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Vol. 11, No. 1, 2012
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Robert J. Lewis
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Bernard Dubé
David Solway
Sylvain Richard
Nancy Snipper
Farzana Hassan
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
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Diane Gordon
Serge Gamache
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Mady Bourdage
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Bill Moyers
Barbara Ehrenreich
Leon Wieseltier
Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
John Lavery
Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward


wining, dining & music reviews by

Nancy Snipper


Arion Baroque Orchestra was founded in 1981. It is the only early music orchestra performing on period instruments in Quebec. The clarity and freshness of Arion’s interpretations have been remarked upon since its first concerts; the delicacy of its readings of well-chosen and varied works has never wavered in 29 years. Constant attention to detail has earned the orchestra, led by the enlightened artistic vision of flutist Claire Guimond, a place among the most renowned early music ensembles in North America and throughout the world.

A Journey of Musical Joy Performed with Mastery

Inside the beautiful Bourgie Hall the audience traveled back in time as music from the 17th and 18th centuries focused on the lively compositions performed in Spain and Italy. The spirited music celebrated the festivities and pleasures of the people. This music highlighted the pursuit of daytime and nocturnal entertainment to stimulate imagination and levity in an often difficult political climate. The program’s title, Commedia dell’art, captured the liveliness and intricate musical compositions of these times. Composers featured were Boccherine, Heinichen, Vivaldi and Pergolesi.

The string ensemble seemed to grow as horns, oboes and flutes and bassoon were added to various concertos during the evening. Indeed, Arion created a rich musical tapestry, and the centrepiece of the entire evening was the star Russian violinist Dmitry Sinkovsky. His astounding dexterity and expressiveness were augmented with his rapid-fire ascensions, turns, double stringing and pianissimos performed on his centuries-old violin. No part of the instrument lay dormant during this wondrous evening of musical elation. We were even treated to string strumming, held in his hand like a guitar. In fact, the other four players joined him, even the two cellists (including the featured guest cellist – more to come on that) during the first Boccerhini concerto, “la Musica notturna delle strade di Madrid.”

A charismatic virtuoso who vividly applied his remarkable technique and passion to the Vivaldi concertos, Sinkovsky was replacing Elizabeth Wallfisch who became ill. He did a remarkable job, despite some rushing, making tempo a tad uneven. Still, his force and obvious genius made his solos during the concertos so exciting.

In contrast to Sinkovsky’s vitality and flamboyance was the great and subtle anchoring of the guest conductor of the ensemble, the world-renown cellist Jaap ter Linden. A pioneer of early music, Linden has virtually brought baroque music into every part of the world. He was not only principal cellist of Musica Antigua Koln, but has been the leading ensemble conductor for over a dozen world class period orchestras from Japan to New York. His calm playing displayed a confidence that needed no bravura. The Arion baroque orchestra recently released a double CD of Bach’s Saint John’s Passion which I am listening to as I am writing this. It does not disappoint.


Divine in Delivery - Didon & Énée Enchant

The Theatre of Early Music, an incomparable musical collaboration, boasts stellar baroque singers and early music instrumentalists ingeniously assembled and led by the brilliant and surely the most ebullient counter tenor Daniel Taylor. What a voice he has!

Daniel TaylorThe concert given inside the joyous yet understated beauty of Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours was divine to the ear and captivating to the eye. Daniel Taylor enthusiastically led his 7-member ensemble of master musicians and 16-member choir of supremely accomplished vocalists in various songs by Handel and Purcell. This gave the intelligent listeners who packed the pews the opportunity to hear some of the choir soloists: Meg Bragle, Agnes Zsigovics and Benjamin Butterfield to appear once more in the main feature to follow: the 60-minute opera Didon and Énée.

This offering was unforgettable, not only because it holds the prestigious honour of being England's oldest opera (1689); they gave us the thrill of our lives. Taylor took on the dual role of conductor and evil sorceress, and he did it deliciously with his two temptress witches glued to his side. Acting was outstanding as was the use of the spacious church. There was never a static moment. Suffice it to say that the immaculate phrasing of the choir, their sensitive expression of harmonic blending and their beautifully beguiling voices as a collective whole, proved spellbinding. Without naming the various countries, halls and international awards given to the soloists (most of whom filled the ranks of this choir), certain members must be singled out: their voices were heavenly -- able to heal the most hardened of hearts: Here are some of whose performances inspired us all: Hungarian soprano Noémi Kiss (Dido); soprano, Grace Davidson (Belinda - Dido's attendant/confidante), American mezzo-soprano, Meg Bragle (a witch), Regina Conway (a witch).

