Thursday, September 4, 2008

Bits & Morsels goes to Montreal

The bar at L'Express in Montreal, Canada.

Labor day in Montreal. I traveled to Montreal for a quick Labor Day vacation. I flew Air Canada, which was a smooth ride and nary an hour long. I figured Montreal was the perfect place to go for a long weekend. We're practically neighbors yet you really do get a severe change of scenery and culture. There is no time difference between New York and Montreal so no jet lag either. Montreal's biggest draw however: It's a restaurant city.

I stayed at the newly opened Hôtel Le Crystal on Montagne Street. It’s a modern European hotel that is very environmentally friendly and where you must insert your room key into the slot on the wall in order to use any electricity. A sure way no appliances or lights are left on when you exit the room. [Hotel Le Crystal]

Montagne Street is in downtown Montreal and the area around the hotel is bustling 24/7. For some art and culture I went to the Yves Saint Laurent exhibition at The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The show is up until September 28th and is worth a visit. [Montreal Museum of Fine Arts]
Notre-Dame Basilica in Old Montreal.
For my first night in Montreal I went to L’Express on St. Denis Street. It’s a Parisian style bistro that serves solid food at reasonable prices with a sexy French atmosphere and a long bar that's normally packed. They offer the real classics like steak tartar and bone marrow and you even get a big jar of cornichons and dijon mustard with your bread basket. I sampled a plate of pasta with chanterelle mushrooms which was not too earthy and not too creamy. It’s not very often when a bistro gets pasta right, so I was pleased. The grilled salmon was also prepared perfectly, simply dressed with sea salt and lemon. L’Express, 3927 rue Saint-Denis, (514) 845-5333.
Maitre d' Jacques-Yves Bolte. Pommes Frites.
Bone marrow. Pickles and mustard, a fixture on all tables.
Spaghetti with chanterelle mushrooms. Grilled salmon with salt and spinach.
Le menu. Ile flottante in a vanilla cream sauce with a caramel shell.
If you are craving a donut or two, Tim Hortons is the Dunkin Donuts of Canada. You can't walk more than a few blocks without passing one. They have these maple glazed Boston cream donuts which were...well I don't have to tell you. [Tim Hortons]
Maple glazed boston cream donut at Tim Horton.
Every morning at the hotel I had a toasted sesame Fairmount Bagel with a smear of Philadelphia cream cheese. Sesame seems to the most popular bagel flavor in Montreal. Montreal bagels are sweeter (must be the sugar), slightly smaller, and less doughy than our New Yawk bagels. They are tauter and the sesame bagels are loaded with sesame seeds. I stopped by the Fairmount Bagel shop on Fairmount Street to see the operation for myself. All of the bagels are hand rolled and baked in a wood burning oven. I was there late at night and there was a line out the door to buy Fairmount bagels fresh from the oven. The bagel bakery is open 24 hours a day. [Fairmount Bagel]
Fairmount Bagels.
I discovered two casual restaurants within walking distance of the hotel that were fabulous and French. Le Pois Penché is a new brasserie that is in the style of a Paris brasserie in the 1940’s. The murmuring of people enjoying life while reclining on red velvet chairs lingering over homey and delicious food amidst a backdrop of Sinatra and Bobby Darin. That is Le Pois Penché.
The terrace of le Pois Penché.
They also have a massive terrace, and regardless of the hour they are busy. Try their Finger-lickin' good Canadian smoked salmon with maple soaked blinis. Trust me. [le Pois Penché]
Smoked salmon. The perfect bite of smoked salmon with maple soaked blini.
Clockwise from top left: Eggs with feta and tomatoes; Maple soaked blinis; Profiteroles.
Le Mas Des Oliviers was like dining in another era. Everything on the menu reminded me of something Julia Child would make. The onion soup was served in an old fashioned crock and wreaked of deliciously gooey Gruyere cheese.
Everything in this restaurant is homemade, including the Napoleon. Their Napoleon is a little different from what I am used to. But I very quickly got used to light and crispy with homemade pastry cream and fresh berries. [Le Mas Des Oliviers]
Onion soup. Chilean sea bass.
Le Mas Des Oliviers' very own version of Napolean.
Whenever I go to another country, I am always interested in checking out their food markets. The Jean-Talon market is a massive rustic farmer's market in Montreal. It’s located in the Little Italy District and just as I was hoping, it’s all about the food. The market specializes in fresh produce but there are butchers, cheese stores, and bakeries too.

