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Visiting Montreal

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We will be in Montreal this fall and are interested in one hearty game-oriented Quebec meal--my husband says we should be able to have smoked moose--is that possible? If so, where do you recommend? Pls include location and price info if possible.

We are also planning on L'expresse for one meal, and a Vietnamese dim sum for lunch--what is the best, and what is location?

We are also interested in a Lebanese restaurant, if there is a good one--any recommendations?

Also, is Beauty's still good for breakfast?

And just how expensive is Toque? Is it open for lunch?

Please feel free to post seconds or demurrals to recommendations; the more people we hear from, the more we'll be able to decide. Thanks!!!

Slightly off subject, I know to use credit cards when possible, but we don't have an ATF card. Does anyone know what is best for getting cash in Canadian dollars, and for cashing it back at the end? Shall we go inside banks? Are they open on weekends? Also, as we now have to bring passports or birth certificates, what do you recommend--carrying them around, or using the hotel safe?

Thanks again for your help.

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  1. - Under Canadian law, the only "game" butchers can sell must be farm-raised and slaughtered in a government-inspected slaughterhouse. I suspect the same is true for restaurants; certainly I've never seen moose on a menu (unfortunate, because it's delicious). You'll run across farm-raised venison, caribou, pheasant, quail, rabbit, etc., in many restaurants. Le Pied de Cochon (see Nachodan's thread below) always has an interesting selection of venison dishes, including rarely seen cuts like liver and tongue. A few restaurants serve horsemeat; in fact, Le Tartarin on St. Denis specializes in it (I've never eaten there, so don't take this as a recco). Except for a forgettable BYOB place (I can't even remember it's name) near the Jacques Cartier Bridge, am unaware of any Montreal resto that claims to specialize in game, so I'm looking forward to other chowhounds' replies.

    - L'Express is open for lunch. IMHO, the main reason for going there is the wine list, which is often studded with gems at prices less than US *retail*. The food is OK, but the decor, noise levels and cigarette smoke are turn-offs.

    - Isn't dim sum Chinese?

    - Lebanese fast-food joints abound. Amir is a fairly reliable chain. At the higher end, you might try Alep, 119 Jean-Talon East (though technically it's Syrian), a Montreal institution in the heart of Little Italy (go figure); Aux Lilas, 5570 du Parc, with authentic cooking and a so-so decor; or Medi Medi, 479 Saint-Alexis in Old Montreal, more chic, more expensive and more fusionish (the chef is a Québécoise).

    - Beauty's is still Beauty's. Don't be surprised if there's a line-up for brunch on weekends.

    - Toqué! is pricey. Count on a minimum of C$100 a person and more--much more, even--if you pull out the stops. The restaurant does not serve lunch and is closed Sundays and Mondays.

    - As for other reccos, you'll find plenty on this board. A small group of US hospitality industry professionals I took to Le Club des Pins recently was blown away. They also loved Ferraria Café Trattoria, the swanky Portuguese bistro downtown. Tiny Le P'tit Plateau is a great BYOB place, with southwestern French cooking and an only-in-Montreal décor (tip: go to the second seating--around 8:45--to avoid being unceremoniously shooed out at 8:30).

    - Sorry but I don't know what an ATF card is. You can use your credit card to withdraw cash advances from the gazillions of banking machines around town; the exchange rate is usually pretty good but, of course, transaction fees apply. While a very few banks are open on Saturdays, you'll get better rates at a foreign exchange counter. There are many of these downtown and a few in outlying shopping districts. Most are open weekends and evenings and will exchange cash or traveller's cheques.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Carswell

      I think she means ATM card (ATF is the US Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms, I don't think that will help as a source of cash to the writer.)

      1. re: Helen F

        Right, I meant ATM. Thanks so much for the reply Carswell--look forward to others. Are you saying we can use a credit card at a bank machine without having something like an ATM card? I've never done that. Re dim sum: I thought I read (further down in strands) dim sum was served in some Vietnamese places in Montreal? Anyway, any Vietnamese recommendations, dim sum or otherwise, will be appreciated, along with other recs (I am still hoping for the moose, but maybe caribou will have to do). Where exactly are Le Club des Pins and Ferraria? Are they very expensive?

        Toque sounds too pricey for us! And I'm sorry L'Express isn't what I'd heard. Do others agree on that?

        Thanks again!

