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  1. http://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/dining/a5818/montreal-restaurant-scene/ Asked to name the best restaurant city in America—meaning the United States—I offered the only reasonable answer: Montreal, a city with the culture, the cooks, the restaurants, the provisions, and the hospitality. (Also of significance is Canada's nicely diminished dollar, which makes dining a deal.) Such a welcome package was neatly summed up by a Canadian pal, Mike Boone, who worked with me at the Montreal Star in the 1970s. He said, "We're not just nice, we're cheap." Of course, Montreal isn't exactly in the United States, should you be hung up on such details as international borders. (Obviously, I am not.) The city is in the province of Quebec, a part of Canada as long as there has been a Canada. My belief that Montreal is really a lost colony of the United States is strengthened by the indisputable fact that our Continental Army captured and briefly held it in 1775. One need only glance at a map from those days, when the province of Quebec was nestled just north of the 13 colonies, to admire the logic. Allow me to add this: The citizens of Quebec practically exhausted themselves trying to secede from Canada in the latter half of the 20th century, only to fail when a 1995 referendum lost by a few thousand votes. To me Montreal is spiritually a part of the U.S., a kind of New York City in miniature, although it's even more like an independent city-state. OLD MONTREAL AT NIGHT. DENNIS TANGNEY JR./GETTY IMAGES The restaurants of Montreal are the attraction. Their evolution, which started in this century, has been swift. They are modest in size and technically proficient, and they provide a sense of casual fine dining that is embraced more wholeheartedly here than anywhere in the U.S. The dining culture is descended from those of both France and England— thankfully, more from France—leaving Montreal a sort of culinary orphan, free to seek its own path. New York, which was considered the best American dining city in most eras, but no longer, has become ground zero for casual dining. (A restaurant critic for the New York Times recently announced his top dish of the year: a sticky bun.) Montreal has developed an engaging dining personality at the same time that New York has been losing the one it had. Famed Montreal restaurateur David McMillan (Joe Beef, Le Vin Papillon) says, "I'll tell you why Montreal is the best restaurant city, and it's not about the skill of our cooking. We have the most advanced dining public in North America. I serve lamb liver cooked rare to 17-year-old girls. I sell tons of kidneys and sweetbreads. Manhattan is one giant steakhouse. Everybody there wants steak, or red tuna. I don't want to know how much red tuna is sold every day." Chef Normand Laprise, the grand old man of Montreal chefs (even if he is only 54), adds, "I visit pastry shops in the States, and I know Americans are not open- minded customers. It's hard to sell any- thing other than cupcakes and macarons." Montreal has had multiple culinary revolutions in the past 50 years. When I worked for the Star the restaurants primarily served French cuisine, albeit not quite what you'd find in Larousse Gastronomique. The Beaver Club at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel featured such fantastical dishes as Le Coeur du Charolais Soufflé aux Splendeurs du Périgord. The top chefs, who came to Canada from France following World War II or stayed in Montreal after working at Expo 67, were a little too fixated on flambéing and melting cheese. After the financial debacle of the 1976 Olympics, which almost bankrupted Quebec, the restaurants declined precipitously. The only noteworthy and enduring establishment was Toqué!, operated by Laprise. In 2001 came Au Pied du Cochon, which was informal and inventive. Chef Martin Picard embraced local products and reinvented old, somewhat primitive dishes such as jellied pig's head and poutine, an ungodly assemblage of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy that arose in rural Quebec in the 1950s. Picard created a regional cuisine and, more important, prized local products as few before him had. ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW Joe Beef, the next great restaurant, did away with tablecloths and menus (using blackboards instead). That was followed by Les 400 Coups (in the French tradition) and Lawrence (quite Anglo), establishments embracing either side of the local language divide. They were among the places that made Montreal the best for restaurants in this hemisphere, one where fine dining has been transformed into a modern ideal. No other city does it as well. DAY 1: FARM FRESH MEETS CRAZY GENIUS Daniel Boulud, who has a restaurant in the Ritz-Carlton Montreal, tells me that a visitor can grasp the essence of the dining culture before arriving, simply by looking out an airplane window. "Twenty minutes before you land, you pass over the farms, the greenhouses. This isn't California. Here you have really small farms next to each other, not industrialized." So as I fly in I peer out the window. First I see mountaintops and lakes, then silos and barns. Boulud is right. After we land, my traveling companion and I head to Les 400 Coups for lunch. The room is primarily in shades of charcoal and black, understated. The clientele, like most people in this city, dresses stylishly. The food is auspicious. Our squash soup is not like other squash soups. No bulk. No boredom. It's speckled with drops of olive oil, as though they had floated down from a cloud. The duck croquette is precisely as duck should be: rich, savory, skinless, and easy to eat. If there were such a thing as a wagyu duck burger, this would be it. AN ARRAY OF DISHES FROM LE MOUSSO, WHICH FEATURES A NEW TASTING MENU EVERY DAY. @ONDEJEUNE Les 400 Coups also has a pastry chef, a category of professional disappearing from American restaurants. I don't mean to overdo the compliments, but the desserts are notable as well: delicious and artistic, a little Georges Braque, a little forest tableau; the lemon cream dessert includes sea buckthorn. I would not be surprised if the pastry chef forages when off duty. I feared that our choice for dinner, Le Mousso, an all-tasting-menu restaurant that had just opened, would be like all the tasting-menu joints in America, the chef desperately seeking to express himself. Such food is occasionally brilliant. Too often it's awful. My friend was intrigued, certain it would be different here. She was correct. The restaurant is very Brooklyn, with an array of seating options at tables and counters, plus hanging lightbulbs and a chef, Antonin Mousseau-Rivard, who sports a short beard, a knit cap, tattooed arms, and Adidas shower sandals. He is self-taught, mostly via Instagram, and he says, "I didn't even work at a good restaurant in my life." We are handed a printed menu. It looks weird, but tasting menus always do. We eat seven dishes, all marrying ingredients never previously combined. But the wagyu beef from Quebec accented with slightly salty sturgeon caviar is masterful, as is the cool arctic char nestled in what appears to be a paint box of colors and flavors. Even the desserts are arresting, and desserts prepared by savory chefs are rarely that. The first is labeled sang, which means blood. I'm frightened, as I'm sure the chef means me to be, but it's blood sausage ice cream as Häagen-Dazs might make it, plus Quebec cheddar crumble in an apple-vinegar reduction. (Yes, Quebec has a flourishing cheese industry.) I suggest to Mousseau-Rivard that he might be a crazy genius, and he replies, "I like the word crazy more than genius." DAY 2: LOCAL HEROES A few blocks from the Parc du Mont- Royal, a revered green space designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, sits Beauty's, a luncheonette owned by Hymie Sckolnick, 95. He is always there. Hymie bought the shop in 1942 for $500. He is nice enough not to brag about his investment prowess. BREAKFAST AT BEAUTY'S, A LOCAL FIXTURE SINCE 1942. MICKAEL BANDASSAK Breakfast at Beauty's followed by a park stroll serves two vital purposes: The park provides visitors with an aware- ness of the physical glory of the city, as it's built on the slopes of the multitier hill Mount Royal, and Beauty's remains a notable example of Montreal's enduring (and somewhat inexplicable) fascination with Jewish food, most famously its bagels—smaller, sweeter, and superior to New York's—and its pastrami-like smoked meat. ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW At Beauty's, bagels from the St.