Any advice for a first-time visitor?
- Patti Gaston Oct 7, 2002 06:40 PM
What a delightful place, this Chowhound message board! I'm thrilled to have found it.
My husband and I are from Washington DC and will be visiting Montreal October 20 through 25 (returning home on Saturday October 26). We're staying in a B&B in/near Chinatown (cross-streets are St-Laurent and René-Lévesque).
We are young-ish (thirtysomethings) and consider ourselves fairly serious (but fun!) foodies/chowhounds.
Can anyone give me some recommendations for restaurants that we really shouldn't miss?
Some things to keep in mind:
* We (especially I) eat *anything!*
* We love French food (but, see above :D )
* We speak English (but for a few words of French...enough to explain to a Francophone that we don't speak much French!)
* We'll splurge on one or two meals, but mostly we'll be interested in middle-of-the-road prices.
* We are *so* intrigued by this BYO concept. We're oenophiles, too, and there really aren't too many restaurants in the U.S. that encourage you to bring your own wine. None that I know of, at least.
* We're going to the Habs/Penguins game on the 22nd and an OSM concert at Place des Arts on the 23rd, so anything pre-game or pre-/post-show would be appreciated, too.
Thanks in advance for any information you can share. We're really looking forward to our vacation in Montreal, and we can't wait to see your beautiful city and enjoy all that it has to offer.
Patti (and Matt) Gaston
5 days in Montreal, that's a lot of meals. Here is a list of different restaurants I would like to have recommended if I were to visit a city. Keep in mind that the exchange rate, makes an expensive dinner (for us) rather affordable.
I'd recommend: Toqué!, Chez L'Epicier, Le Club des Pins, Pied de Cochon, Area, L'Express, Jano's, Schwartz's, Piccolo et Diavolo, Bar-B-Barn (for greasy and juicy ribs before the hockey game), Le Petit Moulinsart (for lunch in old montreal), Le Continental (for a late thursday or friday night dinner).
Reservations for most of them.
Thanks so much for the advice! I'd already pretty much decided to splurge on Toque', so we're making a reservation for Monday night.
I've noticed that so many of the restaurants (including those on your list, and you noted it) highly recommend reservations. Even many of the casual ones. Is this just standard practice? How much in advance do I need to make a reservation for most places?
Sorry for my naivete - most restaurants in Washington DC either don't accept reservations or you just don't need them. You'll have to wait on a Friday or Saturday, sometimes as long as an hour or two, but I only have to make reservations maybe three times per year. And we eat out at nice restaurants pretty frequently - at least a couple times a month.
Thanks again. I *really* appreciate your advice.
Most of these restaurant are either highly popular or small. For instance, one week in advance might not be early enough to get a table at L'Express (which, by the way, I highly recommend if you like french bistro food and particularly steak tartare.)
I realize that I listed many places without justifying them. I'd say you should try many kinds of place and locations. If you can fit the followings in your agenda you could have a good picture of what Montreal, as far as I know, has to offer.
Toqué! and L'Express on St-Denis street are not to miss.
Schwartz's for lunch, on the ethnic part of St-Laurent, is an institution for smoked meat.
Le Ptit Plateau (BYOW) (french) and Café Byblos (Iranian) gives you a taste of the what life is on the bourgeois yet warm Plateau Mont-Royal.
L'Entrecôte St-Jean downtown for the best steak-frites (french fries).
And if you dare (loud, dark, flashy, beautiful, yet delicious) Globe on saturday night after the hockey game. St-Laurent near Sherbrooke is where the young, the riches and the beautiful (and wannabes) of the city hang-out.
Pizza at Pizza Napolitana on Dante in Little Italy. The best Pizza I have ever had. (can`t reserve there and it's BYOW).
Perhaps Carswell will concur with my choices.
I hope you enjoy your stay.
Thank you so much...I've dutifully pasted all your insights into my Palm. Many of your recommendations were already in my own personal list of restaurants that were favourably reviewed - now I'm pleased that I have some "real" people recommendations for some of them.
