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montreal report - late september ramblings from a torontonian

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there seem to be enough visitor requests that i didn't need much searching to get me what i felt was offered up as the best of the best for what i was looking for. no doubt that i did stumble along the way just because of lack of being in a certain neighbourhood or certain availability.. but here is my report and opinion as a torontonian (where we constantly get blasted by montrealers whom seem to have been forced to live in our anglophone world). pardon my french!

jean talon:

fish market jean-talon - unless i was utterly blind i think this was the only seafood place there. we got the eperlans and calamari and was completely blown away by the calamari. tender slightly chewy morsels of rich seafood goodness. the eperlans had some great moments but were overall less fresh tasting. found the spicy sauce to be oddly liquid though perhaps it's to discourage putting too much on, i know i was too enthusiastic and would dip too deep.

les jardins sauvages - sweet and adorably wonderful people. we had a kitchen at our disposal and with such an amazing variety of wild fungi at our disposal i was befuddled with what to pick. very sweetly they agreed to giving us a carefully mulled over mix for $10. we cooked them up fairly whole with a bit of butter and had them with some scrambled eggs.. fantastical. probably one of the best mushroom experiences i've had short of mounds of shaved truffles.

havre aux glaces - amazing flavours. i tried pistachio, pear and cider, chestnut, grapefruit, strawberry and rhubarb, and masala chai (?.... having a memory lapse right now, definitely cardamom and cream based). the most fruit and nut forward iced desserts i've ever had and often so fresh in flavour that i might as well have been biting into the fruit/nut/whatever. i was disappointed however in the textures and didn't find the gelato as rich and creamy as i would have liked and the sorbet a bit grainy.

prince noir (??) - the butcher shop with all the bagged meats. we purchased some items here simply because we weren't going to get to cook with them anytime soon so the bagging seemed ideal. i'm only writing about them because it appeared that the first day we went they had tourtiere fresh for some shoppers but on another day i was shown what was left in their bagged case. we got a torchon of foie and some magret... i hope it's good!

au pain dore - 36 hour baguette.. big meh. really stunningly beautiful with what i assume is a tanned egg wash on top, but it was just chewy throughout and had a very tight crumb which made it seem not as exceptional as i was hoping the extra time would.

premier moisson - i love that this is your city bread, while i don't have the desperate wish that it be in toronto... i certainly appreciate that such quality blanketed all over the city does not exist in my home city unfortunately. i did however find that it lacked this extra bit of richness and saltiness that i enjoy but was definitely nothing to sneeze at. i adore pain perdu baguettes which can be purchased at pain perdu or le fromagerie (though less fresh here) in toronto, if you should so visit.

the shop behind the frit alors kiosk - i am ashamed that i do not know their name. we were in there almost daily (apt across the way from jean talon). they made a lovely house cretons that has a pink colour and crumblier/less mash like texture but it could use a little more spicing up. they also seemed to have the cheapest duck fat at $4.99/tub vs $5.99 or so at the other places. 4 tubs... that's right! also really enjoyed the cerf and something pate.

chez nino - at this time as you can imagine i was running out of time! so i picked up a flat of figs from greece quickly and left. they're gorgeous. the flesh is nearly right to the edges of the skin and they're lusciously delicious. they've held up in my fridge for almost 2 weeks now and i'm savouring them.

fromagerie hamel - dear lord do you need to have our wits about you here and it certainly helps to be armed with french numbers. i was helped well by the people but i didn't get a good feel for quebec cheese as i felt rushed in their panicked environment. i will vouch that the eggs were magnificent. purchasing good eggs can be an ordeal in toronto. does anyone know in mtl if they're farm fresh or what?

i feel i may have missed out on some experiences.... we plan to be back at least yearly and so wouldn't mind any thoughts on what we could check out next time.

macarons:

maison du macaron - while flying by fanny et marius we ended up here and were utterly disappointed. the detailed version was posted a la minute here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4292... but i'll just say that only the pistachio lived up to any hype with the rest mostly being very poorly texture, stale or complete mush!

esprithe - food section was closed but they chatted with us about their teas and should be up and running again by the end of this week. the aromatics of their macaron matched teas alone will send me back.

point g - several varieties were available and a bit unceremoniously displayed on the counter in a plexiglass tower. i thought i'd be adventurous and tried their apple but it was not worth it. the shell was half empty and definitely stale with a thick apple sauce to bind the two cookies together.

croissants:

fous desserts - picked up a croissant, almond croissant and a pear chocolate puff pastry thing. not what i was hoping for. i found it to be a bit too soft on the exterior and not moist nor buttery enough in the center. there wasn't enough pull through the middle. the almond was nice just not to my taste, more of a custard in the middle than a paste though i did still enjoy it overall. not sure what to make of the pear chocolate thing except that i found it a tad runny.

