Summer is approaching very quickly, or at least that’s what my calendar tells me. Yet, the remaining piles of snow and bundled up passersby tell a different story. Rather than look in dismay at these and other disturbing signs that the warm-skimpy-clothes-Montreal-terrace-drinking-days are still a ways ahead, I put on my spring jacket (complemented by a warm sweater, scarf, and gloves) and make my way to Gracias Corazon on St-Viateur Street.
This little restaurant is run by Colombian couple Andrea and Jaime who serve up dishes and beverages that brim with freshness, warmth, and sunshine. Having opened less than a year ago, their concept is simple: they reinvent classic Colombian staples by prioritizing key basic ingredients. Jaime tells me that a traditional Colombian plate would be composed of a heap of rice or potatoes with meat and a side of patacone (a deep fried plantain patty) or arepa (a corn-based flatbread). Instead, Andrea uses the patacone as the base of the dish, topping it with fresh ingredients to turn it into a sort of Columbian-style pizza or taco. Alternatively, she stuffs the arepa soft shell with a variety of ingredients.
I cannot emphasize enough how delicious the patacones are at Gracias Corazon. I have gone three times. Each time I have ordered El Mariachi – shredded beef, red beans, avocado – with a tomato, onion, and corn salsa-style salad called pico de gallo. It is also served with the highly addictive Gracias Corazon hot sauce. They offer a variety of other salsas (my personal favourite was the chipotle salsa). This is definitely a plus as Jaime led me to understand that traditional Colombian food is not particularly spicy. Another favourite was the hogao salsa. This tomato, onion, and cumin concoction was flavourful and brought back memories of warmer days and places.
Also on the menu are fresh juices made from fruit pulp. I tasted a lulo fruit juice and a passion fruit juice. The flavors were exotic and bold, far from what I am accustomed to tasting in our northern city. Also the drinks are unsweetened, which allows you to taste the fruit in their raw form.
Bringing the patacone to Montreal was no easy feat. First, Andrea and Jaime had to import a special machine that presses the plantain into a pizza like disk. Jaime also explained how they had to experiment with cooking the plantain for several months, as it proved difficult to achieve the desired consistency. Apparently, the time it takes to transport the plantain actually alters its structure. It took two months of trial and error combined with research and discussions with Colombian chefs to finally arrive at the perfection that is the Gracias Corazon patacone.
Even after this delicious meal, there remained one discovery to be made. Gracias Corazon offers little homemade alfajores, an Argentinian flaky cookie with a layer of dulce de leche, as a very delicate dessert. Although I am far from being a connoisseur, these little cookies are the best alfajores I have ever tasted (even better than the ones I had in Argentina).
I look forward to my next trip to this lovely couple’s vibrant restaurant.