5 days in Montreal - help us shorten our restaurant list!
Hi there Montreal hounds,
We've read some threads and there are way too many places we'd like to try (see below - blush). We like every kind of food, from ethnic hole-in-the-wall to cutting edge cuisine. We tend to crave Chinese food because it's terrible where we live (Colorado); seafood ditto. We are good cooks and like to go out for things we can't or wouldn't easily make better at home. Our budget allows for a couple of splurges, within reason.
Be brutal - we have to get this narrowed down to 5 dinners and 5 lunches! (Some of these could switch from dinner list to lunch list or vice versa; by all means weigh in on that as well.)
We have from midday on July 11th, through breakfast on Tuesday July 17th - Saturday dinner is out, we'll be at an Indian wedding (thus no Indian places on our list).
Trois Petits Bouchons
Comptoir Charcuterie et Vins
Au Pied de Cochon
Club Chasse et Peche
Le Chien Fumant
Le Cristal Chinois (for dim sum)
Mai Xiang Yuan
Olive et Gourmando
Dieu du Ciel
Bar L'Amere a Boire
St Elizabeth Pub
Vices et Versa
Bar Bily Kuhn
Pastries and breads:
Cerise sur le Gateau
Vasco da Gama
Jean Talon (good lobster roll place here?)
All good places.
What are you looking for exactly ? because you list a lot of different places, in style and substance.
I'd pair :
Lawrence or Le Comptoir with ice cream at Kem Coba (or beer at Dieu du Ciel Before)
Café Italia with Jean-Talon Market (There's a fish store that sells lobster roll, (south-east corner)
Damas and Coffee (after) at Gamba (you'll have to check the hours) or even ice cream at Kem Coba.
Kazu is fun, but be prepared for line-ups (I hate them).
Park is somewhat outside of downtown (not far),
Milos is expensive (just sayin')
That said: This would be my list :
Trois Petits Bouchons
Le Chien Fumant (or La Salle A Manger)
Damas (for some ethnic food)
Club Chasse et Pêche (outside terrasse)
Guillaume+Café Italia+Marché Jean-Talon
One of the Chinese (I'm no expert)
The Porchetta and/or Lobster stands in Old-Montreal. (MuvBox)
Grumman 78 (at faubourg st-catherine) if the lineup at Kazu is too ling.
Skip the lobster rolls at JTM they are not very good, I had one a few weeks ago and it was quite watery. I believe it is the SW corner actually. There are much better options for a quick bite at JTM, I'd recommend the fish stand at Atkins who pan fries fresh cod, halibut and scallops (I believe they only cook it on sat & sun).
Thanks Maximilien and ios92!
Yes, the list is all over the place (because we like everything!). What we were hoping was to choose the best examples of a few things - for dinner, a couple of French with different styles, something Asian, other ethnic foods that we can't get at home, and hopefully some fresh well-prepared seafood mixed in there.
For lunch we wanted to choose a highly recommended place for banh mi, get good dim sum, dumplings and/or noodles if available, and again try some ethnic foods we don't have access to. I love lobster rolls and haven't had one since I lived in Maine many years ago, but it's not a make or break issue.
We also have to find good choices for Sunday and Monday, when a lot of things are closed, and I haven't made reservations yet so am not sure if I have things listed that are out of the question this close to the trip.
I should have clarified that coffee and pastry are generally a morning thing for us. My husband will be all over the ice cream; but I'd always skip dessert and fill up on savory food!
PS We're not averse to eating at odd hours to avoid lines, if that helps...
Le Crystal Chinois is new, in the Swatow building. We rode the elevator up to check it out a coupla months ago, the place is swish
banquet style chairs, slick staff, menu-driven dim sum, etc etc. It wasn't our idea of dim sum (family style, casual place) so we hopped back on the elevator. I'm not saying don't try it, I'm just saying it wasn't our style. I like Ruby Rouge at 1008 Clark in Chinatown. Its a huge, noisy room with carts as well as a go-to table for some selected dishes.
Regardless of where, I'd recommend Sunday lunch for dim sum. Although a coupla places advertise dim sum 7 days a week, Sunday is the best time for this. Dim sum is also a contentious subject on this board with lotsa people saying Montreal is weak. This may or may not be the case (we're not in Vancouver or Hing Kong...), but I think you'll enjoy yourselves.
