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San Francisco hound in Montreal (long trip report)

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Many thanks to the Quebec board! Lurking for a month here allowed me to pepper a 5 day Montreal trip with great eats. Our first day had some hiccups, but it was smooth sailing afterwards: Here are the food related highlights:

= Wednesday =
Patisserie Rhubarbe was closed when we got there (doesn't open till 11AM).

Patati Patata had okay poutine and patatine. The gravy was a bit too viscous, but I liked that it wasn't an MSG bomb.

Romados closes at 9PM, but their kitchen closes at 8pm and we didn't make it in time. D'oh.

St. Viateur bagels: we went straight for the sesame bagels that had just come out of the oven. These were unlike the bagels I grew up with in NY, and also unlike Beauty Bagels, a "Montreal style" bagel place in Oakland. SV's bagels were flattish with a big hole in the center. The outer crust was very thick and each bite had a prolonged and satisfying crunch. I was perhaps a bit too enthusiastic about getting a hot bagel--- the sticky interior reminded me of no-knead bread that's not had time to cool. Still, that amazing sesame coated crust was the star of this bagel, not the crumb.

= Thursday =
Caffe Italia served us a good dark roast espresso

Jean-Talon market wasn't as packed with vendors as I'd anticipated, and we were unsure if this was due to it being later in the day, 1pm, or it not being a weekend. We started with a beef borek from a woman with a daunting selection of Middle Eastern treats. The borek was spicy, and I was glad I told her to heat it in the toaster oven rather than the microwave. The honey cigar was fantastic and had just a hint of orange water. Marche des Saveurs isn't cheap, but it supplied us with a few days worth of awesome picnic items from Quebec. Berger du Fjord was our pick for hard sheep cheese and Le Gaulois de Portneuf for a soft cow cheese. Chevre a ma maniere was a tasty pasteurized young goat cheese. We also got lots of cured meats, maple things, and a sugar pie.

Au Pied De Cochon: Absolutely decadent. The bread was the best we ate in Montreal, and had a well developed and thick crust. We started with the Cochennailes platter. It included a wide variety and large quantity of charcuterie and at $9.50, was a steal. The delicious Crispy PDC salad technically had some lettuces, but it was mostly juicy cubes of pork and a large fried square of pork bits. There only being two of us, we were hesitant to get a large piece of offal as our entree. The PDC's cut, essentially a pork roast, was excellent and juicy, but was perhaps too safe an entree choice. Still, sliced up and marinated with the cabbage and mushroom toppings overnight, it made for great leftovers. The foie gras poutine was one of the most delicious things I've eaten this year. The gravy was rich with natural umami, and even without the foie gras, this outclassed any poutine I've eaten before. Great cheese too. The poached pear with vanilla ice cream was well executed, but we were hoping for a more exciting dessert menu. Overall, this was a very enjoyable meal, but it was too macho for my tastes--- it would have been nice to have gone with a few more people and speckled the meal with some lighter dishes (we couldn't identify any that sounded interesting...). He was being sensitive to us having too much food already, but I'll note that this was the first time a server has ever vetoed my request for a vegetable side order.

= Friday =
Caffe myriade serves the kind of "3rd wave" coffee that's popular in SF, so we went here to see their take on it. A little acidic, but a welcome taste... Heh, I felt silly for going there after seeing an SF beanery as one of their suppliers.

Olivier Potier was awesome. Even the fresh squeezed orange juice was excellent. The almond croissant was a bit flat but I loved the freshness of the almond filling, the overrall crunch, and the quality of the dough. The chocolate croissant was also excellent, but not in the same realm as the almond croissant. The fougasse was delicious and full of olives, but, believe it or not, not as olive saturated as the fougasse I had at Old Port Market in Quebec City last year.

= Saturday =
Fairmount bagels confirmed that the sticky wet interior of the bagels is a stylistic thing common to both them and St. Viateur. The gumminess persisted even after hours of storage. But, damn, that crust straight out of the oven, on both the everything bagel and the sesame bagel, was fantastic. Good mix of seeds on the everything.

Kem CoBa ice cream is closed until November 7th :-(

Lawrence does a solid brunch. The ham, tomme, and fried egg on toast; the Gloucester pancakes with apples, pancakes, and ricotta; and especially the cabbage and potato bubble and squeak were great.

