I've been one happy bon vivant being able to spend extended time in Paris for the last 3 consecutive years. I came to the bittersweet decision this year that I need to focus more attention on the U.S. where there's not those nasty issues like work visas and important passport stamps to think about. With that decision, I grounded myself from a Paris visit this year, but couldn't go cold turkey from my love of all things French, so I created a transition plan that included a visit to French speaking Montreal and Quebec. I was able to visit with a friend from Paris who recently moved to Montreal, and I had another friend who was willing to listen to me ooo and ahhh over all the food and accents, though French Canadians have a tone all their own. Yes I know that's putting it nicely my Parisian friends.
We all know that I'm here for the food, but we did need to walk between meals to gain an appetite and see the city, though I can't say there's a large list of must-visit destinations in Montreal outside of wandering along the water, through parks and interesting neighborhoods.
My Montreal friend rolled her eyes a bit when I asked about visiting Montreal's Notre Dame. It's hard not to compare things to Paris, but taken out of context, Montreal has a nice version. The interior was actually inspired by the beautiful Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and is quite remarkable on its own with its intricate, Gothic Revival Style.
Montreal has a bit of a NY vibe with its collection of edgy neighborhoods, where we spent most of our time wandering. The Plateau-Mont-Royal is a great place to be with its great shopping and restaurants, as well as Griffintown, which I heard referred to as a Brooklyn equivalent. C'est vrai.
Cafes not only line the street everywhere, but they're IN the street. I suppose when the snow is gone and the sun is out, there are no rules, including what materials you use, like old shipping containers.
There's also a large network of interconnected passageways underground so you can spend winter shopping and eating without ever stepping foot outside. Yeah, that's how cold it gets.
The city is under major construction and I feel like we were just seeing phase one of a many phased renaissance. Lucky, the food scene has very firm footing because this to me seemed like the main attraction, and I'm not just saying that because I'm food obsessed!
Montreal Wine Bars
I have a new crush, quite literally. It's biodynamic French wines. Sure I've had them before, but I had never been presented so many, and so many that I loved from first to last sip. Some aficionado's laugh at the bio's hippie dance of making these eclectic wines which includes synching with the moon's cycle and nature's spirit, but I laughed my way through some outstanding, truly unique bottles at great prices.
Pullman Wine Bar had a nice offering of flights that included biodynamic wines like a selection of 3 rose's, as well as 3 different wines from the same vintner in Italy that went from full on funk to a chewier Sangiovese. Most places require you to order a small bite since they're not licensed to just serve alcohol, but that wasn't a problem here with spicy pecans and almonds and an herbed goat cheese on the small plates menu.
Baldwin Barmacie is a sexy cocktail lounge with indoor - outdoor seating where you can start your evening with an apero, or some bubbles. You can have your drinks with a variety of cheese preparations - grilled, mac or with a charcuterie plate. That's a can't lose plan.
Montreal Bagels and Markets
Montreal is known for a few random food items like smoked meat and poutine. If I had the time, or an extra stomach, I'd have gone to the institution of Schwartz's Deli for my meat fix and La Banquise for the rib sticking frites with gravy and cheese curds, opened 24/7, because you never know when the mood is going to strike. They were not off the food list, just delayed until Quebec.
I did manage to get myself to St-Viateur Bagel before leaving Montreal as this family owned bagel spot has been producing the same great recipe for over 50 years. The dough is all natural with no preservatives and is hand-rolled. No machines here. Then they get even trickier by boiling the bagel in honey water before placing them on large narrow planks placed in a wood fired oven where you can see them cook while you're waiting. These bagels don't go hanging around a bin for a week. They were pulling them out and selling them right out of the oven.
The bagel is a little smaller than our super sized US bagels, but it's got a really nice chew and a slight sweetness. I enjoyed a rosemary and sea salt bagel that was still warm to the touch with a spiced apple, cinammon cream cheese that made the whole thing taste like apple pie. Don't judge me for eating it at breakfast.
Two big markets are spoken about in Montreal, and that's Jean-Talon and Atwater. Talon was a little further north in Little Italy, so we went with Atwater, in the southwest of Montreal, not far from the water and Griffintown. These markets are a little different than Paris' which are usually outdoor on specific days at specific hours. Here, they're open everyday, all day and are mostly indoors, except for beautiful flowers being sold outside.
There's many of the usual suspects here, but still a nice looking group that you'd be happy to take home like fresh, crusty bread, a plethora of sausage, interesting terrines and a wide variety of butchered meat.
Click here for the next chapter on Montreal - the restaurants, from horse tartare to duck hearts!