Before the opera got under way, the choir sang Hear My Prayer by Purcell. It was celestial in delivery, and if there is a God, he not only heard the prayer, but answered it; every voice that filled surely caught his/her attention.


Constantinople Highlights the Percussionists

"You have to lose the rhythm first in order to discover it," said Misirili Ahmet, master of the darbouka. Born in Ankara, his brilliant performance proves the hand is faster than the eye. His passion when pounding, sliding, or running his fingers in rapid succession across his beloved darbouka is extremely impressive. He unites passion with rhythm, and it is difficult to draw a line between the two, though his remarkable rhythms consistently are created when playing solo or with his friends on stage.

He was a god of sorts -- an innovator of technique and one of the world's great teachers; in fact, at one point, he mentored Constantinople percussion member Ziya Tabassian, who also wowed the crowd with his Persian Tombak, dayereh and dor-jayereh. He boldly enlivened the entire evening with his artful techniques and versatility. He sat between Ahmet and Israeli Tof Miriam percussionist -- Zohar Fresco. Here is yet another genius whose sense of humour and frisky fun was clearly evident as the three percussionists at one point entered into a long feisty drumming face-off. Nobody won; they were all exceptional.

Of course, the main figure that seemed to bind the ensemble together is sitar player Kiya Tabassian who co-founded this wondrous ensemble with his brother Ziya ten years ago. His playing is godly, his singing was ethereal -- so evocative of Middle Age mystery. The ensemble is known for researching oral and Middle Age manuscript music. Their programs present a hybrid of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures. Their performances are magical creations that sometimes seem to be improvisational -- so fresh is the delivery and the wonderfully collective engagement each one has for the otheras they perform.

I would have liked to have heard more from Amir Amiri, master of one of my favourite instruments -- the santour -- but he wasn't given the biggest spotlight; nor was Pierre-Yves Martel, the viola da gamba member of the group. His expressiveness on this instrument is exquisite. Alas, the evening belonged to the three sensational percussionists, and what an exhilarating evening it was! Mesmerizing world beats, harmonies and a myriad of mysteriously haunting musical flavours transported us to places that lingered in the mind long after these sublime super stars humbly took their bows.

Montréal en Lumière Brings Belgium's Best Chefs

This exciting gastronomy part of the festival is making Belgium a star -- it has become a big hit with a public eager to taste the best this country has to offer. This year, Brussels and Wallonia are putting our taste buds to the test. What a thrill to enjoy such marvelous food. Sixteen chefs have paired up with local Montreal chefs to cook up their tantalizing dishes- - unique creations that feature the ingenuity of these formally trained masters in gastronomical matters. There are also chocolatiers whose mouth watering demonstrations bring the public that much closer to making their own sinfully rich desserts. They are also taking us through every stage of the chocolate process. But Belgium, as this event proves, is so much more that beer and chocolate. I was astounded at the delicate tastes and simple flavouring and sauces that made my venture into dining Belgian style simply unforgettable. Wines from Oregon and Washington were poured this year and the public was given a chance to meet all the invited vintners. Bon Appétit!

Chef Tjaco van Eijken Reveals Seafood's Sensual Side at Renoir Restaurant

Never in my life had I tasted the wonders of the sea cooked in such tantalizing ways; I wanted to dive in for more! Inside Renoir Restaurant, Sofitel Montreal Golden Mile, a miracle happened; I converted from being a carnivore to a seafood 'salivator' -- with one condition: it has to be chef Tjaco van Eijken who creates the dish. Having being mentored for six years at Ile Cortile in Paris by chef Alain Ducasse, a Michelin star winner, Tjaco is presently the executive chef at Crystal Lounge, Sofitel Brussels Le Louise. Prior to this, he spent four years heading Hong Kong's Spoon Restaurant -- also the brainchild of Alain Ducasse. Now the globetrotting, Netherlands-born boy (who just happens to be a marathon runner) is dashing off to Vietnam to oversee Sofitel's restaurant there (March 1, 2012).

Renown for his flare for Mediterranean fare. Tjaco departed from such varied cuisine to concentrate soley on seafood. At Renoir, he created three seafood dishes, staying true to his philosophy of finding the feminine, lightness of fish."I want to stay true to the soul of the particular seafood I cook; I do this using the technique of reduction." He basically boils out the water very slowly, and retains the essence of that which is left over until it becomes 'crystalized.' This adds to flavouring, even the sauce, along with the few condiments he uses to bring out exquisite taste and tenderness. He focuses on the feminine side of seafood cuisine; this requires delicate handling and precision timing in every aspect of creating the end result. The result is heavenly.

