Montreal

Montreal, CanadaFor the last few years, a good buddy and I have been travelling to Montreal, Canada, a city that we have fallen in love with for its walking neighborhoods, the quietness of a metropolis, the outdoor cafes and restaurants, the beautiful sights of cathedrals and wide esplanades, the carefree Jazz festival, the air of French sensibility without having to cross the Atlantic, and finally the wonderful cuisine that tantalized us during each visit. This francophone city boasts nearly as many restaurants as the top contender, New York City. Here is a list of eating establishments that we have visited and are worth mentioning.
Grilled SalmonBreaded Shrimp

SpanakopitaOn our last trip last week, after getting off the plane and dropping off our bags at the hotel, we immediately made a bee-line to the Le Plateau-Mont-Royal neighborhood, specifically to Rue Prince Arthur, a pedestrian street lined with open air eating establishments. Here you are able to find local Greek restaurants offering great lunch deals, four-course lunches for around $15. On one visit (usually more than one is paid), my starter was a generous piece of Spanakopita pie consisting of light and flaky filo dough interspersed with some crumbly feta cheese and spinach filling made savory from some enigmatic Greek spices; my friend’s lentil soup in another establishment was his favorite starter. My main course (not entrée – here it means appetizer) was a plate of well-seasoned rice, a tasty and well-dressed Greek salad, some crispy wedges of potato and finally the main star, a healthy piece of grilled salmon steak, moist and perfectly cooked. My friend’s portion of butterflied shrimp was tasty but the breading was off-putting to him; he prefers plain grilled shrimp which he has had before at another establishment that has, unfortunately, burned down. Usually a slice of moist cake and coffee or tea are the remaining courses to the long lunches that we relish in. I would recommend both La Caverne Grecque and La Casa Grecque. A walk to the close-by Square Saint-Louis to look at the quaint French-style homes is our digestif from such a satisfying meal.

Portuguese Grilled ChickenPortuguese Ribs

Portuguese Passion Fruit SodaA bit north of the same area, many Portuguese restaurants abound in this rather diverse neighborhood. We met up with a Haitian-American Facebook friend who lives in this city, and he was dismayed when I had told him I had eaten in a specific Portuguese chicken joint a few year ago, renown for large quantities but nothing else. So, on this trip, he promised that he would take me to another that he particularly enjoys. Rotisserie Portugalia is a small corner establishment with a faded obscure sign which makes it a bit difficult to find. Entering the establishment is deceiving since all you see is a grill and a bar counter; however, the small dining room is at the back. Since the chicken is what this place is known for, my travelling buddy and I both got an order that came with a side of salad, rice, and fries. The sides were decent and tasty, but the attention-grabber was definitely the moist and well-seasoned chicken that was slightly smoky from being properly grilled and spicy from some chili flakes; even the breast meat was flavorful and not dry. My newly-met friend’s ribs were quite good but he said he had better on other occasions – sucking those bones clean sure was not a good indicator of slight discontent! The perfect drink to wash all of this down was Sumol, a Portuguese fruity soda, of which the passion fruit version really hit the spot for all of us. Thanks for the recommendation, mon ami!

Rotisserie Portugalia on Urbanspoon

Schwartz's Deli, MontrealEveryone talks about this place – Schwartz’s Deli. It is located in the same neighborhood, and there seems to be a line of tourists waiting patiently to get in on any given day in the summer. I think the place garners more attention from the fact that Celine Dion’s husband bought this sandwich shop for $10m than the reviews of the sandwiches themselves. Since my buddy and I are not excited about Jewish deli food while in Montreal, we have never entered its doors; the long lines are not exactly enticing either. But all the guide books make mention of this place, hence my two cents worth. If anyone has gone in, please let me know!

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Sauteed Salmon with Garlic Flower Sauce

