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Bouffe Montréal Food!!

3433 Views 7 Replies 2 Participants Last post by  Habfanman
One of the things I've noticed since moving to Montréal is the food. While you can get a great 200$ meal in just about any city, here you can eat really well for next to nothing and the city's hyped places and famous dishes like Schwartz smoked meat, Fairmont Bagel, St Viateur, La Banquise poutine etc. are actually BETTER than you anticipate. It's rare these days when anything actually lives up to the hype but these places do and even the Centre Bell steamies are awesome! I also love the fact that bring your own wine restos don't charge corking fees and that many will even let you bring your own beer! (I love Blanche de Chambly so this is a good thing) No corking fee is virtually unheard of anywhere else where it usually costs between 20-50$ per bottle and you can forget bringing beer altogether.

If anyone has some recommendations please let me know.

Mine are: M sur Masson, it's a little French resto at the end of my street. Two people can eat a fantastic meal with wine for around 100$. Casa Corfu has a great buffet and Zeste de Folie is a great apportez votre vin, fusion resto. All are on Masson between 5e and 10e.

I found this on It's a great, unpretentious blog for food and drink lovers.

Where Is Jim Today?

North America Dispatch #58: Montreal: The Chowhound's Promised Land
by: Jim Leff February 07, 2007

Montreal, Quebec

I intend to finish off this leg of the tour with several days in Montreal, one of the world’s best food cities. Here’s what I wrote about Montreal a few years ago:

Montreal’s food scene is guileless. If you see a charming-looking restaurant, it’s likely charming tasting, as well. This is a strange land in which the inhabitants have never caught on to the smoke-and-mirrors trick; no Montrealer would ever think to open a pretty restaurant serving lousy food. Needless to say, serious recalibration was required. I mistrust atmospheric places not because I’m a vulgar hawg who’d just as soon eat from a trough, but because such places have so often fed me poorly. Hip vibey places rarely cook worth a damn because they know they can lure the unsavvy via ambience alone.

Montreal’s different, and the effect is pure liberation. I drop layers of cynicism as I keep stumbling into devastatingly inviting places, yet never find myself duped. Montreal restaurateurs believe in deliciousness, and they feel obliged to develop all aspects of their enterprises. The notion of lackluster food is simply unthinkable. I can only pray that none of these folks ever visits Soho.

In Montreal, you can just go somewhere—anywhere!—and eat. It’s like the promised land. I love walking around and choosing venues only the most callow New Yorker would pick. Dramatic little cafés where patrons sit with good posture and waiters speak in that intense hush. Cavernous candle-lit joints. Too-slick-to-be-true fast food places. Let me put it this way: The best bread I’ve found in Montreal came from a chain with almost a dozen outlets. They bake not just good bread, but heartfelt good bread; bread with character!

It’s like a dream. One wonders whether one’s chowhounding skills are peaking (am I like Superman off Krypton?), or whether Montreal is a city in which one simply can’t go wrong. Whatever the reason, I’ve never had a disappointing bite here. Even the humblest places have pizzazz and good food.

It’s a luxury to be in a place with virtually no bad restaurants. If you were to select an eatery by throwing darts at the Montreal Yellow Pages, you’d enjoy at least a satisfactory meal, and perhaps a great one. For non-hounds, who haven’t developed their ability to differentiate, this is heady comfort—an impenetrable dining safety net. For the savvy, it’s a vacation, a carnival ride, a delirious opportunity to turn off the chow-dar and just eat.

... and, after 8,000 miles and several hundred restaurant meals, I could use that! For the first couple of days, I’ll be joined by food-loving friends from New York City, Barry and Joel, who work in the film industry and will gladly go anywhere there’s free food.

Entire article and photos:
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Lest the pretentious jet-setters feel they're being snubbed, the 1000$ meals are apparently pretty good too. Like I'll ever know!

Hour Magazine
April 6th, 2006
Gourmet toasts Montreal

Eating up Montreal
Richard Burnett

Montreal eaten alive?

The entire March issue of NYC-based Gourmet magazine was dedicated to Montreal, which the editors slugged "North America's most European city" on their cover. It's a notable honour bestowed to just five other cities in Gourmet's history.
"Devoting ourselves to exploring Paris, Rome, San Francisco, New York and London was wonderful," Gourmet editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl notes in the issue, "but spending time in Montreal was perhaps most exciting of all. Everybody knows that those other cities are great places to visit; you have a good idea what you'll find there. But Montreal is still filled with surprises, and each time you come upon a new shop, a new restaurant or a boutique hotel, it feels like a discovery. You won't be surprised to learn that each [Gourmet staffer] returned determined to convince our friends they had to go to Montreal."

Reichl plays up the French face of the city and says, since her days attending a French boarding school in Montreal in the 1960s, that Montreal's mythologized "two solitudes" dissipated "when people there became bilingual [and] welcomed more than another language - they opened themselves up to the pleasures of other worlds."