patisserie de gascogne (laurier) - definitely would not do. dried out and sad looking is pretty much how i would put all of it as. croissant, custard tart, canelle (? a burnt cinnamon sugar mini bundt cake like thing), and danish.

poutine:

la banquise - i should have recalled my french better, sauscisson fumee means hot dog! needless to say, we got this with mushrooms for our poutine. we didn't really get the whole unmelted curds thing and are baffled by the large size and how everyone was making a meal of it. the gravy was gloopy and obviously filled with thickening agents... some msg type tingles also occurred after. i'm sure it's just an institution type place but i can't imagine ever going back.

frit alors - ok so no, we didn't have the poutine... i admit our apdc adventure poutined us out on the first night. but these crisp fries were glorious and didn't steam themselves to death after we took them to go and they wrapped them up in paper so oddly. the burgers were crap though.

bagels:

viateur - crisp thick crust with a bready interior though nice wood smoke enhanced exterior... just did not do it for me at all. it reminded me of a pretzel but with an even thicker crust. noticed that they might have some of the lowest prices on liberte cream cheese though.

fairmount - much more my style. thinner crisp crust though with much less of that oven flavour and a slightly chewier interior. kind of still gets a big meh from me for overall lack of taste and salt (we got poppy seed and sesame). so now i'm questioning if i know what a montreal bagel is supposed to be....

beer:

dieu du ciel - the only beer bar we made it to and no disappointments here. ordered up small pints of every single beer that they brewed and it totaled up to 13 glasses for just over $31. really quite beautiful stuff. i have tonnes of little notes but we thought the most original of the bunch was their hibiscus rose, took a case back with us of course. really quite mediocre and expensive food but i appreciated the water refills and the free pretzels to cleanse or palates.

rahman - totally typical of what i see in the US for some of the import beer stores. great places with lots of selection and completely unexpected.

dining out dinners:

au pied de cochon - house beer a bit of a meh. service overall was efficient though we found food to be coming out cooler than we liked. cromesquis was ill-paired with a cornmeal type packaging and was a rough texture compared to the molten and highly herbed foie. acquavit in nyc does a foie tart that is absolute perfection. likely much more expensive though than the fun $3.50 bite of cromesquis. poutine was over the top and i was hoping for a larger portion but really the richness was far too much anyway, dining companion still ended up sopping up the sauce with the bread. french onion soup was more like a gigantic piece of bread with a thick layer of crisp torched cheese. the soup itself was so heavily infused with smokey pork that the onion was left to be only a hint. steak frites came with a red wine sauce that was a bit overpowering and the meat was cooked to a wonderful rare/blue consistency as requested. didn't find it particularly interesting though and never found out if it was bison or venison. i had the potee du pdc and was overwhelmed at this point so did not finish and barely started but it was fabulous. a bowl layered with creamy smooth garlic mashed potatoes and all the pork product you could imagine. the pork belly was tender and delicious (though dining companion declared it as too dry), sausage was the most perfect simple pork sausage, blood sausage was moist (a big surprise!) and rich, but the last piece of pork (cut not quite recalled) was dry and not much worth it. it was covered in a thick slick of fat or or butter...... it heated up quite wonderfully the next time around. overall it was also quite salty and glasses and glasses of water were necessary afterwards.

au cinqueme peche - we hadn't made reservations and just happened to be in the neighbourhood. they didn't pick up the phone earlier in the evening so we just dropped in figuring we had nothing to lose. a 10 top had failed to show up and so we were given out choice of seats. service was pleasant though the staff seemed more involved in their friends and cleaning up the kitchen (later in our meal) than how we were getting along. aparatif of lavender was not available so we opted for apple basil, more like cider with a hint of basil aroma so it was just ok. they pretty much poured out the bottles for us when we only got single glasses of wine and even left the remaining third of a bottle for us for the evening on the house. amuse was a delicious eggplant with olives, oil and something else. perfectly delicate. dc (dining companion) had the seal to start and it was great. the tempuraed version seemed to get more praise for it was a perfect marriage with pork so that each filled in the gaps for the other. i found seal to be quite sweet and gamey, something i could enjoy more frequently. mine was the escargot in corn veloute.... it was ethereal. the corn did taste like sweet creamed corn but it barely alighted your palate before disappearing into nothingness. the escargots were tender and nice, though the dish was overall quite salty. could resist the veal sweetbreads, brains and cheek but the sweetbreads just weren't crisp enough on the outside nor as tender as i liked on the interior. brains reminded me of the texture of tofu though the veins were a constant reminder it was not so as well as the rich taste. the cheeks seemed to be a bit overdone and were also not as tender as expected. dc had the magret which was cooked well though he was surprised when the sides (what he was least interested in) stole the show. tempura cauliflower with a light as air cauliflower mash (i had a light as air mash as well) and a coleslaw/salad mix that my memory is lapsing on. we are convinced the chef is a sauce master at their core. because of this we opted to get dessert (and now that things are flooding back a bit more dc chose the prix fixe which offered him a choice of soup or salad to start, started with a creamy onion soup that was also very good) and had to choose the sauciest one, a banana brownie with hazelnut mousse. the mousse was light as air again and infused with good nut flavour. the brownie didn't have that artificial banana flavour and was a good texture. i feel in love with the tiny line of caramel barely garnishing the plate. some of the most perfect caramel i've ever had with a dark colour and shiny sheen it was slightly burnt in a pleasant way, thich and buttery and just sweet enough. i nearly asked for a jar of it but couldn't imagine they kept much of it around. very nice meal all around, dc raves about it every few days since we've been.

