Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mojitos, tapas and good times @ Pica Pica

Last Wednesday, two of my good friends and I decided to meet up and have a nice supper to catch up. Of course, I never go to any restaurant anymore without some form of a group discount in hand. This time, it was Groupon that offered a 50% discount at Pica Pica, a spanish restaurant in the Gay Village. I was curious about their famous mojitos and my friends has never had spanish food before so Pica Pica seems like the right choice, especially with a great discount like that! (My friend J immediately thought of Pikachu when he first heard the name of the restaurant haha)

I've always loved the Gay Village. I love its liveliness and eccentricity. I love the buildings with the rustic exterior but modern and hip interior. I love the restaurants (although they are slightly overpriced). What I love the most is when I'm there, I am reminded how lucky I am to live a city that's so open-minded and liberal. Thank God I don't live in those southern conservative US states. I can't believe they haven't legalize gay marriage yet. God, they still live in the 1800s. Anyways, rant over.

Oh and I apologize for the grainy pictures. I decided against using the flash because I didn't want to bother the other diners with small bursts of light every other minute. The lighting was pretty dim in the restaurant, so that wasn't the brightest idea (no pun intended). Next time, I'll just be inconsiderate and use the flash :)


Ok, back to Pica Pica. The decor was nice. The walls were painted red and the seats/benches were black - very spanish-y. The service was impeccable. Our waiter was friendly and efficient. When we told him it was our first time here, he proceeded to describe the menu and recommended some dishes that were bestsellers. He brought warm, freshly baked bread after we ordered.

The waiter highly recommended the cucumber mojito, which I ended up ordering. Yummm - It was freshness in a glass. I usually hate fresh mint (nothing against mint chocolate though hehe), but this was really good. It reminded me of the vietnamese cabbage salad goi. The waiter explained that their mojitos are renowned because they don't use artificial flavors and always use fresh fruit/cucumber.

J ordered a mango mojito (which was equally tasty and fresh. I love fruity drinks!) and M had a raspberry daiquiri. All 3 drinks were 8.25$ each.


We started with Las ensaladas. The first was the Pica Pica - beet salad with goat cheese served on a nest of baby spinach with balsamic vinaigrette (12$). We reckoned that since this dish was named after the restaurant, it must be good. While it was not extraordinary, it wasn't disappointing. I've only tried beets once before and didn't like it then. But I enjoyed these marinated beets. The goat cheese was served on bread and was excellent. We had a good laugh when I told my friends that the taste of yellow herbs reminded me of my childhood and M remarked that they taste exactly like grass. Yeah, I guess I ate a lot of grass when I was a kid. :) (M knows this because she ate a lot of grass in her day too haha).

The second salad was Mango y chichazon de cerdo - mango julienne, crispy pork, peanuts, coriander and lime juice (9$). It was too spicy for my taste. My fellow diners agreed. My mom makes a kickass mango salad and this really pales in comparison.

Dattes californiennes - Stuffed dates with garlic, wrapped with bacon and served with teriyaki sauce (7$) I hate dates. But not these dates! Wrap anything in bacon and it's good. And dip that bacon-wrapped anything in a sweet sauce and it's amazing! That's a culinary rule. This was without doubt the best tapas dish of the evening! The sweet flavors of the dates and the sauce worked well with the saltiness of the bacon.

Pernil el caribe - roasted pork shoulder, Caribbean style, served on crispy wonton sheets (9$). Tasted good, but wasn't very special.

Relleno de mar - seafood au gratin served on a shell (14$). The most disappointing dish of the evening (and most expensive too!) The scallops and shrimps were microscopic and were swimming in a very rich cream sauce. It tasted like the coquille st-jacques (without the mashed potatoes) that you can get at buffet lines...but worse. Enough said.

Tapas de esparragos - asparagus au gratin with parmigiano reggiano (9$). Although the asparagus were slightly overcooked, this dish redeemed itselft with the sauce which was simply delicious. Overall, a tasty and unique dish.