As you may see in another post I've just put out, I plan on taking action on at least one of your recommendations: I'm making a reservation at Toque'! (My latest post concerns timing of the meal.)
I'm trying to strike a balance between planning each and every meal for my vacation (which is *my* inclination) and just letting things happen organically, which is my husband's preference. I guess that's why I'm so concerned about so many of the places that say "reservations strongly suggested." Should I take comfort in the fact that my stay in Montreal occurs only on weekdays? We arrive on a Sunday afternoon and leave possibly Thursday or Friday, so we'll miss the weekend rush.
Thanks a million.
A couple of thoughts:
For mid-price, Carmel, at Bernard and Parc. Jay, who used to be at Copa, runs it. Many of his old favorites, like Chinese marinated steak are still there. The home smoked tomato soup is stunningly good, as are the scallops however he feels like doing them. They're also serving lunch. Deserts are hit and miss. Its easy to get in and out for $50 a head with app, wine and tip.
Globe is great fun for see and be seen, but they pay much more attention to the food on a weeknight (which is Tuesday or Wednesday, thursday already being a party night.)
I may have missed it, but did anyone tell you you have to go to Fairmount bagel bakery and get montreal style bagels hot out of the oven at 2 AM?
Lastly, BYO : Someone should mention that to BYO there are two options, the SAQ and Depaneurs (not sure of the correct spelling because everyone calls them deps.) The SAQ is the local incompetent alcohol monopoly. Bone up on your french wines, because that's about half of the volume of wine in each store. American wines are a bad deal due to taxes. Italians are pretty good deals, usually around the same price as in Boston, without any dollar conversion. (For example, I used to drink lots of Pepperwood Grove as a very competent cheap wine. That's a 6-8 USD dollar wine. Here its CDN $18 a bottle. But, I can get a Masi Campiforin for 18 cdn, which I'd pay $18US for..)
re: John Green
>For mid-price, Carmel, at Bernard and Parc.
Huh? Never even heard of this, John. And in vizualizing the intersection, I can't picture where it would be. Maybe that storefront resto just south of the entrance to the Rialto? Sounds interesting.
>Lastly, BYO : Someone should mention that to BYO there are two options, the SAQ and Depaneurs (not sure of the correct spelling because everyone calls them deps.)
Call me a snob but I can't bring myself to recommend dep wines. Not only are they overpriced and poorly stored, they're mostly plonk: industrial wines either manufactured in Quebec or imported in tankers and bottled in Quebec. There's a reason none of them are vintage-dated, you know. I'm also outraged by the SAQ's new "premium" dépanneur wines, with their meaningless "appellation d'origine certifiée" moniker, a marketing invention designed to lure unsuspecting consumers into thinking they're getting a quality product (this from the monopoly that bills itself as "Les connaisseurs"). If the SAQ allowed the deps to sell an enlightened selection of sub-$20 wines from the Classique or Express listing, no one would buy the current stuff. That deps can't is scandalous.
>The SAQ is the local incompetent alcohol monopoly.
The SAQ is an easy target to bash, and god knows they deserve a lot of flak. But incompetent they ain't. Sales are booming, especially in wine. Profits are up. Customer satisfaction ratings are phenomenally high. The selection is better than ever. Prices are relatively good. Some glaring exceptions aside, the personnel are competent. The stores are neat and clean and usually the products are properly stored. And they make a good selection of wine available to a widely scattered population--you can actually count on finding a decent bottle of burgundy in Chibougamou, Percé or Baie-Como. Having spent some time recently in the US southwest and south, I can assure you that's not the case in small to mid-size cities there.
Also, wine savy among the population at large has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 20 years, far more than it has in the States or the rest of Canada. In large part that's due to the SAQ.
