As I mentioned previously, I was in need of my French fill since I'm not able to get to Paris this year, so so I opted for the closer trip to Montreal. Wandering the neighborhoods and markets was enjoyable, but the real fun began when we started our sit down meals.
Disclaimer: those who are squeamish and bristle at the sight of steak, may be slightly disturbed by some of my meals. Those who aren't, will be booking a trip to Montreal by the time they get to the bottom of this post.
My first meal in Montreal was at the full-on French focused L'Express. I've been foie gras deprived due to California's ban, so I dove in...at pretty much every meal, starting at the 35 year institution, L'Express.
No French stone was left unturned here from the the black and white checkered floor, white tablecloths and each and every item that was placed on the paper covered table.
A large bowl of cornichon was the first to go down, followed by several small, white pots, filled with spicy mustard and fleur de sel, complete with a diminutive spoon inside. Last but not least, a basket of crusty, sliced baguette filled our table before we got our first dish. I barely needed anything else, but I played through.
I indulged in all of my French favorites - a rich foie gras that could have been served for dessert. Decadent bone marrow as meaty and savory as I could handle. And rillettes took me curbside to one of my favorite wine bars in Paris, Le Baron Rouge, where they serve the same over upturned wine barrels. Naturally, it was all finished with a lightly dressed, green salad.
A perfectly balanced Burgundy went the distance with each dish and I almost decided that maybe we should just eat the remainder of our meals here, but there was still more to discover outside of the classics.
We left the traditional French cuisine for something a little more inventive at one of Montreal's new hot spots, Hotel Herman, which is not a hotel at all. We had started our evening with a glass of Prosecco at the previously described Baldwin Barmacie, an easy walk to the restaurant if you're looking for an aperitif before dinner.
Hotel Herman has all the trendy fixtures from exposed brick to drop down wired lighting and rustic wood floors and tables. Then there's the menu. I was giddy just reading the description of things I don't usually, no ever, see on menus in Los Angeles. Horse tartare, radish (singular), fiddleheads and the list goes on. But how did it all taste?
So there was the horse tartare, which I simply advise, don't think of Sea Biscuit, think of, um, well, perhaps don't think too much except about a mean horse who bit little children. I recall having mediocre horse sashimi in Tokyo, but this was much different as the tartare was soft, seasoned and dissolved in my mouth. You wouldn't have guessed horse. You would have just asked for more. It was even topped with clams, which I actually didn't think was necessary as the tartare could stand on its own.
Where do you go from there? Duck hearts and gizzards - on the same plate with a creamy parsley puree. Such an interesting combination of sweet and meaty flavors with chewy and soft textures. And then there was cured duck with morels and greens with a beautiful duck egg sitting in the center, waiting to be mixed with the others. Duck-licious.
The very seasonal white asparagus was decadent with crunchy fried bread and a hazelnut butter. Tiny nordic shrimp were brought to life with an aioli and dulse infused sauce, surrounded by tubular vegetables that I still don't know the name of, but would guess they're related to jicama.
The lamb sat in a jus with roasted garlic, interspersed with crisp fiddleheads, which I had never seen before, and then proceeded to see at my next 3 meals. These young fern fronds taste like a cross between broccoli and asparagus and some of my New England friends may have seen them. With a short 2 week season, we were happy to get the tail end of this curly, intriguing vegetable.
I just had to try the chocolate terrine served with bacon caramel and Jerusalem artichokes, but sadly, I think this is the one dish that didn't deliver. There wasn't enough contrast in flavor or perhaps it just simply couldn't follow all of the other wonderful dishes we consumed.
We had to go big at lunch to get all of our restaurants in, and that's when we hit Le Comptoir. It's a small wine bar with a large bar running most of the way down the restaurant, and you may want a seat here to watch the action. There's a simple chalkboard menu for both lunch and dinner with a hand written list of the day's offerings.
We started with a creamy carrot soup that wasn't too rich but still had enough flavor. Tuna tartare was delicate with a hat full of crisp, green vegetables.
Mains included a finger licking good grilled pulled pork sandwich with cheddar and a light BBQ sauce folded between the buttered and toasted bread. A homemade cannelloni filled with white fish was a bit bland, but the tomato, olive, garlic tapenade on top did its best to spruce things up. And of course a nice glass of French Rose makes everything better.
Our final dinner was a whole different kind of swank. Le Filet has been a hot table in Montreal since it opened, nearly 3 years ago. Odd spotlit, mirrored strips flanked one wall, while a long granite bar filled the other. The energy was palpable as we sat down at nearly 9:15pm. Yes, we were on Europe time, and we actually didn't get home from dinner until after 1am. Nothing like a long, leisurely meal while on vacation.
Le Filet's menu is divided into 3 sections - raw, cooked and meat. We dug into raw with scallops as delicate as feathers laid on a most fantastical (yes, it warrants a made-up word) bed of deep red beet sauce and mashed avocados with spears of asparagus and slices of orange. I have one word...mmmmm. Hamachi was infused with a toasty sesame oil and sumac sauce with a stunning melange of crisp, colorful vegetables stacked high.
The cooked section brought us seared octopus, tender and further enhanced with a meyer lemon coulis infused couscous. Delicate artic char brought our fiddlehead friends back to our plate, along with local asparagus and a parmesan mousse.
We couldn't make it to the meat section because we needed to save room for the maple brownie that had a wee bit of sugar in it. It was cut by a Porto Blanco, which was prevalent on most menus in Montreal. When I asked the waiter about it, he ended up bringing my friend and I both a free glass, and I suppose now would be a good time to mention how incredibly nice everyone in Montreal is, in addition to Quebec. Yes, there were free drinks, but we never left a restaurant without a waiter giving us a card with more recommendations. I pulled my map out at one point during the day, and a man stuck in traffic, in his car, on the street, yelled out, where you going? So very nice.
While Montreal may not have major attractions to see, they do have charming neighborhoods and outstanding food. I was beyond impressed with their offerings and delivery, not to mention the top notch service and friendliness. I hope to go back, with the fistful of restaurant cards I still have of places undiscovered!
Up Next, digestion, then Quebec City! Click to keep reading.