Musing from your Post Master General
Earlier this month I ventured from New York City up to the French Canadian cultural capital of Montreal, Quebec. Normally when I am in a new town I like to see and do everything. My guide books tend to fill up with notations and corner creases as I aim to get the most out of a city in the brief time that I am there. However, I had been to Montreal a couple of times before so on this trip, I decided to take a different approach. Instead of traveling by guide book and curiosity, I decided to travel by stomach. Montreal is known internationally as a premier food capital so a gastronomical tour was a must.
Of course at first I had other motivations. The reason I don’t think I can live out my life in a place like the tropics is because I simply love the fall. It is by far my favorite season. If any of you live in, or are familiar with the weather of the New York metropolitan area, than you can imagine my disappointment with the last couple of autumn seasons. They have started off slow and mild with one week or two of the cool air that I crave so much only to turn into a blizzard or a hurricane by the end of October into early November, hardly leaving time to admire the foliage before frigid winter rolls in. This year I decided to cheat the weatherman a little.
So before autumn was stolen from the New York area, I decided to take a trip and drive up to Montreal. If the shoulder season wasn’t going to come to me, than I was going to have to find it. The leaves were still green when I left on that early Friday morning but by the time I got to the northern Adirondacks in Upstate New York, the mountains and the trees that occupied them were cast in beautiful shades of red, orange and yellow. With Montreal only a stone’s throw away across the border, my early fall fantasy was realized. The time for transcendentalism was over and the time for a taste bud led navigation through the culinary delights of our northern neighbor was just beginning.
4621, Rue St-Denis
Montreal, QC H2J2L4
After arriving in the city and spending the day shopping, my girlfriend (who was accompanying me for the weekend) and I decided that we were hungry. Since I did not want to wander aimlessly on the first night I was there, I had made reservations at a place called Chez Chose, which was recommended several places online. The place did not disappoint.
When we arrived, I was a little intimidated as the venue did not have an English menu posted outside. The only menu there was in French, the predominate language spoken in Montreal. For the record I don’t speak a lick of French. The restaurant was a lot smaller than I thought it would be. Chez Chose was located on the semi-subterranean level of a brick building with cast iron stairs in the hip district of le Plateau. The feeling of the room though was rather warm and inviting. The crimson brick walls were adored with large chalkboards adoring their menu, again only in French.
My language fears were soon realized as our waiter approached us after we were sat asking for our drink orders…in French. I tried ordering wine but it was painfully obvious that I was butchering her native tongue. She understood me somehow and brought us our drinks, but she didn’t say much else after. We ordered the Soup du Jour because it was one of the few French phrases we knew, and we were glad we did.
The soup was a butter-nut squash and tomato bisque with a touch of truffle oil and little bits of chorizo diced in. From the moment a spoon full of the delicious concoction hit the tip of my tongue, I felt a feeling of untainted ecstasy. I was sitting on the food plane of nirvana. The marriage between the soothing squash, the tangy tomato, and the salty chewiness of the chorizo was a perfect menage a trois of flavors and textures. Considering this was our first bit of food for the night, and our first meal in Montreal, we knew we were in for a treat all weekend.
Another friendly waiter named Robert was commissioned over to read the menu to us in English. This was a very nice gesture done by the restaurant and we were grateful. We had assumed that we would simply ask him questions and he would answer them for us. However, he went on an beyond the call of duty and proceeded to read the entire menu to us with such beautiful poetic poise and rhythm making almost everything that spun out of his accented mouth sound appetizing. Once again, almost everything.
“Might I suggest to you the rabbit…”
My girlfriend looked at me with disgust. Normally I will try any type of food, especially when I am in a city away from home, but rabbit hit an awkward spot with us, especially with my girlfriend.
“No sorry.” She replied. “We have a pet rabbit.”
This is true as we had adopted a rabbit a couple of months prior and we had become enamored with him. It did not feel right to eat one of his buddies.
“Ah, my apologizes. No Rabbit then.” the waiter answered. ” You do not happen to have a pet chicken, no? Well even so, this next dish is not chicken, it is a guinea fowl. The chicken, you can make friends with the the chicken, but the guinea fowl. No way!”
