Friday, October 23, 2009

Montreal Food Guide - Part Une

A few weeks ago, a couple of my friends and I took an eleven hour train ride up to Montreal, Quebec from NYC. The Amtrak train ride was long, but much more enjoyable than flying and not to mention cheaper! For me the best part was the view of the fall leaves throughout the Hudson Valley and of course eating tons of snacks.
I stuffed one Baggu bag full of various goodies such as: Cheddar Bunnies, Ginger Snaps, Fig Newmans, Wasbabi peas, rice crackers, Pumpkin Flax granola bars, apples, bananas, Tazo tea, and Volvic water. Plus there is the dining car, but microwaved chicken sandwiches for some reason didn't interest me.
Siamese Cheddar Bunnies - Photo by AWD
By the time the train arrived in Montreal, it was dinner time and we dropped our luggage off at the Hotel St. Paul and walked through Old Montreal to a restaurant called Garde Manger. I had read about it on Chow Hound and The New York Times. We made it there and walked into a trendy yet cozy interior. Unfortunately, we were denied a table because we needed a reservation and no waiting was allowed. What? So my friend and I foolishly decided to just walk to a restaurant that seemed to be close by called Joe Beef. After about a mile in the misty rain on a desolate street we arrived at Joe Beef only to find out that they too only took reservations. Now I was becoming irritated, so we decided to check next door at a place called McKeirnan as our last option since was already 9:30 pm. Come to find out, McKeirnan is actually connected to Joe Beef and is advertised as a luncheonette more than as place to eat dinner. We walked into the small, dimly-lit restaurant with tile floors and a tin ceiling lined with small tables and a chalk board high up on the wall stating its menu. To the right of the menu was the open kitchen with a robust chef with a thick Québécois accent. The menu looked rustic and hearty, but definitely not suited for a vegetarian. The only option I had was an eggplant sandwich, and I am not a huge fan of the vegetable. When I told to the chef I wanted the sandwich - he informed me that it was "too pedestrian for tonight." So surprisingly he ran downstairs and brought me up a piece of fish and ended up preparing an on-the-spot dish of mashed potatoes, toasted pecans and pine nuts, topped with fish. The dishes were served in these adorable white enameled cast iron pieces. It really hit the spot. Both the chef and the cute waiter were so nice, and chatted us up after we finished our meals, giving us places to find a beer. I unfortunately did not bring my camera along, but below I attempted to draw my meal. Later that night we made it to Snack'n Blues - a place suggested to us my our waiter in the Mile End neighborhood. It was amazing - cheese puffs in bowls and a projector displaying Prince live in concert from the nineties.
The next day after getting a tour of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, we made our way to Olive + Gourmando, a little cafe and bakery I had been dying to go to. The place is in Old Montreal and is bustling. You are first seated and the host places a sign at your table that says "Reserved." Then you are suppose to get up and order at a counter. The menu is located on a chalk board and is in French.
I ended up getting roasted red pepper and tomato soup and my friend got the Cubain - a panini filled with ham, braised pork, homemade mayonnaise, and gruyère cheese. The soup was delicious, and my friend gave the panini a 7 out of 10. At the end of our meal we were confused on how to pay, because we never got a ticket, but the waitress assured us that when we got to the pay counter that they would know what we had ordered. And sure enough, somehow they did, but before we paid we got a chocolate banana brioche and one palmier to take back to the hotel.
We decided to have a dessert competition between the brioche, palmier, and our Fig Newman Reduced Fat cookies from our train ride. The chocolate banana brioche was just alright. The chocolate was kind of dry and chunky and only every once in a while did you get a slice of banana. For all the trouble it was to eat, it definitely wasn't worth it.
The palmier was thickly coated with a dry simple syrup. The coating was so thick that it kind of hurt your teeth to bite into it - revealing its flaky texture inside. If it hadn't had been so rock hard I probably would have liked it better.
I was so disappointed, but then I remembered the Fig Newmans. These cookies were soft and filled with delicious sweet figs. You really couldn't beat them, and the other two desserts didn't stand a chance. The Fig Newmans won hands down!
Later that night after going to the Festival du Nouveau Cinema and seeing Mary and Max, a touching claymation about an 8 year old Australian girl who is pen pals with a forty year old New York man with Asberger's, we went to the French bistro called L'Express. We had gotten smart and made a reservation. L'Express was brightly lit and had tall ceilings and tiny tables lined up throughout the restaurant. The waiters were all wearing crisp , white dress shirts with black ties and vests.
We sat down with our French menus and fortunately the waiter brought us English versions so we could order appetizers - chicken pate for my friend and a vegetable soup for me (it had chicken broth - oh well). While waiting, the waiter brought us a jar of baby pickles. Seriously, they were probably our favorite thing we ate the entire weekend. I ended up not finishing my meal so I could eat more pickles. After appetizers came my white fish with vegetables and my friend had the steak and frites. Both meals were cooked perfectly, except for a few small bones I found in my fish.
More on Montreal and their food later. Look out for second post on Canadian Thanksgiving, Montreal bagels, and their specialty - poutine.
For more on Montreal restaurants, click here for The New York Times' suggestions.

For Part Deux of my food guide, click here.

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