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L’Express

15 Oct

3927 Rue Saint-Denis (Corner of Roy)
Montréal, QC
H2W 2M4

T: +1 514 845 5333
No website

Brief Description: A cute, very French bistro located on the funky Rue Saint-Denis. Affordable prices and traditional food make this a long-time Montréal favourite.

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For our first meal in Montréal, I wanted to dine somewhere quintessentially French. Regarded by many as a little piece of Paris in Montréal, L’Express sounded like it would hit the spot. However, finding the restaurant on the busy Rue Saint-Denis proved challenging as the name is only visible by the tiles on the sidewalk that spell “L’Express”. Our next challenge was that we didn’t have a reservation but luck would have it that we were able to get in – quite an achievement on a Saturday night at one of the most popular restaurants in Montréal! We ended up sitting at the bar, facing a mirrored wall that was lined with assorted alcohol bottles and watched whilst this busy bistro teemed with happy diners.

Charming and charismatic with warm lighting, deep maroon coloured walls and a black and white tiled floor, L’Express is the epitome of a Parisian-style bistro. The restaurant is smart-casual so no-one was overly dressed up, helping to make the atmosphere comfortable. The service was precise and consistent. Although our waiter spoke French, he was kind enough to speak to us in English and we breathed a sigh of relief when he pulled out an English menu. Our French is limited, to say the least, so the deciphering of the menu was going to take some time.

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Complimentary fresh bread and a jar of cornichons helped to start off our meal, as did a bottle of red wine. With starters like that, we skipped the appetizer and headed straight into the entree. The food on the regular menu was simple, traditional French bistro fare so it was quite heavy on the meat options like foie gras, beef, rabbit, chicken, and duck, in addition to a few fish options (particularly salmon). I was wanting something less meaty and so with some detective work, I was able to determine that there was a prawn risotto on the daily menu (in French only). Perfect!

The food was unpretentious and uncomplicated. No fancy presentation or fusion food here. My risotto was absolutely delicious and I couldn’t believe how many prawns were in it! They were certainly not being cheap on the prawns! My sister had a bad-case of food envy that night and she watched me out of the corner of her eye whilst she dined on her steak and frites. She wasn’t overly impressed with it but, traditionally, it is a fairly ordinary dish.

Moving on to dessert and we decided to have a battle-of-the-spoons and share the crème brulée.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t great. Whilst writing up this review, I’d almost forgotten what we had so that tells you something. I never forget what I had for dessert unless it is unmemorable. The sugar on the top was over-torched so it had a burnt taste and the crème was very “meh”. The coffee, on the other hand, was strong and made more of an impression.  

Final Thoughts: Although the food wasn’t rave-worthy, there was something about L’Express that I enjoyed. The prices are reasonable, the wine list is extensive, the service was consistently good and the atmosphere feels very Parisian. I would have rated it higher had I been more impressed by the food. Worth a meal if you are in town but I wouldn’t get too upset if you miss it.

Express (L') on Urbanspoon

Au Pied de Cochon

6 Oct

536 Duluth Est.
Montréal, QC
H2L 1A9

T: +1 514 281 1114
www.restaurantaupieddecochon.ca

Brief Description: Known as one of the best restaurants in Montréal, Au Pied de Cochon is unpretentious and affordable with a heavy lean towards meat and foie gras.

A restaurant that appears to be on the lips of many foodies in Montréal, and also here in Vancouver, is Au Pied de Cochon. Prior to my trip to Montréal, I asked a group of foodies where I should eat whilst there and the resounding answer was “Au Pied de Cochon!!” This well-known restaurant was already well on my radar and so, with such acclaim, I endeavoured to make it a culinary stop. Luck would have it that I actually managed to get my sister and I a much sought-after reservation – the food God’s must have been looking down on me. I was already familiar with the restaurant after catching a glimpse of Martin Picard’s show, “The Wild Chef”, so my expectations were quite high. For those that don’t know who he is, Martin Picard (the owner) is a Quebecois local who is known for making vegetarian’s shudder with his talk of using as much of the animal that he can for food and for being vocal about his love of the extremely controversial foie gras.

