MtlRestoRap Review: Authentic Pizza & Vino at Sapori di Napoli

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“It’s like having dinner in the basement of a St. Leonard triplex. Not fancy. Nothing trendy. Just good authentic homemade Italian food.” That’s how Guido Grasso Jr. described the restaurant his mother and father founded just seven short years ago.

“After 49 years in the plumbing business my dad closed up shop and transformed the space into our pizza restaurant,” Guido Jr. recounted.

“It was a bit of a joke,” Pina Grasso, school teacher by day and helping out in the restaurant by night, said of her parent’s venture into the pizza business. “Let’s put a classic Italian restaurant in the middle of a diverse ethnic neighbourhood. We’ll be the only one in the area,” she laughed. “Things just happened from there. We sponsored a pizza-man from Italy, we opened up to a long lineup on the first night, and it’s been going well ever since,” Pina said.

The proud Grasso famiglia: Pina, Guido, Michelina, Guido Jr.

 

The whole family is involved from the parents to the kids and even a granddaughter.  “A lot of recipes are from my mother,” Pina told us. “Our customers love it, come back as regulars and many have become our friends.” she revealed. “My late brother-in-law’s last words were, ‘Run the pizzeria and I’ll protect you from above,”’ Pina confided in us. The Grasso family really does have a guardian angel.

We went on a quiet night, mid-week. By coincidence, my wife bumped into a colleague from work who wanted to taste something that reminded her of her late mother’s cuisine. She was so pleased that she has been coming back routinely since that first bite a few years ago.

 

Sapori di Napoli, authentic ambiance

The venue is unassuming and unpretentious, located across the street from duplexes in a quiet residential neighbourhood of New Bordeaux (Ahuntsic-Cartierville Borough). It is instantly comfortable, whether you’re dressed up or in jeans and a T-shirt. There are large prints of Italian landscape scenes, two large TV screens piping in Italian TV and paraphernalia from the Old Country.

It is somewhat ironic that our waiter Carlos hails from Portugal. Fluent in five languages including Italian, he could easily be mistaken as originating from Napoli himself. He has been there for six of the restaurant’s seven years.

 

Carlos preps the most delicious fresh baked bread

Carlos started us off with very fresh bread, made on-site daily using Mrs. Grasso’s recipe. The aroma of olive oil and oregano was pleasingly evident and the spicy pepperoncini oil for drizzling made for a for a great start.

Along came the arugula and endive salad (my wife’s two favourite lettuces) and a plate of lightly-breaded calamari with marinara. The salad was devoured before you could say Grazie and the calamari was soft and juicy and could have been my whole meal. But that was just the beginning.

 

Plump and tender calamari

The arancini was next: a delicately rolled rice ball stuffed with cheese served over a tangy, fresh tomato sauce. It was followed by yet another tantalizing starter, the traditional veal meatball in the same hearty tomato sauce.

 

Arancini rice ball stuffed with cheese in amazing tomato sauce

The meal could be hurried in an hour, but we preferred to dine leisurely for nearly three. We chatted with Pina and Guido Jr. who were informative as well as entertaining, the personable and experienced server Carlos, along with the senior Grassos. What’s more, the 1950s American Italian classic music from Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin to Tony Bennett and Perry Como was immensely enjoyable (I wish they had such a channel on Sirius XM).

Guido Jr. started his culinary venture working at the famous Joe’s Pizza in NYC while trying to make a name for himself in show biz. He moved on to L.A. where he perfected his pizza baking skills while looking for his lucky break as a comedian. After spending the bulk of the evening with him, except for the ten minutes when he did a pizza delivery, we too believed he ought to try his hand on stage with a microphone, and keep pizza flipping as Plan B.

Speaking of pizza, we asked Guido Jr. how he’d describe Sapori di Napoli’s pies. “Our pizzas are the flavours of Montreal,” he responded, admitting that his personal favourite is the Margherita. “We don’t try to recreate Italian pizzas because we’re not in Italy. We use flavours and recipes from the old country but give them a local flair.”

 

Chef Nino pulls our Margherita pizza from the oven

“Mom tells our chef what to make,” he continued. “Many customers have been coming back since the beginning. This place is like an extension of my parent’s living room,” Guido Jr. said, noting his parents live just a short walk away, where he grew up with his two sisters and brother.

