You all know how the story goes......you start out for a quiet drink with your friends and end up in an underground Greek cultural club at 2 in the morning drinking Rum and listening to a live Bouzouki player.....normal Friday night right? In Montreal......anything's possible........
I was lucky enough to have a visit from an old school friend and his work colleague as they were travelling through Montreal this week. Whilst my local knowledge is still reasonably limited in terms of playing an effective tour guide, I thought i'd be well equipped to show them a few things at least!
After meeting Joel and Amy at their hotel, we proceeded to a Tapas bar that i'd already visited called Taza Flores (www.tazaflores.com).
Taza Flores is located at 5375 Avenue Du Parc.
As I said, I had been here before so there was no element of surprise in how good it was. The atmosphere was vibrant being a Friday night - we were lucky to get a table given my lack of forward planning in not reserving (a practice that seems to be required here more often than not). I tried my best to act as translator for the menu but thankfully the waitress soon bailed me out and provided the three of us with English menus.
We decided on a selection of different dishes to share:
We started with the Tapas Mixte which was a delightful plate of all the cold assortments that you'd expect on a good cold Tapas plate - dips, pita, olives, herring - and all of a really high standard. The wait staff were extremely competent as they did not bring out our next dish until we had picked the first one dry - which was not a quick process!
Next up was Calamars Frits, Sauce Chipolate or Fried Calamari with a Chipolate sauce. The calamari was extremely tender and the portion size was quite large considering it was Tapas. The Chipolate sauce was a perfect accompaniment. Another successful plate......
As we hit the "hump" of the meal, our Accras De Morue or Cod Fritters arrived. Now this dish was my recommendation from my previous visit and apparently lightning does strike twice in the same spot - extremely tasty and provided three looks of satisfaction around the table.
Next we were presented with Tortilla Espagnole au Chorizo or Spanish Tortilla with Chorizo. I've never met a Chorizo I didn't like and thankfully this was no exception - basic, tasty and good quality ingredients.
Finally the piece de resistance', Cigare a L'Agneau or Lamb Cigars. The concept is quite basic - take some good quality marinaded lamb, roll it in breadcrumbs in the shape of a cigar and deep fry. It's simple, it works and it's delicious - exactly what i'm looking for in a Tapas dish!
Whilst Joel and I stayed on the conservative side at this stage of the evening and enjoyed a couple of Moosehead's, I have to mention that the Cocktails at Taza Flores are outstanding. On my previous visit I experienced their Margarita's and have to say i've never had a better one (that being said, I haven't been to Mexico!).
Overall Taza Flores comes with my highest recommendation. After moving through our second plate, Joel commented to me "I don't think it's possible to order anything bad from this menu" and I have to say that his assertion was correct. It's classy and they do what they do well - and they do it without charging you an arm and a leg.......what more could you ask for.
This is where the evening starts to take an interesting turn.......
My cousin and friends of hers had decided to travel back to Mythos (http://aussiegoesquebecois.blogspot.com/2009/11/another-thursday-night-in-montreal.html) which they had introduced me a couple of weeks before. They called an invited us to join them as there is usually a Bouzouki player and Greek dancing downstairs on a Friday night - having not planned our next move we decided to wander across the street.
Unfortunately, as the holiday season approaches us, most of the best restaurants and function rooms are being utilised for Christmas parties. This was the case tonight in Mythos. We decided to stay as some members of our growing party had not eaten yet - and when you want to eat, Mythos is the place to be! So we took a table at the back of someone's Christmas party, ordered a bottle of Greek wine recommended to me as "the most addictive substance on earth" (i'll be the judge of that!!), and settled in to at least watch some Greek music from the live band...................Wrong again.......
The Greek Band that I had enjoyed so much the week before had entered a quasi electric/70's/spanish zone and their set list reflected it. I couldn't spot him but i'm certain someone was actually spinning beats behind them on stage. From a technical point of view they were still fantastic - but the experience was becoming somewhat surreal.......we came here looking for authentic Greek culture and this wasn't it!
