Local summer restaurant ? Great chef ? (visiting from SF)
I'm working on my homework for enjoying a long weekend in Montreal (starting today), and I'm hoping for some recommendations.
I've read a lot of the standard lists including the Poutine place, the montreal bagel places, the beer places, the markets, all good - check, check. We do not need Vietnamese.
I desire : newer "local twist on quebecois" type restaurants, local produce, innovative chef, etc? Expect good wine list, we eat everything.
For SF savvy, something like Commonwealth, Saison, Atelier Crenn, Rich Table, State Bird. ie, we're jaded already so if we're making a trip, it better be excellent.
Challenge: we have no reservations and want to eat this weekend, so are willing to call around or "sneak in early and sit at the bar".
We will be staying roughly in the Old Port neighborhood, plan to have no car, but are intrepid with our Google Maps, Metro passes, taking taxis. Anything from downtown to old montreal to plateau or near a metro stop is certainly fair game.
No price limit.
Greetings local hounds,
Thank you for your discussions helping direct me. I'm not sure I did Montreal all that well, but with your help certainly tried and received a feeling of the place.
My traveling companion does not have quite the stomach I do, and - even worse - doesn't simply stop eating when full, especially when the food is very tasty. I get blamed for recommending a good food option, and she eats too much. We had a particularly bad experience in LA a few months ago at an "omakase only" sushi place where they hand you fish until you cry uncle - and it's probably the best sushi I've had (plenty of tokyo trips in there) - and she just couldn't help herself - and we didn't eat for a solid day later and I took the blame. ANYWAY. She's a saint.
I was encouraged by the Montreal Gazette's description of Les 400 Coupes' portions as miniscule, and the place was a quick two block walk from our digs, and Open Table gave me a 6pm. We did the tasting menu, and I did really like it. There were a number of high notes - in particular, a wine pairing between a really funky earthy red and the suckling pig sauce under a scallop - the pairing worked even though the wine was almost undrinkable without the food, which I consider beyond brilliant. The dishes were meat-heavy in a pleasing way and, I hope, gave me a greater appreciation of Montreal's growing season issues. Service was slightly flawed at 4C simply because the desert courses dragged on interminably - I can't believe the desert station in the kitchen would have had a problem with scooping us some granita. The portions were not small for us - we walked out more than satisfied and almost stuffed. Still, very nice, well worth our one larger meal.
If you've only seen Montreal on the last weekend in July when the weather was consistently 85F, one might not really "get" the rest of the year.
On to the "regular dishes"
We had non-regulation Poutine at a bar called the St Elizabeth, where the order out to some place around the corner. I think I get the brilliance of the dish, but I wish I had seen a thread with not just the One Canonical Place With A Huge Line but maybe 10 places in the city that have passable versions. In retrospect, the beer aspect of the St Elizabeth was meager (although their terrasse is pretty) and I wished we had dined elsewhere (my uncle had suggested Accords near the Basilica).
Just to let you know Poutine is a la minute in Our Fair City:
Schwartz's - yeah, that's good meat. The sit-down line at about noon was HUGE, far too long for me, but the take-out line was pretty quick. Mostly was locals buying a pound for dinner or something - I liked how everyone could ask for the level of fattiness they want - proper for brisket, as in Texas BBQ where you can ask for the "high side" or not. I don't know why anyone calls this "smoked" because there's no taste of smoke, but the funny little nugget sandwich was just all meat in the right ways.
St Viateur bagles - good stuff. Got some "classic" and one to eat right while standing in line. Loved that roasted exterior like a pretzel. Not as chewy as the real-deal Brooklyn style (of which there are few practitioners in Brooklyn) in a pleasant way because you don't break a tooth. Didn't A/B the Fairmont bagles or have any other, did walk past. There is one "bagel nazi" in Burlington doing Montreal style, now I'll be able to appreciate.