No doubt that the selection is better in a few big cities in the States (San Francisco, Boston and especially NYC). And it might be better here in Montreal--though certainly not elsewhere in the province--if the SAQ were privatized. I doubt it, though, since the monopoly's buying power gives it unmatched clout with wine growers: for example (and the following is based on information from a couple of years ago), the SAQ buys more mass market wines from the Perrins (La Vielle Fèrme, Perrin, etc.) than any other organization in the world; the Perrin family also owns Château de Beaucastel, one of the top Châteauneuf-du-Papes, which is why Quebec almost always manages to get a sizable allotment of that much sought-after wine. And that happens with producer after producer. It wouldn't if, instead of one big buyer, we had 100 smaller buyers vying for producers' attention.
The flip side, of course, is that a handful of people at the SAQ are making all the decisions. And, as you point out, they have a bad case of francophilia, though they're getting better on that score. The SAQ's argument--and it's not totally lacking credibility--is that French wines are what sells. Certainly that's the case at my neighbourhood SAQ Classique store, which last year made a real effort to beef up its US selection, even bringing in Sélection-listed heavy hitters like Ridge and Beringer. The stuff, even the affordable stuff, just sat on the shelves.
US wines are a bad deal not due to taxes (which, after all, are the same for all wines) but to factors like the exchange rate and, above all, the fact that they're overpriced even in the States. If you don't believe me, hang out on one of the more popular wine discussion boards for a couple of hours, where any number of US wine geeks say they have given up on domestic wines because of price and style issues. (Yesterday, one geek complained that the 2000 vintage of his beloved Ridge Geyserville was retailing for US$30 in NYC--and that's a very good price--which is only slightly less than it will go for here.) Another thing to bear in mind when making price comparisons: most quoted wine prices in the States are before sales tax, whereas SAQ prices include 15% sales tax. Overall, I find that European wines are significantly cheaper in Quebec than in the States, especially at the middle and upper end.
BTW, last year the SAQ admited that its low-end wines are somewhat overpriced, especially in comparison to Ontario, and said it will be implementing a new pricing scheme to rectify the situation.
My problems with the monopoly are its blind spots (the near total lack of quality German and Austrian wines, the paucity of northeastern Italian and lesser known New Zealand wines, etc.); the failure to carry certain highly regarded and relatively affordable European wines (Ogier's Côte-Rôties and vins du pays, for example), though many of these can had directly from private importers; the imperious decisions of their quality control labs, which among other inanities deprived us of Trévallon's magnificent 1990 (because it was non-filtered!), Villaine's 1996 Les Clous (because it wasn't sulfered enough!!) and one of Gaillard's Condrieus (some bottles had a few, tiny harmless tartrate crystals in them); and the incestuousness of some of the staff, who often keep sought-after bottles for favourite clients, leaving clients who don't have the time or inclination to suck up to, er, cultivate a relationship with them high and dry.
Still, I think I'd rather put up with all that than have to deal with the US's three-tier system, state monopolies like Pennsylvania's or the relatively poor selection and availability you find in most US cities of an equivalent size. And, anyway, it's all moot: privatization will never happen because the SAQ's workforce is unionized, and the unions are dead set against it.
BTW, the SAQ has a sale going on this weekend (through Monday the 14th): 10% off all purchases of $100 or more.
Most interesting information you provided. I have a similar beef about the monopoly that my dear state of Virginia (I'm in the DC suburbs) has on hard liquor. The Virginia ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Council or Commission or something...all the liquor stores in VA are state-owned and are called "ABC") has *horrible* selection. And, while they may have more buying power in Virginia, their prices are more expensive (probably due more to taxes than anything else) than where I'm originally from (California), where I can buy a bottle of gin from a supermarket! On a Sunday, no less! You can't buy hard liquor on a Sunday in Virginia, unless you go to a restaurant. I hate that.
I quite agree with you about US wines being overpriced. There are some stellar exceptions, thankfully, but most are completely out of my budget, especially from Napa and Sonoma. And Virginia wines are even worse (Virginia?, you say? Did you know that they make wine in Virginia?). I'll stear clear of US wines in Montreal. Thanks for the tip! (Besides, I don't like over-oaked wines, anyhow, and U.S. wines tend to have too much oak for my taste.)
