MONTREAL BECKONS! A FOODIE'S PARADISE
Every year for my birthday, I like to get away. This year, due to a quite heavy travel schedule, I chose to stay relatively close to home and decided to head north to Canada. I wanted a European experience but did not want to fly to Europe, so I headed to Montreal, a city I had always heard described as the Canadian Paris. This was also my very first trip to Canada (weird - I know), despite its easy accessibility from New York.
Flight and hotel booked, and one restaurant recommendation in hand, my partner in crime and I set off for Montreal. I didn’t know much about the City and had no specific plans but the spontaneity and lack of planning yielded an absolute amazing trip and I am going to try to incorporate this approach in my future trips.
Montreal is a quick hop, skip and a jump from NYC. The heart of the City is also a quick taxi ride from the airport. So, we arrived by early afternoon and immediately wanted lunch. We departed the beautiful L’Crystal Hotel in search of a great meal and happened upon La Societe restaurant in the heart of downtown Montreal. The weather was perfect so sidewalk dining was a must. We both ordered the beautiful Lobster Club sandwich and fries because it sounded so amazing. It was absolutely delicious. The lobster tasted better than anything I had recently tried in New York, and I wondered if there was a difference between Canadian and Maine lobsters. I didn’t care enough to ask but my tummy was very happy after that sandwich and the amazing fries.
To work off lunch, we hiked up to the top of the beautiful Mont Royal Park. The Belvedere observatory offered amazing views of downtown Montreal as well as the river and mountains in the distance. I wish I had gone back at night, however, Le Local beckoned. A friend who loves Montreal recommended Le Local and his recommendation did not disappoint. The restaurant, located in the Old Port area, was warm and welcoming and filled with beautiful people. The restaurant had an open kitchen concept that allowed us to see the chefs at work. I had a hard time deciding between the fixed menu, the seasonal menu or the classics. In the end, we had an octopus salad starter, a lobster roll (are you sensing a theme?), halibut and flank steak. The octopus was incredibly tender and was accompanied by the tastiest tomatoes, cucumber and mint pesto, avocado puree, chorizo chips and jalapenos. The lobster roll was buttery and delicious. They do amazing things with bread here. The halibut was perfectly cooked and served with ricotta gnocchi, chanterelle mushrooms, corn, sorrel and lobster butter. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. The flank steak was also wonderful especially the spiced BBQ butter. Dinner ended with the chef’s choice dessert and we received a perfect little assortment of mini desserts including mini chocolate covered ice cream pops. Le Local was an absolutely wonderful introduction to Montreal’s restaurant scene and I highly recommend it.
Despite the perfect weather of the day before, Saturday was a huge letdown and it rained all day. We made lemonade out of lemons by hanging out in the hotel’s rooftop hot tub and then had French toast for breakfast. This was no ordinary French toast; it was made out of white chocolate bread and was accompanied by the sweetest wild strawberries and a salted caramel sauce. We split a savory and sweet crepe for lunch before heading to see Gone Girl with the locals. It was pouring that night and we tried to order in from the Canadian version of Seamless but the wait was too long, so we ended up ordering from room service and had a quite delicious meal. The highlight of which was a dessert called Pudding Chomeur, which translated means unemployed or poor man’s pudding. It’s described as a simple cake batter onto which a hot syrup or caramel is poured before baking. In the La Coupole version, the pudding was infused into the cake almost like a jelly doughnut but with the consistency of syrup. It was a beautiful dessert.
Sunday called for brunch and we wanted to explore the Plateau neighborhood of Montreal. On the recommendation of the concierge we headed to L’Avenue where we waited on line for 40 minutes but it was oh so worth it. Best brunch of my life – hands down. We shared both a sweet and a savory dish. Buttery french toast was smothered in Nutella and fresh strawberries. The savory was an egg dish called Bobby Does Dallas – I still dream of this dish. Roasted Potatoes, mushrooms, onions, beef and assorted spices were sautéed and smothered in BBQ sauce and topped with scrambled eggs. Talk about a flavor explosion in your mouth. It was incredible and I would go back to Montreal simply to eat this dish. The eggs were accompanied by a Montreal style bagel, which is flatter than the bagels we are accustomed to in New York. Maybe I should have gone to a bagel shop because based on this version, New York wins the bagel wars hands-down.
Such a big breakfast called for some exercise, so we set off and explored the Plateau neighborhood where we were charmed by the beautiful and unique housing stock and the incredible street art. That evening we had dinner in Old Montreal at Mechant Boeuf, a gastro-pub known for its beef. I sampled a burger and the beef certainly lived up to the hype. We also took the opportunity to try Montreal’s famous poutine. French fries are smothered in a brown gravy and cheese curds. This version also contained pulled pork. It was delicious but I almost think I would have preferred the French fries by themselves.
Our last day in Montreal was spent in the Old Port neighborhood. After lounging in the hotel’s pool and hot tub, the day started with a decadent lunch at the bistro Restaurant Holder to celebrate my actual birthday. This was another concierge recommendation. L’Crystal was truly on point in this regard. Holder was very close to the business district so it was filled with office workers at lunchtime. The service was exceptional, however, and we were not made to feel any different even though it was clear that we were not part of the regular clientele.
Holder had an expansive menu and it took some time to decide what to eat. We started with a nice bottle of Pouilly Fume (there is nothing more decadent than drinking before noon) and a warm goat cheese appetizer that was served on a flaky crust with an olive tapenade. It was the perfect starter – so unexpected yet so delicious. I decided on the braised beef cheek bourguignon; it was served with mashed potatoes and green beans. Think about the most tender, falling off the bone, short rib that you have ever had and you will have an idea of what this dish was like. It was superb. The lobster ravioli wasn’t bad either. On any other day, it would have won but it just could not compare to the beef. Two amazing desserts followed this incredible meal. I had a warm pineapple turnover with English cream and maple syrup, think about a warm pineapple upside down cake on steroids. My sister had the butterscotch mi-cuit with Maldon salt and butterscotch ice cream. This was like a molten chocolate cake but with butterscotch instead of the chocolate. It was incredible and we would have ordered another one but we had to leave for the spa.
Off we went to find Bota Bota, a spa that is located on a boat as one can imagine from the name. On the way we saw the interesting mix of old and new architecture that makes this part of Montreal so unique. Bota Bota is docked in the Old Port and the boat was reconfigured to hold spa treatment rooms, a restaurant and various pools for their water circuit. I love going to spas around the world and this was one of the most unique spas that I have encountered. We booked the Tribal Journey experience that included a coffee grain body scrub, a cactus wax body wrap and a massage. It was messy but it was great.
That evening, it was time for our last meal in Montreal. The folks at Holder suggested that we try Le Serpent for dinner. After the amazing experience there, we figured that they would not disappoint us and after checking out a few online reviews made a reservation.
When in the car going to the restaurant, we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into because we were in a quite gritty and industrial part of town (which turned out to be only a couple of blocks from where we were earlier in the day) and even the cab driver had a hard time finding the place. When we entered the restaurant, we were blown away by the industrial chic nature of the décor. The food and drinks were also on point. After a long weekend of heavy eating, we decided to take it down a notch by having salads followed by risotto. The simple salad of greens, pine nuts, pear, pecorino and pepitas was delicious due to the high quality of the ingredients. My lobster risotto was perfectly prepared, simple and delicious. Le Serpent provided the perfect ending to a wonderful weekend in Montreal.
All in all, Montreal was a foodie’s paradise and it is so accessible from the East Coast, that I highly recommend it for a weekend getaway.
Words and photos by @JetSetNic