Saturday, May 24, 2008

Second Time's A Charm

Our second trip to Montréal - this time with friends visiting from Brazil - revealed many new charms (see the top 10 list from our first visit at

Not surprisingly, food was once again a highlight of the trip:

La Brioche Lyonnaise, 1593 Saint-Denis, - this calm oasis in the bustling Quartier Latin, a few steps below street level, serves delicious soups, salads, paninis, quiches and crepes in generous portions. Creamy tomato soup and a grilled chicken salad, ringed with cucumbers, tomatoes and olives and topped with a lemon vinaigrette, more than satisfied my craving for a bite to eat for lunch. A double latte proved essential to an afternoon of sightseeing in Vieux-Montréal. (about $15 per person).

We had dinner our first night at La Colombe, one of the many delightful "BYOB" bistros that make eating in this city affordable and fun. Located along restaurant row on Rue Duluth Est (554 to be exact), this cozy spot offered a $42 table d'hote with a choice of seven entrees that all sounded incredible. After a creamy vegetable "soupe du jour" and a terrine of deer with cranberries, we quickly discovered that the sauces are what distinguish this kitchen. A slightly tart raspberry vinegar sauce was a perfect match for my tender filet of lamb. A delicious wild mushroom sauce accompanied the veal chop. The fig and port glaze that enricled the duck breast was pleasantly sticky and sweet. Only the pork filet's cloying pineapple and honey sauce failed to win our affection. We toasted Colin in absentia for the bottle of wine we packed in our suitcase and now filled our glasses: the 2003 Quilceda Creek Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, rated a perfect score by Robert Parker and rated #2 wine of the year in 2006 by the Wine Spectator The wine was exceptional, with its deep plum nose, tastes of blackberry and chocolate, and long finish. The Osoyoos-Larose bordeaux blend, the result of a joint venture between Vincor Canada and Bordeaux’s Groupe Taillan, was too tannic but opened up as the evening went on and proved quite drinkable. We were divided on which dessert to try, with half ordering the panna cotta with vanilla and passion fruit, and half asserting that chocolate, in the form of a marquise au chocolat, is the only legitimate way to end a meal.

Lunch on our second day was an impromptu picnic courtesy of the vendors at the Atwater Market ( The spread included: Three pates - pheasant with raisins, duck with calvados, and ostrich with pistachios. Four cheeses - one mild blue, one medium blue, and two soft runny varieties. Salami with mustard seeds. Two loaves of bread and a box of whole wheat A medley of olives, roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes, grilled artichokes and marinated mushrooms. A fruit potpourri - strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and cherries. A screw-top bottle of cheap white wine, hard cider, and Perrier. And tiny squares of caramel with fleur de sel from Chocolates Genevieve Grandbois - enough for one for each of us! After a feast like that, it's a good thing our dinner reservations weren't until 9:30 that night...

We arrived at Joe Beef (2491 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest, about 45 minutes early, intending to have a drink first at the McKiernan wine bar next door (2485). With the wine bar closed for a private party, we found the Liverpool House (2501) a suitable substitute. Three black cherry bellinis, champage and a Bloody Mary later, after a snafu that left us waiting thirty minutes after our reservation time for a table, we found ourselves sitting around a booth at Joe Beef, straining our eyes to see the handwritten menu on the chalkboard before us. My lobster bisque had chunks of seafood swimming in a delicious broth that packed a delayed and delightful pepper punch. Four of the five of us ordered the braised lamb shank to share, prepared just as I like it, tender meat falling gently from the bone. A side order of frites - brown and crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and sprinkled with salt, rosemary and garlic - were addictive.

On our third day, we found ourselves at Jean-Talon Market ( just in time for lunch. We got revved up on espresso macchiatos at Brûlerie aux quatre vents and then went carb-crazy with two nutella crêpes at Crêperie du Marche (one with strawberry, the other banana) and crunchy frites from Frites Alor, served in a paper cone with three dipping sauces: Américaine (mayo, paprika, garlic, shallots, onions, and harissa); Pistou rosé (mayo, basilic, dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and garlic) and my personal favourite, Limette (mayo, lime, and black pepper). A few sample slices of juicy nectarines and peaches on our way out, and it was nap time!

We perhaps saved our best meal for last at Au Pied de Cochon (526 rue Duluth Est, Nodrog hit the nail on the head when he compared the servers here to the glassblowers at Chihuly's studio. There's the physical comparison (these guys are cute and buff!) but more importantly the reverence and respect for the chef and the food. Our questions were answered in loving detail, especially our request for a run-down of the 8 foie gras choices. We settled on the foie gras poutine (a PDC classic, at left) and the Ploque a Champlain, an incredibly rich combination that includes the star ingredient atop a blini with egg, bacon and maple syrup. In a remarkable show of restraint that paid off by leaving us satisfied but not stuffed, we split everything among the 4 of us: two blue cheese, apple and endive salads ($8.50 each), the two foie gras dishes ($23 and $25), the duck in a can ($36), the confit lamb shank ($26), and Pudding Chômeur ($7), a gooey sweet bread pudding with maple syrup. Cardiology consult, please!

As for sightseeing, we discovered a few more ways to entertain ourselves during the day:
*Rent bikes and take a ride to the top of Mont Royal for a panoramic view of the city

*Take a leisurely stroll around the Botanical Gardens

*Window shop along Saint-Denis

Our budget hotel, Auberge Le jardin d'Antoine, was ideally situated in the heart of the Quartier Latin, at 2024 rue Saint-Denis ( The $118 a night rate ($108 with a CAA/AAA membership card) included a carb-heavy breakfast including fresh St. Viateur bagels and pretty decent coffee. Next time, I'd splurge for a larger room, though. It was pretty cramped for two, especially in the bathroom!

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