-Viateur bagel shop (officially La Maison du Bagel) accompany the "famous mishmash," a kind of omelet that would be scorned by French chefs, inasmuch as it is not golden yellow or elegantly contoured. It consists of eggs, scrambled and browned a bit, the way my grandmother made hers, plus hot dog, salami, green pepper, and fried onion. You will sigh. You will burp. Unmatched in Montreal (or anywhere) is Le Vin Papillon, owned by David McMillan. The food is casual, mostly vegetables. The place takes no reservations and for a long time was nearly impossible to get into, although recently it doubled in size and the struggle has subsided. I recommend arriving at 3 p.m., when it opens, although take care not to wait by the wrong door, the permanently closed one, or you'll feel as if you've been locked out. We have celery root ribbons bathed in bagna cauda, a Piedmontese sauce made with garlic and anchovies; charcoal-roasted white turnips with housemade pomegranate molasses; and the best dish of all: a curiously savory hummus of hubbard squash with homemade focaccia. LE VIN PAPILLON'S CHALKBOARD MENU. RANDALL BRODEUR We don't leave until 6 and decide to skip a formal dinner, choosing instead a late smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz's, which seems to be open day and night. Schwartz's never changes, although the ownership has. The original proprietor, a Jewish immigrant from Romania, is long gone, and Schwartz's is now the property of a consortium that includes Céline Dion. I order my smoked meat fatty—most customers request medium or lean—and the waiter says, "Good for you." Maybe the place has changed: That's a long speech for a Schwartz's waiter. The rye bread continues to be tasteless, the smoked meat is still really good, the cole slaw reminds me of North Carolina, and the fries aren't as great as they used to be, but they're not bad. DAY 3: OLD FRENCH, NEW BRITISH Maison Boulud is admirable for who owns it (Daniel Boulud), for where it resides (in the historic Ritz-Carlton), and for its lovely location adjoining a small garden and duck pond (request a table overlooking both). The restaurant is among the last of its kind, a French one (well, mostly French) in a city where French cuisine is vanishing. (This is happening everywhere in North America; it just seems more baffling in Quebec, where more than half the population is French-speaking.) I order a lunch that spins me back in time: housemade pâté of startling freshness and eminent richness, and confit of guinea fowl leg in a miraculously silken foie gras sauce. The kitchen sends out lovely ravioli stuffed with sheep's milk cheese. It doesn't taste French, and shouldn't—the executive chef, Riccardo Bertolino, is from Bologna. THE MAISON BOULUD KITCHEN. Dinner that evening is entirely anglophile, at Maison Publique, an appealing tavern that offers only Canadian wines (and somehow pulls it off) and plates of mostly meaty foods that sound peculiar, as British cuisine almost always does. I never miss a chance to eat here. We order andouille sausage (reddish, dreamy, and fiery) spread on toast, and tender lonza, or salumi, made from free-range piglets raised for the restaurant in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. The main room has an old wooden floor, dark paneling, and mounted deer heads with soccer scarves wrapped around their necks. The menu is a well-lit corkboard to which is pinned a list of food and drink. Folks gather around it to discuss the dinner choices, a sign of changing times. When I lived in Montreal in the 1970s, during the separatist movement, concerned young people gathered in bars and pubs to sing protest songs demanding freedom from Canada. Now they chat about the origins of local meats and vegetables. DAY 4: A POUTINE CHALLENGE We have made no lunch plans, but when desperate I always call the nearest hot dog joint. On Saint Lawrence Boulevard is the Montreal Pool Room, which opened in 1912 in a different location not far from the current one. (Other changes have occurred: no more pool tables.) In case you have trouble finding it, directly across the street is the garish marquee of Café Cléopatre, which features stripteaseuses and danseuses à gogo. ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW My friend calls the Pool Room and asks, "Are you open? Are you serving food?" A sweetheart of a counterman replies, "Yes, madame. Hot dog, hamburger, cheeseburger. You come, you eat." She has her first Montreal hot dog. They're famous, even if they're bland compared with New York's. Here they're served correctly: steamed and topped with mustard, relish, and mild chopped onions. She also insists on poutine. I await her disappointment, but she loves it, saying, "It filled my every poutine expectation." If you're from New Jersey and enjoy disco fries, you might love poutine too. Hot dogs followed by poutine can be filling, which makes Hôtel Herman—it's not a hotel and there is no Herman—an excellent option for dinner. It offers small plates that are unusually small. The food is unexpectedly elegant, given the rough-hewn decor (wide plank floors that look as old as Montreal itself, tin ceiling, bare lightbulbs). Little logs of housemade foie gras are brilliantly composed, topped with crumbs and cranberries. The chef, Marc-Alexandre Mercier, bakes his own bread, dark and earthy and easily worth the $2 surcharge. The sweetbreads come with mashed potatoes from a variety called Ozette, grown in Quebec. They are mesmerizing, and it's not just the added buttermilk and cream. Mercier tells me his way with vegetables is a result of childhood trauma: His mother made him eat a bowl of rutabaga so awful it made him cry. DAY 5: GENTRIFICATION FLAMBEE Lawrence, among the most Anglo of the Anglo establishments, is blessed with big windows that allow in an abundance of light, a major reason I love to have lunch there. The staff is sweet, the wine list just right, the crockery seemingly from a church basement sale, and the menu filled with dishes you might never have eaten before. Fried endive topped with snowy crab, an unlikely concoction, is crunchy and juicy, impeccably fresh. The desserts are simple but superlative, the "burnt" chocolate pudding much like an all chocolate crème brûlée, and the warm ginger cake is topped with a crème anglaise that I'm tempted to drink. In the evening we set out to see two new restaurants with unusual appeal. Both feature wood-burning ovens, which are unusual in Montreal, and both are in newly gentrified sections of the city. A TRAY OF OYSTERS AT HOOGAN & BEAUFORT. ALISON SLATTERY PHOTOGRAPHY Hoogan & Beaufort is in a former industrial park in Rosemont where the Canadian Pacific Railway once built locomotives. An excellent consequence: It has stunningly high ceilings. William Saulnier, one of the partners, says that in the restaurant's opening days many of the calls they received started out, "Where are you?" Foxy is in a neighborhood once largely populated by Irish immigrants. Both of these spots are following an established American trend, moving away from midtown to more remote locations where rents are cheaper and space more generous. We weren't able to eat at Hoogan & Beaufort, only peek in, because we were dining with Lesley Chesterman, a friend who is the restaurant critic for the Montreal Gazette, and she was reviewing Foxy. She seemed to like my theory that Montreal belonged to the U.S. She said, "Montreal has never felt less Canadian to me." I leave the analysis of Foxy to Chesterman, enthusiastic about everything except the two dishes prepared in the wood- burning oven. About my favorite she wrote, "I loved the flatbread we ordered. Covered in melted raclette cheese, red onions, potatoes, and house-smoked ham, it was reminiscent of an Alsatian tarte flambée. We scarfed it back in minutes, the only problem being that one of the pieces of ham popped off my slice and, as I discovered the next morning, fell into my purse under the table." DAY 6: END ON A SWEET NOTE For me, departure days begin with a trip to the St.-Viateur bagel shop, where I buy a few dozen to take home. The price these days is 80 cents each. Hymie Sckolnick told me they used to cost two cents. When I complain to the counterman, he laughs and tosses in a few extra. Hymie's is a good name to drop in Montreal. PATRICE DEMERS WORKS HIS MAGIC AT PATRICE PÂTISSIER. MARC KANDALAFT Our getaway meal is lunch at Toqué!, which is run by Laprise, that most essential of Montreal chefs. His new establishment is a member of Relais & Châteaux, and his kitchen is a marvel, overflowing with cooks. The food isn't what I think of as new Montreal cuisine—it's too precise and luxurious—but it's up there with the best haute cuisine in North America. An appetizer of arctic char is creamy and silky, tasting of smoke and lemon. My Montreal Star pal Boone, joining us, calls it "the cotton candy of fish." Chicken, prepared sous-vide, is so moist there's beading on the breast. My friend has what the waitress calls "a perfect egg," cooked slowly, with a sauce made from a long-simmering duck reduction. Dessert is so ethereal—mostly honey, jelly, and cream—that on the way to the airport we stop at Patrice Pâtissier so I can pick up a few stuffed-on-the-spot chocolate-banana cream puffs. Patrice Demers, the owner of this new shop on Notre Dame West, was the first pastry chef at Les 400 Coups and thus is a hero of mine. But then, so many Montreal chefs are. Alan Richman is a 16-time winner of the James Beard Award for food writing.
