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New Yorkers' long weekend in Montreal (a long report)

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First, thanks to Montreal for being a wonderful, fun place to visit, and for hosting a few hungry New Yorkers. I look forward to coming back and eating my heart out again.

L’Express

We came here because we needed a late-night spot to eat. The food was serviceable, but I don’t think we’ll go again unless we need to eat late. The waitstaff was all very agreeable and helpful, and provided good, solid service. The food was only “ok”.

The food we ordered:
- Steak frites – steak was “eh”, but the fries and mayo were GREAT. The mayo might have been mixed with mustard, and it was tangy and creamy and salty. Yum!
- Lamb shank confit (not very flavorful)
- Pear and mascarpone cheese parfait – very nice, would get again
- Some kind of fruit crumble with ice cream (not that great)

My companion tried to order a caipirinha, without success (actually, he tried to order this twice in Montreal, both times without success. We kidded him about ordering a Latin American drink in Canada.). To the restaurant’s credit, the waiter brought out a cocktail menu and was very earnest in his attempts to try to figure out how to make the drink. We appreciated his efforts very much! My friend instead decided to get a vodka and coke.

Toque

Ate here with hubby and our 2 friends and had a really fabulous meal. Hubby and I have eaten here once before, and it was a really highly-rated meal in our memories. Just to set the stage, hubby is REALLY hard to please, and the more a restaurant costs, the more it has to knock his socks off. A restaurant with Toque’s price tag has to blow his mind. In NYC, we usually eat at very casual neighborhood-type places and many ethnic joints. At the end of the meal, I was very satisfied, and the hubby less so (he thought the first time we ate here was better than this time).

The interior is pretty much as I remembered it – quite serene, lots of space for each table. The waitstaff really really impressed us. Super professional, very friendly, seasoned, unobtrusive, knowledgeable. I liked their uniforms, too – gray button-down shirts and slacks for the gentlemen, and floral-print blouses and gray skirts for the ladies. It looked like something someone might wear on their own, except after a while, we noticed it was a uniform.

We liked our waitress, who seemed like she would be fun outside of work (bleached blonde hair, tattoo on her leg), but was absolutely professional and knowledgeable. She responded well to all our questions. At the end of the meal, my friend told her the only bit of feedback he had was that there was a bit too much food. We were too full, and the server told us they’d had some feedback from some guests that there wasn’t enough food for the money. We’re used to tasting menus, big prices, small dishes. To each his own, I guess!

We all chose the tasting menu with the discovery wine tasting ($95 for tasting menu, $65 for discovery wine). My husband chose the foie gras supplement. One of our companions chose the vegetarian tasting menu.

My dining companions ordered a peach (?) martini and mojito to start. Both cocktails were excellently executed. Often, in NY, cocktails are made without regard to balance of ingredients (usually too boozy or too sweet or in some way too much of something).

To the best of my memory, here are the courses:
- Corn mousse/foam amuse bouche. The waitress described this as tasting kind of like popcorn, which it did! There was a small bit of corn and some crunchy large-grain salt that I enjoyed.
- Scallop ceviche with an acidic sauce that included strawberry and some kind of foam. The waiter said we could eat it like an oyster if we wanted. I really like the foam and scallop and sauce, but I thought the strawberry piece was too powerful of a flavor against the other ingredients.
- Mackerel with vegetables (really enjoyed this and am trying to love mackerel a bit more even though it’s a bit fishy-tasting). The veggies were cut kind of like a slaw – crunchy and with a light dressing/sauce.
- Arctic char (this was replaced by the foie gras for my husband). Don’t remember much about this dish.
- Rabbit and mushrooms under a pasta skin. Really enjoyed this as well – the rabbit I didn’t love (not much flavor itself), but the reduction sauce was super flavorful, and the pasta skin was cooked *just* right. The mushrooms were also full of flavor.
- Squab with a thin beet/meat sauce – the squab didn’t have much flavor, but dipping it in the beet sauce was perfect. The sauce was salted and added good flavor to the squab, which was cooked just right – a bit rare.
- A thin layer of cheese coating small apple slices, crispy bread pieces. This looked kind of like the pasta dish, except we realized cutting into it, the top layer (shaped like a triangle on the dish) was made of cheese! My dining companions and I were sorry we didn’t have more room so we could finish this.
- Raspberry sorbet with a layered dessert consisting of a thin, sweet crispy pastry layer (almost like a cracker) with cream and raspberries. There were sugary bits of thyme, along with blades of what looked like grass and tasted like anise. All in all, a very interesting-tasting dish that I liked very much. The only way to end this meal would have been with those refreshing and herbal flavors.
- Thyme/lemon-flavored chocolates

I asked the sommelier for a list of the wines that came with the dinner. I remember less about the wines – the first white was underwhelming. The second was a greek wine that had bold flavors that I really enjoyed. Our sommelier explained the grape grows in volcanic soil which gives it a lot of nutrients/flavors). The French chardonnay was also interesting with a lot of big flavor. I don’t love chardonnays, and California chardonnays much less. I’ve had some French chardonnays which I really liked, but they were lighter in flavor and color.
The first glass of red was also underwhelming. The final glass, a Barolo, was full of flavor and aromas, and I really liked it.