The center of the market is where the produce is located, but on the outskirts are lots of cutesy places for French fries, cappuccinos, flowers, and even maple syrup ice pops. This market is unique in that almost all its vendors happily offer samples of their goods. And you can take as much as you want; they just want to see people enjoying their produce (I told myself). It’s about a 20-minute cab ride from downtown Montreal.
Fresh fruit and veggies from Jean-Talon Market.
Maple syrup popsicles from Jean-Talon Market.
The Atwater Market is another (slightly less rustic) Farmer's Market in Montreal. It’s smaller in scope and though they do sell produce, they are known for their packaged goods. I discovered these chocolate enrobed blueberries in a simple brown box and are only available for a few weeks in the summer when the blueberries are at their peak. When you bite into these, the fresh blueberry flavor just bursts in your mouth. Dream on Starburst.
Chocolate covered blueberries at The Atwater Market.
You can’t go to Montreal without visiting one of their classic steak houses.  Moishes is a family-owned and operated steak house that has been around since 1938. The atmosphere at Moishes feels like a Borscht Belt Hotel in the Catskills (if you've never been, don't ask). The breadbasket comes with hot rye bread, pickles and health salad. They also offer classic old school sides like chopped liver and latkes. The service was good but let's just say on the quick side. They are famous for their Monte Carlo potato, which is a twice baked potato with scallions. Check out the dessert plate. I don’t think I have seen a plate like that in the past 10 years. [Moishes]
Caesar Salad. Grilled asparagus.
Clockwise from top left: Potato latkes; Health salad; Monte Carlo potato; Grilled salmon.
A little dessert for the road ...
Did you know that the acclaimed Greek restaurant Milos first opened in Montreal? The original location is in Montreal on avenue du. Parc. After a little inspection, the menu in Montreal and New York are basically the same however the atmosphere was quite different. Milos New York is a big and spacious theater where one goes to see and be seen. In Montreal it's rather low key, more like an exceptional neighborhood Greek restaurant. The night I was there all of the customers were regulars and the service was cheery and accommodating. [Milos]
Milos, outside and in.
Clockwise from top left: Crispy fried thin slices of eggplant and zucchini with tzatziki; Choose your own Red Snapper; Loup de mer dressed with capers and lemon juice; Loukoumades, fried traditional Greek dough, served with pure thyme honey, almonds and cinnamon.
At this writing, I am back in New York and I must tell you, I am missing Montreal. Do yourself a favor and hop on an Air Canada flight.

*Back to New York and back to reality:
In times when restaurants themselves are struggling to stay afloat, Palm Restaurant Group is launching an innovative new menu program designed to raise money for Dress for Success Worldwide, an organization devoted to promoting the economic independence of women by providing professional attire, a support network and career development skills to help them succeed in work and in life.

In its second year of commitment to Dress for Success, Palm has created two entire menus to benefit the organization, one for lunch and one for dinner - complete with four selected Women Winemaker wines and two handcrafted cocktails designed by female celebrity mixologist Aisha Sharpe. In an effort unheard of for the restaurant industry, for two months from September 1 – October 31, 10% of the proceeds from any item off of the Fall For Success Menu ordered at any of the twenty-six locations will go to benefit the organization.

Last year the Palm raised over $60,000 for Dress for Success, this year with their greatly enhanced program, the Palm hopes to help groom 500 women for successful careers. [Dress For Success] & [The Palm]

Until we eat again,
Jordana Z.

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