  2. Source: http://www.bbc.com/travel/feature/20130531-how-the-quebecois-came-to-love-poutine/1 The day began eight hours earlier in Europe, under the light drizzle of Switzerland’s rain. As the plane began its descent into Montreal through layers of blue, pink and peach-streaked skies, the vast Canadian landscape came into view. Soon we were on the ground, making our way through the buzzing airport, past maple syrup souvenir shops and a cacophony of French and English conversations. Almost immediately, a familiar craving crept up and my stomach began to rumble. Poutine was calling. Poutine is the ultimate Quebecois comfort food – a pile of thick-cut French fried potatoes, generously sprinkled with fresh cheese curds and slathered with velvety gravy. When in the province, duck into a greasy spoon, stop by a cabanes à patates (roadside chip wagon) or take a seat at some of the city’s haute cuisine hotspots – invariably some version of poutine will be on the menu. As Montreal food blogger Na’eem Adam put it, “we all have a little gravy in our blood”. Here that gravy is usually made with a chicken, veal or turkey stock mixed with a roux of equal parts butter and flour. The result is a savoury sauce thick enough to coat a spoon and hot enough to warm – but not melt – a scattering of cheese curd. The by-product of cheese making, the curds are separated from the liquid whey of coagulating milk and heated until they reach a doughy consistency. In poutine, their freshness is paramount, measured by an unmistakable “squeak” between the teeth while chewing. European legacies Cheese making is a deeply rooted culinary tradition in Quebec. Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Quebec City, introduced cattle from Brittany and Normandy around 1610. At the time, arriving French brought with them a taste for cheese – as well as the recipes to continue the tradition abroad. As the rate of settlers increased, so did the cattle, and soon dairy farms and cheese making were vital to local economies. Canada’s history meant that settlers benefited from both French and English influences, and cheese was no exception. After the American Revolutionary War (1775 to1783), a wave of defeated loyalists moved to Canada, bringing the quintessentially English cheddar cheese. With the invention of pasteurisation and the advent of industrialisation in the late 19th Century, cheese production flourished in Quebec. By World War I, Quebecois factories were even exporting cheddar back to England. Where cheese curds fall in this timeline is imprecise. The dominant theory points to a milk surplus from Quebec dairy farms around the 1950s. With a plethora of cheddar cheese factories and an excess of milk, the leftover curds found their way into takeaway shops and diners around the province. Posh poutine Rumour has it the Quebecois harbour a hint of embarrassment over their love for poutine – an apparent juxtaposition to their branded sophistication. Combining French-influenced style and North American affability, Montreal brims with creativity and swagger. And at one hip eatery, Au Pied du Cochon in the Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood, the city’s penchant for cool meets their not-so-secret love for chips and gravy. Here, chef Martin Picard makes a play on French-Quebecois flavours with adventurous and brilliantly executed nose-to-tail dishes, throwing in a heavy dose of off-the-wall culinary creativity. Heaps of pork, duck, foie gras and boudin (blood sausage) dot the calorific menu, and under low hanging Edison light bulbs and butcher-block wooden tables, you dine on fat. The poutine is no exception. Picard’s interpretation starts with a chicken velouté gravy enriched with pork stock, foie gras and egg yolks. The decadent sauce is ladled over cheese curd-dotted chips fried in duck fat and topped with 100g of expertly seared goose liver. Picard’s poutine is gorgeously fatty, rich, savoury, sublime. It