28 June, 2012

Happy Birthday!!

Six days after June 5th, my second brain surgery, I turned 32.  I finally feel like my age matches how old I feel physically; I have felt 32 since I was 15 years old!  We of course didn't "celebrate" on my birth date because it was just too soon to be out and about with 30 staples in the back of my head.  Guh...  Somewhere on my birthday my Mister piped up and said, "We'll go to Montreal for lunch sometime in the next couple of weeks for your birthday."  

I'll bet he thought I wasn't going to remember that...HA!  Of COURSE I'd remember a promise like that.  I went to my "to eat" list and searched through Quebec...  I wanted to see the inside of the Notre-Dame Basilica, so I tried to find something fairly close to our final destination.  Turns out, the place we decided on was just down Rue Notre-Dame from the basilica.  Score!!

A place I had heard of from a friend who is "in the know" about French food told me I just had to try Spanel.  I spent a lot of time deciding that I wasn't going to mess around with fusion places.  When you search for "French" food in Montreal almost every place is some kind of fusion...the most troubling one I came across was Asian-French fusion...blech.   Spanel is straight up French food with a bistro theme.  Simple dishes with clean, rich flavors...that's a REAL representation of France on a plate.

We walked in at 11am making us the first customers of the day, so I took the opportunity to look around and grab some shots before it began to get busy...


It was a nice, cozy little place to be out of the rain.  Lovely art on the walls and inviting lighting...it all made me feel like I could really relax and take my time with my food; that's important.  Our waiter came along with the menus, I was pleasantly surprised.  Their menu online was done completely in French, I'm lucky I can read plenty of it, even if I can't speak it well.  When I talked to the owner, Yann, and asked him what their signature dish was he asserted that everyone comes to Spanel for the crepes.  It had started raining as soon as we hit the city, so no matter what I knew I was having soup with my meal.  I ordered Soupe à l’oignon gratiné, the Sarlat crepe (buckwheat, gluten free crepe filled with shredded duck confit, onions, mushrooms, hash browns fried with duck fat) which came with your choice of soup of the day or a house salad (I chose the house salad with a Balsamic vinaigrette) and then for dessert, I ordered the Normande (Calvados flambées caramelized apples with ice cream) crepe.

I only waited about 10 minutes for my onion gratin.  It was beautiful when it came to the table.  The toasted cheese looked SO inviting!
Soupe à L’Oignon Gratiné

When I stuck my spoon in for some nicely crisped, toasty bread instead my spoon pulled out soggy, engorged sponge; and tons of it.  I couldn't believe how MUCH bread there was.  It was as if they loaded the inside down with croutons rather than just place ONE nicely toasted, small baguette slice on top before toasting it in the oven.  It was disappointing.  I tasted the broth and knew I wouldn't be finishing my crock of soup.  The broth itself was SO sweet...it shocked me.  We had stopped at Tim Horton's before we left for Montreal.  I had a chocolate dip and my Mister had a maple dip...my Mister tried my soup and we both agreed...the gratine was sweeter than our donuts that morning.  I asked Yann about that later when he came by during the entree and he explained to me that most Americans like it that sweet.  I chuckled a bit and told him that Americans don't always know how things should taste and what is "good".  I ran into the same situation in Alabama.  But!...the soup wasn't the whole experience...

I was pretty excited when this beauty showed up at the table.  I leaned into the plate and inhaled....it hit my olfactory in all the right places.  The next thing I did was try each element on its own.  The crepe was fabulously rustic in flavor and cooked to perfection.  The duck didn't taste muddy and there was just the right amount to keep the dish from getting too heavy; very important for a lunch menu!  The mushrooms were sauteed well and FULL of flavor and the caramelized onion brought in just a bit of sweet to this very savory mixture.  The potatoes were a wonderful surprise; being sliced and fried in the duck fat they were crisp and bursting with flavor.  When I took bites of it all together there was quite a nice texture to each bite.  I fell in love with this dish.  I couldn't wait for the dessert!

La Normande
This smelled amazing and looked like a dream on the plate.  I tried everything on its own again; the apples were succulent, the ice cream was a smooth, full bodied vanilla, the whipped cream was made in house and the caramel was rich and velvety.  My crepe on the other hand tasted scorched.  This wasn't a total crisis to me because the crepe wasn't the star of the show with this dish, not to me.  The apples were; they were just on the drunken side, spiced well and cooked just the right amount of time.  I couldn't finish all of my food of course but I was determined to try.  I made it about halfway through this masterpiece before I had to give up the ghost.

On the whole our experience was good.  I'd never had a crepe made properly by a professional French kitchen.  It was quite interesting to experience what a difference there is in crepes made in the states and crepes made in Montreal.  There was a tiny bit of a language barrier being that everyone in the place was Francophone, but they made it work which was admirable.  (My Mister informed me that I sounded like an idiot trying to say the French words with a French accent, thanks honey.)  I was a little put off that my salad never showed up to the table, but because it was free with the crepe entree, it was something I just shrugged off and didn't bother reminding the waiter about.  For 2 soups, 2 entrees and 2 desserts we paid just about 58 dollars and it was well worth it.

If you're ever in Montreal and you're looking for a taste of authentic French bistro fare, stop in at Spanel and have a bite.  You won't be sorry you did!   

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