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Splendid dessert and awful service @ Cacao70 in Montreal, Canada

Friday night. 9pm. There’s a queue. We’re standing in line. It’s my first time at Cacao 70.

We want to look at the menu while we wait. When we’re finally at the front of the queue, we ask the waitress if can see the menu in English. 

"You’ll get it when you sit down," she replies in a harsh and sarcastic tone. 

Woah. Are you kidding me? Is this the kind of first impression that Cacao 70 wants to create?

Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. I am not impressed.

But still, the scent of chocolate assaults me and I can’t help but feel excited to be alive!

It takes our waitress around 20 minutes to come and take our order. In that time, the queue outside gets even longer. It dawns on me that this restaurant is seriously understaffed. 

For a restaurant this popular and this busy, I think the management could seriously afford to hire a few more people - at least on the weekend. 

But hey, what do I know?

We order the black & white waffle

OH MY GOD. Delicious! I felt like I went to heaven.

I think the star of this dessert was actually that white and dark chocolate sauce. Splendid!

All in all, GREAT food, but awful and terrible service. 

I might be back someday…

Cacao 70 on Urbanspoon

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Comfort Korean Food @ La Maison Bulgogi in Montreal, Canada

I walked into La Maison Bulgogi and was seated immediately. I was given one of those menus that went on and on and on. Menus like this really give me a headache. It takes around 10-15 minutes to read (and understand) what’s on offer. 

I couldn’t be bothered, so I asked the waiter for a recommendation. I wanted soup, my partner in crime wanted bulgogi. The waiter told us his favourites. We decided on: soft tofu soup with pork (chicken, beef and seafood options available) and spicy chicken bulgogi

Both dishes are spicy and the waiter did look a little worried, but I love my chilli. Don’t you?

The side dishes arrived quickly. Pretty generous selection. 

I looked around the restaurant. From what I gathered, it’s mostly frequented by Asian students, so I figured that there has to be something to this place. 

Depending on what you order, you could end up paying between $8-$20 for a main, so there is a big price range. 

The food arrived promptly. 

It was good, real good. Satisfying, spicy, and hearty.

I’ll be back. 

La Maison Bulgogi on Urbanspoon

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Good first impression, but needs improvement, Barroco Restaurant in Montreal, Canada

I liked Barroco Restaurant. Beautiful ambience and a cozy yet classy decor. It’s hard not to like it when you first walk in. Even the music was nice. 

Chandeliers, picture frames, a cocktail menu that shows up in the pages of an old book. Barroco Restaurant really did make a good first impression. 

My partner and I were having our three year anniversary, so naturally, our expectations were very high. 

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And then came the bread with olive oil. It should come with a warning, ‘Please do not eat too much of this’. Unfortunately, it didn’t, and my partner in crime and I ate too much of it. 

The food does take its own sweet time to show up, so…

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And after the two loaves of bread came the appetisers. 

I ordered the Noyan cheeses (60g) and my partner in crime ordered the San Marzano tomato & burrata tartelette. We both thoroughly enjoyed our appetisers. They were real good. 

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For mains, I ordered the paella barroco with lobster and my partner in crime ordered the beef short ribs. The portions here were pretty generous so we both found it hard to finish our food. 

The paella was delicious, but I must say, the prawns were powdery and tasted FUNKY. I can’t be sure, but I think they were the frozen variety or they were just really old. Good scallops and lobster, though.

The beef short rib was tender, delicious and fell off the bone effortlessly. By the way, the short rib is served with celery root and truffle puree. Very strange (for us). 

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By this stage, I was so full, I thought I was going to burst. I’m not used to eating such decadent meals (or portions) anymore.

To finish, we had the raspberry sorbet with… I’m not sure what to be honest. Nice, light, and exactly what I wanted. 

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Ok - so all in all, great food, great atmosphere. BUT, there were two things that kind of took away some of the magic. 

Firstly, I found our waitress condescendingly polite. Yes, she strung the right words together, but her tone was rather patronising. She was also hard to reach and the service wasn’t as attentive as I would have liked. The waitress forgot my partner’s drink order. When she finally brought it, she said that she forgot cause there was some tennis superstar on another table that just came in blah blah. 

NOT IMPRESSED. So clearly this establishment values ‘famous people’ more than ‘regular people’. BEWARE. 

Restaurants like this need to be aware that when they do decide to charge the kind of prices they do, they need to reflect that in their food and service.

Which brings me to my second point - what was up with the funny tasting prawn? It is NOT acceptable to serve dodgy seafood!

Anyways, all in all, it was a good evening. But I think next time I’ll pick a different restaurant. 