I'd suggest arriving around 11:00. The crowds haven't been huge of late, but its better being safe than waiting in line.
Cuisine Szechuan and Kan Bai - somewhat similar food (Szechuan), so it should be at least one or the other, perhaps not both. The two restaurants have their following, although its said Kan Bai can be un-even. Personally, I like Kan Bai (having a full liquor license helps).
As Maximilien points out Kazu is certainly fun, especially sitting at the bar. However, theres always a line (as you probably know) and we've been having some hot weather these days. I spent one hot afternoon at the Kazu bar and won't do it again - the sweat pouring off my body was unpleasant. As The Snowpea mentions on another thread, "There's an alternate izakaya nearby on Ste-Catherine, called Imadake. It's not in the same style as Kazu, but some of their small plates are quite lovely (like the black cod in miso)" its a few blocks west of Kazu @ 4006 Sainte-Catherine Street West.
I tried to get into this place a coupla times, but it was full - reservations recommended.
I'm surprised you don't have Schwartz on your list for iconic Montreal Smoked Meat. I don't want to throw gas on your heavy itenerary, but it might be considered for a lunch. In fact, I'd suggest a walk through the Plateau on St. Laurent starting from Sherbrooke upwards to about Rachel or Mont-Royal - theres plenty of chowish places to stop in for snacks and/or a cold drink.
No, I've definitely seen the fried fish and scallops on weekdays. It's very good, though pretty pricy (especially the scallops).
Not to be confused with the deep-fried offerings at Aqua Mare a short distance away. That makes an OK lunch or snack if you're in the mood for it, but it's not in the same league as Atkins/Délices de la mer.
As for the OP's list, I would try to fit in Lawrence, would choose Cuisine Szechuan as my Chinese pick, be glad to try Cristal Chinois if dim sum is an essential item (haven't been yet, but would expect high quality and prices to match), would probably forget about seafood this trip (except at dim sum), and leave much of the rest to chance (pick spots off my list depending on where my other activities take me, and whether walk-ins are possible when I happen to be around).
Notes on a couple of places:
Hung Phat: I eat their sandwiches regularly and they're terrific, but unless you're a total banh mi freak I wouldn't make a detour. Drop in on the way to or from Jean-Talon Market (there's an entrance to the Jean-Talon metro station around the corner), but otherwise be aware that this is a hole-in-the-wall lunch counter/grocery store. Closed Tuesdays.
Fairmount: many visitors are surprised and disappointed to find that this and the flagship St-Viateur location are strictly bakeries, with no seating. If you want fresh bagels and a place to sit, have a coffee, etc., choose one of the two St-Viateur cafés (most likely the one on Mont-Royal in your case), or be prepared to take your purchase either to a park or a nearby café that won't mind your outside food. Also, if your goal is to try authentic Montreal bagels, please skip the cinnamon/raisin/whatever variations. The real deal is sesame, poppy or plain. Sesame being by far the most popular, it's your best bet for getting oven-fresh bagels.
Le Comptoir: I like it, but rumblings about service issues are not uncommon, and experienced this first-hand when our 15-minute wait to be seated for an 8 p.m. reservation (acceptable but just barely) cascaded into another party leaving in a huff after waiting almost an hour for their 9 p.m. reservation -- due in large part to the rather leisurely service we received. Don't know for sure that this is a chronic problem, but worth a mention I think.
Le Ste-Elizabeth: how on earth did this place make your list?
Rhubarbe: haven't visited the bakery but have sampled some of the pastries -- superb, really a cut above anything else I've had in Montreal.
Vices et Versa: I like this place, but a former regular tells me it's just too crowded all the time.
Au Pied de Cochon: this may actually be your best bet for seafood right now. Be warned that virtually every dish here is an exercise in excess, so if you go, two pieces of advice: eat a light lunch that day, and avoid ordering an appetizer/main/dessert for each person. How many times have we read reports of people over-ordering, being full after appetizers, feeling almost assaulted by abundance, etc.? Too many to count.
re: Mr F
Mr F, thanks for the thoughtful details. A few notes:
If the banh mi are top notch, it's a treat we can't often get - hole-in-the-wall not a problem if the food's terrific.