is the kind of dish that inspires scheduled layovers through Montreal just to snag another taste. A messy history But poutine was not born topped with a slab of foie gras. Its origins lie 150km northeast of Montreal in the town of Warwick. History points to restaurateur Fernand LaChance who, in 1957, added cheese curds to a takeaway bag of chips at the request of customer Eddy Lanaisse. Legend has it LaChance replied to Lanaisse’s request saying, “ça va faire une maudite poutine” (that's going to make a damn mess). It is argued that the etymology for poutine lies here with LaChance. Others point to an adaption of the English word “pudding”, while some Quebecois claim poutine is the evolution of the local slang, poutingo, or “bad stew”. Nevertheless LaChance indulged Lanaisse, and soon word of his chips-meets-curds creation spread. However, gravy did not enter the equation until seven years later. It was in Drummondville, a small town 50km southwest of Warwick, that sauce married chips and cheese. At a local restaurant, Roy le Jucep, owner Jean-Paul Roy was slathering gravy on his chips when he noticed diners throw cheese curds, displayed for sale on the countertops, into their takeaway bags. He put the mash up on his menu, thereby effectively creating poutine as we now know it. Roy le Jucep still stands in the same spot today. Word-of-mouth steadily carried poutine from local villages and cheese-making towns around the province into Montreal, and by the 1980s, poutine was so engrained in Quebecois culinary culture that Burger King and McDonald’s had it on their menus. In 2007, Canadian news agency CBC conducted a survey that rated poutine 10th on a list of Canada’s best inventions. Local love In Montreal today, you can find everything from classic to avant-garde poutine. La Banquise in Plateau Mont-Royal is one celebrated eatery where you can do both – even at 3 am. A family-run local favourite, La Banquise opened in 1968 as an ice cream shop before growing into a snack bar specialising in hot dogs and chips. Poutine first hit their menu in the 1980s, but when Annie Barsalou took over the restaurant from her father, Pierre, they started to experiment with the dish and never looked back. Today, La Banquise is a 24-hour dedicated poutine joint with more than 28 varieties on offer, such as poutine with merguez sausages, hot peppers and Tabasco. Lunchtime is saturated with a loyal crowd of nearby workers, while at night the students roll in. This is the kind of rowdy spot you seek out after an evening of boisterous drinking – it is informal, packed and noisy. And their poutines are exactly what you crave after midnight, with fat chips that retain their texture against smooth, well-seasoned gravy. Along with late-night greasy spoons, the Quebecois also have a shared love for poutine from cabanes à patates. These roadside food trucks dot the province serving up classic poutines that make purists swoon. Lucky’s Truck is a contemporary take on the traditional, serving up haute street food out of a repurposed Fedex truck that traverses Montreal’s cobblestoned streets. Theirs comes with duck confit, caramelised balsamic onions and a foie gras and red wine sauce. The confit is melt-in-your-mouth, the gravy is full-bodied and indulgent and the onions are beautifully sweet with a touch of balsamic tartness that cuts through the richness of the sauce. Poutine party. And then, there is Poutine Week, an entire week dedicated solely to poutine. Founded by blogger Na'eem Adam, the first ever celebration took place in February 2013 and more than 30 restaurants featured the Quebecois icon on their menus as the city embarked on a culinary food tour to uncover the best. Diners hopped from spot to spot, taste testing poutines and voting for their favourite on the festival’s website – which got more than 100,000 hits in the week. From amateur eateries to poutine connoisseurs, the Quebecois spent the week indulging in jazzed-up versions – such as Le Porky Pig at St Laurent Boulevard’s Macaroni Bar, which served theirs with sliced porchetta, fontina cheese and sweet potato fries – alongside the classic, where the focus was on hand-cut fries, perfect gravy and the freshest curds. By week’s end, Poutineville on Ontario Street was voted the best for their General Tao Poutine, made with crushed potatoes, cheese curds, scallions, sesame seed and General Tao sauce, a North American-Chinese