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With that said, it is not surprising that the menu reads like a farmyard massacre newspiece. You can choose from pig (of course), duck, guinea fowl, beef, lamb, bison and one fish dish. You aren’t going to find much in the way of vegetables on this menu! The big attraction certainly seems to be the abundance of foie gras dishes on the menu – you can have it on a burger, over poutine, in a tart or one of the many other ways that it is offered. You can even have pork stuffed with foie gras.

Au Pied de Cochon is hidden away on Duluth Est, off of St. Denis. Surprisingly, although it is a critic favourite, the restaurant is very unpretentious with an elegant, modern exterior. We arrived for our 8.30pm reservation and although it was a Sunday night, the restaurant was heaving! Even with a reservation we still had to wait for our table to clear. Thankfully, the wait wasn’t too long and we were ushered to our table where we sat back to enjoy what would be the best meal of our trip.

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The interior of the restaurant was very unassuming and welcoming. The warm wood of the interior and the closeness of the tables, helped make it feel comfortable and slightly rustic. Our waiter was friendly and started us off with the house beer, Pied de Cochon, which was a refreshing, clean beer. We then went on to share the zucchini blossoms. The stuffing was a little flavourless and not at all remarkable but the small zucchini’s that were attached to the blossom saved the dish from mediocrity, as they were bursting with simple flavour.

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On the other hand, the Confit Lamb Shank could never be confused with being mediocre. Enhanced with a delicious rub, the meat was so perfectly cooked that it was falling from the bone. Served with a side of flavourful lentils (there is a sentence you don’t hear often!), the meal was executed perfectly. I did have pangs of guilt whilst thinking that perhaps I should have tried some of the more unusual offerings, such as the Duck in a Can, any number of the pork dishes or perhaps have put aside my feelings of aversion for foie gras, in order to try something that the restaurant is well-known for. But I quickly shook off those feelings of guilt as I absolutely loved the lamb. We also ordered a side of poutine (without the foie gras) but we weren’t wowed by this.

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Dessert was fantastic. I couldn’t go past the Chocolate Molten Cake, which was served with a butterscotch sauce and cranberries. I ended this already amazing meal with a spoon in my hand, digging around a warm Chocolate Molten Cake waiting for that pool of chocolate to come oozing out. What a great ending to a wonderful meal!

Final Thoughts: Au Pied de Cochon has earned its acclaim. The meal was easily the best one that we had on our visit to Montréal and Quebec City. And the price is extremely modest considering that it is one of the most talked about restaurants in Montréal. Make sure you reserve!

Au Pied de Cochon on Urbanspoon

Jean-Talon Market (Marché Jean-Talon)

5 Oct

7070 Henri-Julien Avenue
Montréal, QC
H2S 3S3

www.marche-jean-talon.com

Brief Description: Jean-Talon Market is a large farmer’s market in the Little Italy neighbourhood of Montréal. The market is jam-packed with fresh produce, as well as specialized vendors, cafes and food stands.

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Spending time meandering through food markets is one of my favourite ways to past the time when visiting a new city. Markets provide such a great insight into the local people, the culture and, of course, the weird and wonderful cuisines of the area. Although I didn’t see anything weird or wacky whilst I was at Jean-Talon, it was still a great place to spend a few hours. From my research, it appears that Jean-Talon is like the older, rougher brother to the trendier Atwater Marché (another market in Montréal) but I didn’t make it to Atwater, so I can’t really compare the two.

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The market is easily accessible from the metro line, making it a quick and easy journey from almost anywhere in the city, and you will be well rewarded if you make the journey. Rows and rows of produce stands make up the core of the market but you will also find coffee shops that serve up good, strong coffee, proud local producers of treats from Quebec and deli’s that are bursting with different cheeses and imported delicacies.

One of our most exciting finds, which was actually a suggestion from a local, was Premiére Moisson – the finest, most drool-inducing bakery that I’ve come across in a long time. Everything looked absolutely incredible! Surprisingly, we were able to abstain from the mother-of-all-carb-blowouts and we stopped at just one pastry each and a dessert to share. Don’t think that I am not regretting this decision! Even two weeks later, I still cannot stop thinking about the au pain raisin that I was fortunate enough to indulge in. I have not been able to find an au pain raisin of this calibre for years. I was in pure calorie ecstasy, captivated by the buttery pastry that was melting in my mouth and the sweetness of the glaze that tantalized each and every one of my taste buds.