Pork Terrine and Peach ChutneyOn a recent trip, a long-time Salvadoran-Canadian friend took my travelling partner and me to a French-style restaurant around the Le Plateau-Mont-Royal neighborhood. Les Infideles is located off the main St. Denis Boulevard but according to my friend, it is a hidden treasure without the stuffiness of fine dining. The complementary Carrot Soup set the right tone for the rest of the evening with its rich flavors from a good amount of pureed carrot and a full soup body that made this bowl tempting to be licked clean. My friend and I decided to opt for a couple of appetizers since they appeared very appealing especially during the warm week that we had there. The Smoked Fish Plate featured pieces of Trout and Salmon smoked a la minute with Hickory wood that made each moist morsel delectable. The Snails in Blue Cheese Sauce with Puff Pastry was definitely a la francaise with plump snails matched with a perfectly balanced sauce that could have gone overboard. My appetizer of Wild Mushroom tart was bursting with the wild boschiness and the slices of blue cheese sending out its slightly bitter tones, all napped by a rich demi-glace sauce that made this vegetarian dish truly satisfying. My host’s main course of Sauteed Salmon with Garlic Flower Sauce created enough envy to this reviewer’s eyes with the moist piece of fish coated by a rich sauce, accompanied by a bouquet of plump vegetables including the dual-colored carrot that made the dish visually tentalizing. For my main, I choose the Pork Terrine and Peach Chutney which was completely up my alley with the mild and fresh-tasting chilled pressed meat well-matched by a fruity and sweet peach chutney and served with slices of rich Brioche bread. This place is well-worth the hike for its quality cooking, the value (especially for fine French cuisine), and the smart yet relaxed ambience (we complemented the waitress’s eclectic music selection). Another note: this place is BYOB, so stop for a bottle of your favorite vin on your way there.

Lunch at Jean Talon MarketLe Marché Jean-Talon, Montreal

Further up from Le Plateau-Mont Royal neighborhood is the Jean Talon neighborhood which is renown for its large open market. This is where we headed one early afternoon to have lunch. Around the food court you will find different vendors serving a wide variety of cuisines, an indication of the influx of immigration to this part of Canada. My friend had some Indian-styled lentil soup that was spiced by a touch of cumin, a rich buttery croissant, and a mango-orange juice smoothie to wash it all done. I had an Olive Ciabbata filled with roasted vegetables Blue and Goat cheeses that hit the right spots(when on a vegetarian mode) with the sweetness from the vegetables and the richness of the diary products (Brie is unpasteurized in Canada, compared to here, which tastes stronger and more bitter on the rind). For dessert, we walked around the fruits vendors and I sampled all the fruits a la Costco, enjoying all their fruity and sweet glory. We stopped by a vendor and ordered some rich Portuguese egg custard, Nata, and Macaroons that kept beckoning us to sample more unique flavors like Basil Lime. The Jean Talon Market is just off the Metro Jean Talon and worth an afternoon of gastronomic adventure.

Notre Dame, Montreal, CanadaOne of our favorite sights is Old Montreal, by the St. Lawrence River, specifically the Notre-Dame Cathedral. After a couple of hours marveling at the beautiful color-stained windows and lights that barely light up the massive house of prayer, we stopped by Les Glaceurs, an ice-cream and cupcake store. Although it is a local chain, it does not have that commercial feel. The ice-creams are well-made without being too sweet, offering a wide selection including sorbets. The cupcakes look very tempting, but the ice-cream seems to always do its job of satisfying the craving for something sweet while cooling us down. Don’t miss out on this small place located on the side of the cathedral when down by the Notre Dame.

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Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken and Grilled shrimp

Not far from the Notre Dame is Chinatown located on the main Boulevard Saint Laurent. Many eating establishments in this area offer Vietnamese cuisine – some Vietnamese moved here due to their knowledge of French taught by their former colonialists. One simple eating establishment that we particularly enjoy is My Canh. My friend’s order of the Combo No. 1 (I’m always wary of anything combo) came with well-marinated grilled beef, chicken, grilled shrimp, along with Imperial roll, salad and rice, which he enjoyed tremendously. My order (Combo No. 2) was similar except mine consisted of lemongrass chicken filled with the root fragrance without being overwhelmed by it or too salty from fish sauce. The fish sauce dip to the tasty Imperial roll was the perfect balance of flavors. The opening clear pho soup was full of flavor and worth every sip. Note: only cash is accepted in this establishment.

My Canh on Urbanspoon

Pita with Brie, Dried Cranberries, & WalnutsSeafood in Beurre Blanc

Grilled Chicken in Mushroom SauceBistro 1272 is located in the gay-friendly part of town, Le Village, where the main Rue Sainte Catherine is closed to pedestrians decorated with overhanging pink balls in mid-air during the warm months. Bumping into some friends there, we decided to join them for dinner. After perusing the menu, I decided to go with the night’s special. The entrée was pita bread filled with flavorful Brie cheese (not the American pasteurized crap) paired with sweet dried cranberries and toasted walnuts, creating a tasty balancing act of flavors. The order of Grilled Chicken in Mushroom Sauce took this cut of poultry to a good place. Moist chicken slices are smothered with a rich and slightly woodsy brown sauce that made it worthwhile mopping up with some bread; the sides of Pommes Purée and vegetables were also well-executed. My friend’s order of Seafood in Beurre Blanc was a revelation for him. The pieces of shrimp, lobster, and scallop were bathed in a rich and flavorful shallot and lobster-infused butter sauce that made my friend effusive throughout his meal. You can find well-executed meals here at a very reasonable price, and it is worthwhile dining al fresco watching the pedestrians stroll by.

