Oh, Montreal. Where do I even begin?
I think I may have mentioned it earlier, but Meena and I went to Montreal for the weekend. It was a little pre-birthday trip that I surprised her with last week. I really expected to enjoy the time away from NYC exploring a new city.
I had no idea.
Montreal is flat out amazing. It's laid back. It's fun. It's clean. It's active. Everyone who speaks French can easily transition to English (sorry Montreal, I tried, but I'm just BAD at French).
And the food.
The food is pretty incredible in Montreal. The folks up there are really passionate about everything from fine cuisine to french fries covered in gravy and cheese, so you know we did our best to plow through everything we'd heard about and all the stuff we stumbled upon.
I'll just start by mentioning the stuff I missed with the digital camera (I have some of them on film and I haven't made it to Duggal yet):
1. We had the legendary Montreal bagel and I'm happy to report it's actually better than the beloved NYC bagel. Just barely. But it is. There's not the giant divide we'd read about prior to our visit. But the Montreal bagel is smaller, more compact and in possession of a crispier, thicker crust around all that doughey goodness. That's the real kicker that puts Montreal ahead in this genre - that crust. The wood fired oven gives each bit of dough this slightly smokey, golden brown finish that resists the initial bite before giving way to that classic bagel softness. Whew.
2. Le Cartet breakfast. This one wasn't anything we'd read about prior to travel, but we stumbled upon this chic Rue McGill spot. I only mention it because I had the most amazing croissant with ham and goat cheese. Flakey, buttery, cheesy and ... cheap. Le Cartet is worth stopping by if you're ever in the neighborhood.
So on to the stuff I did photograph starting with our dinner Friday night at Bistro Bienville on rue de Mentana in the Plateau. I'll just go ahead and say, this was one of the best meals I've had in a long, long time. These guys just get it right. From the atmosphere (just a handful of tables, a couple guys in the open kitchen, perfect lighting and incredible service) to the food, everything was perfectly executed.
All of these things had French names but I can't recall any of them. I'll just describe our five dishes in English if you don't mind:
- 3 west coast and 3 east coast oysters
- shrimp cocktail with spicy remoulade
- grilled octopus with asparagus and potato
- escargot bruschetta
- veal with fennel and potato
We also had a bottle of Muscadet to accompany the whole meal. I'm not all that sophisticated with wine so I don't know if that was a good choice, but I really enjoyed it. Meena, too.
The grilled octopus was probably my favorite dish. They just knocked it out of the park. It's so easy to ruin octopus and these guys grilled it to perfection. Every bite was better than the one before it. The east coast oysters and the shrimp were pretty close second place finishers. But honestly, it was all remarkable. I didn't want it to end.
Saturday night we stopped by one of Montreal's undisputed culinary institutions - Au Pied De Cochon. They're famous for using foie gras in wonderful ways - like stuffing it in a pig's foot. They also have this duck in a can thing where they cook duck and fois gras in a can and open it at your table. Pretty awesome.
Anyway, we didn't go goose liver crazy, but we did manage to combine Cochon's infamous specialty with one of Montreal's most beloved foods - poutine. That's right, we had fries, gravy, cheese curds and ... fois gras. Everything in me told me I probably wouldn't have liked this heart attack on a plate, but I can't front, it was incredible.
For the main courses, we moved into some more standard plates - Meena had bison steak frites and I had duck magret. Both were cooked perfectly. Meena's bison steak especially. Perfect crust and rare in the center. Smothered in mushrooms. Awesome.
So that was basically Montreal from the food point of view. We had such a good time. I think we missed the smoked meat sandwich. I don't think. I know. I probably should have picked one up, but whatever. Next time. We have every intention of going back. I probably should have had some Canadian Whiskey? I don't know what else. But everything was so perfect that I don't even really care what I missed.
We can't wait to go back.