by Alice Levitt
1439 St-Mathieu, Montréal, Québec, (514) 935-7779
The over-the-top cheerful family running the joint took time out from doing tai chi along with the TV to tell me that they come from the northeast of China. Their cuisine, however, spans the regions. I ordered almost entirely from the menu of 18 different skewers, which seemed to have a strong Xinjiang influence. Uyghur food has some of my favorite flavor profiles, a mix of tastes that I generally associate with India, China and Russia, all mixed together. The brochette of beef ($1.25) called to mind a tastier version of my father's interpretation of his Ural-dwelling grandmother's shashlik recipe.
Its chewy, herbal meatiness was quickly eclipsed by my first taste of the lamb brochette ($1.49). I can't stop thinking about the tender, juicy, and yes, fatty little tidbits crammed onto the metal skewers. The delightfully cooked meat was rubbed in cumin, tiny flecks of hot pepper and lots of chili powder. "This is how all food should taste," I blurted, as I dipped the meat in ground coriander. The flavor was equally ideal on the slightly milder lamb ribs ($1.59). Each bite-sized piece of bone was part melting meat, part crisp fat.
What's a Memorial Day weekend without corn [$2]? Whole cobs burst sweet juice through lines of smoky char that blackened my lips. Though the chicken brochettes lacked personality, the only true disappointment was an order of "Steam bun brochette." I expected dough filled with pork. What I got was two pieces of toast, spread with hoisin sauce. Oh well, at $1, I could afford the miscalculation. I was comforted by a plate of slightly soupy dumplings, with big, bold flavors of pork and cabbage and lots of salt ($6.99).
The meal ended with a stick of grilled garlic, drizzled with hoisin. The slightly sweet, round flavor made an oddly appropriate dessert, whose memory stayed pleasantly on my tongue the rest of the long day. That night, following an ample meal of walnut and powdered sugar-topped egg noodles, chicken paprikas and sauerbraten at Café Rococo, I could taste the garlic. If I think hard, I still can, and my body seizes with desire for smoky, cumin-crusted lamb kebabs.