At Le Passe-Partout, owner James McGuire spent 15 minutes at Dish's lunch table, divulging his source for salad greens during Quebec's endless winter (Belgium) and explaining about regional specialties ("Maple syrup is pretty much it," he said with a sigh).
Lunch traffic having petered out by 2:30, McGuire offered Dish and friend a tour to the top of Mont Royal, the 700-foot summit at the center of the island city. Vistas of gray stretched to the horizon. The city looked -- and was -- flat and depressed; the separationist struggles, according to McGuire, have driven investment elsewhere and left Montreal drifting in economic limbo.
At night things didn't seem quite so bleak, and at the fashionable Bistro Continental ("cuisine americain") the crowd was dense and voluble. The maitre d', having seated Dish's party, soon returned, speaking rapid French and gesturing mysteriously. In a moment he stalked off again, apparently in defeat, only to reappear with a trumpet-shaped shot glass filled with a clear liquid.
"Champagne?" Dish asked hopefully.
"Aquavit, aquavit," he said.
"Ah." Dish had heard of -- though never tasted -- aquavit, and since it was flattering to be singled out, it was only polite to drain the little glass, wondering all the while if the maitre d' had mistaken Dish for a food writer from one of the local papers (though surely not from Voir, the free French-language weekly).
For the record: Aquavit is rich, clean, peppery. And Montreal cooking, while expert and ethnically various, is nothing like cooking is here. One of the best aspects of eating in other cities is to see how distinctive is the cuisine of San Francisco and California. There is a food style here -- a rare thing in North America.
Queen of Tarts
More landings on that beachhead of bad food, the Castro: Tom Peasant Pies, the Noe Valley purveyor of those delicious, healthy little tarts (savory and sweet), opened its new outlet at 4117 18th St., near Castro, last week. "There is a growing market for food that's healthy and delicious," co-owner and chef Gerard Long says tactfully of his new venture. (Dish loves the pies, especially the calamari, but they're on the small side, so ordering two or three per person isn't excessive.)
And opening Saturday, March 30, just around the corner on Castro: Ultimate Yogurt & More. It'll be selling smoothies, fresh juices, nonfat yogurt, and sandwiches. The first day's profits will be donated to Project Open Hand.
By Paul Reidinger