Barroco on Urbanspoon

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"'There is nothing in this place of decay that can or will last. Even stones will crumble to dust. Everything changes. The trick is to immerse oneself completely in the moment, live in, and when it goes, to have not an ounce of regret or a backward glance. To know it will go and not mourn for it. To let it be,' said Maya.
‘That’s a hard trick to learn,’ Parvathi said.
‘For sure,’ Maya murmured."

The Japanese Lover by Rani Manicka

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Pad Thai Bliss at Bangkok Cuisine in Montreal

It’s not easy to find Southeast Asian food in Montreal. I’d heard a mixed bag of reviews about Bangkok Cuisine

Some said that it was the best pad thai ever, others spoke of the food stall’s questionable standards of hygiene.

So I avoided this place for a long time. Two weeks ago, my partner in crime came home with a takeout container from Bangkok Cuisine. 

I had a bite.

I decided I had to have more. 

And so I did. 

Oh boy is it good. I was seriously full halfway through my meal and I still wanted more, more, more. 

I’ll be back for sure.

P.S. Cash only. 

Bangkok Cuisine on Urbanspoon

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"Many associate yoga with a rejection of the world, its responsibilities, and commitments, and with extreme austerity leading even to self-mortification. But is not the greater challenge and greater fulfilment to be found living in the world with its tribulations and temptations, and at the same time to maintain both balance and self-control in the everyday life of a householder? To be spiritual, one must not deny or forget the body. Throughout the journey to the spiritual goal, the body must be kept active. Yoga is as old and traditional as civilisation, yet it persists in modern society as a means to achieving essential vitality. But yoga demands that we develop not only strength in body but attention and awareness in mind. The yogi knows that the physical body is not only the temple for our soul but the means by which we embark on the inwards journey toward the core. Only by first attending to the physical body can we hope to accomplish anything in our spiritual lives. If a man or woman has aspirations to experience the divine, but his or her body is too weak to bear the burden, of what use are their aspirations and ambitions? That’s all the more reason, therefore, for the vast majority of us who suffer from physical limitations and debilities to some degree start yoga as soon as possible so that we may fit ourselves for the journey ahead of us."

— Light on Life by BKS Iyengar 

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"He was convinced that Buddha had revealed a truth that every person could recognise: suffering is a fixed part of life. Fleeing from pain and running toward pleasure would never change that fact. Yet most people spent their whole lives avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure. To them, this was only natural, but in reality they were becoming deeply involved in a war they could never win."

Buddha by Deepak Chopra

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Lacklustre grilled cheese sandwich @ Cafe Veritas in Montreal, Canada

3pm on a Monday afternoon. An almost empty Cafe Veritas. I wanted a snack. I asked the lady behind the counter what she recommends. She said the grilled cheese sandwich. My mouth watered. She said it would take 7 minutes. 

3 minutes later, my sandwich arrived. It was no grilled cheese sandwich. It was a meh cheese sandwich. The cheese hadn’t melted entirely, and the bread was still soft, as opposed to crispy. 

There were barely any other customers in this cafe so I came down to my one and only conclusion.

They don’t care about me or my experience of their cafe.

I won’t be back.

P.S. This is the first time in my life anyone’s screwed up a grilled cheese sandwich. 

Café Veritas on Urbanspoon

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"Each person carried an invisible burden. The young monk was amazed that he hadn’t seen it before. Everyone walked or rode with their lives on their shoulders, a pack of memories that spilled over with disappointment and sorrow. This one had never recovered from losing a wife in childbirth. That one was afraid of starving. That other one fretted over a runway son who may have died in battle. And always there was the pall of age and sickness, the endless worry over money, the unceasing doubts about the future."

Buddha by Deepak Chopra

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Try the Trio at Café Pavè in Montréal, Canada

I couldn’t get over the photograph of the giant baby head in the middle of Café Pavé. Is it just me or does the baby’s expression resemble Mona Lisa’s? 

It’s probably just me. 

I went to the cafe around 1pm on Friday afternoon, and the venue was half empty. I ordered one of them trios at the counter.

The trio: a sandwich, salad and drink at $12 (including tax). Not bad. 

They gave me my table number and cutlery, and I took a seat.

A few minutes later, my salad arrived. The dressing was surprisingly good. You can substitute the salad for a soup. 

After the salad came the sandwich.

I ordered the Lima: one of their signature rustic farm pork sandwiches. It comes with tomato, cilantro, homemade ranch and hot sauce and it’s served on warm ciabatta bread.

The ingredients were really really fresh. The bread was soft and satisfying, and the meal itself really hit the spot.

Having said that, it’s not the best sandwich I’ve ever had, nor was it a particularly special experience. 

All in all, a great place for a delicious, nutritious, value-for-money lunch.

I’ll be back. 

Café Pavé on Urbanspoon

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Book Review: the Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

When I first saw the spine of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s The Palace of Illusions in the library, I was excited.

Finally, a historical fiction novel about Draupadi, a leading protagonist in the itihāsa (history) epic Mahābhārata. 