But Ottawa Citizen columnist Janice Kennedy - who, like Reichl, is a former Montrealer - recently noted, "Where Gourmet's editors show their unfamiliarity with reality - where most non-Montrealers (including other Canadians) show their lack of knowledge - is in their flawed impression of the city's past: Montreal is French, always has been, and the Anglos there were nothing but a small minority that would have been insignificant but for the fact that they exploited poor French Canadians. Sigh... Bilingual now (even if they weren't so much in the past), the city's anglophones have made, and continue to make, a huge and indelible mark."

While Gourmet's Montreal edition sold out at newsstands throughout the city, 120 copies will be made available when Reichl participates in two Blue Metropolis events, April 6 and 7, at the downtown Hyatt Regency Hotel. The April 6 event will "celebrate" the March issue of Gourmet, and CBC host Eleanor Wachtel will do a 75-minute onstage interview with Reichl on April 7. For ticket info, surf to
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Thank you for the tips for Masson, will move in this area with my girlfriend in a couple of weeks.
I have a small recommendation if you are in the south-east.

Bistro Sur la Rivière offers one of the best bavette in Montreal. 70$ for 2 people with a bottle of wine looks like a real deal for me.

For a complete review (in french)
From The Independant UK

To get a flavour of Montreal just tuck in

Canada is hardly famous for its culinary scene. Yet this city is as close as you can get to foodie heaven, says Kate Simon
Sunday, 22 June 2008

Maple syrup: that is the most distinct flavour I'm expecting on my foodie tour of Montreal. Surely the fare served here is as bleak as the weather in this city, where the locals spend the winter months going about their daily business in an underground city of corridors, created to protect against glacial temperatures that can plummet to -40C.

Of course, I'm wrong. The food is as extraordinary as the Montrealers' preoccupation with it. I'd like to trace this culinary prowess back to the days when the French ruled the banks of the St Lawrence River, but they were only here for about a century and far more interested in the fur that clothed an animal than its meat.

And while the Quebec French have a strong Gallic appreciation of the art of dining, there are more than 80 ethnic cultures represented in this city of four million, with all the attendant flavours that such a mix brings.

Breakfast proves the point: the feted Montreal bagel made its way here from Eastern Europe. I eat mine with my guide, Ruby, at St-Viateur Bagel & Café in Le Plateau. It is simmered in honey water and baked fresh in the wood-fired oven and tastes nothing like the usually doughy wheel that sits heavily on my stomach – this one is crisp on the outside, chewy in the centre and sweet-sour on the tongue. It's a flavour to be savoured: "You'll never see a Montrealer eat breakfast on the run," says Ruby, "even if that means being late for work."

But I have only a day to get a taste of foodie Montreal, so we move swiftly on. Our next stop is the Jean-Talon market in Little Italy, home to the Italian-Canadians, the city's largest ethnic group. They first came here in the 19th century, then later after the Second World War; and though the community is now spread across the city, some still live in the staircase houses on Jean-Talon and Drolet Streets.

These multi-dwelling rowhouses with their exterior iron stairs are a quirky signature architectural style of this city and a sight in themselves, built as a nifty solution to maximising space, containing heat – and raising taxes for the authorities. Ruby tells me Montreal's chilly climate hasn't deterred the Italians from growing grapevines in these backyards – the Mediterranean sun still lives on in their souls.

At first sight the Jean-Talon market stalls, laden with workaday fruit and veg, look of little interest to the visitor. Indeed, this is the haunt of locals rather than tourists, who prefer the Atwater market in Saint-Henri, which has the added attraction of being set in an Art Deco former railway station. But Ruby guides me to Le Marché des Saveurs du Quebec on the south side, which is packed with produce from the fertile St Lawrence Valley and beyond – smoked meats, mussels from the Iles de la Madeleine, goat's milk cheeses, and, in a side room, beers from nearby microbreweries and the famed icewines of Niagara. It's the perfect place to pack a picnic for lunch on the run.

We find more to tempt us in the boutiques along avenue Laurier Est back in Le Plateau. At Olive & Olives the array of oils could rival any Mediterranean emporium. At Maison Cakao the young owner, not long out of college, offers a modern interpretation of the art of chocolate making, adding inspired ingredients such as Earl Grey tea. While at Le Fromentier & Maître Corbeau we dip downstairs to discover a subterranean hall dedicated to bread and cheese. It also does a roaring trade in deli fare and gourmet prepared meals for that extra-special take-out.

Over on rue Laurier Ouest at Les Touilleurs, Ruby gives a real insight into how seriously the Montrealers take their cooking when she shows me a kitchen equipment store that treats its wares as art exhibits. These culinary sculptures provide a good excuse for utensil junkies like me to stand and stare and who will not be able to resist buying a strawberry huller or other such nonsense gadgets as a souvenir.

You can linger even longer in Les Touilleurs if you sign up for one of the after-hours cookery demonstrations at its open kitchen, where local chefs show off their skills to small groups of dedicated foodies.

I pick up a copy of the Quartiers Gourmands annual guide at the till, which lists shops subscribing to the Slow Food movement and selling an alphabet of foods, from apple tarts to zabaglione. This city knows its food. I'm full and we haven't even tried a drop of maple syrup yet.


