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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Reflections on a Week in Montreal

Scenes from Montreal (clockwise from upper left): Asian spiced salmon with a spicy slaw, classic row houses, local strawberries at Marche Jean-Talon, amuse bouche, paella burners and Serrano ham, the Arts Complex, me at the Botanic Gardens, Montreal waterfront
Please dear readers, forgive my absence. I have been spending all my spare time on my other blog (School of Eating Good) and traveling around a bit. Then I had a pet emergency. But, I'm back and I'm will try to be more regular with my posts.

I visited Montreal in early July with a few of my college friends. We went for the Jazz Festival. If you are a lover of great music, you should try to get there during the Montreal Jazz Festival. It's fantastic. While you are there, you will eat well. Really, really well. Like Toronto and Vancouver, Montreal is a foodie paradise. It is every bit as multicultural as these other large Canadian cities but it feels like you are in an old European city. Besides the food, you can enjoy fantastic museums, a world-class Botanic Gardens, and go to the top of the tower built for the Olympics in 1976. There is great shopping, a beautiful and charming historic Old City, and close proximity to the deep forests of Quebec for hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. Or visit Parc Mont-Royal, where you can see those forests within the city.

Bringing this back to food, those forests produce the most maple syrup of any place in the world, 80% of all maple syrup. Not surprising given that the sugar maple is a Northeastern native and Quebec has a whole lot of maple forest. We visited the Maple Museum in the Old City, full of all things maple syrup. I bought a cookbook (of course!), Cooking with Quebec Maple Syrup by Anne Fortin. It is filled with maple recipes from the traditional to the cutting edge from some of the finest restaurant kitchens in Montreal. I can't wait to try out a recipe for lamb shanks au parfum d'erable.

Montreal boosts an impressive array of ethnic restaurants: Cambodian, Venezuelan, Portuguese, Greek, Ethiopian, Thai, Korean. The list goes on and on. There is a small Chinatown with excellent Asian shopping. I even found rambutans, my daughter's favorite fruit:

We spent a morning at the Marche Jean-Talon, one of three large everyday produce markets. Produce comes from Quebec and all over the world. Of course, I had to find the wild mushrooms, and I found some very wild ones, indeed!
Those are Amanita caesarea, American Caesar's Mushroom, a species I was surprised to see in the market. There are many similar looking Amanita that are poisonous so these guys must know what they are doing!

Here are a few more images from the market. Frankly, I could have spent all day there!

We ate very well during our 5 days in Montreal, sometimes picking restaurants at random, sometimes using the recommendations from our excellent hosts, Bob and Mariko of Bob & Mariko's Bed & Breakfast.

We had a truly cross-cultural experience in a Korean restaurant, a kimchee quesadilla! It wasn't terribly spicy but quite tasty and makes the perfect post-bar snack. We enjoyed a French meal at Cafe Cherrier. I had a Toulouse sausage. I'm not sure what the sausages from Toulouse are supposed to taste like but it was delicious and moist, accompanied by perfect pommes frites (as one would expect at a French cafe). We found out-of-this-world pastry at Mamie Clafoutis. Not exactly French pastry, it definitely had a French-Canadien spin to it. They earned their French creds turning out baguette worthy of any Parisian boulangerie. We enjoyed excellent gelato; traditional Belgian moules (as well as curried mussels, Thai-style mussels, and Provencal-style mussels), frites, and local beer; Portuguese live-fire grilled sardines with piri-piri sauce; and when in Montreal, you must try the smoked meat. Smoked meat is cured, spiced, smoked fatty brisket and it's sort of like pastrami but it has its own special spice blend. I recommend it highly, but if you like your meat lean, it may give you a scare. As my Jewish grandmother would say: "Live a little. A bit of fat never killed anyone." :-)
Clockwise from the upper left: Kimchee quesadilla, Schwartz's Deli, what a selection of salami/saucisson/cured meat, moules, Schwartz's window full of smoked meat, Toulouse sausage and frites
For another uniquely Jewish Montreal institution, visit Fairmount Bagels. Montreal is now considered the only place to get traditional bagels. Given that most bagels in the US have little resemblance to traditional bagels, you may be disappointed by these. They are fantastic, to my mind - chewy, fairly small, and the perfect carrier for a smear and some salty lox. Fairmount turns them out around the clock so you can have a bagel hot from the wood-fired ovens whenever you like, even post-barhopping.

Below are the names and addresses of all the places I remembered to keep track of, if you are lucky enough to find yourself in Montreal in the future.

Pagliacci Bistro Gelati
125 Rue Prince-Arthur E for gelato

Cafe Cherrier
3635 rue Saint-Denis for reasonably priced French

Mamie Clafoutis
3660, rue Saint-Denis for amazing pastry and bread

Bieres et Compagnie
4350 St Denis, for moules frites and an excellent selection of beer on tap

3895 Saint-Laurent Blvd for the best smoked meat

Bob & Mariko's B&B
3458 Avenue Laval, I would stay here again. Great hosts and a great location!

Marche Jean-Talon
7070 Avenue Henri Julien

Fairmount Bagels
74 rue Fairmount Quest