Today is November 1, which is the day after Halloween and also el Día del Muertos (the Day of the Dead), a holiday in Mexico where families honor the dead, celebrate the ancestors and assist with the departed’s spiritual journey. On a flightier note, el Día del Muertos also the basis for Grim Fandango, the adventures of Manuel “Manny” Calavera, who is a travel agent at the Department of Death in the city of El Marrow, forced into his job to work off a debt “to the powers that be”. It’s one of the coolest computer games ever created and was remastered nearly two decades after its initial release to make it look and sound even better (the puzzles are still as obtuse as ever). If one has an iDevice which supports Metal (iPhone 5s or later, iPad Air or later, iPad mini2 or later) you can purchase the remastered Grim Fandango on iTunes.
On a grimmer note, November 1 is apparently World Vegan Day (I’ll get to that significance later).
So I did go out on October 30 to get my potato product, and yesterday was Halloween, which was a chocolate-covered day of stupor , primarily because Loblaws had a sale on the giant Nestlé candy packs (a bargain $9.99 instead of $14.99 for 80 mixed pieces). I did however, spot this:
I mean, come on! Who gives out Quaker Harvest quinoa bars to kids on Halloween? That ranks right up there with handing out toothbrushes, kale chips and the mini-pamphlet version of the Watchtower. When I was a kid, we remembered which houses did stuff like that, so that we could steer clear of them.
Righteous indignation aside, let’s talk about World Vegan Day. It’s really a thing. I don’t know if there were any festivities in and around the Big Croissant (I don’t think so), but the Day has been recognized by vegans for 21 years.
What am I doing for World Vegan Day? First of all, I thought it was just el Día del Muertos. I had Xi’an-spiced chicken wings and minced pork rice (滷肉飯/魯肉飯) and started writing this blogpost about a recent steak dinner before research turned up the coincidence of World Vegan Day being the same day as el Día del Muertos. Oops. I think I’ve mentioned from time to time that I used to work with a raw vegan who considers me to be the Anti-Chr*st, and I think I just lived up to that impression yet again.
Cetainly a bizarro juxtaposition with World Vegan Day, but I do want to scribble about the steak dinner, because I promised photos.
The Question: what do you do with a couple of Peruvians and a Russian who are stranded because their flights home are timed in such a way that they’re delayed from leaving the Big Croissant? Answer? Not a heck of a lot to tell you the truth, because YUL isn’t exactly what I would call a significant hub for international travel and flight availability and timing leaves one with the option of either being stranded here, or being stranded at another hub because the outbound YUL connector can’t arrive in time for the subsequent flight segments. One can’t really leave them shivering in a Novotel because of the simplistic entertainment options. but one could at least resurrect La Vache espagnole and save them from a night with the Clown or the Chihuahua.
[aside: in light of today being el Día del Muertos, we honor Gidget, February 7, 1994 – July 21, 2009]
Okay, fine. It’s been almost two years since I’ve done my pop-up, and I had no real ideas as to what to serve for a mid-week service but I was up to a little challenge and its potential logistical nightmare.
One thing which is quite obvious is that this is certainly an excellent time to not make either Peruvian or Russian cuisine. Saying that my grasp of Russian and Eastern European cuisine is shaky is you being very, very charitable. And while I do know Peruvian cuisine, mid-autumn and their already having gone to Madre for dinner are two strikes against repeating anything in that range. Madre is nice, and if you go to the original on Masson, whiz-kid Rodrigo Flores is there behind the stove making something delicious. Unfortunately, Masson is in the chez nous neighborhood of Rosemont and they have to support what the locals are willing to eat (something brown with brown sauce and potato is a starting point), so we’re not talking about the most authentic flavor profile in the world (it’s Peruvian-ish). My understanding was that this group already had Italian before that, , and had experienced some local delicacies, so some of the simpler options were also out.
It’s always nice when people visit to show off what’s local, because that’s part of the travel experience and eating local also highlights the best stuff because everything should be at its flavor peak (note: this is often not true, which is why you should still get to know your suppliers).
Unfortunately, Canadian cuisine outside of Canada is construed as a mélange of maple syrup (top right), poutine (bottom right), Nanaimo bars (bottom left), butter tarts (above the Nanaimo bars) and pretty much everything else showcased in this handy image from Wikipedia. This image is interesting because it’s essentially a photographic crib sheet of all the handy stuff that helps you recover from an evening of drunken behavior.
