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French Tarts in Montreal - Worth Looking For?

i
italyvespa Aug 23, 2009 12:20 AM

I am headed to Montreal at the beginning of September and wondered, are French tarts big there? I know that croissants are popular, but how about tarts? They are my favorite dessert, so don't bother recommending tarts that are just so-so.

FYI, Balthazar Bakery in NYC has raised the bar for how good a tart can be IMO. Their tarts - the filling, the crust, the presentation - just blow my mind.

  1. SnackHappy Aug 23, 2009 12:45 AM

    I was going to make a joke about Radio Lounge, but I've decided against it.

    1 Reply
    1. re: SnackHappy
      superbossmom Aug 23, 2009 04:50 AM

      I went on the Balthazar website to see their tarts but they were not pictured, everything else was, their galettes look amazing, don't see those in Montreal.

      Premiere Moisson has the individual tarts, they have a shortbread cookie-like crust,
      and the fillings vary, lemon is common, they do a chocolate nut that is excellent, they also do a pecan pie version filling, without nuts we call them "au sucre". So I would venture to say that tarts are common in Montreal, most bakeries have them.

      You'll have to tell us how they compare to Balthazar's tarts !!

    2. TheSnowpea Aug 23, 2009 09:39 AM

      Define tart for you? because here you'll find 'tarte' is not 'tart' but mostly pie...I mean, bakeries like Premiere Moisson, Bonatarte, etc. have both the 'tart' and the 'pies' but I cannot say if one place is better than another. Others I am sure will be able to chime in.

      1 Reply
      1. re: TheSnowpea
        l
        lagatta Aug 23, 2009 11:47 AM

        I was assuming a tart was with one crust, and flatter, and a pie usually covered with another crust or latticed, and deeper-dish.

        Mamie Clafoutis in Outremont is very good, though I haven't had their sweet tarts as I'm avoiding anything with more sugar than a croissant at most. Friends who have had their tarts (in the sense of flat open pies, not of "tartelettes" - small tarts - swear by them.

        http://www.mamieclafoutis.com/tarterie.html

        Mamie Clafoutis 1291 Van Horne H2V 1K5 514.750.7245
        www.mamieclafoutis.com info@mamieclafoutis.com

        They are very close to Outremont métro.

      2. m
        moh Aug 23, 2009 01:00 PM

        I think we need a little clarification on what kind of french tart we are talking about (jokes notwithstanding).

        When I hear the words french tart, I immediately think of those flat tarts filled with custard and then covered in beautiful glazed fresh fruit. Is this what Italyvespa referring to? If so, there are many fine examples of these tarts in Montreal. Montreal does French pastry well. But it seems to me that if the OP has already found their favorite tarts back home (I am assuming OP lives in NYC and that Balthazar is their go-to place), then do they need to find them here?

        Awaiting clarification....

        1 Reply
        1. re: moh
          l
          lagatta Aug 23, 2009 02:11 PM

          There is also the very classic "tarte aux pommes" (not the tarte tatin) with fine apple slices artfully arranged on the tart pastry - no custard.

        2. m
          moh Aug 23, 2009 01:03 PM

          Ah ha! Addendum. From looking at Italyvespa's profile, it seems OP is from Austin, not NYC. So in fact, it is probably worthwhile for them to hunt down french tarts while in Montreal.

          Italyvespa, yes, it is worth looking for french pastry in Montreal. Let us know exactly what you are looking for, and we can make recommendations.

          1. afoodyear Aug 23, 2009 02:41 PM

            A little OT: but because of the large Portuguese influence here, "natas" are very popular; little custard filled tarts worth checking out while you're here :)

            2 Replies
            1. re: afoodyear
              l
              lagatta Aug 23, 2009 06:16 PM

              Yes, natas are tarts as in "tartelettes" very small individual tarts, not just tarts as in full-sized but open-faced and not-very-deep-dish pies.

              1. re: afoodyear
                i
                italyvespa Aug 23, 2009 06:25 PM

                I heard about the natas and may have to check them out. They sound fantastic.

              2. i
                italyvespa Aug 23, 2009 06:22 PM

                Thanks for all the responses and sorry I wasn't more clear. When I asked about French tarts, I was referring to moh's description: "When I hear the words french tart, I immediately think of those flat tarts filled with custard and then covered in beautiful glazed fresh fruit." Balthazar is supposed to be based on French bistros. Their tarts are beautiful in a rustic way that may seem not so French, but since bistros are known for a more home cooking approach maybe this is the way a bistro would make them. Anyway, I have never seen the classic French tart as described above at Balthazar, but that's okay. The tarts are just good, period. And if a tart is good, I don't think it matters much if it's the classic (clean) kind or a more homely rustic kind. Good is good.