Sounds like I'll be set for my French wines, though. :) Bummer about the lack of German and Austrian wines, though. Riesling is one of my favourites. How do they do with Australian wines? South American wines? Spanish? Portuguese?
Quebec riesling fans aren't left totally high and dry. We do see the occasional German bottle and the SAQ usually has a pretty good selection of Alsatian rieslings on offer.
Yes, I knew wine was made in Virginia. In fact, the SAQ has even stocked a couple of them--a Horton Mourvedre and an Oasis Chardonnay, if I recall correctly.
As for other regions, well, among the 7,000 or so products stocked by the various SAQ stores at any given moment, you're almost sure to find some from every wine-exporting country.
- South America: Chile is well fairly well represented, though less well than it used to be (a result I think of their recent tendancy to overproduction, which has enfeebled their wines, and a shift from a more European style to a more Californian one). The selection of Argentinan wines is fair to middling. You'll sometimes find a Uraguayan wine or two, maybe even a Peruvian. We've also had a few wines from Baja California (I know it's not South America).
- South Africa: Only a few, though some of the best (Kannonkop, Vin de Constance).
- Australia and New Zealand: Weak at the low end and middle, almost non-existent at the high end (Signature, the SAQ's flagship store, stocks a few token bottles). I'm not complaining about the Australian reds (like you, I'm allergic to overoaked fruit bombs) but wish the SAQ was better about New Zealand whites.
- Spain and Portugal: Much better selection than used to be the case but we're still lacking many rising stars. The Port selection has always been good (the French like Port, you see).
- Elsewhere: If you keep your eyes peeled, you can uncover the occasional surprise. For example, the SAQ has stocked a very good sparkler from India, of all places. Lebanese wines (including the great Château Musar) are regular visitors, Morrocan, Tunisian and Algerian wines, too (most are forgettable, though the C$18 Algerian Médaillon is a pretty good ringer for a southern Rhone wine with some age on it). There's a representative selection of Greek wines. The SAQ could do better about bringing in Eastern European wines (Romania, Hungary, Moldavia, the Ukraine), though the market probably isn't there. And while we've had wines from New York, Virigina, Washington, Oregon and Arizona (!), we've yet to see a Norton from Missouri.
I'd also like to see more from the off-the-beaten-path regions of France and Italy. For example, we've very little from the Jura and Savoie, both of which make wonderful, affordable food wines, or Corsica, and there's lots going on in southern Italy these days that hasn't been caught by the SAQ's radar.
If you go to www.saq.com (click the L button at the top of the page to go to the English-language site), you can use the advanced search function to see what's on offer where--say, Australian reds in the $20-to-$30 range in the downtown Montreal area.
Also, see the thread "discount wine shops - marty(PB) 23:22:36 9/01/02" for a discussion of SAQ's various banners. The only thing that's changed is that the high-end store, Signature, has moved and is now ensconced in the Ailes de la Mode complex on Ste-Catherine and University.
Not to steal John's thunder, but the BYO business works like this:
Restaurants are either licensed or unlicensed.
Licensed restos can serve wine, beer and spirits but only that they've bought (the bottles have special SAQ stickers). With one exception, they can't serve wine brought by customers; the fines run into the many thousands of dollars, and SAQ minions have been known to poke through restos' garbage bins in search of stickerless bottles. (The exception is if the restaurant has a room that it can close off, in which case the dinner is considered to be a catered private party.) In other words, there's no such thing as corkage.