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And, if this wasn’t enough for my happy little taste buds, we then sat back at one of the cafes and sipped on cappuccinos that were of European standard (read: first-class) whilst watching the hustle and bustle of the market. Bliss…this is what holidays are all about!

Final Thoughts: I love a trip to the markets! Being surrounded by all that quality fresh produce and people that love food is incredibly inspiring. There is a definite focus on fresh produce so, in my opinion, it isn’t on par with Granville Island (gotta love Granville!!) but it is still worth a visit.

Schwartz’s

3 Oct

3895 Saint-Laurent Boulevard
Montréal, Quebec
H2W 1X9

T: +1 514 842 4813
www.schwartzsdeli.com

Brief Description: A well-known and extremely popular Montréal institution, Schwartz’s offers generous servings of traditionally prepared, flavourful smoked meat.

Schwartz's

Any foodie knows that before commencing on a food pilgrimage that they must do their research. So, before leaving for Montréal I had clocked up quite a bit of time researching the city’s “must-do” food establishments and one name that kept popping up was Schwartz’s.

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Incredibly, Schwartz’s has been serving up smoked meat from its original location on Saint-Laurent Boulevard to loyal patrons for over 80 years. That alone is impressive but, thankfully, it is the food that will leave the bigger impression. From first glance, the restaurant is fairly lack-lustre but the line-up outside hints of the secrets within. Inside the restaurant feels a lot like a diner and, like any other typical diner, one side of the small, simple restaurant is taken up with a counter, complete with a row of rotating stools, whilst elbow-to-elbow tables take up the rest of the space. All the while, friendly staff bustle to and fro, shouting orders and serving cherry cola’s.

Inside of Schwartz's

The menu is not extensive because what they do, they do well. The show-stopper is their famous smoked meat, which is prepared the old-fashioned way (no chemicals!) with their own blend of herbs and spices and then marinated for 10 days. You can order this delicious, smoky meat on its own or in a sandwich, which is what we did. My sister and I both ordered the small sandwich which came in at the bargain price of only $5.50. We added a side of pickle to our order and sat down to one of the most incredible sandwiches that I’ve had in a long time. Packed high, between slices of amazingly soft bread, was the most delicious smoked meat that I’ve ever had. And – thank the heavens –the sandwich was loaded up with meat!! I was in carnivore heaven.

Oh my!! Yes, it tasted as good as it looks.

I only had eyes for my sandwich but if you were so inclined there are other options on the menu besides the smoked meat (although, why you’d order anything else is beyond me!). There are other sandwiches; chicken, turkey or salami, or you could devour more meat with one of the meat combo plates (rib steak, steak, chicken or liver steak). But honestly, you can’t go to Montréal without trying the smoked meat so why not try it at the place that has been serving it up, unchanged, for the past 80 years? They are obviously doing something right.

Sides - the pickle was deliciously garlicky!

Final Thoughts: Wow! Wow! Wow! I totally loved it – absolutely worth the hype! My only regret is not going back for Round 2.

Schwartz's Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen on Urbanspoon

Schwartz's World Famous Smoked Meat on Urbanspoon

O.Noir

3 Oct

1613 Ste. Catherine West
Montréal, Quebec
H3H 1L8

T: +1 514 937 9727
www.onoir.com

Brief Description: A Montréal based restaurant that brings awareness to the challenges that blind people face by serving you your meal in complete darkness.

Have you ever asked yourself, if I had to choose, would I prefer to be blind or deaf? My sister and I have talked about this extensively and we both agree that we would choose to be deaf, rather than blind. Sight is just so valuable and I think it would be extremely difficult to live without it with. Hopefully I will never actually be in either situation but, for a few hours last week, I did get a taste of what it would be like to be blind when I visited the restaurant, O.Noir.

