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Question from San Francisco 'hound

Hello hounds: My wife and I will be visiting Montreal next month. The food choices are many and our nights are few so we'd like some advice. We plan on trying Au Pied de Cochon. It's stuff we cannot get in CA and we've heard raves. Is the hype justified?

We'd like a different kind of experience on another night. Grain de Sel looks interesting -- their menu looks innovative. We got a rec for L'Express which looks more classic. Any opinions to offer on these two? Or any additional recs for Quebec-style, local-driven choices where we won't find too many tourists?

Looking forward to your suggestions.


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  1. I've never heard about "Le Grain de Sel", a quick search here does not reveal any significant reviews or any incentive to go there.

    Au Pied de Cochon is fun, over-the-top indulgence, you need to go there with an open stomach and open hearth (and open wallet !!) I go there once a year, sit at the bar, and order the daily specials suggested by the cooks ... make a reservation to sit at the bar in front of the kitchen if possible; an alternative would be "Joe Beef".

    L'Express is french bistro classics, fun, but not inventive but solid and predictible; other suggestions in the same style : Lemeac or Laloux (later is a bit more "upscale") or Cocagne

    For "quebec-style", I would suggest the following :
    La Salle A Manger, Le Chien Fumant, Hotel Herman, 3 Petits Bouchons, Le Comptoir Charcuteries et Vins, 5eme Péché, ...


    1. I think you should try APDC. It's packed with tourists, but that hasn't really changed the food or prices dramatically. Still one of the most unusual (and delicious) restaurants in the world, and Montrealers still go in droves (if we can get reservations).

      Grain de Sel is one of those tripadvisor mysteries. It has been around for a long, long time, but I don't know anyone who has been. It could be good, but it's in a very strange location. I would stick with Max's suggestions. They are my top recs as well. But really, the most "quebec-style" restaurants are APDC and Joe Beef. For more local market-driven food I'd maybe consider Tuck Shop.

      1. Au Pied de Cochon is worth the hype - I just ate there a few weeks back, and it was as good as always. You need to reserve now, though (and ask to sit at the bar). While it is also substantial, food-wise, I would go with Joe Beef for a second evening. Of course, it also depends on which evenings you are here, as not every place is open every evening, so plan accordingly. And all of Max's choices below are also solid.

        1. au pied de cochon is a great experience, if your not at all health conscious.

          the restaurants mentioned above are all great, but recently i've been most satisifed with le filet, 400 coups, and bouillon bilk

          1. 1. Au Pied de Cochon is one of hte most unique restaurants anywhere. An incredilbe sense of celebration that is unparellelled. Be sure you love fois gras, rich food, organ meats. Forget steak. Great wines (but you are from CA and that's not unique). Very Quebecois. Try the PIed Au Cochon (pig's feet)-the one with teh foid gras. T he specials are great. Boudin tart is fabulous as an appetizer (if you can handle blood sausage). The beet salad is great. If they have the duck special it's amazing with fois gras and a rich cream and fois gras sauce. There are many more normal dishes. They have great fish specials. Be sure to get your reservation early. It's very fun to eat at the bar.

            2. I have been reluctant to try Grain de Sel-no Zagat rating is not necessarily an indictment, but I am concerned. I don't fully trust tripadvisor in Montreal.

            3. La Porte is amazing. 28 Zagat rating. The chef is a Bretogne with amazing skills, particularly in fish. The best fish restaurant in London and New York (Eric Ripert's Bernardin) are chefs from Bretogne. I would definately go there. NOthing like that in SF. Grain de Sel I think will be more like what you have. His presentation is very elegant. The atmosphere is so-so. Wine list good, and very old world style. We had a burgundy that was very well structured with the traditional cherry flavors, but the restraint of old world.

            3. You mentioned L'Express: Very decent French style Bistro-would be quite average in Paris, but it's very nice place to go. High quality chefing. Nothing similar in SF that I remember (I spent much time in SF and lived there). You can eat there unitl 3 in the am i think. It's a very nice experience, and a bit unique for North America. I like it better than comparable New York French Bistros.

            4. DON'T MISS: Mario Navarette's "Raza". This is arguably the best resto in MOntreal. I think it used to have a 28 Zagat rating. This is amazing Nuevo Latino high cuisine. You can bring your own wine. The chef trained at Baloud in NYC. He is Peruvian. His "Madre" restaurant has one of hte best Brunches in Montreal. Amazing Peruvian style food. "Raza" is perhaps the best restaurant in Montreal but doesn't get the right acclaim. 7-8 course prix fix meal at aroudn $70ish (can't get that in SF). If he still has the Terrunyo Carmenere-probably the best winery out of Chile and the Carmenere grape. This grape was used a century or so ago in Bordeaux wines. It seemed to have been reborn in Chile, and there's a smidge in Italy too. But Terrunyo is icnredible and cheap. You can bring your own wine here (they may have changed-they may not offer their own-and you HAVE to bring your own wine-check when you call them).

