markets, spirit possession

Raising the Bar for the Wine Dep?

An article this week in La Presse has finally substantiated the rumours I have been hearing that someone was going to open a natural wine-focused bottle shop in the old space on across the street from NDQ which used to house Preservation Society and La QV. Your first reaction might be “So what? There are wine shops all over this goddamn city, I can get it from giant booze monopolies or grocery stores or by accident when I’m buying string cheese and smokes, it’s in the lift and the lorry and in the bond wizard and what are you talking about who cares?”

However, for all that QC has one of the most liberal approaches to booze access in Canada, there remains a wealth of products that are available only via the comparatively circuitous route of private importation. In this case, wines which for whatever reasons (quantity? volatility? weirdness? the spiteful arbitrariness that seems to be the ab initio of Qu√©bec bureaucracy) the SAQ allows to be imported into the province but refuses to stock on its shelves. If you’ve ever had a wine you loved at a restaurant and inquired as to its availability only to be told it’s importation priv√©e, thus not available at the SAQ, this is what we’re talking about. Now the private import world is not actually all that hard to navigate for the lay shlub – one just has to 1) find out who the importer is, 2) get in touch with them and make an order, then 3) pick it up at an SAQ a couple weeks later once the order has been processed. The down side of this is that, with some exceptions, private importers are not allowed to sell in quantities smaller than a case (6-12 bottles, typically), so in addition to the wait, unless you’re a fancy Monopoly-man type you have to find some friends to go splits on the order.

There are any number of reasons that an importer might have difficulty getting a wine on the SAQ’s shelves, which may be best left for another time, but the long and short of it is that there are some truly brilliant (or even merely pretty brilliant) wines that are only available via private import. What this new shop of Juneau’s aims to do is make such wines available by the bottle by exploiting the what aspect of our labyrinthine liquor laws that apparently permits the sale of such individual bottles with the accompaniment of a meal, as if you were getting a drink with your restaurant takeout (but at the same time for some reason precludes just selling it off the shelf as one would at a regular dep). It is indeed a tangled regulatory web, but one which has intriguing potential for rendering many of these wines slightly more accessible.

The big question, however, will be what kind of markup will be applied. It is standard practice to mark up a bottle of wine by at least 100% in restaurants, in the hopes of making it even marginally profitable, but if we’re talking about wines that are already in the 18-40$ range, that sort of thing is not likely to fly for takeout. Juneau references the smaller system of cavistes in European countries as an inspiration, although what immediately comes to mind for me are the little caves √† manger that have popped up in France (and spread more widely) which reside somewhere between a traditional caviste¬†and a wine bar – a bottle shop with a small by-the-glass selection and a limited menu, where you have the option of drinking your bottle on premise for a hopefully reasonable corkage fee. Because of the peculiar regulatory situation in QC, however, it seems that Junueau’s Cul Sec would potentially have to operate on the inverse principle, with customers paying a markup (in addition to buying food?) in order to take the wine to go. The details so far are scant, but a similar operation exists already in Qu√©bec City, run by another private importer, Les Importations du Moine.¬†Not having been, alas, I can’t comment on how their system works.

As should by now be obvious, I am cautiously optimistic about the project, while finding it faintly sinister that this will constitute the third business (along with resto / winebar Pastaga and specialty grocer¬†Le Petit Coin) Juneau has opened in a one-block-radius of Beaubien and St-Laurent in the past year or so. It certainly speaks to the recent “rejuvenation” of Petite-Patrie, if one chooses to interpret the term less in the sense of “making young again” than “filling with literal youths,” but in the long run I don’t think that the conversion of a space previously housing a wine agency and a specialty conserves company into a boutique wine dep is that much of a transition.

