Sala Rosa: A Review

February 25, 2008 at 9:57 am (Restaurant review)

The Spanish restaurant Sala Rosa has been recommended on the Chowhound Montreal website, for its extensive choice of vegetarian tapas. I finally got a chance to try it last week, and indeed the menu has an unusually large number of vegetarian options for a Spanish restaurant. I went for Sunday dinner with 2 friends and we ordered 4 dishes: the goat cheese with honey and carmelized onions, the fried potatoes with rosemary, the rapini with garlic, and the asparagus tortilla. I was also interested in the carrot salad and the spinach croquettes, but we didn’t want to end up with too much food. The four dishes we did order ended up being just the right amount of food for four people. We probably could have gotten away with just three if we were going to have dessert.

Overall, although the atmosphere was pleasant enough the service was extremely slow (albeit friendly), and none of the food excited me. The goat cheese was quite a large portion, and tasted fine, but I was disappointed in the bread.  The honey was standard and I felt like the ratio of cheese to honey was off–it certainly wasn’t as good as the toast and goat cheese and honey appetizers I’ve had in Paris. My friends, however, seemed to really like it, enthusing about the smoothness of the cheese.

The rapini was not bitter at all, but neither was it garlicky enough, and it was a bit under-salted, and rather small for the price (each dish was $8-$10). The potatoes were tasty when slathered with enough mayonnaise and rosemary, but I thought they were way too dry and fluffy–they tasted like the home fries I used to get at the school cafeteria as a kid.

I’ve never had a spanish tortilla before, and so wasn’t sure what to expect. When the tortilla finally came, I thought it looked quite beautiful. The shape was sort of like a sunken cake, and the surface was uniformly browned. Unfortunately, however, given its good looks, it tasted quite bland. It came with some diced tomatoes that didn’t seem to help. Now, perhaps all spanish tortillas are bland, but it still seemed strange that we couldn’t taste any asparagus (although we could see bits of asparagus).

Overall it was a pleasant evening, but I wouldn’t recommend any of the dishes or order them again, although with the help of mayonnaise everything was tasty enough that it got eaten (except the remnants of the tortilla).

I might come back on Flamenco night, but I wouldn’t recommend the place for its food (a least for vegetarians that don’t eat fish). Instead, other nearby options include a Greek Restaurant I’ve heard good things about on Parc, and Aux Vivres, a vegetarian restaurant just down the street that I haven’t had a chance to try yet. Also, Sala Rosa is just a few blocks away from Fairmount Bagels, my favorite Montreal bagel place.  Finally, don’t confuse Sala Rosa with Lola Rosa, which is a vegetarian restaurant in the McGill Ghetto.

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Le Nil Bleu: A review

February 25, 2008 at 9:40 am (Restaurant review)

I’d not heard good things about this Ethiopian restaurant but it’s right around the corner from me and it was raining and cold and I love Ethiopian so I figured I’d give it a shot. The vegetarian selection was a bit shorter than I’m used to, but sufficient.

I ordered the Vegetarian combination plate (spicy) and the Ethiopian tea. My tea came first. It wasn’t hot enough, and the cardamom/ginger flavor was weak. The combination plate was quite large, plenty for two people even. It came with yellow lentils, red lentils, a cabbage/potato dish, spinach, and a small amount of vegetable salad and two bites of a lentil salad. The injera was lukewarm–I know that is traditional in Ethiopia but I prefer it served hot. It was a light brown color, as if it had some teff in it, but was pretty much tasteless, and unusually sticky. The spinach had no detectable spice of any sort, but plenty of oil. It wasn’t unpleasant if you mixed it with something less oily. The potato and cabbage was even more tasteless than usual. The red lentils, which are usually my favorite, were a surprisingly bright shade of red, rather than their usual pinkish/orangish red. They had an okay (if inauthentic) flavor, but were extremely salty. I sort of suspect that in an effort to make them spicier than normal they added more of their seasoning mix, which has salt already added, and ended up with something over spiced and over salted. They yellow lentils, on the other hand, were the one dish I thought was better than average. They were very well seasoned and not too salty. The salad was fine but I wished there was more of it. The cold lentil salad was also nice, at least the 2 bites of it.