“The neighbourhood has changed. It used to be French, Italian and Greek and is now a mishmash of ethnicities, but our old friends and neighbours still return for the traditional tastes.”

Out came my Veal Scallopini with artichokes and mushrooms in a cream sauce with Brandy Cognac. Delissimo! The plate was complete with perfectly grilled zucchini, broccoli, rapini, red and yellow peppers. My wife ordered the Bella Napoli pizza bianche adorned with generous, tangy mozzarella, baby tomatoes and basil. The crust was thin with crispy edges. She said it was “delicious.”

Guido Jr. said, “We’re not trying to be fashionable. There are no square dishes here. It’s like eating at your cousin’s wedding,” he chuckled, and so did we.

 

Gnocchi di Ricotta e Pomodoro e Basilico

“My parents go to the market every morning. My mom is on the phone each day with her suppliers, involved in serious conversation with the butcher, like it’s the deal of the century,” he quipped.

“We were lucky to find a chef from the next town over from my parent’s native home in Italy,” Guido Jr. told us. “Nino D’otollo learned cooking in Italy while Mike Viscosi was schooled over here.”

The pizza menu is impressive with over 20 choices. There are the ‘classics’ like All-Dressed and Pepperoni. Tomato-based pizzas are called pizze rosse, while tomato-free pizzas are called pizze bianche and both types are listed separately. The ‘rosse’ includes the Margherita with tomato sauce, mozzarella, fiore di latte, fresh basil and olive oil and the Diavola with tomato sauce, mozzarella and spicy salami. The ‘bianche’ includes the Vegetariana and the Quattro Fromaggi along with offerings of Italian sausage, bocconcini cheese, arugula, cherry tomatoes and more.

There are plenty of interesting home-made pasta dishes, the traditional meat and fish plates, salads, soup and, of course, the must-have antipasto, all running between $8-$30.

We concluded our meal with an outstanding and unique cheesecake: light and creamy with pineapple inside and coated with strawberries, ladyfingers and graham crust. It was a sweet ending to a terrific meal.

Carlos then surprised us with a hefty serving of Zeppole, an Italian style of donut with Nutella dip. I recommend sharing it with the table over espressos. After the cheesecake we could only eat a bite or two (or three) and brought the rest home.

There’s a nice wine selection to choose from and two lovely terrasses for summertime outdoor dining. Sapori di Napoli is open Tuesday to Friday from 11AM-10PMSaturday and Sunday (make reservations) from 5PM to 11PM and closed Mondays. Take out is available and Guido Jr. and his dad even do deliveries!

We were really pleased with our evening of pizza, pasta and great company with the Grasso famiglia. You will be too.

Located at 1465 Dudemaine Street (Montreal, QC H3M 1P9), Sapori di Napoli is about five minutes north of the Marché Central. Call 514-335-1465 for reservations or delivery and visit them online at saporidinapoli.ca and on Facebook.

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Review: JPPS Theatre’s Little Mermaid Jr. makes a big splash

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JPPS Theatre presents The Little Mermaid Junior

Montreal Director extraordinaire Anisa Cameron made a very big splash in uncharted waters with the very first production from the Jewish Peoples and Peretz Schools (JPPS) Theatre. Talented students from grades one to six took to the stage at Cote Saint-Luc’s Harold Greenspon Theatre in Disney’s sensational production of The Little Mermaid Junior for two sold out shows.

Cameron just brought elementary theatre to a whole new level, far from the awkward, amateurish, can’t-remember-my-lines performances from yesterday’s school kids in goofy costume. This production was sure to impress with official Disney soundtrack, professional looking costumes, great sound and lighting, props and more.

Ariel, Flounder and the Seagulls (Photo courtesy Leslie Solomon Inzlicht)

The lead role went to grade 4 student Sana Clarke (Ariel) who sang several numbers with her very beautiful voice beyond her young years. Her sidekick, Flounder the guppy, was ably played by Zoe Inzlicht, who pranced about with excitement and joy. Matthew Liebman (King Triton) was solid as the ruler of the seas as Ella Pariente (Ursula the sea witch) tried to steal away his powers with song and dance.