The waiter wanted to leave the 2 best dishes for last. One of them was the Condornices caramelisados - Marinated and caramelized quail Royal (9$). While M was agonizing over eating such a small bird and promising herself this will be the last time she will eat a quail, I devoured it without having a second thought haha. It was delicious and perfectly marinated.

Gambas Bravas - shrimps with sofrito sauce (10$). "The best shrimps in the world" according to the waiter. The shrimps were breaded and fried and then coated by what seems like a mayo-chili sauce. They're not really the best shrimps in the world, but still damn good.


Although at this point, we were all ready to burst, M decided to give in to the temptation of a orange-flavored Creme brulee (around 6$) of which I had 1 2 3 4 spoonfuls. It was really the perfect ending to a delightful meal.

I had a great evening at Pica Pica; you can't go wrong with tasty tapas, fresh mojitos and great company. :) I will definitely be back again soon for another dose of bacon-dates deliciousness.

Food: 4.2/5
Service: 4.8/5
Setting: 4.5/5
Value: 4/5
Overall: 4.3/5

1310, Boulevard Maisonneuve Est
Montréal, QC H2L 2A5
(514) 658-2884

Pica Pica on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Valentine's Day @ Grill City Steakhouse

A few weeks ago, there was a great deal on Tuango for Grill City Steakhouse (25$ for 50$ of food!). After looking it up on restomontreal and reading all the rave reviews, I decided to buy 2 coupons and bring my boyfriend there for a romantic Valentine's day supper. Armed with coupons worth 100$ of food, we were prepared to pig out shamelessly.

I had very high expectations for this restaurant and it still managed to surpass them immensely. The food was impeccable; it looked and tasted amazing!

We had made online reservations because well, it was Valentine's Day. The restaurant recommends diners to make reservations on fridays, saturdays and sundays. When we went inside, we could see why; the restaurant was tiny by steakhouse standards. However, the romantic ambiance was ideal for a Valentine's Day supper. The decor was very nice; it had a modern and chic feel to it. The restaurant has a parking area which is always a plus.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted and seated promptly. The menu was explained and after we ordered, the waiter brought a basket of fresh bread and butter. The bread was really good; it was warm and crunchy without being hard. I always judge a restaurant by the bread it serves. When they bring out cold or stale bread, your dining experience starts on a sour note and no matter how good the following dishes are, your meal is basically ruined. Yes, I take my (free) bread seriously. As it turns out in this case, the bread was only the tip of the iceberg.

All the main dishes are served with the soup of the day. On that particular day, it was a cream of chicken and lemon. It was an average-tasting soup. Nothing special, but not bad neither. Sorry for the crappy picture - we were hungry and didn't take the time to take a nice picture.

For the appetizer, I took the crab cakes garnished with watercress and served with a mustard-cream sauce (10$). This is my first time trying out crab cakes! They were fantastic! Loved them! I have been wanting to try crab cakes for a while (I think it was after seeing them on an episode of Top Chef) and these did not disappoint at all. Will definitely order them more often in restaurants. Somehow, they are pretty hard to come by in Montreal. I haven't seen them often in menus.

My boyfriend ordered the seared scallops with roasted bell pepper sauce (10$). The scallops were cooked perfectly and the sauce was heavenly. If I was by myself, I would literally lick the sauce off the plate. But I didn't. Because I wasn't alone. haha. The sauce didn't really taste like roasted peppers, more like tomatoes with...something. I guess that something is roasted peppers! :)

For the main course, I took the filet mignon (8oz) served with Yukon puree, vegetables and peppercorn sauce (30$). Let me tell you, the star of this dish is not the filet mignon, but the Yukon puree! It was creamy, smooth and delighted my taste buds! It might sound weird since these are mashed potatoes we are talking about, but I literally had feelings of euphoria when I ate this. lol. On another note, the filet mignon, although less tantalizing, was nonetheless delicious. I read on restomontreal that they tend to overcook the meat so instead of ordering the meat cooked medium like I normally do, I asked for medium-rare and they came out perfect. I wasn't crazy about the sauce though. I just didn't like the taste and would prefer it to be thicker.

