Road Trip Montreal: Cake Wars
Sticking to our inadvertent Montreal-based theme for the day, I provide you with the following review of select Montreal restaurants written by one of my regular dining companions, known on these pages as Kristen Wells.
So I had this bet. The prize was a slice of one of the most delicious cakes in the borough of Brooklyn: Cake Man Raven’s red velvet. (Scrape off some of the over-abundant frosting and thank me later.) Some controversy arose, however, surrounding the terms of the wager and my betting partner – let’s call him T-Bone – and I did what all reasonable people do in these situations. We went double or nothing.
The subsequent bet was not, strictly speaking, a true double or nothing, as T-Bone and I agreed two slices of cake was more than either of us wanted to eat (at least in one sitting). How, then, to double? We decided the loser would have to (1) buy the winner a slice of the best cake in Brooklyn (i.e., the original prize) and (2) research, identify and buy the winner a slice of the best cake in a city of the winner’s choosing, and coordinate the logistics of the associated trip.
I talked a whole lotta trash that week, sending T-Bone pictures of cake possibilities from around the world. Boston cream pie? Jamaican black cake? Parisian madeleines? Whatever city would I choose? Thankfully, I would indeed eat cake and not crow; I won the bet and picked Montreal.
They say “to the victor go the spoils,” but in my case, the loser’s burden of travel-foodie research may have been a spoil. I love to study up on destinations, mapping out what to see, eat and experience. I had to summon all of my (Wonder Woman) powers to restrain myself and not research Montreal’s cake options. I called upon my faith in T-Bone, that he would live up to his end of the bargain and, despite his disinclination for such granular planning, investigate thoroughly enough so we’d enjoy the best cake as recommended by sources other than Yelp. That said, I couldn’t help myself entirely and made one dinner reservation. Since the rez was for dinner and not cake, I figured I wasn’t diminishing T-Bone’s burden as loser of the bet.
I’m happy to say T-Bone came through like a champ. Leading up to the trip, I posed the philosophical question about how I’d be able to determine if the cake T-Bone chose was, in fact, the best in the city. If it’s the only cake I sampled, how could I really judge? To round out the experience and provide some comparative data, T-Bone picked three destinations (for two days in the city).
As it turns out, one of his choices must’ve been very popular. We arrived within the operating hours of Cocoa Locale, but the doors were locked. They’d sold out of that day’s batch of baked goods. No worries, as our next destination was nearby: La Croissanterie Figaro.
First, we had a late lunch, and my goat cheese and tomato quiche was excellent –really flavorful with perfectly roasted tomatoes and a tender, buttery crust. As for dessert, T-Bone indicated the “go to” order was chocolate mousse cake, with a possible second place for carrot. I looked at T-Bone quizzically because I warned weeks prior that I’m not fan of chocolate cake. Was it wise to steer me in that direction? We ordered one of each and, lo and behold, the chocolate mousse cake was phenomenal. (The carrot was good, too, but really didn’t compare to the chocolate.) Layer upon layer of a soft and light chocolate cake, smooth chocolate mousse that was a bit richer with chocolate than the cake, and a frosting that upped the chocolate ante, all dusted with really good cocoa powder. I’m not a fan of chocolate cake, but this was hella good. +1 for T-Bone.
The next day we ventured to the most charming croissant shop I’ve ever stepped foot in, Kouign Amann, named for the Breton cake we’d be sampling. A tiny store with fresh baked goods on a couple of shelves, bakers in flour-dusted aprons forming croissants by hand behind the counter, and a really friendly and lovely woman working the register. T-Bone is a big fan of croissants and I’d told him I don’t really understand them. The ones I’ve had in the U.S. just don’t seem to be worth the fat expenditure. Trying a warm, fresh croissant from Kouign Amann, however, has made me a believer. Make this a must-stop on your next trip to Montreal.
But that’s not why you came. We weren’t sure what Kouign Amann cake is exactly, but we got one to share. It looks like…this picture. It tastes like sweet, buttery bread baked with a slightly caramelized crust. Sounds simple, but the layering creates a really pleasing texture that I couldn’t replicate if I tried. This cake was unique and, if you like buttery, sweet, baked goodness – and who doesn’t? – you’re going to be really happy with Kouign Amann from Kouign Amann. (I keep typing it because I’m still trying to figure out how to pronounce it. Kouign Amann. ?) +2 for T-Bone.
Our last night in Montreal was the night of my one contribution to the chowhound itinerary, dinner at Au Pied du Cochon. Although I’d read and warned T-Bone that we should arrive amply hungry, the afternoon cake (and, don’t tell, but later a shared almond croissant) kept me satiated for a long time. Sadly, I wasn’t terribly hungry by reservation time so didn’t order as many dishes as I might have wished. We shared a great blue cheese, apple, and endive salad. For mains, I ordered a swordfish special and T-Bone ordered one of the more notorious entrees: Duck in a Can. My fish was amazing. Perfectly cooked with a salty, buttery cream sauce, mushroom, and beans. A combo I would’ve raised an eyebrow at had I known in advance, but it was really delicious. Probably the best thing I’d had since the crab and jalapeno spaghetti at Del Posto. About the Duck in a Can, you can Google search it to learn about the unusual preparation and presentation. (Actually, here you go: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eBw8bdcPRTM.) All you need to know is when they poured the can out, I thought “Goodness gracious, that’s a lot of food. T-Bone might get halfway through that.” Fast forward a bit and I thought “O.M.G. that must’ve been really delicious. I can’t believe he ate the whole thing.”
Seriously. Did you watch the video? T-Bone ate THE WHOLE THING. That’s how good it was. (+1 for me.)
Moral of the story? Make some food bets with your friends. Good times, and no one really loses. Also, Montreal is a great eating town.