Glenn J. Nashen reviews Restaurant Onoir: An eye opening dinner experience

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Restauranteur Ian and server Sophie at Onoir (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

This was no ordinary evening out for dinner. I had heard of Onoir for several years and each time I came up with an excuse why I didn’t want to eat in the dark. This time was different and what an eye-opening experience it was.

 

You would never know by walking by on the pedestrian-only Prince Arthur Street that Onoir is really a lights-out place on the inside. Their comfortable and spacious terrasse could rival any fine venue along the Seine in Paris. Indeed, this is a people-watching area that they call Orues, so they’ve got you covered, errr uncovered, if you prefer to dine eyes wide open. And so we started our culinary experience on the cozy terrasse as I had a blonde beer brewed just down the block and my wife and daughter enjoyed sangria. A huge mural was just completed on their outside wall by famous graffiti artist Stikki Peaches depicting a young Salvador Dali.

Salvador Dali mural at Onoir (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

But what brothers Alejandro and Ian Martinez Ortiz and their mom Oralia have cooking inside is what really sets them apart from the rest. This family was born and raised in Mexico City but when asked why they came to make new lives in this city, Ian says, “Montreal chose us!” And so it goes for this culturally rich, philosophically astute and community minded entrepreneurial trio.

The terrasse, known as Orues, on Prince Arthur Street (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

Ian majored in Native Studies in Anthropology and non-Western History at Concordia University while brother Alejandro, a musician, studied the business side of of music and sound engineering.

 

The idea came to the family and Mohammed Alameddine on a trip to Switzerland; Create a dining experience truly apart from any other by tingling your senses and heightening your interaction with the food.  With this innovative concept they launched North America’s first restaurant, literally in the dark, 10 years ago, here in Montreal.

Award winning design at Onoir (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

Ian greeted Judy, Nicole and I in the well-lit and wood-cabin-decorated main room where you’ll find the bar and a few tables for drinks and appetizers. Here you peruse the menu and select from the generous offerings of appetizers, main dishes and desserts along with an exclusive wine, beer and aperitif list. You make your selection, en lumiere so to speak, but they throw you an interesting challenge in offering a “surprise” that you may choose for each of your courses. Let them decide upon what they serve you, and you figure it out, in the dark! “It accentuates the experience,” Ian tells us.

 

There’s a little of everything on the menu including vegan options. The main courses include mushroom pie, shrimp in butter, salmon fillet, duck breast, rabbit and the popular grilled beef shoulder. We all choose the surprise but Judy and Nicole are able to stipulate certain dietary restrictions.

Onoir (Courtesy Facebook)

Upstairs we go to one of the two blackened dining rooms where we are introduced to our server, Sophie. Like all the servers at Onoir, Sophie is legally blind (she has just 15% vision). With my hands on her shoulders, Judy’s on mine, and Nicole’s on hers, we form a ‘conga line’ and shuffle slowly and cautiously into the pitch black room. Sophie puts my hand to the back of my chair and I slide into my seat while my hands gingerly feel the tabletop and its contents: cutlery, napkin, oops, that’s my wife doing the same on her side. Wall to my right. Empty place setting to my left. Sound of dinner guests behind me. Two of them – man and woman. I’ve got my bearings.  I quickly tuck the cloth napkin into my shirt and an extra one over my lap, perhaps anticipating the inevitable clumsiness.

Onoir (Courtesy Facebook)

Along comes Sophie. She taps my left shoulder for me to reach for my water glass. A small sip. My first spill! My napkin prepping helped. Ian would later tell us that that 50-60 year olds tend to be the messiest in the dark, kids usually adapt the easiest. “How often do spills occur,” I ask Ian. “Every night!”, he chuckles in response.

 

They’ve thought of everything. Even padding the room with sound absorbing material to dampen the echo since patrons sense of sound is more acute in the dark.

 

Judy, Nicole and I discuss our new comfort zone, describe what we feel and how we’re going to manage our meal. We hear the door open and instantly smell and feel the wonderful aromas wafting past our noses. Our sense of smell has already reached a new high only minutes into the dark. Our eyes see nothing at all but our noses pick up the sweet scents of sesame oil and cumin. We’re already teeming with excitement about what lies ahead.

 

Sophie announces that she has placed our plates before us and we reach for the cutlery to attempt to eat a normal dinner. But there is nothing normal about this evening. We touch the edge of the plates to delineate the ‘playing field’. I scoop, Judy dabs, Nicole uses her fingers!

