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Critique Seattle-hound's Choices for Montreal Food Bender

I will be on a 5-day visit soon and want to maximize the Montreal food experience. I'm staying in Plateau Mont-Royal on rue St-Denis.

I'm looking for dining that fits the following criteria:

- Exceptionally delicious food
- I will blow most of my travel budget on food, so there are no limits there
- Suitable for a female solo diner
- Friendly to a non-French speaker
- Dives are okay for breakfast or lunch
- Minimal pretention for dinner (I will be wearing nice dark jeans and flats - I'm not bringing dress clothes)

Here are the spots I've selected thus far:
(guided heavily by the excellent list in this post http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/643621

)

- Olive et Gourmando (probably will visit twice for breakfast and lunch)
- Schwartz's (lunch - smoked meat sandwich)
- Au Pied de Cochon (dinner - of the delicious porky type)
- Resto la Banquise (lunch - poutine)
- L'Express (dinner)
- St Viateur Bagel (breakfast - is this worth it?)
- Nil Bleu (dinner - convenient to hotel for first night in town)
- Au Cinquième Péché (dinner - do I need a reservation?)
- Joe Beef (dinner)
- Laloux (lunch or dinner)

If you're familiar with Seattle dining, I'm looking for places that can rock it like Poppy, Olivar, Boat Street, How to Cook a Wolf, Cascina Spinasse, Serious Pie and Tilth.

Thanks in advance!

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Joe Beef
2491 Rue Notre-Dame W, Montreal, QC H3J1N6, CA

Olive et Gourmando
351 Rue Saint-Paul Ouest, Montreal, QC , CA

L'Express Restaurant
3927 Rue Saint-Denis, Montreal, QC H2W2M4, CA

Nil Bleu Restaurant
3706 Rue Saint-Denis, Montreal, QC H2X3L7, CA

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  1. St. Viateur bagel does have a couple of cafes that serve breakfast, but they're just ok, IMO. When most of us recommend a visit to St. V, we really mean go to the original bakery on St. Viateur, pick up a few hot from the oven, a spread from their fridge, and enjoy ASAP on a park bench somewhere. It is the best way to enjoy these magnificent bagels.

    1. crap, I just deleted my answer ... here we go again.

      MTL is easy going in regards to dress code (at least for the place you've listed); MTL is also cool about language , but it's always a good idea to learn a few french words and sentences.

      I would skip L'Express (not worth it IMO); cross the street to Cocagne or walk up a little bit to "Le Continental" or "3 Petits Bouchons", or go to "Lemeac" (but I've heard the food is so-so these days) for the post-22h 22$ specials but for that price it's still is a bargain.

      If you don't mind eating late, there are numerous restaurants with post 22h specials (Lemeac, Milos, L'un des Sens, ... )
      For bagels, the 2 places on Fairmont st. or St-Viateur st. are bakeries and not a "sit-down" café/restaurant, so you buy a couple of them and eat them outside.

      For brunch/lunch, I would add "Réservoir" and "Sparrow" they are both very "Montreal".

      I'd skip Nil Bleu, as it's better experienced as a group since you are sharing plates and dishes. For your first night, go to Pinxto or Pop! (sister of Laloux), both places are near "Nil Bleu".

      Joe Beef & Au Pied de Cochon are very close in spirit, I'd pick the later one because you are single and there's a nice bar right in front of the kitchen.

      Couple of places I went recently that I liked:
      Graziella (Italian), Kaza Maza (syrian Mezze, probably better experiened with a group), DNA (go for the canadian wine list), Pullmann (wine bar with a nice tapas selection)

      -----
      Joe Beef
      2491 Rue Notre-Dame W, Montreal, QC H3J1N6, CA

      L'Express Restaurant
      3927 Rue Saint-Denis, Montreal, QC H2W2M4, CA

      Nil Bleu Restaurant
      3706 Rue Saint-Denis, Montreal, QC H2X3L7, CA

      3 Replies
      1. re: Maximilien

        I think Joe Beef and Au Pied are different enough that you would enjoy both. Joe Beef also has a small bar area, where I believe you can sit, which would work.
        Agree with Maximilien, definitely skip L'Express. While solo diners are pretty much welcome anywhere, other suggestions with a bar you could sit at are Le Chien Fumant or Liverpool House (next to Joe Beef, same owners, slightly different menu). And while it's a bit off the beaten track, Kitchenette is quite good (but I can't remember if they had a bar to sit at). And across from Jean Talon market, there's always Petit Alep, which is well worth a visit, and certainly friendly to solo diners.

        -----
        Joe Beef
        2491 Rue Notre-Dame W, Montreal, QC H3J1N6, CA

        L'Express Restaurant
        3927 Rue Saint-Denis, Montreal, QC H2W2M4, CA

        1. re: cherylmtl

          People are always saying that Joe Beef and APDC are in the same spirit, but can someone explain that to me?