sweet, sour and spicy sauce. Next year’s Poutine Week is already in the books for 1 to 7 February. Quebec has not one, but two poutine-related celebrations, with the St Albert Cheese Curd Festival taking place from 14 to 18 August 2013. Held each year by one of Montreal’s most prominent cheese curd producers, the St-Albert Cheese Co-operative, the festival celebrates the factory, the small town about 150km west of Montreal and – of course – cheese curds. This year’s event is particularly meaningful; in February 2013 a fire destroyed the factory. For this village of 500 residents, St Albert’s has served as the backbone for the community since it opened in 1894 as a collective of 10 milk producers. Today, the Quebecois are rallying around St Albert’s, supporting the rebuild and working together to ensure the factory’s survival. The soul of Quebec It is perhaps this camaraderie – more so than all of the events, roadside wagons, poutine hotspots and jazzed-up versions – that speak to the deep connection to this iconic dish. Simply, poutine is in the Quebecois consciousness. And from the moment you land in Montreal airport to finding your way through to the city’s beautiful and bustling centre, this feeling of fellowship is palpable, best expressed over a generous plate of warming poutine.
  3. Un autre article faisant l'éloge de la gastronomie montréalaise Hungering for beauty and the bistros The Boston Globe La tire, maple syrup frozen on a stick, for sale at Marche Atwater. (Jonathan Levitt for the Boston Globe) 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. 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. Jonathan Levitt, a freelance writer in Maine, can be reached at [email protected]
  4. A Weekend in Old Montréal November 12, 2007 Nothing could be more romantic than taking a new flame (or an old love) to a European city for a long winter weekend. With the euro pounding the dollar, however, it makes sense to see the cobblestone streets and candlelit cafés closer to home. French speaking and cosmopolitan, Montréal is the perfect proxy for Paris, and a real value with the Canadian "loonie" at one to one with the dollar. Splurge on a limo from the airport (about $50) and settle into a boutique hotel in historic Old Montréal. Your ticket to sure-fire romance is just outside your hotel door. Best spa experience For the ultimate couple's massage in the most curiously cozy of environs, book a hot stone treatment at Le Spa. Converted from a vintage bank vault, the small space oozes peaceful luxury. Candlelight bounces off the brick ceiling, rugged stone walls, and a heated onyx floor. Le Spa in the Hôtel Le St James, 355 rue St-Jacques Most panoramic sunrise With the massive arc of the Biosphere peeking over the distant tree line, the clock tower at the north end of Vieux-Port provides an exceptional backdrop for dramatic morning skies. Gentle currents of the St. Lawrence River flow below your feet as the rising sunlight glistens off the Jacques Cartier Bridge on the near horizon. C'est magnifique! Vieux-Port at Quai de l'Horloge. Best place to sip wine Tuck yourself away in an alcove at Hôtel Le St James' tiny lounge, with its high-backed love seats and dim lighting. Black-clad waiters provide excellent -- but unobtrusive -- service, sliding roasted almonds in front of you and disappearing without a word. An impressive wine list features world-class wines by the glass (for under $15). Most decadent treat Forget the crème brûlée. It's child's play on the splurge scale when compared to Bistro Boris' pommes frittes (French fries). Deep fried in duck fat and dipped in spicy mayo, these fries are pure indulgence. Flickering candles and intimate tables set the scene at this diminutive eatery. Best place to hold hands As dusk fades to night, park yourself on a bench in the Place d'Armes -- across from Basilique Notre-Dame. Royal blue lights suddenly appear in the cathedral's windows and arches, mimicking the color of the darkening sky. Water trickles from the park's central fountain, casting an emerald glow. The effect is stunning. Don't miss a visit to the church earlier in the day. It's intricate interior is wonderfully rococo without being overly ornate. Most romantic cliché Although frightfully unoriginal -- and a bit expensive at $45 for 30 minutes -- an evening carriage ride through Old Montréal is still terribly romantic. Glimmering lanterns along Rue