One of the things I like about Montreal is that it has a rather good assortment of brewpubs. Dieu du Ciel, Le Cheval Blanc, and Reservoir being amongst my favorites. The last of these also has a rather fine pub menu, including items such as steak tartare, fish and chips, and the like. But that’s not why I’m writing about them (indeed, I’ve not actually sampled their dinner menu, although it always looks phenomenal). I’m actually writing about their brownie.
For me, one of the great enjoyments I have with Asian cooking is when I can find a place with hand-pulled noodles. Unfortunately, these aren’t terribly common, especially in the hinterlands of Northern New England (indeed, I’m not sure we have any places that do this, although I’d be delighted to be proven wrong). A good bowl of hand-pulled noodles, especially in a rich, flavorful soup, is a wonderful combination of tastes and textures. Luckily, Montreal has more than a few noodle shops, and one of the newer ones in Chinatown, Nu-do, is another branch of the already well-regarded Nu-do of Eaton Center, and the related Yuki Ramen in Faubourg Ste-Catherine (is there anything decent but Yuki still left in the Faubourg, now that Faubourg Bagels has departed?). So when we were looking for an interesting dinner, we grabbed Rick, Sarah, and Nancy, and walked down to Chinatown. Nu-do is the exact sort of place. It’s been around a while, but they still haven’t invested in permanent signage; the restaurant is labeled with a simple reinforced nylon banner labeling the place as “Restaurant Nudo”, with the “Nudo” obscured by the unsecured corner of the banner. But don’t let the dubious signage discourage you: after heading down a short staircase, you find yourself in a fairly spacious dining room, with a glass wall looking into the noodle cooking station, with the noodle-puller hard at work pulling ribbons of noodle for each order as they come in.
Way back in 2002 (years before this blog), a friend of mine from grad school went to Montreal, and recommended one particular place on Le Plateau for breakfast: L’Avenue. It’s a really funky place on Ave Du Mont-Royal Est, and several online resources and word of mouth have mentioned that it’s one of the best brunch places in Montreal. Well, our first visit to L’Avenue confirmed two things: they had a seriously good brunch, and that the word had gotten out, since the place had legendarily long lines (over an hour long on a Saturday morning). The long lines have led to us only returning once in the last few years, but my many visits to Montreal the last few years taught me another lesson: Les Quebecois tend not to be early risers. And noting that L’Avenue opens at 8am, we decided that when we were in town for Mondial, we’d simply rise early and head over to L’Avenue around opening time.
This last week, we spent an extended weekend in Montreal. While we always enjoy a good trip to Montreal, this time we were coming for a specific event, Mondial De La Biere, Montreal’s Beer Festival. This was their 20th year of operation, and Mondial consistently has a good range of both Canadian and foreign brewers come in for a surprisingly low-key event (compared, to say, the Vermont Brewers Festival, there’s no entry fee, just beer tickets, and the crowds are surprisingly light). But one does not subsist on beer alone, so the trip also gave us a chance to both check in on various Montreal favorites, as well as check out some new (to us) places. Our first dinner in Montreal this visit came form meeting up with my friends Rick and Sarah (also in town for Mondial), and their buddy Nick (with daughter in tow). Nick, a Plateau resident, came up with our dinner locaiton: Nouveau Palais, up in the Mile-End neighorbhood.
After a very pleasant day touring around Montreal (including another visit to one of my favorite brewpubs, Dieu Du Ciel, it was unfortunately time to head back to Dorchester Square, board the bus, and ride back to the US. But our schedule had just enough time in it for us to enjoy one last culinary stop in Montreal: to have a quick smoked meat sandwich. We ended up selecting Dunn’s, for one of several reasons: Dunn’s is right by Dorchester Square, so it was conveniently located Dunn’s is one of the respected places for a good smoked meat sandwich And Dunn’s also has some culinary history with respect to the name “smoked meat” itself
Carol’s employer has some pretty cool employee benefits programs. One of them tries to address the fact that the Upper Valley area of NH/VT isn’t exactly the most happening place, and offer a lot of programs for both local recreation, as well as travel. As part of this program, they offer up cheap trip (that’s how we went on last month’s trip to New York City for Grimaldi’s, for example). This month, they offered up a cheap day trip to Montreal, so at 5am, we hopped onto a bus at Dartmouth, and by 10:30 we were at Dorchester Square in downtown Montreal. After breakfast and some light shopping, we decided to head up to one of my favorite parts of town (the “Plateau”, where there are a lot of cool shops and restaurants on Boulevard St Laurent and Rue St Denis). To get up there, we availed ourselves of Montreal’s most excellent Bixi bike rental system. After an hour of riding Bixi bikes around Mont Royal park and the plateau, we decided a small lunch was in order. We ended up going to a place that’s been on my hit list for a while: Patati Patata, a small little diner featuring sliders and poutine.
