i have two positive things to report re: dining in the downtown core –
one is that Thali (1409 St. Marc, corner Ste-Catherines) has, in the months since i first ate there and gave it a sort of lukewarm review, really gotten its shit together, and is now quite respectable. it is possible that my initial indifference was owed merely to an off day (as i have been informed that such a thing is not unheard of), but during these cold winter months i have eaten there a good half-dozen times and never been disappointed. the chana samosa is one of the better i’ve had, positively buried under an assortment of onions, coriander, and a seemingly daily randomized assortment of indian sauces and condiments. the daal is savoury and reliable, the weird orange potato balls are weird and orange and good, and the various curries and vegetables are consistently flavourful.
the cafeteria-style ordering is actually handy for offering one the choice of what their will consist. further, their naan is excellent, and fresh, and ample (really a feat in itself, and shocking to think that they must have a proper tandoori overn squirrelled away in the back somewhere), as is their lamb biryani (i’ve been eating lamb, yes, and we can talk about this later), which for 6$ (ish) is a huge serving, aromatic and rife with whole spices and cinnamon bark. the dudes who work there are also friendly and knowledgeable and happy to tweak the spiciness of any given dish (made to order, so thalis not included) to suit your wants. and i am happy to report that the biryani made “somewhat hot” is also of a satisfying and respectable register.
their samosas also sometimes have paneer in ’em, which is just caraaaaaazy.
so seriously, i may even go so far as to say that one is not “settling” for that which is available downtown, in going to this place. i feel good about this.
the second thing (such positivity! did somebody put something in my drink?) is that now that BUNS (1855 Ste-Catherines, corner St. Marc) has veggie burgers, i can be fully stoked on them and eat there ALL THE TIME.
if you haven’t been, it’s a little hole in the wall burger join that opened up….maybe this past summer? that sells two things: hamburgers and fries, and they don’t fuck around with it either. for 5$ you get a burger with a good basic spread of toppings (including pretty goodly pickles, and actual cheese, for free), on a decent bun, cooked over an actual charcoal grill, and for 2$ more you can get some pretty legit homefries, also just chunks of potato, rocked on that grill so they’re just an oily, salty burnt-crisp mess.
and lo and behold, for the same 5$ you can now get a marinated portabello mushroom burger instead! how great is that! i’d say they just need to start offering grilled pineapple with bbq sauce as an add-on, but i honestly don’t think they should do a thing to mess with their no frills approach (besides perhaps adding cans of beer to the menu). especially when there’s the comparatively annoying Le Gourmet Burger is just down the street.
this, i have to say, is an instructive comparison. i also ate at Le Gourmet Burger (1433 Bishop) a while back, and left with the phrase “full, but lacking somehow that peculiar sense of burgery satiety that i had so looked forward to” resonating in my head, as a the opening for a review that i never rallied myself to pen.
until now, i suppose. where Buns is all ugly and dirty and direct, Le Gourmet Burger is smooth edges and indulgences and kitsch. at base, you pay 5$ for the same thing – a burger with some basic toppings (albeit fewer at LGB, and one of which is caramelized onions), but if that is precisely the be and end all of Buns, at LGB it is very intentionally only the beginning, because there’s a good two dozen extra toppings one can choose from, ranging from a buck for a fried egg or some marinated eggplant to 3$ for fromage st-guillaume or truffle oil, and 5$ all over again for foie gras, the inclusion of which strikes one as bordering on the tacky, even if the sundried tomato pesto does not (can i tell you how tired i am of sundried tomatoes pretending to be a big deal? like fun i will, i don’t need your pity).
all this isn’t bad, but if you get remotely excited, as i did, you soon realize you have payed 19.50$ for a burger, some sweet potato fries and a Dr. Pepper. not the stupidest thing you’ve ever done, but you do feel a little rubbed-wrong somehow, possibly because as i suggested above, there seems to be something lacking.
i think in my case, and i wouldn’t dream of speaking for anyone else (luckily, people do so elsewhere), it was a combination of the whole thing feeling a little precious/pretentious, and the fact that the veggie burger is really more a big chunk of grilled veggie pâté, which for all its own merits does not a burger make. in fact, the very qualities which make it pâté, and therefore desireable as such, are those which make it fundamentally inadequate as a burger subsitute – exacerbating the sort of gastronomical legerdemain about the veggie burger that i have elswhere described.
also, had i known it was going to be a big wad of pâté, you can bet i wouldn’t have topped it with a fried egg, caramelized figs w/ walnuts and blue cheese, for the love of nuts. all this to say that while it was a bit of a mehhhh all around, i’m not totally soured on the place, because say i’m actually in the mood for a veggie pâté sandwhich with pickled beets and brie, i know where to go, right?
in other news, not much luck so far tracking down the origins of the saying “In the Belly of the Beast.”