Excellent coffee and bite-size treats at the chill Nocochi
Go on. Put it in your mouth all at once. Feel it melt on your tongue. Taste the pungent rush of cardamom.
That, my friend, is a nocochi. A simple, small cookie made out of finely ground chickpea flour, flavoured with the aromatic spice. Nocochi is also the name of the light-filled café where you can find this delectable along with dozens of its ilk. My favourite so far? The chocolate nocochi, a heady blend of cocoa and cardamom.
When you enter this minimalist white space you see plate after plate of tiny treats – golden crescents, glazed diamonds, pistachio-dusted cocoa rounds, squares of meringue, jam-dotted discs, knobs of walnuts and vanilla. Hazelnut rubs with strawberry, almonds are heart-shaped with apricot; they’re feathered with powdered sugar, licked with chocolate, encrusted with coconut flakes. Each a jewel, each with a history that harkens back to Austria, to France, to Persia, to India. Europe and the Middle East meet in a counter of cookies.
The Iranian owner, Ali, hails from Dubai where his family runs five pastry shops under the name Vivel. His mom’s the mastermind behind the cookies, having gleaned recipes from her mom and adding a couple of new tricks each year. "They’re very flavourful, but not too sweet, which is quite different from the Middle East," Ali tells me.
In the Middle East, Vivel caters to the top hotels, like the six-star Burj Al Arab. (I didn’t know they even ranked them that high, but a peek at their opulent brochure hints at why. Care for a snooker table or Jacuzzi in your suite? A butler, perhaps?) Montreal’s own Ritz-Carlton offers Nocochi’s petits fours for teatime and uses the cute biscuits to decorate other dishes or accompany coffee.
Although near Concordia, it’s not so much a student hang out. Local dwellers and shopkeepers make this their second home. They come for the coffee. They linger for the music, a mix of chill-out world tunes, compiled by European DJs who scour all continents to find the artists that few know.
Nocochi has simple sandwiches on baguette or pita, kissed with their homemade pesto. But their best bets for lunch are the pizzas. The freshest ingredients mingle on puffy dough, amply topped with good mozzarella. Ali tells me he’ll be introducing soups and salads in a couple of weeks.
Most importantly, if you’re looking for an excellent latte, this is the place. Mine was Casanova smooth – a true rarity in town – and my espresso was good, too. Ali is strict about his brew and trains all his workers exactingly. He uses Illy coffee, the beans with the cult following (not least for those cute cups it’s served in).
The cookies are packaged in clear boxes or on platters for take-out ("They’re so pretty," Ali says, "it’d be a shame to put them in a white box.") The perfect prezzie for someone you’re not sure what to give, or for your next dinner party. They’ll also arrange a picture-perfect display on your own plate at no extra charge.
2156 Mackay, 989-7514
Lunch and cookies for two, $20-$25, no tax, no tip
Cookies: $18.95 per pound (about 70 pieces), $11.50 a half-pound