Adventures in Montréal

Montreal’s old port at night

Eric and I recently enjoyed a few days in Montréal, one of our favorite cities on the planet. I thought I’d take a few minutes to capture our opinions on the places we ate, the inn where we stayed and so forth. We’re huge fans of the city and all it has to offer.

The food

Despite what my Weight Watchers leader always used to say (“You eat while you’re on vacation; you don’t go on vacation to eat!”) we love to explore new and unusual restaurants when we’re traveling. Montréal has an impressive dining scene, one that inspired us to do a lot of research before this year’s trip. After careful planning, we chose three restaurants for our dinners, snuck in a trip to an old favorite by going there for a snack and made it to a great outdoor market instead of having lunch one day.

Here’s the rundown:

Restaurant DNA

355, rue Marguerite D’Youville in Vieux-Montréal

We opted for the chef’s tasting menu, so each course was a complete surprise. The servers took care to describe each dish and its ingredients. Standouts from the incredible nine-course, three-and-a-half-hour experience included raw oysters, salmon tartar, mezzaluna pasta with DNA ricotta cheese in a mint emulsion, Quebec lamb shank, halibut with olive oil aioli and a hazelnut tart. The sommelier also took the time to come to our table and offer a recommendation from the restaurant’s extensive wine list. Warning: with tip, this came to $300 Canadian. Worthwhile, but not just another evening out. Aside from the price tag, the only negative was the atmosphere. It’s on the pretentious and trendy side; dress to impress or dare to feel uncomfortable.

Chez L’Épicier

311, rue Saint-Paul Est in Vieux-Montréal

Here we found a creative menu, friendly service and some truly creative flavor combinations. The meal began with an amuse-bouche of cold cantaloupe soup topped with bacon. I chose the lobster soup for an appetizer, while Eric had foie gras. He had rabbit with anchovies, olives and parmesan. It came with a side dish of spaghetti topped with hollandaise sauce delivered directly from heaven. I would eat shoes dipped in that sauce. I had poached salmon in a mustard mint sauce. We both tried the kir maison, which that night was sparkling cider with a blueberry reduction (rather than the usual white wine with crème de cassis). The meal was fantastic, and we struggled to find room for dessert. We opted to share something sweet, and chose the chocolate club sandwich on a whim. What a treat! The sandwich arrived with pineapple fries and was one of the most inventive desserts I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating. The meal was expensive, but not over the top the way DNA was.

Le Bourlingueur

363, rue St. Francois Xavier in Vieux-Montréal

Eric and I first tried this restaurant several years ago and were eager to return. The menu changes constantly; in fact, a waitress stopped to update the chalk board listing of daily specials three times while we were there. Le Bourlingueur does an incredible job in terms of offering great food at a reasonable price. We both had the prix-fixe dinner, which meant a glass of wine, an appetizer, a main dish, a dessert and a cup of coffee for $25 Canadian. Eric had a fairly standard salad to start, while I had cauliflower soup. The meal improved dramatically with our appetizers: Eric chose snails, while I picked the shrimp in Pernod sauce. For the main dish, I had a seafood shell while Eric tried calf’s liver. Dessert was on the plain side; Eric had a baked apple and I had sunflower cake. It was an enjoyable meal from start to finish, though it lacked some of the flourishes of the first two dinners we had in Montréal.

Jardin Nelson

407, place Jacques Cartier in Vieux-Montréal

Jardin Nelson’s menu mostly focuses on crepes and pizza, but what keeps us coming back is the atmosphere and the sangria. The restaurant has a deck in the front that overlooks place Jacques Cartier, some seating indoors and a splendid courtyard in the back. The courtyard is the place to be, as long as the weather’s reasonable. There, you’ll find live jazz music, beautiful flowers and an exceptionally relaxing vibe. We stopped in for a snack the afternoon we arrived in Montréal and shared the cheese plate and a pitcher of sangria. Just perfect!

The Inn

Les Passants Du Sans Soucy

171 rue Saint-Paul Ouest in Vieux-Montréal

We stayed at Les Passants Du Sans Soucy, which is one of the best-reviewed bed-and-breakfasts in Vieux-Montréal. The inn is in a historic building right on rue Saint-Paul, the main drag in the old port. With only nine rooms, the place is frequently booked solid. We’ve tried to stay there twice before without being able to get a room. This time, we planned our trip further in advance and decided to give the place a try. The staff is small but fantastic; they’re definitely ready to do anything they can to make your stay more pleasant. Breakfast is incredible, with omelets and french toast made to order. It’s also a friendly affair; there are two large tables so you’re guaranteed to meet some of the other travelers in residence. The rooms are affordable and parking is available for a fee; we paid just $160 per night for the room, which is a bargain for that location. I would describe the room we had as comfortable but small, with a view of the top of Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal.

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