Here’s the list I got from the sommelier:
VDP des Collines de la Moure 2007, Mas Saint-Laurent 2 oz $5 (terret grape)
Santorini 2007, Atlantis, Argyros 2 oz $5
Saint-Romain 2006, Combe Bazin, Domaine de Chassornay 2 oz $13
Vire-Clesse 2002, Quintaine, Domaine de la Bongran 2 oz $13
Givry Premier Cru, Pom. Joblot 2006
Barolo 2003 Fratelli Alessandria 3 oz $22
Ou
Saint-Estephe 2001, Chateau Marbuzet 3oz $22

I also want to note that the pacing of the meal was very good. On occasion, I’ve gotten a tasting menu that’s so slow you want to lie down in your seat by the end. We’ve actually ordered the bill before we received the dessert at some places, and happy to say, at Toque , this was not necessary. It’s by nature a long meal, but the kitchen and waitstaff did a nice job to keep things moving.

The bill is big, so this is only a very very very once in a while kind of meal. The veggie tasting menu I should note is $85 instead of $95. We don’t eat like this in NY, and I was very glad that our splurge in Montreal was worth it. We stumbled out of there rubbing our bellies. 

Au Pied de Cochon

This has been one of my husband’s favorite restaurants in Montreal, and we go back every time we visit, which is not rarely. We now agree it’s time to branch out.

We visited with 2 of our friends – one a meat-eater and one a non-pescatarian vegetarian. We arrived a bit early for our reservation, and we were lucky to be seated immediately. Our waitress recommended the bison tongue appetizer, which I ordered. Our companions ordered fried zucchini blossoms (fried in duck fat) and fried codfish balls, both served in a paper cup. All the appetizers were excellent, I thought – especially the bison tongue. It was cooked just right (very tender), with mustard on the side and some kind of creamy tarragon sauce on the side.

I ordered a Lillet blanc, my girlfriend a cosmopolitan. We also got a red wine for the table. You should note that nothing on the wine list is under $40/bottle. The cosmo was made quite nicely, which isn’t something you’d expect at a place like APDC which doesn’t style itself as a place where you could order a cocktail. We noted that the several restaurants we’d been to make excellent cocktails. That was a nice surprise.

My friend and I split the tuna special (think it was about $45), and we thought it was well executed, lightly seared with a side of vegetables. Most of the time I go to APDC I get a red meat dish, and it was nice to try some of the seafood. Keen on not being overfull by the meal’s end (as we always are after a dinner at APDC), my husband got the foie gras poutine as his main. My veggie girlfriend ordered the goat cheese/beet salad for her starter, then the veggie side dish and potatoes as her main. She really enjoyed the goat cheese/beet salad (layered slices of beets with goat cheese), but thought the veggie side dish and potatoes were super buttery, in a too-heavy kind of way.

The foie gras poutine was very heavy, the fries a bit limp. The foie gras was tasty, but we kept comparing it (less favorably) to the foie gras the hubby ordered the night before at Toque.

Towards the end of the meal, we started running into trouble with our waitress. The husband tried to flag down our waitress to order a glass of wine and had trouble finding her and placing his order. My friend ordered a martini, and towards the end of our main course, we realized he never got his drink. He cancelled his order when he saw the waitress again. Instead of making an apology, she blamed it on the bartender (“I’m not sure what happened – they’re slow tonight”). As customers, we don’t really care why it’s late, and making excuses and blaming someone else in the restaurant is making it our problem to deal with, not hers. There are often instances when the kitchen/bar is slow, and I always appreciate when the waitstaff comes by and lets me know the kitchen is busy, they’re sorry we’re waiting, etc. There was none of this until we cancelled the order.

My friend asked for the dessert wine menu, and the waitress says they don’t have one, but that she can bring 2 dessert wines for him to try. She brings the 2 bottles, lets him try one that he likes. He asks the price, and she says between $8-12 for the glass, and he agrees to get that glass.

We order our desserts (crème brulee and pudding chomeur), and an espresso and cappuccino, and then proceed to wait again for quite a while. I finally get my espresso, my husband is waiting for his cappuccino. We get our desserts, and the crème brulee is cold (I’ve had it served this way before and don’t prefer it cold), and the top is burnt instead of caramelized. The pudding chomeur is rich and delicious and sweet. When we’re near done, we flag down our waitress again and tell her to cancel the cappuccino order. She apologizes and says she doesn’t know what’s going on with the kitchen, then offers to make the cappuccino quickly. He declines and asks for the check. She again blamed the kitchen (if she noticed we were almost done with dessert, it might have been nice to either acknowledge the cappuccino was very late or to jump in and make it herself, as she finally offered to do too late).