My boyfriend scanned the menu for the dish that had the biggest piece of meat and chose the rib steak (16oz) with mushrooms and fries (29$) with a side of cognac peppercorn sauce (3$ additional). His first choice was the rosbif, but it was only served on the weekends. So there you go: manly meal = big piece of huge slab fatty meat + mountain of fries. He enjoyed his meal, although he preferred my filet mignon. He didn't care for the peppercorn sauce neither.

For dessert, I ordered the chocolate souffle with seasonal fruits and vanilla ice cream (6$). I'm a chocolate addict so obviously, I loved this. The one flaw was that by the time it was served to me, it isn't really a souffle anymore. It kind of ...deflated. No matter, it didn't affect the taste, so I'm not gonna complain.

creme-brulee-seasonal fruits
My boyfriend chose the creme brulee with seasonal fruits (6$). Whenever I eat a creme brulee, I think of the movie Le Fabuleux Destin D'Amélie Poulain when she mentions that she loves cracking the surface of a creme brulee with the back of a spoon. It is actually my favorite thing to do when I eat a creme brulee. Unfortunately, it was the only thing I enjoyed doing to this one. The taste of alcohol was too strong and overpowering. I could barely taste the vanilla and caramel.

One huge downside to our dining experience was the service (or rather, lack thereof). We came in at 6:30PM and left at 9:30PM! And it's not like we are slow eaters. There were only 2 waiters for the whole restaurant and one of them worked mostly at the bar. The service was fairly quick at the beginning of the meal, but when the crowd came in around 7-7:30PM, it went downhill. It took forever for them to bring our dishes and took forever to take them away once we are done. When came the time to order our desserts, we literally had to wave for the servers to notice us because saying a simple "Excuse me?" was not enough. At the end of our meal, our server came to apologize for the bad service and explained that they were one server short and a nutshell, that their service is usually not this crappy. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Even though the evening's service left to be desired, I will definitely go back to Grill City Steakhouse. The food was delicious and the quality of the food outstanding. Considering what you get, the prices are extremely fair. It is undeniably the best steakhouse I've been to so far. I just hope the servers will redeem themselves next time!

Food: 4.8/5
Service: 2/5
Setting: 5/5
Value: 5/5
Overall: 4.3/5

500, boul. Henri-Bourassa E.
Montreal, Qc H3L 1C6
(514) 387-2828

Beautiful flowers that Y bought for me. He usually buys me lilies because they are my favorite, but this is a nice change! And I bought him the little monkey because it reminded me of him. hehe. Hope you had a nice Valentine's Day!
Grill City Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sister sleepover = junk food galore + cupcake madness!


Gah! I haven't been able to blog as much because my 1-month vacation/interview period was officially over Sunday. And now, I'm back in the classroom. To develop my critical thinking, communication skills and learn about...epidemiology *dies* God, I hate statistics. Anyhoo, I've been grumpy as hell every morning for the last few days because I have to take the bus again. Every morning it's late. And every morning, there's always a million people in the bus. And when it's time to go back home, it's the same friggin' thing again. The bus is late and people are shoving their arms/legs/backpacks/purses/babies into your face. And then they fall on you because they think they can defy kinetic principles and not hold on to the pole. Unless you're Houdini and can levitate, put down your Iphone and hold on to the goddamn pole! Arg, I HATE buses! *ok, rant over*

On happier note, my sister came for a sleepover last weekend. :) While I love having her over, feeding her is a pain in the butt. First off, she is allergic to milk and milk products. So anything with cream, cheese, chocolate and the likes is a no-no. And to make matters worse, she is without doubt the pickier eater in the world! I can count the things she likes on my fingers. So imagine my despair at the prospect of cooking for her for two whole days. I don't want to bring her to the restaurant because I'm stubborn and refuse to give in to her fussiness. :)

Well, like any teenager, she loves junk food and fried food. So I thought of making chicken burgers with homemade fries. And to complete the already high-fat/calorie supper, we both decided to make valentine's day themed cupcakes! Who can say no to cupcakes?! (Actually, my thighs screamed "NOOO!", but my tummy won the always).