 

Judy and Nicole start comparing notes since their surprise appetizers are identical. But since there are several different elements on the plate they are not always tasting the same thing at the same time. The kitchen takes care to cut up the food into bite sized pieces unless it’s soft enough for the guest to cut with a fork. We never used the butter knives on our table.

 

I begin to savour my dish. The smell and the weight upon the fork are all factors registering before it hits my mouth. All of a sudden, it passes my lips and the taste instantly explodes.

 

“There’s a party in my mouth,” Judy says, going through the same sensations.

 

The texture of the food item upon the tongue helps us to decipher what we’re eating. How chewy or juicy, thick or dense, are elements we don’t usually think of. What a powerful and sudden experience from the first bite.

 

I really appreciated that there are many different textures on the plate from shaved turkey to potato salad and cauliflower sauce.

 

Judy and Nicole enjoyed chunky tuna tataki with crunchy sweet potato chips. The surprise element definitely added to the fun.

 

The main courses arrive. Again, fingers checking the circumference of the plates. What were we in for? No idea…

 

After we devour the main courses and even lick our fingers, I invite Sophie to sit with us for a few minutes to review what we thought we might have eaten. “I think mine was duck and I tasted asparagus,” I quiz Sophie. “But I don’t know what the rest was.”

 

Sophie tells me my surprise was an exquisite duck breast with a blueberry and old-style mustard sauce and garlic flakes. Each bite was something special. The crunchy sweet potato and parmesan, leek and asparagus fondue was incredible, along with the playful, snappy crunchy garlic chips.

Onoir (Courtesy Facebook)

The girls enjoyed a salmon with nice, crunchy skin, stewed cabbage and broiled parsnips. They are much better at guessing than me. Judy paired her meal with a glass of wine and did not spill a drop! “The flavours were vibrant and singing in my mouth,” Judy says.

 

Sophie tells us she has worked here for seven years. In fact, it was her first job since she turned 18 and she loves it every day. She helps us better understand our environment by describing the room, the number of tables, how she manoeuvres about, memorizing who ordered what and where everyone is seated.

 

What comment does she hear often?

 

“People are surprised. Sometimes they start off a bit stressed. Most don’t completely understand the challenges a visually impaired person, or totally blind person, lives with,” Sophie reveals. “People are generally scared in the dark. We have funny moments sometimes. It’s a good comment on society to come and learn and ask questions about how we work, how we function,” she says appreciatively.

 

Owner Ian comes to join us when our surprise desserts are served. The chefs have some fun with one dessert which has roasted quinoa as a garnish. Judy loves chocolate but announces that tasting the dark chocolate mousse with caramelized mangoes, crunchy puff pastry and mango coulis on her tongue, while in the dark, takes it to a new level. Nicole enjoys her quinoa with blueberry sauce while I savour every bit of my almond and raspberry soft cake with crème fouettée, honey and vanilla. I couldn’t imagine leaving any behind and swipe my fingers across the plate (and found some on the placemat).

 

Ian tells us, “The darkness is like an invisible canvas: we rediscover our senses. There are 30 people employed at Onoir. All of the servers are legally blind.The chefs are creative and playful and take care to have the meal tell a story. Kids always like this restaurant. They’re amazed in discovering the food. The adults are more afraid.”

 

They have repeat customers that come every one or two months. “The first impulse is to come because it’s something new. It’s kind of like entertainment but we’re pushing for it to become a culinary experience,” Ian says. “We have tourists from all around the world, foodies, locals…” The menu is changed each season.

 

“It’s like a funny social experiment over these 10 years”, Ian reminisces.

 

What funny stories?

 

There’s the one about the adult who didn’t like vegetables and shoveled them all onto her child’s dish. Or the diner who couldn’t understand why his wine glass was emptied so quickly only to find out his buddy kept drinking his wine. Ian tells about the group that got quite tipsy and left the restaurant and forgot about their friend. It was only later that night when he went in to clean up and flipped the lights on that he jumped in fright when he discovered the friend asleep at the table.

 

“We’ve had guests come here on blind dates,” Ian tells us. “He was already seated inside when she arrived, and she left before he did. I always wondered if they had a second date?”

 

“Our staff are absolutely amazing. What we find really nice is that it’s not just a job. It’s empowering our staff,” Ian says proudly. “Inside the room, we are the handicapped ones and they become our eyes. Once they start working here most of our waiters never go,” he says.

 

The blind community is relatively small and a lot of them know each other. After hours many will come and hang out here, the blind and sighted, all together. They come here to hang out more than to eat. They can have the Onoir experience in any restaurant but only here do they have a sense of community.