Our last nasty surprise of the night is finding out that my friend’s dessert wine that was supposed to be $8-12 was actually $18 for the glass. I’m pretty pissed at this point and about to give the waitress a piece of my mind. My companions ask me not to say anything, preferring not to make a scene. We give a pretty paltry tip (probably a bit less than 15%).

Our companions, who had never been to APDC before, left with a bad taste in their mouths from the service. I felt sorry to show them what had been one of our favorite Montreal restos in not the best light. I also felt bad for the low tip on behalf of the busgirl, who did a really excellent job in filling our waters and clearing our plates – she was very on top of things, and I overheard that she’d been on the job for about 2 weeks.

I’ve been to APDC at least 4-5 times before and never had bad service. It was always a great meal (if super heavy!), with a casual ambiance, and attentive, good service. I always left very pleased.

I guess this was a sign that we should give APDC a rest and try some of the many other wonderful restaurants Montreal has to offer.

Santropol

We stopped here on our way back home to pick up 2 sandwiches. We’ve been here a few times and eaten at the restaurant, but didn’t have time this visit.

We ordered sandwiches to go and waited at least 15-20 min for the food (2 sandwiches, strawberry milkshake, coffee). That was the only complaint I had – don’t think they’re really a place to go if you’re in a hurry, nor are they a take-out place.

Btw, if you’ve never been, the interior reminds me of some kind of San Francisco hippie enclave. The whole place has a relaxed kind of attitude. Wished we’d had some more time to hang out.

Hubby and I got the Pepper Island (pesto and cream cheese spread topped with jalapeno pepper jelly). This stuff is good!! The slices of wheat bread are really big (I pulled the crusts off – they were a bit hard). Accompanying the sandwich are marinated pepperoncino and some cornichons. These go great with the sandwich.

Jean Talon Market
A
mazing. It’s huge, and it made us so jealous that we don’t have something like this in NYC. Union Square Greenmarket ain’t got nothing on this place! We wished we’d rented an apartment so we could have bought produce and cooked it ourselves.
I was impressed by the pride that went into the displays – fresh, beautiful produce expertly arranged.

We tried some strawberries and huge figs. In the prepared foods area, we tried beignets at this polish bakery (apricot & prune). The dulce de leche ice cream at Havre aux glaces was heavenly.

Coffee at Café Art Java

Really good morning coffee before our walking tour. I noticed they use Gimme! Coffee. The blueberry scone is pretty mushy, so if you like firm, crunchy scones, stay away.

Olive and Gourmando

Came here after a long day of walking (had a great walking tour of Old Montreal with Viator.com). Friend had the goat cheese Panini with caramelized onions and house-made ketchup (doesn’t really taste like ketchup but is fresh, very tangy and tomatoey). Hubby and I shared the Cuban Panini, which was very tasty as well (ham, braised pork, mayo, gruyere cheese). We look forward to coming here again.

Le Cartet (brunch)

I ordered the Cartet brunch – huge plate of food: salad, salmon cake (like a crabcake but with salmon), scrambled egg, ham/cream cheese on a croissant, and cheese slices with dried fig, plus coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice for $15. The food was pretty good in general (not amazing). The atmosphere was fun – pretty young (noticed a lot of tourists), dance music in the background, and long communal tables. Good service.

Vasco de Gama

This was a pleasant breakfast spot. You order at the counter, find yourself a seat (it’s a long, skinny restaurant), then sit and enjoy. My friends & I were lucky enough to score a table near the open window in the front. If you sit in the back, I think you’d enjoy the experience less.

Hubby had an omelet with chorizo –Vasco de gama (good but not great). I had fruit with yogurt and honey, which was very satisfying. Yogurt in the US is pretty unimpressive – maybe it’s because it’s often low fat?

We’ve been to Montreal enough times where we’ve eaten at many of the same places. We’ve tried a bunch of new ones and haven’t been impressed (can’t even remember the names of the strike-outs), but I’m excited to go again and try new ones. One thing I haven’t tried yet is a Montreal bagel! Was reading about these but didn’t have time to pick any up this visit. Next time…

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  1. I loved this review, what an interesting read, thanks for taking the time to include the details, wine tastings and hope you will be back to write more reviwes. My daughters when they come to montreal always take bags of bagels on their trips back to share with friends/colleagues whether they come by plane, train or drive. I think it is just the whole montreal experience that makes it a ritual.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to write down this very complete post!