Postcard from Montreal: Restaurant Damas

Need ideas for a trip to Montreal this summer? Feasting at Van Horne Avenue’s Damas is like a magical night in a sultan’s tent. You’ll be charmed by this Syrian restaurant’s opulent but modern décor, attentive staff, and lively ambiance but it’s the food that will blow your mind. Damas serves the best middle eastern food that we have ever tasted – and that’s coming from my husband’s family (who have Syrian roots and have eaten middle eastern across the globe).

You come to Damas to eat, so come hungry. Order the tasting menu, a traditional Syrian mezze of small plates; Damas makes it an outstanding gastronomical experience. The chef will surprise you with his choice of course after course of little works of art: refined, traditional recipes with creative touches that will leave you swooning.  Here are a few instagram photos of the tasting menu we enjoyed recently with our brother and sister-in-law. Sorry the photos don’t do the food justice – I was too busy enjoying the food and conversation to focus.

Cold mezzes started with fattouch salad, finely chopped so that every bite was a medley of flavour: romaine lettuce, radish, tomato, cucumber, sweet pepper, and mint, topped with grilled pita and crimson pomegranate seeds, in traditional lemon vinaigrette spiked with Aleppo pepper and sumac. Isn’t beet mutabbal (a puree of roasted beets and nutty tahina paste) so pretty? Mouhammara is seductive dip of roasted sweet red peppers, nuts, tomato, lemon, pomegranate molasses, and Aleppo pepper. I have a recipe for mouhammara on my blog but I wish I knew how Damas makes theirs divine. The hummus is silky smooth and dead-on delicious, the best hummus I have ever tasted. With house-baked pita, served warm and puffy. I should note that this photo shows the portions I put on my plate and not how the chef plated them.

Oh my god…the best hummus, fattouche, and muhamarra I have ever tasted. And the kibbeh nayeh phenomenal.

A photo posted by Olive (@olive_to_eat) on

The Arabs have an even better version of steak tartar, called kibbé nayyé: finely minced, top-quality raw beef with bulgur and seven spices. Damas stuffs theirs with mouhammara, mint, and pine nuts, and garnishes with shaved onions and house-made chili puree. A real delicacy.

Kibbeh nayeh… phenomenal

A photo posted by Olive (@olive_to_eat) on

But we are just getting started. Next in line are succulent proteins grilled over an open charcoal fire.

#youcametodamasyouareheretoeat #syriancuisine #montreal #chargrilled #tastingmenu

A video posted by Olive (@olive_to_eat) on

I’ve never been a fan of octopus but Damas chargrills it and serves it with a chickpea salad. My son will be happy to know I now love octopus.

Grilled octopus salad with cilantro puree

A photo posted by Olive (@olive_to_eat) on

Chargrilled sea bass on a pool of tarator (a sauce made from ground sesame paste, garlic, lemon, and cumin) is already my favourite fish meal but Damas blows it out of the water. Tarator sauce is easy to make at home and pairs especially well with grilled fish but also chicken or beef. I have a recipe for it on my blog (my husband’s family calls it tahina).

The totally unexpected fillet mignon of veal was fabulous: deglazed with lemon, garlic, and Aleppo pepper. Served with confit tomatoes and tiny cubes of crisp potatoes.

Filet mignon of veal. Fabulous

A photo posted by Olive (@olive_to_eat) on

Lamb chops were dusted with seven spices and chargrilled to sheer perfection, as soft as butter. Served on a drizzle of baba ghannouj (smoky, grilled eggplant mashed with ground sesame paste, lemon, and garlic).

Dessert is not included in the tasting menu but don’t miss the orange blossom baklava ice cream: rich vanilla ice cream perfumed with orange blossom water and spiked with chunks of sticky sweet baklava….heavenly.  And the fresh mint tea is so fresh and minty.

Mint tea how it is mint to be

A photo posted by Olive (@olive_to_eat) on

Gorgeous glass lanterns are strung across the ceilings. Click the link to the Damas website to see photos of their beautiful interior.

Beautiful ambiance

A photo posted by Olive (@olive_to_eat) on

There is an outdoor terrace, two rooms, and a bar beside the charcoal grill (which is entertaining in cooler weather but a bit too toasty in the summer). Make reservations well in advance; this place has earned its popularity. The tasting menu is available for entire table only. It’s expensive but so worth it. Make Damas your special night out.

Restaurant Damas
1201 Ave. Van Horne
Montreal, QC   H2V 1K4

Telephone: 514-439-5435
http://www.restaurant-damas.com/

 

 

 

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The 2nd Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Bread & Honey Festival

Just thought I’d share a few pics while I am waiting to take my crew of sleepy teenagers to the Rotary Pancake Breakfast. Our clan has made the Streetsville Founder’s Bread & Honey Festival a tradition since year one – that’s a lot of Hazel-led parades and pancake breakfasts. The Bread & Honey started when I was a kid; all of our Chatham cousins would come down for the weekend for one giant sleepover. We’ve carried on the tradition with my siblings’ children. We spend the whole weekend at the festival or wandering the streets of our happy village and we love it! It’s like a huge Streetsville reunion.