How to get there

BA Holidays (0844 493 0758; offers four nights at the W Hotel in Montreal from £945 per person in July, including return flights on British Airways from £621 and accommodation only from £324 for the duration.

Further information

Quartiers Gourmands ( Tourism Montreal (
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Feasting on Montréal's charm: Washington Post

Feasting on Montreal's Charms
A Return to the Pleasures, Guilty or Not, of a Bilingual City

By Erica Johnston
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 23, 2007

I've been captivated by Montreal since my first trip there almost 20 years ago, drawn in by two things in particular: the bowls of hot chocolate offered at the city's many cafes -- hey, why settle for a measly cup? -- and the people who packed the streets in July and August, soaking in the two-month party they call summer. It seemed as busy as midtown Manhattan at rush hour, but these people were smiling.

So when my oldest and best friend and I realized that our 40th "anniversary" was approaching, I managed to talk her into a celebratory trip over a long weekend. To Montreal, of course.

When I arrived on a summer-like fall afternoon, a day before Kathy, I hit the streets. It had been eight years since my last visit. Had I exaggerated the city's charms?

From our hotel downtown, I walked a mile or so, past the edge of Chinatown and through the Latin Quarter to the Plateau, the neighborhood where my affection for the city first took root.

Ahhhh, the Plateau. Pretty much in the middle of the part of the city frequented by visitors, the neighborhood is all about strolling, sipping and shopping: chic marries shabby-chic, college professor meets slacker, with an impressive assortment of retro record stores, independent bookstores, artfully graffitied walls, more than a few "tatouage" parlors, and ethnic restaurants everywhere. (Anybody up for food from Reunion, the island off Africa?)

Along the leafy side streets, spiral staircases wind their way up the outsides of cozy rowhouses. Somehow, it seemed that if I knocked on a few doors, I'd find someone I knew. A few blocks away, Mount Royal, the modest mountain and majestic park on the neighborhood's western flank, rises over the city, offering a constant compass and an instant refuge to anyone who needs one.

In a bakery, a boy of about 4 offered me his friendliest "Allo!" I did my best to respond in kind: "Allo."

"Oh," he responded, no fool he. His smile never broke. "Hello!"

And that seems to sum up the language issue -- for tourists, anyway; it's far more complicated for residents -- in the place generally acknowledged to be the world's second-biggest French-speaking city. French? English? Whatever. We can work with you.

Four Kinds of Pork

A half-hour in the Plateau and I felt back in the groove. I wasn't dragging my friend up here for nothing, after all. The pungent smoke wafting out the doors of Portuguese rotisseries, the burnished yellows and oranges of the maples along the sidewalks, the tangle of overheard languages: My senses felt fully open. This, all of this, in its understated splendor, was what I wanted to show her. I was ready to lead the way on the Walking and Talking (and Eating) Tour.

But first, La Binerie.

In travel, and okay, in the rest of life as well, there is no doubt: I lead with my stomach. The rest of me merely struggles to keep up. So the next morning -- Kathy wouldn't arrive until later -- I headed back to the Plateau, this time on the subway, to La Binerie (The Beanery), a nearly 70-year-old, bare-bones eatery renowned for its Quebecois specialties.

I knew I must tend to this vital errand, stat, while I still could. For Kathy, as fate would have it, is a doctor.

Along with the requisite eggs and home fries, my plate was promptly piled with four kinds of pork: ham, Canadian bacon, sausage and the salt pork that the beans were cooked in. As Charlotte the spider wrote in her web of her friend Wilbur, this was "some pig."

La Binerie surely wasn't the reason Gourmet magazine devoted an entire issue in 2006 to Montreal's culinary prowess, but the dowdy lunch counter earned its mention. My repast, enough to make a long-haul trucker groan, was frighteningly tasty.

Just in time to save my health -- or to try -- Kathy flew in from Boston. Immediately, we started walking.

Nearly everyone who crossed our path was unrelentingly friendly. Even the illuminated "man" in the crossing signals has a spring in his step; check it out. Along Rue St. Denis, a beautifully dressed woman stepped out of an elegant bakery with an elaborately wrapped sandwich and handed it with a smile to a homeless stranger. By the time a Metro toll taker wished us a good life -- and seemed to mean it -- we weren't especially impressed.

We walked along the lovely Rue Laurier from east to west, from a low-key weekend street market to the decidedly upmarket blocks of fancy shops west of Rue St. Laurent. That street, also called "The Main," has historically served as the unofficial line separating the city's French culture from its English-speaking stronghold.

These days, it could be said that there is more to divide the city, culturally speaking, but that fewer things do. French speakers may have lost a war or two, official and otherwise. But they won the battle for their language, with more than half of the city's residents declaring French as their first language, though most speak English as well. After thousands of English speakers left the city at the height of the Quebecois separatist movement in the 1970s and '80s, the proportion of those who speak English as a first language has been estimated at about one in five.

