Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Montreal in a (food focused) Weekend

What a place, and what a long post. If this guy's tour isn't inspiring enough, I hope this post helps. Heavy food, light snacks, offal, and everything else. Reasonably priced food is everywhere, and the folks up there know how to enjoy it.

First, Frite Alors! Tintin at its finest--horse meat tartare, poutine with onions, mushrooms, and bacon, and the first of a few Boreale beers. A great introduction to Montreal. We went to the original location on Ave Du Park, walking all the way there from downtown. It was a decent length of a walk along a beautiful snow covered park, but if I did it again I think I'd go with the very efficient bus. This was our first meal in Montreal and we were hungry--it was the perfect spot. The tartare had a good heat and fresh taste (Admittedly, it is an odd location to eat raw meat, but they say horse is safer than beef.). It came with what was our first taste of Quebec-style fries, which were different from the Belgian style frites I was expecting, but very enjoyable. The poutine was great, as expected. Growing up eating here (The pictures do no justice--The Sunrise was my spot, Fat Koko my sandwich.) The CFT is no stranger to greasy and good regional cuisine. The poutine was gut warming goodness (Here's my previous post on the subject--by no means authentic or well researched.). Along with the blond Boreale, the trip was off to a great start.

Next was Au Pied de Cochon. Fried liquid foie gras starter (foie gras cromesquis), foie gras torchon appetizer (foie gras on a tart), duck in can and "foot of the pig" entrees, an incredibly enjoyable bread pudding (pudding chômeur), and a house beer. The starter, appetizers, and desserts were great--those plus the entrees may have been a bit over the top. The cromesquis could have been at a molecular gastronomy place. A food runner sets down perfectly fried cubes and tells you to eat them in one bite keeping your mouth closed. No truer words were ever spoken, and loose lips here could result in your tablemate receiving a liver shower. The foie gras inside the fried packet is completely liquid, and it's delicious. The tart consisted of a great tart shell filled with super rich garlic/poutine cheese mashed potatoes with a balsamic glaze and ample slices of torchon. It too was delicious.

Next came the duck in can--duck parts in a house sealed metal can opened up at the table. A little disappointing in that the duck was very average with clumps of fat not having rendered in the cooking process. It wasn't bad, but after the appetizers it fell a bit flat . . . as did the pied de cochon. That was braised pig pieces in a trotter package (see video below) covered with a gravy that was a little too close to cream of something soup for me. It also came with the amazing mashed potatoes and a perfectly fried (potato?) croquette. The braised pork was tender, but again, after those appetizers any texture seemed tough compared to the foie gras. The beer was served at around room temperature. It was a good beer. And the dessert was terrific. I would guess the dessert, which is kind of like a bread pudding, is more than ample for two and contained about 50 pounds (or 20 something kilos for them) of butter, and about seventy three gallons of maple syrup. Maybe a little hyperbole there, but it was rich and it was great. Overall a great meal at a fair price (and the staff was great too).

Not sure how the companion and me were the only folks at the restaurant in food comas. Everyone else was lively through the completion of their meal--we were out on our chairs. Either the rest of the folks knew how to order smart or they were just used to it. No picture as I could not get to my camera as I was rolling out the door. This video should suffice:[While we were waiting for our reservation time--we were early and the place packed, we watched the end of a Canadians game at a bar on, I believe, St. Hubert. We saw the Habs send a game against Buffalo to overtime by scoring two goals in the last five minutes of regulation. They love the Canadians up there. This time I tried the Cheval Blanc.]

Saturday morning was Duc De Lorraine. Great croissants and cafe au laits. It's a must go. Three sizes of cafe au laits, from small cup to good sized bowl. Decent espresso--not the thick crema we all know and love, but it works for an allonge (an Americano to me). There is a pleasant tea room to enjoy your snack, which can be well beyond the ridiculously good pastries (they have great cheeses and charcuterie). Some locals shared a table and we learned that Montrealers are generally rooting for Hillary and are not too sure what Ohio is.

Saturday afternoon was L'Express. Bone marrow app, frisee salad and calf liver with tarragon mains. A mixed gelato type dessert with pistachio was especially great, as was the bread and butter, red wine, and espresso after the meal. The place is marked with a street number and by black and white tiles extending onto the sidewalk. The food was very good, but likely not the best in town. It was my first marrow and calf liver experiences, and while both were very good, the marrow could have come with a few more crutons, and the liver--and I know I'm not an expert--could have been a little rarer (they said it'd be pink on the inside--it's wasn't). As for comments around the internet about them not being nice, that wasn't my experience. For a 1:00 lunch on a Saturday the companion and I were in jeans and sweaters with outdoor type jackets on. Hardly looking the jet set, I greeted our server with "Parlez vous Anglais ?" She said "Yes, thank you so much for asking," and I think she meant it. The service was very good from there, which was the start. One strange thing at L'Express, as at Au Pied de Cochon, was that there were no bread plates. Must be cultural. No picture of the place--that might have been pushing it.