After the reading of the menu top to bottom, I decided to order a scallop dish. My girlfriend ordered a stewed steak dish. Due to the waiters convincing manner of speech, we ordered a side of sea urchin as well. Before we received our main courses, another waiter brought us some complementary rabbit pate. My girlfriend declined. I felt guilty not at least trying some but I couldn’t enjoy it for psychological reasons.
As expected our main courses were great. We both enjoyed our experience there. The bill was very reasonably priced considering how recommended the restaurant was. After we paid and left, we did not realize that we would have to return to Chez Chose in the morning as I left my shopping bags at my table. The restaurant called my cell phone and when I called them back, the wonderful staff told me that could pick up my bag anytime tomorrow. This show of courtesy as well as the quality of the food left my no choice but to highly recommend Chez Chose to all my friends and readers who decide to venture to Montreal.
2156 Rue MacKay
Montréal, QC H3G 2J1
Before we set off for a day of light site seeing and eats, we decided to get breakfast. We stopped in a small café located near the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts called Nocochi. The café had a casual ambiance as its red and white furniture highlighted both the brightness of the room and the paintings on the walls.
The brunch menu was a little pricey for the portions that were offered but had just what every American tourist desires in the A.M., eggs and/or French Toast. I ordered the latter, the 2 inch thick French Toast to be exact. My girlfriend ordered two eggs over baked potatoes and fruit. This menu was in both French and English as the restaurant was in a more tourist occupied section of town. The waitress also spoke both languages and took our order promptly. Both meals were clean and delicious. The freshness of the fruit that came with both or selections cleansed our pallets for the day of more food ahead of us.
Nocochi was exactly what we wanted in a breakfast. I don’t mind paying a little bit more (everything was between $12 and $15) if I know exactly what I’m going to get. My girlfriend enjoyed her coffee as well. So far it was a good start to the day.
St Viateur Bagels
1127 Mt Royal Ave E
Being as I live in New York, when I was told Montreal bagels were some of the best in the world, I had to try them for myself to verify this claim. I had read that St. Viateur Bagles were one of the best in the city. We stopped by one of their locations in le Plateau and tasted them for ourselves.
Out of a wood fire over and down a shoot passed these tasty smelling bad boys. I ordered six for trying at the counter and picked out three poppy and three of sesame. It was like I had discovered a new species. Compared to their New York counterparts, Montreal bagels feel a little denser. They have almost a subtle sweet taste and have much larger holes than the New York variety. I enjoyed eating them.
In my opinion, they aren’t better or worse than New York bagels, they are a completely different style to be appreciated and consumed on equal standing with the greatest bagel varieties in the world. You can’t venture to Montreal without trying some for yourself.
Creperie Chez Suzette
3 Rue Saint Paul Est
Later that day, we ventured down to Old Montreal. Located near on the edge of the St. Lawrence, as its name indicates, Old Montreal is the original section of town. Its streets are reminiscent of Europe in many ways. Because of this, Old Montreal tends to be full of tourists no matter what season you travel to the city in. You will be hard pressed to find a waiter that doesn’t speak English in this neighborhood because of this, for better or for worse.
We popped into Creperie Chez Suzette for what else but crepes? This restaurant is much bigger than it looks and we were seated on an upper floor. It seemed to be full of tourists speaking both French and English. I ordered a French Onion Soup and both my girlfriend and I ordered some dinner crepes (as opposed to dessert crepes.)
Unfortunately neither compared with Paris but than again, what does? They were certainly delicious for this side of the Atlantic. I enjoyed both but the crepes were a little too big for my liking. Than again, I had just tried a couple of bagels so this should not count again the establishment. Since having a crepe in Old Montreal is a desired Montreal experience, I recommend Chez Suzette for its cute and expected charms. If you are looking for a genuine Montreal experience, I suggest you look elsewhere but remember, tourist isn’t always a bad word. Sometimes it’s good to experience both the traditional travel happenings as well as carving your own unique memories along the way.
