbec with dinner. It was actually a bit of a destined gesture, as she and I apparently have very similar tastes – in both wine and food!
I was first served this gorgeous plate:
My description is simply not going to do this dish justice, but here it is: Chicken Pastilla is a meat-pie of sorts, topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar and served with a cilantro sauce. The baked crust was light and crisp, with the chicken being tender and tasty. The sweetness on top complimented the salty interior very nicely. I had never had chicken Pastilla before, so I’m really glad Alexandra chose it. I also felt like I had won the “appetizer or dessert?” dilemma, because this dish actually tasted like a little of both!
As she dropped off “a hint” about my entrée, Alexandra informed me that the Pastilla is her favorite appetizer.
It’s also a very popular Moroccan dish. You can check out this short video if you’d like to learn more about it!
She had also shared her own serving adventure with the other servers that evening – two of whom stopped by to acknowledge Alexandra’s great choices! Speaking of great choices…here is the entrée I was served:
It’s braised pork cheek, prepared Milanese-style, and served over saffron risotto. IT MELTED IN MY MOUTH!! Of course, the cheek is going to be tender, but this was simply amazing! The tomato-based sauce was light and complimented both the pork and the risotto nicely. The slivers of cheese gave just enough of a “bite” to the flavor, and offset the flavor of the arugula. It was a perfect combination! Alexandra told me that she chose these two meals because I had ordered her favorite wine (a robust red), and she likes the juxtaposition of flavors (e.g. salty and sweet). She was taking a gamble that I would have similar taste. She was spot on with her gamble!
Even with a pre-appetizer appetizer (the tapenade), a proper appetizer (the Pastilla), and the entrée, I had no problem cleaning my plate!
As much as I’m sure I would have completely enjoyed any dessert Le Tire Bouchon would prepare, I politely declined.
Friends, this was one of the more fun experiences I’ve had recently, for several reasons. 1) I didn’t recognize much on the menu – much of it would be new to me. 2) My coworker knows how I operate at the dinner table and he is very supportive of my indecisiveness (and the blog!), and 3) Alexandra was “all in” from the get-go, making it really fun!
Seeing the other servers have fun with this adventure was nice as well. They’d come to the table and say something like “I’m told I need to explain your dish to you”, or just swing by and share that I was trying one of their favorite dishes too. How can one not enjoy an engaged and passionate staff like that!?!?
I hope you all enjoyed my latest little adventure. I hope to have more fun like this when I’m in Brussels and Paris in a few weeks.