It's been a while since I've shared cheap-eats picks from Montréal. Following a weekend in the city, I'm ready to reveal a double dose of deliciousness from a very full Sunday of eating. And, of course, both of my recommendations have no equivalent in the Green Mountains.
Soeul Chako, 1824 rue St-Catherine Ouest, Montréal, QC, 514-989-8886
Seoul Chako is downtown's latest addition to the world of all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue.
Sunday at noon, the restaurant, sister to all-you-can-eat Crescent Sushi, was packed with large parties grilling up meats, downing sushi and slurping soup for a single price of $14.99. On weekdays, lunch is a dollar less. Dinner brings more choices and a higher price — $21.99 on weekdays and $23.99 during the weekend.
Guests are presented with a numbered menu and a pile of sheets on which to scribble their choices. Getting a server to take the filled sheets was a struggle, however. And waiting for the food to come was even more difficult. I ordered hardly any cooked food, but items still dribbled in after 20 to 30 minutes.
The spicy gam ja tang soup was delicious, one of the tastiest versions I've had in Montréal, if sorely lacking in meat. Typically this soup comes with a pork neck bone floating in it, but this one didn't; it was far too tiny. However, the single strand of sesame-flavored pork in this potato-filled potage was a crown jewel.
Fiery flavors made another appearance in the spicy salmon rolls. The fish was not mixed with red mayo. This was powerful, nose-burning Sriracha. Both the salmon and the cucumber roll were of surprisingly high quality for an all-you-can-eat restaurant.
But I was there for bulgogi. The classic beef version was beautifully flavored. The sweet soy and ginger marinade seeped just enough fatty, addictive juice onto my bowl of rice. There are few pleasures as great as bulgogi hot off the grill, combined with rice soaking up every bit of its grease.
Other meats weren't quite as winning, but still tasty. The daeji bulgogi, or spicy pork, didn't have the spicy-sweet slap of gochujang I look for, but thick chunks of chicken were nicely dotted with pepper flakes.
After second orders of meat and a refreshing bowl of sweetly pickled daikon, we decided to call it quits, leaving room for dinner. You might want to move onto fried dumplings, scallops or green tea ice cream. Next time, I will.
Kamela Restaurant, 1227 rue Marie-Anne Est, Montréal, QC, 514-526-0881
It may look like a café just outside an Algerian souk, but Kamela Restaurant is hidden in a particularly quiet area of the Plateau-Mont-Royal.
When we arrived, the only other party was a jovial group of older Algerian gentlemen, supping on couscous with brochettes that sent their tangy aromas all the way across the room. I had plans to follow suit, but the first order of business was chorba.
The chickpea-and-freekeh-filled soup is a signature at Kamela and it was easy to taste why. The dark, comforting, tomato-based broth was speckled with refreshing cilantro. A squeeze of the lemon floating within woke the dormant flavors and suddenly cinnamon and mint crackled through the warm potage.
The big basket of baguettes provided with the soup was filled with warm, crusty chunks of bread, which went well with an order of exceptionally tangy, olive-dotted hummus.
The couscous dish that arrived at my table was not the one that I'd ordered and my server rudely told me that it was my fault, that I must have asked for the wrong thing. She also charged me the extra six dollars for the dish I didn't order. But while it made me a little cranky, it didn't ruin my night.
The Couscous Royale was just too damned delicious.
The tiny pasta itself was exceptionally flavorful: fluffy, buttery and just a little bit salty. Carrots, squash and chickpeas in a tomato broth added a lovely zing, but who are we kidding? It was all about the meat.
The chicken breast was moist, yet crispy, and coated in cumin. The lamb shank sang with cinnamon. But the pair of merguez were the main event. Sumac and garlic lent a tangy and pungent flavor, and a lighter-than-normal amount of chile meant that I could truly taste every spice and the lamb itself.
We also loved the brick au poulet, a creamy combination of chicken, cheese and egg in eminently buttery phyllo dough. And Kamela doesn't skimp on portions. That means that I still have hearty servings of both entrées to continue eating all week long. Merci, Montréal!Alice Eats is a weekly blog feature devoted to reviewing restaurants where diners can get a meal for two for less than $35. Got a restaurant you'd love to see featured? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.