          I'm interested in the kind of stuff they serve, what the portions are like, and how much money I can expect to spend if we are big foodies but not really interested in wine

          -----
          Joe Beef
          2491 Rue Notre-Dame W, Montreal, QC H3J1N6, CA

          1. re: CharlesMartin

            I always say that; not in the menu, but the in food approach; the generosity of the portions (in quantity and quality).

      2. addendum ...

        if nice and warm and sunny, do not skip Jean Talon Market, especially on saturday or sunday morning when it's in full swing and there are a lot of people and it's very lively; lot's of things to eat.

        heck, it's nice even if the weather is crappy

        4 Replies
        1. re: Maximilien

          Thank you Maximilien! I can employ some rusty high school French to cover very basic phrases, but not enough to ask detailed questions about a menu item or the like. And I appreciate the tip for Jean Talon Market. I will definitely check it out.

          1. re: frygirl

            Even your high-school French will be appreciated, I'm sure. :-)

            I second Maximilien's rec for brunch at The Sparrow if you're around on a Saturday or Sunday. If you get in line around 9:40 am, you should secure a spot at the first seating at 10:00 - you can sit at the bar and it's a great place to chat with the other patrons/servers.

            http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid...

            Definitely meets your "exceptionally delicious" qualification.

            Have a fabulous trip - looks like you're going to have some amazing eating experiences!

            1. re: frygirl

              FYI Jean Talon Mkt is the largest outdoor market in North America - especially during the Fall harvest when it is bursting at the seams. Pike Place Market is of course bigger, but it is mostly indoors. You shall certainly enjoy JTM. Have a super time in Mtl.

              1. re: rosario

                Thanks kpzoo and rosario! And please know that I will follow up this message thread with a run down of my foodie vacation results.

                And regarding Pike Place Market, it's a huge tourist draw in Seattle and I enjoy many workday lunches there. But honestly, the place is quite dirty and dumpy. I much prefer the lovely Granville Market in Vancouver. In fact, I prefer most city's food markets to Pike Place. But that's just me... :-)

          2. Reservations are definitely advisable at a5p.

            Agree with Max that Joe Beef and APDC in one trip may be too much of a good thing. In fact, you've got quite a bit of bistro -- not to mention heavy food -- going on. While it's true that it's the city's strongest suit, it's also true that it's not the only thing Montreal does well.

            Alternatives?
            - Replace your Thursday, Friday or Saturday dinner with a late visit to the Jean Talon Market and then dine at Alep or the more casual Le Petit Alep (the latter doesn't require or even take reservations but may necessitate a short wait for a seat).
            - Ferreira downtown for dinner, even if at the bar.
            - One of the tapas bars: Tapeo, Pintxo, even Casa Tapas.
            - Brunch at Kaza Maza (weekends only) or Persian Byblos.
            - Upmarket French at La Porte (subdued atmosphere).
            - Upmarket nuevo latino at Raza (subdued atmosphere) or midmarket at Le Jolifou.

            3 Replies
            1. re: carswell

              That's a good idea to have a variety of dining options. I'll definitely toss some of your suggestions into the mix.

              Has anybody been to the Reservoir brewpub? I dearly love IPA, and am wondering if it's worth staying for a bite to eat as well.

              1. re: frygirl

                Réservoir's food is quite solid. Or was. Haven't been in several months and there've been a few reports of a decline. From a beer lover's standpoint, the problem is the less than memorable brews.

                For a great brewpup, head to Dieu du Ciel but plan on eating elsewhere (there are lots of options in that area). www.dieuduciel.com

                Also, if you like hoppy ales, you'll probably enjoy St-Ambroise Extra Pale Ale from local McAuslan Brewery. Widely available in bottles, a little less so on tap. On tap, the Oatmeal Stout is exceptional; a pint and a half dozen oysters is a good way to start a meal at APDC. www.mcauslan.com

                1. re: carswell

                  Carswell - I signed up for chowhound after years of faithful reading just so that I could say how much I agree with you about this post (and almost all of your recommendations on this board). The St. Ambroise Stout is hands down my favourite beer, particularly paired with the PDC oysters! I agree that many of the beers at Reservoir aren't particularly great, but their food is still pretty satisfying for brunch or otherwise.

                  frygirl: I think I'd really push the idea of getting to St. Viateur bagels... go to the one near the corner of Waverly on your way up to Jean Talon market (its a long walk, but its definitely worth it on a nice day). You can pick up some sesame bagels and cream cheese, and take it all across the street to Olimpico for a latte. They'll have no problem with you eating your score in the sun on their terrace! I think this is my idea of a perfect Montreal morning.

                  It would also leave plenty of room in your stomach for snacking at the market, and then one of your heavier dinners later in the day (APDC or Joe Beef? I would also recommend Chien Fumant for an experience similar to JB if you'd rather stay closer to home). Good luck and have fun!