Hunter Saraga did a sensational job of Prince Eric, who, in the end, captured Ariel’s heart (although they never did kiss!).

Libby Tsabary, in the role of Sebastian the crab, was lively and humurous. All these lead performers were sensational and have many years of amazing theatre to look forward to at JPPS and Bialik.

Hats off to the entire unsinkable cast for wonderful song and dance.  Although I had no kids in the show (my daughter Nikki was stage manager behind the scenes) I attended with my wife, Judy, and our two other children who attend JPPS-Bialik, Tali and Jeremy, and a few of their friends, and we all had ear to ear smiles watching these adorable, witty and shining school kids.

Hats off to the artistic and production staff for reaching new heights in grade school theatre. And bravo to school principal Marnie Stein for her vision of empowering these young kids and her creative leadership in giving them confidence and a rewarding experience.

Cameron and the Cote Saint-Luc Dramatic Society are weeks away from what will surely be another blockbuster hit, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, playing from May 31 to June 17. Tickets are on sale at www.csldramaticsociety.com.

MTLRestoRap Review: Welcome home at Bistro Amerigo

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Momma’s kitchen table might seat more guests than you can fit into Bistro Amerigo but that makes this small, comfy Italian restaurant an even more special find. Located a few blocks west of the hustle and bustle on Monkland Avenue near Grand Boulevard, this little place will do any Italian Momma real proud.

Bistro Amerigo’s owner, Steve (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

The menu is simple and holds the essentials: from classic appetizers like Antipasti di Prosciutto, Calamari Fritti and Mozzarella di Bufala, to pasta specialities such as penne with roasted eggplant, spaghetti puttanesca and the deliciously unique fresh squid ink linguini with seafood. The ‘Terre e Mare’ menu consists of breaded chicken breast with spaghetti, cod with Sicilian olives and capers, braised veal shank better known as Ossobuco, and rosemary lamb chops with polenta and rapini. Soup or salad is included with most dishes. Moretti Italian beer is on the menu along with native white and red wine, cocktails and aperitifs such as Grappa.

Cod and seafood ravioli

Owner-operator Steve was inspired by his father’s culinary teachings starting at just three years old. His father taught him to keep things simple and fresh, not fancy or complicated, but utterly delicious. He always remembered his father’s teachings and eventually placed his dad’s name, Amerigo, on the marquee.

Steve opened the “Garde Manger” (i.e. kitchen pantry) across the street from Bistro Amerigo’s current location in 2010. This little grocer and coffee shop served up classic Italian staples such as quality cheeses, tasty pastries, luscious meatballs and perfect pastas. They also carried delicacies such as Guaciale, or pig cheek, a good Roman dish. “This is an extension of our own pantry that we use in our kitchen,” said Steve. “And these items are beautiful gifts.”

Bistro Amerigo Restaurant owner Steve and Master Chef Giuseppe (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

After one year of running the pantry on one side of the street and the restaurant on the other Steve merged both into the current location. One of the long serving waiters, Bappi, was scooped up from the previous Indian restaurant at that address and has been with Steve ever since. Good move, as he is always friendly and accomodating. Another veteran server, Roberto, has been around the block more than a few times. Schooled in the Old Country, Roberto will give you expert advice on every dish, explain the details of each menu item and steer you toward the best wine. Michael manages the restaurant and 12 staff. “He’s like a brother,” Steve said. “It’s important to build a team that enjoy working all together.”

Steve takes pride in this homestyle, corner store. Amerigo’s local dining experience is akin to ‘Cheers’ of 80s and 90s TV fame, because at Amerigo, “Everyone knows your name.” Regular customers make up the vast majority of diners in this wonderful eatery.

There is a slow constant change in decorations to keep the place from getting stale or boring. “It keeps my regulars happy to see the constant updating,” said Steve, on a cool spring evening. The decor is eclectic to be sure, with framed posters and photos all with an Italian theme. Even Steve’s father’s old coffee pot hangs on the wall.

We started our meal with the beet salad known as Barbietola. Heirloom beets on thin-sliced oranges, toasted breadcrumbs, pine nuts and ricotta salata with shaved croutons made this a delicious starter for our gastronomic evening. “Each ingredient is well thought out with distinct tastes and flavors,” my dining companion said.

