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Jun 17, 2013 08:54 AM

Chicago foodies to Montreal. 1st timers.

3 of us are going to Montreal July 4-8 for a girls' weekend. It will be our first time in the city, and we are very excited. We are bringing along my 18-year old sister in-law, and it will be her first time out of the US. So, she's particularly excited.

We want to do a lot of wandering, a little sight-seeing, and a lot of eating. We're staying at Le Place d'Armes in Old Montreal, for reference.

So, while we're looking for "can't miss" things to eat.

We'd like recommendations for cafes, nice lunches, local fare, places in the neighborhood in which we're staying, and a few nicer dinners. One of us will be celebrating a birthday while we're there, and we'd like to have a couple of high-end restaurant suggestions.

We are Chicago foodies, and we like to eat good food, but that doesn't always mean fancy schmancy. Our preference is for small plate, farm-to-table restaurants. We like French food, but we aren't crazy about French cuisine that reads as pretentious. And, since we're all under 30, we'd like to go to a few "hip" spots.

Looking forward to your recs! Thanks so much.

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  1. Near your Hotel is one of Montreal's best Italian Restaurants Da Emma also Holder which put out a nice Sunday Brunch ( Lawrence on St Laurent is better bit farther away).Not far away is Griffintown which right now is our Brooklyn. In Griffintown you will find Joe Beef (hard to book but worthwhile) Grinder or Nora Grey.
    Further away but worth the trip is L'express on St Denis which is our best French Bistro type restaurant,casual and great for people watching.Not far from there and a great Dinner choice is Le Filet which is a small plate restaurant (everybody at the table chooses 2 or 3 plates and you share) Seafood is their specialty and they have a great selection of wines by the glass great for dish pairings. As well you are here during the Jazz Festival so maybe a Dinner at Brasserie T then enjoy some of the free concerts that are a block away.Here's a start hope you have a great time in Montreal.

    1. What is your budget? are you interested in wine ? cocktails ? ethnic food ? things you do not care ?

      I would suggest Lemeac instead of L'Express, for at least one reason, they have a covered terrasse (but must reserve), also open for brunch on the week-end, and they have a post-10pm specials.

      Some other suggestions :
      Bouillon Bilk (close to the jazz-fest), Le Filet, Le Comptoir Charcuterie, Hotel Herman, Pastaga, Tasso mezza (greek tapas),

      All are more or less "french" (excep tasso), but more "hip" than formal.

      If you like "farmers markets", go up to Jean-Talon Market on saturday morning and there you can eat on site or get stuff for a picnic in Old Montréal (go up, fill up on food, go down in old-montreal); in Old Montréal, there is the MuvBox where you can grab some lobster rolls.

      In and around Old-Montréal, there's Communion, olive&gourmando, titanic (for pastries, breakfast)

      There will be some food trucks around if you like those.


      1 Reply
      1. re: Maximilien

        I agree with all of the above except MuvBox. I think it is too expensive for what seems to me like a snack size.

      2. Les 400 Coups. Club Chasse et Peche, in Old Montreal, is Le Filet's established older sibling, for a higher-end meal. Also nearby is Le Bremner (small plates) - or if you can get a reservation, there's always Garde Manger.
        Other recommendations that no one else has mentioned yet -La Salle a Manger, Chien Fumant, Liverpool House.

        There was an article in the Globe and Mail last week that you might find interesting -

        1. Thanks so much, everyone! This is SO helpful.

          I've made reservations Les 400 Coups for the birthday dinner and at Le Bremner for our first night. I also made reservations for tea at Birks (based on a TripAdvisor rec)--sounds like the perfect things for a girls' weekend!

          We'll also plan to eat lots of bread and cheese and pastries at many of the places mentioned, and we're definitely going to hit up the farmers market.

          Our budget is very flexible; we'd like a couple of high-end places (maybe have those covered) and many casual spots.

          Any farm to table places with less complicated fare? Great ingredients, simple preparations, small plates? Maybe something a little more on the casual side? Looking for casual but hip, if that makes sense.

          And yes, if there's a great place for cocktails near our hotel, we'd love it hear it!

          9 Replies
          1. re: emiliewasmyeve

            Cocktails - Philemon on Rue St Paul.
            Also worth checking out if the weather is great is the rooftop at the Nelligan Hotel, and Terraces Bonsecours. These two are great locations, although service isn't always the greatest.
            Another place worth checking out for drinks is Champagnerie, which is a new champagne bar that has opened.

            For Casual food - I would go to Cafe Sardine in the Mile End. Also check out Nouveau Palais in the same neighborhood for brunch on Saturday. Very casual with great food.

            Farm to table - Au Pied du Cochon and Au Cinqieme Peche. The latter would probably be more up your alley.