Sights, Sounds, Tastes

Today's Montreal is often a wonderful jumble, with strong strands of distinct cultures living amongst one another. It's been called a salad bowl -- the concept of Canadian diversity as separate components complementing each other, as compared with the American ideal of the melting pot.

In few places is this more true than in Mile End, a historically Jewish enclave that was one of my favorite discoveries of the trip.

Mile End, the boyhood home of the late novelist Mordechai Richler (along with his famous protagonist, Duddy Kravitz), is gentrifying rapidly. But though the challenge of change in the neighborhood just north of the swanky part of Rue Laurier riles some, others revel in it.

To the outsider, the place offers a kaleidoscopic array: The Asian teenager with an Orthodox Jew's side locks ambles along Rue St. Viateur. At a street corner, black-clad Goth girls check out South American pan flutists. Butcher shops of seemingly every Eastern European persuasion line the streets.

Here's where you get your Montreal bagels, smaller, denser and sweeter than their American counterparts. Their supporters insist that these rounds, boiled in honeyed water before baking, are the real deal; the recipe allegedly was brought over by Romanian Jews in the early 1900s.

A couple of storefronts away, a 20-something guy at the Olympico Cafe, a hipster cafe known in a previous life as Open Da Nite, switched from a pitch-perfect "dese, dem, dose" Brooklynese to a flowing French without so much as taking a breath.

From there, we continued on a mile or so north, to the Little Italy neighborhood and -- more to the point -- the Jean-Talon Market, a huge, year-round public market for regionally grown meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables. Such spots often serve as my museums, telling me more about a place than most collections of art or artifacts ever could.

It was a Saturday, and the joint was jammed with more than 100 stalls and thousands of Montrealers, all pondering the same age-old question: What's for dinner?

Sure, the usual suspects were there: apples, potatoes, fall lettuces. But it was the shock of the new that captivated: cauliflower that looked downright hallucinogenic, with chartreuse or purple florettes and otherworldly mountain- and valley-like fissures. They looked like exotic coral.

Then there were the cerises de terre, ground cherries, which came clad in their own papery jackets -- only appropriate, it seemed, for the climes. But the sweet, yellow, cherry-size fruit isn't a cherry; it's a relative of the similarly dressed tomatillo.

Across the way, I sampled a single strawberry, not believing that the delicate fruits could prosper in Quebec, of all places, in late September, of all times. They do. It was easily the best strawberry I've ever had. The chilly weather only makes them sweeter, the grower boasted.

A Last Meal. Or Two.

On Sunday night, as our time wound down, we followed our trip to its logical conclusion: dinner at Au Pied de Cochon, a boisterous bistro that offers an unabashed homage to all creatures fat and fowl, a cuisine that is profoundly, jubilantly Quebecois. Chef Martin Picard, a darling of the back-to-the-land school of cooking, looks like a lumberjack, and kind of cooks like one, too. On the menu: "The Big Happy Pig's Chop," "the Pig's Foot" and steak that tends to be venison, when it's in season. And being true to his school, he's got poutine, of course.

But here's the difference: Picard's poutine -- that much maligned mess of french fries, gravy and cheese curds that is Quebec's guilty pleasure -- is topped with a hunk of foie gras. That's something along the lines of elevating, say, New Englanders' beloved Marshmallow Fluff.

Perhaps never before has a culinary crime been committed so gleefully. As chef and writer Anthony Bourdain has written, the haute poutine "breaks every known standard of decency and common practice. And I loved it." Picard plays with his food, and if (and only if) you're a devoted carnivore, you'll appreciate his heart and humor.

But if forced to choose, I'd say our favorite meal was at La Montee de Lait, a smallish refuge tucked into a quiet corner of the Plateau that offers a fixed-price parade of exquisite small plates. Of course, it's all about what you're in the mood for: Au Pied's culinary equivalent of a luxury suite at a Canadiens championship game, or La Montee de Lait's night at the symphony.

And then, sadly, the time came to put down our forks and back away slowly. The air had turned seasonably chilly, and we marveled at the Montrealers sitting at sidewalk cafes. For us, it was freezing, and unthinkable. But they were enjoying it while they could, knowing that everything -- even the temperature -- is relative. And the bowls of hot chocolate couldn't have hurt, either.
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Choice Tables, New York Times

These Chefs Believe in Sticking Close to Home

Yannick Grandmont for The New York Times
Allison Cunningham, a co-owner of Joe Beef in the Petit-Bourgogne neighborhood, updates the wall-size blackboard menu.

Published: April 6, 2008
MONTREAL is not just a good eating town, but an opinionated one, too, with deep roots and a culture all its own. There’s always a debate about where to get the best rotisserie chicken or the most authentic poutine, that classic Québécois belly buster of French fries, gravy and squeaky cheese curds. Or whether to go to St.-Viateur Bagel Shop or Fairmount Bagel Bakery for sesame bagels that are baked in wood-burning ovens and put New York City’s fluffy bread bombs to shame.
Slide Show
Comfort Food in Montreal

The epicurean partisanship fight extends to the city’s two venerable food markets, Marché Jean-Talon and Marché Atwater. Even when winter has wilted the local supply of fruits and vegetables, the markets are bursting with stinky cheeses, apple cider and all manner of charcuterie: plump links of black blood sausage; fowl and furred game rendered into terrines and galantines; piles of confit frosted in white fat like the snow that blankets the city for a good part of the year.

