Sure Toronto and Vancouver both have vital and diverse food scenes, but nothing beats Montreal for sheer exclusiveness and joie de vivre!
Obviously being French adds a dimension to the food here that makes it, for me, more interesting and exciting, it has a history which the Québécois over decades, have adapted to accommodate their local agriculture and their harsh winters. In the end you get lots of meat, cheese and hearty dishes like Tourtière, Poutine, Pate in every form, smoked meat and of course for dessert Tarte au Sucre *(best made with maple syrup!)
My farewell dish, pictured above, was a massive plate of Poutine with smoked meat. I couldn’t finish it, but OMG it was so good. You can quickly see when wandering around Marche Atwater where something like smoked meat poutine came from. Hearty food stuffs abound. Oka is also the name/place of a famous conflict between the aboriginal peoples (the Mohawks) and the Sûreté du Québec. I remember being in this cheese shop during the crisis and making the joke in my best theater voice: Oka it’s a cheese, it’s a conflict, Not everyone was amused, but it made me smile. Regardless it’s delicious cheese 😉 Given that it was the end of the summer there was also a ton of gorgeous produce: As a visitor to this market off and on for the last 20 some odd years I was happy to see they have added a food stall section. You can get things as diverse as a crêpe Breton (Gluten free!), lobster roll or even Reunion Island cuisine served in large pots filled with different stews/curries served over rice: It is the first time in my life that I have come across Reunion Island cuisine.
The other great market in Montreal is Jean Talon. I didn’t get there this trip, but my friends tell me it’s even more amazing than Atwater. Of course there are many great places to eat out at in Montreal, my favorite one this trip was Joe Beef. The ambiance is eclectic Quebec bistro, the food follows suit with an emphasis on locally sourced,seawall fare cooked in clever variations of traditional dishes. One of my favorites was something they called Grand Aioli which was an extensive crudité with garlic mayo that also included clams, mussels, battered and deep-fried squash blossom and smoked/cured Mackerel and a just perfect hard-cooked egg.
We also had a Veal Tongue with Chanterelle mushrooms that was one of the highlights of the meal. Also a perfectly, simple, tomato and Burrata salad, with nothing more than a few bail leaves and a drizzle of fine olive oil.By the time I thought to take a picture of the HUGE $110 rib steak the three of us ordered it was mostly gone.For dessert we had, at my insistence, a slice of Gateau Marjolaine served with a dollop of crème Chantilly. Both my dinner companions thought it was “dry”. I didn’t know what they were talking about, for me it was perfect. Gateau Marjolaine a multilayered dacquoise, each layer filled with butter cream, the whole affair coated in chocolate. A very old, classic french pastry. I thought it was perfect though I would have like to see a more contemporary take on the butter cream, maybe a littler salted caramel or strong espresso to liven things up?
All in all the food was excellent and the service couldn’t be more charming. My only complaint was the unbearable heat of the room. Because we were a table of 3 we sat in seats in a little bay window, which were very charming, but also excessively hot. I sweated profusely through the meal . I felt like David Niven in Bridge Over the River Kwai when he’s put in that box to bake in the Burmese sun. It seems a real misstep that such an excellent restaurant can’t figure out air conditioning, especially given how established and successful they are you’d think they could splurge on some proper a/c. To make matters worse the back of the restaurant is open to the garden where they have seating. Table’s are placed in-between a vibrant kitchen garden filled with vegetables and herbs. My Favorite was the trout pond: truly inspiring.
It was interesting to me that no amuse or any other “extras” are part of the meal. In NYC at this level you almost always get a small plate or spoon of something off-menu, some small gesture/bite, hell some restaurants give you a breakfast muffins to take home with you as you leave. Neither Liverpool House nor Joe Beef did this, which may be in keeping with their local bistro ethos, only fancy restaurants do this. Not sure, and it certainly didn’t really matter I guess as a New Yorker who eats out a fair amount I bring my set of expectations to eating out.
I felt there was a difference in the two restaurants, food seemed better, to me, at Joe Beef even though they shared many menu items. The Lobster Spaghetti being one dish we had a Liverpool House the night before which was excellent, though it said it had bacon in it but ours had none. It was funny because we mentioned this to the waiter who looked perplexed and then said:
“I’ll go ask the chef” and that was the last we heard from him. No follow-up or anything. Bacon or not it was delicious.
The difference could also be attributed to how and what we ordered.
Service was great in both places, a little more effusive and friendly at Joe Beef.
Next time I go I want to sit at the bar and would urge you to do the same, the a/c worked fine over there and the food is very much suited to a long causal evening over many drinks or bottles of wine sitting at a bar. Also you are closer to their chalk written menu and wine list which you need to get up close to read, no menus on paper here. Entrée portions are huge and sharable ask your server before you make your decision.
Reservations are essential. If you are in Montreal you must eat here. Just don’t go as a party of three and sit in the window in the middle of a heat wave!