Fair warning, this is going to be a long post. I can’t help it but there’s so much to say and show about my vacation in this Canadian city that’s so often called the Paris of North America.
I’m half way through my weeklong vacation, checking out the fall colors and trying all kinds of modern French cuisine and more in this charming and manageable city. Despite the fact that French is the main language of choice, it’s easy to maneuver in English with most people bilingual and restaurants providing menu descriptions in both languages.
Here’s what I’ve observed and learned about dining in Montreal:
Be Prepared for the Cheese and Meats
Following that French vibe, Montrealers love their cheese and most restaurants (in the tradition of diners) are heavy on the meats and cheese. A good example is when I ran into the popular Au Pied de Cochon food truck parked at Dorchester Square.
The menu had a sandwich that sounded loaded with meat and cheese, so instead I thought it would be safe to order the “dumpling.” Turns out, a dumpling in Montreal is basically a deep-fried calzone, and this was filled with ham, cheese, tomatoes and potatoes. It was comforting in the cold rain but so much to eat, with the oozing cheese dripping down the sides with every chew.
Get Cultured While Walking Things Off
I did a lot of walking to help work off everything I ate. Montreal is easy to get around with a subway system and an underground system that lets you check out shops and eateries when it’s too wet or cold above.
I spent a lot of time getting lost and strolling around Old Montreal. I got to check out a special Rodin exhibit with 300 pieces from Paris that showed how he formed some of his most famous sculptures. Montreal has several museums and galleries to explore and discover.
Modern French Bistros in Style
Many of the places I’ve been trying serve French bistro fare, but presented in a new and modern way, with reduced or lighter sauces. I’ve tried a few amazing places where the chefs are leading the way in reinterpreting French cuisine. I’ll go more into depth on these restaurants in my next few posts.
Montreal seems to be a city that has a hybrid of old and new, living side by side. There’s very little blending between the two. You either like the nostalgia or you go for the modern, not much in between.
Coffee Seems Light Roast and Marche Jean-Talon
I haven’t tried too many cafes so far, but the ones I’ve been to seem to serve light roasts (that I would compare to Blue Bottle). I’m happy to see that most people here can make lattes with my preference of soy milk, and one of my favorites was from Cafe Saint-Henri, a popular local cafe that has three locations.
I visited its newest location, a brightly lit with white walls and aqua-trimming space adjacent to the Jean-Talon Market. Jean-Talon is actually one of the largest public markets in the city, but it pales in comparison to San Francisco’s Ferry Building, Vancouver’s Granville Market and most definitely La Boqueria in Barcelona. Still, it was fun to explore and check out all the fall fruits and vegetables in season. They’re very similar to what I’m seeing back home.
Burrrrr Means Comfort Food
The timing of my trip feels like the start of winter instead of fall. Hard to imagine that last week it was in the 60s here when today it was 37 degrees. This mean a lot of craving for comfort food and for me that’s either soup noodles or dumplings (the ones wrapped into little purse shapes, not the big calzone like Au Pied de Cochon’s).
One day while looking for a late lunch, I wandered into Chinatown and decided to give Qing Hua a try, mostly because it was still able to serve me food even though it was between lunch and dinner. (BTW, they’re cash only.)
The dumplings were some of the prettiest I’ve seen, with just the right crimping to give it a delicate shape. I tried for the first time curry chicken dumplings, which are dumplings filled with curry chicken. What this mean is a burst of curry as you bite into them. Have anyone seen something like this in the San Francisco Bay Area? I’m craving them now.
They Have Hipsters Here Too
While most of the food here seems traditional Montreal or French, there are a variety of other cuisine as well, and some of them are trying to be quite cutting edge, like Le Red Tiger, a new modern Vietnamese restaurant I tried on a Friday night.
When I arrived, it was packed with young diners in a restaurant that was loud and bustling. Luckily, I’ve been able to grab bar or counter seating in all my dining, and the same here where I got to watch the young chefs putting out plates that are play on traditional Vietnamese dishes, such as a shrimp cake spring roll (CAN$7 for two pieces, or US$5.40) that instead of having the fried skin was made with the soaked rice paper wrapper like imperial rolls. The “spring roll” was actually a strip of deep-fried spring roll wrapper inside with the fresh lettuce and pickled vegetables for the crunch you expect from a spring roll.
I also tried the papaya salad (CAN$9 or US$6.96), which came in a plastic bag. I was told I should add as much of the hot sauce (on the plate outside of the bag) as I wanted and mix it all up. But it was weird because I would have had to pour the salad into the plate with the hot sauce, so unless I got rid of the excess hot sauce, I would pretty much get as much hot sauce as what came on the plate. I was actually glad I got to control my salad, though, because it looked like it had a lot of dressing so I tried not to pour out too much of the dressing with the salad.
Le Red Tiger was fun and service friendly (although sometimes pressured by the crowds), and they have great cocktails (I tried a pho-jito that was a mojito with lemongrass and the same herbs used in pho, even the bean sprouts!), but the creativity seems more for show that innovation.
Make a Trek to the Neighborhoods
Whenever I travel, I like to explore the neighborhoods, hoping to see how the locals eat. It’s a nice way to get away from the tourist traps. On Sunday, I explored the Mile End neighborhood, the artsy area (there are tons of murals) that seems to be popular for new restaurants. I had a couple of amazing meals at Lili.Co and Hotel Herman, so be sure to check back for the full reports on these spots later on.
Montreal has been a real challenge in a good way. I just want to eat so much but get full so easily, sometimes I just want to just lay out on a boat near the lake. Check back later this week for my more in-depth look at some of my favorite meals.
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