Not that Montreal lacks for proper, sit-down restaurants. L’Express, the reigning bistro king of this officially Francophone city, is as close to Paris as one gets while on the wrong continent. Toqué, run by the chef Norman Laprise, is the city’s standard bearer for haute cuisine.

But over the last few years, there has been a surge in quirky restaurants that are extensions of their chefs’ personal tastes and dedication to Montreal’s regional ingredients. At these restaurants, no part of the pig escapes the kitchen knife, whether it’s the ears (sliced and fried in a salad with frisée) or feet (braised, stuffed and roasted). And foie gras abounds, never far from marrowbones, sweetbreads and steaks so big they’d make a cowboy blush.

All are dressed down and welcoming: perfect places to come in from the cold.


These days, you can’t mention food in Montreal without touching on the chef Martin Picard’s unrepentantly Québécois restaurant, Au Pied de Cochon (536 Rue Duluth Est; 514-281-1114;

P.D.C., as the locals call it, was a pizzeria before Mr. Picard got his meaty mitts on it, and a blazing fire in a wood-burning oven greets guests at the door. Beyond it, the restaurant is long and narrow, bright but not too bright, with a mirror running down one side and an open kitchen on the other. The bare wooden tables are crowded with boisterous eaters of every age and description. And the chef — look for the unshaven man with a shock of untamed black hair — frequently works both sides of the bar, talking and drinking with customers and cooks.

Mr. Picard put his restaurant on the gastronomic map when he put foie gras on poutine back in 2004, just after the restaurant opened. Many dishes at P.D.C. are conceived with that same wicked sense of humor — who puts foie gras on French fries? — and carry an unspoken threat of a cholesterol-triggered overdose. There’s a even a whole section of the menu dedicated to the fatty livers: foie on a burger, foie on a pizza and, most compellingly, the Plogue à Champlain — a dizzying combination of buckwheat pancakes, bacon, foie gras and maple syrup.

But Mr. Picard doesn’t need to rely on fattened blond duck livers to make a dish worth seeking out: My meal started off with a simple plate of leeks — which crowded the local markets when I visited — poached and dressed with a bright vinaigrette. The salt cod fritters (another Montreal staple) were as greaseless and light as could be.

But nobody goes to P.D.C. to diet. The restaurant’s namesake dish is a pig’s foot the size of grown man’s forearm that is poached, stuffed and roasted in the wood oven; a lobe of seared foie gras is laid over it sidesaddle before it goes out to a table.

Entrees are reliably heavy and frequently come with some kind of surprise, like the dark brown fritters that accompanied a pot au feu for two (or was it four?)

The fritters, which were speared on skewers, were crisp and brown. But it wasn’t until I bit into one that I realized what they were: testicles. Lamb’s testicles. And they were good.

Dinner, with drinks and tip, about 80 Canadian dollars a person (the Canadian and U.S. dollars are nearly at par).


On my next visit to Montreal, I will put back another couple of dozen oysters at Joe Beef (2491 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest; 514-935-6504;, a bistro of sorts that opened in the Petit-Bourgogne neighborhood in 2006.

Shucked on the night I was there by John Bil, the restaurant’s champion oyster shucker (he captured the Canadian shucking crown three times), we slurped small, sweet oysters from Prince Edward Island and fat Moonstone oysters from Rhode Island, each shell brimming with oyster liquor like a bathtub with the faucet left on.

Named after a 19th-century saloonkeeper, the restaurant has the coziness of a neighborhood pub: a chalkboard menu (that changes daily) covers one wall, wainscoting wraps the room, the light is flatteringly low.

The chef Frédéric Morin’s menu has a classic bistro slant, though he’s tweaked each dish to make it his own. He eschews lardons and instead tops his frisée salad with strips of pig’s ears cut into matchstick strips and fried to shattering crispness. Pucks of silky foie gras au torchon are served with buttery brioche toast and pears poached in cinnamon-infused red wine.

Entrees change nightly, but there are two menu stalwarts: pasta with lobster, and a massive côte de boeuf for the table. The lobster in the former was slightly overcooked the night I tried it, though it wasn’t hard to grasp the appeal of such a decadent cream-and-butter dish. The steak, served with marrowbones and potatoes, embodied the full-flavored, mineral promise of grass-fed steak.

Dinner, with drinks and tip, about 110 Canadian dollars a person.


Joe Beef has a new neighbor. Mr. Morin spent last fall covered in sawdust, building his second restaurant, Liverpool House (2501 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest; 514-313-6049;, just a few doors down from his first.