Food truck thing as part of the comedy festival - I didn't realize this was a particular food truck gathering, I thought maybe most festivals have food trucks - this was the norm. The collection seemed a mixed bag, a lot of BBQ that looked more like a hotdog steamer with marketing pretensions, but I had the deep fried cheese cake that that was great - although 3 morsels at $6 seemed steep even for hipster land. I just read a thread about your food truck permitting issues, and how it's hard for more experimental truck ideas. As we have things like the Eire-itrea truck (Irish and African), I would concur Montreal doesn't quite have the concept yet - but hey, you've got deep fried cheese cake, so keep on truckin'
Atwater market - we got a selection of cheeses and sampled cheeses and on our way through the center found a Fois Terrine that you could just tell was excellent - big layer of fat on top, in their baking tins, and the lady selling it was very happy when I also bought the cornichons - "ah, so you need the bread - go to that stall there". Even though we had 7 kinds of cheese, GF ate nothing except the terrine. We have cheese here in CA now, about a solid week's worth, that we'll be chewing through. We found the SAQ right out the door of Atwater and ate right next to the canal. Nice simple Loire whites are annoyingly hard to find in california. Nice.
Chocolate. My experience with Montreal started to sour a bit when we spent about 20 minutes getting all the way out to Chocobel and found it closed sunday-monday during the summer. While I respect a craft person's desire to enjoy their weekends, surely one can hire someone to man a shop, perhaps with a limited repertoire - all they have to do is hand over chocolates and take money. Having expected Chocolates we diverted to Geneviève Grandbois, which we found quite pleasant and on par with the better chocolate places we're used to (not quite at the top though). The person there wasn't making hot chocolate and sold us a tin of their collection, pre-packaged.
This took us through mile end a bit, and we tried seeing some art galleries, almost all of which were closed even though they had posted hours being open right then. This got us down, frankly, and when I saw the sign promising Intelligencia coffee at Caffe in Gamba, even though I'm not a fan of Intelligencia we stopped for an espresso, and were happy. Nice selection of take-home beans, as well pulled as the better places in the bay area. Then we girded up for a little more art - and were denied everywhere, despite open hours. This paucity and pitiful nosed-pressed-against-glass hour lead us to drink, Dieu du Ciel luckily nearby, and mercifully open, but had only half the taps operating. The bar staff (who did some tasting for us and rapped a little) said the board was nearly empty because the normal guy who worked weekends at the tanks was on vacation, and the guy he got to fill in simply hadn't shown up.
Luckily I hadn't suggested Joe Beef, I didn't know they were on vacation and we would have been disappointed. As we did all our traveling via bicycle, a destination unexpectedly closed was a deeper hit then had we been locals driving.
The poutine and bagels will stay with me, but those two meats made an even strong impression - that terrine from Atwater and the Schwartz sandwich. Maybe I know enough about Montreal and Quebecois food to choose better on the next trip.
Thanks again for the recommendations.
Spectacular review! Thanks for getting back to us! And I'm sorry about the numerous unadvertised closings: this is one of the things that drives me crazy about Montreal (insinuated in my previous replies): far too few business owners bother to even update their online info with changes to hours. I regularly arrive at restaurants (particularly Gros Jambon/Magdalen) that are advertised as open only to find them closed. The week you were here was particularly bad as it was the Quebec construction holiday - a union-wide vacation that is often taken by non-construction businesses in the city, resulting in mass dysfunction.
Jaded and no reservations? This will be a challenge..
When I think farm-to-table, the places that come to mind are the Joe Beef consortium (closed as of tomorrow and always very busy), Tuck Shop, Lawrence (British-inspired with Quebec ingredients: also see Maison Publique), EVOO (though I've not been enough times to confidently recommend it to tourists). Hotel Herman also falls on this list. Filet and 400 Coups tend to maintain somewhat similar dishes, but they swap in different meats/fish/vegetables as they come into season. These are two of my favourites at the moment and if you see reservations at either, you should jump on them (although Filet tends to be a bit more French- and Japanese-leaning than Quebecois). Quartier General has also been my go-to recommendation, with a constantly changing menu and great price-point (and BYOW). Walk-ins will be a challenge at most of these places unless you're very early or very late: some reserve their seats at the bar so these aren't always available on demand.
In reference to one of your later posts about APDC, restaurants in this city tend to be relatively poor at regularly updating websites or online menus (or having any online presence at all). Do not base your decisions on this factor as it relates very little to the approach to food. APDC's specials list is usually extensive, especially if some of the seafood platters are still in season, and the place is worth trying as the original upscale Quebecois restaurant. It began a culinary revolution not just in Quebec, but throughout North America. If you call a few times in the mid afternoon you might pick up a cancellation for the same night.
