Monday, October 4, 2010

La Merde Is The Shit

Join Abbe and Jebby on their latest edible endeavor as they conquer and critique Montage and their attached lounge, La Merde.

Abbe’s Meal: Vegetable Gumbo with Cornbread

I decided to be spontaneous and order something other than the good old mac n’ cheese I always stick to. Montage is rare to disappoint and I don’t recall ever regretting a spontaneous order in the past. Mostly I just shovel the food into my gaping maw while silently having a mental meltdown brought on by the overwhelming glee of authentic Cajun flavors dancing about my quivering tongue.
I was anything but apprehensive when this plate of glory was laid in front of me. My mouth was watering at the sight of the freshly diced tomatoes, warm cornbread, and the giant spear of jalapeño all framing the beautiful image of my gumbo. I dove in without hesitation and my enthusiastic taste buds were met by a delicious mosaic of peppers, onions, okra, garlic, and spices all cushioned by a pillow of fluffy rice. Although the flavor of my gumbo was more than enough to satiate my grizzly hunger, I poured on a healthy helping of jalapeno Tabasco sauce to heighten the sensation.
The cornbread was a fitting companion to this rich dish and I enjoyed ripping it into fluffy cubes with my fork and soaking it in my stew until it was soggy and delightful.
The fresh tomatoes on top really added another level of texture to the dish giving it a cool and fresh flavor on top of the spiciness of the gumbo and the sweetness of the cornbread. Even the spear of jalapeno added a nice kick-in-the-pants spunk to each bite.
Every aspect of this dish gave me an insatiable need to devour it in one huge gulp, yet the yearning desire to make it last all night. Sounds almost like a cheesy romantic novel with Fabio on the cover, groping some sweaty Latino women with a torn dress. Me like.

 Abbe’s drinks: Hemotoma (sic) and Stinky Kitty

This visit I also got brave with my cocktail order. I’m a Stinky Kitty kind of gal and I always order that drink in multiples when I visit Montage/ La Merde, but I figured I should branch out for the sake of blogging and try something new. I ordered the Hemotoma, in all of its misspelled glory. (For those of you who aren’t medical terminology whores like yours truly, it’s spelled Hematoma.) This drink looks sinfully delicious on paper and includes absolute mandarin, strawberry puree, and grapefruit juice, but the end result was less than exciting. I did the foolish thing and made my expectations much too high for this cocktail. I was having fantasies of swimming in sweet strawberry and tangy grapefruit when I downed an overzealous gulp of this thing and got something reminiscent of a pair of brass knuckles to the nose when the flavor hit my mouth. This kid was bitter and I’m talking, “daddy didn’t love me” kind of bitter. I’m just not meant to drink such potent potables as these and I think I’ll go huddle in a corner and sip my stinky kitty like it was a nipple topped baby bottle.
The Stinky Kitty is a brilliant blend of rum, peach schnapps, lemon, and cranberry juice. It’s basically the #1 girliest drink ever invented. Whoever thought of this genius concoction basically enveloped everything I want in a drink and gave it a downright dirt cheap price tag to boot. I like to taste the booze in my booze, but I don’t like to feel like I’m guzzling a glass full of fermented truck stop toilet water, aka whiskey, bourbon, etc. So I’m a happy camper when my drink has a nice mixture of milder alcohols and sweet juices of the earth.

Jebby’s meal: oyster shooter and Old Mac with chicken

Oyster shooters are my thing. I love ‘em and order them whenever possible while my friends (especially Abbe) look on in abject terror. The oysters at Montage are everything an oyster should be – briny and oceanic without a hint of fishiness, other than what is supposed to be there. These oysters come in a shot glass with a generous helping of amazing cocktail sauce, a dollop of horseradish, and a lemon wedge. While I prefer to suck oysters directly from their craggy shells while pretending I am Poseidon, presiding over the briny deep with my trident and… erm… I mean… oysters are fine in a shot glass.
 Every time I go to Montage, I order the Old Mac. It is, to me, one of the most perfect foods in existence. It manages to define both decadence and comfort with only as many ingredients as you have fingers on one hand. It is rich, creamy and garlicky and cheesy – basically, everything I enjoy amalgamated into one impossibly flawless food. If I ever broke up with a boyfriend, I would turn not to booze or ice cream, but make a beeline straight for Montage, order the Old Mac, and tell the waiter to keep ‘em comin’.  You all may have learned by now that my favorite type of food is “simple done right,” and the old mac at Montage is the pinnacle of that ethos. Adding seared chicken does not serve only to round out your food groups for the evening; it adds an extra dimension to the butter and cream-laden dish. The chicken has a delicate richness that lets the flavors of the mac shine through. It is always perfectly seared, tender and juicy. If you are a fan of mac ‘n cheese, I vote for Montage’s as the best Portland has to offer. If you order one thing here, you should order the Old Mac.

Jebby’s drinks: Lily White and Deep Sea Diver

                Could God make a liquor so delicious that he could not drink it? Oh wait, he did, and it is called St. Germain. This elegant elderflower elixir of euphoric excellence is good on anything. You could marinate a turd in St. Germain and I would want to eat it. But I digress. The Lily White is an enchanting… a tasty drink with cahaça, St. Germain, lime and an egg white. Don’t let that egg white scare you away from this drink, you barely notice it and the chance of getting salmonella from a raw egg is very low. The St. Germain really shines in this, as well it should.
                The Pearl Diver was recommended to me by our awesome bartender for the evening and it contained Barbancourt rum, Luxardo maraschino, lemon, cucumber, and sparkling wine. Aforementioned bartender said I should order it if I like drinks that are off the beaten path. It definitely was, and in the best way possible. The flavor was very complex and hard to describe, but it tasted like the name fit. Hurry in if you want to try either of these cocktails: they are both seasonal and won’t be around long, but they’re definitely worth your time.