''Fish and seafood need the same delicate treatment as a woman."

My first delight was grey shrimp from the North Sea served in five delicate ways. Tjaco somehow gets everyone of his dishes to melt in your mouth; he never ever suffocates the seafood in superfluous sauces. Every ingestion comes with subtle taste and a super-refined tenderness. He is known for making the outer layer either into a sliver-thin crusty texture or breaded. Then the inner part becomes a total surprise in texture. This starter I paired with the Cloudline 2009 Pinot Gris from Domaine Drouhin winery in Oregon. What a light delight this white wine is! No post-headache, no heaviness -- feminine in fact!

The next dish consisted of four magnificently tender mussels served with a Marinière garnish. A wonderfully light garnish of white wine, cream with a tad of tomato was poured before my very eyes from a mini teapot-like creamer onto the now floating mussels. I never eat mussels, but if ever I have the opportunity to enjoy a mussel dish made by Tjaco, my palate will be most pleased.

David Millman, managing director of Domaine Drouhin shared in a glass of 2008 Chardonnay Arthur -- named after one of the children of Veronique Drouhin-Boss, the winery's great winemaker who oversees almost 124 acres of land dedicated to the vine. The estate is located in the Dundee Hills, 25 miles southwest of Portland Once again, I was surprised by the lightness of the wine. Slightly tangy on the tongue, the Chardonnay has a special effect that comes from the way it is aged -- 50% is put into tanks, and the other half into oak barrels. It was devoid of the flatness found in many white wines.

Tjaco told me the dish he was most proud of on the menu was the Coquille Saint-Jacques. Indeed, this pièce de la resistance consisted of a great dare: one raw scallop placed on hazelnut bread, hiding melted Ganda ham from eastern Belgium and a melted paper-thin slice of Parmesan cheese. A sweet cauliflower puree sat to the side topped by a miniature freestanding piece of cauliflower in the shape of a sail with little indents. Mustard and hazelnut butter also went into this dish. But wait! Sitting diagonal to this raw number was a single cooked scallop: wafer-thin crispy on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth on the inside. Another surprise! What brilliant contrast -- to serve the two scallops (one raw, the other cooked) while adding elements of hidden surprises to be revealed only once the food is inside your mouth! With this pleasure came Domaine Drouhin's 2008 Cloudline Pinot Noir. David Millman referred to it as being sexy. It brings full- bodied imbibing satisfaction. Once again, it was light to the taste for a red wine. The is a classy wine, but not snobby in intent.

The meal ended with a roasted filet of beef rondelle with carbonade reduction which sat upon an equally rounded endive marmalade (textured like cooked eggplant). That endive was delicious, as was the sautéed one served on the plate. A little round frozen cherry flavoured in sherry vinegar was sweetly pleasing too. However, I did not care for the beef. Although extremely tender -- by now a Tjaco trademark -- somehow it seemed misplaced on the menu, with a tad hint of taste heaviness. This final dish was coupled with yet another Pinot Noir (2007) cutely named after Laurène, another child of Véronique's whose great grandfather started producing wine in Burgundy, France in 1880. Véronique is the family's fourth generation wine wizard.

The meal 'almost' ended with an aged cheese made by the Chimay Monks and a sizzling beer made by the Trapistes Fathers of the village -- an ale for sure with 9% alcohol. The colour was a burnt brown -- really appealing -- as was the dessert samplings of white chocolate ice cream which looked (by coincidence I think) like a tiny beluga whale. Under it were little crystalized chocolate sprinklings, surrounded at each corner of the large plate by mini samplings: a dark chocolate mousse, a chocolate milkshake, a chocolate fudge cookie and one more chocolate treat. I'll keep that a surprise. What a divine evening of superb cuisine. Chef Tjaco Eijken, please stay in Montreal!!! There are plenty of fish in our lakes.


Thierry Rautureau Creates WOW Factor with Sauces

This French-born (La Vendée) master chef is a bundle of personality, down-to-earth charm, saucy humour and huggable warmth. Chef Thierry started cooking when he was 14. His immersion into the French cooking circuit gave him well-seasoned restaurant experience as a 'cook' -- as he puts it. He honed his skills in such places as Anjou, Chamonix, Mont Saint-Michel, even the Basque area. He also served the top guns in the army, cooking for the military brass in Orleans for an entire year. Then in 1978 at the age of 19, Thierry took an about face turn and headed off to Chicago where he worked as sous-chef for three years at the now defunct La Fontaine Restaurant. So what does an ambitious chef with food flare do? He flies off to the City of Angels; Los Angeles welcomed him in at Seven Street Bistro. Creating his own unique imprint, experimenting with all the various dishes he had come across in his life inside a host of kitchens, matching flavours and mixing them -- essentially doing all kinds of magical things -- is what has made this chef the Leonardo di Vinci of sauces. They are truly the best I have ever tasted -- so tantalizing yet subtle in taste and texture; heavenly, in fact.