For me and the boyfriend who's getting fatter every day: Chicken burger with mayo, mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce with a side of baked sweet potatoes fries.
For my sister: Same minus the cheese and tomatoes with a side of homemade fries. (Not pictured because she didn't want to stop eating for me to take a picture).

The burger came out great! The chicken was moist and tender. It was so easy to make, it's an embarrassment. Here's what you need to do: Pound a chicken breast until it is about 1/2" thick. Dip it in a beaten egg and then coat it with breadcrumbs. Warm oil over medium-high heat and fry the chicken until it's golden. Make sure it's cooked by cutting into chicken. Ta-da, done! You can season your breadcrumbs however you like, with parmesan, dried herbs, garlic or onion powder. I used Pastello italian seasoned breadcrumbs and added dried oregano, basil and garlic powder.

The sweet potato fries, however, were a complete flop. They were soggy and limp. And looked oh-so-sad. I didn't even have the heart to take a picture of them. My sister's fries were really crispy though. I think I'll fry the sweet potatoes next time.


This is actually the first time that I take the time to decorate cupcakes. This must be blasphemy for all the cupcakes fanatics out there lol. I usually just put frosting on the cupcakes and well, eat it. It's simple and the quickest way to my stomach. But after today, I think I'll always decorate them from now on. It's so much fun and cute to look at. And it's fun to eat them too! The cupcake and frosting tasted great together.

Dark chocolate cupcakes
Recipe from
Makes 18 cupcakes

2 cups boiling water
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
2 1/4 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2. Grease 3 - 9 inch round cake pans. In medium bowl, pour boiling water over cocoa, and whisk until smooth. Let mixture cool. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; set aside.
3. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at time, then stir in vanilla. Add the flour mixture alternately with the cocoa mixture. Spread batter evenly between the 3 prepared pans.
4. Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Allow to cool.


White frosting
For 18 cupcakes

1/2 cup shortening
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons warm water
1 (16 ounce) package confectioners' sugar

In a large bowl, combine shortening, salt, vanilla, water and confectioners' sugar. Beat until light and fluffy.


No milk products in the frosting! There was some butter in the cupcakes, but it seems my sister is only allergic to uncooked butter...weird. I love love love the piggy cupcake that my sister made! It's so cute and it matches my blog hehe.

I had so much fun cooking with my sister. The funny thing is, if you take a look at us individually, we're pretty normal and we're even sometimes labeled as "serious" girls, but when we're together, we become out-of-control cray-zee! We laugh, we dance and we sing like nobody's business. And that's why I love my sister to pieces. <3

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lyla aka Vietnamese Grill Heaven


Lyla is my family's go-to restaurant when we are craving pho or grilled meat. Located on Jean-Talon, near Park metro, you can find plenty of parking spaces in front of the restaurant (although you need to pay for the parking meter) or in the small side streets. Its modern decor and cleanliness sets it apart from most vietnamese pho restaurants. At Lyla, you don't need to wipe your chopsticks and spoon before using them. :)

We tried out the restaurant when it first opened 8 years ago, it received the nod of approval from my mother (who is very picky about vietnamese food) and we have been going there ever since. The pho is quite tasty, but as the years went by, the portion has been getting smaller and smaller. A large bowl doesn't quite fill me up anymore. How do I satisfy my huge appetite? Two words: Grilled meat! Whether you choose chicken, beef or pork, they are seasoned and grilled to perfection and served with nuoc mam (vietnamese fish sauce), fresh salad and your choice of vermicelli or rice.

