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First-timer in Montreal

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Hello, Canada! I'm going to be visiting Montreal next week for the first time and need some suggestions. I'm coming in for a conference, so I'm on the boss's dime, but I want to be able to do this again next year so I can't go toooooo crazy. I'll eat anything (I'm a New Yorker, so I'm used to everything), but I'm partial to places that have exceptional wine lists! The conference is at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth, and I'll need to stay in that area for lunch but I don't mind travelling for a great dinner. Thanks in advance for your suggestions!!

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  1. I can't remember if the wine list is exceptional, but my favourite restaurant is a short stroll from your hotel. It's called Europea, and the food is exceptional. I recommend it so often that I hope I do not sound like a shill; well, all reports here on it are positive. Go for the table d'hote or the 9-course tasting menu; I hope the boss has a lot of dimes !

    If you want to do something Montreal-centric go to Au Pied de Cochon. The emphasis is on foie gras - suggest you do a search here for it and other recommendations.

    5 Replies
    1. re: souschef

      Thanks souschef, APDC is definitely on the list for dinner. Unfortunately I'm coming to realize that the organizers of this conference aren't foodies, otherwise they would have chosen a different location....it's looking like slim pickings for lunch around here, especially since the one place that did get decent reviews, Le Paris, closed last month.

      So far, I've got Europea on the lunch list (the tasting menu looks divine, but I think I would get a bit of a wrist slap for that one), APDC and Le Club Chasse et Peche for dinners. The hotel clerk recommended Chez Alexandre for lunch, but I'm a bit hesitant...anybody out there have anything to say about it?

      Well, I've got a few hours to kill right now so I'm going to march myself over to St. Viateur, because what self-respecting New Yorker shies away from a challenge to a bagel debate?!

      1. re: Stella_Blue

        A few doors away from Alexandre is Cafe Ferreira which offers one of the best lunches in town with an interesting selection of Portuguese wines.

        1. re: eat2much

          I'll second Ferreira over Alexandre - very much better, though I've only been there for dinner, not for lunch.

          1. re: eat2much

            Okay, a quick update: first, thank you thank you for the Ferreira recco, I just had the quail there and I think I could have eaten twelve of those little suckers. Positively superb!

            Last night I was down in Old Montreal and thought I'd hit up a few places there, but it being late on a Monday AND a holiday I was rather limited. I went to Stash and had krokiety, which were unremarkable. The best thing on the plate was the potato salad, although I mean that in no way to be disdainful of the potato salad! It was dilly and excellent. I also had a glass of Hungarian szekszard which was very nice, and only $6. Given the situation, I almost give them a full pass; I am sure they would be more on top of their game if I went on a Thursday or something.
            Next I went to Chez L'Epicier. Success!! Everything about this place made me happy. The service was exceptional, especially considering they were about to close the kitchen when I arrived. I had the rabbit ravioli with sweet potato puree and hazelnut sauce that was divine (and $9). I think the waiter was a little miffed that was all I ordered, but I made up for it by ordering a $14 glass of Cote du Roussillon (which was worth $7) and a $16 glass of Bordeaux (which was worth $30). Apparently, this place is known for their private wine imports....anyhoodle, it was a verrrry pleasant experience.
            I was planning to go to Aszu afterward, but I was so full and happy (from three glasses of wine) I decided to end on a high note. I will update more later....it appears I am turning this post into my own personal blog.

          2. re: Stella_Blue

            Club Chasse et Peche is popular here, but I personally don't like it. The food and the decor at Europea (and Ferreira) are miles ahead.

        2. I really like the wine lists at: Bouchonne, Aszu, Lemeac Club Chasse et Peche. They have very interesting wines, lots of private imports, and if you like to try French wines, these are good places to try them. I do find the American wine selection is weak here in Quebec, but as you are from NY, it would be a nice change for you.

          6 Replies
          1. re: moh

            Moishe's steakhouse has along with Peter Luger's the best steak on the continent. Get the NY strip not the featured rib steak. Pretty good wine list as well.

            1. re: Delucacheesemonger

              I had dinner at Europea this past weekend and was very disappointed. The menu sounded great but nothing tasted as good as it sounded. There was 2 of us and which each went with table d'hote and none of the courses blew us away (or even came close). Service was good and the price was reasonable, but not enough so to where I'd return.