 

Sophie interrupts our discussion when she enters the room with our tea and coffee. Be very careful she says. We immediately smell the sweet aroma of our hot beverages. We carefully take the handle of the mug and place the hot cup on the table to plan to drink with care.

 

“We believe that each of us has a mission, a path before us in life. We were given the honour to explore and to learn what we have learned, together with them (the sight impaired). They have opened our eyes,” Ian emphasizes. “I follow the symbolic language of life. I see the signs that speak to us. We’re a spiritual family. This place was waiting for us. It is our calling to take care of this place and these people. We know why we’re here. The most valuable thing I’ve learned here is the people. We trust our intuition,” he says.

 

They have found a winning formula in Onoir. The experience was tremendous. We confronted our inhibitions. We challenged our senses. And we learned about the lives of caring and insightful people like Sophie and Ian, Alejandro and their mom. And, the food is delicious (although we’re still not sure about the presentation).

 

I guess they’re right: It’s better in the dark!

 

 

Onoir is open seven nights a week during the summer and closed Tuesdays in winter, from 5:45PM. The terrace is open all summer for dinner and drinks. They also welcome groups and corporate team-building for lunch or dinner. Prices range from $36 for two services or $42 for all three.

 

Onoir Montreal

124 Rue Prince Arthur E, Montreal, QC H2X 1B5

(514) 937-9727

info@onoir.com

https://www.facebook.com/OnoirRestaurantMontreal/

 

Onoir Toronto

620 Church Street, Toronto

info@onoirtoronto.com

416.922.NOIR (6647)

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A new Italian aroma in Brossard: Tre Sapori

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by Glenn J. Nashen

There’s a new Italian aroma spreading across Brossard. Restaurants Tre Sapori has recently launched on Taschereau Boulevard and is sure to be a local hit. What’s more, situated one minute off Autoroute 10 and near the 10-30 area, Tre Sapori is closeby for anyone hungry for some great Italian food.

Owner Joe Astorino with Chef Moe, Server Alex and Sous Chef Joe in the kitchen at Tre Sapori (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

This family business is run by a team composed of brothers Joe and Sergio Astorino and brother-in-law Luigi D’Amico. Each one brings a unique and complementary expertise to the restaurant which recently transformed from the last of the Pasta Tutti Giorni chain where Luigi worked for several years.

I was recently invited to join Joe for dinner and along with a few guests. We drove a mere 25 minutes from Montreal’s West End to get there. Barely 5 minutes over the Champlain Bridge, it took us the same time as it would have to travel downtown or the West Island.

We were warmly welcomed into the new, bright, and modern venue where there was ample free, no-hassle parking (which adds time and cost to the downtown experience). With 120 seats in the dining room there was no wait to be seated during the week, but I’m told it quickly fills up on the weekend. The natural colours, woody look and faux-stone wallpaper (fooled me as I reached out to touch the rocks) was quite appealing and the ambiance was set with Italian music, two large screen TVs and the smiling face of our awaiting server, Alex.

Alex also worked at the previous restaurant and Luigi brought him over. Alex studies by day at the John Molson School of Business and serves as waiter at night. Notwithstanding his Bulgarian background, he’s quite adept at suggesting Italian dishes.

We started off with three appetizers: Arancini, Calamari and Bruschetta (you pronounce the hard C in Italian, like Brusketta).

Arancini is a homemade rice ball with tangy cheese and minced meat. It came lightly seasoned and breaded with a very tasty tomato sauce on the side for dipping. Joe pointed out that all of their sauces are made fresh every day on the premises.

The Calamari tasted very fresh, not spicy, lightly battered and fried. The tomato sauce was the perfect accompaniment for dipping. It was presented very nicely and was quite plentiful. I squeezed fresh lemon all over and three of us enjoyed the overflowing plate.

The Bruschetta was a treat. Crispy warm artisanal bread topped with minced and garnished tomatoes so sweet and tasty it’s like they were just picked off the vine.

The wine and beer list featured some Italian favourites and we enjoyed a bottle of Moma, a mixture of sangiovese, merlot and cabernet sauvignon. It was dry yet fruity. It really accentuated each dish and also livened up our discussion and critique of the meal, which happily was very positive. If you’re not a wine drinker there’s Italian beer (Moretti) and aperitifs for after. They also have sangria by the glass, half or whole pitcher.

Joe explained that they receive food deliveries almost every day to ensure freshness.  Although he wouldn’t give away his mom’s secret recipe for tomato sauce, he did let slip that they use San Marzano canned tomatoes that are skinned. “No seeds or unnecessary liquid in these tomatoes,” Joe explained. They add basil, garlic, oil, onions, and Joe added, “the tomato does the rest of the work.” They also buy their meat fresh and pound it themselves in the kitchen.