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I know the Mahabharata tale intimately. Well, I know it as well as someone who’s read the story many times over and is still amazed by the epic each time she picks it up and decides to flip through its pages. 

It was an ambitious task that Divakaruni undertook and I take my hat off to her. It’s a big and momentous step from her Mistress of Spices days. I’m a fan of many of her other books and I was excited by her foray into the historical fiction genre. 

Unfortunately, I was disappointed. 

Divakaruni rushes through the whole epic. This book tries too much, too hard, too fast. It was reminiscent of an overzealous teenager who doesn’t quite know what it wants to accomplish so it does a bit of everything. Divakaruni rushes through the 1.8 million word Mahabharata without a clear focus or goal.

I get it - it’s a long story. But instead of writing a well-crafted summary, Divakaruni should have narrowed down the scope of her narration to create depth. Since I do have some prior knowledge of the Mahabharata epic, I was unforgiving about the epic flaws in plot and storyline in The Palace of Illusions

Divakaruni’s depictions of Draupadi’s emotions and inner monologue are far too much like that of a modern woman. At times it dragged on like an overtly long rant that just went on and on. Divakaruni applied modern-day ideas and ideals to an ancient world with a different status quo and it just didn’t work for me. 

Instead of trying to encapsulate Draupadi’s whole life into one book, it would have been better - for me anyway - if the story had been split into a series of books or if she had focused the narrative on a few incidents. The bullet-train pace at which this novel is narrated made it hard for me to bond with Draupadi as much as I would have liked. 

Although I commend Divakaruni’s attempt at an epic task, this book just didn’t do it for me. 

Having said that, if I pretended that it was just a piece of literature, and not a retelling of the Mahabharata from Draupadi’s point of view, I probably would have enjoyed it.

But I know better. 

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Slice of Cheese Heaven in Montréal, Canada

I love cheese. I love bread. The idea of the two together is enough to make my mouth water. This afternoon, I finally made the trek down to La Foumagerie, a quaint and cute delicatessen in Westmount. 

There aren’t very many tables or seats at this establishment, but don’t worry if you don’t get a table. Get your meal to go and enjoy it at the park nearby (weather permitting, of course). 

The menu is small, but perfect for a light and delicious lunch. 

After I ordered my sandwich, I took a seat. And then I saw a little something which made me really happy. 

CHEESE. Lots and lots of it. 

And olive oil. 

Although frankly, I was more excited about the cheese.

Within five minutes, my Carpaccio and Parmesan baguette arrived. It’s the best sandwich I’ve had in Montreal.

Enough said. 

I’ll be back.

And next time, I’ll bring my partner in crime with me. 

La Foumagerie on Urbanspoon

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Best tuna sandwich in Montréal, Canada

When I first walked into Exception 2 Mk, all the staff saw me. But no one greeted me, and no one quite cared I was there. Fair enough. The cafe was busy, busy, busy. 

I ended up going to the counter and ordering my food. Pretty bad for a full service cafe. After ordering, I took a seat at one of them bar tables. There were dirty dishes on my right and left. And that’s where they would stay for the full half an hour I would spend here.

I must say, I wasn’t impressed by the lacklustre service or the fact that no one really seemed interested in my business. But such is life.

After a ten minute wait, my baguette arrived. Spicy tuna salad with tomatoes, lettuce on a multigrain baguette.

I’m really really hard to please when it comes to tuna, and this is one of the best tuna sandwiches I’ve ever had in my life. 

It was so good that a week later, I still remember the flavours in my mouth. 

I’ll be back.

Hopefully next time I’ll bother to leave a tip. 

Exception 2 Mk on Urbanspoon

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"Palaces have always fascinated me, even a gloom-filled structure like my father’s that was a fitting carapace for his vengeful obsession. For isn’t that what our homes are ultimately, our fantasies made corporeal, our secret selves exposed? The converse is also true: we grow to become that which we live within. That was one of the reasons why I longed to escape my father’s walls. (But-unknown to me-by the time I left, it was too late. The creed he lived by was already stamped onto my soul.) Often I imagined my own palace, the one I would build someday. What would it be made of? What form would it take?"

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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Best dim sum in Montreal, Canada

I get cravings. I can’t help it. And on Sunday afternoon, I had a craving for dim sum. It’s hard to find places that do it right. 

Enter Sai Gwan. It’s not the best food I’ve ever had, but it is the best dim sum I’ve found in Montreal to date. Seemingly family-run and operated, the young lady who served us spoke Cantonese, Mandarin, French and English - pretty amazing, huh. 

The noodles were on the salty side for me, but yes, all of the dishes were good. I really have no other complaints. 

The next time I get a craving, I’ll definitely be back. 

P.S. Cash only. 

Sai Gwan on Urbanspoon