256 Rue Roy East
Saturday evening we headed back to le Plateau for a night of Basque cuisine at Pintxo. As many of you know, I have an affinity for the Basque country so this restaurant, located a little off the beaten path, seemed up my ally. The clientele at this upscale joint was dressed fashionably and seemed to speak mostly French. Our waiter however, recognizing that we were not native Quebecois, spoke in a broken form of our native language. Unfortunately we got a sense that not being able to speak French also meant to them that we were ignorant to fine dining and she treated us like such for the rest of the night.
I’m sure she didn’t have negative intentions but after we sat down, she explained to us the very concept of tapas. Maybe that style of food isn’t as common in Canada but it had been a while since it was explained to me so I laughed inside. The concept of sharing small portions of food with the rest of the table (just my girlfriend) was not foreign to me as I had spent time in Spain and this style had been trendy for years now back home. However, not speaking French was my curse as the waiter didn’t quite comprehend me when I told her I understood the concept. I did not want to sound like a snob. I feel like I sound like one now. So I just let it go. Next time I go to Montreal, I will study some important phrases beforehand so I can at least give some kind of effort.
Ironically, a positive was that the menu was in Spanish, a language I comprehend well so ordering was not a challenge. The food on the menu was excellent in both price (most items ranging between $5 and $12) and selection. We ordered an assortment of cheeses, meats with a sparkling of seafood. Each dish was delicious and top notch.
I can’t say the same for the service. We waited a half hour between tapas at one point and by the time our Higo Relleno De Jamon Serrano Y Queso Mahon (Stuffed Fig with Serrano Ham and Mahon Cheese) arrived, the small portion, which would have been okay if it came right after our previous plate was cleared, was not enough to satisfy our desperate hunger. During the strange hole between dished, I tried getting the attention of a waiter to no avail. The wait staff, black clad mistresses who ferried from table to table as if they were wearing blinders, were all dressed so alike, I could not figure out which one was ours. Regardless, we did not so much as get a look our way for that time period from anyone. I felt as if I was dead and had not realized it yet, like in the Sixth Sense. Other than that strange half hour period, the rest of the experience was enjoyable, especially when it came to the food. In fact, the food was good enough to perhaps give the service one more chance.
Burger Bar Crecent
1465 Crescent St
On Sunday, we decided to have brunch before we left for home. We walked a couple of blocks from our hotel down Crescent Street and into a placed called Burger Bar Crescent. This location had a very familiar feel as English seemed to be the dominant language in the establishment and NFL games were playing on the television screens above the bar. This is a product of its location, as Crescent Street is the hub for English speaking tourists seeking a wild night of drinking and fun in the city.
My girlfriend ordered one of the tremendous burgers they offered. The specimen was huge as the large patty was complimented only by the mound of onion rings stacked on top. The burger tasted as good as it looked, however I wasn’t about to try too much of it as I had a more daunting challenge in front of me.
Seeing as it was my last day in Montreal, I couldn’t leave the city without trying it’s most famous native dish, poutine. A basic poutine is a French fry dish topped with gravy and cheese curds. Various other ingredients can be added on top of that. I ordered what was called the Hangover Poutine, which was essentially a basic poutine with a fried egg on top. For added charm, it was served in the pot it was cooked in.
I didn’t have a hangover when I entered the place, yet when I left, I had whatever the food equivalent of a hangover was. The meal was out of this world. The combination of the cheese, gravy, and egg on top of the fries was both savory and delicious. The way the potato would soak up the gravy combined perfectly with the bits of cheese. I could see how this dish became so popular. I could also feel the damage it was doing my body. About two thirds of the way down I felt that familiar feeling of wanting to continue eating, but not being able to shove anymore in my mouth. Every bite after that felt gluttonous. Hangover Poutine 1, Clash 0.
From top to bottom, from fine dining to casual eats, Montreal deserves its reputation as one of the premier food cities in the world. As I left that Sunday, I was both full and satisfied. I was also ready to go on some sort of diet so I could live long enough to return to Montreal to visit my old favorites and try some new establishments as well. The next time you are in Montreal, make sure you stop in and eat at one of these restaurants. You won’t be disappointment.
Hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed eating. Have a great Monday. Don’t forget to like and share this post. Thanks.