On my second visit to Cà Phê Con Leche, a new restaurant and coffee spot in Montreal’s Rose-Patrie area, co-owner Yasmin meets me at the door. Smiling, she foists a new menu into my hands, with shiny combos to choose from. Since my last visit, the cafe’s offerings have expanded considerably. The kitchen hums with movement and noise. I explain that I’m waiting for my cousin, bereft of arepas during his young life. I promised to rectify this oversight for him with a lunch extravaganza.
Cà Phê Con Leche is a play on the Vietnamese word for coffee — cà phê– and the Spanish for ‘with milk’. It’s a clever ode to the married couple behind the cafe, which opened on Saint-Hubert street in June 2016. It’s hard to miss if you’re wandering by, with its bright blue brick and crisp logo.
Of course the balloons don’t hurt.
As a celiac who loves arepas and all things Vietnamese, I made a beeline for the cafe when I heard about it from a reader. It was so delicious that I returned within in a week. In doing so, I met not only Yasmin, but her husband Kim. As with my post from the Mekong, about a love story between a Quebecois man and his Vietnamese wife, I wanted to share some of the joyful energy from this creative couple.
With a welcoming blue exterior and simple branding, the space features couches and low coffee tables as well as higher tables and chairs to enjoy a meal. The menu is divided into Venezuelan treats — corn arepas stuffed with shredded beef, cheese, or plantains — and Vietnamese salads, rice and noodle dishes. Coffee options abound, with both South American and Vietnamese beans to choose from.
The owners are a delight, and met in Yasmin’s native Venezela many years ago. Kim Huynh was there working for Ericsson, and Yasmin was running the business centre at a swanky hotel. They tell me the story standing on Cà Phê Con Leche’s royal blue stoop, giggling like newlyweds.
“My colleagues used to tease me all of the time. Kim, we have an office. Why do you keep going to the business centre at the hotel!?”
“I guess you found something you liked there!” Yasmin parries coyly.
His face brightens. “I definitely did.”
Years later, the couple’s relationship grew and they stayed in touch online. Kim found his way back to Venezuela to make his intentions clear, and they immigrated to Montreal. Passionate about their respective food heritages, they decided to open a coffee and sandwich shop, using family recipes prepared with fresh and local ingredients. As their website says, it is with love and nostalgia that they offer up “dishes and desserts like their parents prepared in their childhood.”
The restaurant business isn’t new to Kim, whose mother opened and ran a Vietnamese spot on St. Denis street from the 1970s- 1990s with the rest of the Huynh clan called Chez Madame Kim. Nor is the location of this new endeavour a coincidence: over a dozen of Kim’s family members lived at its address at one time or another.
The menu includes Vietnamese banh mi (all at $4.50), and a good selection of arepas. Just trust me and order the Pabellon Criolle Venezolano, with its shredded pulled beef, black beans, fried plantains, and cheese. You won’t regret it.
It also has nem nuong on bun, a delicious Vietnamese dish of seasoned pork meatballs served on rice noodles and accompanied by fresh lettuce, herbs, and bean sprouts. For celiacs like me, you can ask for fish sauce instead of the hoisin-peanut combo — safe for your belly. And there’s no wheat/filler in the pork balls either.
I inquired about a banh mi-style arepa (one with banh mi fillings in a corn outer layer), Kim and Yasmin smiled and said that was a project for later. I hope they call it a banharepa when they do, because that would basically translate to “cornmeal cake cake”.
For now, the couple wants to focus on preparing authentic local dishes from the places they called home.
Ca Phe Con Leche
NOTE: Unfortunately Eater Montreal has reported that this place is now closed 🙁 Wishing the best for this couple as they move on to next steps!