When planning our visit to Montreal, I found that the Internet was indispensable. I've put together a list of useful Web sites that have a focus on food and dining in Montreal (if I'm missing anything, please let me know):
» From the Montreal suburbs comes Banlieusardises, Martine's French language site on food and other diversions (there's also an English language counterpart, Suburblicious).
» While not strictly a food blog, per se, blork blog frequently turns its attention to matters of cooking and dining in Montreal.
» The official site for Montreal's public markets provides detailed information on Atwater Market and Jean Talon Market.
» Montreal Food publishes restaurant reviews and other insights into Montreal's food scene.
» Les meilleurs cafés à Montréal offers a short round up of the best cafés in the city.
» montrealplus.ca offers Montreal restaurant reviews as well as additional pages with travel-related information.
» fodors.com provides a handy guide to Montreal's restaurants.
As this Moveable Feast comes to a close, here's a look back at all of the posts on Montreal food -- from "happy pig chops" to crunchy bagels to rousse beer:
Wherever we went to out to eat in Montreal, we found that the domestic beer landscape was divided between la blonde and la rousse.
We kept going back for la rousse -- slightly nutty, deep reddish brown beer with the subtle flavor of caramel. I love dark beers, but these were different. Not too bitter or malty, Canadian red beer is robust and full-flavored, yet as thirst-quenching as a lighter beer.
My favorite was probably Le Cheval Blanc Rousse, which I had on draught at Bières et Compagnie, but other red beers we came across include Griffon Rousse, Belle Gueule Rousse, Boréale Rousse, and Rickard's Red.
On our last day, we stopped at the Super C across from Atwater Market and grabbed a couple of cases as a liquid souvenir of our trip. I am sad to say that like the fresh bagels and baluchons we took home with us, those bottles are just a memory now.
The French influence on Montreal is palpable, but that doesn’t mean it’s monolithic. Montreal is, in fact, a diverse, multiethnic city, and I was surprised to learn that Italian-Canadians, who immigrated during two waves at the end of the 19th Century and after World War II, are considered its largest ethnic group.
The cultural and commercial center of the Italian community is located in Montreal’s Little Italy, or La Petite Italie, as it is more properly known. Located northeast of the city’s center, the district’s main drag is St. Laurent Boulevard, which is lined with Italian groceries, cafes, restaurants, and gelateria. While walking St. Laurent Boulevard, the cultural contrast is striking -- while all of the signage is in French, the red, green, and white colors of the Italian flag are everywhere.Read More >
Although a case could be made that one could exist solely upon the edible bounty of Montreal's public markets, the city also has its fair share of wonderful specialty food shops, a number of which maintain a singular culinary focus -- be it olive oil, tomatoes, or even salmon. All of the stores listed below are conveniently located in the Plateau district, though the bakery Première Moisson has branches throughout the city. A word of advice: beware exploring these shops on Mondays, when many are closed for business. A quick call in advance to check store hours will be worth your time.Read More >
We stayed in Vieux Montreal (old Montreal), the city’s historic core. Dating from Montreal’s founding as a French settlement in the 17th century, old Montreal has been lovingly preserved and restored since the 1960s after years of neglect. Today, the area is a major tourist destination, though a beautiful one (it beats Times Square any day).
Its narrow, cobblestone streets are lined with formidable 18th and 19th century buildings, a number of which have been converted into boutique hotels. Hotel Nelligan, Hotel Place d’Armes, and the St. Paul Hotel (where we stayed) retain their period façades, though their interiors have been largely overhauled with cool modernist design.Read More >
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.Read More >
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.
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.