            2. I'm like frygirl and will be in Montreal for a short visit. I have the same criteria so your replies are really great. I want to ask, what do fellow Chowhounds think about the restaurant Garde Manger? It's number one on my list as I love the owner's show Chuck's Day Off on FoodNetwork. Is the restaurant suitable for a female solo diner?

              2 Replies
              1. re: foodlovinggal

                I can not think of any restaurant that would not be suitable for a female solo diner, I have
                gone to most of the ones mentionned on my own and enjoyed the experience.I will sit at
                the bar if it is comfortable enough but I love sitting at a table, sipping wine and taking in
                the activity in the room, no reading for me while having a great dinner. I also find that the
                service is often very attentive to the solo diner

                1. re: foodlovinggal

                  It's yummy, they have a bar area, you can order multiple apps instead of a dinner and the people working there are great.

                2. Thank you all for your wonderful ideas! Please stay tuned for my dining redux report.

                  1. I've returned from my spectacular vacation to Montreal. And as promised, here is my dining report.

                    I was unsuccessful in visiting several restaurants on the list as they were either closed on the day/time I stopped by (Reservoir), had no seating available (Pintxo), had a long line I wasn't willing to wait in (La Banquise) or completely inconvenient to the metro stops (Sparrow).

                    Here's a run down of the meals:

                    Bistro Cocagne - This was a convenient dinner spot for my first, travel-weary night in town on a Saturday. The restaurant was only half full and I dined a the completely empty counter at the bar. The service was nice and attentive. I ordered an amuse bouche of salmon tartare that was quite large for an amuse bouche (3 bites to finish it) and it was absolutely delicious and a bargain at $2. I had duck confit for my main course which was good not great. I wouldn't recommend this restaurant for a tourist, only because it wasn't a particularly unique or memorable dining experience.

                    Schwartz's - as expected, I loved the smoked meat sandwich. I saw the line up at the sit down Schwartz's cafe next door so I ordered from the to go counter where the wait was only 3 minutes. There was plenty of counter seating in the back - not sure why people wait next door? I wish I'd known to order my sandwich "lean," but there was so much meat on it I could discard the large fatty parts and still have a massive lunch.

                    Olive et Gourmando - this was my favorite meal of the trip. The atmosphere was so charming and casual. I ordered the spring sandwich which had fresh grilled asparagus and spicy ham, with a side salad which I didn't see on the menu but knew to order from a review I'd read somewhere. Their simple green salad it a work of art. It's perfectly dressed, tossed in a slightly creamy vinaigrette with a few slices of red onions that were quite mild and topped with slivered almonds. Elegant simplicity at its finest.

                    Bistro Universel - I had breakfast at this plateau restaurant. I ordered the asparagus and swiss cheese omelet which came with the most divine breakfast potatoes. They were insanely creamy inside and generously seasoned and crisp outside. Awesome! The omelet was pretty good with plenty of market fresh asparagus (why won't someone put a fiddlehead omelet on a menu?) but it had quite a bit more cheese than I care for in an omelet. The portion was huge I only ate half of it and still wasn't hungry until about 7pm.

                    Le Cafe Cherrier - stopped here for breakfast before flying back to Seattle. I really wanted to have breakfast at Bistro Universel again but didn't want to be boring and decided to try some place new. Boy did I regret that decision. This was the only truly disappointing meal of the trip. I had a build-your-own omelet with a side of breakfast potatoes. The omelet was so salty I had a hard time taking more than one bite, and the potatoes were completely cold and bland. Skip this place, except for a drink only on their charming streetside dining patio.

                    I didn't make it to many of the restaurants on my list as I discovered after the first night on this trip (my first solo vacation) that I'm just not comfortable having dinner alone. It didn't bother me to dine solo for breakfast or lunch, but for some reason it bothered me in the evening. So I fell into the pattern of having a large breakfast or lunch. Then, after a full day of sightseeing, I'd pick up a light meal to have in my hotel room. I found a fantastic source for that:

                    Fruiterie du Plateau - I tried a couple of their composed salads (the mixed bean salad was my favorite) and their red pepper hummus. I loved everything at this friendly little place. It was also great for yogurt and fruit in the mornings to start my day.

                    I also visited both Atwater and Jean Talon Markets. Both were a feast for the eyes and the stomach. And I loved the flower markets at both places.

                    Thank you again for all your wonderful suggestions. I can't wait to return to your beautiful city!

                    -----
                    Olive et Gourmando
                    351 Rue Saint-Paul Ouest, Montreal, QC , CA

                    Bistro Cocagne
                    3842 Rue Saint-Denis, Montreal, QC H2W2M2, CA

                    Cafe Cherrier
                    3635 Rue Saint-Denis, Montreal, QC H2X3L6, CA

                    Universel Restaurant Cafe
                    3630 Rue Saint-Denis, Montreal, QC H2X3L7, CA

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: frygirl

                      Great report; I'm glad you experienced Olive et Gourmando, it's a gem.

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                      Olive et Gourmando
                      351 Rue Saint-Paul Ouest, Montreal, QC , CA