Annex 57: Kalalu | Mr. Lew's Great Burger Search

LOCATION CLOSED

4331 Saint-Denis
Montreal, Quebec

Metro:  Mont-Royal
Bus:  STM 11, 29, 30, 97, 427

Visit:  January 17, 2012

http://www.kalalu.ca/

In what has become a monthly outing, the group I call the “Fat Squirrel Society” decided to come up with something a little out of the ordinary.  We’re three individuals and each month, we each take a turn to choose a restaurant.  The theme for the first three outings was to bring the group to a place with a cuisine we were comfortable with.  Those first outings brought us La Maison Bulgogi for Korean BBQ and Le Jardin de Panos for Greek food.  This time around, the theme for the next round of gatherings deal with cuisines that took us way out of our comfort zones.  So, with that being said, the first salvo was fired with this restaurant and its Caribbean food.

I’ll have to admit, as much as I want to stay in the dark about where I’m going, I can’t resist doing a little research for the places I end up eating at.  I don’t like flying blind.  So, much like I do with my burgers, I did my internet research about this restaurant.  What I found wasn’t so heart-warming.  I’m not going to go over what I found because most of you are capable of doing that for yourselves.  Despite my preconceived notions about the restaurant itself and not the cuisine, I was looking forward to trying something that really took me out of my comfort zone.

The restaurant is located on a very busy and crowded part of St-Denis.  Throw a pebble and I’m pretty sure, 9 times out of 10, you’ll hit a restaurant.  This particular part of the street has been home to many of my past conquests, both burger and non-burger wise.  You have to be quite careful when walking to find this place.  With the Google street view not being that clear, even with the pictures being in broad daylight, you can easily miss this place.  So, I walked out of the Mont-Royal metro station and crossed St-Denis.   I walked down 2 blocks, keeping my eyes on the right, which was across the street from where I was supposed to be.  With the process of elimination factor coming in, I doubled back towards the metro station and made the trek back.  Keeping my eyes on the right again, I found what I was looking for.  Upon reaching the restaurant, I was met with something that I didn’t expect.

I saw stairs.  Now, let me paint a picture for you.  It’s snowing.  It’s not your Christmas movie amount of snow here.  It’s an intense amount of snow, enough to make things a little difficult.  What didn’t help was the fact that these stairs were narrow.  Luckily, they were nicely shovelled.  To side track a bit, I have to mention that the city of Montreal does a lacklustre job of handling their sidewalks in the winter.  I’m almost better off wearing skates when coming down any street.  I’m so happy it’s so much better where I live.  So, climbing up these stairs made me look like a senior citizen.

The restaurant’s opening hour, on this day, was 5 in the afternoon.  That should pretty much explain what I’m about to write next.  Before I sat down to join my party, I was able to make a quick count of the number of people that were in the entire restaurant.  Let’s see, there were our party of 3, one staff working the front, 2 people at the bar, and if I’m right, 2 in the kitchen.  Within moments, the 2 at the bar left and our party was left alone with the sole server.  With the quick count being done, I was worried that was I read was affecting business.  I was hoping that the weather was playing games with everyone.  Or was it the hour that kept people away?  Luckily, my questions were answered as more people started coming in as time passed.  It wasn’t the orange line during an afternoon rush hour, but it was busy enough by the time our time was said and done.

I can’t go much further without mentioning the server.  We felt totally comfortable with the way they handled us.  From the ordering process until we stepped out of the restaurant, we were treated with respect.  The opening banter, where a few jokes were thrown out, were a highlight of the meal.  Questions about the plates were answered diligently and whatever wasn’t known was taken to the kitchen, where a quick answer was retrieved.  It’s funny, I took 2 pictures of the menu, for memory purposes, and one of our party members told the server that I recommend restaurants to people.  If that server only knew.  On our way out, I was asked if I was going to recommend the place and I told them that I would sincerely hope so.  I guess you’ll have to read on to find out.

The service for our table alone wasn’t my only point of focus obviously.  There was only one server in the entire restaurant.  It might go hand in hand with the number of tables that were actually there.  Even if things weren’t so busy, I felt that it couldn’t gone a little quickly.  I know the Caribbean are supposed to be laid back, but waiting a while at the end of a meal for a bill is kind of stressful.  But what I’ll say is that what we’re lacking is speed, can easily be made up for in courtesy.

My final note of interest comes from the decor.  The tables are arranged in 2 long rows.  There’s a small nook near the entrance, but the majority of the seats are in the rows.  It’s interesting because they can accommodate large groups easily.  Part of the reason I’m mentioning decor is that on Tuesdays, the place is hosts live music.  So, I feel a little short-changed because we showed up on the only Tuesday where there wasn’t any scheduled.  In exchange, we were treated to some pre-recorded music, which was nice, but totally unnecessary.  It’s a thing of my own personal taste.  I would much rather focus on conversation, rather than losing my voice trying to yell over any music.  That’s just me.

Assiette Degustation

Ordering things when you have no idea what you want can be a little tricky.  There was one member of our group who really wanted the Black Satin chicken wings.  I was interested in the Creole cigars.  Then, I noticed something quite appealing.  There’s place where you get to try 4 of the appetizers.  So, we ordered that plate and decided to split the cost amongst the 3 of us.  Now, I’m kicking myself because I didn’t get a picture of the whole thing, so you will have to settle for the individual portions.  The plate comes in four sections, with one appetizer in each corner.

When the plate arrived to the table, we were told to eat them in a counter-clockwise order, starting with the chicken wings.  I’m not going to question anyone, especially when I’m not in my comfort zone.

Black Satin Chicken Wings

These are sweet and sour chicken wings done “Kalalu” style.