My brother used to start our B&H weekend with the phrase “Lock your windows, the carnies are in town!” and the kids love it when I continue his tradition (all in jest of course because the ‘carnies’ are kind and decent people). Missing a few faces and pay no mind to the lad on the right – he hates it when mom takes his photo…suck it up buttercup.

#menofsteel2016 #breadnhoney #breadandhoneyfestival2016

A video posted by Olive (@olive_to_eat) on

The kids enjoy the carnival and every once in a while, Uncle Nagui tries to put on a brave face to join them on the rides. They would like to see the return of the Zipper, the Boat, and the Fireball….especially the Fireball, right Uncle Nagui?

Oh so pretty! #breadnhoney #iloveaparade #streetsvilleliving

A photo posted by Olive (@olive_to_eat) on

I thought the kids weren’t into the parade this year so we ate our breakfast in the garden, listening to the music from band after band marching along the street. It sounded like the best parade ever; we ran out and caught the tail end and vowed to never miss it again (sorry Hazel, it was a late night).

There are some great food trucks at the festival this year. These tacos were fantastic.

Saturday’s weather was perfect! Hopefully today will clear up but we are going down anyways. Happy Bread & Honey Festival Streetsville! Hope to see you down there today.

 

 

 

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Spirit Tree: Exquisite Wood Fired Pizza

Sneaking in a little instapost about a lovely evening I had last night with a friend at Spirit Tree Estate Cidery, in Caledon. I didn’t plan on doing a post and only took two instagram photos but the food was so good, I have to share.

Friday and Saturday nights (between 4pm and 8pm) are pizza nights at Spirit Tree. Laura and I made plans late last fall to go to Spirit Tree on the first warm Friday evening in spring for their hand-tossed, wood-fired pizza. A drive out in the country and exquisite pizza shared with a friend was the perfect way to celebrate warm spring weather.

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The Hammer: Catch You on the Hip Side of Hamilton

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If you haven’t heard the buzz – or didn’t believe it – Steel City has transformed into a cool place to hang out.

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James Street North is a vibrant, culturally diverse mix of food, art, and unique retail that ranges from old-fashioned to modern, in such a hip way (that’s my inner urban geographer speaking). My inner foodie says that Hamilton is the grassroots of where young chefs hone their skills with their own set of rules; so refreshing and impressive. Remember, this is the city that put the wheels in motion for the local gourmet food truck trend.

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Start off at the Hamilton Farmers’ Market (inside Jackson Square, corner of James Street and York Boulevard). There’s plenty of cheap parking right across the street.

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Sensational Samosa offers an impressive variety of international foods: savoury and sweet finger foods, curries, chutneys, salads, and soups.

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I started my morning off with a healthy bowl of protein-packed Persian Ash soup: chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, yellow split peas, pearl barley, dill, parsley, cilantro, onions, garlic, and turmeric. Garnished with yogurt and crispy fried onions.

On a recommendation from a local, I brought home the World’s Best Samosas, mint-cilantro chutney, and mango chutney; what a nice treat after driving home in the snowstorm. Health-conscious, vegan, and gluten-free options available.

I met the lovely Ed Wong of Henry Brown’s Small Batch Ice Cream. He and his partner have been at the market since last July, having fun playing around with flavour combinations.

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Flavours range from bold (Black Sesame and Curried Carrot) to childhood favourites (Toasted Marshmallow and Peppermint Candy Cane) and oh so many tempting ones in between. Move over green tea ice cream, Hong Kong Milk Tea is my new favourite: I love how the tea balances the sweet creamy bliss. Prepared on-site in small batches, fresh every market day, additives not required. Flavours rotate. Plan to come back for an afternoon scoop or bring your cooler to take a tub home. But be sure to ask for a taste in the morning because your favourite flavour may be sold out later.

Next time, I’ll try a poké bowl at the Pokeh Bar (Canada’s first poké bar). When I returned to the market for an ice cream, the mid-afternoon crowd was a clear indication that these healthy, Hawaiian-influenced raw fish bowls have quickly gained popularity with the locals.  Like sushi in a bowl: choose from fresh ahi tuna, salmon, or shiitake/tofu on cucumber noodles or rice, with Asian sauces, and over 20 healthy toppings.

After the market, walk one block east on York to James Street, turn left and head up James Street North. If the stores aren’t open (some not until noon), grab a coffee at Mulberry Coffee House. Or walk up to Murray Street to Chris’ Store Fixtures, a kitchenware and restaurant supply store where I rubbed elbows with Hamilton’s hot young chefs.  At Mixed Media, I lusted over the art supplies, laughed my guts out at the cards and scored the hard-to-find, cult-favourite foodie magazine, Lucky Peach.