I’ve eaten in a lot of Ethiopian restaurants since I first fell in love with Ethiopian food in Seattle. Since then I’ve tried Ethiopian in Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago, and New York. None were anything special, but the food at The Blue Nile is probably the worst of the bunch. And it’s more expensive than the others to boot!

The ambience, however, was quite lovely. There were palm? fronds on the ceiling shaped into what I assume are meant to be Ethiopian-styled roofs, which gave one the feeling of eating in a hut. There is a waterfall, and african statues, fake plants, and soft but not-too-dark lighting. There are two booths near the waterfall with their own overhead lights, which are out of the way of the front door (i.e. warmer) and very cozy and private looking. The only downsides to the atmosphere were the strange choice of music (not at all traditional Ethiopian), the regular telephone rings, and the occasional loud grinding noises of what I assume was an espresso maker.

The service was quite inattentive. It took me a long time to get the waiter’s attention, to place my order, to get the check, to get change, etc. Then when they finally brought me my change, they brought me two five dollar bills. I guess they wanted me to tip them five bucks? For terrible service on a bill under twenty dollars? It irked me.

Nonetheless, despite all my complaints, I suspect I’ll be back, at least one more time. The only Ethiopian restaurant in Montreal which I’ve heard good things about just closed, and it’s just too convenient to stay away. I’ll probably try coming with a friend and rather than ordering the sampler just ordering the yellow lentils and a salad. I’m guessing those two dishes will be plenty for two people, and only come to about CAD$9 a person. I’ll come when I want a nice leisurely meal, and maybe when it’s too cold or rainy to venture out further from home.

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Blossom Cafe: A Review

February 25, 2008 at 9:32 am (Restaurant review)

I was reading the NYC Chowhound reviews and saw Blossom recommended a number of times. It was described as a vegan restaurant similar to Candle Cafe, but perhaps slightly better overall.

I went with a large group last fall and we tried a number of dishes. We didn’t love everything, but overall the quality was excellent. There were few particularly creative or odd combinations, but almost all the dishes were solid and the flavors were well balanced. The prices are high compared to many other vegetarian restaurants (the entrees range from $17-$21), but the portions were quite large.

  • Green salad: this salad came with grilled pear that was tasty, and candied walnuts, but the real standout was the tofu cubes, which were slightly dehydrated (so quite toothsome) and infused with a wonderful miso flavor. The dressing was indistinguishable but quite nice, although the salad was a bit overdressed in my opinion–veering a little too close to greasy.
  • Mango and avocado salad: this salad was more like a chopped salad. There wasn’t a huge amount of mango or avocado, and neither were bursting with flavor, but the salad was quite tasty. The dressing was light and tasty, and the fennel slices added a pleasant crunch and a bit more bite to the salad.
  • Black eyed pea and potato cake. This was a ginormous deep fried patty, but it was so large that only the very surface was crispy, and the rest was more of a creamy, soft texture. I loved the flavors–I’m not sure what was in it, but it tasted almost Indian, with a complex mix of different seasonings that I couldn’t quite place, but worked wonderfully together. The cake was drizzled with a vegan chipotle aioli, that tasted to me exactly like mayo-based aioli (how do they do it?), and went quite well with the other flavors.
  • Spinach mushroom and pine nut ravioli with cashew cream. I found the “cream” sauce to be disappointing. It was nicely infused with sage, but the texture was a bit floury I thought, and the flavor odd. Plus I couldn’t taste the ravioli fillings. However, one of our party said that the ravioli was his favorite dish of the evening.
  • Oyster mushroom tempura and seitan water chestnut potstickers. The tempura was definitely deep fried, and I’m not sure I tasted the mushrooms (although others said they did), but in any case it was delicious. Everyone really liked it. I thought the potstickers were pleasant, but nothing special, but others liked them more than I did.
  • Seitan scallopini. The seitan came in large slices, pan seared, and topped with a caper white wine sauce. I thought the texture of the seitan was perfectly tender and toothsome at the same time, and the sauce was delicious. Everyone loved the seitan. The dish also came with chard (which was nice), and very strongly flavored basil mashed potatoes, that were a hit with everyone but me (but I’m not a mashed potato fan).
  • Stuffed portobellos. This dish was two huge mushroom caps stacked and stuffed to the gills with a tofu walnut mixture, and topped with a tahini cashew sauce. Derek adored this dish, and others enjoyed it as well, but I found it too strongly flavored. I’m not sure exactly what the strong flavor was that disturbed me–maybe a excess of red wine or balsamic vinegar?
  • Feijoada with smoky tempeh. This dish was the loser of the night. The tempeh was pretty tasteless, the sweet potatoes were tasty but sometimes undercooked, and the black beans were very plain. Overall we found this dish underseasoned and boring.
  • Savory seitan. This dish was similar to the scallopini, except the seitan was in a different sauce. I have no idea what was in the sauce but it was light and refreshing and extremely tasty without being terribly greasy. The seitan also came with potatoes, green beans, and roasted tomatoes, all of which were fine but a bit boring.
  • Vegan cheesecake. Derek loved the dessert, saying it was the best vegan dessert ever, or at the very least the best vegan cheesecake he’d ever had. It certainly came closer to cheesecake than others I’ve tried, evading the typical soy aftertaste. I asked how they made it and they said tofu and soy cream cheese, so I’m guessing the recipe is similar to the one I have on my blog for vegan key lime pie that uses tofutti cream cheese. I think they also used a very high quality vanilla, which also helps mask the soy flavor.