              1. re: Jstern35

                I find the food at Europea to be quite good. My problem with Europea is that the service is too "in your face"...by that I mean that every single morsel put before you is described in agonizing detail which I personally find a bit much. Perhaps that could be why you thought it sounded better than it tasted.

                1. re: eat2much

                  I didn't find that the case at all on my visit, the items sounded good based on the menu descriptions but I found the execution and flavors just fell short.

                2. re: Jstern35

                  I'm amazed. I have eaten at Europea many times, and have never been disappointed. And I am very hard to please in a restaurant.

                3. re: Delucacheesemonger

                  I wouldn't put Moishe's in the same league as Peter Luger's - not even close, and far from the best steak on the continent. Anyone expecting that will be disappointed. Montreal is just not known for its steakhouses.

              2. My short visit to Montreal is coming to a close, and let me begin by saying that I LOVE your city!! I will definitely be visiting again. I can't find anything to complain about....oh, except wine prices. Honestly, I can't imagine how anyone here can afford to be a wine lover. I spent more on wine this weekend than food, and I spent a LOT on food!!

                Anyway, here are some musings. First, in response to the posts about Europea, I also didn't find the service to be "in your face." In fact, I would describe the service there as subpar, but I believe that is probably not normally the case. Also, there are few languages I speak worse than French, and I think I may have frightened my waitress a little. I would say that the food was, while technically expensive, quite a bargain for the quality. I thought the black cod a little bland, but the beef tartar was out of this world, the veal cheeks were incredible and the princess scallops, quite literally, melted in my mouth. I also had an absolutely amazing Alsace, the specifics of which I completely forgot to write down....does anyone know what is on their menu right now? I must find it again, but the one online isn't the right one. Anyway, it was a great suggestion, thanks to you souschef.

                Lemeac was very good, solid bistro fare. I had the lamb shank and it was as good as I've ever eaten. L'Epicier and Stash Cafe I discussed above.

                Au Pied du Cochon was an experience. If there ever was a place where food = fun, this is it! I sat at the bar in front of the kitchen and chatted up the staff all evening, took pictures of patrons with their duck-in-a-can (awesome!), and basically enjoyed being a silly tourist. I told my arteries to go to hell and had the duck carpaccio (amazing) and the Plogue à Champlain, which I must somehow get a NY brunch place to incorporate into their menu. Mmmmm.

                Finally, the big winner was Bouchonne. O my! I went early (5pm) and was so glad I did! I had the place to myself, and the waiter/sommelier essentially put together a little mini-tasting menu for me, complete with wine pairings. The escargots were outta sight (paired with an Austrian Blaufrankisch), the chopped chicken livers paired with an Alsace blend (really! I was so surprised by this dish, and by how well the pairing worked), and little aubergines with tomato confit and an amazing goat cheese paired (tripled?) with a very bold organic chianti (Montesecondo 2005) and a Corsican red (Antoine Arena 2003). I spent two hours there - for a solo diner, that is a really long time - and if I hadn't been about ready to break out of my jeans I would have stayed longer. The bill was under $70, which I felt was very reasonable for four glasses of wine (generous pours, folks!) and three dishes.

                A couple more random thoughts: as far as I can tell, the pecking order for bagels is as follows: New York > St. Viateur > Fairmount. Sorry, Canada....but just to be sure, I've packed some sesame bagels to take home for tasting side-by-side. It's all about the scientific method, you know.

                Lastly, to address the steakhouse posts: for anyone who is ever actually planning to spend the trillions of dollars on a steak at Peter Luger's, it's not all that. It probably was once, but I think now it's more of a destination than a real meal. I would personally take Dylan Prime in TriBeCa over PL's any day.

                Thanks again for all your suggestions!! I will be back, hopefully, to try all the places I missed this time around!

                12 Replies
                1. re: Stella_Blue

                  "The bill was under $70, which I felt was very reasonable for four glasses of wine (generous pours, folks!) and three dishes."

                  But you started out by saying the wine was expensive here :)

                  Glad you enjoyed Europea. They also have a 20-course tasting menu, which I will try some day!

                  1. re: souschef

                    LOL....touche, souschef :) But truly, the wine here is about 150% what it is in NY, and that goes for wine stores too. In talking with the staff at APDC I learned that there are extra taxes levied on wines in Quebec over other provinces, and even further taxes levied by the city of Montreal. I walked into one wine store and found a bottle of Yellowtail (ew!) for $15 (double ew!).