Since we haven't been to Lyla for a while, my dad, sister, boyfriend and I decided to go to the there for supper last Thursday. My mom has to work and couldn't join us unfortunately. :(


My dad, boyfriend and I all ordered the bun thit nuong cha gio (vermicelli with grilled pork and spring roll). It was delicious! The spring roll was crispy and flavorful.


My sister took a combo (as she always does, the pig! lol). It came with a small bowl of pho (not pictured) and a plate of grilled chicken with rice and a spring roll. I tasted this dish in the past and let me tell you, it is de-lec-table!


My father and boyfriend each ordered a ca phe sua da (vietnamese iced coffee). It is coffee brewed with a small metal drip filter, then mixed with sweetened condensed milk and poured over ice. This one was sweeter than what I'm used to, but since I LOVE sweet drinks/desserts, I didn't mind it at all.


I kept the best for last. Every time I go to Lyla, I HAVE to order this drink: sinh to sau rieng (durian smoothie). I don't care what people say, I think durians smell (and taste) delicious! If you have never tried durian, you are missing out on A LOT! Lyla uses real durian in their smoothies. I know because the whole restaurant smells when they make my smoothie! haha. If you find the smell of durian off-putting, the smoothies also come in other exotic flavors: jack fruit, sour sop and other I can't remember.

Lyla offers an array of flavorful and authentic vietnamese dishes and it will remain a staple among my family for many years to come. I know I will always come back for the durian smoothie! :)

Food: 4.5/5
Service: 3.5/5
Setting: 4.5/5
Value: 4/5
Overall: 4.2/5

405 Jean-Talon W.
Montreal, Qc H3N 1P9
(514) 272-8332

Lyla on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I ♥ Homesense + Winners

Since I started my blog, I discovered how important it is to take beautiful pictures of food. After all, you eat with your eyes first. Thanks to my recent purchase of a Canon G10 camera (that I absolutely adore!), I have the right equipment for stunning photos. What I need is new dinnerware to showcase my food on. Most of our dishes are hands-me-downs from my boyfriend's mother and aunt and I realized that taking pictures of non-asian food (or any type of food really!) on asian style plates just doesn't work. So up until now, my meals were always presented on the same 2 dishes...bought at the dollar store no less lol.

Since we seriously needed to replace all these old dishes and I needed new plates for my blog pictures, I've been on dinnerware shopping sprees for the last week. I went to Pier 1 Import, Benix, Bowring, Déco Découverte and The Bay...all in vain. The dishes were either too expensive, too plain or too heavy. (I hate heavy dishes because they're a pain to wash). Then, I remembered I had a 40$ giftcard from Winners (a gift from my lovely ex-boss, Maria. Thanks Maria!) so I decided to make a quick visit to the downtown Winners. And I hit the jackpot! Beautiful stuff for amazing prices! Two days later, I went to the Homesense/Winners closer to my place and I hit an ever bigger jackpot! Let me share my haul with you...


Clockwise, starting from bottom left: Elongated bowl with weird/modern shape, Winners 6.99$ each - Rectangular plate, Homesense 6.99$ each - Set of 4 "cereal bowls". Apparently some people eat their cereals in these teeny weeny bowls. Not me. I'll use them as rice bowls. Winners 9.99$ for the set - Big ass bowls for pho (vietnamese soup) for the boyfriend, Homesense 5.99$ each - Plates and bowls with beautiful flower patterns, Homesense on sale 3.00$ each.


