Fearless forager Sara Berg-Johnson recently took a stab at another taxi adventure in the great food city of Montreal. Here’s the story of her journey with Charles – a former barbershop owner who’s driving a cab to put his kids through private school – along with a run-down of her first taste of Haitian food (including some delicious-sounding goat).
Meanwhile, if you’re interested in doing some fearless foraging of your own and writing about your taxi adventure, I’d love to share your story with other Taxi Gourmet readers. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Charles was parked in the corner of the gas station across the street from Lionel Groulx metro station. A bearded man with a nice smile, he greeted me when I got into his cab.
When I asked him right off the bat where his favourite restaurant was, he said he’d heard of a good steak house not too far away. He hadn’t been there. After some more questions from me and some thinking from him, he remembered that there was a branch of a Haitian restaurant he’d been to before. He wasn’t sure of the address though – or if it was open. He called a friend to ask. Five minutes and two phone calls later, we were on our way to Kalalu on Saint Denis St. in downtown Montreal.
When his kids were in high school, he decided to shift gears and go to school in computer science. For 7 years now he’s put his studies on pause to work as a taxi driver so he can put his kids through private school. He’ll go back once they graduate.
I told him that I’d dropped out of college myself for lack of motivation and self-discipline and he laughed and said just the day before he had been telling his son: “You need a lot of self-discipline! Without that you won’t make it.” He added, “You guys are young, what, 25, 27 years old? You have your life in front of you.”
He said he didn’t eat out often, putting three kids through private school didn’t leave much room for extra expenses, and there weren’t that many good Haitian restaurants in Montreal. His wife’s cooking was better than any restaurant food anyway.
When Charles braked in front of Kalalu, we sort of wished we were going to his house for dinner. We thanked him for the ride and climbed the stairs to the restaurant, where there was a big balcony with a few occupied tables – and an empty dining room inside with a skylight – and what I assumed was Haitian music playing.
My co-adventurer and I sat outside in the fading light and pored over a short but delicious-looking menu. The main courses ranged from $13 to $20 with a table d’hote (set menu) in the $25-$30 range.
There was a section for “The Authentic” that I chose to order from. I’d never tried Haitian food before.
We ordered Chiquetaille as an appetizer: a spicy mixture of salt cod and with garlic, onion, thyme and chili spread on what seemed like freshly baked bread.
We chose Calypso and Tasso for our main courses. Calypso was a medium-juicy chicken breast under a blanket of mango salsa, with a mixture of mashed sweet and regular potato. The potatoes were slightly spicy and had a smoky, meaty undertone that made me steal bite after bite off my friend’s plate.
I was eager to try tasso – fried goat and beef in a rich brown gravy with a hint of tomatoes that reminded me of poutine sauce – as I’d never had goat before. It had a nice gamey flavor that I liked, and it was a nice contrast to the chicken.
The tasso also came with fried green plantains, salad, rice and beans. The salad had just a splash of mango juice as dressing and was refreshing, sweet and simple but the plantains were slightly acidic. I left a few on my plate – the texture was okay but they lacked something to balance out their acidity. I tried dipping them in the brown sauce from the tasso but that didn’t make them much more interesting.
After our meal, the waitress said she had something for us to try since it was our first time there. She made us some mango and vodka granita in small shot glasses that normally came with the table d’hote menu; it was yummy and refreshing after our spicy meal.
When I told her I’d found the restaurant on the recommendation of a Haitian cab driver, she said that a lot of cab drivers came to Kalalu actually. I’ll definitely be going back to try more Haitian food. Tasso was just the beginning.
4331 Rue Saint-Denis
Montreal, Quebec H2J 2K8
Tel. (514) 849-7787