Koshary (L) and ful (R) go excellently together as starters

Perched atop Anatolia, a purveyor of Nutella pizza on rue St-Mathieu is the de facto hidden gem.

It’s got all the required attributes: nonexistent street presence, unpretetentious dining room and a wealth of unexplored flavours. What’s more, it’s very rare, if not unheard of, to find an Egyptian restaurant in the heart of downtown Montreal.

Once you make it up the stairs and through an awkward apartment-style entrance, you stumble into La Folie du Koshary. It’s a bit of a misnomer. From the quiet, simple dining room to the sweet, subdued staff, La Folie is just about anything but  crazy.

Koshary (L) and ful (R) go excellently together as startersYet it’s in the sum of the plates that Folies offers up the real adventure. These simple, authentic and carefully-spiced plates get better when shared—the culmination of a table full of salads, dips, eggs, meat and sandwiches being a newfound set of flavours and some very cost effective downtown fun.

For appetizers, don’t miss koshary. The restaurant’s namesake and possibly Egypt’s most famous dish combines things you’d never expect to be addictive. In this case, the long-stewed, clove-inflected tomato sauce lies like an unobtrusive blanket over rice, rameny noodles and macaroni. The whole is topped with chickpeas, herbs and crispy fried onions. Have I at least piqued your interest?

Then there’s another Egyptian staple: ful. At La Folie du Koshary, the latter comes in many forms.

We tried the base just to test its essence. Made with crushed fava beans, this is sort of like a wetter, heavier version of humus, but to me, much more subtle and enjoyable.

Eggs with roumi cheeseThe bright salad and onion on top brought home some nice acidity and I did not tire of dipping the pita into it all evening long. I hesitate to sum up ful so simply (it’s as old as the Pyramids, and prepared in dozens of countries), so keep in mind there are many versions. La Folie offers six. For example, you can add eggs or chili oil or butter.

Finally, dry scambled eggs strung with roumi, a pecorino-like cheese, were a bit too subtle (I wish there’d been more of that sharp cheese),  and the hawawshy was delicious! In what is possibly the simplest yet most flavourful dish on the menu, dry ground meats and spices are flattened in between a pita that is really more akin to a gritty naan bread.

Hawawshy sandwich with beefThe sum here, once again, is so much more than the parts. Coriander and cardamom in this sandwich lifted a variety of peppers to the next level for a memorable bite to which I would certainly rerun: spicy, to be sure, but very  flavourful.

Service is honest and friendly. We found that a few bewildered looks were just enough for them to sort out a perfect, compassionate menu for us. Try it. Furthermore, there’s a terrasse. So for those who like an even more spicy dinner, you can enjoy an unobstructed view into the firemen’s lounge across the street.

Folie du Koshary is at 1444 St Mathieu, upstairs from Anatolia Pizzeria

Vegetarian dish from Cuisine Szechuan

I like spicy food. I like it a lot. I like it so much that once in Thailand I spotted players from Sriracha’s District Football Club (yes, such a fantastic entity exists) from across an airport and then tracked them through the terminal building in order to snap fuzzy, stalkerish photos of logos on their navy blue jackets.

Despite such interest in culinary heat, I’ve always felt a foreigner amongst wing-guzzling pepper fanatics who see fiery food as a competitive sport. To me, there’s a good reason why spicy cuisine has never found its way to the Olympics. It’s because it’s not an event; it’s a subtle art.

One region might be known above all others for mastering such fiery arts: the mountainous province of Sichuan, China. And though many Canadian-Chinese restaurants offer dishes with “Szechuan” in the name, very few can legitimately lay claim to its complex (and very oily) lineage of heat.

But we Montrealers are a rather fortunate bunch (if slightly clueless). Many years ago, we were blessed with one of the first – and still possibly best – true Szechuan restaurants in Canada. If you’ve missed the diamond in your midst, now is the time to take a quick hike up the hill from metro Guy-Concordia and be absolved of your Canadian-Chinese food-eating sins.

Cuisine Szechuan (2350 Guy) is the stage for expressive and addictively-hot works by Norman Fei Peng and Andy Su. A semi sous-sol half-buried under a salon and flanked by a Botox clinic, its nondescript demeanour belies some pretty ferocious offerings.

An example: the chili beef (#64), an aromatic kick to the jaw that startles in its balance of heat, crunch and acidity. To say it wakes the mouth up is a happy understatement. So, too, does Peng’s famed cumin chicken explode most Westerners’ preconceptions of what cumin can be made to do.


There’s a reason, I mused while picking flaming peppercorns from my teeth, that local culinary god (and Jamie Oliver business-partner) Derek Dammann voted Peng his coup de coeur of all Montreal chefs, admitting his Cuisine Szechuan cravings had become so violent and unpredictable that a lack of chili beef actually caused noticeable swings in his mood.

