Avec Bistro

Review

French food is wonderful.

Liberal usage of fats, willingness to eat anything and a proud culinary history combine to make French cooking one of the “Three Grand Cuisines”.

Well, not really.

The official reasons are:

  • Presence of a royal kitchen – To produce a variety of complex dishes to please royalty
  • Long dynastic reign – Ensures the coherence and improvement of recipes over time
  • Availability of a variety of foodstuffs – Self explanatory

For the record, the other two are Chinese and Turkish (who would’ve guessed?).

Anyhow, point is, I love French (and Turkish and Chinese) food, and I actively seek out traditional French restaurants, which brings us to this review.


 

First off, the restaurant itself is very, very nice. Located on the ground floor of some forgettable grey office building, Avec Bistro makes wonderful use of its space.

DSC_0915

You so purdy.

Windows make up half of the walls, and the remaining surfaces are made of glassy black stone, towering curtains and vertical slats of wood. The restaurant is brightly lit, while still maintaining a cozy and intimate atmosphere.

DSC_0916

Seems to be missing something..

Seriously.

The place is pretty.

To add to the atmosphere, the restaurant was..

Completely..

Fucking..

Empty.

DSC_0914

If you look carefully, you can see Caroline losing hope in humanity.

We were there between 5:40 and 7:30 on a Wednesday night and had the honor of being the only customers in the restaurant.

But why?

Maybe the food will give us a clue.


 

The charcuterie was up first and didn’t make any lasting impressions. Not that there was anything glaringly wrong, it just didn’t amaze. The home-cured summer sausage was a bit too gamey for my taste, and the tiny little turd-shaped squirts of pâté didn’t really do it for me either.

DSC_0919

Look at the tiny little turdlets!

Honestly though, a board full of pre-prepared meats, pickles and bread isn’t a good indicator of culinary skill, so let’s talk about the mains.

I ordered the duck breast roulade with leeks, onions, cherry compote,and some black quinoa-like grain (it’s been like 2 months, I forgot…). The duck was cooked perfectly, and was tender, delicately savoury and came out of the pan with perfectly crisp and caramelized skin. However, by the time it got to the table, it was just a little bit soggy. The rest of the dish was well executed and mostly made sense. The tart cherry sauce paired perfectly with the duck, while the leeks and grains tasted like..leeks and grains.

DSC_0926

I think I may have eaten a piece.

My dessert, however, was perfection. The crème brûlée was technically sound, with a light vanilla custard and a crunchy, slightly burnt caramel disc. Topping it off was a delicious sugar cookie and some sort of edible flower. While not the most challenging dessert in terms of technical skill, this was executed perfectly and would give any Parisian bistro a run for its money.

DSC_0928

Yes please.


At the end of the day, the food wasn’t bad at all, the service was friendly and charming and the restaurant was beautifully decorated.

DSC_0920

I’m a bastard and took pictures of other peoples food..

If I wasn’t driving that day, I’m sure I would agree with the wine selection as well.

So what went wrong?

Well I’m not entirely sure.

DSC_0923

Sue me, I couldn’t help it..

If I were to take a guess, it’d be a sad case of trying to fit a classy, French peg into an uncultured, Calgarian hole.

Unfortunately, there just doesn’t seem to be a niche for traditional French food because everyone’s bandwagoning over tiny share plates of gluten free organic Asian-Canadian fusion.

DSC_0927

Thanks to Sean and Caroline for their patience 🙂

The next time you’re looking for a relaxing evening or a quiet, atmospheric date, try Avec Bistro. Sometimes it’s nice eating food you can recognize in a restaurant that doesn’t look like a shitty modern art installation.

Avec Bistro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Meditations and The Marc

Review

I’ve been on a classical history kick lately and finished Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

One of the cornerstones of stoic philosophy, Meditations gives the reader a personal insight and intimate knowledge into the mind of a man who ruled the world.

Well...The western world.

Well…The western world.

Perhaps what makes the book so compelling is the fact that his words still ring true, nearly two thousand years after he put his thoughts to paper.

He talks of mortality.

Of braving the harsh, uncaring universe around you.

And of being good, for no other reason but the fact that you should.

Although he was arguably a god amongst men, he wrote of the insignificance of a single person. Nothing but a speck of dust floating upon the cosmic aether, dwarfed by the space around him, as well as the immensity of time before him and behind him.

Through this insignificance, he found meaning.