Before and after L'Express we visited the Jean-Talon Market. Awesome place where we picked up some Toulouse sausage and cold smoked coho salmon. Also enjoyed some frozen maple syrup lollypops (that's what the guy is making below), and pined over some great looking grilled meat on a stick. The cheese shops there couldn't have been better. We visited two--one focusing mostly on Quebec cheeses (Qui Lait Cru), and the other cheeses in general (Hamel). The folks at Hamel were nicer and the cheese less expensive. Regardless of which we were at, it's pretty rough waiting for your number to be called (you take a numbered ticked to be served) when you don't speak the language. Luckily, there were visual displays, and our monger at Hamel was happy to spend time with us allowing us to try some of Quebec's raw milk cheeses.

Saturday night--Schwartz's (the picture was from the next day). I didn't think I was hungry when we were getting ready to go in, but after the meal there wasn't anything left of the sandwich or half sours, and just a few fries. All very good, and the only place I saw where English was the primary language. Also, coming from Cleveland I'm embarrassed to say that it was slightly refreshing to see appropriately sized smoked meat sandwiches. Everyone was nice and it was a great eating experience on an eclectic street.Sunday morning brought us to St. Viateur Bagel, the original shop. Great bagels from great people. Upon the bagel lady's suggestion, we made bagel sandwiches with some cream cheese we picked up there and the smoked salmon we had bought at Jean-Talon on an out of the way table in the bagel shop (that was there for people just like us) and enjoyed them with cafe au laits and espressos in an Italian cafe down the street. The people at the cafe didn't even blink when we brought the outside food in. Soccer was on the screen at the cafe, but they were talking about the Hab's previous night's loss to Toronto, switching seemingly randomly between English and French. One more thing regarding the bagels, as reported elsewhere on the internet, these are not New York style bagels. They are thinner with larger holes, and taste very different. They are sweeter and, at least the ones we had, seemingly contain very little (if any) salt. Here's the NY Times' take on it. As noted above, the bagels were great, but I'd take a good one from NY over the MTL version. I still like Montreal (the city, not the bagels) more.Sunday afternoon led us to Atwater Market. I picked up some horse meat to take home (prices sound scary when they are in kilos) and the companion picked up some marzipan for snacking. It was a great market. No Jean-Talon, but enjoyable nonetheless, if not just for their variety of meats and sausages and the friendly people at the import shop on the corner of the market. The market has tons of different meats, sausages, and terrines. After the market it was a nice walk to Crescent Street and St. Catherine for some crepes and window shopping.

Post crepe snack on Sunday was in Chinatown. It was very lively on Sunday, and we enjoyed some steamed buns, one with bbq pork and another with fantastic curried beef. The place we got the buns at was on a corner and was busy with a very mixed clientele. The business ensured that everything was fresh. While the buns are available on the weekends here in Cleveland, this shop in Montreal was cleaner and had better labels than any similar place I'd been to.

Sunday night = La Banquise for some more poutine. We enjoyed poutine with merguez sausage and various other accouterments. Washed down with a more Belgian style Canadian brew, it was quite good. While the cheese at La Banquise seemed extra fresh, to this poutine novice it was comparable with Frite Alors! Again the companion and I were the only two people in the place who were in obvious food comas, and it's not like the other diners at the packed place were just picking at their frites. The Montrealers know how to eat--I just wished they'd share their secret. Bring cash if you go if your plastic is from the States (local debit cards only I believe).

Sunday night night was Billy Kun. A nice bar with an ostrich theme and generous pours of house wine in carafes.

Monday morning was back to Duc De Lorraine. It was that good, especially with the cheese plate we got that second time. It was nice to sit in the tea room while the snow was falling and enjoy warm drinks with great French cheese. We also got a great piece of brioche and some cookies for the plane ride back (they did get a little stale during the long trip back).

Finally, on Monday afternoon we went to a Vietnamese place (Pho Do Thi) by UQAM. Great food with reasonably priced lunch specials, but similar to good places in the states. May have been the first crisp green vegetables we saw on the trip.

Other spots we checked out included their bread chains Au Pain Dore and Premiere Moisson. We had a servicable treat at Moisson, but what was really amazing was their selection of terrines and jarred provisions to go. From pickled pigs tongue (more on that below) to cassoulet, this place had some serious stuff. I can't comment on the quality, but the ingredients looked pure and the food good.

I can't wait to make it back. There are tons of ethnic food places and BYOB spots that were packed and looked great, but stomach space was at a premium and we felt like we had to go to the above spots. There will be another trip. I just hope it's soon.

And if you don't believe me that they're serious about poutine, look at this (We had to check out the menu--and while this very respectable blogger likes their fries, we did not partake.):

The Montreal fallout continued back in Cleveland. I brought the horse meat (which customs was very unconcerned about) to Bar Cento where Jonathon Sawyer seared some of it and ground the rest for tartare. Along with sides including pickled watermelon rind, chili mayo, fresh grated horseradish, Tabasco sauce, and due to some crazy coincidence, leftover pickled pig tongue from Chris Cosentino's visit to Cleveland last week, it made for the perfect happy hour meal. It was also kids pizza night at Cento. Luckily no one asked too many questions about what was going into Jonathon's grandmother's meat grinder.

1 comment:

michelle @ TNS said...

i have to get back to montreal one day soon...what a great city.

my favorite was the fat darryl. my husband was known as fat cat bacon.