Customers can bring wines--though not beer, coolers, cider or spirits--to the many unlicensed restos (actually they have to have a BYO licence). None that I know of charges corkage. Unfortunately, the stemware at most is barely adequate; when my wine geek friends and I get together, we usually lug our own. A lot of customers bring dépanneur wines (the deps in neighbourhoods with lots of BYOs make a killing on wine sales), so no one is going to look askance at a $10 bottle. At a few (P'tit Plateau, Colombe, Yoyo), they will notice--and may comment on--your bottle if it's a nice one. If you're going to P'tit Plateau, here's what I'd suggest: Take a half bottle of sweet wine (Sauternes, Jurançon, Gaillac, Ontario late harvest riesling or ice wine) for drinking with foie gras (excellent at LPP) and/or dessert (their crème brûlée is also excellent) and a bottle of French red from the southwest (Bordeaux, Cahors, Madiran, Gaillac, Buzet) or south (Languedoc, Rhone, Provence), since the chef is from Bordeaux and the cooking reflects that. There's usually only one fish dish (often salmon) on the menu, but if you think it might appeal, bring along a dry white or a light supple red (pinot noir, Beaujolais). Make sure the waitress gives you back your cork, so you can take any unfinished wine with you. Or send glasses--or the rest of the bottle--to the hard-working wait/kitchen staff.
Oooo, thanks for the info re BYOs. That's the first real solid description I've seen of that system. I'm intrigued. Wish we had something like that here in DC.
Any idea if I can bring wine with me from the States without getting arrested or anything? :D I mean, I know NAFTA has eliminated much of the trade restrictions on general stuff for us normal (non-retail, that is) folks. But, are there any prohibitions against bringing alcohol across the border?
There are no prohibitions about bringing in wine but definite limits on quantity. Technically you're allowed 1.5 litres (two regular bottles or the equivalent) per person. Sometimes you can get away with three bottles--the customs agents don't like doing all that paperwork for a single bottle. Duty and provincial "taxes" are slapped on everything over the limit; in Quebec it works out to an abusive 90% of the retail price (somewhat less in Ontario).
NAFTA is for corporations, not individuals--a point big business and its government lackeys were only too happy not to clarify during the campaign for "free" trade. In some ways, individuals are worse off nowadays. For example, we used to be able to bring in a full case of wine (12 bottles as opposed to two) before duty was applied. (And before somebody jumps in to correct me, yes, I know that that change and, say, the low duty-free limits on mail-order goods resulted from a crackdown on cross-border shopping, not NAFTA. But it was all part of the same corporate/government agenda.)
Ah, I think if my husband and I can each bring two bottles of wine (four bottles total), that'll probably be sufficient. I'll have to do some research on how much wine I can bring back with me to the states.
John Green actually posted the link to the Canada Customs website page (a few posts up) that talks about limits on alcohol. This is what their website says I can bring into the country:
"1.5 L of wine or 1.14 L of spirits or 1.14 L of spirits and wine or 8.5 L of beer or ale..."
This appears to say that I can bring only wine or only beer/ale or only spirits-and-wine (fortified wines??). I guess. I'm a wee bit confused, but I'm not too concerned. We're only bringing *one* car. :D Can't pack my whole cellar and bring it to Montreal! (Tho we are visiting a Belgian brewery in Cooperstown NY prior to arriving in Montreal, so, I assume we'll have some beer from that trip.)
Thanks muchly for the advice...
I think spirits here means "hard liquor" (a term I always associate with Paul Simon) and that you can bring (a) 1.5 L of wine OR (b) 1.14 L of hard liquor OR (c) 1.14 L of some combination of bottles of hard liquor and wine or (d) 8.5 L of beer or ale.
But what if you want to bring some combination of wine and beer, eh?
BTW, if you know a lot about that Belgian beer from Cooperstown, you might want to provide some info to the fellow on the Upstate NY/LI/NJ/CT board looking for a place to get some good brew in the Herkimer NY area. I am pretty sure I had this beer once and liked it, but I don't remember the name!
>Huh? Never even heard of this, John. And in vizualizing the intersection, I can't >picture where it would be. Maybe that storefront resto just south of the entrance to the >Rialto? Sounds interesting.
254 Bernard Ouest, 276 6222
It's on Bernard, east of Parc, south side of the street, maybe one little block east. Very dark interior, huge windows. Black and red sign.
You're right, incompetence was a poor word to describe the problems of the SAQ, but I have a busy day coming up, so more later.
