Montreal street

A Montreal street fresh from a morning rain shower.

Laurentian mountain fall colors

Fall colors at Mont Tremblant ski resort

MONTREAL
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.

Au Pied de Cochon

Au Pied de Cochon food truck

dumpling and iced tea

The dumpling with an iced tea

An inside look at Au Pied de Cochon's dumpling. I liked the comfort of the potatoes but it was messy to eat with the oozing cheese. This is huge and I couldn't finish it.

An inside look at Au Pied de Cochon’s dumpling. I liked the comfort of the potatoes but it was messy to eat with the oozing cheese. This is huge and I couldn’t finish it.

Schwartz Deli is famous for its meat sandwiches, piled high with a variety of cured meats. It often has a wait, and it's become quite touristy so I actually skipped eating here, partly because I wanted to try something else, and partly because I wasn't in the mood for a big meat sandwich.

Schwartz Deli is famous for its meat sandwiches, piled high with a variety of cured meats. It often has a wait, and it’s become quite touristy so I actually skipped eating here, partly because I wanted to try something else, and partly because I wasn’t in the mood for a big meat sandwich.

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.

Contemporary art part of the collection at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Contemporary art part of the collection at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Strolling Old Montreal

Strolling Old Montreal

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.

Bouillon Bilk

My first meal was a late dinner at Bouillon Bilk after I arrived late to Montreal. Fortunately, it’s around the corner to my hotel, on the border of the entertainment district. It’s a modern restaurant in an old spot on a block with electronic repair shops and costume shops.

Albert Bistro salmon dish

Had lunch one day at Albert Bistro near downtown. This was a duo of salmon served like a tartare and lightly poached.

Trout dish at Albert Bistro

Slow-cooked trout at Albert Bistro with lobster mashed potatoes and fava beans with a bisque sauce.

Maple leaves after the rain

Maple leaves after the rain

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.

A cheese croissant and soy latte at the contemporary and quaint Cafe Saint-Henry.

A cheese croissant and soy latte at the contemporary and quaint Cafe Saint-Henri.

Marche Jean-Talon is one of the largest public markets with open-air stands.

Marche Jean-Talon is one of the largest public markets with open-air stands.

Strolling the market on a Saturday morning

Strolling the market on a Saturday morning

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.

Chicken curry dumplings at Qing Hua

Curry chicken dumplings at Qing Hua. One order gives you 15 dumplings for CAN$8.95 or US$6.92.

Interior of curry chicken dumpling

A look inside the chicken curry dumpling. You see whatever of the curry sauce I couldn’t get into my mouth fell onto my plate.

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.

pho-jito

Pho-jito cocktail at Le Red Tiger, CAN$10 or US$7.70 made with dark rum, sake, fresh lime, lemongrass syrup, soda, mint, soy and hot pepper, garnished with some bean sprouts for the complete pho experience.

papaya salad

Papaya salad in a bag (chili sauce served on the side and you add the amount you want and mix it all in the bag).

Le Red Tiger

My dinner at Le Red Tiger, clockwise from top: Shrimp cake imperial rolls, five-spice pork ribs, and papaya salad.

Young hip crowd on a Friday night at Le Red Tiger

Young hip crowd on a Friday night at Le Red Tiger

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.

One of the many murals at Mile End area

One of the many murals in Mile End area

Chai scone at Lily.Co

A creative scone at Lily.Co with sauteed apples in cinnamon and chai puree and creme fraiche. This took Sunday brunch to another level.

kouign amann

Afternoon break back at my hotel with a kouign amann made as thin layers with the sugary coating. This came from the tiny Patisserie Au Kouign Amann near the Mile End area.

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.

Sand Lake

Sand Lake in the Laurentian mountain region

8 Responses to What I Know So Far About Montreal and Eating

  1. Thuy says:

    Ben! They serve papaya salad like that in Vietnam! That adds a touch of authenticity to the dish 🙂 Usually served with strips of sweet beef jerky!

    • Ben Ben says:

      Oh, really? LOL, that’s funny. I never saw that when I ordered it in Saigon/HCMC. But then again, I mostly ate indoors and not on the streets. I can see how on the streets it makes it easier to give it out in a bag. 🙂

  2. Anne says:

    Ben – I always love your travel posts! I’ve always wanted to go to Montreal, but haven’t made it yet. My husband went there on business years ago and came back raving about how much he loved it. He even smuggled back a very smelly raw milk camenbert. I’m really looking forward to reading more and seeing your beautiful photos. I especially liked the one of the leaves after the rain. Bring some rain back here to the Bay Area please.

    • Ben Ben says:

      Thanks Anne! I’m really loving Montreal. It might not be for people who expect a lot to see and do. But for me, I really wanted a place to escape, where I can just wander and get lost and that’s what Montreal is to me. Cute little boroughs with friendly service people and a great food scene (of course). You should go! (Except, don’t go when it’s late fall or winter because it’s dang cold. I have a dry skin itch because the weather is so cold and dry right now.)

  3. Sandy says:

    looks beautiful! I hope you have bagels to show us, I am so craving them…

  4. Carolyn Jung says:

    I love Montreal. It’s so cosmopolitan, yet still has that Old World-feel, too. You can never go wrong with Schwarz’s. And what a different looking kouign-amann that’s more like a wedge. The last time I was there it was in winter, too. That’s when I could totally appreciate all those meat pies and mountainous poutines. 😉

  5. Row says:

    Wow! You covered a lot of ground, both walking-wise and eating-wise! I will have to bookmark these Montréal posts for future use, because it’s so darn expensive to fly within Canada right now… it’s actually a better deal to travel to SF. 😉 Now I have to go deal with this curry chicken dumpling craving. 🙂