Another First Time Visitor with Hopefully First Time questions?
I've spent far too many office hours lost in the Montreal CH threads already! That's a testament to the hospitality and helpfulness of the natives, no doubt, that there's so many threads to read.
I have a couple of specific questions:
1. We're staying near Bell Centre 4 nights in late October. Taking the train up from NYC so it's likely to a be late dinner first night after a long train trip. Where can we eat in the hotel's environ that is not too dear, easy going and big portions.
2. Besides Dominion, we don't have a plan for a touristic history sort of place. Any others that are worth the effort?
3. I have some poutine recs but no good bistro fare sort of places. We are hoping to use our college French as much as possible since we both learned it but never get a chance to use it in SoCal. What we also do not have in SoCal is basic good French places that ordinary working people who like to eat well go to. It's always considered 'fancy' and the tariffs reflect. It's always special occasion food. We would like to eat where locals go for an ordinary good weekday dinner, even if it is outside of central city We'll probably be driving up to Quebec City for the day so something enroute would be good for the ride back unless there is something in QC that fits.
4. SInce we are a gay couple, we'll probably be hanging around somewhat at Rue St. Catherine. Is there any place there to rec? The norm in the U.S. is that the restaurants in gay ghettos are a mediocre ripoff. Hang up a pink triangle and bring on the 12 dollar bland turkey burger. Hoping that Montreal's gay area might be different.
Fianlly, the posts here for tourists have really been lovely to read. I used to be a cook by trade and my favorite places to eat when I travel are where locals go to take a night off from cooking, which is how I choose my regular places here in So Cal. I figure that if I can make it better at home, why pay more except for convenience?Also, high cost 'innovative' cooking is not how I spend my leisure dollars, though I understand it's value to others who do.
But good duck confit, boudin blanc, terrine, herring? Totally worth it on the cost vs. home cooking labor ratio!
Unfortunately, downtown Montreal near and north of the Bell Centre is a bit of a culinary wasteland.
I would head to Nora Gray - http://noragray.com/ - if you can snag a reservation. It's really not far from at all the Bell Centre and the food is quite nice (Montreal, hipster Italian). On the "not too dear" front, it is actually a bit pricey. Alternatively, try Restaurant Holder (http://restaurantholder.com/en), which is a $12 cab ride from Bell Centre max.
For a Montreal bistro meal, Lemeac is a Board fav, but try Au Petit Extra (http://www.aupetitextra.com/petitextr...), which also happens to be not far from the Gay Village. Probably about 25% cheaper than Lemeac or L'Express but generally same food quality and similar menu and you can practice your college French. That said, I actually do really enjoy the remarkably civilized atmosphere and consistent quality at Lemeac - they also have a good, if slightly overpriced, wine list.
There's not an obvious place to head between Montreal and Quebec City, but there are great bistros in Quebec City when you are there. I really enjoyed Le Cafe de Clocher Penche this summer, lovely bistro, not too expensive.
As for local bistros in Montreal, a lot of what we locals recommend to tourists are good and inexpensive bistros, so you can take many of the recs you've already read about here and feel safe going there. Manaloman's bistro recs are spot on. L'Express is good also, and Chez Levecque is good. I'm not sure about places around the Bell Centre though. I'd probably go to Hakata Ramen or Gado Gado but neither of those are French bistros.
I think a visit to Au Pied de Cochon might be fun, perhaps try that duck in a can?
Excellent questions... hopefully I can provide answers.
1. How late will you be arriving? As I recall this train usually gets it at just after 7, so any resto will still be open if it's not a Sunday/Monday. Dominion Square may be your best bet for this night - their kitchen is usually open until around midnight and it's nearby your hotel.
2. Dominion is very lovely and looks authentic - much of the interior was recently restored - though it's true history is limited. The current configuration only dates back a few years, though they do well at making it seem like it's got a rich heritage. However, there aren't a lot of other historical restaurants that you'd want to visit, so stick with your plan. It's more fun to get your history lesson via a wander through Old Montreal.
3. Unfortunately Montreal is not the French countryside, so cheap neighbourhood working-class French restaurants are not actually very common. As elsewhere, French food here tends to be more expensive than many other ethnicities (albeit, perhaps slightly better executed). I don't have recommendations for the MTL-QC trip, but in Montreal something like P'Tit Plateau, Monsieur B (both bring your own wine), L'Express, and Lemeac may be good choices. Maybe also 3 Petits Bouchons. However, these are not what I'd call cheap, unless you dine at Lemeac for their after-10pm menu. If you'd rather get really informal and truly working class, something like Brasserie Capri in Verdun (for pig's knuckles) might be in order. However, I can't emphasize enough how informal this place is.
Importantly, you'll get to use as much French as you wish no matter what type of cuisine you choose, though places off-island or outside the city tend to be more monolingual than those downtown.
4. I find that food in the village is actually improving, though there is also a ton of garbage. In the region you'll find Kitchenette (French-meets-Southern cuisine), O'Thyme (reasonable French BYOW), Au Petit Extra (French, further to the North), etc.
Near the train station, delicious, cheap easy, big, and open late is not an easy combination. However Beaver Hall gets four out of five requirements. The Old Dublin makes very good curries that are cheap and has an excellent selection of scotch and draft beers. There are a bunch of other places that are cheap easy, big, and open late - but I wouldn't recommend them because if it isn't delicious, to me it isn't worthwhile eating.
The Dominion Tavern used to be "The Gay Bar" in Montreal back in the 50s, 60s and 70s until Mayor Jean Drapeau forced the gays to move east to what is now the Gay Village because of the 1976 Olympics. What is there now is a pale imitation of how it used to be. Its "touristic history" is all fake and forced, and the "renovations" to my eye ruined it. The two times I've eaten there I was not impressed either.
If you would like real history with a good meal and/or drinks might I suggest Auberge Saint Gabriel, a restaurant and hotel that has been in existence since 1688 (although I'm not certain if it has been in existence consistently since then).
Other good "historical" places would be Binerie Mount Royal, very traditional Quebecois food and it's been open since the 1930s. Then if you have read "The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz" you won't want to miss Wilensky's. It hasn't changed one iota since the book was written, and the only change since the time period the book refers to is that some people who worked there have died and others who now work there were born.
For your selection of "basic good French places that ordinary working people who like to eat well go to" I'd suggest M sur Masson, Mas Cuisine, Au Petit Extra and Le Valois. Au Petit Extra has the added benefit of being at the eastern edge of the village. But all three are in non-tourist neighborhoods and catering to locals.
Unfortunately for eating Montreal's gay village is exactly like all the others, sometimes with a $15 dry and overcooked turkey burger. If you get mediocre food, consider yourself lucky. In and around the village I would recommend Pataterie Chez Philippe, a casse-croute (aka a greasy spoon) that grinds their own beef and is now on its third generation in the same family. O'Thyme a BYO French restaurant that is arguably the best BYO in the city. Chipotle & Jalapeno a Latino sandwich place making a reasonable facsimile of a Cuban sandwich that while not quite authentic is still extremely delicious.
And due to the culture, just about any restaurant in the city will have a better duck confit, boudin blanc, and terrine than you can get in SF (I'm not so certain about the herring :-). Enjoy yourself and please let us know where you end up and what you think.
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