Bagels - we never eat anything but plain, poppy or sesame :-)
Ste Elizabeth was mentioned in a couple of threads as a nice place for drinks - but I take it we should strike it from our list.
Yes, the banh mi are very, very good. I particularly like the grilled beef, which is not listed on the big board over the sandwich-prep area, but on a smaller card placed on the counter. Still, I think this is definitely one to pair with a visit to Jean-Talon Market. You will probably also want to browse the Asian supermarket next door (Marché Oriental), but avoid the sandwiches there.
The only reason I could see for going to the Ste-Elizabeth would be that you're already in the area for some other reason and you want to stop somewhere for a drink. But I would not go out of my way. The patio is nice, but not *that* nice, and the drink offerings are completely routine, with downtown prices to boot.
re: Mr F
I believe the St.Elizabeth was my recommendation. For my money its the nicest "terrasse" (patio? beergarden? what's the english word?) in Montreal and it is in a central location (Berri-UQAM). It is a student bar and is always full but its a very nice place to take a pint of beer and would stand by it any day of the week.
The beer selection is standard. Its not a microbrewery. There are better places to get a wide selection of beer (St-Bock comes to mind for selection, and Cheval Blanc is my favorite microbrewery)
Here are some pictures I found. Remember that the walls are very high so its hard to reproduce the atmosphere.
So are you arguing geography or aesthetics? Downtown is bigger than Sainte-Catherine between Saint-Laurent and Saint-Denis. Downtown goes from Atwater to Papineau and from Saint-Antoine to Sherbrooke. So yes, it is indeed a "part" of Downtown, and some parts of downtown are less attractive than others.
If you are going to Hung Phat for the banh mi then consider grabbing them first and eat as you stroll through Jean Talon market. Also nearby is Dakao, my favorite pho joint (tonkinese soup).
For top Vietnamese there's Phuong Thao on Belanger St (far far away) and Baguettes d'Asie on Decarie near Cote-Vertu metro.
re: Mr F
Its been awhile, but I assume its the same today? I walked into APDC a couple of summers ago to see an awesome seafood display. I was STOKED, but my anticipation quickly soured: they only offered the seafood cold, explaining "its the best way to enjoy it." I can understand their philosophy, but I don't really care for cold shrimp, crab, etc, could they serve it warm? No, they refused, the only exception being the lobster.
For seafood, I'd suggest Milos, arguably the best in the city. But as Max points out, it IS expensive - maybe consider it a splurge.
FYI I believe Ba Le is now closed, so you can eliminate that one.
I had a really nice simple brunch at Rhubarbe the other day, so I would consider going there on the weekend if you're interested in walking around the plateau. Their pastries are phenomenal.
When I walked by Kazu last week, it was closed for vacation. Can't remember when it reopens, but there is a chance it won't be open when the OP is here. Imadake is a worthy alternative, though, and very close by.
How did Vasco da Gama make the coffee list? It's okay, but not Caffe in Gamba or Myriade by any means. There's also Flocon, Neve, and Pikolo.
This is why I love Chowhound! Wow, all of you! (BTW, I will be returning the favor with a detailed report.)
A few comments: Vasco da Gama made the list because it's beloved of our friends who are getting married and got a few decent reviews here... but I have no attachment to it... we are both erstwhile coffee professionals and often travel with a hand grinder and an aero press (embarrassing but true), so we will trek to good coffee. Thanks for the additional recs.
Getting banh mi and wandering through the market sounds dreamy. I'll bet I could eat banh mi AND a lobster roll while walking around!
I appreciate the dim sum feedback. We would always rather eat at a low-key place than a swish place - my choice was based on what I read about food quality. We are starved for good Chinese food (even tho we have been spoiled in San Francisco and New York, the "pretty good" in most cities is vastly better than the abysmal stuff available here), so I'd like to have at least one dinner and one lunch - or one dinner and two lunches! I confess that I'm with porker on the alcohol license - but if the food quality difference is vast, I'd drink elsewhere before or after. Anybody else wanna vote on dim sum or dinner at Kanbai vs Szechuan, or Ruby Rouge vs Cristal Chinois? Thoughts on Mai Xiang Yuan?