            Let me know what you think. What's your faves in SF? I can match your taste a bit better if you let me know.

            8 Replies
            1. re: foodlovergeneral

              Thanks for these terrific replies. I will be sure to post reviews when we return home.
              Our fav places these days for fine-dining in San Francisco are Saison and Atelier Crenn. Mission Chinese Food blows me away every time I go, though the chef just decamped to Manhattan to open a similar place there. Pity, that. We also love La Ciccia for Sardinian food. Manresa is also a favorite in Los Gatos.
              We're confirmed at APDC and we're leaning toward La Porte and perhaps Comptoir Charcuterie et Vin or 3 Petit Bouchons

              1. re: ChewChew

                Atelier Crenn and Saison seem very interesting. I will have to try them. Mission Chinese-the menu is very enticing, though I have ot admit, the only time I have ever eaten Americanized Chinese (in my old age state) is in San Francisco at Yang Sing where the departure from authentic is somewhat minimal.

                I don't know about Comptoir or 3 Petit Bouchons. Some reviews in Yelp suggest that Comptoir has a heavy anti-Anglo attitude. Such attitudes can really make for a bad evening. Both restaurants didn't seem to have English translations-also a sign that you may get a lot of resentful or bad service. Be sure to say "Pardonez-moi. Je suis des etats-uni. Je-ne parles pas beacoup francais. Est-ce que vous m'aidez?" Then they will know you are from the states and that you tried to speak their language. Most, at that point, will treat you well, though not all of them. Remember, in America, people who want English only are regarded as nuts. Here they are the ruling party, so be aware.

                If your interest is "charcuterie" be sure to go to a butcher in that neighborhood called "Hungroise". This is a major charcuterie town and the butchers on St. Laurent have amazing smoked meats and sausage that they produce themselves. Much better than the restaurants who are a little more dilitantish at that. At Hungroise, ask for some dried smoked ribs. They make awesome snacks and don't need to be cooked. They also have cooked bacon, which will be incredible. They have other smoked meats and sausages, and you can get a sandwich there for less than $6.

                I hope you have time for Raza. Amazing, and might be in line with your tastes.

                1. re: foodlovergeneral

                  Yes, that's always been our strategy in France; start in French and shift to English, and we've experienced the type of 'discrimination' you describe in Paris. It happens only rarely but, as you say, it can ruin your evening. I speak enough broken French to get by.

                  We will try Hungroise for sure. Raza looks very interesting, too. We only have three nights so narrowing will be tough.

                  Thanks again for all of your recs.

                2. re: ChewChew

                  It would be hard to find something like Crenn or Saison in Montreal - same for Manresa - as all three are very "California" just as much as Joe Beef or APdC is very "Montreal." It would be foolish to try Cali cuisine in Montreal since you've named off the two best (along with benu) restaurants in the state as your favorites - just go with the restaurant in Montreal that is "Best things we can't get in California" - in which case I'd urge you to look at Joe Beef along with APdC.


                  1. re: uhockey

                    I personally would take Au Pied de Cochon over Joe Beef. Also-for a "not in San Francisco" experience, La Porte with a great Britagne chef is quite unique as is Raza with a highly skilled Peruvian chef trained in the Baloud machine. Joe Beef IS uniquely Quebecois, but not consistantly so amazingly good. Anthony Bourdain chose Au Pied as one of his favorite restaurants anywhere in one of his episodes, I beleive. Zagats isn't perfect, but they give ApDC a 27 vs. 25 for Joe Beef. In Montreal, 25 is about a 21-23 in San Fran. Enjoy Montreal. And be sure to try pastries at Olivier Portier if you can-great pastry chef-I believe Parisian trained. Perhaps even at the great Parisian pastry shop Laduree.

                    1. re: foodlovergeneral

                      Potier did indeed spend time with Laduree. They are very good.

                      ...and I didn't say Joe Beef over APdC - I said do both. They are similar but quite different in approach and execution.


                3. re: foodlovergeneral

                  Thanks, foodlovergeneral. Raza was awesome!

                  I highly recommend going on a Wednesday evening, when you have the chef's attention virtually to yourself. The flavor profiles and key ingredients were Peruvian, the preparations French.

                  That evening, we started with black bean soup with queso fresco
                  followed by yellow quinoa with pickled vegetables, butternut squash puree and sweet bay shrimp
                  followed by Magret duck with lime, honey and coriander and mini lime meringues that melted on the tongue, delivering a drop of lime zestiness (so good, I asked for a few to take home)
                  followed by veal cheek with cauliflower mousseline and portabello powder
                  for dessert, the chef created a molecular gastronomy work of art on the table photographed).

                  Unique and highly recommended!
                  We'll definitely return.

                  1. re: DeeGlaze

                    Great. Did you try other places in Montreal? How was Au PIed au Cochon?

                4. If you don't want to do something overly gluttonous like Joe Beef (similar, but different, and imo equally good as APdC) for the second night I'd sueegest LeMeac.