The epiphany for this chef happened in Seattle. He purchased Rover's Restaurant -- a 1910 gem of a house that he renovated, thereby making something new out of something old. He also owns Luc, a French American neighborhood bistro named after his dad who passed away five years ago. Rover s, which boasts his North West Contemporary 'concoctions' with a French accent, has been wowing foodie fans for the past 25 years. Such success has a lot to do with Thierry's attitude towards food. "It has to be good, real, not at all pretentious or exaggerated." Referring to the fine dining edge Rover's has, Thierry remarked: "I do not want to serve just a piece of beef or fish, I am totally interested in what accompanies it, the sauce is extremely important. I believe in layering the flavouring, and it must be delicate in taste and texture."

Thierry RautureauSo I was ready to dig in. Inside the trendy restaurant called, Les Cons Servent, Thierry prepared a 6-course menu. I found each dish breathtaking in presentation and taste. His starter called 'Oeuf Brouillé' consisted of a miracle: A perfectly rounded hole at the top of an egg was filled with a scrambled egg mixture bathed in a fresh cream of lime, and topped with caviar. Wow! Thierry told me the entree is his trademark at Rover's. Indeed, it is wonderful. Then a beautiful consommé was served. It consisted of oyster mushrooms lightly smoked. Thierry claimed it was a classic dish in France, yet as an invited food journalist landing and living it up in Lyons, then moving far beyond the gourmet capital city to try different regional food fare, I had never come across such an outstanding consommé mixture. It was his ingenious Asian-flavour touch that changed everything, I imagine; after all Seattle has many Asians living there.

The next 'starter' was wild salmon from Alaska, and once again I was wowed by the supple sauce of vermouth and ginger. A puree of potatoes along with the sweet and delicate parsnips slipped over the tongue. But then there were tiny bits of texture in this sauce -- veal feet that were pleasantly surprising.

Frédéric Simon, one of Les Cons Servent's three young owners, is an expert sommelier and importer of over 100 wines. He stocks them all in his popular east-end Montreal restaurant. He paired the salmon with a Ramato, Channing Daughters 2010, Long Island (Hamptons) red wine. Its slightly tangy taste is due to the ten days of fermenting it goes through. It's a brash kind of wine in a fun way, so it added kick to the salmon which I found to be a tad overcooked. But its sauce really benefited the fish.

Following the salmon was médallion of venison 'des Appalaches' -- combined with brussel sprout leaves, musquee butternut squash and seared foie gras -- all basking in a black pepper sauce that I couldn't get enough of. I ended up using a spoon to finish off this delectably supple sauce. The flavour was fit for a king, and adding to the excitement was a fabulous red Rôtie Cellars, 2000 Northern blend from Walla Walla, Washington. This was a stand-out that went perfectly with the venison.

Three cheeses then were eaten: blue cheese, tomme and Grey owl goat cheese. Being a lover of goat cheese, I can't express my uber-satisfaction with the Grey Owl. The cheese came with a honey mustard sauce; to be enjoyed solo or in combination. The woody tasting red wine Frederic had chosen for the cheeses was a good choice: It was a Pinot Noir, En Gedi, La Bête, 2009 En Gedi from Oregon. Ein Gedi (real spelling) is one of the most inspiring natural settings in Israel, and indeed, this wine was utterly original in taste. I am sure its moniker is in reference to this place.

Finally, dessert brought a plate whose centrepiece was a rectangular chocolate fudge square topped with a tall, skinny waffle-wafer. Lower down was a blood orange and caramel passion fruit mixture set off with a stunning meringue. A sweet Ratafia, Single Cask, Janisson-Baradon 2009 was offered by Frédéric for me to imbibe. The menu finale was indeed, an embarrassment of sweet riches!

All these marvelous culinary creations showcased Thierry's terrific talent for layering harmonious flavours in ways that turned the ordinary into the extraordinary. He is a relaxed chef, and his restaurant reflects that. It's a place for gourmet cuisine to be enjoyed without phoniness or fuss. Twelve years ago, his wife bought him a straw panama-type hat. He wears it all the time. It has fittingly given him the moniker: "Chef in the hat." Hats off to you Thierry Rauureau!