        1. re: Wanda

          I'm with Carswell; L"express has a great wine list, and people often point to it as "the" bistro, but le p'tit plateau or au petit extra have, I think, better food. Le ptit plateau is bring your own wine, which makes it a little worse for out-of-towners, although a decent cote-des-rhone or chateunuef de papes will likely be fine with whatever you order. (The local booze monopoly, the SAQ, is disapointingly fixated on French wines, stocking about 50% French in their stores. Which may make for some lovely discoveries; the staff is very knowledgeable, but really, there's an entire new world thats underrepresented.)

          Anyway, bistros: Au petit extra I like a lot, I've run into many fine resto chefs there. Its less crowded and at a humane noise level.

          However, the noise at L'express is entirely the people--there's no sound system I've ever heard; you have to talk over your fellow diners, because the energy levels in the room are very very high.

          None of my friends who've visited have been at all disapointed in L'express; its outstanding, but as Carswell pointed out, there are other choices.

          PS: You're not supposed to talk about Le p'tit plateau here. Its already hard enough to get a reservation! Sheesh! ;)

          1. re: John Green

            I am currently visiting Montreal for a two week stay. We have dined at L'express twice and have another reservation. I detest smokey/noisy restaurants and while the noise level is a bit high it is not terrible. (we have gone during their busiest times.) I have never experienced a problem with smoke. We reserve in the non smoking section and so far it has been fine. I highly recommend the homemade ravioli, the sauteed potato with greens appetizer and the salmon over chervil mashed potatoes. Everything was wonderful and the service was attentive and professional.

            1. re: John Green

              My wine strategy for Le P'tit Plateau is to lug along a dry white for appetizers or in case we opt for the fish; a biggish red, the better to accompany the cassoulet, confit de canard, lamb and vension that regularly feature on the menu; a half bottle of sweet wine in case the foie gras and/or crème brûlée tempt; and stoppers so I can take any undrunk portions home. The chef and some of the staff are wine lovers, too, so it can be fun to offer them a taste of good bottles.

              BTW, I recently discovered (1) that it's much easier to get a reservation at Le P'tit Plateau on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and (2) that on those days (maybe Thursdays, too), they don't have seatings: you come when you want and stay as long as you like.

              I second your recco of Au Petit Extra, BTW. Always enjoyable, though rarely as astoundingly good as it was before chef Alain Loivel left... to open Le P'tit Plateau!

              Speaking of bistros, has anyone reading this been to Leméac, the new echt-Parisian place on Laurier West (corner of Querbes, I believe)? Menu looks interesting if a bit architypical. Press reviews have been positive. Said to be pricier than your average bistro but justifiably so in view of the quality of the ingredients and deftness of the execution.

            2. re: Wanda

              - About using credit cards at ABMs (automated banking machines), as they're called here: While I've never done it, my bank says you can obtain cash advances on your credit card provided it has a magnetic strip and a PIN (a personal identification number, which you key in after inserting the card). This works only at ABMs that belong to the Cirrus network (most in Montreal do). Note that there's no grace period; you'll start paying interest on the advance the moment you obtain it. Other transaction fees may also apply. To be on the safe side, check with your credit card issuer. Of course, you could also get a regular client card for your bank account, in which case you could make withdrawals from any ABM.

              - Don't know scratch about Vietnamese dim sum. As for other reccos, bear in mind that when it comes to Asian restaurants, Montreal is not in the same league as, say, Toronto, Vancouver, New York and San Francisco. That said, I've had enjoyable if not memorable meals at La papaye verte on Bernard St. in Outremont; Escale à Saigon on Laurier St., a block or two west of St. Urbain; and Souvenirs de l'Indochine on Mont Royal Blvd., a block or two east of du Parc.

              - Le Club des Pins is located at 156 Laurier West, about three blocks west of du Parc and across the street from La Chronique and L'Escale à Saigon. The phone number is 272-9484. It's a small, well-run establishment that takes the cooking of southern France as its starting point, though less so since chef Martin Picard left to open Le Pied de Cochon. They normally have two table d'hôte menus, one at around C$30-35, the other at around C$45. The other evening, we went the à la carte route. Standouts among the starters were a tomato tart perfumed with vanilla and an impressive plate of foie gras with fresh figs and a savoury bitter chocolate sauce. The wowzers among the main courses were rosy slices of salt-marsh lamb curled around a pine nut and confit d'orange filling, a slab of yellow fin tuna coated with polenta and sesame seeds before searing, and a perfectly executed dish of seared scallops in vanilla sauce. Desserts were good, too, especially the lavender crème brûlée and an odd but convincing improvisation that involved a hard caramel crown filled with crème pâtissière and wild blueberries and raspberries, topped with lychee ice cream and napped with a poppy seed crème anglaise. All the sauces showed real finesse. As I recall, first courses were around C$10 (the foie gras was double that), main courses around C$25-30 and desserts around C$6-8. The wine list is good, especially strong in the Rhône and Languedoc, with many private imports; unfortunately, mark-up is retail plus 100% across the board.