and i believe that is the end... you must all be so relieved! we found the most promising items we ate to be nearly any and every meat product and the beer.

edit:

how could i forget schwartz! perfect as ever. picked up 2lbs cold to take home and successfully steamed it back to glory. will be sending people to pick up this wonderfulness for me as often as i can.

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  1. Thanks for your comprehensive no holds barred opinions on the establishments you visited in Montreal(I enjoy your postings in the Toronto section). The steak frites at Au Pied de Cochon is bison.

    1 Reply
    1. re: BLM

      thanks! i took a look at the french menu recently when looking up prices for someone and noticed that there seems to be more of a distinction between the venison and bison dishes.

      i'm always ready to give an opinion ;) hopefully i'll be in montreal more frequently and can try more places!

    2. Wow, impressive report, very thorough. You can get some Premiere Moisson bread in Toronto sometimes at a Dominion store in little Italy, btw. Are your comments primarily for the baguette? Finding decent bread in Toronto is always a chore so we'll have to check out your recommendations. Usually we are looking for something organic and multi-grain.

      Did you try toasting your bagels? That would perhaps trash the pretzel vibe, brings out the sesame flavour too. I'll have to check out the mushrooms at the market and give Au Cinquieme Peche another try (I think I'm the only on this board that didn't enjoy it, must have been a bad day).

      Poutine with hot dogs on it sounds pretty upsetting, definitely bound to be a disappointment if you've started with poutine foie gras! But a classic poutine at La Banquise for a snack is usually good fun, could even be nice with a smoked meat sandwich. You might prefer the poutine at Patati Patati with the light wine sauce.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Plateaumaman

        i've picked up an old loaf of premiere moisson at the dominion (now metro, i believe) in the ryerson school area as well. i haven't had a fresh one yet, we'll have to see how they compare here vs montreal. i'm generally not fond of dominions and just don't make it a habit of going there. i unfortunately can't say anything about organic and multi-grain breads in toronto, it's just not usually a concern for me but i'll get more details the next time i pick some pain perdu up just to know the facts.

        5peche.... honestly, i do think it was terribly over salted at times and overall was quite good but it was more my dining companion that was blown away. considering the state of bistro in toronto, we may be overly enthusiastic ;)

        oh, and we did not end up toasting our bagels while we were in mtl. we'd just pick up one or two at a time and scarf them down on the spot. i did toast a cinnamon raison one the next back home but found it just didn't do much for it.

      2. Great, really extensive report - thank you very much!
        I think I have to just agree to disagree a bit about APdC, which I love wholeheartedly, but that's OK.
        I'll be in Montreal next week, and you've given me lots to consider.

        2 Replies
        1. re: sophie fox

          i don't mean to knock apdc, i think that it certainly has its place but i've run into a few people who seem to be misinformed about what to expect. at its base it is a great simple meal. they generally execute very well but they're not particularly innovative so it's very comfortable food. it's also not very expensive! which is great but i think knowing that foie is involved makes one worry about their pocket book.

          i hope you have a lovely time!

          1. re: pinstripeprincess

            Thanks!
            I agree, if people go expecting a fancy dining experience, they wouldn't get that. The food is amazing, but the atmosphere is definitely bistro-casual - which is also why I love it. You're right, too, it is very reasonable for the tremendously high quality.

            It's always a bit of a worry (in the best possible way!) to think about all of the other fabulous things to eat in Montreal and to wonder if I'll be able to do them justice after APdC. So far, I seem to be doing OK - on a recent trip, it ended up being poutine, including APdC, 3Xin two days!

        2. great report! i'm really looking forward to a more comprehensive tour of the jean talon market, not to mention doing more back to back helpings of coco rico and schwartz's!