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May 17, 2007 05:31 PM

re; Jim Leff's, article: is this still the Chowhound's Promised Land?

After seeing the revues here regarding Chez L'Epicier, Brasserie Brunoise, Globe and others, do his accolades still hold true today?

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  1. You're referring to his most recent article?

    While I had all kinds of issues with it -- chief among them the choice of eateries, including the repeat rave visits to an inferior franchise branch of Frite Alors! and star status accorded to Première Moisson -- his conclusion struck me as pretty much on target. That a few former bright stars in the firmament shine weakly these days in no way affects the city's overall standing as one of the continent's great places to eat. Yeah, Globe is a shadow -- or maybe a parody -- of its former self. So what? Change happens. Great chefs (Dave McMillian and Martin Picard, for example, both of whom worked there) go elsewhere to do great things. Reputation made, some restaurants opt to coast. What does this tell you about the city they're located in? Next to nothing. Note that when Globe really rakes in the money, when they comb the Web looking for extra oyster shuckers, is the Grand Prix weekend, i.e. when hordes of see-and-be-scene outsiders invade the city.

    Besides, in recent years Montreal's strength hasn"t been the destination restaurants so much as the affordable neighbourhood places, whether they be the proving grounds for dynamic chefs or the hang-outs for local ethnic groups. On a non-high rollers' budget, you can eat better here than just about anywhere else in North America. And chances are, if you pick a place going only by your nose, you're likely to find decent food far more often than not. That, I think, was Leff's bottom line, and it's as true today as it was six months or a year ago.

    11 Replies
    1. re: carswell

      Tombombadillo will arrive with a good appetite and a metro pass, Thank you!!!!

      1. re: tombombadillo

        Now is the season you could even bring a bicycle, or rent one here. Fun to hit the bicycle path network - though of course it means one must drink moderately... You can get one-week métro/bus passes.

        1. re: tombombadillo

          Be careful about the Metro pass, we just started a transit system strike, so the metro will only work during rush hours.

          Bring good shoes or buy a used bike, you'll work up an appetite too!

        2. re: carswell

          Carswell, what boulangeries would you put ahead of Première moisson? I too hate to put a chain ahead of independent artisan bakers, but in my area they remain the best (since the excellent little boulangerie at the corner of Beaubien and rue de Normanville became an Autour du pain outlet? Perhaps James McGuire? But I'm sure not going to NDG for my daily bread, though I have dropped in at his boulangerie.

          1. re: lagatta

            Hi lagatta - just an FYI that McGuire's NDG bakery/resto Passe-Partout - if that's the one you're talking about - has been closed for years. (Mesquite is now in that space.) I used to live down the street and miss his incredible walnut bread, though it was sold by weight and used to cost a fortune! I don't think he has a store anymore - if anyone knows otherwise, please share.

            1. re: kpzoo

              Yes, that's the one. Too bad, it was extraordinary.

              The little boulangerie at the corner of Beaubien and de Normandville was owned by a Québécois francophone guy who had also trained in Germany and did wonderful hefty German breads as well as lovely baguettes de levain (organic, sort of health-foodie but very good, not health-food penance). I think he has returned to Europe... will ask as I know some people in the artisan bakers' circuit. Though none have reached the heighth of McGuiire's bread, or the Mittleleuropean interest of my little guy (forget his name)... Autour d'un pain is ok, but ...

              I haven't really found any artisans so much more outstanding than Première Moisson. Sure, there is Le Fromentier on Laurier East, but I was a bit disappointed last time I went.

              I so wish la Cigogne would live up to its promise (corner Beaubien and Drolet, near Beaubien métro) but it has its ups and downs. Lovely Alsatian specialities (flammekuche, brioche - these must be ordered now) but it needs a new impetus...

              And these are people I really like and wish well...

              1. re: lagatta

                "Autour d'un pain is ok, but ..."

                I'm a big fan of their Retrodor and organic baguettes, and find them far better than anything from Première Moisson. I buy mine at the Mt-Royal/St-Urbain location, but one or both may actually be made elsewhere.

                1. re: Mr F

                  Yes, I do like their organic baguette - haven't had the retrodor. I'm just sad at the demise of my pet baker. I'll try to look him up through bakers I know, but suspect he is in Europe.

                  1. re: lagatta

                    Thanks a million for the bread and pastry refferals, and this for me is what makes Montreal truly unique!!!

            2. re: lagatta

              First point, what I wrote was "star status accorded to Première Moisson." No mention of Montreal, you'll note. Leff talks about Montreal as though it's a great bread city ("our first blessed slice of the astounding bread of Montreal"). I don't agree. It's may be one of the better places in North America but it pales next to Europe. I'm glad I have easy access to the ubiquitous PM and Au Pain Doré -- they (well, APD, whose bread I prefer overall) make most of the bread I eat and the situation is far better than 20 or 30 years ago when pain Coussin was the local gold standard -- but with a few exceptions, it's serviceable, not inspired bread, industrially produced and in some cases half-baked at the factory and finished at the outlet. One exception is APD's world-class 36 heures baguette. For artisanal bread, now that McGuire has closed shop, Le Fromentier is Montreal's best bakery by far (my opinion of it is much higher than yours and is shared by a number of the city's top chefs, who serve its bread in their restaurants), and it's completely off Leff's radar. Many smaller operations, including Olive & Gourmando, Le Fournil and Lescurier, produce noteworthy specialty breads.

              Second, Leff doesn't limit his PM comments to bread but goes on at length about their pastries (there's a short disclaimer at the start, soon forgotten under the ensuing deluge of accolades like "stunningly declicious," "so fluffy, so tender," "exquisite" and "devastaingly great"). While I'm happy enough to eat PM's bread, I think their pastries suck (though not as much as APD's). Duc de Lorraine, Pat Belge, Le Paltoquet, Lescurier, Fous Desserts, Les Saveurs du Plateau, Claude Postel, Olive et Gourmando, Au Kouign-Amann and others all make better pastries of one type or another. And let's not forget that nearly every serious local foodie laments the pitiful overall state of pastry affairs in Montreal these days. Paris has absolutely nothing to fear.

              1. re: carswell

                True. I have only been to Le Fromentier once in recent years (as I live right next to Jean-Talon - used to live in the Fromentier area, long ago), so I'd have to go back there more to arrive at a more informed opinion.

                And in general I simply don't eat pastries. In theory, I'm doing a GI diet and even baguettes are an "indulgence" as they are white or sifted flour (but one I'll readily admit to) - I haven't eaten any sweet pastries in a couple of years, here or in Europe. No, I don't recommend that in gastronomic terms and I'm no food prude! Was important for my middle-aged health... So I can't really comment on that, in terms of current state of affairs. But just seeing what I walk by, Paris, Vienna and some other cities still outflank us by a long way.

                Yes, the 36-hour baguette is exceptional, and what I get at Le Pain doré. The bio thing at Première moisson is more in tune with the GI stuff, but I don't know whether it would be my favourite in purely foodie terms. I know how annoyed I get when other people go on about their "diets" on foodie boards. Grrr age.

          2. Where can one find this article? Is there a link? Thanks

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