Montreal, CanadaAh, we can’t get enough of this charming city every time we visit it. Just when we thought we had calculated enough days for our trip, we always felt a few more would have made it perfect. With such great food, amiable friends and strangers, and wonderful street life and eating ambience, it is hard to press the stop button and come back to the daily grind. But such wonderful experiences only allow us to continue with our trying lives while looking forward to returning to this beautiful respite again and again. With such wonderful gastronomic offerings, Montreal seems to make that call continuously to us, louder each time. We’re coming back soon; don’t worry!

Bistro D’oc

Bistro D'ocOn New Year’s Day, while walking down 10th St. NW near the heart of the financial district, I came across a quaint looking building, beaming like a sore thumb amidst an ocean of modern glass and steel structures.  When I noticed the large “Bistro” sign in the window, it thrilled me to know that there was a French eatery in the heart of town.  After having reviewed other French establishments in the MD suburbs (See K Town Bistro) and in the VA neighborhood of Alexandria (See Yves Bistro), I was eager to add a downtown locale to the list of restaurants of one of my favorite cuisines.

Located across the street from the infamous Ford’s Theater in which President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated, Bistro D’oc sits in a wooden and brick structure dating back to the 1830’s.  Walking through its doors you are immediately assaulted by the rich orange walls and deep ocean blue trimmings that evoke the colors of the Mediterranean.  This establishment celebrates the traditions and regional cuisine of Languedoc, hence the restaurant’s name, serving dishes commonly found in that southwest French province that borders Spain and the Mediterranean.  In addition to the bright color scheme, you are immediately transported to a different ambience that is a prelude of what to expect from a dining experience enhanced by the surrounding wooden structure, the old wall sconces, and the side furniture that evoke a yesteryear.

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DSC_1720.jpgOn my first visit, I invited my BFF to join me for dinner to celebrate my birthday.  From the moment of taking a seat, the attention to details are noticeable by the diner.  A complementary serving of bread and butter sets itself apart from the usual humdrum.  Here we have a large slab of fresh butter that is a far cry from the chintzy prepackaged little aluminium foil squares.  The French bread is truly veritable in quality with the hard outer crust covering an airy yet hearty flavorful inside.  On another visit, the glass of Burgundy that came as part of the $25 Pre/Post-Theater dinner was decent for a house wine that was low in tannin and rather full in body.  It is the attention to these minor details that sets the right mood for the rest of the meal.

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DSC_1305.jpgFor the appetizer on this occasion, I honed in on a vegetarian dish listed as a special, Eggplant Paté.  It arrived in a beautiful Le Creuset mini pot (I looked at its bottom) along with a few home-made croutons.  Digging into the pot, I was incredulous at the dish that consisted of  just roasted eggplant due to the rich flavors that permeated each mouthful.  Smooth bits of roasted eggplant are held in suspension by a rich puree that has been scented by some woodsy-minty thyme that added the note of interest.  Bits of cooked tomato contributed some slight sweetness to the whole dish.  The croutons were thin enough yet crusty to support a mound of this deliciousness but they quickly ran out before I reached the bottom of the pot – thank goodness for the slices of that tasty baguette.  This was truly a wonderfully delicious vegetarian paté, if there were one.

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Since my BFF was on his drastic diet for his upcoming Caribbean cruise, he opted for the Salad Languedoc.  The plate arrived with a mound of mixed greens piled on, topped with confit chicken gizzard, surrounded by a couple of paper-thin slices of Bayonne ham, with a truffle of peppered chicken liver pate, and finished with a light dressing of a decent tangy vinaigrette.  BFF and I were amazed at the tender bits of gizzard whose flavor was intensified by the confit (cooked in fat), the liver paté truffle smooth, rich, and pungent from the pepper, and the paper-thin ham tasted aged and musty from the barn that it was cured in, which is a good thing in this instance.  Here, we see in this dish the roots of Modern French cuisine stemming from country fare that are well done and sensitive to quality ingredients – hearty yet sublime.