They offer nine types of pizza and we couldn’t possibly not try one along with our main dishes. Although the unique and very popular Pizza Fruitti di Mari was eye catching, we ordered something my non-seafood indulging wife could bite into as well while we awaited the main course.

So out came the Pizza Primavera which the four of us gladly shared. What a great choice. Topped with tons of grilled zucchini, yellow peppers, amazing eggplant and drizzled in light oil it had a distinct and delicious taste, not to mention looked almost too beautiful to eat.

Since we not in a rush and were being treated like royalty, we next devoured the ceasar salad and soup. Stuart had the Stracciatella soup consisting of an egg “cracked right on the spot,” Joe said, and spinach with a hint of pepper. “This is the best I’ve ever tasted,” Stuart slurped.

Randy and I had the Minestrone soup, a bit more traditional and slightly spicy with a nice array of tomato, carrot, celery, onion and more.

It was time to choose our main dishes but what to choose from such a large offering? The menu was quite plentiful in every category of Italian specialty. They have a nice table d’hote from $21 to $32, main dishes from $16-$18 along with an array of soup, salads and appetizers. While salmon is a pretty staple fish specialty there, they all offered a catch of the day which normally includes trout and cod.

Stuart chose rosé sauce for his Cannelloni which in his case was a noodle cooked perfectly with a mix of veal, beef and pork. Judy’s Pasta Romanella arrived with her choice of penne noodles in a cream sauce. It came with a unique ingredient in artichoke along with sun dried tomatoes and mushrooms – a nice combination of vegetables, pleasantly spiced.

Randy’s Carne al Limone was served in a creamy, buttery lemon sauce atop the tender veal. Sautéd carrots, broccoli, onions and red and yellow pepper adorned the plate.

What did I order that I couldn’t get at home? Veal Marsala was my pick. I loved the mushrooms and the tangy dark sauce that had a hint of sweetness on the tender, thinly sliced veal. With a generous side of pasta in tomato sauce this table d’hote choice included soup, salad and coffee (tea for me).

We were a quisitive bunch and had lots and lots of questions. Alex was informative and patient and very attentive to detail. He was definitely well trained, had a good mannerism for this business and was eager to please.

Joe sat with us as we had lots of questions about Tre Sapori. He is a banker by trade whose roots go back to Southern Italy. Calabrese to be precise. Brother Sergio hails from the telecom industry, also not in the restaurant business, while brother-in-law Luigi had managed the previous restaurant at that location. These three are a tight group of great partners with unique skills – expertise that blend together very well.

“Family helps family,” Joe said. “It’s a labour of love. I love to cook. I love to eat!” he joked, saying this passion for food comes from his mom, Giuliana.

“Food represents family and friends. On Sunday, mom cooks at home and everyone gathers together. When mom says, ‘tomorrow at noon, be here’, everyone shows up,” Joe quipped.

Moma is from Calabria. Luigi is from Salerno, a region well-known for Mozzarella di Buffala. It’s easy to see that Joe, Sergio and Luigi bring traditional Italian family values of love and respect to Tre Sapori. “We come from a traditional Italian family,” Joe said. “Everything happens around the dinner table!”

Then there’s Chef Moe. “He’s in charge of the kitchen and makes all the decisions on menu and dishes,” Joe said. Moe has been there for 15 years also transferring from the previous restaurant, “so he knows the clientele, he knows what they want and how they want it,” said Joe.

Time for dessert and what incredible choices to be made. The cheese cakes are homemade, so we chose Nutella over the Marble. We also shared the Tiramisu, a staple to end any Italian meal, and the Sopresa, a crispy stuffed pastry.

Luigi recognizes his long time customers returning to experience the new menu and vibes. Sergio is active on social media posting specials and events to their Facebook page. There’s a lunch menu, Midi-Express, from $9.95 including chicken caesar salad, pizza or pasta with a soft drink.

They also have a kids menu for those 12 and under at $7.95 including chicken parmesan, pizza and pasta, french fries and more. The kid’s size is the same as the adult’s serving so expect to take home a doggy bag!

I asked Sergio what he is most proud of at the restaurant. “We are proud of the quality and authenticity of our food,” he said. “Our goal is to serve real authentic Italian food with real friendly service.  The restaurant is a family business that allows us to show our children what you can achieve with hard work and dedication.  My brother-in-law, Luigi, came from Italy with a dream of opening up a business and thanks to him we have achieved his dream and our goals.”