              - Ferraria Café Trattoria, 1446 Peel (848-0988). Superbly decorated downtown bistro that serves hearty nouvelle Portuguese cuisine. Lots of fish and seafood dishes, an interesting wine list and what they claim is the largest selection of Port on the continent. Usually lots of fun. I'd count on a minimum of C$120-150 for two if you have a full meal and a bottle of wine.

              - I didn't mean to put you off L'Express. It can be fun, especially if you're into wine. And my experience parallels John's: visitors to the city always like it. However, it's not the place to go when in the mood for a quiet evening; with mirrored walls, marble tables, tiled floors and a plaster ceiling, there's not a sound-absorbing surface in sight. On the worst nights (this never happens at breakfast or lunch), you almost have to yell at your dining companions to be heard above the din, especially if you're a party of four or six. Obviously lots of people thrive on that scene (heck, St. Lawrence Blvd. is now chock-a-block with such places). Call me a fuddy-duddy, but when I go out for dinner it's usually to relax with friends, not to be energized by strangers.

        2. Wanda,
          I agree with the consensus on L'Express. Great wine list, good food (not great), loud and lots of smoke. Think "sorta upscale stylish diner/bistro". Just like anyplace, they have their signature, and I would say it's the cassoulet. It is worth your time. Note: No noticeable sign out front, but the name is stamped in the sidewalk.

          Toque cannot be described. We have been there many times, and each visit has been unique. We never know what Mr. Laprise is going to create next. We always opt for the tasting menu. Because it is a "blind" menu, and you don't know what's next, your taste buds are on high alert.Be ready!! Figure 150 CAD per. Super!! If you're not that courageous, the regular menu is still fantastic. Toque' is Montreal's premier restaurant, unchallenged.

          1. We just came back from our annual visit to Quebec which, this time, included Montreal. Ditto on all the comments re: Toque. This is food of the quality that one finds in NYC's 4-star haute cuisine restaurants. Though expensive in Canadian dollars, when you consider the 40% discount to those from the US of A, it becomes a bargain of immense proportions. To put a finer point on the costs, the tasting dinner for two (including the foie gras), with wine pairings for 4 courses for one meal (I do not drink, but my husband does), with tax and tip came to around $180 American.

            But here are some additional thoughts. There are more inexpensive ways to sample Toque's exquisite cuisine. For example, if you do the tasting menu, you can do it without the foie gras (that adds $10 CA to each meal), or just do foie gras for one and share that course. You don't have to do the wine pairings -- I don't remember how much that added, but it was substantial; you can have just one glass of wine with the meat course of the tasting. You will end up sharing some things anyway because both persons are not always given the same items during the tasting. (We had different meats and different desserts.) You can, of course, stick with the regular menu, each ordering different items and sharing everything, thereby making your own "tasting" menu. That would still be less expensive than the chef's tasting menu.

            Toque does have a web site, but I don't know the url off-hand. You might do a search so that you can look at the menu. It's more for price info than for the items because by the time you go to Montreal in the fall, the menu will surely have changed with the seasons. (And remember when looking at prices to discount about 40%.)

            I do think you will be missing a true gourmet experience if you don't go to Toque. And, if you do decide that you might want to go, I highly recommend that you book well in advance -- even calling now would not be too soon. That way you will have a chance to get a reservation on a day and at a time that you prefer. You can always cancel if, in the end, you decide that you don't want to stand the expense.

            Something else to think about. You are entitled to a rebate on the National Government tax on lodging and items that you purchase (but not, alas, on food!). That will be some extra money in your pocket.

            Re: passports. We always drive to Canada and have never before taken them with us. But we also heard that we should take them, so we did, and I kept them with me. We did not expect to be asked for them when we crossed into Canada at the Vermont border. We came back across the New York State border and were totally surprised that we were asked only 2 questions (our citizenship and how long we had been in Canada) and were never asked to show any i.d., passports, etc. I guess the border guards know what or whom they are looking for, and we were not it! The situation might, of course, be different if you are flying.