I saw this and couldn't resist. A heart shaped kitchen towels hanger? I HAD to have it. Homesense 3.99$

bed 2bed6

Came across this gorgeous bedding set at Homesense! We have been looking for a nice bedding set since we moved in. The patterns always looked too plain or too complex, too childish or too old-lady like, too masculine or too feminine, too dark or too colorful...Well, we were never satisfied...until now. I thought it looked a bit feminine but my boyfriend loves it, so I'm not gonna complain! It includes a comforter, a bedskirt and 2 pillowcases AND it was on SALE for 79.99$ AND it matches our bedroom walls! It was meant to be :)

So, what are you waiting for? Run to the Winners near you! haha. I sound like a commercial. Yes, I loooove Winners and Homesense.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Shrimp stuffed tofu with black bean sauce


I know I'm 4 days late, but...
Happy Chinese New Year!

And to celebrate the new year, I wanted to make a chinese dish. Well...not really. hehe. I've been seriously craving chinese food these past few days, especially shrimp stuffed tofu. What you need to know is, I always order the same three dishes when I go to chinese restaurants: wonton soup, cantonese chow mein and shrimp stuffed tofu with black bean sauce. I seldom deviate from these dishes. It may seem dull and monotonous on my part, but I can't help it. I always tell myself that I need to try new stuff, but when I'm staring at the menu and see the words "chow mein", all my brain (and tummy) is thinking is: "I must have that NOW!" lol. However, I've never been entirely satisfied with the shrimp stuffed tofu (and I've tried it at many restaurants). The shrimp filling doesn't taste much like shrimps. It seems as if the shrimp paste is made of 10% shrimps and 90% of a cheaper filler flour or something. Like they say, if you want a thing done well, do it yourself. So that's what I did! It came out great! It's awesome that the shrimp filling actually taste like shrimps! Now that I won't order this dish at the restaurant anymore, maybe it's time to choose a new favorite dish? ;)

In other news, I've been incredibly busy these past few days (which explains the lack of blog updates). Last Thursday, I had my third and last residency interview. Actually, it was during Chinese New Year! All three of my interviews went surprisingly well. I was calm, composed and charming. haha. I feel so relieved that they're finished though. Now I can relax, take it easy and continue cooking! :)

Shrimp stuffed tofu with black bean sauce
Serves 4

6 blocks of fried firm tofu (each block roughly 2″x 2″x 1.5″)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Shrimp filling:
12 medium sized raw shrimps (shells and tails removed and deveined), minced
1/4 cup chicken breast, minced
1 scallion, chopped, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch or tapioca starch
1 teaspoon sugar

Black bean sauce:
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon fermented black bean paste (I used Lee Kum Kee black bean and garlic sauce)

Tip: If you decide to fry the tofu yourself, you will want to remove some of the water from the tofu before frying to avoid the oil from spattering. Lay out a thick layer of newspaper. Over the newspapers, place a layer of paper towels. Line the tofu pieces on the paper towel and finally, lay a paper towel on top of the tofu. Wait 15 minutes for the newspaper to absorb the water. Then the tofu is ready to be deep fried in vegetable oil.

1. In a medium sized bowl, mix together shrimp, chicken, 1/2 of the scallion, soy sauce, oyster sauce, cornstarch, sesame oil, salt, and sugar. Set aside.


2. Cut tofu blocks diagonally to form triangles. Scoop some tofu out of the center with a spoon to form a pocket. Reserve scooped out tofu for future use.
3. Pack shrimp mixture into tofu.



4. Heat oil in a large pan. Place each piece shrimp side down and over medium heat, cook until shrimp mixture is golden. Turn tofu onto one of its triangular sides. Add water, fermented bean paste, sugar and soy sauce in pan. Bring sauce to a boil, then turn down heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer for 4 minutes.
5. Turn tofu pieces over on other side and simmer for another 4 minutes or until cooked through. (Take a peek at the color of the shrimp through the sides.) Transfer tofu pieces onto a plate, leaving the sauce in the pan.
6. In a small bowl, dilute the cornstarch in 1/3 cup of cold water. Add cornstarch mixture to sauce to thicken it. Stir until you have a thick gravy-like consistency. Add remaining scallion. Pour sauce over tofu pieces. Serve with steamed jasmine rice.



Bon appetit!