AND NOW... *drumroll* a special guest review from our friend Sarah, who shared this lovely experience with us!

Sarah's meal: oyster shooter and Spold Mac
All the noise and ironic moustaches in the world can't keep me away from this delicious food.  There have been occasions at the Montage when I've ordered something besides the mac and cheese, but each time I come back to my old favorite, I wonder why I ever strayed.
                Foodwise, the first thing you must do at the Montage is order a round of oyster shooters for everyone.  Tell the vegetarians in your party to shut up; oysters don't have faces, it's ok. Even as a person who's not generally a big fan of oysters, these shooters, topped with the greatest cocktail sauce ever created, leave me wanting more, rather than recoiling from sliminess. We also shared a round of hushpuppies, which were perfectly golden brown and crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, and not greasy at all, which I believe is the mark of a truly excellent hushpuppy. 
                For the main course, I went for the spold mac and cheese, a mixture of the parmesan-garlic Old Mac and the cajun Spicy Mac, the perfect option for the chronically indecisive (like me).  I had mine with the chicken, over the andouille and shrimp options.  The chicken might be considered slightly chewy, but I thought it made a good contrast with the gooey cheesy texture of the macaroni. For those who just want squishiness throughout, you can always opt for the spam.  The macaroni itself is everything I could possibly want from mac and cheese.  The flavor is focused on the cheese, not overwhelmed by salt or spices and the sauce is thick enough to generously coat the pasta without becoming a fatty dairy product overload.  As I said, there are plenty of other dishes on the Montage menu -- jambalaya, gumbo, crawfish etoufee -- but I can't bring myself to pass up mac and cheese like this.
                The Montage's other signature trick is delivering your leftovers wrapped in artfully sculpted tinfoil.  Your jambalaya can go home disguised as a flowerpot, a squirrel, or whatever else the staff feel like creating for you.  But I know this entirely by watching the tinfoil artworks carried out by other diners, because when I order Montage mac and cheese, I finish it. 

Sarah's drinks: Hemotoma (sic) and Slim Reaper

Before the cheesy deliciousness, we started off with a round of drinks.  I ordered the Hemotoma, a rosy pink concoction of strawberry and grapefruit that had the potential to be fairly tasty, but came across rather one-dimensional, lacking the kick of fruity flavor I was hoping for. 
For the second round, I opted for the Slim Reaper: Jameson, Pimms, cucumber and grapefruit on the rocks.  This was excellent; refreshing cucumber and tangy grapefruit balanced with the sweetness of the liquor. 

Our Overall Review of Le Bistro Montage/La Merde:

Montage is a Portland institution. Ask any 10 Portland food-types where a person visiting Portland must eat, and Montage will be on 9/10 lists. Abbe and I have a long history with Montage, but with good points and bad. They have amazing Cajun food. It is (mostly) cheap, and delicious enough to make a grown man weep tears of joy. The cocktails are expertly crafted and the family-style dining and colorful waitstaff makes for a unique, if unpredictable dining experience. But if you’re feeling irritable, which is easy as the wait for a seat on the weekend usually takes an hour or more, the unique dining experience of one night can turn into a living hell. Sometimes, you don’t want to rub elbows and share conversation with complete strangers, especially when you’re trying to have a hilarious conversation about feminine hygiene products and the couple next to you looks like they’re only here because they took a nap and slept past the early bird special at IHOP. The waiters can be surly if you say the wrong thing, which includes anything from “can I have another beer?” to “would you mind splitting the check?” If you go after 5:00 p.m. on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, you may as well forget about being seated before the low blood sugar rage sets in. And after that, you can expect to eat your meal in silence after you’ve destroyed your vocal chords trying to shout at your friends over the noise. Still, this isn’t a Montage shitfest. We return again and again because the food is unbeatable and once in awhile you need some excitement in your “80-year-old-in-the-body-of-a-24-year-old” life.
Jebby and our guest reviewer, Sarah with their Oyster shooters.
Much to our amazement, we discovered that you can have your cake and eat it too by going on a weeknight and eating your meal in the lounge, just around the corner. Montage’s bar is called La Merde, which is apropos because it is truly the shit. The space in La Merde is spacious but cozy with low lighting and rows of small round tables. The aesthetic is lovely – brick and pale grey-blue walls, dark wood and ornate tin ceiling tiles above the bar.  La Merde doesn’t close until 4-5 in the morning, which is great if you’re trying to have a night out on the town in a city that seems to shut down promptly at 10 o’clock. There are rotating seasonal cocktails as well as dozens of regulars and a downright intimidating wine list. The bartender is extremely knowledgeable. He overheard me talking about how I wanted to make hard cider but didn’t have a cider press and explained to me how I could do it with a food processor. He also helped me decide between two drinks without prompting, and the one he suggested was amazing. He also served our food, remembered everything we ordered and rescued a puppy from a burning building while fighting crime and solving the problem of world hunger.
One of the things that makes Montage so special is that you can entice your bored palate with exotic proteins like alligator, crawfish, oysters and frog legs. These delicacies tend to be more expensive, but it’s worth it to be able to try something new. My first time trying each of the aforementioned meats was at Montage, and I couldn’t think of a better place for it. Their dishes tend to be simple but perfect. Spicy Cajun classics mingle with traditional pastas and the results are fabulous. La Merde is the perfect solution to all the problems that Montage has developed by being so dang popular. In short, whether you are new to Montage or a regular who gets tired of the long wait times and screaming at your date over your delicious food, try eating at La Merde on a weeknight. The bar tends to be busy on the weekends, but it’s worth it to go on a non-traditional night and have the place to yourself.

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