If you want a "local twist on Quebecois" places I would suggest the following, with the chef's name in parenthesis (in no particular order):
Les 400 Coups (Marc-André Jetté), 400 Notre Dame E 514–985–0400
Le Sinclair (Stelio Perombelon), 125 St Paul O 514–284–3332
Le Renard (Jason Nelson), 330 Mont Royal E 514 508–2728
Evoo (Sophie Ouellet & Peter Saunders), 3426 Notre Dame O 514.846.3886
Bouillon Bilk (François Nadon), 1595 St Laurent 514.845.1595
Comptoir vins et charcuteries (Ségué Lepage), 4807 St Laurent, 514-844-8467
If you're not going to be making reservations I strongly urge you to eat later rather than earlier. Most restaurants here are extremely nervous about filling tables before a reservation. Things get much more relaxed after about 9:30 - 10 o'clock.
Have fun and please report back and let us know where you ended up eating.
Thank you, I appreciate the pointer to the thread. I had done a bit of searching, but this is really the thread I'm looking for.
These kind of "help I need a recommendation!" last minute threads are common on the SF board, so I figure I'm due after answering so many :-)
APDC seems VERY french, and not as "local", correct? It's also listed as "not stuffy" but that menu is straight-up french.
The 400 Blows - at least I've seen the film - has reservations available on OT on the early and late side, might be our target for Saturday night.
Food Lab looks pretty cool - might be a friday night under the stars option, although I noted the FoodLab -> 4C two-fer.
But... here's what I'm wondering.
In northern VT / Burlington, where I have and aunt and uncle, and in western MA, there are a number of small places driven by very local produce, such as tied to specific local farms, and some innovative cooking.
Is there anything similar in the Montreal area?
"APDC seems VERY french, and not as "local", correct?"
Completely incorrect, although it has its critics, APDC is about as Montreal as it gets. He uses Quebec ingredients as much as possible.Nothing to do with French food either.
But you will not find a restaurant like Waterbury`s Hen of the Woods in Montreal I am afraid if that is what you are looking for.
Ah. Perhaps the style of menu is throwing me off, it seems like the kind of menu that is kept year round, impossible with a restaurant focused on seasonal changes and using what is fresh that day.
The restaurants I mentioned in SF have daily menus and, on the web site, examples from previous days or seasons.
It seems that's not the style here.
That is in part because the specials aren't on the online menu. If you go I recommend ordering of the daily special menu for the most part... things like duck in a can are for tourists and the novelty factor. If you aren't familiar with the restaurant watch Bourdain's trips to montreal on youtube ... APDC also runs that type of farm thing you mentioned except it isnt open now, its a sugar shack in the spring and an apple orchard in the fall (sorry I don't know any other farm restaurants, I know there are some but they aren't super popular).
As for your challenge, I suggest you do what other posters said- late rather than early.. and at places like apdc the bar seats are reserved.
One more point about farm-to-table: Vermont is basically one big forest and farm, and most residents own cars, thus I think it is fairly common to have the direct farm-restaurant associations as they are much more accessible. The population of Vermont is also uniquely health and environmentally-conscious. San Francisco also has a leg up in this regard as it basically has a year-long growing season. Near Montreal things only grow from the ground for 6 months a year and many city residents have limited options for reaching farmland, so I think such restaurants are rare because they aren't sustainable. Thinking of things to serve in February becomes more of a challenge with dishes based primarily on roots, tubers, and greenhouse produce.
That said, when coming from California one might also have to adjust their measures of farm-to-table. Meat is Quebec's produce. Although this time of year we have any great fruits and vegetables, it tends not to be the primary focus. When you go to Lawrence and order duck hearts or calf brains, you know that these have been acquired from their local partners and butchered in-house. When you go to APDC and order the foie gras, or seafood platters, or anything with pig and maple syrup, you know these products are coming from their sole duck supplier, by plane directly from Magdalen island fishermen, and APDC's own production farm, respectively. Because restaurants can get duck and pork products year-round, menus like APDC's may seem stagnant, although the ingredients themselves are certainly not. It is simply a different approach to farm-to-table than you might be used to.