Again, you're right that the SAQ isn't bad for what it is, but what it is is not what I want. However, I'll take this opportunity to vent. :)
You bring up a couple of points:
"Profits are up." We already pay taxes on alcohol. I don't want the SAQ's profits to be up, I want them to be just a little bit above breaking even. Because profit by a monopoly is bad. (You comment on their prices being higher than Ontario at the low end; this contributes directly with those rising profits.)
"Satisfaction ratings are very high" Surveys are easy to fudge, and they never publish the questions or methods, only say 'satisfaction is up.' Are they explicitly asking for comparison to other locations, or how badly the SAQ was doing years ago?
I rarely if ever see written descriptions on the wine that I can browse when the employees are busy.
It took till recently to bring Quebec's own products into the SAQ: Ice ciders and other bits.
The scotch selection actually is pretty good for the general public, but the single-casks still don't have tasting notes associated with them, which I feel are a must when I'm buying a 100-plus dollar bottle of a unique scotch.
As to the Franco-oneo-phillia: At least in my local SAQs, the staff doesn't know about American wines, and takes a very down-the-nose attitude towards them. Its unsuprising that we buy what the store stocks and the staff knows.
re: John Green
Ooh, sweeet. I've never met anyone else who'd heard of Pepperwood Grove. That's our "house" wine, usually. :) Good to know it's so expensive in Canada! Yikes! But, we love Rhone and Burgundy, so we'll probably do quite well with wine in Montreal.
Question for you on BYO's, actually...is there any etiquette I should know regarding this? I know that here in the states, if you bring your own wine to a restaurant, it's considered very bad form to bring an inexpensive, everyday wine. It's also usually considered bad form (or unallowable!) to bring a wine which is already on the restaurant's wine list (this won't be an issue for a BYO restaurant, of course). As you may know, bringing your own wine to a restaurant isn't too terribly common in most parts of the U.S., Boston, Napa/Sonoma, and NYC being exceptions...and you'll usually get charged a huge corkage fee. So, I'm a novice at this!
So, what's the scoop on BYOs in Montreal? Can I bring a normal ol' inexpensive bottle of Chianti (US$10 or more)? Should I go with an average-priced Chateauneuf du Pape (~US$20-$35), or do I need to break out the big ticket Chateau d'Yquem (US$hundreds, I think)? (I enjoy a fancy-schmancy bottle of wine as much as the next gal/guy, but, let's face it: I just turned 30 and my wine budget ain't that grand! A US$10-$15 bottle is my usual daily stuff, if that.)
Besides what's already been mentioned, I would also recommend Chez Leveque in a neighorhood called Laurier just north of the Park Mont Royal. It's slightly off the beaten tourist path, but it is well worth it. I've attached a link of my post below. The prices are very reasonable. I would also recommend checking out the big food markets -- Atwater and Jean Talon are the ones I visited.
re: Eric Eto
Thanks, Eric, for that. I recall reading your original post when I discovered this site a few days ago. I'm in heaven...I'm ashamed to admit that I never knew there was a website devoted to sickos - uh, I mean, fanatics - like myself. I read just about every post on the Montreal site. I even made a note of your discovery in my Palm list of "Restaurants to Visit in Montreal." :) That was before I realized that Washington DC (my home) has its own site, too (and, ohmygawd, it's HUGE).
On reading nachodan's list, my eyebrows rose at only one place--L'Entrecôte St-Jean--not because I've eaten there, mind you, but because of this review:
Guess I'll have to pay a visit some day, especially since I suspect my palate aligns more closely with nd's than with NR's.
You've probably already done so, but if not check out the threads:
- Restaurant Advice - Eve 15:07:06 9/19/02 (4), for a good list of reccos, including some of my own
- BYOB Restaurant question - eve 17:03:04 9/23/02 (2), for a list of recco'd BYO joints.
BTW1, last week we tried again to get a table at Christophe for Friday, and this time we called on Tuesday. Booked solid. That's got to mean something.
