Confit de Lapin

The second night of our trip to Montreal we decided to check out the restaurants on Rue Crescent, the street recommended by our waiter the night before. We strolled the down the street checking out the bill of fare of the various eateries. As we happened upon the restaurant L’Autre Saison, we seemed to be fixed on their menu a bit longer. As the name conveys, it was indeed a French restaurant and my eye was fixed on one dish in particular.

160615_2137crescent_012-1024x681However, neither of us were dressed for such a place, wearing very casual clothing of jeans and a long sleeved shirt. Regardless, the very kind waiter warmly invited us in to dine. I’ll be honest, I felt really underdressed for such a place. I commented as such to the waiter but he insisted that all was fine. The restaurant appeared very refined and seemed more apropos of a place I would be thrown out of rather than actually dining in. It consisted of a two level dining area, a pianist lightly regaling diners with classical music, and a highly detailed warm decor.

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We started off with an appetizer of oysters, which apparently has become a requirement for me while in Canada. While they were indeed fantastic as usual, the real treat was the main course, Rabbit Confit. I’ve heard over and over from my mother how delicious rabbit is. My mother has told me numerous times about rabbit dishes prepared by her mother, my Babci (grandmother), from when they lived in Northern France. And even though my mother will no longer eat rabbit due to the cuteness factor, her description of it has long left me curious.

The dish itself was Confit de Lapin (rabbit confit). Once I saw it was on the menu, my mind was made up. Oddly enough, we had been to Southern France a few months earlier and did not see rabbit at any of the restaurants we dined at. So, at this juncture, there was no other option for me. Though I did not know it or care at the time, a trusty google search reveals that confit refers to meat cooked very slowly over a low heat in grease, oil, or sugar water. In this case, it was cooked in duck fat and was also stuffed. To this day, I don’t know what img_0556the stuffing was. It could have been a simple herb stuffing, it could have been sweetbreads, again I didn’t care. The end result was possibly the most delicious meat I have ever eaten. Tender, lean (very lean), immensely flavorful. It was simultaneously new and different, yet still familiar. It was like a cross between chicken and veal, only a thousand times better. Without a doubt the cooking of it in duck fat and the seasoning of the stuffing played a role in its flavor and yet I have no doubt it would have been equally delicious without those factors. Paired with a Cabernet Sauvignon, the meal was simply sublime. At the risk of developing rabbit starvation as well as making myself sick of it, I would eat this all the time.

Despite feeling underdressed and therefore out of place, everything about the meal was amazing. The service was attentive, polite, and perfectly timed. We were made to feel very welcome. About the only negative critique would be how they went over the wine list. The waiter would only list the wine by variety of grape (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, etc.) rather than present an actual wine list or a manner in which I could know the region and year. Perhaps they have a very small selection. Perhaps his visual appraisal of me led him to believe I knew nothing about wine, which really, I don’t. I just know a lot of catch phrases and such to give the appearance of knowledge. Regardless, that was not enough to ruin the meal and experience.

So, if you find yourself in Montreal and you want a great meal, a complex meal in a restaurant with great atmosphere, I highly recommend L’Autre Saison.

Amtrak- The Adirondack

Train travel, while far more utilized, invested in, and luxurious in other countries, does not enjoy quite the same level of respect and regard in the U.S. Certainly it is used for both business and vacation travel with some trains boasting bubble top cars to take in the view and sleeper cars for longer trips. However we don’t see the commitment to efficiency and infrastructure as with the bullet trains in Japan or the luxury and comfort seen with some European high speed trains. That aside, Teena and I were still quite looking forward to taking the The Adirondack to Montreal. After all, a train that traverses the Adirondacks in New York couldn’t be horrible… could it?

Our trip started at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia with a change over at Penn Station, New York before arriving at our destination. I have to say, many train stations still have that air and feel of the first half of the 20th century. That is in part due to existing art deco interiors. Unfortunately, 30th street station has chosen to do away with their long existing “clickety clack” arrival / destination board and replaced it with a more modern version sans the sounds of yesteryear. Boarding at both locations was very simple. This perhaps may change in the future given today’s international relations. However, it is quite a nice change of pace to not arrive hours before your departure time and experience the hurry up and wait atmosphere endemic to our airport TSA check points.