And what I took away from this is that I should really write another blog post.


The Marc

The restaurant is located close to the heart of downtown Edmonton, and is tucked away under a nondescript, generic office building.

The interior is bright, spacious, walnut-toned minimalism.

Service during the bustling lunch hour was fast and efficient. Despite some initial confusion (and sloppy logistics) regarding the lunch special, our food came out in a blisteringly fast 10 minutes. The wait staff was knowledgeable and unobtrusive, while still providing quality service.

I had the brisket sandwich and frites, while R ordered the fish special, which happened to be some sort of multi-species monstrosity with aioli and a side salad.

The sandwich was on a simultaneously crisp and chewy bun and was heaped with grainy dijon, smoked brisket and sauerkraut. To be honest, there wasn’t much to screw up here. Meat, combined with sauerkraut, mustard and bread has been around for a while, but I’m happy to report that they didn’t screw it up. The brisket was tender, the dijon was grainy, and the sauerkraut was… sauer.

Uhh.. It tasted better than it looked?

Uhh.. It tasted better than it looked?

The fries were golden, light and crunchy, and came with truffled aioli.

Now if you’ve read my previous entries, you would know that I’m generally not a fan of glorified mayonnaise with fries (or truffles for that matter), but The Marc definitely knows what they’re doing.

Although I suspect a chemically synthesized truffle seasoning, the sauce was fragrant and only a little bit greasy.

The fish cakes were another story…

First of all, canned corn and slivers of fennel does not constitute a “relish” as they advertised.

More importantly, the fish cakes were made of a questionable combination of salmon and/or tuna. The croquette was dry, and the smear of sauce beneath the fish didn’t do much to help.

They were described as:

“Edible, but tasted like a canned tuna patty made by someone’s coked-out, overworked mother as an after school snack”

Not exactly inspiring.

A sad wilted salad took up the rest of the plate.

At least they tried?

At least it’s edible?


We had the beignets for dessert, and found them wonderfully fresh, piping hot, and covered with sugar.

More of a creampuff sans-cream than a fritter, they came with dulce de leche and crème anglaise for dipping.

I personally found the caramel sauce a bit on the sweet side, but the crème anglaise was perfect so no complaints from me.

Like timbits, but actually good.

Like timbits, but actually good.


The Good

  • Fast and unobtrusive service, great for lunch
  • Solid sandwich and frites game
  • Tasteful decor and brightly lit restaurant

The Bad

  • Ran out of non-fish specials by noon
  • Somewhat stagnant menu

The Ugly

  • Why the fuck do restaurants think it’s a good idea to mix different species of fish?
  • This guy:
Wonderful.

Isn’t s(he) cute?

But seriously, I’ve never had a problem with sanitation at The Marc and this is most likely a critter that flew in from outside and didn’t get electrocuted. 10 hours later and I’m not projectile vomiting, so I think it’s safe to say that the kitchen is relatively fly-free.

Oh, and it took me 10 minutes or so to get a picture of that fly.

The things I do…

The Marc on Urbanspoon

Traditional Gender Roles and Beouf Bourguignon

Recipes

Sometimes, when I miss my bus home after work, I’ll wander around the local Safeway for shits and giggles.

I’m really cool.

Can't handle my swag

Can’t handle my swag

Long story short, I impulsively purchased a prime rib roast, and now I have to make something out of it before it goes bad.

But what to make?

It seemed like a pity to toss such a great cut into the oven and dry the ever-loving shit out of it, and cutting the roast into three steaks seemed like too much effort at the time.

So I made beouf bourguignon.

Julia Child’s beouf bourguignon.

My hero.

Can’t handle HER swag.


BEOUF BOURGUIGNON

Total time: 5 hours 30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 3 pounds quality beef (chuck or prime rib preferred)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • Large handful of parsley
  • 6 strips of bacon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1 bottle pinot noir
  • 500 ml beef stock
  • 250 ml chicken stock
  • 1 pound quartered mushrooms
  • 1 cup sliced carrots
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 1.5 pounds of pearl onions
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt/pepper
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar

Start the recipe by writing off the rest of your day.

Seriously.

Clear your schedule and tell your friends to fuck off, this is going to take a while.

Great, now that’s out of the way, it’s time to start.

Because my meat came in a giant chunk with bones attached, I needed to do some last minute ghetto-butchering.