We really enjoyed the Mozzarella di Bufala. The fresh cheese was creamy and drizzled with high quality Italian olive oil. It lay upon a bed of bruschetta tomatoes with basil pesto. Next I savoured the Polpette, a juicy braised veal meatball that sat atop a thick and well-spiced tomato sauce strewn with shaved fresh Parmesan.

Bistro Amerigo veal meatball (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

Steve explained each and every dish is created with a precision that only a master chef could identify. At that point he let us know that he studied cooking at St. Pius Culinary Institute in Montreal. This spurred him on to follow one year in a culinary school in Italy. “It’s a passion,” said Steve. “I love what I do.”

Master chef Giuseppe came to check on us to make sure we were enjoying each plate. It was evident that the owner, chef and waitstaff were consumed with excellent customer service and quality dishes.

Bistro Amerigo’s Mozzarella di Bufala (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

As the Italian extravaganza continued, I enjoyed the Baccala Fior del Mar which consisted of seafood filled ravioli with capers, black olives and pesto served with two fillets of lightly breaded crispy cod. It was absolutely delightful, sprinkled with fresh lemon.

Bistro Amerigo’s Gnocchi in pesto sauce (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

Next we were served a dish of Spaghetti Puttanesca with black olive tapenade, anchovies, capers, oregano and tomato concasse. The pasta was cooked to perfection with just the right seasoning. Gnocchi alla Genovese came next: potato dumplings in basil pesto and cream. Outstanding!

Bistro Amerigo’s Spaghetti Putanesca (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

Steve explained that they finish off the cooking of the pasta in a pan adding in a bit of water from the pasta itself to bring out just the right flavour and consistency.

Bistro Amerigo’s  Barbietola, Beet Salad (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

Roberto insisted we try his handmade Cannoli, made with creamy Ricotta, lighter than Mascarpone. It was velvety, not overly-filling, with a sprinkle of chocolate in a crispy pastry shell made of fried biscotti. The Tiramisu is made fresh by Steve with Mascarpone and Espresso. “Each chef makes it just a bit different,” he said.

Bistro Amerigo’s Waiter extraordinaire, Bappi (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

We couldn’t eat another bite so Sicilian-born Roberto brought out the Grappa, an alcoholic dessert beverage. It is a fragrant, acid-based pomace brandy of Italian origin that contains 35 to 60 percent alcohol by volume . The flavor of grappa, like that of wine , depends on the type and quality of the grapes used, as well as the specifics of the distillation process. Grappa is made by distilling the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems (i.e., the pomace ) left over from winemaking after pressing the grapes. Roberto told us that this Grappa was distilled in an 18 year old oak barrel giving it a golden hue. “It’s good for you. You’ll sleep like a baby,” Roberto assured us.

Bistro Amerigo’s Roberto serves up his famous canoli (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

Bistro Amerigo does a healthy takeout business both from their pantry as well as orders cooked to go. With a mere 10 tables and six barstools they do not take reservations and the delicious local fare ensures a lineup on many nights. But make no mistake, it is well worth the wait to taste chef Giuseppe’s wonderful Italian dishes. Fortunately, on warm spring and summer nights the spacious terrasse seats another 14 patrons.

The first time Amerigo stepped foot in his son’s bistro and had a meal he actually cried. Today he still shows up from time to time to make the meatballs. “Dad really likes the food here,” Steve proudly stated.

Dishes run a reasonable $7 to $28. They also cater corporate and personal events and work with their customers to suit their needs.

Bistro Amerigo is open seven days a week, 12 hours a day. You may not cry when you set foot in the place but your mouth will surely water.

6127 Monkland between Hingston and Beaconsfield

514-507-6121

bistroAmerigo.com and on FaceBook.

MtlRestoRap Review: A unique Greek Restaurant in Monkland Village

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Anastasia and Spiros welcome you to their fabulous restaurant

There are many wonderful Greek restaurants in Montreal so finding one as unique as Olive et Citron, on Monkland Avenue in NDG, was more than just a great find. A meal at this family-run restaurant is akin to being invited over for an exquisite feast prepared with old country love and attention by your Greek friend’s mom and dad.

Read the full review on MtlRestoRap.com.

