Posts Tagged ‘Montreal’

Canada Wrap-Up – Beer, Shawarma, Bagels, and Sugar Pie

Thursday, July 11th, 2013 by virginia

In addition to imbibing on some great wines over the weekend, we tasted a few local brews in both Quebec City and Montreal. At Le Sacrilege in Quebec City, we tried the blonde, red, and white beers. Josh loved the refreshing crispness of the blonde, while I thought the finish on the red was a bit too bland. It did have an interesting coffee flavor component to it that I didn’t expect. The white beer was a hefeweizen with a strong wheat flavor. I enjoyed it a lot, even though it was freezing outside and I typically associate hefeweizens with summertime. It was served with both a lemon and a lime wedge.

In Montreal, our bar of choice, Brutopia on Crescent Street, was way too crowded for us to bring J in, so we settled for Les 3 Brasseurs, which is much bigger and had space for us and J’s stroller at the front of the bar. Les 3 Brasseurs looks like a chain restaurant, but they do brew their own beer (the name translates to The 3 Brewers). We tried the brown and the amber. The amber packed a decent punch, but the brown was slightly disappointing. It had won a few awards so we were expecting a bit more complexity in flavor.

After leaving Les 3 Brasseurs, we walked up Crescent Street towards Amir for a late night snack of shawarma and shish taouk. It was always our post-drinking destination back in college when we would visit Montreal. We got one of each on pita and took it back to our hotel room, where we ate it with the leftover pied de cochon. Sadly, the sandwiches were not as good as I remembered. The beef shawarma was a bit too spiced for my liking, but Josh enjoyed it. The shish taouk (chicken shawarma) was always my favorite, but this time I found it exceedingly dry and under seasoned. The garlic mayo was bland, and the pickled vegetables were sparse. I was disappointed, but I’m sure there are other places to get better shawarma and shish taouk in the city. Amir was just a nostalgic place for us to visit.

Shish taouk and shawarma pitas from Amir

Shish taouk and shawarma pitas from Amir

We finished up our Canadian adventure with a few Montreal-style bagels from two famed locations: St-Viateur Bagel Shop and Fairmount Bagel. The Fairmount Bagel shop had a fairly long line when we were there, though it moved quickly. We were in and out of the store in just a few minutes (even though Josh had to run out and find an ATM since it’s cash only). We picked up an everything, a chocolate chip, and a caraway seed bagel to eat in the car on our way home.

fairmountbagel

The St-Viateur Bagel Shop, on the other hand, was mostly empty. The production is a bit more impressive there though, as it is easier to watch the bagels being made in the back. Josh ran in and picked up an everything and a rosemary bagel for us to share.

stviateur

So which bagels did we prefer? Fairmount, hands down. They seemed fresher and chewier, with a better crust. The dough also tasted more seasoned, with good flavor throughout. While I liked the everything bagel the best (it’s our baseline bagel), I was particularly intrigued by the chocolate chip bagel. The chocolate chips added a slight sweetness to the savory dough but it was far from being a dessert. I haven’t seen chocolate chip bagels here in NYC/NJ, and I wish there were some around so I could eat them more frequently! Josh loved the caraway bagel, as he is into anything caraway (particularly caraway-flavored spirits, ie., Brennivin).

Everything bagel, chocolate chip bagel, and caraway seed bagel from Fairmount Bagels

Everything bagel, chocolate chip bagel, and caraway seed bagel from Fairmount Bagels

The St-Viateur bagels were blander, with a drier texture that gave it a stale quality. Even the everything bagel was lacking in taste, as the toppings didn’t do much to help the flavorless dough. The rosemary bagel at least had rosemary running throughout the dough, so I preferred that one. But these bagels were a disappointment compared to Fairmount (although neither place stacked up to our favorite bagel shop in NJ).

Everything bagel and rosemary bagel from St-Viateur Bagel

Everything bagel and rosemary bagel from St-Viateur Bagel

The last item we picked up for our car ride home was sugar pie. I had read about it when researching Quebecois specialties, and I had wanted to try it at Au Pied de Cochon but we ran out of time and stomach room. I googled a place to buy it and came up with La Foumagerie, a specialty cheese shop/cafe in Westmount, just outside the city. Josh ran in to pick some up for us, and came back with two individually wrapped slices. He said the woman behind the counter was reluctant to sell it to him by the slice because it was the last pie left (I guess they mostly sell whole pies), but luckily for us, she eventually acquiesced.

lafoumagerie

I unwrapped one and dug in immediately. It was sweet and maple-y, just as I expected. It’s basically a pie filled with soft, crumbly, maple sugar candy. The fresh slice was slightly gooey, dripping out sticky streams of maple syrup. We saved the second slice for later, and by that point, the syrup was more incorporated in the filling and no longer drippy. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed both slices. It was not cloyingly sweet, but had more of a caramelized maple sugar flavor.