I only took one in-between photo because my hands were greasy :(

I only took one in-between photo because my hands were greasy 😦

Basically, you want your meat in 2 inch by 2 inch cubes. This may sound like fairly large pieces, but trust me, the meat will shrink, and you want the meat to keep its integrity through cooking.

Now, slice the bacon into lardons (small bits) and blanch for 1-2 minutes in boiling water. This apparently gets rid of the smokiness of the bacon and some of the salt as well.

Transfer bacon into skillet and fry until golden brown, fish out the actual bacon and set aside.

Bacon and other things you will eventually need.

Bacon and other things you will eventually need.

Now add the olive oil to the bacon grease and set the heat to medium-high.

Sear the meat until browned.

You can try drying off the meat with a paper towel to avoid splattering, but to be honest, it won’t matter too much.

You will get burning hot oil all over your arms and hands, you just need to deal with it.

This works best in small batches, if the meat is too crowded, it won’t sear properly.

Transfer to a dutch oven/casserole dish afterwards. Toss in cooked bacon bits as well.

Suck it up princess.

Suck it up princess.

Salt/pepper the meat.

Pour out all but 1-2 tablespoons of oil and add the carrots and onions. Sauté until the onions are translucent and the carrots slightly browned.

Now dump in the entire bottle of wine, the beef stock, the herbs, garlic and the tomatoes. Stir up the bottom of the pan to make sure you incorporate all of those brown bits into the solution.

Appetizing, right?

Hard to make this step look good..

Simmer for 2-3 minutes and pour the slurry into the casserole dishes. You want to almost cover the meat.

It gets better.

It gets better.

Cover the dishes with some tinfoil, or just put your dutch oven lid on, and place in an oven at 325 for 2.5 hours.

In case you didn't know what tinfoil looked like.

In case you didn’t know what tinfoil looked like.

30 minutes before you need to take the beef out, peel yourself some pearl onions.

Onions n' stuff.

Onions n’ stuff.

I’m a dirty pleb and could only find boiler onions, so any small onion will do.

Oh, and also, peeling small onions is just the biggest pain. The skin is super thin and breaks off in small pieces.

It took me something like 20 minutes to peel all my onions. And it turns out that onion size has nothing to do with their ability to make you cry like a little bitch.

Right.

Get your onions into 1 inch pieces if you’re using boiler onions, or keep them whole if you have pearl onions.

Now toss 3 tablespoons of butter into a frying pan and get some color on the onions.

Add the cup of chicken stock, sugar, salt and pepper, and simmer at low heat while covered. The onions should absorb all of the liquid, and if not, discard the rest.

By now your meat should come out of the oven.

Pick out all of the meat and set aside.

Yessssssssssss

Yessssssssssss

Strain the liquid into a pot, make sure to press the veggie mush to get all the juices out.

Simmer and reduce the liquid until you have roughly 3 cups of liquid left.

Turn off the heat, grab a spoon, and skim the fat off the top of the liquid.

I managed to get a solid cup and a half of beef oil off mine before giving up.

Save the fat as it has many uses inside and outside the kitchen. Some uses include hardwood polish, hair product and ‘intimate lubricant’.

Pure beef fat. Delicious.

Giggity.

Now take 2 tablespoons of butter, microwave it for 10 seconds to soften, and mix in 3 tablespoons of flour to make some sort of butter paste. This is apparently called beurre manié.

"beurre manié"

“beurre manié”

Whisk that shit into the braising liquid over very low heat to give it the consistency of a milkshake.

A beef milkshake.

A beef milkshake.

2 tablespoons of butter into a frying pan, cook your mushrooms for 3-4 minutes on medium high heat.

Mushroom Mushroom.

Mushroom Mushroom.

Add the meat into the sauce, add cooked mushrooms, add braised onions.

Stir gently (you don’t want to break up the meat) and simmer for 5 minutes.

There you go.

Serve it with whatever the hell you want, I’m not your mother.

I know, it's a Rosé. Don't hurt me.

I know, it’s a Rosé. Don’t hurt me.


How was it?

Fucking amazing.

We had it with some Mediterranean parsley/olive/cheese loaf and it was absolutely wonderful.

This.

This.

The beef practically disintegrated when you touched it and the sauce was rich and velvety. The braised onions helped cut through the richness of the stew with some much needed sweetness.

The only thing that wasn’t amazing were the mushrooms. This might be because I’m not a fan of button mushrooms, but they just didn’t seem to add much.