The service was attentive but not irritating. The ambience was perfectly pleasant, although nothing to rave about. Overall we enjoyed the experience, had lots of tasty food, and will definitely be back.

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Millet Pilaf with Carrots, Onion, and Cloves

February 25, 2008 at 9:23 am (Grains, Madhur Jaffrey, Quick weeknight recipe, unrated)

The flavors in this recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s World of the East cookbook are simple, but very tasty. Unlike most of the recipes in this cookbook, this one does not say from which part of the world it originates, and I can’t really place the flavors into any one cultural bucket. Millet is eaten in many parts of the world, so knowing its geographical distribution doesn’t really help me place it either. Millet is a fast growing grain that requires little fertilizer and grows well even with limited rainfall, so its primarily eaten in arid parts of the world. Millet is an ancient staple in Northern China and Korea (rather than rice which is the staple in wet Southern China). In Western India millet is used to make flat bread, and it is also eaten in many parts of Africa.

  • 1.5 cups hulled millet
  • 3 Tbs. unsalted butter or oil
  • 1 carrot, peeled and julienned in 1.5-inch strips
  • 1 medium-sized onion peeled, cut in half lengthwise, and sliced into fine half rings
  • a 2-inch piece of cinnamon
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 2 Tbs. raisins
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  1. Heat a 7-inch cast-iron skillet over a medium flame. Put in the millet and stir to roast it. The millet is done when it emits a roasted aroma and when some of the seeds turn a light-brown color. A few of the seeds might actually burst open like popcorn.
  2. In a heavy 1 3/4 to 2-quart pot, melt the butter over a medium flame. Add the carrot, onion, cinnamon, and cloves. Stir and saute for about 5 minutes or until the onion is translucent. Add the raisins. Stir and saute another 5 minutes or until the onion just begins to brown at the edges. Add the roasted millet, salt and 2 3/4 cup water. Bring to a boil. Cover tightly, turn heat to very, very low and cook for 30 minutes.
  3. Have some boiling water ready. Pour in 1/4 cup boiling water over the millet, stir quickly with a fork, cover again and continue to cook on the same low heat for another 10 minutes. Turn the heat off and let the pot site, covered, for another 15 minutes.

My notes:

The millet ends up fluffy, sweet, and just a bit dry, so serve this dish with a soup and salad or some sort of saucy stew.

This dish has a nutty, sweet and savory flavor combination that I really like. I enjoyed the carrots and raisins and the clove flavor, but would probably increase the amounts a tad the next time. I couldn’t really taste the cinnamon, however. I know that when you buy cinnamon sticks they come from an inferior cinnamon species than the kind that ground cinnamon comes from, so perhaps it would be better to skip the cinnamon sticks and just add ground cinnamon instead.Jaffrey doesn’t explain the reason for this two-part cooking technique, but it seems to work well. I’d like to try it without the last step sometime to see how adding the boiling water affects the texture of the millet.

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