Liverpool House is split into a barroom and a laid-back dining room. The woodwork and wainscoting are painted a warm white. The rest is decorated with an eclectic mix of paintings — oversized modern canvases and tiny impressionistic works — and odd, pig-themed tchotchkes like the porcelain porcine head, affixed to the wall at eye level like an extra diner at my table.

Liverpool House is ostensibly Italian, though the restaurant’s cuisine owes more to Mr. Morin’s imagination and whatever is in season. One night, the bar plates were undeniably Italian: perfect sausage-stuffed arancini, a ball of buffalo milk burrata cheese (mozzarella’s creamy cousin) and a plate of salumi cured in the restaurant’s basement.

But when I returned two nights later, the menu had been hijacked. I ate poached skate with black trumpet mushrooms in a buttery sauce, the mild ropes of fish an unobtrusive stage to show off those tender, earthy mushrooms. Hard-boiled eggs topped with crab meat sounded like a dreary canapé from the 1950s; instead it was a showcase for a snowdrift of sweet crab meat, piled on a pedestal of egg white anointed with house-made mayonnaise.

The rest of the meal continued in the same manner: technically assured cooking that typifies the simplicity of the Italian kitchen (like the vitello tonnato), or lets the hand of the nearby market push it toward riskier directions (like a grilled veal chop served with roasted root vegetables and a sauce fortified with foie gras and sweetbreads).

Is Liverpool House Italian? French? Or Québécois? Whatever it is, it’s an excellent place to eat.

Dinner, with drinks and tip, about 100 Canadian dollars each.


Another spot that trades the sanctimonious trappings of fine dining for a looser atmosphere is Garde Manger (408 Rue St.-François-Xavier; 514-678-5044). It is one of the few restaurants with real charm in Vieux Montreal, the oldest part of the city.

Tucked into a small building on a side street, the restaurant has dark brick walls and a wildly oversized chandelier that looks as if it could have been pilfered from a merry-go-round at Versailles. The roaring fireplace offers a warm refuge from the blustering winds off the nearby St. Lawrence River.

Early in the evening, the loud soundtrack leans toward Neil Young and the Grateful Dead, and the crowd is older, the men in dapper suits and ties. After 9 p.m., the soundtrack shifts to clubbier music and a younger crowd sets in and doesn’t mind standing two deep at the bar.

One Montrealer commented to me that Garde Manger is a “bar that happens to serve some food early in the evening.” But at 10 p.m. on the night I was there, every table in the restaurant was full.

The restaurant is rightly regarded for its seafood platters, which take a place of prominence on many tables. The largest is 120 Canadian dollars and comes in a giant wooden trough that contains enough raw shellfish to feed a romp of otters. A less expensive option, at 70 dollars, is still impressive: a dozen each of oysters and clams, plus Alaskan crab legs and a half-dozen poached shrimp.

And though the kitchen, overseen by the chef Chuck Hughes, offers an appealing and ever-changing blackboard menu with its own signature poutine (with lobster and lobster gravy), I would not pass on the opportunity to order the steak frites again. It’s rare to find a restaurant that takes as much care with such a simple dish: the steak (bavette, or what we call flank steak south of the border) is seasoned with an assured hand and charred to a textbook medium rare; the fries were crisp and fresh and tasted like potatoes.

Though we had to shout over the gunshots ringing out in the chorus of M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes,” my dining companions and I were impressed that a place as rollicking as Garde Manger chooses to pay attention to what’s coming out of the kitchen.
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Hungering for beauty and the bistros: Boston Globe

La tire, maple syrup frozen on a stick, for sale at Marche Atwater. (Jonathan Levitt for the Boston Globe)

Hungering for beauty and the bistros

By Jonathan Levitt
Globe Correspondent / May 4, 2008

Interstate 89 north of Burlington, Vt., is as big, remote, and windswept as the Western plains. I cross the Canadian border at Highgate and drive through the flatness, past miles of tidy dairy farms - pert suburban-type houses with barns and cows in back - and keep going over the Saint Lawrence River, looking down to spot Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" and her gypsy cabin, but she's long gone. Then there it is, the island of Montreal, and at the base of Mount Royal, the skyscrapers, just a few, but tall, and huddled together. Like most big cities in Canada, Montreal feels like one last great human place before the bleakness of the northern wilderness.

At Hotel St-Paul in Old Montreal, I stare at the manicured cedar bushes and the 1900 Beaux Arts façade, then walk into the lobby, past the Spanish alabaster fireplace to the front desk. Everyone who works here looks younger than 30. With the key I go upstairs and into my room with the low-slung bed, faux fur throw, ebony-stained wood floors, and view of another Beaux Arts building across the street with a giant perfectly accurate clock. I take off my shoes, turn on the flat-screen television, and watch "The Age of Innocence" dubbed into French, and I nap.

When I wake up it is still light out. The streets of Old Montreal are hushed and narrow. It's the oldest part of the city, along the river, and near the original French settlement of 1642. In the twilight it's easy to imagine fur traders and Iroquois attacks.

