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NYC Mike

Inspired by the Montreal in Gourmet Topic

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Well, after some more thinking I changed our reservation to A L'Os for Sunday.

Smart move. Chez L'Epicier is dead on Sunday nights.

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I agree... and while good, there's also a reason it isn't raved about again and again! Good but nothing to write the posting board about ;-)

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Thanks for the confirmation. I guess I did the right thing.


"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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Thanks for all the tips here. We just got back from Montreal, where we had a wonderful time. We loved the city. We ate a ton. We were very pleased with the food we found there.

Right after we arrived on Friday we looked for a suitable lunch location near our hotel in Vieux Montreal. We tried to eat at both the Cluny ArtBar and Olive & Gourmando, but it being after 2 p.m., the food at both places was rather picked-over and unappealing. We ended up at Versus, the restaurant belonging to the Hotel Nelligan. The restaurant has large banquettes and enormous windows that open to make the whole restaurant feel like an open-air terrace. It was a very pleasant place to sit and have a drink, and the food wasn't bad. My wife had a salad with good chunks of seared tuna, and I had a salmon dish served with some yummy caramelized fennel. The menu is short.

Dinner on Friday was Au Pied de Cochon. I thought we were both prepared for the experience. But when we walked in, we were a bit taken aback by the utter lack of décor in the place. The restaurant is really rather ugly, with plain, blond wood tables, in an awkward, long room. Plus, on a warm day the brick oven up front really makes the place unpleasantly hot. While we were standing there, waiting for the hostess, we saw one couple, clearly bewildered by the menu and waiting a while for some help with it, get up and leave. Then we were given their table, and I noticed the sweating couple next to us struggling to make a dent in what looked like massive piles of meat and sauerkraut. They didn't really look happy, either. The menu was impenetrable, listing opaque items like "PDC Chop" and "Duck in a Can." I was worried.

But then our server arrived, and everything turned out quite well. The staff was very helpful and enthusiastic. We had an interesting small appetizer that verged on "molecular gastronomy:" fried balls of liquefied (somehow?) foie gras. The little poppers just exploded in your mouth. Not bad, but I wouldn't bother with them again. Then we had asparagus, the first of the season, and this dish was way more complex than I expected. In addition to asparagus it featured fiddleheads, a scoop of polenta, and goat cheese foam. Delicious. As for entrees, we had the lamb shank, which is confited (in duck fat), then braised until fork tender and served with a light tomato sauce. That was good, but the duck in a can turned out to be the showstopper. This dish involves duck breast, a hunk of foie gras, some lardons, thyme, some kind of stocky stuff, and I'm sure a few other things, all canned in-house at the restaurant. At the time of service, they heat up the can, bring it to your table, open it, and dump the steaming contents over bread on a plate. Sensational. This dish, to me, was the essence of the restaurant. Over-the-top in terms of richness and volume, but man. Somehow you eat it all. We ordered a tasty Cotes Du Rhone Villages to go with it for $37.

On Saturday we had a picnic lunch at the Jean Talon market, assembled from Hamel cheeses and a couple other things from around the market. Dinner was at Toque! We'd already noticed that space age 60s-retro decorations are quite popular around Montreal, and Toque! takes this idea to an extreme. The restaurant is in the lobby of a modern international style office building, and the furnishings feature spherical white lighting fixtures and huge striped banquettes in red, pink and purple. I liked it, my wife not so much.

We both were pleased with the food and the service; there was some obvious upselling going on, but we were willing participants. The server offered us a small-production sparkling wine to start with, and he used enough superlatives to describe it that I wasn't surprised at the $21 per glass that we ended up paying for it. Then he also suggested we might like to start with a raw oyster while we looked over the menu, and we did. We knew we'd be paying $5 per oyster, and the amount of money was trivial, so again we went along willingly, but in this case it seemed a little funny to be invited to buy the amuse bouche.

Our appetizers were, first, the foie gras, which was nice. It was seared, with a nice crust, very soft in the middle, and it was served with crispy fruit wrappers (I can't think of another way to describe them) on top of a mango puree. I thought the fruit complemented the foie gras interestingly and well. Our other appetizer was a single giant braised duck ravioli, which we both loved. It was our favorite moment of the meal. We weren't quite as thrilled with the mains, although there was nothing wrong with them. The suckling pig just wasn't as tender as we expected, and we thought the squab was just very tasty, not earth-shattering. I can't for the life of me remember what we had for dessert. We drank a 1er Cru Beaune Burgundy. Looking over this, I think I sound lukewarm on Toque!, but really we had a splendid time and we thoroughly enjoyed the very expensive meal. We left pleased.

On Sunday we went up to Mile End in the morning and tried the so-called bagels at both Fairmount and St. Viateur. Since these aren't really bagels that any New Yorker would recognize as such, it's hard for me to say much about whether they're really "better" than New York's. They really bear a closer resemblance to bread sticks, or even pretzels, than to New York-style bagels. Evaluating them as bread, I'd say they're not terribly good. The sesame specimens gain depth of flavor when warm from all of the toasted seeds. I also thought I could taste a little bit of honey sweetness when the bagels were warm, but barely any after they cooled. If you let Montreal bagels cool, they aren't left with much to recommend them. They're light, soft breadsticks. Most surprising to me was the light, bready texture of the bagels. I expected them to be denser, more like the older-style New York bagels. But they weren't. Sorry, Montreal partisans: as my wife said on Sunday, New York wins.

The smoked meat was another matter. We had lunch at Schwartz's on Sunday, and the meat was first rate. Good flavor, light smokiness. We had medium fat. The sandwich was just $4.95. We waited on line, but it moved very quickly. We had a nice conversation with the elderly couple next to us. I'd go again in a heartbeat. I'll be stopping into Katz's soon for a comparison while the memory is still fresh. I won't say that Montreal wins in this category, but it certainly holds its own.

Sunday's dinner was at a BYO restaurant called A L'Os, which again, we really very much enjoyed. We brought a Volnay from the SAQ. The portions at A L'Os are quite large. I started with a very generous portion of ostrich tartare, served with crunchy bread toasts and a light salad. This is apparently a traditional preparation, and I thought it was very good, with the lightly gamey meat, onions, a little mustard tang and parsley. It was too rich for me to finish it. I also had a huge veal chop, served with a nice brown sauce, mashed potatoes, french beans and asparagus. The restaurant fetishizes bottled water. They provide a menu of seven or eight different bottled waters. We found this amusing. I'd say A L'Os is a serious bistro, and it's probably more expensive than most, but I thought the standards there were very high and portions were very generous, making it a very good value.

On Monday before heading to the airport we had lunch at Chez L'Epicier. This restaurant is also a gourmet food shop and the goods are on display in the same rooms in which you eat. The rooms occupy the first floors of two adjacent buildings, and the walls are rough-hewn stone blocks. There are huge windows, so the restaurant is nice and bright. The place is an excellent spot for a weekday lunch, but by noon you'll find most tables filled with business lunchers. A reservation might be wise; we only got a table because we came in right after they opened. They do particularly well by their vegetables. My wife had sea bream which was served over a pesto and several root vegetables including carrots, beets, and parsnips, all of them cooked just right. My lamb "tatin" (served in a pastry crust) came with a bright, fresh squash puree.

Overall we left very impressed with the restaurants in town.


"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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SethG--

Soo glad you enjoyed your trip~! Now, come back in Late July to see our city in full bloom...

;-)


"The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the ocean."

--Isak Dinesen

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