Canadians have however, often been seen by the ROW as a sub-tribe of polite Americans except without firearms, and the Big Croissant has on cable network travel shows been presented as a destination for culinary excess (I’m looking at you, Au Pied de Cochon and Joe Beef).
That did the lightbulb thing and led me to elect to showcase what local ingredients were still available by doing a stereotypical Fred Flintstone-inspired North American dish: the aforementioned steak dinner.
Foie gras en torchon is always your friend to keep people occupied when initiating prep and my boucher lyonnais pal Éric Moinaud had made some so I left them with one to have with their kir royale while I got things started.
Things were underway with a cherry tomato and micro-arugula salad. Sort-of Japanese looking in partial homage to Nikkei cuisine, but I didn’t have any saikyo miso so this salad isn’t vegan whatsoever – the vinaigrette is made with foie gras fat. Served with a 2008 Tantalus Old Vines Riesling.
A completely unrelated note: if you go to one local Neapolitan-style pizzeria in particular and ask for arugula on your pizza, they’ll charge you a $3 supplement, and give you slightly less than what’s in my salad.
Next up: smoked salmon with micro-mesclun, micro-arugula, edible flowers and some Masia el Altet el aciete olive oil. This cold-smoked salmon is actually produced by a friend of Éric’s (yes, I sourced fish via a boucher) and it’s really good with excellent texture, a restrained smokiness and no overt oiliness of the fish. I’d buy it again if it’s available. Continued with the 2008 Tantalus Old Vines Riesling.
So far, I haven’t actually cooked anything, as cooking implies transformation and everything thus far is rassemblage. But I did get them warmed up for Fred Flintstone:
This is a 1.43 kg / 50 ounce 35-day dry-aged côte de boeuf from la Boucherie Claude et Henri, cooked sous-vide before being seared and finished with a light dusting of spice mix. It is paired alongside two roasted marrow bones because at the end of the day, marrow brings a beefier context than butter does when enhancing the beefiness of a steak.
And a closer look at my little piece of cow. Target temperature of 56.7ºC/134ºF to keep things at a nice medium-rare. I understand that for many south of the 49th, 50 ounces is a little small, and I’ve promised Amy and Mr. R a 52 ounce côte de boeuf when they make it here so that they’ll have adequate energy to fend off the cold.
There are 15 slices of steak, plus the meat on the bone plus the marrow. What’s not photographed are the three sides: roasted Delicata squash (my new favorite squash), Brussels sprouts with bacon, and chanterelle mushrooms from British Columbia. I served my homage to Fred Flintstone with the 2008 vintage of Laughing Stock Portfolio, a wine that Bordeaux wine royalty liked but got a giggle with as it was described to them as a Bordeaux-style blend.
When they finished there were 9 slices of steak, plus the meat on the bone plus the marrow minus two spoons. Apparently a little too much excess, and I will say that this is my fault for initially serving a salad that in hindsight was way too big.
Given that my eaters were starting to pop at the seams, cheese service was cut back to tiny tasting slivers, with an option of going back for whichever one they may want more of. I have a high regard for the chez nous fromagiers and I think their production is giving the production from other countries some stiff competition.
From left to right: Tome de Broussailles (a firm raw goat), Spanish membrillo (quince paste), American pecans, Maillon Fort (an oozy multi-milk double-cream bloomy rind), a macadamia nut and Riopelle (a cow milk cheese that is one of the Big Five which were the first to highlight the province’s cheesemaking prowess). There’s also a fig.
And last but not least, dessert, because there’s always room for Jell-o. I didn’t have any Jell-o, but there were duck eggs at the market so out came the ginger and green cardamom crème brulée (it’s this recipe; replace the lemongrass with 5 crushed cardamom pods).
I can’t locate my good fork photo anymore so I can only say that by this point, the three of them were done. As in don’t serve the after-dinner mint done. But pleasantly “stick a fork in it” done. I understand that they all managed to make their way home the next day, and hopefully they still had some available calories from dinner because I’m not certain if the first legs of their respective flights had food. Hopefully they’ll have a chance to come back to the Big Croissant because I had a really nice time chatting with them as well. Next time, I’d do a bit more finesse because the côte de boeuf was more in line with the Irksome Waffle rather than La Vache espagnole.
It’s still World Vegan Day, but I would like to say that the remaining nine pieces of steak certainly didn’t go to waste, because while I’m not vegan I am still a responsible omnivore. It with a little kimchi made a nice after-service sandwich that was stupendous with a glass of Portfolio.