What I am hopeful about is the potential of the shop to contribute to what I guess I am calling the d√©sinvoltation of good wine. I say d√©sinvoltation in lieu of the English “casualization” pointedly, because it better captures the sense of undoing something that has been made inaccessible and rarefied. Likewise, I say “good wine” rather than “fine wine” because the latter has particular connotations that I wish to avoid, and the former gets at how much of the wine that has been impressing me in the past few years – much of it “natural” wine – has had a charming directness about it. Whether frank or elusive in the mouth, it is not grand wine, it is fresh, vital, good wine. And while because of the exigencies of small-scale agricultural production and the international export thereof, it will likely never been truly cheap, but I believe there is much work, much good work, to do in the rendering of such wines more culturally and emotionally accessible. There is, of course, much more to be said about this, and I probably will, but not right now.

So we’ll see what happens with this Cul Sec thing.

In the meantime, however, this spirit of d√©sinvoltation is very much what drives the SMALL SECRETS x BAR BARBARA project (to which I contributed the sickening bit of wordplay “Wine Bar Barbara Bar √† vins) I have been collaborating on, and which is slated to have its next instantiation in a few weeks (May 16th. Keep your ears open). Details to follow, but it’s basically an illegal wine bar that serves as a forum for my pal Jordan and myself to share wines that we’re stoked on, at a negligible markup, with anyone who is interested in wine or wants to be interested in wine but basically has no idea what is going on, and to use this activity as a basis for tracing a slightly different kind of conviviality than normally prevails at a private party, a bar or restaurant, or an organized tasting. And it rules. And it’s named after my foolish cat.



pastaga empire

refashioning of beaubien to mile-endification of petite-patrie




markets, recipe

Brassica Uber Alles, Part Two: Roman Fever Revisited.


which is, i have noticed, variably the last two weeks of august or july. alternately,


yes, that hotly anticipated time when – for those of us who don’t live in Italian-dominated neighbourhoods, where that shit runs like water – rapini descends from its 3$ Throne On High and ¬†suddenly becomes attainable for a buck or two, which is Awesome, and then i end up eating it every day until i have honestly pretty much ruined it for myself, but whatever dude, this path is stupid, it goes in spirals, perhaps in circles, but whichever way it goes, i will follow it.

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markets, product review

If You Ever Need Self Validation, Just Meet Me In The Alley By The Railway Station

so the food fair thing was okay. “Only okay,” i¬†say to people when they ask, “not great, not bad, about what i¬†expected.” this is a response carefully calculated to numb any further curiosity they might have, so i¬†needn’t go into what i¬†have already decided are the uninteresting finer details of the experience, beyond such cursory reportage as it being mostly food vendors representing restaurants in the vicinity of the Old Port, who i imagine had to pay through their already rent-ravaged noses for the privilege, and accordingly there were very few free samples, but some inoffensively priced portions to be had.

note to the Senegalese people, however: most people don’t know what you eat in Senegal, and thus are unlikely to pay 10$ for the privilege. maybe¬†a five dollar plate, people? i still have no idea.

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Terminator X Speaks With His Hands.

it has just come to my attention that there is to be a Cultural Feast at the end of the month at the Pointe-à-Callière Museum in the Old Port. i will admit that in my initial skepticism i was going to write:

“…which i guess is going to consist of a bunch of food vendors from Various Cultures (read: non-white) who make up the rich tapestry of immigrant cultures that Qu√©bec on the whole resents and antagonizes (see: Bill 94, aka This Niqab B.S.)

but having read the press release (see the PACMusee website) i must report, foot tentatively in mouth, that it actually looks pretty badass, involving international culinary representation (i don’t know where the Jamaica Jerk Pitt is, but i intend to find out) as well as featuring presentations/demos on “New Culinary Trends” such as molecular gastronomy, slow and raw food, and beer & food pairing. also klezmer music?

so anyone want to go with me? ‘cos i’m gonna.

be aware that this is the same weekend as the Montréal Anarchist Bookfair and the Buried Inside/Ensorcelor show, which means that weather-permitting, this could make for a good solid weekend of gastronomic excess-radical lit-heavy metal-daytime drinking and general skiddiness, of precisely the tone and timbre that i endorse.