Birnbaum goes for #2 in D’Arcy McGee

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D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum looks on as he is announced as the official candidate for the Quebec Liberal Party in this year’s general election

 

A political and community ‘Who’s Who’ turned out Monday night for the nomination meeting for the Quebec Liberal Party candidate for D’Arcy McGee riding where incumbent Member of the National Assembly David Birnbaum is seeking a second mandate.

 

Flanked by Deputy Premier Dominique Anglade, Finance minister Carlos Leitao, English-speaking community relations minister Kathleen Weil and MNA Rita De Santes, Birnbaum was clearly beaming with pride on having served his constituents well over the past four years.

From right: David Birnbaum, John Parisella, Carlos Leitao, William Steinberg, Mitchell Brownstein, Kathleen Weil, Dominique Anglade

Special guest speaker John Parisella, chief of staff to Premier Robert Bourassa and decades-long senior adviser to the QLP introduced Birnbaum as a man with great focus and an excellent representative for the riding. He noted, as I have on several occasions, Birnbaum’s eloquence in choosing the very best words in making his point.

 

Said Birnbaum, in accepting the nomination and becoming the official QLP candidate, “We’re working hard in building Canada.” He pointed out how his government is not only looking inward at Quebec but seeking ways to strengthen the entire country, for example through bilateral work with other provinces.

 

“It’s rewarding to contribute to the rest of the country,” the liberal member said.

 

With regard to the work the QLP is doing for the local community and the Jewish community, he singled out the Jewish General Hospital and the government’s recent decision to fund “Phase 4” of the multi-million dollar redevelopment project.

David Birnbaum at the Jewish General Hospital

“The JGH is a model, as our health minister has said many times, and now has funding for the next step of its major expansion,” Birnbaum said.

 

“I’m doing my piece to move the Cavendish dossier forward,” Birnbaum announced, citing his many meetings with municipal and provincial leaders. “In 2024 you’re going to see something happen,” he stated.

More locally, “We recently announced one million dollars in funding for the Cote Saint-Luc Samuel Moscovitch Arena.”

Quebec Liberal leader Dr. Philippe Couillard introduces D’Arcy McGee candidate David Birnbaum (2014)

“I presented a resolution by Cllr. Ruth Kovac concerning safety on signs,” Birnbaum mentioned. In fact, Cllr. Ruth Kovac and Harold Staviss have been remarkable in their consistent advocacy for bilingualism in the retail and commercial arena. It was yours truly that began a local push for bilingual safety messages on Quebec road signs and English content on provincial department websites. I must say that it is still quite disappointing that not only is there far too little English on road signs as well as in commerce it is quite sad that Ruth, Harold, myself and many others must advocate in the first place for something that is already within the law.

MNA David Birnbaum and Councillor Ruth Kovac

Birnbaum stated, “As MNA you need to be present for the constituents each and every day… solving problems, serving the community.” To that end he thanked his two very accessible and effective attachés, Chris and Liz.

 

Among other issues, Birnbaum also highlighted:

  • last year’s economic mission Historic mission to Israel, the first time a Quebec Premier made such a visit.
  • The Premier’s three visits into the riding, including last week for Yom Hashoah and a previous appearance at the CSL Men’s Club. “There’s no tougher place in Quebec for hard questions than from the 600 men of the CSL Men’s Club,” he said to applause, with a nod to past president Sidney Margles who was present.

 

In considering the opposition in the upcoming October 1 general election Birnbaum said, “Ask the CAQ why a judge in Quebec cannot discharge his duties while wearing a kippa. Or ask why the CAQ wouldn’t continue funding the English community secretariat, or why they’re against current immigration levels.”

David Birnbaum, MNA, welcomes Cllrs. Dida Berku, Mitchell Brownstein, Allan J. Levine, Acting Mayor Glenn J. Nashen and Chief of Staff Bonnie Feigenbaum (2015)

“As to the PQ, despite a referendum on sovereignty is not on the agenda it keeps coming up time and again.”

 

He also referred to PQ leader Jean-Francois Lisée’s “stupid question”, as Leitao called it, last week on Yom Hashoah. Lisée questioned why Birnbaum should have more rights than Lisée is being allowed to wear a kippa in the assembly while Lisée was singled out for wearing a political symbol in his PQ lapel pin, something not permitted by assembly rules. A political three-party free for all ensued for several days that doesn’t look like it will be over soon as the “identity” question boils over, yet again.