                    About that 20-course tasting menu. Apparently they sit you down at a table in the kitchen, and the chef goes over the entire menu with you. I'm saving up for that, the next time I visit :)

                    1. re: Stella_Blue

                      The Yellowtail will be priced the same from one store to another as it is a provincial monopoly.

                      1. re: Stella_Blue

                        Bargain wines are definitely more expensive here. There is no Two Buck Canuck. Once you get beyond that, the situation's not nearly as clear cut as you imply. Two things to bear in mind before getting into any discussion involving cross-border price comparisons: wildly fluctuating exchange rates complicate everything these days (the C$ was near parity a few weeks ago, today it hovers around US$0.85 and a few years ago it was closer to US$0.65) and NY prices don't include sales tax while Quebec prices do (and a 14% sales tax at that). My experience is that mid-priced and higher-end European wines are rarely much more expensive here than in the States and sometimes are even less expensive. (If you want chapter and verse, we'll have to take this to the wine board or some other venue, however.) What you do have in NYC is wider variety. But then again, the NY market is many times bigger than the Montreal or even Quebec market. Put Montreal up against a similarly sized market -- Dallas, say -- and you'll probably agree we're not so bad off. Unless Texan wine's your thing, that is.

                        Whoever told you that the city levies taxes on wine doesn't know what they're talking about. The feds tax it when it enters the country and they get a fraction of the sales tax when it's sold; the rest of the money enters the provincial coffers, either as duties and taxes or in the form of dividends paid by the SAQ (the provincial government is the sole shareholder).

                        As for bagels, well, there's no disputing taste. But be aware that many people who grew up on NY bagels come around after a few encounters. That's the way it was with me. These days about the only thing I'll buy from a NY bagelry is a bialy (never understood why they aren't available here).

                        1. re: carswell

                          "These days about the only thing I'll buy from a NY bagelry is a bialy (never understood why they aren't available here)."

                          That and good cream cheese based rugelah. Go figure.

                    2. re: Stella_Blue

                      Stella Blue, thanks for your great report! Sounds like you ate well.

                      Re: cost of wine. One of my favorite things about MOntreal are the Bring your own wines places. There are so many great places to eat where you can bring a really great bottle and match it to a very nice meal. it makes it a bit easier to be a wine lover here. i love being able to bring a really special bottle to a resto, one that I would never be able to afford off the wine list, what with wine mark-ups.

                      1. re: moh

                        moh, you stole the words from my mouth. The relatively high cost of wine (with the caveats carswell expressed about some higher-end bottles) gave rise to the bring your own wine phenomenon - now a wide range of price levels and restaurant types, from hole-in-the-wall to formal.

                        I couldn't possibly afford to drink the wine I like with resto mark-ups, so byows are a saving grace. Here, with a few exceptions (Apollo...) there are no corkage fees, as consumers don't stand for them.

                        1. re: lagatta

                          Lagatta, i would have to say that my love of the BYOB situation here is one of the initial reasons I decided to stay in Montreal. We are very lucky to have this option, and with so much choice!

                          1. re: moh

                            moh, I have not been to too many BYOB's here, but was wondering if the quality of the food is generally as good as those that do not have a BYOB policy (I'm thinking about the higher end places here).

                            1. re: souschef

                              My experience with BYOBs is that they tend to fall into two camps - those that offer so-so quality food, but are popular simply because they are BYOBs and the food is fairly inexpensive; and those that rank among my favourites, where the food is far from inexpensive, but you get what you pay for, and they rank up there with other higher-end places. Examples of the former are many of the places you find on Duluth or Prince Arthur (there are, of course, exceptions). Examples of the latter are P'tit Plateau and Les Infideles. Of course, once you're into the much higher end places, such as Toque and CC+P, you won't find an equivalent BYOB (to my knowledge, at least), but certainly there are more than enough very good high-ish end BYOBs worth frequenting.

                              1. re: cherylmtl

                                I would agree completely with Cherylmtl's summary of the BYOB scene. There are a bunch of places I would avoid like the plague, but there are plenty of really great places that have a great neighbourhood bistro feel. They are such nice places on a cold winter night.

                                I would also agree that the highest end BYOB won't match a higher end resto. But you can't eat at high end places all the time! Budget can't be sustained. The higher end BYOBs are reasonably priced, yet still seem like a special occasion.

                                1. re: moh

                                  "They are such nice places on a cold winter night."

                                  moh, I imagine you also like them on a warm summer night, and on a mild ...... :)