                  1. One last point-it's a lot more fun to sit at the counter at APdC than the tables if you can. Be prepared for too much meat, too rich food if you go. It's really over the top richness.

                    1. I've been to all the restaurants discussed here, I speak some french but almost never use anything beyond bon soir. Don't worry about that

                      Zagat generally isn't all that reliable in Montreal, but I stopped paying attention so maybe it has improved?

                      You can do much better than lemeac or l'express

                      1. About " Le Grain de Sel" ...

                        Was having a discussion with my parents recently and the subject of restaurants came up and in particular "best-of" lists and for fun we looked at the trip advisor list, where the restaurant is #7, and they told me that it is mostly a hang-out for lunch for the "Télé Québec" crowd (and has been for years, that is how they could live off that long under the radar).

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: Maximilien

                          Le Grain de Sel: It does have a compelling menu. On their menu, they say the specialize in "black pudding" and there are some interesting looking dishes there. #7 on Tripadvisor may be worth a look. Has anyone been there? Can vouche for Le Grain de Sel?

                          1. re: foodlovergeneral

                            For a long time it was #1 on tripadvisor. Obviously these strong reviews get perpetuated by generations of tourists feeding off of those who came before them. If you look at the list now, the top 3 are Duo.D, Chez Chose, and Quattro. I can't think of the last time I heard anyone even mention these restaurants. Obviously one should proceed with caution when it comes to tripadvisor recommendations in any city, though this seems particularly so in Montreal.

                            1. re: Fintastic

                              I agree. I have a hard time trusting those ranking by tripadvisor in Montreal. There's strange things about the top restaurant list there.

                              1. re: Fintastic


                                Chez chose is not a bad place at all, not top 5 in Montreal but would have no problem recommending it. It probably gets good reviews because the maitre d is extremely friendly

                                1. re: tdiddy23

                                  I definitely won't say these restaurants aren't good - just that they get very little discussion by Montreal residents. Nice to see the Gazette article.

                                  1. re: Fintastic

                                    Yeah I tend to agree with you guys in general. I find TripAdvisor is better for hotels than restaurants. For the latter to me its more of a screen to make sure everyone doesn't hate the place

                                    1. re: tdiddy23

                                      Good approach. You can find out if there's a real problem with a restaurant in some of the negatives.

                                      1. re: tdiddy23

                                        This is exactly the same way I use Yelp...

                                        Yelp can be effective in weeding out the places that stink.....but it is impossible to determine if a place is merely average....or great....or anywhere in between....on Yelp.

                                        Good to know that when traveling I should take the same approach to TripAdvisor when it comes to restaurants.

                            2. I'm an sf resident who grew up in mtl. Just came back from a very long stay there and one of our favorite meals was at a place called Lawrence on st Laurent. Good market driven food, meat centric though not exclusively (one of our group is vegetarien and she loved an agnolotti pasta special). I see they do a whole roasted pig head special that looked very gulp lifelike! But the table eating it seemed very satisfied and attacked it with gusto.
                              I agree with APDC. In the past had the plateau du fruit de mer that was over the top and incredible.
                              As for language wars, while I speak French, I've dined with people who do not and haven't experienced any tensions when we've ordered in English at any resto in mtl.

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: katnat

                                Agreed. I always recommend Lawrence, and with good reason. The only reason I didn't here was because I don't think of it as "Quebec-style", though it is a market-driven menu.

                                1. re: Fintastic

                                  Market driven, also very unique even in the "gastropub" world. I don't think there's something like it in San Francisco. The chef is from England. He makes his own smoked salmon. SO it's worth consideration. Interesting wines. Ask the wine buyer what she is proud of at a reasonable price and you get some great wines. Sometimes the experience is alittle inconsistant.

                                  1. re: Fintastic

                                    sometimes when people refer to quebecstyle they just may want french bistro, not necessarily quebecois food. You can get frenchstyle menu for far more reasonable prices than Toronto, etc. As for people being rude for people speaking limited French, i dont think customers should be selfconscious, often it is related to an ``attitude`` in general. The hospitality industry suffers here sometimes from this problem but I have had similar problems in Europe, atleast that is my experience when I compare it to other provinces or the states. But I like the ambiance here and variety of food, My family loves to come to Quebec to eat as they spend money in other places with disappointing dining out--I am not speaking about big cities where there are of course more choices.

                                    1. re: mangoannie

                                      Quebecois style is different than French Bistro-which is a decent attempt at French Bistro. Qubecois style, though, is not very common. APdC, Joe Beef, Toque and a handfull of other restaurants have it. Ofcourse Quebecois includes "poutine" (french fries with low quality gravy and cheese). It includes a kind of "ragu" made out of pigs feet, which is not very common these days. Much of the rest of the more elegant cuisine in Montreal is not terribly Quebecish, I think. Lawrence is clearly not in any way connected to Quebec, other than the ingredients. Quebec has excellent ingredients. They are not great for wine, but more than compensate with a wonderful cheese industry.