Re Schwartz/smoked meat, it was on my original, longer (!) list, with many other things. I figured that with Comptoir, APDC and others on there, it might be overkill. Is that wrong-headed? I would eat cured meats and cheese rather than dessert any day...
Schwartz is a small deli with a take-out next door (take-out hours are a mystery to me - they seem to close around 5:00-7:00pm, after which you do the picking-up at the deli counter) and IMO isn't worth a dinner but maybe should be re-thought for a lunch, or even a shared picked-up sandwich (ask for medium - not lean) during your walk up The Main (St. Laurent). The deli line gets ridiculous most times, go before noon.
A coupla more words on Ruby Rouge and Cristal. AFAIK, Cristal dim sum is menu-ordered (no carts). RR is traditional hand-pushed carts. I've seen lotsa discussion on the boards about cart vs. menu dim sum. Me? I like the carts. I like to be shown each item and decide there and then if I'm going to choose it, I like that the woman pushing the cart probably speaks no English and we communicate with hand signals, nods, and headshakes. Maybe Cristal's food is great (as I said, haven't tried), but for me, the experiance at RR trumps any incremental advantage the food *might* have at Cristal. Note that the push-cart women many times brush off westerners and simply say "you no like" instead of showing you some items. Don't be intimidated, just smile and gently insist, "No, I *want* to see what you have. Whats in that one...this one,...and this?"
They tend not to show chicken feet (tasty: chew, spit out little bones), beef tendon (decadent, unctious), duck claw (see chicken feet above) and any type of offal (from gamey pork tripe to innard stew to braised intestine (tastes like barnyard to me...).
I had a long answer yesterday but I erased it and didn't have the heart to start again.
Here is what I'd do (please take it only as an advisory, I am a food enthousiast but no where near the food critic and I do have only a partial view of the situation: there are tons to discover in my own city!)
Dinner (here's where I'd go if I had to draft a suggestion to myself if I already did not know Montreal, gave you 2 choices in case its hard to book!):
(Splurge): One of Au Pied de Cochon or Joe Beef. Both are Montreal classics. I'd say Au Pied de Cochon tends to focus more on spruced up Quebec traditional fare where Joe Beef is more influenced by Montreal tradition (with all the cosmopolite influences it brings). Both are huge, noisy, delicious brasseries though so doing one after the other is probably suicide. You probably won't be able to book at Joe Beef...
(Splurge) Europea or Club Chasse & Pêche. Europea is probably one of the finest and/or inspired fine dining, contemporary, multi service restaurant in Montreal (try their 10 courses tasting menu!). Club Chasse & Pêche is in the same category quality and price wise, but less adventurous (no tasting menu). Club Chasse & Pêche is my favorite restaurant in Montreal but I'd try Europea first.
400 coups or Lawrence. A bit less known than the big legends, they have gathered a lot of buzz recently and I like to see them as what could be the next generation of our classics. I prefer 400 coups.
Try Kazu first and if the line is too long, go at Cuisine Szechuan (they are very near one another... metro Guy Concordia)
Brasserie T or F Bar: I thought you might want to end at a bit less expensive place. Brasserie T is the Brasserie version of Toque, one of the original destination restaurant (it had a lot of influence on the Montreal scene). F Bar is the "other option" of Café Feirrera, a well known Portuguese place. Both are near one another and are "less expensive" version of their original cousins. I'd try Brasserie T first.
For lunch, I'd divide it in Themes:
Dim Sum: I prefer Ruby Rouge, but that is only my opinion. Don't know Cristal that much. If Ruby Rouge is closed/destroyed by a meteorite, try Maison Kam Fung for a similar experience but having tried both I prefer Ruby.
Poutine: Patati Patata or La Banquise. La banquise is still the one I prefer but there are a lot of good options.
Smoked meat: Schwartz or Le Main in front. I prefer Schwartz
Portuguese Chicken: Ramados or Chez Jano (is it open for lunch)? Try Ramados first, I really like chez Janot.
Pho: We have a good Vietnamese community here and pho is pretty popular. I like Pho Nguyen on Saint-Mathieu best but Pho Bang New York gets good reviews too.