As for Sergio’s favourite dish?  “It’s a tie between the Osso Bucco and the Spaghetti Bolognese.  They remind us of our mother’s cooking.”

What traditions do you bring from your mother’s table to your customers’ table I asked Sergio? “Our mother has always provided us with fresh ingredients and a love for cooking. For our customers, we hope to achieve the same traditions. Fresh ingredients and a love for cooking with the hope of serving the best Italian meals in Brossard.”

Finally, I wanted to know what was the best feedback they’ve received to date. “We consistently hear that our ingredients are fresh, the meals are delicious and that we bring our customers back to their childhood with their nonna cooking Sunday dinner for the family,” Sergio said. “One client said it was the best tomato sauce she’s had since going to Naples,” Sergio added.

You can view their feedback for yourself on Google and on their Facebook page.

There’s a take out counter and also delivery with Uber-Eats. In fact, they’ve hooked up with all of the local hotels to offer a discount to guests. They’re also available to host your parties and events on site and they offer catering as well.

The boys from Tre Sapori have partnered with the City of Brossard since they’re the only Italian restaurant in the area and are members of the Moi J’achète Localement loyalty card program and are involved in sporting events as well as cultural festivals.

I noticed that they call themselves Restaurants (plural) Tre Sapori. Could an expansion be in the plans? That’s a closely guarded secret but I wouldn’t be surprised. With great food at reasonable prices, friendly service and smiles all around I can see this family enterprise taking off and branching out. I wish them lots of luck and thank them all for making us feel right at home!

Restaurants Tre Sapori

7681 Taschereau Blvd, Brossard, QC J4Y 1A2

Phone(450) 445-0025

Web: http://www.restaurantstresapori.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RestaurantsTreSapori/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tresapori/

 

Montreal complètement Cirque best pick: Scotch & Soda

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If you even remotely enjoy Montreal’s uber-artsy circus scene you won’t want to miss Scotch & Soda. This  extraordinary and zany show by Company 2 is on stage until July 21 at Theatre St. Denis in collaboration with the Just For Laughs festival.

We attended opening night last night. The theatre was completely sold out and there’s no wondering why. This show was spectacular from beginning to end. Two groups of performers, one circus-artistic and the other jazz-musical intertwined for 95 minutes of pure sensation. Both artistry and musical components were outstanding.

Scotch and Soda performed at The London Wonderground. David Carberry, ©Alastair Muir 20.05.15

Scotch & Soda is the result of an exciting mixology between two groups of artists and friends. On the one hand, we have the acrobats of Company 2, an ensemble of multidimensional circus artists. On the other hand, the Uncanny Carnival band is a tight-knit group of musicians from Sydney, Australia. Each musician brings their own flavour, and like the best single malt whiskey, this creates a unique blend. Scotch & Soda is the result of this mix: circus and jazz, served straight up.

A show that is an actual cocktail of exciting backgrounds: world-class circus and heart pounding jazz. It’s a perfect blend of art, fun, and friendship. This cocktail needs just one final greeting… the audience.

The show is brilliant. Ultra-creative. Exciting. You’ve never seen anything like it. I give it a 10 out of 10. Don’t miss it.

Behind the scenes at CSLDS Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

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Behind the scenes at CSLDS Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

By Glenn J. Nashen 

Sam Boucher, Joseph, in his coat of many colours

The recent stage production of the Cote Saint-Luc Dramatic Society’s (CSLDS) “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” was an unprecedented success. Show after show brought in crowds that filled every seat. Additional shows were added on and extra chairs were brought in. Some shows even had standing room only onlookers.

 

The reputation of the seven year old community theatre is solid. This is in large part due to the vision of its founder and the city’s current mayor Mitchell Brownstein, and to the incredibly talented and professional founding Artistic Director Anisa Cameron.

 

I caught up with the two of them since the show closed last month to ask about the wild success of Joseph, the CSLDS and what lies ahead:

Mitchell Brownstein with actor Brandon Schwartz

Nashen Notes (NN): Tell me about success of this show in terms of seat sales, revenue…?

Mitchell Brownstein (MB): The Gala brought in a lot of money to sponsor entire elementary school grades to come see the show as well as Senior Citizens from our local residences and special needs adults, many in wheelchairs.  The revenue, from the Gala and 25-plus performances, brought in a big profit to allow us to continue to improve our offering of Arts and Culture to the Community.

NN: What was it about Joseph that lead to this success?