BTW2, Toqué! is closed on Sundays and Mondays. If you want a reservation on another night, especially Friday or Saturday, you should get on the blower this very minute. Their website recommends calling three to four weeks in advance.
If you don't get into Toqué!, you might try La Chronique on Laurier. Said to be where Toqué! sends people it turns away.
Downtown, I'd suggest Café Trattoria Ferraria, the chic Portuguese bistro on Peel Street, a 10-15 minute walk from the Molson Centre. Also, L'Actuel on Peel south of St-Catherine is a good bet for mussels, fries, beer and other Belgian specialities.
Since you're staying near Chinatown, dim sum might be fun. The best place is Furama (on the east side of Clark, a few doors south of René-Lévesque; climb the stairs to the second floor and plan on waiting an hour for a table if you get there much after 10:30 on a Sunday). Distant second place is a toss-up between Tong Por (43 La Gauchetière East) and the orignal dim sum house, Kam Fung (west side of Clark, half a block south of La Gauchetière).
- Given our late fall--mid-October and we haven't had a frost--the leaves might still be on show during your visit. Leaves or no leaves, a long walk to the top of Mount Royal will reward you with splendid views of the city and surrounding country; start on the carriage road near the Cartier Monument on Park Ave. and follow it either to the staircases (a shortcut) or to the top; straying off the beaten path is encouraged.
- You'd probably get a kick out of Little Italy and the Jean-Talon Market. This is a subject worthy of a separate post, so I won't go into details here. If you're interested, say so.
- If the weather's nice, poke around Laurier on either side of Park and then walk through bourgeois Outremont, admiring the comfortable houses and tree-lined streets. On Bernard, hang out at one of the cafés before heading over to Chaput's incredible cheese shop. On your way back downtown, drop by the St-Viateur bagel factory and pick up the makings for tomorrow's breakfast.
- As Wanda mentions, the Botancial Gardens are very pleasant. However, the flower beds will be mostly put to sleep by the time of your visit. Still, the greenhouses and the Chinese garden will be worth visiting.
- Museums are not Montreal's strongest point. Three I'd suggest are the museum of the Canadian Centre for Architecture if you're at all interested in the field; the Pointe-à-Callières in Old Montreal for interesting exhibits on the city's history; and the McCord Museum, on Sherbrooke across from McGill (it used to be the student union building) for Canadiana. The interest of the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Contemporary Art lies more in whatever special show their hosting, less in their permanent collections.
- If you're dying for some exercise, rent bikes or rollerblades at the Old Port (assuming the stores aren't closed for the season) and head west on the Lachine Canal. Intresting mix of 19th and 20th century industrial architecture and incipient gentrification. The art deco Atwater Market is also en route. If you go all the way to the end--about 10 miles, I belive--you'll find youself at the lovely Lachine harbour. Besides the lovely church, the village has several agreeable waterside restaurants. The bike/rollerblade path is lit in the evenings.
Ooo, thanks for the suggestions, both restaurant and otherwise.
(Y'know, I've been pasting all these responses into my Palm, but I think I'll just leave them here in the ether, since I'm bringing my laptop with me and can access them via the internet once I'm there in Montreal. Too much information for my pathetic 8MG Palm.)
Good tip on the museums. I'd circled a bunch in my guidebook, but now that you mention it, perhaps I'll spend my time doing other things. And I'd circled/highlighted/dog-eared the pages that talked about the three (?) main food markets in Montreal, including Jean-Talon, which you mentioned in your post. Thanks for confirming my suspicions! I believe I saw a FoodTV program on one (or more) of the markets in Montreal (you know, that FoodTV program where they send Mark Silverstein and some short-haired perky woman to completely opposite ends of North America to review restaurants, markets, food-related stuff) and I was intrigued.
I'll probably skip Dim Sum - I live and work in the middle of a concentration of some really *awesome* Dim Sum restaurants, and I want to spend my calories and money on food I can't easily get here (like Belgian, French, Quebec). Thanks for the suggestion, though!