While our hotel (Chateau Versailles) had a perfectly decent continental breakfast included with it, we were craving French pastries. So we went down the road looking for a nice local boulangerie. What we found was one location of a small Quebec chain, Premiere Moisson Boulangerie. Walking in, the first thing we spotted were two large display cased filled with all varieties of pastries, both savory and sweet, with all sorts of croissants, millefeuilles, muffins, tarts, and the like. The second thing we spotted was the queue, with several people all lined up waiting to order from the display cases. Carol and I opted to start out with the same thing, Pain au Chocolate and a large bowl of cafe au lait…
I’ve enjoyed sushi for quite a few years, but I always get a little frustrated that your typical sushi places just have the same standard rolls, with little attempt to be innovative or inventive. But every once in a while there is a sushi chef that’s still trying to do things both creatively, and well. So one thing I make sure to do if I’m visiting a major metro area is to check to see what some of the local sushi places are up to. In Montreal, quite a few of the local reviews gave really high marks to Mikasa Sushi Bar. It was walking distance from our hotel, so we decided to check it out our first night there.
As I talked about in my previous post, Quebec is known for it’s culinary heritage, particularly that resulting from the French fur trading heritage, so there are a lot of rich, hearty dishes. Poutine, in particular, is a Quebecois favorite, consisting of fries, cheese curd (and it must be curd, poutine doesn’t work with shredded cheese), and gravy. But it’s almost impossible to do a web search on poutine in Montreal without getting a recommendation for Au Pied de Cochon. Hiding behind a most unassuming storefront on Rue Duluth a few blocks east of St Denis, chef Martin Picard has opened a modest restaurant that is, quite frankly, a shrine to two things: traditional Quebecois cuisine, and meat itself. Au Pied de Cochon (the name literally mean’s “pig’s foot”), the restaurant is basically dedicated to large slabs of freshly roasted meat, served up with impossibly rich sauces, and even the more-than-occasional slab of foie gras. And it’s become quite the foodie destination in Montreal (which even before Au Pied de Cochon had quite the reputation as a food tourism destination), meaning that every night it’s open, PdC is packed to the gills, and it took some groveling for us to get a 9pm reservation.
Quebec isn’t just another province in Canada: it has it’s own language (Quebecois French, which, as my French colleagues like to point out, resembles Continental French, but has a distinct vocabulary and accent), it’s own culture, and, particularly, it’s own cuisine. In particular, it’s rather hard to drive through Quebec without noticing all the businesses advertising poutine (I’ll get back to the topic of poutine in my next article), Montreal-style bagels, and Montreal-style Smoked Meat (aka “viande fumée”, or even, if being a string Quebecois French constructions, “boeuf mariné”). Which brings up the question of “What is Smoked Meat?” It’s really a specific style of prepare beef. Several references claim it’s basically “pastrami”, which is closer, but isn’t quite right, either. However, it shares the basic preparation style with pastrami: the meat is spiced, cured in a brine, “smoked” (which is really more of a roasting step than a proper smoking) and, finally, steamed it until the connecting tissues within the meat break down into gelatin. Where it differs from pastrami is in the spicing and smoke, the result being something approximately halfway between corned beef and pastrami, leaving a bit more of the natural beef flavor. The best description I’ve heard is “the flavor of pastrami but the mouthfeel of corned beef”. If you like a good pastrami, you’ll like smoked meat, although it’ll be a matter of taste which one you really prefer. As far as getting smoked meat, Montreal is full of delis that specialize in it. And one of the classic places to get it Schwartz’s Deli…