MB: It’s a story we all know from the Bible and a show that has been around for 50 years.  It appeals to people of all ages. The cast ranged in age from 8 to 80 and the audiences ranged in age from very young children to seniors well into their 90s, one whom told me she was 98 and looking forward to next year’s show.

NN: What does this say about English community theatre in CSL and the West-End?

MB: It’s some of the best theatre you can find anywhere, professional or amateur, as it really brings joy to its audiences led by a professional team of artists: Anisa Cameron, Artistic Director, Nick Burgess, Musical Director and Alexia Gourd, Choreographer. They really make everyone shine.

NN: What about an enlarged venue in CSL?

MB: We have previously won two METAs (Montreal English Theatre Awards) and hopefully this show will win as well. Traditionally, we remount our successful shows at the Segal Centre or Centaur.

NN: What comments stand out from the feedback you’ve received?

MB: “I saw the Donny Osmond production years ago and this show was better!”

NN: What’s the likelihood of a remount?

MB: Very promising.

NN: How is the CSLDS contributing to CSL as a community?

MB: We value arts and culture as much as sport in the development of the person and in building a community.  Over 3000 people came to see this show from Cote Saint-Luc and beyond, enriching their lives and the lives of our actors and creative team.  By bringing the schools, the disabled and the seniors from residences to see the show, we are building a community where we care for each other and together we bring happiness to all.

Anisa Cameron

NN: Anisa, tell me about the success from an artistic point of view?

 

Anisa Camerson (AC): It’s overwhelming! I knew that Joseph would be a popular show, but I couldn’t believe it was so popular that we sold out our entire run. In the 7 years since Mitch Brownstein and I founded the Dramatic Society, we’ve never experienced this kind of success. We usually sell out in the final week and a half of the production, but to sell out for the full three weeks has been a lovely gift from our audiences.

 

NN: What are you most proud of in Joseph?

 

AC: I’m so proud that we were able to produce an artistically beautiful, funny and poignant piece of theatre. I’m also proud that myself, the cast, designers and production team – particularly Nick Burgess (our Musical Director)  – really pushed ourselves to the limit in terms of how challenging this show is to produce.

 

Joseph, being an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and being sung from beginning to end, is a relentless challenge for our performers (and for those of us creating the look, sound and feel of the show). There’s never any down time. Usually, you get a musical scene broken up by several straight scenes. That’s not the case with musical theatre that is sung right through. It’s constant musical staging: musical and vocal arrangements and choreography that has to flow seamlessly from the first moment the lights go down in the audience to the final bow.

 

NN: What are your thoughts on Sam Boucher’s (Joseph) performance?

 

AC: Sam Boucher is a remarkable talent that we’ve been lucky enough to work with for the past 3 years. His prowess as a performer belies his age. He is only 19! He brought a sensitivity and thoughtfulness to Joseph that was touching to see at every performance. His performance of Close Every Door was nothing short of remarkable.

 

NN: How has the CSLDS helped some of these rising stars?

 

AC: We have been fortunate to attract some of the most talented young people looking to gain performance experience in a professional environment. While we are a community theatre, our production team is made up of remarkable professionals who support our cast. Many of these young performers have this incredible talent that they need to polish and hone.

 

The CSLDS provides an education through experience in that regard. It’s very rare that a community theatre gets the opportunity to have 23-24 shows back to back over a month long run. Usually, you work on a show for anywhere from 6 months to a year and you get anywhere from 4-8 shots at performing it for an audience.

 

The stamina that it takes to perform in our summer musicals is on par with performing in a professional production. There’s a lot you learn about yourself, as a performer, when you are given the opportunity to perform… a lot!

 

Many of our cast members from the past have gone on to pursue careers in the arts, studying at Sheridan College, or Randolf Academy or Ryerson University, or Concordia Theatre. There are still other memorable performers who are already pursuing a life in the arts, but due to a lack of opportunity in the professional world, grace us with their considerable talent!

 

NN: What comments stand out from the feedback you’ve received?

AC: Our audiences are always so kind and supportive. This year they were ecstatic! I think the number one comment I always get and that sits with me heavily is “How are you going to top that?”. Honestly, I don’t know how we will be able to top this one. Joseph is a real milestone for myself and for the CSLDS.

 

NN: Were those little singers too cute? Tell me about this new add on compared to previous shows?

 

AC: Because this is Joseph, I knew we needed to add children to this show in a way we hadn’t in the past. They added so much to our unity as a cast and a sense of import to what we were doing because everyone became responsible for introducing most of these young performers to their first theatrical experience. They were as dedicated and determined to put on the best show they could as all of the adults around them. The sense of family that is created on a production was made that much stronger for having them with us.