I must mention at this point that two members of our party are of Greek heritage. And one of them had done her research on where to find the real Greek culture in Montreal. So off we went to a new venue.....a special venue that no-one is likely to forget.
I'm not going to provide the name or the location of this venue as I don't think that the proprietors of this venue are too keen on extended public knowledge. This became obvious to me when we had to be "buzzed in" to enter (thankfully short of being asked a password). As I walked upstairs a familiar smell entered my nostrils...........wait......it can't be.......people are SMOKING in here? Yes.....yes they are......I can have a cigarette with my drink.......this night is getting better and better.
As we entered, we successfully lowered the average age in the place by about 30 years. This was a real Greek community club - and it was off the radar. If you closed your eyes and listened to the Bouzouki player and the female singer you could have sworn you were in Athens.
We were warmly greeted by a guy who I am guessing was the proprietor and he took our drinks order. Five minutes after receiving our drinks he arrived at our table again......this time with a plate of meat. Another waiter followed with a salad.......and bread........we didn't order this.
Complimentary.....it turned out. This really was a community centre. As not to be an ungracious guest, I started eating my third dinner for the night (I couldn't resist sampling a LITTLE bit of the food at Mythos despite already having eaten). The food was incredible.......obviously cooked by Yaya in the back kitchen......even more authentic than Mythos.
The Greek dancing soon begun - but a form of Greek dancing I hadn't seen before. I have been to Greek parties and taken part in the big, everyone's attempting to dance traditionally, type moments. But never have I witnessed two Gentlemen get up and perform the "Drunken Man's Dance". Now that name isn't a direct quote or official name - it's how it was described to me by my Greek friends. It's basically a freeform improvisational dance style that whilst unplanned, if performed correctly can look quite majestic (despite the name). The two guys who performed it here were outstanding - there wasn't anything overly complicated about what they did but you could feel the hundreds (if not thousands) of years of tradition behind what we were witnessing - and it felt good to witness it.
Unfortunately, I was about to participate. On the surface of things, performing something called the "Drunken Man's Dance" sounds quite up my alley. I've performed it many times. In Australia, however, it's a little less poetic and rhythmic. It's more likely to consist of liquid courage in the form of tequila, liquid energy in the form of a Jaeger Bomb and then trying to move your arms and legs simultaneously and retain some level of co-ordination.
This situation had a little more pressure associated. While I was assured by my friends that by the very nature of the dance, you can't do it badly - just move to the music and do whatever you want. If anyone can do it badly, I thought, I can......
So I was dragged to the floor in front of the entire room and proceeded to follow the lead of my Greek friend. My knees bent......my arms flailed........my face reddened with embarrassment. Not embarrassment for my own lack of co-ordination - but embarrassment for destroying a traditional dance in front of a LOT of Greek people. But, as it turns out, I wasn't that bad! Then I realised it had nothing to do with the dance - it's all in the participation. And that's the whole point - traditions such as this have existed for so long because they bring people together......the idea is that everyone gets involved, has fun and it brings the community closer together. So what I had initially assumed might be insulting, was quite the opposite - we suddenly felt quite welcome. Would I do it again? Maybe after a serious visit from my friend Jose Cuervo........
Had I succeeded in showing Joel and Amy the real Montreal? In a strange way.....I had. From a tourist point of view, there are so many restaurants, clubs, bars, sights, museums that you can see in Montreal. But as anyone that has travelled knows......you never see the real side of a city in those things. Rather, you see it in the people. I thought about how many venues such as the one we had visited exist around the world - and how many would treat outsiders suspiciously and would make them feel unwelcome. We found the exact opposite - and it's truly reflective of the positives i've seen in Montreal so far. The successful integration of so many cultures in the one city is something that Montreal has achieved - and something that the rest of the world can really learn from. Australia, as we so proudly declare, is a multicultural country. But there is still an unconscious (and unfortunately sometimes conscious) mistrust that still exists between so many groups that just doesn't seem to exist here. I don't know what the secret is.......but when I work it out I'll be sure to share it with you!