All in all, absolutely delicious, and a great recipe if you have 6-8 hours of free time on your hands.


Here’s a breakdown of how long everything took.

Trimming meat – 20 minutes

Searing meat – 30 minutes

Braising meat – 2.5 hours

Cooking veggies – 20 minutes

Braising onions – 30 minutes

Veggie prep – 30 minutes

Cooking mushrooms – 5 minutes

Spooning fat – 15 minutes

You get the picture.

Definitely not something to make after you get home from work, unless you’re one of those people who happen to eat dinner at three in the morning.

But how did they do it in France? Or in the 1960’s and 70’s when Julia Child was teaching America how not to be dirty culinary troglodytes?

ME COOK. ME WATCH AMERICAN FOOTBALL.

ME COOK. ME HAVE SHIT FOREIGN POLICY.

Well if you think about it, it has more to do with the social and cultural environment at the time.

This was when one-income families were the norm, and women were generally expected to be home-makers and cooks.

Now as we’ve moved into the 21st century, dual income households are becoming more and more common, and focus has shifted from dishes that required lengthy preparation, to “20-minute meals”.

You motherfucker...

You motherfucker.

While evolving past antiquated gender roles is generally a good thing, I can’t help but think that this is part of the reason why North American children are growing up on Chef Boyardee and frozen chicken tenders, which, in turn, leads to people being ok with shit-tastic restaurant food.

On a similar vein, this is probably one of the reasons why North Americans are becoming increasingly obese (35.7% of American adults and 17% of American children were obese in 2010).

It’s much easier to bring home a bucket of fried chicken and eight cheesecakes than it is to cook.


So there we have it, childhood obesity and culinary in-education fixed in one fell swoop.

All we need is to get women back in the kitchen.

Problem: Solved.

It was a simpler time.


Canard Rôti avec Pommes de Terre Salardaises

Recipes

Pardon my french.

I made duck, potatoes and a salad last weekend and I’m just getting around to writing stupid things about it.

Why am I taking so long to write posts you ask?

Fuck tax season, that’s why.

If anyone from KRP is reading, you have a lovely office and I’m loving every minute I spend there.

Please don't fire me.

Please don’t fire me.


Why duck?

Because duck (like lobster), has an air of sophistication, and is often reserved for celebrations or fancy date nights at overpriced, dimly-lit french restaurants.

But instead of paying 40 dollars a plate for some dirty Quebecois asshole to subtly insult you throughout dinner, why not make duck at home?

This guy is actually a waiter.

This guy is actually a waiter.

Because, to the majority of Canadians, duck is unfamiliar, and unfamiliar things are scary and intimidating.

I grew up eating duck, so I made this duck my bitch.

Take it

Take it


ROAST DUCK WITH ROSEMARY AND HONEY GARLIC SAUCE

Total time: 2 hours 15 minutes

Ingredients:

1 Duck

2 Fistfuls fresh rosemary

1/2 Cup honey

2 Tablespoons light soy sauce

4 Cloves garlic

1 Red onion

1 Knob butter

Salt/Pepper to season

Start off by placing the bird on the cutting board. Grab a pair of eyebrow tweezers or a similar hair-removing implement, and go to town on those gross little white feather stubs still stuck in the skin.

This is kind of disgusting, and since they’re pretty much the same color as the duck, you need to get your face in there and smell the dead bird.

Delicious.

Delicious.

Once you’ve gotten rid of the quills, grab that sack of giblets and toss the neck, heart and gizzard into a saucepan and just let it sit there for a bit while you deal with more pressing matters. Save the liver (big, flat floppy purple bit) for later, shit’s delicious.

With this done, take a very sharp knife and score the skin in a diamond pattern, with lines roughly 1 inch from each other. If you don’t have a sharp knife, take a toothpick (or 5) and viciously jab the skin all over.

I did both.

Chop up some rosemary and rub that into the bird. Salt/pepper liberally. Season the inside as well because why the hell not.

Place on roasting rack on top of an oven-safe container with a lip. This is important.

I didn’t have a roasting rack so I ghetto-rigged a roasting rack out of two cooling racks.

Fuck tha po-leece.

Fuck the police.

Preheat the oven to 320 and toss that sucker in for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, take it out, and carefully pour all of the accumulated grease into a jar (you don’t really need to be careful, grease burns are all the rage this season). Save this for potatoes and other delicious things.