Mayor Mitchell Brownstein, Cllr. Allan J. Levine, MNA David Birnbaum, Finance Minister Carlos Leitao, Cllr. Dida Berku, Cllr. Ruth Kovac, Cllr. Glenn J. Nashen (2016)

Birnbaum called the Liberals, “Inclusive, compassionate and proudly Canadian.” While some may call that an exaggeration, Birnbaum is quite convinced, to be sure.

 

The evening opened with Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg welcoming everyone to his town and throwing his full support behind the candidate. CSL Mayor Mitchell Brownstein was close-by in showing his ongoing support for the MNA, along with Councillors Mike Cohen, Ruth Kovac, Steven Erdelyi and Dida Berku as well as myself and Allan Levine, as former CSL Councillors. Veteran Montreal Councillor Marvin Rotrand was also on hand as was former MNA Judge Herbert Marx and many community leaders.

 

It was clear from this friendly crowd that although D’Arcy McGee doesn’t tend to be a nail-biter in provincial elections they were plenty pleased to have David Birnbaum selected as the local superstar.

I Want You To Remember… A Childhood Lost

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That was the theme of this year’s Yom Hashoah commemoration held in Cote Saint Luc, organized by the Montreal Holocaust Museum.
Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard spoke eloquently about his family’s memory of this dark period in the 20th century. His mother came from Grenoble and Couillard recounted how so many stories were told to him as a youngster from his many aunts and uncles in France.
He also recounted with great pride about the first-ever Quebec Economic Mission to Israel last year when he was accompanied by Member of the National Assembly, David Birnbaum. Additionally, Couillard indicated that Quebec was one of the first governments in the world to declare a National Day of Commemoration of the Holocaust, in 1999, when introduced by then MNA Lawrence Bergman.
Newly installed Consul General of Israel, David Levy, spoke about his Parisian mother and their family’s personal experiences of betrayal by the French Nazi sympathizers. He spoke passionately about the large number of family members who never returned home.
Six candles were lit by survivors and their children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren in memory of the Six Million Jews who perished.
Each survivor gave a video testimonial recounting in vivid detail their horrific memories of incarceration, deportation, hiding, hunger and terrible loss. Each one, between the ages of 85 and 90, spoke of the loss of their own childhood.
One such Survivor was Zissel Farkas. The 90 year old woman told her story, through her daughter. This brave, courageous and lucky woman is today the matriarch of three children, 26 grandchildren and an incredible 70 great grand-children.
The JPPS choir sung stirring tunes of remembrance from the 1930s and 40s. The solemn and impassioned song, Ani Ma’amin, I Remember,
was reportedly composed in a cattle car en route to the Treblinka concentration camp. The song was sung by many Jews as they marched to the gas chambers in the Nazi death camps.
With the song being hummed in the background the names of Jews murdered by the Nazis were slowly read aloud, along with their place of birth, where they were murdered and their age. Many childrens’ names were read out. Three years old. Six year’s old. One name was that of a baby just months old. In all, more than 1.5 million children were murdered in the Holocaust.
The ‘Partisan Hymn’ was sang out loud by the hundreds in attendance. It is a song written by poet and partisan Hirsch Glick in the Vilna Ghetto and became the anthem of the resistance movement. Today it is considered to be the main anthem of Holocaust Survivors and is sung at Memorial services around the world.
I have attended this commemoration for longer than I can remember. This year, I was joined by my daughter Nicole, who was on the March of the Living one year ago. She traveled to Poland and marched with thousands of students and adults to the death camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau, waving the Israeli flag, proclaiming Am Yisrael Chai. The People of Israel Live!  In this way, we are all doing our part in passing the responsibility of never forgetting from one generation to the next.

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Traditional Mimouna celebrated in CSL

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Mimouna is a three century old North African Jewish celebration held the day after Passover, marking the return to eating chametz (leavened foods), which are forbidden throughout the week of Passover.

