Archive | June, 2011

La Pendulerie, land of clocks and chocolate

18 Jun

On Montreal’s Crescent Street, you drift in and out of worlds in minutes. Traditional Irish pubs jostle with trendy nail bars. Fashion houses rest atop narrow staircases. My most recent discovery is a magical place that transforms the gentle slope north of de Maisonneuve into the Swiss Alps through a disarming combination of chocolate, cuckoo clocks, and flag-clad patio umbrellas.

La Pendulerie Sign

At La Pendulerie, choose from one of 40 varieties of hot chocolate or milkshake, ranging from milk to dark, including flavours such as hazelnut and orange. If you stay awhile, you’ll find yourself sipping your selection bemusedly to the ticking of nearby cuckoo clocks as tiny painted wooden figurines emerge at regular intervals and spin around to choruses of Edelweiss.

Hot Chocolate

On my first visit, I thought it best to start at the mid-point with one of the bittersweet varieties. I’ve since worked my way up to the noir-de-noir, an 84% cocoa concoction in hot chocolate form that witnesses will tell you made me weak in the knees and inappropriately flushed in public. I recently sampled my first milkshake version, wisely opting for mint chocolate, which was served with a rolled wafer cookie.

Milkshakes

Perhaps the most charming aspect of La Pendulerie is that every visitor notices something different, from the imported chocolate confections nestled in the store window to the model cars tucked away in the back of the shop beyond the Edelweiss clocks.

La Pendulerie Store Window

Whatever the weather, I suggest you make your way down to 2080 Crescent Street and indulge in a multi-sensory treat that will make you forget all of your first world problems.

P.S. There are truffles.

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Restos + shops: double the foodie goodness

3 Jun

An article in the Globe and Mail beat me to this blog post: they wrote about the opening of Murray’s Market, three blocks from my house. Murray’s Market is a specialty food store, and sibling to the restaurant Murray’s Bistro.

It’s been said that Ottawa is a dull, uninspiring city, lacking heart (or culture, or beauty, or fun, depending on who you ask). Ottawa gets a really bad rap, for food and, well, for lots of things. Heck, on Monday, the area right by Murray’s Market was called tawdry.

Here’s what I think. While there is an element of truth in the stereotype, Ottawa is mostly just difficult to get to know: it’s like that shy girl at a party who looks kind of weird but turns out to become a good friend.

When it comes to food and bevvies, Ottawa is heating up: we have a few interesting chefs doing some really innovative work, and we have spawned our own local coffee chain, but I find we are still lacking great independent, simple lunch spots. I have written here previously of my love of the sandwich; things are improving in Ottawa in this department, too (with Ottawa magazine even featuring a sandwich smackdown) but it’s like sticking one sandbag in the Montérégie right now: it’s just not going to cut it. Ottawa is geographically … I believe the scientific term is …. massive, and we could gobble up lunch spots like there’s no tomorrow.

So that’s why, when I walked into Murray’s Market, I was thrilled. They sell cheese, and lots of meaty sandwiches, natch, but also boxed salads, home-made grilled cheese, muffins, cookies and local produce. Smart move!

One thing I especially love is their hand-painted wall map, illustrating with string and nails where their food comes from:

What a great idea, and what a creative way to represent this!

While I think Murray’s is  pretty cool, a quote from the Globe (“And from a retail perspective, you get that up-sell of people who are sitting in your restaurant or your bistro, going ‘Oh my God, lobster oil. Where in the world do I get that?’ ”) made me a little erm, vomitous (maybe it was the use of the term up-sell? Are my reluctant-capitalist roots showing?)

For a bit more background, the Globe mentions that “food trend forecaster Andrew Freeman is predicting the mixed business model will become one of the top 10 restaurant trends for 2011.” Examples include EatalyToronto’s Lakeview Storehouse, and Edible Canada (which expanded the other way, but to the same general end).

I appreciate the efforts of many retailers and restaurants to support local foods (I know one of the farmers who supplies for Murray’s Market, in fact), and I am so all over Murray’s Market (like a fruit fly to a glass of wine!) I was thinking a bit, though, (always dangerous) about this up-sell phenomenon. I recently finished reading The Authenticity Hoax, by Andrew Potter, and had local and organic food trends in mind when visiting the Market. Potter’s book, which is all about our quest for the “authentic” experience and the “authentic” life, contends that regardless of the science, many people prefer organic because of “framing effects,” meaning the fact that we know we are eating organic frames the experience in a way that makes it more satisfying for us.

Potter also contends that “the environmental benefits of local farming are actually highly overstated. […] In the end, moving locally grown produce around in small bundles […] is far more wasteful than putting thousands of tons of bananas on a container ship.”

Potter’s whole premise is that we are looking for sources of distinction in our lifestyle choices; moving the food discourse from organic to local was a way of “ratcheting up the stakes” for society: a kind of culinary one-upmanship in which “the shame of actually buying stuff on the open market” will eventually, in extreme cases, be “left for the lesser folks.” In case you think he’s exaggerating, think about the 100-mile diet craze, The Compact, or No Impact Man.

[Incidentally, I once did a display at work called “The 100-mile (book) diet,” which didn’t get too much attention; I guess reading locally just isn’t as cool as eating locally. Locally-sourced Canlit just doesn’t have quite the same cachet as locally-sourced carrots? Or it just doesn’t make us feel as virtuous?]

A recent article on the Sojourners Magazine blog addressed organic and local food as well, Author Joennifer Kottler announced she was planning to make some changes to her grocery store trips, including buying food close to its source and as close to its natural state as possible. She mentions friends who have purchased shares in Community Supported Agriculture, again, arguing as people do about similar programs in Canada, that this helps keep “fresh food more affordable.” Kottler does acknowledge that these options are not always available: “Please know I am very aware that the ability to make these choices is a privilege I have. And know at the same time that I am advocating for policies that will permit more of us to do the same — particularly folks who live in communities where food choices, especially fresh food choices, are severely limited.”

So, where am I going here? Murray’s is a great place, and I’m so glad it’s in my neighbourhood, offering more choice and variety to consumers, and supported by knowledgable, creative staff. I’m happy to have the privilege of choice.

Really, what I want to ask is, how do you feel about some of the larger issues at play here? What do you think about the organic and local food movements? Do you buy organic or local for all or certain products, and why or why not? What do you think about restaurants opening foodie shops?