Flip the bird over and put it back in the oven for another 30 minutes.

Round 1.

Round 1.

Flip again after 30 minutes and crank the heat to 400, and roast for another 15 minutes or until the skin is a nice caramel color.

Reverse-Reverse-Duck!

Round 2.

There you go, you made a duck, it’s probably going to be delicious.

Oh my...Wherever did that cutting board and rosemary come from?

Oh my…Wherever did that cutting board and rosemary come from?


You probably want something to go with the duck, so make some sauce.

Turn this stuff into sauce.

Turn this stuff into sauce.

Toss a roughly chopped onion and some rosemary into the pan with the neck and other bird bits. Pour in four cups of water and simmer until you have roughly half a cup of liquid.

Kinda gross looking.

Kinda gross looking.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a pan over medium heat and cook the garlic until it turns golden brown, discard the garlic and add the duck stock. Reduce further at low heat until you have roughly a quarter of a cup of liquid.

I’m going to be honest, I made up the recipe as I went along, so in hindsight, you can do a few more optimal things here. If you want to stick to a more traditional, french duck, add roughly a tablespoon of flour to the butter and cook until all the flour is incorporated (yay, you just made a roux!) and add the stock. Salt+pepper and you’ve made a delicious duck gravy.

Personally, I added soy sauce and honey. The sauce still tasted pretty goddamned good, but it mainly just tasted like soy sauce and honey, which kind of defeats the purpose of cooking down and straining the stock.

Mmmm. Sauce.

Mmmm. Sauce.

Whatever floats your boat man.

Now since we’re not filthy degenerates, we’re going to make some more stuff to eat with the duck.


POTATOES WITH DUCK FAT

Ingredients:

Duck fat

Potatoes

Rosemary

Garlic

Salt/Pepper to taste


Alright people. This shit ain’t difficult.

Slice potatoes into 1/2 inch thick slices.

Wash potatoes 2-3 times in cold water until water runs clear.

Heat up 2-3 tablespoons of duck fat in a frying pan over medium-low heat, and toss the potatoes in. Flip when one side is golden, toss in some garlic and rosemary. Fry other side until golden.

Seriously, they're potatoes, it's not hard.

Seriously, they’re potatoes, it’s not hard.

Rinse and repeat with remaining potatoes.

Toss with salt/pepper.

Yep. Still potatoes.

Yep. Still potatoes.


APPLE AND WALNUT SALAD

Duck is fatty and the potatoes you made with duck fat are pretty greasy too. To fool ourselves to think that we’re eating healthy, we can make a salad!

Granny Smith apples are perfect because they add a nice crunchy texture, while walnuts round it out so the acid from the vinaigrette and apples don’t become too overwhelming.

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this salad at Wendy’s or something, but let’s just pretend I came up with it.

Ingredients:

1 Head lettuce

1 Granny Smith Apple

1/2 Cup shelled walnuts

2 Teaspoons dijon mustard

2 Tablespoons white wine vinegar

2 Tablespoons finely chopped red onion

1/2 Teaspoon salt

5 Tablespoons olive oil (but it’s GOOD fat, so it doesn’t count as calories)

1/2 Teaspoon black pepper


For the culinarily-challenged, I’ll write out instructions on how to make a fucking salad.

Mix the onion, salt, pepper, olive oil, mustard and vinegar in a bowl.

Slowclap

Slow-clap

Julienne apple (chop into tiny little sticks, for all you filthy peasants).

Wash/shred lettuce.

Salad stuff.

Salad stuff.

Now take everything you’ve prepared and dump it all into a salad bowl.

Maybe toss it or something.

I dunno.

Carefully arranging apple on top so the picture doesn't look stupid: Optional.

Carefully arranging apple on top so the picture doesn’t look stupid: Optional.


How did it taste?

As much as I’d like to jerk myself off, I take pride in my journalistic integrity (or whatever the food blogger version of that may be), so I’ll be honest.

The potatoes could only be fried in small batches, so the older potatoes got soggy. I’m pretty sure I used the wrong kind of potato as well, so they didn’t get the nice crispy edges. Not amazing.

I personally over-cooked my duck so I adjusted the recipe for you people so you won’t make the same mistakes. Besides that, the seasoning and the sauce were both on point (if not a little bit confused).

The salad was kick-ass. But then again, I’ve never eaten anything with 5+ tablespoons of olive oil that I didn’t like.

C+

I bring shame to my famiry.