Agenda: 9/8 to 9/14

Coming Up: Get Your Rice Wine On
1. From Hokkaido to Kyushu: Regionality in the Sake World, lecture and tasting led by sake expert John Gauntner, Tuesday, September 28, 6:30 p.m., at The Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street. Tickets: $25; Japan Society members & seniors $20. Attendance is limited, and advanced reservation is required (212.752.3015).
2. The Joy of Sake, tasting of 140 varieties of sake ("the largest sake tasting event held outside Japan"), Thursday, September 30, 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., at The Puck Building, 275 Lafayette Street. $75/person (212.799.7243 or 888.799.7242).

Events This Week
1. US Open Restaurant Event, prix-fixe, 3-course lunches for $20 and prix-fixe, 3-course dinners for $30 (beverage, tax, and gratuity are additional) at 28 Midtown restaurants, continues through Sunday, September 12. American Express card is required for the discount.
2. Food on Film Salon, a four part series at Makor, 35 West 67th Street, exploring the intersection of gastronomy and cinema, begins Wednesday, September 8, with Eat This New York (2003). Screening is at 7:30 p.m., followed by a discussion with restaurateur Sirio Maccioni, and directors Andrew Rossi and Kate Novack, moderated by Peter Elliot of The Bloomberg Executive Dining Guide radio show. $15/person; $50 for a 4-film subscription (212.601.1000).
3. Third Annual Hudson Valley Wine Fest, Saturday, September 11, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Sunday, September 12, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., at Greig Farm, 223 Pitcher Lane, Red Hook, New York. $20/person (845.658.7181).

Ongoing Events:
1. Cookin': A Sizzling Entertainment, "a fast-paced kitchen percussion show combining comedy, rhythm, and non-verbal performance," at the Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane (212.420.8000).

 


Montreal, Where the Pig Chops Are Happy

There are so many great restaurants to choose from in Montreal that it can be difficult to decide upon where to eat. For the indecisive, the quandry is exacerbated by the fact that making reservations on short notice -- at even the best restaurants -- is a cinch. This is a far cry from New York City, where selecting a restaurant is often a process of elimination dictated by the reservation desk.

The experience of our trip the previous year, plus some online research in advance, helped guide us to some memorable meals. Particularly useful was a June article by Dana Bowen in the New York Times travel section rounding up a number of notable Montreal restaurants led by pioneering young chefs.

It was an easy decision to make a reservation for dinner at L’Express (3927 Saint Denis, 514.845.5333) in the Plateau district, a return engagement from our first trip to Montreal. While the restaurant seems to be written up in every tourist guide to Montreal restaurants, it remains understated -- no sign is visible outside except for the L-E-X-P-R-E-S-S spelled out in tile on the ground in front of the restaurant. With its red walls, mirrors, handwritten menus, and serious wait staff, L’Express evokes the fantasy French bistro, right down to the jar of cornichons plopped down in front of you for snacking on just after you are seated.

Roasted marrow bones were on the menu, and I thought to myself, if I was ever going to try them, this would be the place to do so. I had been curious about this dish ever since reading article after article about how acclaimed chef Fergus Henderson serves roasted veal marrow bones with parsley salad at his London restaurant, St. John. At L’Express, each of the steaming marrow bones arrived with small rounds of cabbage leaves on top, along with thin slices of toasted bread and a small bowl of gros sel, coarse gray sea salt. You assemble the dish yourself, scooping the marrow from the bone and spreading it on the toast, followed by a sprinkling of the sea salt and then the cabbage. It was delicious. Even Danielle, who was squeamish about the whole enterprise, tasted the marrow and became an immediate convert. We each followed the appetizer with steak-frites -- charred, juicy hangar steaks served with a pile of crunchy fries and aioli.

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Destination: Montreal, Canada

Beginning today (and continuing into next week as well), The Food Section travels to Montreal for the third edition of Moveable Feast. Previously installments of this ongoing feature have taken this site to Florence, Italy, and Washington, DC, for a snapshot of local food culture beyond New York City. While these earlier feasts have been helmed by guest editors, this time I will personally captain the ship as The Food Section ventures north of the border for a taste of Montreal -- from the city's French-influenced restaurants to its bountiful public markets. (A special thanks to Martine of Banlieusardises and Suburblicious for her e-mails guiding us to some of Montreal's best gastronomical offerings).

But first, a few fleeting observations of Montreal, the city.

* * *

The first time I visited Montreal was last summer, when my wife and I went there to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. We had such a wonderful time on that visit that we were determined to travel there again, and we returned for a brief vacation this past August.

Montreal feels at once very familiar and completely foreign. On the one had, the city is only seven hours away from New York. The same amount of driving time could take you from New York City to Cape Cod, but a trip to Montreal puts you in a completely new environment that is linguistically and culturally different than our own. I don’t think I’ll never get over the fact that you can make such a journey in a day’s drive. On the other hand, although there are moments in Montreal when you could mistake yourself for being in Europe, the city is distinctly North American. Take the cars, for example. As my wife likes to point out, the scale of the automobiles in Montreal is the same as what you would find in the United States -- you won’t find any Smart Cars bounding around and SUVs seem to be as popular there as they are here.

And, although French language is on display everywhere -- in shop and street signs, bookstores, and newspapers, nearly everyone we came into contact with was bilingual, slipping easily from French into English, often without any discernable accent.

* * *

While the close quarters of the tightly packed residential streets of Montreal's Plateau district will be familiar to any New Yorker, one key difference is the ubiquitousness of outdoor terraces. It seems as if Montrealers have a constitutional right to a few square feet of outdoor space, as small balconies pop out from the midriff of nearly every rowhouse. Also striking are the exterior wrought iron stairways (often forged with detailed decorative patterns) placed on the outside of the buildings to get second floor dwellers up to their apartments.

terracedetail

* * *

Montreal's built environment maintains a fascinating balance between a modern, if not futuristic, aesthetic and tradition. Portions of Montreal’s underground, a bustling subterranean network of shopping malls and arcades that spreads underneath the city, look like something out of a science fiction film, while above ground, just a few blocks away, is the beautifully preserved Vieux Montreal, where the narrow cobblestone streets and 18th and 19th century architecture could easily be mistaken for that of a European city.

Vieux MontrealThe Underground