Montreal is a city of many religions, including the big five: Hockey, Dining, Cycling, Dancing and L’Amour. From Plateau-Mont-Royal to Westmount, Outremont to Mile End, hundreds of kilometres of bicycle paths weave through the multicultural landscape of neighbourhoods, each with its own style of lamp posts, green-space parks, unique chocolatiers, cheese boutiques, pretty cafes and bistros. People like to work in the ’hoods where they live—and enjoy the city’s many religions right at their own doorstep.
To Market, To Market
On a winter’s day, the Jean Talon Market offers sensory solace from the damp cold; in summer, it’s a country market garden. Local produce induces one to fill a bag and rush home to cook and eat. La Fromagerie Hamel has been here for over 50 years selling its own cheese made in Repentigny. Artisanal apple wine shops dispense tastings of hydromels, ciders and wines. Forbidden Fruit of Franklin, Quebec offers apple wine made from frozen apples. Olives and Olive Oil purveys a luxurious selection of tapenades, stuffed olives and small-grove, estate-bottled olive oils, many exclusive to this shop.
Appetites raging, we need lunch, and we’re heading to the Provence style brasserie, OSCO! in the Intercontinental Hotel. Osco means “bravo” in Occitan, an ancient dialect of Provence. And, indeed, the menu fulfills its promise with a dish of fish and Gaspe lobster bouillabaisse with baby vegetables sings of the sun, and with a rosé from Provence, it is worthy of this light-filled room. The bar, Sarah B., evokes the magical French ‘green hour’ traditionally dedicated to the consumption of Absinthe.
Let us Entertain You
Besides the Grand Prix, when 85 percent of the visitors are from Toronto, Montreal hosts the world’s best and largest jazz festival, which draws 2.5 million visitors every year; the Franco Folies de Montreal is the biggest French music fest in the world; the Comedy Festival; the Children’s Festival. In any given week, the city will entertain, delight and surprise. It was natural that the Centaur Theatre should mount a musical play about a Montreal institution, Schwartz’s Charcuterie Hebraic. Embraced worldwide as serving the ultimate smoked meat sandwich, and a must on any Montreal visit, the idea of the musical lured me once again to Montreal. I took the easy way: VIA Rail right to the station below The Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel, arriving just in time for lunch. Speedy check in and check out, and the kind of modern comfort we have come to expect from the Fairmont Hotels and Resorts group. The play had me laughing my head off, and craving a smoked meat sandwich—medium fat, with a side of fries. Culture in its broadest sense is a part of the life in Montreal, and an important aspect is the culture of food and drink and dining well. Just below the Musée d’Art Contemporain, Brasserie T has a menu that beguiles us with its diversity and low prices. No surprise, it is a young cousin of the renowned Toque! Appetizer portions of tartars, smoked herring with whipped cream and croutons, braised beef cheeks en gelée, Coquilles St. Jacques, Croque Monsieur. I want it all. What makes these dishes seem so new is the inimitable style of mentor Normand Laprise.
Those of us who indulge our palates as one would a favourite grandchild, appreciate dining at Europea—France imported to rue de la Montagne. Executive Chef Jérôme Ferrer was awarded the prestigious title of Relais & Chateaux Grand Chef this year (there are only three others in Canada). It is well deserved. Chef de Cuisine Patrice de Felice suggests a beginning of lobster cream cappuccino with truffle shavings and an array of spectaculars follow. Each course has a pre-course that delights the eye and the palate: cheese fritters for example, shaped like cigars, come in a cigar box. “For me,” says Ferrer, “the business is all about giving pleasure.” Later, shopping for jewelry does whet the appetite. We’re happy to find Birks’ Café par Europea, newly opened for afternoon tea, brunch or lunch and a glass of wine.
We leave Montreal reminded once again that the waves of good taste play here at a very high decibel.
Sara Waxman is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.