note: i know that last time i exhorted people to come with me to a PAC-food-related event, you never heard about it again, for which i apologize. so as a gesture of good faith, i now offer my (totally useful) review of the 2008 18th Century Public Market:


“A Little Ruling, A Little Mediocre”

the Marché Public of the last post, i mean. there were lots of booths discussing and demonstrating various sorts of artisanal works and skillsets of the french settlers, including one where you got to practice writing with a quill and ink, and one where a haggard and bellicose old frenchman talked about how the farmers hated going to town because it was full of thieves, but the king would force them anyway, under threat of goon violence.

but not nearly enough snacks. there were lamb sausages, and some firepit-baked bread, and i bought a bottle of spruce beer and paid a buck for a shot of elderberry liqueur, but that about sums up the gastronomic highlights. oh, and they had some giant cookies. like the kinds the settlers used to eat, i guess. a lot of chocolate in new france.

that and french folk music.

markets, product review, recipe

“And I Feel Like I’m Slowly, Slowly, Slowly Slipping Under.”

have i already written about you, preserved lemon? i’ve certainly thought about it. i even took pictures of you, i remember. it was going to be part of that three-parter, that mighty triumvirate i was plotting in honour of the little ol’ lemon and my then surprising, new, and now abiding love for it. the lil’ guy (or gal?).

it was going to go like this:

I. PRESERVED LEMONS, and how i love ’em.

II. SEARED LEMONS, as a topping for pasta or salad, mostly. so summery!

III. LEMON JUICE, 1 or 2 lemons worth, neat, for breakfast, its vitalizing properties.

i first picked up some preserved lemons at L’Olivier in the Jean-Talon (where i have just been informed of the distinction between moroccan and tunisian harissa, more on this soonish), and was immediately taken, because they are all salty and sour and bitter in spades and so how couldn’t i be? and then i read all over the place how easy they are to make at home, but pickling/preserving being one of those things i have an emotional/culinary block about (i just can’t seem to commit to it. if anyone versed in these arts feels like dating and/or marrying me, i’m sure that would be sufficient motivation for overcoming this hurdle), i never go around to it.

just last week i bought a jar of them from Akhavan, and while they are good, maybe a little pithier tasting, or merely pithy tasting in a less pleasant way? (it is mostly the rind that one is supposed to use, btw, a popular ingredient in tagines, chutneys, the like, and once you’ve had it, you’ll realize you’ve tasted it in all manner of places before) so i somewhat cowedly pictured this jar sitting half-full in my fridge for you know the rest of my life, until this weekend at the market (at a totally different shop, one of the food stands, on the opposite side of the market, i wish i could remember his name…) i chanced to try a pickled lemon confit this dude makes himself with an assortment of spices that a) was delicious, and b) reminded me i can do whatever i want (ie: that) with my preserved lemons. so i’m gonna. gonna have cardamom and chilis and uh, fennel. i’ll get back to you. (note to self: you are, however improbably, out of cardamom again. weird. sleepwalking? investigate)

this guy also makes his own hot sauce all with homegrown(farmed?) peppers, which was pretty good except it was Thai Sweet Chili style, which is unfortunately probably my least favourite species of hot sauce, besides perhaps Bland El Salvadorean Sauce or Stupid Boring Chipotle Sauce.


so. expect to hear more on lemons.


seared lemons. it can be a gamble, because you wanna cook them at high enough heat to actually sear ’em and get the sugars cookin’, but not so hot that the outside blackens before the inner pith cooks, ‘cos otherwise they’ll be too shocking.

similarly, you gotta cut ’em thin, so this’ll have a devil’s chance of happening , but not so thin that by the time they’re done they’re just a brown heat-chewed old rind with no juice in ’em.