Living, Eating and Laughing Define Ridi's Spontaneous Chef

Peppino Perri

You may not know this, but Calabria is the inspiration behind Chef Peppino Perri's cuisine; and from a young age he was always watching his mama cook up great home-fresh healthy food. Those aromas -- veggie inclusions and recipes for sauces -- would reappear decades later in varied ways when Peppino landed in Montreal in the 1960s and began making dishes that boasted simplicity with great flavour. With gusto and confidence, he lifts ingredients to their fullest potential; and he does it by merging the traditional with his own creative imagination. I suspect he is always trying something new. The results produce a robust cuisine. He is not afraid of seasonings, often doing what what others dare not do.

I got a taste of this throughout the entire dinner. Who would think that ravioli would be far better when stuffed with guinea fowl? It seems like an odd combination, but was it ever good. This number came with an underlying sauce of shiitake mushrooms and Parmigiano Reggiano which I found to be a tad thick and salty. Another starter proved a delightful surprise: stuffed crab cake. Wow! The soft texture and the taste offered great pleasure. Furthermore, its underlying tasty sauce of ketchup, mayonnaise and Tabasco really enhanced this little square crab cake. I wanted more.

Another winner was the grilled shrimp -- satisfying in texture and taste. But there was one snafu here. Although I found the accompanying risotto stunning in its bright yellow colour, it had a hint of the medicinal; maybe it was a case of saffron overkill. I did love that combination though of shrimp and risotto. I would go back for the shrimp. Then I was served a fabulous tender dish of octopus slices. Peppino PerriPeppino, the consumate chef explained: "I get them tender by boiling the octopus for an hour and a half. Then I grill it and mix in olive oil, basil, tomatoes, cucumber and red pepper." I hesitated at first. Even in Greece, I won't eat it, but I have to say, chef Peppino created succulent ever-so-tender slices. It was served with polenta and a pleasing Mediterranean sauce. Diverse and exciting!

One feature in particular really impressed me about this chef, and I suspect it is a Peppino trademark: Behold the parade of brilliant colours and the artistic presentation! This is what greeted my eyes with each successive dish; and it made for a seductive combination.

The veal was tasty and tender too, but the accompanying broccoli and green string beans sat sadly on the plate. The former -- bitter and watery -- the latter too dry. But by now, I was full.

Still, the superb dessert of homemade amaretto ice cream, a shooter of heated cream with sambuka and strawberries plus a tiramisu cake -- all resting like temptresses on one plate -- just about did me in. It was decadently delicious!

Yvon Boucher, the really attentive and fun maitre d' (he's also a rock guitarist) paired some of the dishes with interesting wines, but my favourite was the dessert digestif, Passito Liqoroso, coming from Pantelleria, an island off Sicily. It is made from sun dried muscat grapes. It was similar to the sweet wine from Samos Island in Greece.

So in all, it was a great evening and I did do a fair bit of laughing and a lot of eating, thanks to this very colourful chef with his wonderful approach to Italian cuisine and life in general. Peppino was listed among 30 chefs responsible for changing the face of dining in Montreal by Gastronomie Weekend. He has written a cookbook that is selling faster than the flip of a pizza (not on his menu -- by the way).

Does his name ring a bell with you? You may have heard about Peppino through his famed restaurant Le Latini. For 18 years he brought joy to loyal clients who ate his fine-dining Italian dishes. Then he brought his culinary creations to Westmount when he opened up Sapori Pronto. He was there for 12 years. In fact, longevity is the key to this chef whose boyish grin reflects the ambiance of Ridi, his latest restaurant. It is connected to Montreal's Merirdien Hotel. "Ridi in Italian means laughter. That is what I want for people coming here. To enjoy everything; be relaxed and have a great time as they eat." On Ridi's menu it says: Living, Friendship, Eating, Drinking and Laughing."

Peppino offers spontaneity on any given night. "I will plan a menu, but I may change something on it the last moment or add something new, or give a client a variation if he requests it," said the affable Peppino.

I loved the informality of Ridi, yet its design and colours of red, green black, beige deep rose and white spoke of chic. The lighting and those curving banquettes of leather are so comfy. Then I realized this place resonates his cooking style: take the traditional and make it modern yet simple. Ridi, with its cool simple contemporary decor and fabulous colour schemes, appeals to those wanting classic Italian fare with contemporary flare served in a unique comfortable setting.


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