Another option: Dumplings! We have 2 good dumpling places, one that does good standard fare (La Maison du Nord) and one that does them with a bit of bouillon in it (they call it "soup dumplings"): Qing Hua. I prefer Qing Hua myself.
Drinks: I prefer to go to St.Elizabeth for the terrasse, St-Bock if you want a large variation of beer or Cheval Blanc if you want a micro-brewery. If you feel like drinks La Drinkerie is a classic. Its always full but it still is. I really like Pullman's if you want a Wine Bar experience.
Pastries: You have to try Fairmount Bagel or St.Viateur for Bagels.Rhubard is very nice but not a destination bakery IMO. Kouaig Aman is one of my favorite deserts and is really worth it. You'll find good options around Marché Atwater and/or Marché Jean-Talon too!
Coffee: I don't have an aeropress or hand grinders but I do have a few friends who do and obsess over the quality and texture of expresso crema and get insane when they here about their favorite coffee beans getting served at an expresso bar (OMG, they have RITUAL!). :) These guys talk a lot about those 2 places: Cafe Myriade & Café Névé. I also heard good things about the picolo. I tried café Névé expresso (Myriade is always closed when I'm in the neiboughhood for some reason) and it knocked my socks off.
Market: Jean-Talon & Atwater: If you only have the time for one try Jean-Talon but I'd try both if I were you!
I admit I haven't tried Ruby Rouge in a while, because the room is so cavernous that I always found it hard to get a table close enough to the kitchen. And the only obvious benefit over Kam Fung was greater variety... but that's not much help if every cart you see left the kitchen 20 minutes ago.
So, has RR really stepped up its game?
re: Mr F
Each time I went it was good! I'm not a strict Dim Sum fanatic (I won't be comparing each place's Har Gow to debate which is the best) but we tried Kam Fung after Ruby Rouge and to us it didn't taste as good. It wasn't a question of freshness, more of palate.
To be honest with you I have put that debate in the same place where Coke vs Pepsi goes, where is the best poutine or which Pho is better. Kam Fung might have been a bit... prettier? but both felt authentic and I never caught something obviously off at RR. Of course there is a lot of eating stuff you don't know and some you will like better than others (yay for sticky rice in banana leaf!) but over all I had more food I liked at the end of the Ruby Rouge meal than Kam Fung.
I have to say I find the ease of Ruby Rouge attractive, as there's usually a lot of space, shorter lineup, but the dim sum at Maison Kam Fung is a little more refined and some of the items, like bbq pork crepe/pies, don't seem to ever show up at Ruby Rouge. Plus if you are late at Ruby Rouge you can end up with just so many beef balls. So for someone starved for good Chinese food I'd recommend Maison Kam Fung first, Ruby Rouge second. And I have eaten dim sum regularly in Toronto's old Chinatown and find the quality in Montreal to be equal or better, for what that's worth. And I'd definitely go to Cuisine Szechuan, that's an entirely different sort of meal.
You may not be able to get a decent lobster roll, but right now the place with the pan-fried scallops, halibut and cod also has little cups of northern shrimp -- a type that would be perfect in a roll, and they did indeed used to sell them. But now it's just the little cups, w/ cocktail sauce on the side. Could be another interesting option if they're still in season during your visit.
Another thumbs up for Kan Bai- have been here several times with no consistency problems. Standards like Szechuan cabbage and water-boiled fish served in a giant tureen with handfuls of chilis are great, but they've also got some sleepers on the menu- pork belly with pickled mustard greens and a sizzling long-stemmed mushroom dish are faves.
Might also want to consider Piment Rouge for a higher end night of Chinese.
If you're popping into hung phat, you'd be remiss not to try the vegetarian sub with pickled shiitakes and marinatedl tofu (rather than the tofu skin version). Get a meat one as well and compare!
The Szechuan cabbage never ceases to amaze me; you wouldn't think lowly *cabbage* can taste so good. Not only sleepers on the menu, they have a few coma patients as well - Chinese items taped over, but the English translation still in view (no longer available). I would have loved to try their take on pigs foot.....
Of the places you list, I would deem these essential:
- Cuisine Szechuan
- Au Pied de Cochon
- Kouign Amann (strictly for kouign amann, if it's available)
- Jean Talon market
I would add caveats for these:
- 400 Coups
I really don't think this place is special, EXCEPT for dessert - which is out of this world, some of the best I've had anywhere in the world.
