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A delayed trip report from last May

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We visited back in late May for my daughter's graduation. I took notes that I have intended to edit into a trip report. Since that editing never seems to happen, here's the notes in pretty raw form. Better late than never?

St. Viateur Bagel: You either love Montreal bagels, or you just don't know what a bagel really is. We can debate St-Viateur vs. Fairmont, but spare me the NY vs Montreal debate. This had to be my first stop after we settled into our AirBnB.

Pizzeria Magpie: Welcoming, bustling neighborhood gem. So what if the pizza isn't as good as some in San Francisco. It's solid, the kale salad was excellent, the beers well chosen - a great start for our visit.

Cafe Sardine: Charming, stylish, oh-so-plateau eatery served up excellent coffee. We returned a few times, wishing we could be regulars here.

Schwartz's: An enduring classic. Everything else about The Main is seemilnly gone and forgotten, and in truth this place has changed hands and become something else. But they've kept the menu perfectly intact, other than making it easier to order the lower fat cuts of meat, for those that insist on a denatured experience. Perfect place to re-unite with an old college friend.

Cafe Santropol: Another well-preserved vestige of my days living and shopping in The Main, except this was the vanguard of the new age that has flowered into what The Plateau is today. A bit worn around the edges and perhaps a bit dated. Oh well. It will always be beloved by me.

La Lumiere du Mile End: For lunch on a hot sunny day, we wanted to be outside. La Lumiere offers a funky, cozy, lush back yard. The vegetarian menu is brief and appealing. Our daughter's burrito is not to be confused with the real thing, but plenty satisfying in its own way. My wrap, a kaleidescope of beets, carrot, cabbage and humus was a nice, light fit for the day. The iced coffee was a treat too.

Dieu du Ciel: I'm starting to lose count of my visits here. If I lived here, I'd live at DDC - and I might never get a seat on the terrace. On this visit it offered refreshment after bike rides, a place to catch up with an old friend til the early morning hours, and a fun place to meet up with my daughter. And I haven't had the same beer twice. That I can recall.

Les Trois Petit Bouchons: Our graduation night celebratory splurge, we indulged in a rich, engaging night of food and wine. Team service was flawless and attentive and our engaging server worked skillfully with us to make sure everything came together. He expertly guided me very interesting wine list that was mostly unknown to this Californian, arriving at an earthy Syrah blend that worked well with our meal. The nose was a bit too earthy, so he knew to decant it without prompting, allowing the wine to open up nicely. We had risotto, sirloin, lamb chop mains with a rich potato gratinee to share. The mains skirted the edges of overly complex profiles and fussy plating. We were split in our verdict on that score, but I loved the richness and complexity of the flavors. The food was delicious, the wine pairing spot on, and the service was lovely. This was a meal to remember.

Beautys Lunchenette: Thirty five years ago when I lived here I was blithely unaware of Beautys, so I have no sentimental attachment to it. But over the past few visist I've grown to love it for its timeless connection to a dieing breed of diners and luncheonettes, especially with a Jewish heritage. You can find more exciting omlettes, more artistic waffles and pancakes, better coffee. But Beautys delivers solid, soulful food in a timeless diner format.

Pastaga: The polar opposite of a Beautys brunch, Pastaga dances artistically on the cutting edge of cuisine and culture. Pastaga is proudly Quebecois to the core. It is also a tour de force of bio-regional locavore cuisine sensibilities. No English menu here, and even if there was one, the plates are a lavish mix of the kinds of ingredients most of us need to have explained to us no matter what the language. The wine list, like that of Trois Petit Bouchon's, was inscrutable to me. So we were very dependent on our server. And she was happy to guide us to a really lovely meal. The format is a relatively short list of small plates. Apparently it is ever changing, focused on seasonal, local ingredients. We had a scallop 'ceviche' with radishes and an unknown wild herb, seared tuna with farm egg and beans, asparagus with chevre and roquette, lamb raviolis with a foraged menagerie, their signature pork belly mainstay, char with potatoes and dill and... If they wanted to they could have written a novella describing each plate. Instead we pieced together bits we could translate, a number of key terms from our server, and a lot of faith in the skill and imagination of the kitchen. I love surprises and there were many delicious ones arriving with each plate. We paired all this with a light, bright young pinot that was a perfect translation of my requirements by our knowledgeable server. Desert was a mixed bag. The apricot centered dish seemed to be missing some expected salted white chocolate notes. Not bad, but not inspired. The rhubarb upside down cake with strawberries and cream fraiche nailed it on both the locavore scale and the flavor profiles. I want to try that one at home. Not every bite of evert plate was winning, but everything was thoughtfully and skillfully prepared and presented. The sum of the parts made for a very satisfying whole - even if it was a translation from a culture not our own. We were happily satisfied interlopers welcomed into a foreign but friendly world.

Jean Talon Market: a can't miss destination for locals and visiting foodies in any season. In spring it is a treat. We put together a picnic of cheeses, tomatoes, breads, and strawberries that we ate in a park nearby in Little Italy. It was good to have a menu in mind to keep us from over indulging. There was a wealth of beautiful, fresh, local goods to choose from.

Joe la Croute boulangerie: Two lovely styles of baguette formed the basis of our picnic. I want to live near this bakery!

Fromagerie Hamel: Anything and everything cheese is here. We explained what we were after and we were guided to exactly what we wanted, with a few surprises along with many generous samples. Cheese heaven!

Restaurant Le P'tit Plateau: We keep returning to this restaurant because it is so satisfying. Unlike Pastaga, the menu is not a mystery. They hew closely to a very traditional French cuisine. Its a winning formula that they do exceptionally well. I had salmon tartar, a lamb shank confit and ended with creme brule. No flights of fantasy. Just thoroughly satisfying, well executed classics. Its also well suited for BYOB since I knew what to expect in advance. Service was skilled - he knew to lightly chill our two red wines on a 30˚ day. But we opted for the early seating on a weekend night, and the combination of the heat, the crowd, and the need to clear the room for the 8:30 sitting was not ideal, but forgivable.

Flocon Expresso: Tiny whole in the wall coffee shop recommended by our AirBnB hosts. Apparently one of the "third wave" coffeehouses invigorating the coffee scene? OK, it was delicious, friendly and convenient.

Boulangerie Koing Amann: my daughter turned us onto this in previous visits, we were not about to miss out on their delicious quiche. I keep hearing about Kouign Amann in trendy foodie circles, so I tried theirs. A fabulous merger of pastry and butter. What's not to love? I guess I'll have to join the trending masses to find other versions to compare. But I suspect theirs will be hard to match.

Boulangerie Guillaume: Another bakery I want to live near. We only sampled a baguette and a fougasse. Both were excellent. Must return to dig deeper into their offerings.

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  1. Great to get such a detailed account from someone returning to this town after several decades. Thanks!