Cuisine Szechuan is the real deal. But a few tips to the wise (ie, non-competitive): don’t imbibe the whole bowl of leathery-skinned peppers unless you want to relive that post-root canal experience of a frozen, senseless maw.

Chef Peng, who was out waiting tables the two times I visited, told me that Canadians have only recently crossed the threshold to embrace “non-Canadian Chinese food.” He warned me that more (and real) Sichuan peppers, including both the flower and peppercorn, would combine with increased oil to result in the lively flavour profiles that have been part of Sichuan life for centuries.

Though the fiery chili-flaked beef is indeed legendary – a must try for any self-proclaimed foodie in this town – I can’t neglect highlighting the real surprise gem of any CS experience: the plants.

I’m not usually a fan of vegetables in North American Chinese restaurants – they’re often drowned in oversweet sauce or, if left “bare,” coated in oddly-unpalatable grease. I’m even less turned on by tofu – regardless of the nation preparing it. So imagine my surprise when not one, but two tofu plates from the vegetarian menu hit notes nearly on par with that fiery beef.

You wouldn’t expect the Juicy and the Ultra-Spicy to be perfect bedfellows. But then you taste that thick, chili-laden
eggplant-and-tofu, laced with oozing (yet slightly crunchy) green beans – or the famous Spicy tofu plate. Embraced by this Szechuan kitchen, tofu might just find a new place in your heart…and your grandmother’s beloved string beans will begin to seem like dry bamboo.

Oh, and one final tip: there’s a reason Mr. Peng urges you to order extra rice (and fills your water glass ten to eleven times). Believe me: just follow his lead.

In short: don’t wait until your next Botox appointment to visit the less-than-charming southwest corner of Guy and Sherbrooke. Cuisine Szechuan is cheaper, tastier, and a hell of a lot more rejuvenating.

As we approach the end of summer, the steamy hot days and humid nights that sometimes force us out of our beds mid slumber just to ice our heated bodies start to cool down. In turn, people start to put some effort into their outfits again.

Montreal Fashion Downtown (43)That’s the thing about living in Montreal; extreme weather=don’t give a shit about what I’m wearing, as long as it accommodates the temperature. In winter, we’re covered from head to toe so that we may brave our inevitable treks through the snow and -20+ weather (Oh, Canada.) and in the burning hot months of June and July, it’s all about short, loose dresses, tanktops, shorts… basically, leaving the house wearing as little material as you possibly can.

In between times are perfect- Indian Summer, Spring, Fall, because you can play around with more looks: shorts and a blazer, perhaps… or long skirts with tank tops. Long pants with T-shirts, and scarves also make a cute comeback at this time.

This was apparent when the temperature dropped in the past week. As we strolled up and down centre ville’s busiest street, rue Ste Catherine, I zealously approached people hoping to capture their outfits on film.

Like a sexually charged adolescent boy seeing a naked woman for the first time, I initially appeared as clumsy, desperate and aggressive when approaching the busy and introverted civilians who had better things to do than get their picture taken on a dreary, grey Wednesday afternoon.

Montreal Fashion Downtown (39)

For the sake of inspiration, my talented photographer and I moseyed on down to the popular boutique Editorial. Wedged in the middle of Stanley and de Maisonneuve, Editorial has been coined by local residents as the Mecca of urban fashion and cutting edge style.

Urban and cutting edge it is. It is also a bit on the pricey side, but their apparel is of such good quality.

Montreal Fashion Downtown (17)Like an overflowing coffee cup, the store is brimming with hot trends. It’s filled with pieces that play on classic themes, logos and looks, with a completely new and loud look.

They have chunky heeled ankle booties with both downtown and by celebrity street styles. There are graphic tees that play on brands like Hermes (turned into Homies and Hotmes), studded and spiky shoes, earthy yet edgy bustiers and pieces that would mirror an overall look of 90s rap videos with an haute couture twist.

Montreal Fashion Downtown (54)And then, it was like catching bees with honey. The beautiful people of downtown Montreal have adapted a similar style, but manage to stay eclectic at the same time.

We found that studded and spiked touches on accessories such as bags, shoes and shoulder pads were popular. Futuristic looks with chunky moon boot sneakers and blazers, funky hair and sailor moon jackets with knee high stockings.

It’s like Downtown Montreal is a can of mixed nuts where everyone is doing their own thing, but it feels consistent since it all looks so “tough guy” yet lovingly… 2013.

Side note: I wish I could pull off this long red skirt. Work it, Baby.

*photos by Nicole Small, for the full Downtown Montreal Street Fashion set, check out our Facebook page