Por­tuguese Treats In Mon­treal

Taste & Travel - - Contents -

ANNE DESBRISAY learns how to make the per­fect cus­tard tart.

I moved into Toronto’s Lit­tle Por­tu­gal neigh­bour­hood in the au­tumn of 1985. My neigh­bours be­came friends and their gen­eros­ity soon bur­dened/ blessed my fridge and pantry. Gifts from their gar­dens and grape vines, and bot­tles of their vi­cious home­made wines, made their way from their home to mine. I’d send over cho­co­late chip cook­ies, by way of thanks, which al­ways seemed to puz­zle them.

BUT OF ALL THE TREATS re­ceived my favourite were the pastéis de nata, rich tarts of blis­tered cus­tard in but­tery, crackly pas­try. My neigh­bour Adri­anna baked them ev­ery Fri­day, mostly for her four sons. But ev­ery so of­ten, she’d send one of her lads across the street with a plate of pastéis to sweeten my week­end.

“Anna,” she’d say when I’d head over with the empty plate (her hand on heart, the other raised to the heav­ens), “I wish you to be blessed with many, many sons, as I am blessed.” I re­mem­ber think­ing Not a snow­ball’s chance in hell, dear lady.

The years came and went. I moved to Ot­tawa, had four sons, and thought of­ten of Adri­anna and her ‘bene­dic­tion.’ And though I for­got about pastéis, for things Por­tuguese in this coun­try — the neigh­bour­hoods, cer­tainly, but the cui­sine in par­tic­u­lar — I have long held a soft spot.

We aren’t blessed in my home town with great Por­tuguese food. Since the demise of Ot­tawa’s Café Spiga and El Me­son — two grande dame restau­rants run by Por­tuguese fam­i­lies, now re­tired — I head to Mon­treal for the good stuff.

Last spring I did just that. Ar­riv­ing by train around lunch time, I made my way to Café Vasco da Gama on rue Peel. Fol­low­ing a meal of lupine salad, ba­calão frit­ters and a duck con­fit sand­wich sweet­ened with a fig com­pote and washed down with a crisp white wine from the Douro Val­ley, there was pas­tel de nata for dessert. Work­ing through a sec­ond tart, I asked my server a ques­tion about the pas­try. Did she know how it came to be so crackly and ruf­fled, like a lit­tle girl’s party skirt?

Five min­utes later, out from the kitchen came Ju­lia de Cas­tro Nasci­mento, pas­try chef. “May I show you how we do it?” And so she did, at my ta­ble dur­ing the busy-ness of lunch ser­vice, start­ing with how she had rolled the puff pas­try, dizzy with turns and well infused with but­ter, into a tidy log. Table­side, she cut the dough into a piece of maybe a half-inch wide and placed it, cut-side down, in the well of a tin cup. Dip­ping her thumbs in a bowl of wa­ter, Nasci­mento flat­tened the pas­try, work­ing from the cen­tre out to­ward the edges, ro­tat­ing the tin un­til the pas­try cov­ered the whole of it and climbed the sides to form a thick-ish lip. “Et, voila!” This, she told me, gets filled with the cus­tard and baked in a very hot oven till the cream is set but still wob­bly, the top dot­ted with scorch marks, and the pas­try bronzed, flared and won­der­fully flaky. I begged her for the recipe. And, lucky us, here it is. From rue Peel, I walked off the pas­tel en route to Le Plateau-

…The heart of the Por­tuguese com­mu­nity in Mon­treal is still found in a few square blocks from av­enue des Pins to rue Marie-Anne…

Mont-Royal. The heart of the Por­tuguese com­mu­nity in Mon­treal is still found in a few square blocks from av­enue des Pins to rue Marie-Anne, with boule­vard Saint-Lau­rent its main artery. Wandering the neigh­bour­hood, past the lit­tle Parc du Por­tu­gal (com­mem­o­rat­ing the first wave of Por­tuguese immigration to Canada, in 1953) thoughts turned to sausages. I was directed to Chouriçor on rue Bul­lion for some su­pe­rior ones. “Grow­ing up in this neigh­bour­hood,” butcher Joe Melo told me, “ev­ery sec­ond house was a Por­tuguese fam­ily home. It’s not that way any­more. Most of the com­mu­nity has moved out of the city, to the sub­urbs. Still, this neigh­bour­hood is the pulse of Por­tu­gal in Mon­treal, shrink­ing as we are.”

Armed with Joe’s blood sausages, I stopped in the Quin­cail­lerie Azores, a fam­ily-run hard­ware store since 1968, now un­der the Home Hard­ware um­brella. Run by the broth­ers Pereira, who in­her­ited the busi­ness from their father Gabriel, the shop has an im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of Por­tuguese crock­ery, along with paint and brooms and other life ne­ces­si­ties. Fur­ther along Saint-Lau­rent I found La Veille Europe, with what must surely be the long­est stretch of Piri Piri sauces on the planet. A few of those went in the bag too.

It be­gan to snow, and thoughts turned to din­ner. I had booked at Fer­reira Café, a hop skip away from where I’d had lunch, back on rue Peel. Open since 1996, this cel­e­brated fine din­ing room is the first of Car­los Fer­reira’s four restau­rants, widely con­sid­ered a top des­ti­na­tion for those long­ing for the flavours of Por­tu­gal, and for the ac­com­plished mod­ern spins on tra­di­tional dishes from head chef João Dias.

Stand­outs from that din­ner in­cluded roasted sar­dines with veg­etable es­cabeche (recipe fol­lows); a lus­cious salt cod ag­nolotti; soft, melt­ing cro­quettes of smoky sausage; grilled oc­to­pus, ten­der and charred, burnished with smoked paprika oil and set on a black eyed pea hum­mus; and Cor­nish hen served Chur­rasco-style, dished up with fab­u­lous frites. Cheese with Fer­reira honey har­vested from the rooftop, and a glass of 1970 Porto Po­cas Vin­tage Port were the fi­nal treats. Fer­reira Café also boasts a mag­nif­i­cent cellar of por­tos and wines, and servers who know them well.

Be­fore board­ing the train home, I stopped in for an early lunch of piri-piri chicken ro­tis­serie from the Fer­reira fam­ily’s latest café, Campo, on boule­vard Mais­son­neuve. Ca­sual, bright and merry, the kitchen per­forms mi­nor mir­a­cles with the sim­ple com­bi­na­tion of bird, fire, salt and chile. I sopped up the spiced-up chicken juices with a bag of the house crisps, and or­dered a box of pastéis for the journey home.

PHOTOS THIS PAGE FROM Cel­e­brat­ing TOP LEFT the World Cup in Mon­treal, 2006; Mon­treal sky­line; A glass of Port; Pas­try chef Ju­lia show­ing me how it’s done; Por­tuguese tiles.

PHOTOS THIS PAGE FROM TOP Chouriço; La Veille Europe on Blvd St Lau­rent; Carla Fer­reira with her rooftop ur­ban honey at Café Vasco da Gama.

Por­tuguese THIS PHOTO his­tory mu­ral.

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