My first impression of the wings was that they reminded me of sweet and sour spare ribs, which you could get at any Chinese restaurants.  Even though it reminded me of something else, it was a pleasant taste.  It’s a nice way of starting off, with something familiar.  The meat was a little tough, but that’s to be expected with this kind of chicken wing, much like the ones you get with rotisserie chicken.

Creole Cigars

This is spicy, seasoned beef, pork, crabmeat, scallions, and pollock in a spring roll wrapper.

When there are 3 people and 2 items to share, it gets a little tricky.  So, what happened is that we all chose which remaining dish we wanted all of.  I took half of one.   The shaped was a little odd for a spring roll, but I’m not judging here on appearance, only taste.

Thanks to the fact that my part was cut in half, my cigar fell apart.  So, I ate mine with a fork.  I’ll say that the one that wasn’t split stayed together nicely.  From my near non-existent Caribbean food experience, the spring roll wasn’t half bad.  The only thing I really remember was that the crabmeat was the part that I tasted over anything else.  As I’m writing this, I had to look up what a pollock was.  So far, we’re 2 for 2.

Accra

These are cod fishcakes, which are fried and served with lime pepper mayo.

I was lucky enough to have a whole things.  When you take a bite of this, you can almost immediately tell that they were fried.  Even if it’s fried, it’s something that isn’t very hard to eat.  The only thing I wish was that it was that the taste was a little more powerful or lasting.

Chiquetaille

Here, you have minced smoked herring, onions, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, and extra virgin olive oil on a baguette.

Of the 4 appetizers, this was the one that I was actually looking forward to the least.  There was something about it that didn’t interest me.  So, that’s why I only took half of it.  With that being said, it was the appetizer that surprised me the most.

First of all, you have the spicy double pepper sign next to the name on the menu, which tells you that you’re in for something hot.  Now, I don’t go out of my way to get spicy food.  It’s not a matter of taste or preference, it’s just that it doesn’t fit me.  I don’t mind it, but I don’t really want it either.

The closest dish I ever had that resembled this was the organic salmon tartare at Moishes.  The only difference is that the fish here was cooked.  The consistency is similar and the taste is fine.  You won’t get the spice at first, but then it kicks in.  Even if it’s spicy, it’s not enough to knock you out cold.  A quick sip of water is enough to wipe out any traces of spice.  I’ll call this the dark horse of the appetizers, the one I was expecting the least of, but turned out much better.

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

This was one of the 2 dishes I didn’t try.

Artibonite

This is the second dish I didn’t try.  Unlike the Jamaican Jerk Chicken, this is closer to rotisserie chicken.

Griot

This dish is comprised of marinated pork, rice with red beans, smashed green plantains, and salad.

For the purpose of the following paragraphs, I’m going to go in the order, from least to best, of the parts of this platter.  Also, before I begin, expectations weren’t so high, but I was pleasantly surprised with what I received.

The first part of the dish was the marinated pork.  This was the reason I went with the Griot.  The three other side dishes came standard with all our meals.    I likes the taste of the pork.  It was the consistency and the toughness of the pieces that dropped it to fourth place.  The other dishes definitely outshined the pork.  Don’t get me wrong, even if the pieces were tough, it wasn’t anything I wasn’t used to.  I’ve had plenty of pork in the past and this isn’t new to me.  I’m just glad that the sauces were there to compliment and lift the pork.
The next part of the plate was the rice.  The rice was very much like your prototypical Asian rice.  One of our group members noted that it was Indian rice, so I won’t argue with them, especially when they know more about certain aspects of food than I do.  The rice was also accompanied by red beans.  I probably could’ve done without the beans, because the rice was good enough alone.

My slight issue with the rice was that there was too much.  Yes, I get it, I’m saying that there was too much.  Who, in their right mind, ever complains about getting too much of something?  I guess I do.  The problem was more about structure.  When you go in with your fork to get rice, some of it goes towards the table, rendering it uneatable.  I do not like waste, so that hurt me a bit.

The salad was the next surprising part of the meal, not because of the greens.  While I had no problems with the salad itself, it was something else that really made me smile.  The dressing that was included was incredible, as it played up to a part of my preferences I rarely get in my restaurant visits.  The dressing has a very apparent citrus taste to it.  I’m not going to try to pinpoint which citrus fruit I had, but what I will say is that the salad was easily one of the best things I tried that night.

I’m saving the most surprising and best thing for last, the smashed plantains.  Before I go any further, I’m going to admit that I always have a tough time remembering what plantains are.   From what I know, it’s a member of the banana family.  Up to this point, I don’t think I ever had a plantain.  It’s almost funny because before we ordered, we were wondering why they said ‘smashed’ instead of ‘mashed.’  We thought we would get a puree of plantain, but what showed up was so much more different.

The plantain we in a small pile.  To get a taste, you would have to break off a piece with your fork.  The way it’s cooked, you’ll probably think that you’re eating potatoes instead of plantain.  In combination with the dark red sauce on the plate, the plantains were the highlight of the entire platter.  I think the three of us came to that consensus.


Final Verdict

The end of the evening gave us the last surprise.  If you reserve online, you’re supposed to get 5 dollars off.  As we ordered, we asked about this and wondered if it was applied to one person or the whole group.  Well, it wasn’t a deal breaker or anything, but it seemed like we were met with some resistance.  Well, when we got the bill, we notice something nice.  They applied the 5 dollar discount to the three of us.  That application of the discount translated, in my opinion at least, to the appetizers being free.  It’s a nice way of leaving the restaurant on a high note.

I entered the restaurant with a large number of doubts.  On this night, we were served with the utmost care and courtesy.  The food was prompt and the quality, on this night, didn’t have us questioning anything.  The only thing that I wonder about is consistency.  I wonder if I would return, would I get something similar?  But, for what I’ll say, I hope you give it a try because we left happy and satisfied.

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