The other day, my Mexican friend brought me for lunch to a recently opened Mexican bistro on the West Island and the most endearing thing happened as we sat down. As she sniffed the air, I could tell she was transported somewhere else. From the kitchen came the scent of roasting tomatoes (for the homemade salsa) and she said “This smells like Mexico.” Furthermore, when she got home, her daughter hugged her and remarked, “You smell like Abuela’s house!”
I have always wanted to visit Mexico so I am pleased that I can vicariously visit for the cost of lunch or breakfast any day between Sunday and Friday at Epazote & Haricots. Co-owner and chef Berenice Reyna is a trained culinary chef. After working for several years in the restaurant industry, she slowly made the transition to opening her own restaurant, initially working out of farmers’ markets! She set up “booths” (her practice-food truck) and sold freshly made tacos and fajitas. She sourced the ingredients from partnering farmers to make her salsa preserves, and sold these from Hudson to Chateauguay, as far north as Morin Heights. November 2014 marked her transition to opening her own bistro, which she operates with partner John Hislop.
Their bistro is a tiny venue located on the main floor of the Banque Nationale building on Dorval avenue, corner of Dawson Avenue. It seats about 14 people, but they do take-away, catering and are available for private events. Sunday brunches are busy so get there early! Berenice knows so much about food in general, and she is passionate about it and open to explaining to you the traditions and history of the food she serves. As we spoke, I urged her to give cooking workshops, which I would all too readily attend. She also has integrity. When I asked why she doesn’t serve traditional tamales, she explained that such a specialty is something one has to dedicate themselves to perfecting. If you have her cater a meal, she will source the finest tamales she can find to add to your menu.
Her cuisine is mostly derived from the Yucatan area of Mexico, such as the Cochinita pibil which is pulled pork marinated in Achiote. It is served with a generous bowl of habanero sauce. My first experience with this dish went like this: picture a toothpick, if you will, and me dipping it into the sauce, four millimetres deep — my friend told me I took too much. Not heeding her wise words, I applied it to the sweet pork, chewed, enjoyed the flavour, swallowed, and then couldn’t catch my breath. At this point I became a walking cliché of the white girl who can’t keep up with her Latina friends, coughed until my throat went dry, and began tearing from my right eye — but laughing the whole time! Fire on request.
As Epazote and Haricots expands, specialty foods will become available. Currently you can also buy Mexican chocolates, candies, teas and preserves.
I had to return and pay it forward so I brought another Latina friend with me for breakfast a few days later. I ordered the Divorciados (from Berenice’s Valentines Day menu, she joked): two eggs, sunny side up, one covered in red salsa , the other in verde. It comes served with a basket of tortillas, half an avocado, fresh fruit, and a bowl of black beans which she makes with her namesake herb, Epazote, known by her countrymen to keep gas at bay when mixed with beans. “It gives the dish a sweet tinge,” remarked my friend who ordered the Huevos Rancheros: eggs sunny side up on a corn tortilla, with salsa rojo. Normally it comes with ham, but she requested to substitute for the Mexican chorizo type sausage longaniza, and Reyna was willing to comply. This sausage fits my capacity for spicy! Plenty of flavour, moderate punch. Certain menu substitutions and additions she will adhere to. Just don’t ask for sour cream and shredded yellow cheese.
This is Mexico.
Epazote & Haricots (#102 – 185 Dorval Ave, Dorval) is open Monday to Friday 8 a.m.- 7 p.m. and Sundays from 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. “If you get lost, give us a call at 438-399-5155 and we’ll tell you how to get here!”