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DSC_1319.jpgFor my main course (let’s not confuse it with the American misuse of the word entrée) I decided to order something that I rarely come across in the menu of most French establishments – Cassoulet Languedoc.  This hearty stew consists of French white haricot beans that have been stewed in a rich sauce and enriched by healthy chunks of duck confit (cooked in duck fat), lamb, pork, and Toulouse sausage.  This is a hearty gut-sticking food that speaks of the humble origins of this unfussy dish.  The beans were cooked just right, being not too soft and maintaining its integrity without being chalky firm, while the sauce it swam in was flavored by some aromatics and a good dose of woodsy thyme.  The various pieces of meat lent their own distinctive flavors to this dish from the rich duck confit, to the slightly gamey lamb, the pieces of porcine delight, and the flavorful and slightly fatty sausage.  The earthen bowl that the dish was served in added to the character of the dish that took this diner to a remote French farm where this stew would often be cooked.   In addition to my fawning over the unctousness of this bean dish, I admired the restaurant’s offering this time-consuming dish that many places would avoid serving.  This is classic Languedoc fare from the Southwest France, and with this dish this restaurant delivers.

DSC_1321.jpgAs a treat for my birthday on my first visit, I decided to indulge in the dessert special for that day.  It was offering an array of macaroons, and my order consisted of a couple made from coffee.  These were two perfectly round crispy yet crumbly discs made from merengue flavored with some coffee essence, stuffed with a creamy filling again flavored with the same heady coffee essence and with some nutty crushed hazelnut bits mixed in.  They were the perfect sweet bites to end the meal after having sated myself with the above rich dishes.  Small, sweet, and satisfying.

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As part of the Pre/Post-theater $25 three-course deal, I decided to start my meal with a Duck Rillette Paté.  A small bowl of this rich meat paste came served with a couple of the house-made croutons.  Pieces of shredded duck confit meat have been congealed with duck fat and heavily seasoned with black pepper.  The pate was smooth and quite meaty with a good dose of pepper bite in each bite.  The croutons were not enough to cover the amount of paté but the day was saved by the French bread slices.  However, I got a bit bored by the rich dish as the amount was rather generous, and the addition of some herbs or the heady truffle would have made it more interesting to my palate.  But I appreciated the rusticity in this version of pate which is the hallmark of this regional French cuisine.

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For my second course, I order Salmon in a Butter Red Pepper Sauce.  The moderate-size piece of salmon arrived napéd with a butter sauce studded with bits of sweet red and green peppers.  The piece of fish was moist, flaky, and perfectly cooked from having some time in the oven, complemented by a surprisingly light buerre blanc that added a richness to the salmon.  The chiffonade of fresh basil added a surprising anise flavor to the sauce and interesting touch to the dish.  The accompanying white basmati rice was well cooked with a tinge of salt to elevate it beyond pure starch.  A few capers thrown in to the sauce would have made the flavors perfect, but I was very satisfied with this dish and its skilful preparation.

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To round off this set of trio, I chose the Rasberry Mousse Bavaroise as my last course.  A glass arrived filled with the egg-cream-gelatine mixture at the bottom topped by a fairly thick layer of rasberry-blueberry compote.   The creamy bottom was filled with the raspberry flavor while its airy lightness somehow managed to defy the richness of the custard.   The topping was packed with soft chunks of cooked fruit providing the sweet fruitiness that paired perfectly with its bottom counterpart.  This was the perfect finale to the three-act meal that was satisfying with the flavors, made with moderate sized portions, and they were a demonstration of the kitchen’s knowledgeable skilful cooking.   This $25 deal is worth driving early to the city or visiting after a night out for a play.

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Bistro D’oc is a downtown location that offers unfussy, tasty, and skillfully cooked food that pays tribute to the Southwest region of France, the region from which the owner’s patriarch claims his roots in his homeland.  The dishes possess a level of humble earthiness while exuding a level of sophistication that is expected from French cuisine, a fare that can rarely be found in other places like the hearty Cassoulet, the rich Duck Rillette Paté, and the gizzard studded Salad Languedoc.  This place is replete with a warm and welcoming ambience that makes the diner most welcome without feeling the stuffiness that can be found in some establishments.  With their interesting and enticing offerings,the dinner specials, and the $25 deal, Bistro D’oc will see this diner popping in through their doors quite frequently in the future to savor this delicious French fare that speaks to the soul.

Bistro D'Oc on Urbanspoon