            1. re: emiliewasmyeve

              I've only been to Chicago once but what struck me immediately when eating out was how large the restaurants are, serving much bigger numbers of people than the average place here so I'm sure you'll find the food scene very comfortable and friendly. For chef-driven market cuisine (i.e. farm to table), many of the places suggested already adjust their menus based on the season and availability of fresh local ingredients. Au Pied de Cochon is a great option for an exciting meal out. Not sure about tea at Birks versus cafe and pastry at Kouign Amann, for example, but I'd love to hear your report. I like Pintxo for small plates of Basque tapas. For easy casual I'd walk up to Chinatown and grab some lobster (it's the season) at one of the places along La Gauchetiere, or some hand-pulled noodles at Nudo. And definitely walk around the jazz festival grounds just for the excitement of it all.

              1. re: emiliewasmyeve

                There are many great recommendations here. As I've noted to other Chicago visitors, your city absolutely trumps ours when it comes to Michelin-star-esque fine dining (a la Alinea). I'd recommend you skip these until you're back home. What we do have is a lot of places like Avec and Publican (I haven't been to Chicago in a few years, so these are my most recent points of reference).

                My favourite meals here in the first half of 2013 have been at le Filet (exactly what you're looking for: casual yet hip, small plates with French influences. Primarily fish. I'd swap Bremner for this.), Quartier General (astonishingly affordable local-French bring your own wine), and Liverpool House (sister restaurant to the extremely popular Joe Beef).

                When I think farm to table I also usually think of Tuck Shop and Lawrence: both are great, though I very strongly recommend the latter over the former.

                I'm glad you've booked 400 Coups. This was my go-to suggestion for the past 6 months, although I was not as impressed on my last visit. However, it's still one of the best in the city, and hands-down the best in Old Montreal.

                Finally, it's tough not to recommend Pied de Cochon. Famous for a reason, talked about endlessly. It's disturbingly heavy, but if this might be your only trip to Montreal it'd be a shame to miss out. You can always youtube Bourdain's No Reservations episode to gauge your interest. To get the truly hip Montreal experience I'd probably aim here or Joe Beef (one or the other, definitely not both). Reserve ASAP as that week is probably already booked up.

                For casual evening snacking near your hotel, you might also consider Foodlab on St. Laurent. Its good for its well-curated wine list, the beautiful terrasse, and small inexpensive dishes. The location is very strange, inside an Arts and Technology building, but worth trying. Closed Saturday and Sunday, and not open very late on weekdays. The main advantage is that unlike most restaurants in town, you can just have drinks without food. We have some strange alcohol licensing the prohibits this at most restaurants.

                (note re: Stax88's suggestion- Cafe Sardine no longer serves dinner, although it's still a nice spot)

                1. re: Fintastic

                  I meant to mention more about the cocktail/wine situation in Montreal. Basically we don't have a cocktail culture here. Wine is king and mixed drinks are typically disappointing. For a group 20-somethings looking for a hip place to grab a drink downtown post-shopping, I'd aim for Dominion Square Tavern, Furco, or the just-opened La Societe. All have food options. Further north I'd hit a wine bar like Buvette Chez Simone or perhaps Pullman, and if hungry I'd definitely aim for Hotel Herman (not a hotel) or Chien Fumant (probably my favourite cocktails).
                  As Stax mentioned, in Old Montreal you'd likely be happy with the Nelligan rooftop, possibly Communion, and maybe the brand new sabrage Champagnerie (where they purportedly open each bottle of bubbly in Napoleonic fashion by splitting the neck with a sabre).
                  Good luck!

                  1. re: Fintastic

                    Also on the liquid libations front, I presume 18-year-old knows she can legally imbibe here.

                    I see buying supplies and having a picnic has already been suggested.

                    1. re: lagatta

                      Phillemon is convenient especially for the terrace and location.

                      For a completely casual crowd and good drinks, my spot is La Distillerie.
                      The one is the Latin Quarters is nearest. Get there early, as it fills up quickly during happy hour and is popular all through the night. Careful with the mason jars, they go down smooth but are deceivingly strong. No food served.

                      Le Lab is also a really good place to go for inventive and good cocktails. Still can go there in casual dress but you can dress up as well. Sometimes there is some flair bartending

                  2. re: Fintastic

                    I agree one hundred percent. Le filet is soooo much better than Bremner and 400 coups is good but really not my thing. I would try Norah Gray, Liverpool house, or my absolute favorite les3 Petits Bouchons. Sardine has great coffee and the most unique hot dogs around. They are small so one could be a snack!

                    1. re: Fintastic

                      Thanks SO much again, folks!

                      I especially appreciate the Chicago comparisons, as they give me some frame of reference. Yes--I am looking for places like Avec and the Publican in terms of ambiance and approach.

                      Okay, based on your recs, I've swapped our reservation at Le Bremner for Le Filet. I've also made a reservation at Liverpool House (Joe Beef is totally booked for the weekend we're going).

                      We'll try to squeeze in some of the bars, bakeries, cafes, and snack spots in between. :)

                      Thanks again!

                      1. re: emiliewasmyeve

                        Hi. Wanted to find out which of the spots you visited last summer were worth the trip. I'm traveling from NYC to Montreal for an upcoming weekend trip and only have two dinner spots. Thanks!