The celebration begins after nightfall on the last day of Passover. In many communities, non-Jewish neighbours sell chametz back to Jewish families as a beginning of the celebration. Moroccan and Algerian Jews throw open their homes to visitors, after setting out a lavish spread of traditional holiday cakes and sweetmeats. One of the holiday favorites is Mofletta. The table is also laid with various symbols of luck and fertility, with an emphasis on the number “5,” such as five pieces of gold jewelry or five beans arranged on a leaf of pastry. The repetition of the number five references the five-fingered hamsa amulet common in both Jewish and Muslim North African and Middle Eastern communities from pre-modern times. Typically all those in attendance at a Mimouna celebration are sprinkled with a mint sprig or other green dipped in milk, symbolizing good fortune and new beginnings.

The tradition continued in homes across Cote Saint-Luc on Saturday night and for the first time at JPPS-Bialik, on Sunday afternoon.

Anat and Michel Toledano welcome the Nashens and Anzaruts for Mimouna

Our night out began after 10:00PM at the home of Anat Marciano and Michel Toledano. They welcomed my family into their home with open arms, along with our friends, Alissa and Phil Anzarut.

It is customary to spend a little time visiting the host family’s home before moving on to other homes. After a beautiful spread at the Toledano’s, including Moroccan pastries, Mofletta, coucous, cheeses, fruit, smoked salmon, wine and Arak derived from figs (oy vey, it was potent) it was time to move on for the next late night visit. Thank you very much Anat and Michel.

Our family traveled down the block to the warm and inviting home of Chantal Bekhor and Emmanuel Castiel. There was an endless stream of well-wishers who kept arriving. Strangers and friends alike mingled, easily offering greetings of ‘Tarbakh’, May you have good luck.

Emmanuel Castiel and Chantal Bekhor

Chantal Bekhor is one famous Cote Saint-Lucer after competing for Top Prize in the cookie category on Food Network Canada‘s Recipe to Riches.

Bekhor, is a food sensation, who first introduced Canada to her family’s traditional recipe for the Mahbooz Date Biscuit, a typical Iraqi Jewish dessert.  She was featured by the Montreal Gazette as well.

Chantal Bekhor, the most famous baker in Cote Saint-Luc

The former JPPS English and math teacher is a dynamic and affable hostess along with her business partner and husband Emanuel Castiel. They opened their home to hundreds of friends during the Mimouna to some incredible pastries, cakes, chocolate bark, truffles, Iraqi delights, and more, all home made of course. While the  judges on Recipe to Riches said they loved the Mahbooz treat, calling it, “Exotic, versatile, ” I can attest to the fact that her baking is even so much more.

A gathering of friends (and politicians) at the Bekhor-Castiel Mimouna

My wife is a big fan of Chantal’s food. Indeed my girls and Judy cheered Chantal on a few years back on her television debut, not just because of my wife’s common Sephardi roots, but because the Mahbooz date-filled cookie looked absolutely delicious and a treat that would be appreciated by a large number of Cote Saint-Lucers to be sure, as well as Canadians in general.

A peak at Chantal’s scrumptious Mimouna table

Thank you Chantal and Emmanuel for such generous hospitality and for an absolutely delicious assortment of treats. My sugar level and calorie intake reached an all time, one night high.

By Sunday afternoon when sugar levels stabilized it was time to continue the celebration over at JPPS-Bialik, the first time this Sephardic celebration took place at the school. The gym was decorated in Moroccan fashion, drummers and musicians greeted the guests as they entered and long tables of sweets, pastries and mofletta lined the room.

The hostesses, under the direction of Judaic studies coordinator, Anat Toledano (clearly she’s a Mimouna-specialist!) all decked out in bright and shiny traditional kaftans should be very proud of bringing the festive Sephardic tunes and tastes to what has traditionally been a typical Ashkenazi school. With a large number of the families blended in both traditions, and even fully Sephardi, it was time to share this wonderful event all together.

Sephardic community (CSUQ) president Henri Elbaz was invited to participate as well. Thanks to Henri’s support the event exceeded expectations and attendance. Students, parents and grandparents were entertained, fed and danced for two hours. It was an absolutely lovely event that should grow larger next year. Thank you Anat, Joanne, Judy, Carole, Beth and all the moms involved in this event.

I wish you all Tarbakh, success and good luck.  And now, my treadmill awaits!

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