Likewise, the train interior was just as enjoyable. The seats have plenty of room for one to relax in. The seat tables don’t move when the person in front of you reclines. One is free to move about the interior unlike on an airplane. Plenty of room on the overhead shelf with no worries about finding a spot for your carry on, again unlike their aviation counterparts.img_0594 All in all it makes for a very comfortable journey that makes the ten hour transit time quite enjoyable. Then of course there is the view. Quite soon after departing Penn Station, one is out of the city and traveling along side the Hudson River and the picturesque towns along the way. It feels like no time at all that you reach the Adirondacks and before you know it, you are traveling right along side Lake Champlain. Literally, one looks out the window to see the cliff face drop straight down into the lake. It does take quite some time at the border, however that is more than offset by the fact the border patrol agents come to you. You are relaxed in your seat waiting for them instead of standing and waiting in a long line.

The Amtrak experience was not all wine and roses. After crossing the border, we had several long delays before arriving in Montreal. We were advised that due to agreements between Amtrak and the Canadian Railway, Amtrak trains must yield for any Canadian train, even if that entails backing up (though Amtrak does get kudos for good communication about this). The trip back was a bit less enjoyable. First off, while they offer free Wifi, it’s only while in the U.S. and is pretty worthless even for free Wifi. I had planned on using the ten hour return trip to work on setting up this new blog and writing a couple entries. Instead I spent most of that just trying to get the pages to load and update the new layout. I didn’t even finish setting up the blog in that time let alone write a single word. Amtrak, if you are reading this, you need to work on that Wifi. The other negative was the dining car. The quality of the food was of that you find in a vending machine and sold at professional sport stadium prices. The gentleman serving the food was very polite and efficient but they quickly sold out of most everything on the first half of the return trip. When asked if they would be resupplied in Albany, the answer was “no”. Again, this is another aspect Amtrak needs to improve. Finally, there was little attention to the condition of the restrooms. While spacious, I prefer to not be met by the smell of stale urine when I have to utilize one. Certainly the onus rests partially on those using them but accidents happen and there should be more attention paid to these by Amtrak.

Overall, I’d say I’m 50/50 on recommending traveling by train. I would certainly give it another go but more than likely try a line out West to take in some of the scenery there and maybe experience a sleeper car. I wouldn’t tell someone to never go by train. There are certainly some big pluses to it. One just has to realize those positives have the potential to be offset by some negatives.

Eating on a Recommendation

While in Montreal, Teena and I decided to eat one night at a place recommended by Anthony Bourdain. That place? The simply if not comically named Joe Beef. Despite everything I read online about needing to make reservations a month ahead of time, we were able to get Saturday night reservations calling just the night prior. The restaurant itself is located outside of downtown Montreal on Rue Notre-Dame West. It appeared to be a one block oasis of dining and entertainment set amongst homes and apartments. For us, it was a perfect 25 minute walk from our hotel, but could definitely be longer depending on where you were staying in Montreal, so a cab (or Über) may be necessary.

We actually arrived a bit early and our table was also ready somewhat early from our designated reservation time. One immediately notices how warm, cozy, and intimate the establishment is, especially in regards to the table next to you. The menu, wine list, and drink list is written on a chalkboard in French and difficult to read in the dim lighting. Not to worry as the wait staff have the menu pretty much memorized. I can see how some may not like the atmosphere. It could be considered claustrophobic and you can’t help but hear img_0580your neighboring diner’s conversation. If you are one who likes your dining establishments somewhat standard, this may not be the place for you. I know my father would be irritated and might lend to the concept of the “rude American”.  I started off with the Oysters. They had a selection of three kinds from various Canadian locals. Unfortunately, other than the one’s from Prince Edward Island, I don’t remember where the other two were from. I opted for a half dozen equally divided amongst the three. All fantastic. Admittedly, I’ve been on an oyster kick since my initiation to them almost a year ago in Vancouver. I also guess it’s hard to mess up oysters unless you let them sit for days in the heat before serving them.

My main entree was related to me by our waitress as a “beef brisket” and in actuality it was more in line with a beef burgundy. I wish I could say I liked it as much as my oysters. I found the beef to vary between dry and less dry. The vegetables were good and would have been even better if the stock was not so bland. Overall, I felt let down by the entree.

Their wine list is extensive and I have to commend them on this. You could find any type of wine to pair well with your meal and even wines to pair with contrasting meals as Teena had a white fish entree. As we were both in the mood for a red, the 2014 Christopher Pacalet Chenas was a nice, light beaujolais that complimented both our meals well.

In summary the staff, oysters, and wine are great and the atmosphere is dependent on the diner’s tastes. As for the entrees, to be fair since I’ve only dined there once, I’ll say are hit or miss. While I’m an avid fan of Anthony Bourdain, I have to admit, I was expecting to be blown away by this meal and I just wasn’t.