                  3. I may get yelled at here but when I go to Montreal I love to graze in the food courts of the Underground City. (This underground concourse in Montreal's downtown would be 29 kilometers long if you straightened it out---it is vast, under the whole downtown, and has a food court about every 50 feet.) Just before noon is a good time to go as the Underground feeds thousands of office workers and all will be fresh and lovely between 11 and 11:30. Many of the venues are run by immigrants so that food of every ethnicity is offered...this is where I first ate fatoosh. I rememember a super food court by the train station called Les Halles de la Gare. BTW see if a bakery there still sells Maple Pecan Bread with gobs of maple goo that melt when you toast the bread.

                    AND ANOTHER THING:There is a small chain of vegetarian restaurants in Montreal called Le Commensal that has the biggest and best salad bar you ever saw. You serve yourself and then they weigh your plate. Actually I too am a Chicago foodie and not a vegetarian but Le Commensal is one of my favorite restaurants on earth, so, consider.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: Querencia

                      the restaurants in the 'underground city' are some of the worst food court options in north america. can you name a single restaurant that is worth going out of your way for? Le Commensal is also bottom of the barrel - there's a reason why the chain has gone bankrupt and is closing. In a pinch, I sometimes go to Kimchi in the Eaton Center but I would definitely not direct myself there if I wanted Korean food.

                      1. re: Querencia

                        I agree with you Querencia I too like to go to different food courts, appreciate the variety (cant remember name of them) and speed. I also like the Commensal especially one on ste catherine downtown and sad one closed near place des arts. Catroast is wrong about the reason for closing they made bad decisions about adding poultry and fish which angered some customers as well as faced more competition in their niche. They are under bankrupt protection, not yet dead as I heard. I loved their buffet, found it reasonable depending on choices and felt I could eat healthy hard thing to do in downtown area. Family tell me the one in Toronto is thriving. Ignore the yellers they are elitist in views and destroy the freedom of expression on this board. Many tourists are fascinated by the underground network and some of the choices are more tasty than whats offered in the hamburger chains across downtown area. I also like picking up sweets/breads when in the gare, not always ready to run across town for a dessert! Its really handy to have these food choices especially when winter comes. I think many tourists do not realize Montreal has this huge underground city so certainly worthwhile exploring what it has to offer.

                        1. re: mangoannie

                          name one restaurant in the underground mall worth going out of your way for ?

                          amir? tandoori? vie and nam? thai express? aux vieux deluth? valentine? panini? subway? burger king? sukiyaki? dunkin donuts? tiki ming? basha? aqua? cultures? franx supreme?kojax? quiznos? taco supreme?

                          which is the amazing ethnic restaurant run by first gen immigrants? the hypothetical food court that querencia imagines is found in plaza cote des neiges - not a part of the underground city and still not worth going out of your way for.

                          the underground city is essentially a series of inter-connected malls. here's a review of the underground city that every tourist should read

                          and why do you think commensal added chicken to their menu? desperation.

                          is it really elitist to advocate against going to a food court or to a buffet that is under bankruptcy protection????

                          1. re: catroast

                            you miss my point and there is a lebanese one below cinemas but there are others too and no not cdn plaza at all. I dont agree with you or article you cite.. Commensal is a good buffet in my opinion i dont have to convince you Even wonderful restos in this foodie city have gone bankrupt or had to close to the surprise of many of us on this site.. I am only responding because you asked your questions but I have no interest in the quality of this dialogue nor further discussion as you obviously have another opinion and I do not share it. I do not expect to convince you nor will you change my opinion! The only thing I do concur with is underground city needs more than a map,otherwise you get stuck on ste catherine part.

                            1. re: mangoannie

                              yes good restaurants go bankrupt but an entire chain is another story - obviously not enough people thought highly of commensal and their over-priced steam tray food and hotel conference room ambiance. and yes, Cote-Des-Neiges plaza has a food court with independent restaurants owned and managed by first and second generation immigrants - this is what Querencia suggests is unique about the underground city. Which part of this statement do you disagree with? The underground city is a waste of a tourist's time unless he or she is looking for endlessly repeating chain stores and more bad than good food.

                              by the way, the toronto location of commensal is closed.

                            2. re: catroast

                              My list of go to places below ground is this:
                              Alki – Scotiabank
                              Caravelle – 2020 University
                              Dame Nature – Gare Centrale
                              Edo Japan – Eaton Center
                              Medina – Place de la Cathedral
                              Momoya – Simon's
                              Nudo – Eaton Centre

                              And it is not a case of "going out of your way," but more a case just happening to be there.

                              1. re: EaterBob

                                Why would anyone want to come to Montreal in the summer and eat underground? The underground city is interesting and very useful in bad weather but so depressing when the sun is shinning.

                            3. re: mangoannie

                              Commensal is definitely not thriving in Toronto. Their phone number was disconnected in May and there's an eviction notice in the window (as per the Toronto closing thread). Commensal hasn't been good in a long time.