Foodie Wknd in Montreal - Looong Report
I took my husband to Montreal for a quick weekend getaway for his birthday a couple of weeks ago. Did tons of research in advance on this board -- thanks to all the great suggestions, we had a wonderful weekend -- What a great eating and drinking city!
Our flight to Montreal was supposed to land at 6:30, but was delayed until just before 9 PM on Friday night. We had a dinner reservation at Au Pied de Cochon at 9 (http://www.restaurantaupieddecochon.ca/) – I called them from customs (which I think may have been illegal! But I wasn't about to let me reservation slide...) and asked them to move the reservation to 10 and the hostess accommodated, thankfully! We dropped our bags at our hotel and went directly to the restaurant. Our reservations could very well have been at 11 or 12 – because the place was packed and showed no sign of letting up when we rolled in just after ten. We actually didn’t end up being seated until 10:30 or so. The hostess bought us glasses of wine to pass the time – a savennieres and a Canadian white. We had plenty of time to review the menu and wine list and discuss what to eat and drink.
We started with pickled venison tongue, the PDC crispy salad and bison tar tar appetizer. The venison tongue came on a plain plate, split down the middle, with a small smear of mustard. The tongue was incredibly flavorful – perfectly pickled and awfully tender. Probably the best tongue I’ve ever had. Though, no matter how much I eat it, I can never get over the thought that I’m chewing my own tongue when I eat it. I think it is the texture on the 'skin' that does it for me. Plus, I still get a bit skeeved seeing a big fat tongue on a plate! The bison tar tar was perfection – a crustless square toast with about one inch of perfectly prepared tar tar on top. Totally simple and totally delicious. The crispy PDC salad was a bit over the top – some greens were on the bottom of the plate and on top of them was a mix of pork pieces, wallnuts, bacon, and some soupy sauce. There was a fried square of breaded pork mash on the top of the salad. The ‘salad’ could have been a meal in itself – it was a hearty combination that didn’t overly impress us.
We had ordered the pig foot stuffed with fois gras and I’m not sure if that’s what we got. It was a plate with the most delicious cheesy potatoes on one side and a pig leg in an incredibly rich sauce on top. There were no pieces of fois gras in or around the pork shank, but we thought perhaps the fois melted into the sauce, as it was incredibly rich. My husband loved the dish – I loved the cheesey potatoes, but didn’t love the pork. The pork might have been a bit over cooked as it was dry.
We ended up drinking cider on tap with our meal. We wanted to eat more than to drink and we thought cider would match well with the pork – and it did.
Oh the dessert! Wowee! I could have eaten six dishes of it and still would have wanted more. Pudding chomeur. It seemed as if the chef made a cakey biscuit batter and put a scoop of it uncooked into a ceramic dish with a brown sugar, maple syrup and butter sauce and then popped it in the over to raise and brown. WOW. That was amazing. I almost wish we ordered a second one it was so GOOD.
We left the restaurant at around 1 AM and it was still hopping – we certainly weren’t the last to leave. The chef sat at a table with his buddies next to ours and they downed two bottles of vermouth on ice.
Saturday we headed to Jean Talon Market. First stop was the gorgeous sausage stall in the first row of vendors (I think it might have been Cochon Tout Rond) for 500 grams of small sausage nibbles. I wish I knew what these things are called – they are bite sized sausages linked up like beads on a necklace. There were two kinds – spicy and regular. I LOVE them. We noshed on these as we toured through the market. We got some baklava at the middle eastern shop on the left – it was fine, but my mom’s is much better! Next stop was Qui Lait Cru – we simply asked our server to recommend his favorite local raw milk cheese and he gave us a good one (don’t remember the name, unfortunately). We walked on to the fish people with a shop (still in the first row) and bought 200 grams of salmon gravlax – it was the best gravlax I’ve ever had. My husband said the same and he’s a Russian who LOVEs fish. The dill was super fresh, the fish was silky and it had a pinch of sugar, which made the flavors jump. Next stop was a little corn stand where for $.75 Canadian money, we got a fresh ear of boiled corn with butter and salt. The cob was smaller than I’m used to, the kernals were tiny and tightly packed and the flavors were really wonderful. It started to rain a bit, so we went to Marche de Saveurs de Quebec to shop a bit for some maple liqueur, berry liqueur, sparkling apple cider, bloc de fois gras, landjager smoked sausages, local beer, maple tea and chocolate. We went back to the market for some grilled sausages (duck and spicy bison) and rotisserie chicken legs. We set up a little picnic at one of the tables near the creperie. We opened our beers and poured them into plastic cups and drank them with our sausages, chicken legs, sausage and cheese. Quite a picnic, I must say! We weren't sure what the legality of drinking in public is in Montreal, but figured we'd chance it and play dumb tourist if we were questioned. Desert – Havre aux Glaces – chai and crispy burnt caramel. Both were outstanding, I believe the caramel one was one of the best I’ve ever had. Totally delicious. I wanted a second order but my husband said Non!
After dropping our purchases off at our hotel, we went to Frites Alors for poutine. Neither us had ever had it before and we were amazed that some person thought to combine the three ingredients together. Fantastic combo! Our fries were crispy and the gravy was so hot it melted the cheese curds. YUM. Two Canadian beers to wash it all down.