                FYI, the main difference between a tart and a pie is the crust. The crust on a tart is more cookie-like. It's sweeter and crumbly, like shortbread. A pie crust is less sweet and flaky. And I'm not a stickler about the looks but if you want to get really technical, a tart is supposed to be shorter with straight edges and a pie is deeper with edges that taper in.

                I live in Austin, but will be in Montreal for a few days in September. I want to know if Montreal has kick ass tarts of their own to sing about, since the city has such a strong French connection. And the big picture is: are you known for tarts? If not, I won't go out of my way to hunt down a tart place. Bagels, poutine, smoked meats, cheese, French food galour – I have a GIGANTIC list of "must-eat" food to get down the few days I'm in Montreal and I can get fantastic tarts in other cities. But I can hardly wait to visit. Sounds like a glorious food city to me.

                10 Replies
                1. re: italyvespa
                  m
                  moh Aug 23, 2009 07:02 PM

                  Italyvespa, I think you will like the tarts here. Any of the places that carry croissant are likely to have really lovely tarts. SO: Premiere Moisson, Patisserie Gascogne, Au Pain Dore, etc. etc just to name a few of the bigger places here, I won't even go into all the smaller patisseries that have lovely french pastry. I don't think it will be hard for you to find them, they are everywhere, and if they look nice, they often taste just as nice. French pastry in general is done better here than most North American cities. I don't think you'll need to go very far out of your way. In fact, good french pastry is so prevalent here, you could stand on a street corner and be mugged by a delicious French pastry. When I first arrived in Montreal, I kind of OD'd on French pastry, it is hard to resist. Get the tarts, but also look for all the great French mousse cakes, the mille feuille, the fabulous chocolatines, caramel au fleur de sel tartlettes, various meringue concoctions, macarons, tarte aux pommes, chausson au pomme, various maple syrup based concoctions, brioche... get what looks good! you will be overwhelmed by the possible choices.

                  And definitely get the portuguese egg custard tarts, the natas. I have come around to accepting that Bella Vista on Pine Avenue has the best ones in the city. You will absolutely love these things. Don't be alarmed by the burnt appearance, that is the way they are supposed to be. Goodness those things are yummy.

                  1. re: italyvespa
                    carswell Aug 23, 2009 08:38 PM

                    «are you known for tarts?»

                    No, we're not known for tarts. In fact, while the pastry situation may be better here than in most North American cities, it's not as good as it is can be in Europe. You can get a decent macaron in Montreal but nothing on the level of Pierre Hermé's. You can get decent chocolates in Montreal but nothing as exquisite as, say, Hirsinger's.

                    Before going farther, a disclaimer: I don't buy many fruit tarts. Making a pâté sablée shell, filling it with pastry cream or, in rare cases, custard, topping it with fresh fruit and sprinkling it with powdered sugar or maybe glazing it with melted apricot, apple or red currant jelly is well within the purview of even a pastry klutz like me. As a result, I don't pay much attention to who sells them. But that won't stop me from recommending that you shunt the chain bakeries -- Première Moisson, Au Pain Doré, Pâtisserie de Gascogne -- to second place on your list and focus instead on some of the smaller establishments.

                    In general, the chains (especially PM and APD) are better for bread than for pastries, which are seldom bad but seldom memorable. Among other things, the demands of large-scale production and a standardized product list mean that maintaining a steady, year-round supply of fruit is paramount, so they tend to buy on contract from major suppliers. That's why they sell fresh raspberry tarts in January but rarely use local fruit in season.

                    Again, I've not checked out the fruit tart situation recently, but I'd still suggest starting on Van Horne Avenue, where, within a few blocks of the Outremont metro station, you'll find several small but interesting shops, including Le Paltoquet, Lescurier and Mamie Clafoutis (can't say that MC's namesake clafoutis knocked my socks off, however). If you felt like it, you could then wander south a couple of blocks south to Bernard and one of the city's better PM outlets. Wander a few blocks further south to Laurier and you'll find APD and PdG outlets.

                    Another hot spot would be Laurier between St-Hubert and Papineau, starting with Fous Desserts and heading east with stops at Le Fromentier (probably no fruit tart but mandatory if you have even the slightest interest in bread) and Les Saveurs du Plateau.