Bummer about Toque'! You probably saw my later post about timing and the tasting menu. Not sure how I'm going to resolve that. We'd planned on doing dinner at Toque'! on Monday, hockey game on Tuesday, symphony on Wednesday, then leaving Thursday free in case we wanted to go up to Quebec. Keep hearing wonderful things about it. Anyhow, when I heard about Toque'! not being open on Mondays, I thought "hmm...pre-concert dinner." But I really want to devote the proper amount of time to it. Might just have to make another trip to Montreal in the near future! :)
Thanks again for your advice.
Indeed. And, I phoned on Saturday and was able to secure a reservation at 8 for two Thursdays hence.
A friend of mine here in DC who is the Vice President of a Montreal-based company (and therefore spends a great deal of time in Montreal) told me that it's certainly not *impossible* to eat well on a weeknight without a reservation. It may just be more difficult. This, he says, is the result of Montreal taking a more European approach to dining. They don't require reservations because they're packed to the gills; they require a reservation because the restaurants are small and they don't turn tables over as often as they do here in the States. Once you have a table at a restaurant, it's yours for the evening, is what he said.
Good to know! (If it's true, that is.)
Just to elaborate with our own experiences with museums and the botanical garden (plus some other stuff): We were obviously very lucky in our weather when we went last week, and the flower beds at the botanical gardens were still lovely (don't know what may have happened now with the rain); but even if not, the hothouses alone were very much worth seeing IMO, AND there is a very pleasant pumpkin festival in the last hothouse, for which kids all over Montreal designed some pretty clever citruilles (I think that's the French for pumpkins?), and there is a witch too(!) Plus, if you go up to the botanical gardens (very easy by Metro) you would also see up close the Olympic Stadium and the weird structure that holds it up. There's a Biodome nearby we didn't get to; maybe others can comment on that.
But as for the "regular" museums: We went to two, the McCord and the new architecture one, and I have to agree with Carswell, museums are not Montreal's forte! The McCord I'd esp recommend skipping; it was very skimpy. The architecture museum was for us worth a visit; though a little hokey in that new aimed-at-kids interactive way of all too many museums in the States (urgh, I'm sure you can find a guidebook more articulate than that little film they show!), we found it still very much worth seeing the basement to view how they managed to preserved the earlier layers of the city in situ. It's very rare to find such respect during modernizing--certainly you never see it in NYC or (even worse) Albany, where the old Dutch city was pretty much destroyed by Rockefeller and his "modernizing."
BTW, I also recommend a boat ride if the weather is clear. The amphibus offers a very short ride, bus for 1/2 hour and boat for 1/2 hour--but we thought it was pretty neat (if a little overly expensive). There are other boat rides for longer lengths of time where you probably see more, but how many times in your life will you ever ride an amphibus, eh?
We liked the Jean Talon market a lot (inc that Hamel Fromagerie) and I'm sorry we didn't get to the other big food marche too (the one with the clock). We also really loved the bread, cheese, and pate we bought at the Premier Moison in Gare Centrale, and in addition to other restaurants mentioned here, I want to mention finding it very pleasantly nostalgic going to Beauty's, a very traditional (yet somehow trendy too) Jewish-style diner--scroll down for other posts about it. That's not to say everyone would be interested (just as we were not interested in the deli with smoked meat, and others are not interested in dim sum); but if you think you might be, I would add that to the list. You can go early for breakfast; we made it before any lines and still had the mishmosh omelet with the delicious Montreal-style bagels (though we were too full--and it seemed too early--for smoothies; we'll just have to go back some time for those!). It is not far from the walk up Mont Royal.
You can get a Metro card for 1 day or 3 days and use it on the buses too. We took a bus from the Mont Royal Metro station to Beauty's, for example. The only thing is, the Metro has this weird system where you have to stand in line even after you have bought the card, and the fare collector buzzes you through. At least, that's what we did. Maybe we misunderstood? But the cards didn't seem to work in the other turnstiles.