I wander through Chinatown and across rue Sainte-Catherine with its grime and strip clubs, and accidentally make eye contact with some "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" punks. They are begging and drumming, exotic with tattooed faces, dreadlocks, and big handsome dogs. The last time I walked around Montreal it was January and so cold that inside my coat pockets I wore socks on my hands. But now it's April and sunny and 60 degrees, and at the outdoor cafes it looks as if everyone pretty shoved off early from work to eat and smoke and drink cold beer.

On Duluth Street in the middle of the flat, graffiti-clad Plateau neighborhood I stop for dinner at Au Pied de Cochon. P.D.C., as it is known, is a former wood-fired brick-oven pizza place converted into a temple of excess and neo-Quebecois peasant food by celebrity chef Martin Picard. I order venison steak frites. On the walls are jars of preserved summer tomatoes, and in the bathroom, a showerhead for a sink faucet, and a bucket of beer on ice by the toilet.

It's early but crowded. Word has gotten out because the food press seems to write about the place every few weeks. But it still feels like a chummy club, and every portion could serve two or more. Picard is giant, hairy, balding, and looks like Shrek. The fries come fried in duck fat with a side of good mayonnaise; the venison steak is smothered in a rich jus with mushrooms and caramelized onions. On the plate is a cartoon of Picard, wearing a tall chef's hat, riding a pig or a shrimp, depending on the plate.

After dinner I walk and walk, then wander into the bistro next to the hotel. It's called Restaurant Holder, and the music sounds like the soundtrack to a video game. They've stopped serving real food, so I order the Quebec cheese plate and eat lots of baguette. Benedictine monks make one of the cheeses, and it tastes like cleaning out the chicken coop, but in a good way.

Next door to Joe Beef. Just as good, but less seafood and more meat. Dinner for one with drinks and tip is about $100.
For breakfast I walk down St-Paul Street to the bakery Olive + Gourmando where, once again, everyone is beautiful. They are carrying yoga mats and ordering coffee and pastries like almond croissants and apple tarts that look too good to be real, and so I order the same.

By now I am certain that the food here is better than back home, better than the over-hyped poutine, those french fries soaked in gravy and studded with cheese curds for which Quebec is known.

So I think only of food and have lunch at L'Express, a bistro that has been in the same place on rue St-Denis for almost 30 years. I order duck confit on greens and frites with mustardy mayonnaise. The waitress brings a crunchy baguette and a jar of even crunchier cornichons to grab with worn wooden tongs. There is white paper on top of the marble tabletop. The duck skin stays crispy and is the prettiest golden brown.

L'Express is as reserved as Au Pied de Cochon is boisterous. The bill comes on a tin plate. It seems like a good bistro can be like a diner, like a place to go every day, a kitchen away from home. And so I go to another bistro, the restaurant Leméac, at the base of the mountain, and this one is much more posh. I get the veal a la Lyonnaise, which is just a fancy way of saying liver and onions.

Now it's late, and I'm tired, but I poke my head into Garde Manger, a new place people are raving about, but all I see are rich kids with their cocktails and lobster poutine, so I go back to the hotel and fall asleep in front of the TV.

In the next morning's cold rain, la tire, maple syrup frozen on a stick at Marché Atwater, makes for a smoky sugar high of a breakfast. Marché Atwater is the smaller and more expensive of the city's two public markets. Afterward, I wander around the cleaned up and condo-fied, but still gritty, St-Henri neighborhood until it's dinnertime and time to go to Restaurant Joe Beef. The place is named for Charles McKiernan (1835-89), the inn and tavern keeper nicknamed Joe Beef because of his knack for rounding up meat and provisions for hungry fellow soldiers during the Crimean War. The legend goes that McKiernan kept wild animals - black bears, monkeys, wildcats, a porcupine, and an alligator - in the basement of the tavern and brought them up for entertainment and to restore order at the bar. When he died the animals were in his funeral procession.

Joe Beef preserves the innkeeper's outlaw attitude and supposedly his bathroom door. At the bar, John Bil from Prince Edward Island shucks oysters. He is a Canadian shucking champion and an elite marathon runner. He feeds me oysters and bourbon until chef-owner Frédéric Morin brings out the deep-fried white bait with tartar sauce, and the whole king crab, and more bourbon. Then we go next door to Liverpool House, a quirky sort of Italian/French/Quebecois place that Morin also owns, and we eat black pudding with foie gras and ribs braised in Dr. Pepper. Morin makes rum punch and brings out a cheese plate with warm green grapes.

The restaurant closes and I follow the cooks to their favorite dive bar, and after it closes, I go along to their favorite diner where just before dawn I have a plate of poutine, soggy and wonderful.


Where to stay

Hotel St-Paul
355 rue McGill
A Beaux Arts boutique hotel in Old Montreal. Most rooms $300-$400.

Where to eat

Au Pied de Cochon

536 rue Duluth East
Chef Martin Picard's ode to excess. Dinner for one with drinks and tip, about

Restaurant Holder
407 rue McGill
A modern bistro for the cocktail crowd. Quebec cheeses $10.50 for three.