                    1. re: carswell
                      m
                      moh Aug 26, 2009 08:40 AM

                      Carswell, I would agree with your suggestion to try the smaller establishments. These are more likely to be made on site, and to use local fresh fruits. All the little places you mention are very fine smaller bakeries, and I think they are worth a trip even if you aren't specifically looking for fruit tarts. These small artisanal bakeries are one of the unique features of Montreal, as you won't this density of fine French breads and pastries in many other places in North America. And I can tell you I have looked in many North American cities. Montreal does French bread and pastries well.

                      One small quibble. As someone who eats quite a lot of French fruit tarts, I actually quite like the offerings of the chain bakeries (Premiere Moisson, Au Pain Dore, Gascogne). They compare favourably to the tarts I have eaten in many little patisseries in Paris and various places in France. They may not be the pinnacle of French Tarts, but they are still quite delicious. They are certainly much better than some of the North American counterparts I have tried in various cities in North America. A good French tart is still pretty hard to find on this side of the Atlantic. We are lucky to have an abundance of them here in Montreal.

                      1. re: moh
                        carswell Aug 26, 2009 06:48 PM

                        «One small quibble [...] I actually quite like the offerings of the chain bakeries»

                        Haven't we've had this discussion before? ;) In any case, YMMV. There's no disputing taste. If you like 'em, more power to you. &c.

                        To my palate, they frequently taste bland and mass-produced. The crusts are often heavy, never outstanding; the fillings lack finesse; the flavours don't excite. The near total reliance on imported fruit immediately takes them down a notch in my books. And even when you even the playing field -- taking a lemon tart, for example, which *can't* be made from local fruit -- they fall short of artisanal or even homemade versions. Are they terrible? No. Are they better than you'll find in a lot of cities (or even other Montreal pastry shops)? Sure. Are they worth going out of your way for, worth a special trip, "worth looking for" (to quote the OP)? Not for me. I don't eat nearly as many sweets as you. When I do indulge, I want it to be something special. As far as I'm concerned, PM, APD, PdG and Pat Belge don't make the cut. But if italyvespa wants to check them out and decide for him/herself, s/he now knows how to.

                        1. re: carswell
                          m
                          moh Aug 26, 2009 08:09 PM

                          My point about the chain bakeries is simply that their tarts are tasty, and because of the number of outlets, you don't really need to go out of your way to find them. Yes of course you are right (as always) that they might not be "worth looking for" but my point is that with very little effort, the OP could easily try as many as he/she wants. This is not the case in many places in North America.

                          You have stated outright that you don't buy many fruit tarts. When is the last time you've actually had one of these tarts? From which bakeries have you actually had these tarts? And where else have you sampled these tarts (cities/countries)? It is clear you are not a big fan of this dessert. I respect that you don't think it is worth eating most of these tarts, and that you prefer to save yourself for the cream of the crop. But there are some of us who like fruit tarts, and as someone who likes these tarts and who actually periodically samples the tarts from various bakeries, I find the selection very reasonable here in Montreal.

                          I think I would have an easier time accepting your argument if you actually liked these tarts and ate a lot of them. You're allowed to not like something. But to pass judgement and to dismiss large proportion of these tarts when you don't actually like or eat many of these tarts seems severe. I am not a fan of calves' brains, I don't actively try a lot of calf brain dishes, and if I try them, I most likely will not be impressed. For that reason, I am not going to start critiquing various calf brain dishes throughout the city. And I will not pass judgment on those who like various calf brain dishes that I might deem unworthy because they are not artisanal enough.

                          It may very well be that Italyvespa is as particular as you. And I have already agreed that if Italyvespa wants the best examples possible, he/she should follow your advice and search out the more artisanal bakeries and avoid the bigger chain bakeries. But if I couldn't make the search, and I followed your advice to not bother with the chain bakeries, I'd be missing out on what I consider to be a very yummy dessert. If I was coming from Paris, I'd have no problem with it. But if I were coming from Winnipeg, well, I'd be sad.

                          1. re: moh
                            w
                            wilmagrace Aug 26, 2009 08:33 PM

                            both making good points, guess it does come down to personal choice but for me although not a great fan of the fruit tarts in general and I have succombed many a time to purchasing because they are so attractive! But I do agree with Carswell the fruits do seem to have a blander taste than one would expect from the vivid colours and how many times do I wish I had a knife to handle the crust! I do think the quality is not the same anymore....