We spent much of the afternoon walking around St. Laurent and St. Dennis – and then we started our pre-dinner bar crawl. First stop – Reservoir (9 Duluth E.) for wonderful home brewed beer. I had the amber and my husband the white. Really, really, really good. Next stop Pullman wine bar (3424 Avenue de Parc) for a couple of glasses of wine. We weren’t allowed to just order wine, we had to order food, too. The hostess explained that if a bar is proximate to a school, this is the law. So, we ordered a side of popcorn (caramel corn), smoked almonds and Kalamata olives - three small cups on a plate. Next was Suite 701 in the Hotel Place d’Arms (www.suite701.com). My husband had a vodka martini and I ordered a cocktail from the list – Sexy Jack, which was jack daniels, amaretto, splash of coke. My drink was actually awful – incredibly sweet and room temperature, even though it was shaken and served in a martini glass. We both loved the bar and the music, but hated how the lights in the room got lighter and darker for no real reason. It was so strange – I can’t imagine the lighting being fun even when the place is really packed. Then to Nelligan, which was much quieter for another round of drinks. We were actually the only people at the bar with the exception of one of the workers who was eating his meal and an elderly couple who must have just finished their dinner and had come in for a night cap.
Finally – Dinner! Le Club Chasse et Peche. We started with the braised piglet risotto and fois gras with poached fig and cornbread. The risotto was sublime – the waiter explained that the fois gas is chilled and then shaved into the hot risotto – it literally melted into the dish as I ate. Really, really good. The fois gras was nice, but a little boring. We got the last order of surf and turf and also an order of Kurobota pork tenderloin with shrimp. The surf was poached lobster and the turf was American kobe steak – both brilliantly prepared. Actually, I can’t quite figure out how they prepared the lobster. It was so silky in texture that it almost tasted raw, but I don’t believe it was. Perhaps they cooked it at a very, very low temperature (like 200 degrees) for a long time to soften it? Not sure, but it was really good. A very pure expression of a sweet little crustacean. The pork was served on a bed of shrimp!
We ordered a delicious wine to go with our meal – 2001 Gruenspiel from Domaine Marcel Deiss. The waiter (who later confessed he imports the wine to Canada) explained that the vintner uses biodynamic methods to make his wines and lets a mix of Riesling, grewstraminer and pinot noir (not blanc) to grow together in the vineyard. The wine is a rich golden (almost touched with red) color with intense and concentrated aromatics. It paired perfectly with our meal and we savored every sip.
Deserts were a total disappointment. One was chestnut cream and almond tarte with chestnut ice cream. The other was maple syrup caramel, macadamia nuts, biscuit, crème fraiche. They were just very boring – we didn’t even finish the chestnut one. I think I was still dreaming of the pudding chaumer from Au Pied de Cochon and nothing, save for another serving pudding chaumer, would satisfy me.
Home to sleep off our food comma and start all over again on Sunday.
We began our day on Sunday by splitting a medium fat smoked meet sandwich with mustard at Schwartz’. We had arrived around 11:30 and walked right in to two seats at the bar. The place was mostly empty with a line for takout only going out the door. We also had a half sour pickle and a cherry soda. Everything was very good – but we’re New Yorkers and concluded that Katz is way better – more flavorful meat, bigger and better pickles. The place does have a lot of character, though, and we sure appreciated that. The grand conclusion was that we were very happy that we didn’t wait in line for the meal that we ate, bc we would have been really disappointed.
After a museum visit and a walk around the old port, we went to L’Express for a final blowout meal before getting on the airplane. We started with a boiled egg in aspic and a chevre chaud. The boiled egg in aspic was awesome! Very beautiful – it came simply on a plate with an egg suspended beautifully in a meaty aspic. A little square of ham, a small piece of cheese cut into a flower and two tarragon leaves were also suspended in the aspic. The egg was only medium boiled, so the yolk ran when we cut into it. We really, really loved this dish – great combination of salty gelatin with egg whites and a wet yolk – YUM. The cherve chaud was very basic and boring – a plate with four small (like 1.25 inch diameter) thin rounds of white toast with four small thin pieces of plain fresh goat cheese on top. The only other thing on the plate was maybe 6 lettuce leaves with a bit of vinaigrette and a slice of tomato. Really boring.
We followed this with two orders of a wonderful steak tar tar with French fries. When we sat down, we were presented with a huge canning jar full of cornichons with wooden tongs. YUM. The tar tar was well made, but needed more mustard, a container of which was served on the side. The fries were perfectly crispy and brown and the aoli was super tasty. We drank a bottle of Cote du Blay that was a great pair to the tar tar.
For dessert, we ordered a floating island in caramel (or something like that). It was a huge dome of egg whites baked and then coated in burnt sugar and floated in sweet milk. Very good, but very sweet and very big.
We had a little walk and then two more amber beers at Reservoir and headed to the airport.
All in – a fantastic trip! We both really loved our visit, especially the food. Once again - thanks to all the wonderful suggestions on this board!
Wow. Only the best Montreal can offer. Lucky you two! Next time, put on the agenda: Toqué, Jun I, L'Épicier and Joe Beef.
Great review, and happy that the board was helpful to you! You inspired me to head up the the Marche JeanTalon this weekend!
Great report! You travel like I do. I agree with everything you write--Schwartz is fun, but not worth the wait, Express pretty but overrated.
Next time you go to Jean Talon try Hamel for the Cheese at the market -- I prefer it to Qui lait cru. Also take a wander over to Caffe d'Italia for some coffee, and maybe poke your head into Anatol for the spice smell. I also like the grilled meats on the southern end of the market -- esp the kafte sandwiches at one of the stalls. All in all, though, I would say you did amazingly well for 2 days in Montreal. Bravo.