Taza Flores was more than a respite from the below-freezing temperatures and biting winds on the streets of Montreal one Saturday afternoon; it was an escape into a different world.
As a mild spring breeze floated through my kitchen window and rustled the long leaves of a spider plant nestled safely in a corner, I thought how crazy it is that I was bundled up in hats, gloves, and a scarf just over a month ago in Montreal, Quebec. Much has changed since then, especially the food industry and, as a result, food culture as we know it. Food is often a shared experience, whether it be going out to a restaurant with friends or sitting down to dinner at home with loved ones. While I’m curious to see how the food industry will adapt, I am wary that the spontaneity that is possible with brick and mortar locations will decrease as we do our part in stopping the spread of COVID-19 by practicing social distancing and, where applicable, sheltering in place.
As you can imagine, I’ve spent much time daydreaming about past and future adventures. One time that comes to mind is when I trekked across Montreal on a snowy, windy day in search of (you guessed it)…food. I was on a mission to make it to the cozy and creative Arts Cafe before brunch service ended at 4 pm. I had been dreaming about their citrus and fennel salad, shakshuka with polenta, and walnut falafel since discovering the cute cafe the day before on the Montreal Secret Foods Tour in the Mile End neighborhood. With a twinkling of hope, I marched against the wind and raced against time (and missed my bus stop in the process), but as I skipped up the stairs and saw the staff sweeping the floors and putting up chairs, my heart sank and I knew I would have to put this unfortunate turn of events on my list of excuses to return to Montreal.
Now I was chilled to my bones, the migraine I had been battling all day was reaching a crescendo, and my phone was quickly losing charge. I retraced my steps in my head and decided to settle on a tapas bar I passed as a result of missing the correct bus stop. I arrived at their opening time, 4 pm, on the dot. As I wandered into the empty restaurant and felt the warmth envelop me, I realized I wasn’t settling at all.
A majority of the tables were already reserved, but I was encouraged to choose my own table since I was so early and the only person there. I chose a seat with a beautiful tiled table and a near-floor to ceiling window that lit the space with golden-hour light. I warmed up with a cup of mint tea and ordered the “Tapas du moment” – beet carpaccio with goat cheese, grapefruit, parsley, dill, and crispy capers – and the calamari with a saffron aioli.
The beet carpaccio, a light winter fare, arrived looking like the perfect segue into spring: a colorful bloom of thinly sliced beets, pieces of grapefruit, goat cheese, and crispy fried capers sprinkled generously with parsley and dill. The calamari seemed to be a lighter version of the fried calamari you typically find here in the U.S., but it was the light and flavorful aioli that sealed the deal.