 

On an artistic note, the intergenerational aspect of this production was particularly important to me. Joseph is a biblical story that has made its way down through countless generations to reach us here today so that it resonates on a much deeper level when you pay homage to those generations. We spoke a lot about the guardianship of this story and how our older generation hands it down to us in the present and we in the present then hand it down to the next generation. That was the intention and vision behind our choir and how they were linked to our narrators (entrancingly performed by Jeanne Motulsky and Nicole Arrage). Past, present and future all represented on stage together to ensure the story survives.

 

NN: You’re a wonderfully extraordinary artistic director. Are you not itching to move to Toronto or NYC or Vegas? What’s in the future for Anisa?

 

AC: I would love to have the opportunity to work anywhere in this wide world that will hire me, so spread the word! That doesn’t mean that I would forsake Montreal and Côte Saint-Luc. I love this island! As long as the Dramatic Society is here, I will also be here, that’s the beauty of being an artist; your schedule is flexible (to a point)!

 

NN: Anything to add?

 

AC: I’d just like to add that none of this would have been possible without the tireless vision and efforts of Mitchell Brownstein and now Mitch Kujavsky as well as Ryan Nemeroff and Emma Loerick! They are an incredible dream team that support us in all that we do and I am forever grateful to them. It is also a rare occasion when a municipal government recognizes the power of the arts in their community. I am also grateful to the City Council of Côte Saint-Luc for continuing to believe in the dream of the CSLDS.

Mitchell Brownstein and Anisa Cameron at the Montreal English Theatre awards gala (Photo credit: Mitchell Brownstein)

My full review on Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat can be read here: https://gjnashen.wordpress.com/2018/06/05/review-joseph-an-amazing-musical-entertains-all-ages/

 

Also posted to Montreal Jewish Magazine

 

Review: Joseph, an amazing musical entertains all ages

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From 9 to 90 years old and then some, my family was awestruck by the incredibly talented cast on stage in Cote Saint-Luc Dramatic Society’s presentation of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, now playing at the Harold Greenspon Auditorium at City Hall. Once again, director extraordinaire Anisa Cameron has assembled a team worthy of high praise.

 

As Anisa noted, “Welcome to a time not long after the Bible began! Joseph’s story is from the book of Genesis and comes to life in CSL. We are thrilled to be producing the show for its 50th anniversary. The story of Joseph and his coat of many colours has been handed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. We are so proud to carry on this tradition.”

 

“From a small neighbourhood troope, the CSL Dramatic Society has grown to become one of the most successful English language theatre companies on the island of Montreal,” said Member of Parliament Anthony Housefather.

 

Mayor Mitchell Brownstein and counselor Mitch Kujavsky, co-producers of the show said, “Over the course of its first seven years, the CSL Dramatic Society has become something that our community is proud to call our own. In every sense of the saying, we are by the community and for the community, while putting an emphasis on the values of inclusiveness and accomplishment. We are thrilled to be presenting this biblical story of Joseph, a truly intergenerational production with the cast ranging in age from 8 to 80!.”

Mitchell Brownstein in the role of Jacob

Brownstein goes on to say, “The story of Joseph has a very special place in the hearts of so many of us. Whether we first learned of the story of Joseph at school or saw the show during our childhood or even later in life, the experience elevates us and leaves us wanting more. If this is your first time experiencing the show, you’re sure to be humming the tunes of Joseph for days to come.”

 

I must admit that Joseph is one of only two soundtracks that I have downloaded on Spotify and I have indeed been humming the tunes since I saw the matinée performance last Saturday.

 

It was a special occasion for my family as we celebrated my mother’s 90th birthday bringing our whole family out to the theatre. Together with my son, age 9, teenage daughters, wife, brother, sister-in law, mom at 90 and dad, days shy of 95, we all enjoyed it tremendously and had a marvelous outing.

George and Phyllis Nashen on a birthday outing to see Joseph

The story begins in the biblical land of Canaan. Joseph is the favourite son of Jacob. Joseph’s knack for reading dreams and his beautiful coat of many colours lead his jealous brothers to hatch a plan to dispose of him. But when Joseph survives the attack, he is sent on a journey beyond his wildest dreams.

 

Sam Boucher (Joseph) is absolutely sensational from beginning to end. A modern-day Donny Osmond (who played Joseph on Broadway and in Toronto), Boucher captivated the audience with his formidable voice, sparkling eyes and facial expressions. No stranger to the Cote Saint-Luc Dramatic Society, Boucher has performed in Little Shop of Horrors, the Producers, Broadway’s Back, and Hairspray. Having just completed his first year of Concordia Theatre, Sam will be leaving soon to pursue a degree at Sheridan College in musical theatre performance.