- Fairmount bagel
I prefer St Viateur bagel. But really the note is simply that St-V and Fairmount bakeries are a block away from each other, so why not try both? You want to order whatever is hot, straight out of the oven. (Probably sesame.)
If you're coffee nerds, then Myriade is definitely the café that's most similar to coffee nerddom in other cities. But I find that boring. Better to visit Caffe Italia or Café Olimpico for a more authentically Montreal coffee experience - might not have the same bouquet as what you're used to, but it's not just the same old imported beans and style.
I would add to your list, as essential:
- Léméac, for their pain perdu dessert.
Again with the fantastic replies! CaptCrunch, you went above and beyond - twice!
A word on our Pho neglect: Pho is one of the only Asian dishes that we can get decently made here, so tho it's obvious that Montreal shines in this area I thought we'd go for the stuff we never get.
Here's the plan we ended up with, reservations and all - I hope everyone approves! Thanks to all of you, and again, we WILL report back.
Lunch Romados or Olive et Gourmando no res
Dinner Restaurant Park 8pm res
Pastry Olivier Potier
Lunch Kazu (or Cuisine Szechuan) no res
Dinner Trois Petits Bouchons 8:30pm res
Pastry Kouign Amann
Lunch Hung Phat banh mi
Market Jean Talon
Dinner Damas 8pm res
Café in Gamba
Bread Boulangerie Guillaume
Lunch Ruby Rouge 11am res
Dinner APDC 7pm res at bar
Bagels Fairmount/St Viateur
Indian dinner at wedding
Pastry Patisserie Rhubarbe
Lunch Imadake noon res
Dinner Lallouz 8pm res
Bagels Fairmount/St Viateur (a dozen to take home!)
Lunch Schwartz takeout sandwiches for flight home
I don't think they'll allow the sammies past airport security nor the bagels for carry-on...
but you can pack the bagels into your suitcase.
You *can* get a Lester's smoked meat on the secure side of the gate to bring on the plane. Although not bad (even lousy montreal smoked meat is pretty good), it certainly ain't Schwartz'...
I'll have to disagree.
I realize Lesters is mass produced, gang-needled, phosphate pumped, artificially smoked and flavored. I realize it pales in comparison to a the joints making their own and I realize its easy to ridicule (I do it myself).
However, if its "your only option", I don't see why "there is absolutely no point". If the whole point is to try smoked meat and if Lesters is the only option, then I think its pretty much the whole point.
I picked up some airport Lesters in the past and it tasted pretty good at 26000 feet when my only options were the likes of cashews, ramen, and celery/carrots.
I'm just sayin.
I'm not trying to debate the merits of Schwartz vs XXXXXX - you seem to be missing my point.
In the post above I say "*can* get" which is meant to be a bit of sarcasm. I also hint that Lester's is lousy and I flat out say that it certainly ain't Schwartz's.....so in fact I wholeheartedly agree that Lesters is nothing like Schwartz's.
Is the color/texture revolting? This is a personal assessment and can vary from person to person. Me? my threshold of revulsion is a bit higher, along the lines of up-close, festering road-kill. The color of the sandwich, indicating over-cure and over-use of nitrites, may hint at...I dunno, mediocrity, or "artificialness", but for me, far from "revolting". Same for the squishy phosphate induced texture.
If I have the option of a Lesters MSM or trail mix, call me revolting, I take the sangwich.
I prefer Lallouz at lunch vs. dinner, and I don't think you can reserve (or need to) at Ruby Rouge for dimsum? I've heard Park is meh, but can't confirm myself and I am not sure I'd make a big effort to have chicken at Romados but I realize it is a popular choice. No lunch on Sunday? Cafe Olympico and St-Viateur bagels can be done in the same time slot for sure. APDC is only impossible for reservations for their sugar shack, I think, easy enough for dinners so have no fear there. There's only one in this city. I see a slight lack of dumplings in this itinerary! And maybe a lack of lobster ... did that get solved? If it isn't possible to go and pick some up at Norref and enjoy them someplace as a picnic, it might be worth eating some at Chez Levecque or even in Chinatown, maybe at Beijing?