O.Noir is a restaurant unlike any other that I have visited. The concept is that you dine in complete and utter darkness which renders you “blind” for the evening. The idea originally began in Switzerland when a blind pastor, named Jorge Spielmann, would blindfold his dinner-party guests so that they would have a better understanding of how he experienced life. The idea took off and now similar restaurants have popped up all over the world.

The exterior of O.Noir - the only thing I could take a photo of.

O.Noir is located on Montréal’s busy shopping street, Ste-Catherine Ouest. Upon entering the restaurant, you find yourself in a dimly lit vestibule. This is where all the formalities take place – you place your order with the host, order yourself a drink and lock your valuables in a locker. You are given the choice of either a two or a three course meal. I found the menu to be pretty basic but I had to remind myself that I wasn’t going to O.Noir for the quality of the food. I was going purely for the experience. After placing your order you are introduced to your waiter for the evening, who is actually blind. Admirably, the restaurant not only brings awareness to the troubles that the blind endure but it also provides employment to those who would otherwise have difficulties finding a job.

Once the formalities are out of the way, you place your hands on the shoulders of your server and you are guided into the restaurant and taken to your table. The first thing that I became aware of was just HOW dark it was in there. That sounds pretty stupid but I really hadn’t expected it to be that dark. There were no street lights, no flashlights, no exit signs – nothing but complete darkness. The second thing that I became aware was how vulnerable I felt whilst being led through the dark. I had no idea if I was going to bump into things or trip over something so it really did leave you feeling quite defenceless. We gingerly took our seats and I became aware that I automatically began using my hands to “see”. I found myself touching the table in front of me to determine how it was laid-out and reaching out to “see” where my sister was. I became increasingly aware that the mind can play funny tricks on you when you can’t use your sight to make sense of things. With nothing else to focus on, hearing became very much my focus. The sounds and voices started to become quite disorientating as I struggled to attempt to work out where other diners were seated and how the restaurant was set-out.

One of the biggest challenges lay ahead; eating. We opted for the two course meal and were given complimentary bread before our main course was served. I challenge you to try to butter bread blind-folded! By taking away sight, this simple task becomes quite challenging. I couldn’t determine if the knife was actually picking up any butter and so I found myself grasping the knife like a child (right near the blade) in order to guide it better. Our main course was served fairly quickly; I had ordered five spice fillet mignon served with potatoes and asparagus and my sister had ordered the marinated shrimp with herbs, served with dried tomato risotto. Thankfully, my steak had been pre-cut before being served but even then I could not manage to cut the damn thing into smaller pieces! The seemingly simple task of using utensils became noticeably more difficult. I had great difficulties in trying to get the food onto the fork so, more often than not, I would raise the fork to my mouth only to bite into nothing! In the end, I threw any good manners I have out the window and ate the meat with my hands. It was much easier this way and I could justify it to myself because no-one else could see my faux pas. :)

Heightened taste buds or not, I found the food to be very average. I ordered my steak medium-well but the texture of the meat suggested that it was not served the way I had ordered it. The texture of the under-cooked flesh in my mouth made it very hard for me to enjoy my meal. My sister had better luck with her shrimp risotto and because she couldn’t tell how many shrimp were in the dish, it was a bit like a lucky-dip every time she discovered a plump, hidden shrimp. For dessert, we both ordered the Viennese style chocolate cake, with vanilla ice cream and it proved itself to be a challenge to eat. Once again, trying to balance it on the fork was hard work. Most of the time I just ended up with a mouthful of empty fork prongs! Besides that though, the cake was pretty good as was the vanilla ice cream.

Once we had finished our meals and were ready to leave, our waiter guided us out of the dark and back to the bar, where we regained our sight. After our brief experience at O.Noir, I can’t help feel extremely lucky that blindness is something that I don’t have to deal with. The old saying “Walk a mile in my shoes” really rings true in this case. Once you are in that situation, you can’t help but have a better understanding of the challenges that the blind face on a day-to-day basis. For me, a simple thing like eating a meal became a complicated task so I can’t even imagine the difficulties in attempting something more complex.

Final Thoughts: If you find yourself in Montréal, looking for a dining experience like no other, then make yourself a reservation at O.Noir. This unique experience makes sitting through the very average food well worth it.

O.Noir on Urbanspoon

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