Joe Beef was our favorite meal of the trip. Like APDC, they had a decadent menu, but it came across as more inspired and balanced. We started with the Jerusalem artichoke soup, which was made with broth, cream, and chervil and topped with shaved white cheddar, bacon, and their housemade ketchup. I didn't care for the ketchup's presence, but, in all other ways, Joe Beef's version was one the best soup's I've eaten. The pork "fish stick" put the ketchup to good use, this time mixing it with a fragrant curry powder and putting it top of crunchy sticks of fried pork rillettes. The squash salad contained roasted squash, pumpkin seeds, kale, and thinly sliced radishes. It was a great side to cut the richness of their signature dish--- lobster with spaghetti. Pieces of the 2lb lobster were deshelled and/or cracked, and sautéed with cream, finely diced bacon, some kind of booze, and tarragon. Fantastic. The dessert selections all sounded great, and we choose the St. Honore, which was like a giant profiterole with pumpkin ice cream. It's sized to serve four, and the two of us regretted not being able to finish it.

= Sunday =
Schwartz's transitioned from half full at 10:30 to a 20 person line at 11:30. We luckily beat the rush at 10:30. The vinegar cole slaw and the pickle were great. Karnatzel "nash" isn't available in the US, and I enjoyed this salami-like thin beef stick. The half-sour pickle was barely pickled, not that great a cucumber, and barely salty. We ordered a medium-fat smoked meat sandwich. It was dry, bland, barely warm, and with almost no visible sign of spice or fat. I'd hate to see the lean. Throughout the trip, I'd talked up Montreal smoked meal a lot, so this would have been disappointing for our last meal. Thanks to Chowhound though, we had a backup.

Main Deli Steak House saved the day. Pulling upon the wisdom I've gleaned from years of pastrami eating, I asked for a piece cut off the end, and asked the server to tell us about the different levels of fat. We settled on the level that's one above medium fat. Juicy, warm, coated in spices, flavorful inside and out, and a big portion to boot, this was the antithesis of the drek we got served at Schwartz's. The other stuff didn't fare so well. The verenikes' light, almost whipped, potato filling was as good as the best potato pierogies I've eaten, but the heavily fried wrapper was leathery. Likewise, the giant potato pancakes weren't very good. They were also a different style than I've had at German or Czech eateries, or Jewish American homes or delis.

=====

And now back in the Bay Area with a few smuggled treats. Montreal's food scene treated us well. In retrospect, posting an itinerary would have allowed us to avoid a few timing based mishaps. Good to know for the next trip to Quebec... nothing in the works at present, but it would definitely involve a sugar shack and be more game meat oriented.

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  1. mixed review which doesnt surprise me as not all these continually suggested restaurants appeal to me or family, but do appreciate the detailed feedback and does remind us all to check times which are all so variable, . I have been guilty of same thing turning up to closed doors. I think the bagels go better with a salmon spread but each to his own taste :) Good for you for taking on the famed Schwartz sandwich, you are not alone in your opinion. I appreciated your report. thanks

    3 Replies
    1. re: mangoannie

      Yeah, Montreal left an overwhelmingly positive impression, and I'd go back in a heartbeat. But, no matter how much research you do, the only way to have 100% satisfaction is to have either low standards or eat very boring food :-)

      I do wonder whether, had we ordered differently, I'd have opposite opinions of APDC and Joe Beef. Likewise, if I'd gone to Schwartz's four hours later, or Main Deli on a Tuesday, if I'd have opposite reviews of those places. I'll say this... I loved Olivier Potier and Joe Beef was one of the best meals I ate this year--- every dish was fantastic.

      Heh, I'm originally from NY, and wanted a spreadless Montreal bagel to directly compare the two. But after the first one, I agree with you about salmon spread--- we split one bagel at St. Viateur, and had two more at our apt., one with salmon spread and another with cream cheese :-)

      1. re: hyperbowler

        You will find that there more than a few rebel Main Steak house patrons that have been saying for a long time that it serves a better smoked meat sandwich than its more famous in front. Now that it is owned by Nickel`s lady, I can't see that changing.

        1. re: jfprieur

          the main is just as hit or miss
          my last visit was absolutely awful

    2. Great post! Thanks for getting back to us.
      Regarding the JT market, I think mid-week and mid-day can both be factors in low vendor density, but even more important is that it's mid-autumn. Essentially everything not underground has stopped growing - we've already had a few bouts of frost in the farming areas around Montreal. I don't remember when JTM moves operations entirely indoors, but it has got to be soon.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Fintastic

        Oh, that makes tons of sense! There was some beautiful produce nonetheless. Tons of leeks too, something that's less common in the states.

        1. re: hyperbowler

          Excellent report. About the stickiness of the bagels, they do become a lot more exciting when toasted as the sesame seeds gain a lot with the extra roasting and you get more crust. That said, it is fun to get them when hot from the stove but they'll be more cake-like then. Nice comparison of Schwartz and the Main, and handy for those of us who can't stand lineups. And I am reminded that I need to go to Olivier Potier. Visitors can be so much more thorough than us locals! If your next adventure will include a sugar shack, you might want to join the email frenzy for reservations at the APDC on December 1st.