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Satisfy your morning chocolate fix with a wee sample at Chocolat on James; you won’t come out empty-handed.

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Admire the local art, whether on a wall…

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or in the window of a gallery (you me gallery) or vintage shop (Chaises Musicales).

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Check out the AGH Design Annex: an extension of the Art Gallery of Hamilton that shows experimental exhibitions, stages intimate performances, and houses a home and office design store.

There are two really good vintage clothing shops on this strip. Hawk & Sparrow is a gorgeous, well-curated, upscale vintage, pre-loved, and new clothing store that also sells on etsy. Olive is in love all over again with these boots.

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And with these boots from Newold’s Vintage, just up the street; a great shop with lots of inexpensive gems.

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I am so tempted to return to this charming little shop to learn how to sew (Needlework). And isn’t this a pretty window (i fiori)?

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When your stomach starts to growl, you’ll find Vietnamese, Korean, Thai, Portuguese, Indian, and Italian restaurants along this strip, interspersed with restaurants such as Saint James Espresso Bar & Eatery, Saltlick Smokehouse, Mesa, Lake Road, Jack & Lois, Charred, and The Green Smoothie Bar.

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I ended my morning on James Street North at a recommendation from a friend. Thank you, Casey, The Burnt Tongue (10 Cannon Street East/corner of James) lived up to its reputation.

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The staff is super friendly, the atmosphere energetic, and the rotating daily menu so creative.

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The soup is well worth the reasonable wait for a table. Indian Roasted Cauliflower for me: velvety smooth with fragrant cumin notes and yogurt drizzle. That’s my kind of comfort food.

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Although the locally-raised beef hamburger, frites, and curry ketchup served to the people beside me looked amazing. Sandwiches and salads, too. Dang, I forgot to try the long-craved-for Rudy’s Paletas. Order at the counter, served at the table. Vegetarian, vegan, celiac-friendly, and dairy-free options available.

There is only so much food one belly can hold and my timing that day didn’t allow me to venture further. I’ll be back; there is more to see and taste in the hip Hammer.

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French Affair: Cluny Bistro

My husband and I splurged on a romantic dinner at Cluny Bistro & Boulangerie, a glamorous French restaurant in Toronto’s Historic Distillery District. Cluny’s luxuriously detailed, expansive interior will sweep you off your feet. I should have taken photos but my man was my focus that night. http://clunybistro.com/gallery.

While the menu includes classic, casual French bistro dishes, it is more adventurous than our beloved Montreal bistro, L’Express. Like L’Express, Cluny is the kind of place you could show up at any time and enjoy something from the menu (though L’Express is open far later, until 3:00 am). Cluny’s boulangerie opens at 8:00 am. The dining room serves lunch, weekend brunch, and dinner. The menu offers a fantastic selection of small plates to snack on or to add to a meal: from Beef Bourguignon Poutine to various tartines, to Baked Sauvagine for Two (baked cheese stuffed with truffle paste and sautéed wild mushrooms – a favourite of our waitress).

This is definitely the place to indulge. Freshly baked baguette (from Cluny’s in-house boulangerie) and cultured organic Quebec butter, for starters. Take a cue from Mireille Guiliano’s passion for oysters and champagne (French Women Don’t Get Fat): a glass of bubbly Crémant d’Alsace and Kusshi oysters is the way to a girl’s heart!

Crisp Sesame Baked Asparagus Frites were phenomenal finger food; the spicy yogurt dipping sauce wasn’t even required. Roasted Cauliflower & Hazelnut Salad with fine herbs and pomegranate vinaigrette was healthy and refreshing.

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On a previous visit, a friend and I shared the Tuna Tartare Niçoise (with egg, French beans, Niçoise olives, roe, and a decadent aioli).

Grilled Chicken & Marrakesh Carrot Salad is a luscious, Moroccan-inspired mélange of carrots, chickpeas, dates, cilantro, pistachios, feta cheese, pomegranate seeds, and lime.

My husband is a big fan of steak frites – specifically the French-style, flavour-packed cut of meat called “bavette”. Fibrous and chewy, it is hard to prepare properly. Cluny’s version (hanger steak) was possibly the best he has ever tasted: tender and flavourful. And the frites were perfect: thin, crisp, and lightly spiced.

Our Quebec-City-raised waitress was attentive, informed, and very patient with my French (which improved with the flow of the wine). I can’t wait for spring time in Paris…I’d love to go back for brunch on their outdoor terrace!

Cluny Bistro & Boulangerie
35 Tank House Lane
The Historic Distillery District
55 Mill Street. Toronto

Telephone: 416.203.2632
Website: http://clunybistro.com/

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