worth the effort though. good with any lively or bitter green pesto pasta dish, some cream sauce affairs, and most salads that don’t have too much else going on. i’d say nothing more obtrusive than white wine vinegar or lemon and oil to dress, a slightly bitter green like spinach or fris√©e or escarole, and some kinda nice toasted seed (almonds man. almonds). milder cheeses like fior di latte or ricotta work well, although i’ve also had success with crazy salty stuff like armenian string cheese (which goes with all lemon) or even some blues.

who am i kidding, do whatever you want.


oh, and fresh squeezed lemon juice for breakfast – it’s like a less soul-corrupting shot of espresso.

markets, product review, rant

It Could Have Reminded Me of A Lot of Things.

1. UPDATE: that brie canadien i was trash-talking last week was Emma brand, so’s you know. can’t find a website for them, but you’ll in all likelihood know it to see the logo. sorry emma.

2. Duck Eggs. i’ve been eatin’ ’em. they’re considerably more expensive than hen eggs (6$ for 1doz, as opposed to 6$ for 30 from Capitaine D’Oeuf at Jean Talon), but i thought What The Hey, i love eggs and i hate ducks, so let’s see what can be made of this. the eggs have slightly more oblong shape and sturdier shell, which has made for some hard times in the cracking, but i’m getting used to it. had to stab one of them with a fork today, but i shouldn’t take my ineptitude as representative. the yolks, as compared to the hen eggs (also organic, and free-run or otherwise well-treated) also from Mr. Oeuf, are a little paler and larger, and the whites somewhat more gelatinous. i described them to someone yesterday as “more like gristle” (eliciting predictable, if unintended revulsion), but i think gelatinous says it better. they also remain a little more translucent, which unfortunately translates to looking a little grey, and seem less creamy. duck eggs are apparently noted for their gaminess (uh, gamey-ness?), but i didn’t notice any appreciable difference.¬† also, the yolks are usually darker orange, but this is diet-dependent. all in all? interesting, now i know, but i’ll stick to the chickens, thanks.

3. this whole Duck Egg Affair reminded me of puns, and some thinking about them that i’ve been doing.

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markets, rant

Heads, Eyes, Will Roll.

for my indignation and at my exaggeration, respectively, because motherfucker i missed cheese fest! goddammit. i’ve been looking forward to this thing for weeks (53 of them, arguably) and today what do i¬†realize but that i have righteously shit the bed on this one and it that the f√™te ended yesterday.

to think that i was sitting in the library failing, embarrassingly, to understand a pop science article on turtle ageing (no, seriously) when i could have been stuffing my head with fou de roi! bleu d’elizabeth! it’s inexcusable, and combined with my failure to buy that shirt with the skeleton-mages just hangin’ out, carousin’, drinking wine (blood, even?) and having a sweet time, qualifies this weekend as a pretty unequivocal write-off.

so, having sworn earlier today to stay angry – at myself for not writing down the date, and, brattily, at the Montr√©al en Lumi√®re scheduling committee for putting it on a date that i would forget to write down – for The Rest Of My Life (which appears to have dissipated mostly. the anger, i mean. my life is only moderately dissipate), i can at least try to mitigate the damage somewhat by reminding¬†all y’all that the Carrefour¬†des Saveurs/Crossroads of Flavour has not yet passed. this is a (presumably inferior, as it concerns things other than cheese) showcase of Quebec¬†gastronomy, and too promises samples, and it’s a good thing, because without the prospect of bread and wine to glut the ole¬†maw of death, i’d¬†probably be vomiting and rypophaging my own gall ‘n’ rage for a good while to come.

which, btw, segues nicely into a couple of new ARCHAIC FOOD WORDS that i won’t tell you about for a few days because you know, satisfaction is the death of desire and all.

The Details:

@ the Complexe Desjardins
(Place-des-Arts Metro, 150 Ste-Catherines O)
tues feb 23rd – sat feb 27th
tue/wed 11-6, thur/fri 11-8, sat 11-5