Olive + Gourmando
351 rue St-Paul Street West
European-style pastries and good coffee in Old Montreal. Pastry and coffee for one is about $10.

3927 rue St-Denis
Venerable Old Montreal bistro. Lunch with tip about $30.

Leméac Café Bistrot
1045 rue Laurier West
A high-end bistro. Lunch with tip about $30.

Restaurant Joe Beef
2491 rue Notre Dame West
Probably the best, quirkiest, and most personal food in town. Dinner for one with drinks and tip is about $100.

Liverpool House
2501 rue Notre Dame West
Next door to Joe Beef. Just as good, but less seafood and more meat. Dinner for one with drinks and tip is about $100.
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Montreal, it's to dine for: NY Daily News

Montreal, it's to dine for
Sunday, May 18th 2008, 4:00 AM

Samuel Archambault
Les Cons Servent toasts Quebec's traditions - it's a place where young Montreal discovers old Montreal.

New York may be the greatest city in the world, but sophisticated, international Montreal flaunts dining as dazzling as the Big Apple's.
The bilingual French-Canadian metropolis 330 miles to the north tempts with all sorts of restaurants: celeb chefs' posh domains, funky little BYOBs and heritage-proud kitchens that revel in Quebec's bounty. Even takeout grub is tops in Montreal.

Renowned gourmet chefs reign over the city's top kitchens, offering sumptuous, multicourse tasting menus. The Beaver Club, in the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel, is where Montrealers go to pop the question or celebrate a windfall on the Toronto Stock Exchange. Dress for a dignified evening, and when you're settled in, go for the house strawberry Champagne. Don't miss chef Martin Paquet's maple-glazed piglet or lobster in Canadian whisky, and save room for the predessert cheese course.

It's no gamble to dine at Nuances, the award-winning restaurant in the Casino de Montreal. Sitting in Nuances' plush, dove-gray room, with a view of the sunset, is like lounging on a cloud. Master chef Jean-Pierre Curtat's tasting menus showcase Quebec as well as his uncommon gift for seafood. The Nuances wine cellar is spectacular, so consider the "wine with each course" option.

Bronte is a supersexy spot where couples cuddle in circular white leather booths and hand-feed each other. But the oohs and aahs you hear are for chef Joe Mercuri's bold and sensual chow, which Montreal foodies love to blog about. This chef's indispensable ingredient? "Passion," says Mercuri.

Open for dinner and Sunday brunch, Les Cons Servent is a trendy yet committed "resto" with an inexpensive modern bistro menu and an equally contemporary look. Chef Stelio Perombelon's innovative recipes include crispy, fresh-caught salmon, and avocado-lavished Quebec venison carpaccio. See how your waiter translates the place's name. It's a French joke - about waiters.

How about a BYOB? Choose a fun bottle of wine in an SAQ, Quebec's classy, government-run liquor stores. Then hit Duluth St., lined with cheap yet terrific BYOBs. Le Couscous Royal cooks way-authentic Moroccan food like you'll never find in New York. Sit on the shady terrace and try owner Hafid Zniber's méchoui, an indescribably delicious roasted lamb dish.

A four-course BYOB feast is only about $40 at Le Poisson Rouge, a spider plant-filled corner bistro facing the inviting Parc la Fontaine. Servers André and Josianne take good care of patrons, many of whom order the Quebec-raised wapiti (elk) fillet or the Arctic char caught in Atlantic Canada's waters.

Montrealers on the go, especially potatoheads, treasure Frite Alors. Its eight locations serve skinny Belgian fries right out of the fryer with your choice of mayo. Try the one spiked with harissa hot sauce.Montreal, it's to dine forLes Cons Servent toasts Quebec's traditions - it's a place where young Montreal discovers old Montreal. Photo by Samuel Archambault

"The Main" is the Blvd. St. Laurent's nickname, and one of its legends is Schwartz's, a vintage, no-frills Jewish deli. If the line is long, you can buy beef brisket and rye bread to wolf down in your hotel room. Just don't ask if it's pastrami or corned beef - it's Montreal smoked meat.

Montrealers scream for ice cream from Bilboquet, whose two storefronts scoop heavenly cones. The choco-orange and praline flavors are worth the wait.

To really get into Quebec cuisine, though, shop where the chefs do, at Marché Jean-Talon. This glorious farmer's market, right on the subway line, also happens to be Montreal's most inspired photo op. It boasts acres of produce and flower stalls, delis, bakeries, cheese shops and a made-in-Quebec store where you can sample fabulous Fin du Monde beer brewed a few miles away.
Vive Montreal!

Montreal info: (877) BONJOUR,
The Beaver Club: (514) 861-3511,
Nuances: (514) 392-2708,
Bronte: (514) 934-1801,
Les Cons Servent: (514) 523-8999,
Le Couscous Royal: (514) 528-1307,
Le Poisson Rouge: (514) 522-4876,
Frites Alors:
Schwartz's: (514) 842-4813,
Bilboquet: (514) 276-0414, (514) 369-1118
Marché Jean Talon: (514) 277-1588
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