                            1. re: moh
                              carswell Aug 27, 2009 05:45 AM

                              Where did I say I don't like fruit tarts? Nothing could be further from the truth. They're about the only dessert I regularly prepare at home. I'd be overjoyed if I could find a local source for fruit tarts that are to Première Moisson's as Cocoa Locale's cakes are to Au Pain Doré's gâteaux. I'd be establishing residence at Mamie Clafoutis if their namesake dessert (oversweet, slightly grainy, too eggy, made with frozen fruit) could hold a candle to the ones I make in June and early July (fresh cherries, my own vanilla sugar, sometimes powdered almonds, a dash of kirsch, etc.). Like my guests, I swooned over a tarte Tatin I once bought at Anjou-Québec (never saw them there before or since), just as we were incredulous at an atrocity from Pâtisserie de Gascogne (thin, mealy apple slices, goopy caramel, cast-iron crust -- "I've had better from Provigo" was one diner's comment).

                              Recent experience with the chains? Since the start of the year, lemon and almond-fruit tartelets from Au Pain Doré (they come with the lunch trios I sometimes buy -- for lack of other options -- when picking up bread for wine tastings). One of APD's large mixed fruit tarts purchased by a friend (wilmagrace is right about both the stunning appearance and the tough crust). I also believe a raspberry-topped pastry cream tart a friend served a few months ago came from APD (if required by the Inquisition, calls will be made to find out). Apricot-almond, lemon and blueberry tartelets from Première Moisson soon after they opened their new CDN outlet -- OK but as unexceptional as every other PM pastry I've tried over the years. And I've tried many over the years.

                              But, hey, even if my fruit tart consumption pales beside yours, I've experienced enough excellent ones to know that none I've had from a Montreal chain bakery qualifies for that descriptor in my books. I'm not deeming them unworthy because they're not artisanal enough or passing judgement on people who like them. I'm saying they're not, in my view, special. I've had plenty of fruit tarts that impress. These don't impress me for the reasons detailed above.

                              Yes, italyvespa could try dozens of tarts, such is the wealth of options in our city. And, you'll note, I've suggested an itinerary that would allow him/her to do just that. But s/he specifically says s/he is looking for something mind-blowing, is not really interested in anything less. My point is that, as a gourmet, s/he's best off focusing on the artisanal shops. Your point about the chain bakeries being easy to visit would be more to the point if s/he was a gourmand(e), but it doesn't sound like s/he is.

                              Peace out!

                              1. re: carswell
                                c
                                C70 Aug 27, 2009 08:51 AM

                                I hate when mommy and daddy fight

                                ;)

                                1. re: C70
                                  m
                                  moh Aug 27, 2009 01:27 PM

                                  Don't cry C70 - mommy and daddy still love each other....

                                  (Have to tell you, me and Hubbie laughed pretty hard when we read your post! :)

                            2. re: carswell
                              cherylmtl Aug 27, 2009 05:39 AM

                              Big fan of fruit tarts here - I try them on a far too regular basis, wherever they look good - and while places such as Fous Desserts and Mamie Clafoutis make very good ones, the ones at Gascogne and Premiere Moisson are actually good too, and shouldn't be passed up. Pain Dore used to be okay, but tarts tend to seem less fresh there these days, and their lemon one is a little cloying. Patisserie Belge, IMHO, has unfortunately long passed the time when it was worth buying anything from.

                      2. c
                        C70 Aug 26, 2009 09:08 AM

                        I wouldn't miss Duc De Lorraine's lemon tart if I were you.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: C70
                          w
                          wilmagrace Aug 26, 2009 05:42 PM

                          we used to get our fruit tarts (French pies because in Ontario tarts are the small versions and the rest are pies even if openfaced what I would call a tart are known as tartelettes it seems) in www.ducdelorraine.com

                          another option especially if a tourist or downtown are the fruit tarts at patisserie belge as they make all their pastries, cakes, pies on site, i was there to buy a quiche today and they had a variety of the fruit tarts and some beautiful ones, I note it here not as the best, just because not always possible to get to patisserie gascogne etc
                          http://www.lapatisseriebelge.com/

                          1. re: wilmagrace
                            m
                            marblebag Aug 27, 2009 02:37 PM

                            I dropped Patisserie Belge from my list 2 years ago after too many stale pastries.

                            1. re: wilmagrace
                              m
                              manuela Aug 27, 2009 02:58 PM

                              French tarts are my favorite dessert! Ive lived in Paris and although nothing in Montreal compares, the tarts at La Patisserie Belge (expecially the strawberry and apple) have been able to satisfy my cravings- when they run out, I usually head over to la Pâtisserie Duc de Lorraine.

                              cant seem to find a place that sells great flan though :(

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