St-Paul and the clip-clop of the horse's hooves on the cobbled streets set the stage for cozy snuggling under faux fur blankets. Carriages line up in front of the Basilique Notre-Dame, 110 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest. Best reason to wander from Old Montréal Catch a taxi (or hop on the Metro) to rue Sherbrooke Ouest and impress your love with an afternoon of old-world elegance. Take high tea at the Ritz-Carlton's posh courtyard garden. Make sure to ask for a table on the heated terrace overlooking the duck pond. After tea, stroll across the street to the Musée des Beaux-Arts. The collection here features work by local artists and select works from both European and modern masters. Where to Eat The fries at Boris Bistro are a must, and the duck and salmon dishes are well prepared. Three-course meals with wine run $45-$55. Restaurant Gibby's is a Montréal institution. Steak and oysters live up to the hype. Three-course meals with wine run $60-$80. Skip dessert at Chez L'Epicier at your own risk. The menu features a chocolate "club sandwich," with sliced strawberries replacing the tomato, basil for lettuce, and chocolate for roast beef. The pineapple "fries" are sheer crispy sweetness. A three-course meal with wine runs $75-$100. Where to Stay Expedia offers great deals at the delightful Hotel XIX Siecle. Ranging from $125-$165 per night (depending on your travel dates), the rate includes parking and a European-style continental breakfast buffet. The location can't be beat -- it's near Basilique Notre-Dame and Le Spa. Slightly more upscale, Hotel Le Saint Sulpice is also in the heart of Old Montréal. Weekend rates start at $165 for a simple loft suite; $305 for a superior loft suite with breakfast and a spa credit. ---Dawn Hagin
  5. Montreal restaurant an ode to culinary excess Wed Sep 19, 2007 7:10am EDT By Lionel Perron MONTREAL, (Reuters Life!) - When patrons walk into Martin Picard's popular eatery in Montreal's trendy Plateau district, they'd be well advised to leave cholesterol concerns at the door. As the name Au Pied de Cochon (The Pig's Foot) suggests it's all about slabs of pork, beef, venison, lamb and duck with one recurring ingredient -- foie gras. "It's my favorite gourmet food, but a lot of people are reluctant to try it", says Picard, referring to the delicacy made from the livers of ducks and geese. "But when I mix it with fast-food dishes, they seem to forget they're eating foie gras". He lavishes the stuff on everything from hamburgers to poutine (French fries, gravy and cheese curds), a delirious offshoot of Quebec's alternately beloved and despised fast-food icon, to its signature preserved duck in a can. The menu is a foretaste of Picard's love affair with foie gras and Quebec's culinary tradition of rich, hearty, filling main courses. The "Happy Pork Chop" is in itself an ode to excess; one pound of meat stuffed with foie gras, lots of it. "What Martin does at Au Pied de Cochon is right in my emotional comfort zone. It speaks right to my heart, as a cook and as an eater", says Anthony Bourdain in the introduction to Picard's self-published cookbook. Three years ago, tourism officials invited Bourdain, an American celebrity chef, author and TV personality, to sample some of Montreal's finest restaurants and he fell head over heels for this former pizza joint. Picard roasts almost all his falling-off-the-bone meat dishes on a rotating turn inside a brick oven in the middle of an open kitchen. "I was adamant about removing the brick oven when we took over the building in 2001, but I didn't have enough money to do it. Luckily it's become the soul of my restaurant," said Picard. Young kitchen staffers in jeans and funky T-shirts add to the establishment's laid back atmosphere. "It's the kind of nonsense and frippery-free food that resonates with other chefs -- who inevitably 'get' what Martin is all about: The Good Stuff prepared skillfully and without pretension, and a shared philosophy of 'too much of a good thing is seldom enough'", Bourdain added. Just like the restaurant, the cookbook is unconventional. It opens with a photograph of Picard in a meat locker slugging a split pig like a punching bag while his shirtless staffers look on. With no book advance, tour, let alone a publisher, the book, sold out its first press run of 6,000 copies (5,000 in French and 1,000 in English) three weeks after its release last October.