 

Sam Boucher is spectacular in the role of Joseph

 

Anisa could not have done better in selecting Boucher for the part of Joseph. His performance in Any Dream Will Do and Close Every Door is stirring and uplifting. Accompanied by a band led by the talented Musical Director Nick Burgess and three musicians who play the “part” of three of the brothers, the songs are sure to remain in your head for days to come.

 

Narrators Jeanne Motulsky and Nicole Arrage did a tremendous job of tying the entire production together in song and dance. This is Motulsky’s fifth show with the CSLDS. She is currently studying communications at Concordia University and hopes to become a producer. Her future looks bright.

Jeanne Motulsky and Nicole Arrage as the talented and spirited narrators

Arrage is with the CSLDS for a second consecutive year. She is a McGill University Schulich School of Music student in jazz voice performance. She was excellent in telling the tale, full of personality and clearly very talented.

 

Marc Ducusin does a tremendous job in the role of Pharaoh. This is his second outing with CSLDS, following last summer’s Little Shop of Horrors. He is so personable and entertaining, particularly during his solo in the genre of Elvis.

Marc Ducusin plays Pharoah in the style of Elvis

Kenny Stein gets a special shout out not only for performing four previous times with CSLDS but for his tremendous performance as Joseph’s brother, Simeon. His zany antics and comedic expressions, especially during Those Canaan Days were tremendous. Did he really eat that fly? Yuch!

Joseph’s brothers

Justin Johnson (Judah) is a professional performer who starred in Hairspray and Little Shop of Horrors. His dance moves, singing and expression in Benjamin Calypso make it obvious that the performing arts is his true calling.

 

Craig Dalley (Rueben) has a beautiful voice and is very engaging. He sang One More Angel in Heaven, cowboy style, and was captivating to watch.

 

Sean Nishmas, Sam Melnick, Jonah Zoldan, and Eli Rubineau are the other brothers and each one performed wonderfully and was entertaining and engaging. Their theatre careers look promising. The dancers, ensemble, and Jacob’s Wives added to the enjoyment of this incredible, local theatre experience.

 

A special word of appreciation goes to Mayor Mitchell Brownstein who not only played the role of Potiphar but stepped in to play the role of Joseph’s father Jacob on a moment’s notice due to unforeseen circumstances.

 

The choir was made up of some wonderful local talent many of whom have performed in the CSLDS Senior Summer Projects including Hannah Sheffren, Judy Kenigsberg and Ellen Rabin. They were backed up by the absolutely adorable children’s choir including Mackenzie, Rachel, Pailey, Naomie, Abigail, Victoria and Molly. Congrats to each of them for their stage presence and beautiful voices which added tremendously to the Joseph experience.

 

Joseph runs through June 17 and tickets are going fast. You can purchase your tickets online at ShowTix4U.com or by visiting CSLDramaticSociety.com. Prices are $32 Regular, $28 Students and Seniors and QDF Members, $28 Matinees. You won’t want to miss this one! Go Go Go Joseph!

Sam Boucher, Joseph, in his coat of many colours

Review: Golda’s Balcony, a powerful lesson in modern history by a powerful performer

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The Segal Centre for Performing Arts is wrapping up its 10th season with an extraordinary story in Golda’s Balcony. The incredible, one-woman performance by Tovah Felshuh is worthy of high praise and award. Indeed the play was nominated for a Tony Award in 2004 for best actress. With worldwide success it has become the longest running one-woman show in Broadway history.

“Viewing her journey from a modern perspective allows us to appreciate the intense scrutiny and harsh judgements she must have endured for her flaws and bold opinions in relation to her male peers,” said Lisa Rubin, Artistic and Executive Director. Golda was “an inspiring and extraordinary woman in her own right.”

Running 90 minutes without an intermission, Golda’s Balcony is a powerful lesson in modern history by a powerful woman. Feldshuh captivates the audience with non-stop tirades, banter and shtick, reminiscing about the life of Israel’s only female Prime Minister, her antics with world leaders and her own family.

Golda’s yearning for a return to Israel after 2000 years of waiting, and her intense desire for peace are woven throughout the story. She shakes the audience with her famous line, “We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”

Tovah Feldshuh’s makeup and costume miraculously transforms her into an old Jewish bubby, yet her stage presence and delivery are that of a mighty, savvy, influential and commanding world leader.

Golda’s Balcony runs through June 10 and is a must-see.

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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