Slice of sugar pie

Slice of sugar pie

The drive home went by quickly, and thus ended our little Canadian adventure. The trip was a success overall, as we got to try a lot of great food and we handled Baby J pretty well on our own. Hopefully there will be a lot more travel in our future!

View of Quebec City at sunset

View of Quebec City at sunset

Notre Dame in Montreal

Notre Dame in Montreal

Le Sacrilege
447 Rue Saint-Jean
Quebec City, Canada

Les 3 Brasseurs
1356 St-Catherine St. W.
Montreal, Canada

Amir
1333 Boulevard De Maisonneuve Ouest
Montreal, Canada

Fairmount Bagel
74 Avenue Fairmount Ouest
Montreal, Canada

St-Viateur Bagel
263 Rue Saint Viateur Ouest
Montreal, Canada

La Foumagerie
4906 Rue Sherbrooke Ouest

Westmount, Canada

Au Pied de Cochon – Montreal

Monday, July 8th, 2013 by virginia

aupieddecochon

When Josh and I first discussed going to Montreal and Quebec City, I immediately said that we would have to eat at Au Pied de Cochon, a restaurant famous for its decadent stuffed pig’s foot and foie gras poutine. Fortunately, we were able to get a somewhat last minute reservation on Saturday night, our only night in Montreal. The downside was that the only reservation we could get was at 5 pm, when the restaurant first opens. Nevertheless, we prepared for our meal by eating a lighter lunch and taking a long walk from our hotel near Crescent Street to the Old City, and then up through the Latin Quarter to the Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood where the restaurant is located.

We weren’t quite sure how long the walk would take in total, as we wanted to take a few pics around the Old City first, plus we knew we would have to push J’s stroller up quite a long hill to get to restaurant. We actually timed it pretty well and arrived at about 4:45. By this point, however, J was hungry, slightly chilly (it was a windy day), and just wanted to be out of her stroller. We attempted to enter the restaurant but were immediately rebuffed. The hostess told us they didn’t open until 5, and then shut and locked the door. I guess they are sticklers for punctuality, but we were¬† hoping they would take pity on a 6 month old baby and let us wait in the narrow entry way so that we wouldn’t have to stand out in the cold for 15 minutes. No such luck.

Instead, we walked to the street corner where there was a little patch of sun and a place where Josh could sort of sit on a giant planter while he held J on his lap. She was definitely happy to be out of her stroller, and I fed her some banana while we waited, which appeased her even more. Finally the 15 minutes were up, the door was unlocked, and we headed back inside. Our initial irritation at the hostess’ seemingly lack of sympathy for our situation soon dissipated, as she was very accommodating in helping us store J’s stroller behind her stand (there really isn’t much room to maneuver in the restaurant, as the tables are packed tightly together), and then helping us carry J’s car seat to our table (Josh was still holding J while I was laden down with the diaper bag and other assorted baby-related items that I pulled from the stroller). They had given us a four top near the bar, so we had plenty of room for J’s car seat and to spread out our stuff.

I had studied the menu extensively and read lots of reviews prior to our trip, so I knew which entrees I wanted us to try – the namesake stuffed pied de cochon with foie gras, and the duck in a can. Based on my research, I knew this would already be way more food than either of us could eat, so I was wary of ordering any appetizers or sides (so no foie gras poutine, sadly), but we ended up getting an order of bison temaki to share. Josh ordered a bottle of red wine, and we sipped on that while snacking on the fabulous baguette they brought us, which had a crispy, crackly crust and a chewy interior. It was the best baguette we had on our trip.

Bread and wine

Bread and wine

The bison temaki is a pretty ingenious dish – it’s bison tartare served in a sushi hand roll style. The raw bison meat is chopped up and rolled in nori (seaweed) with some rice, lettuce, and fried root vegetable strips. The roll is topped with a quail egg sauce that you pour over the meat. It was fresh, well seasoned, and a great mix of interesting flavors and textures. The bison was not super gamey, and quail egg added a lovely richness to the meat. Two hand rolls came in our order, and while one was beautifully presented, the other was falling apart. The nori had snapped in that one, and it was a bit sloppily assembled. I was kind of surprised by the haphazard presentation but nevertheless, the bison temaki was a great dish, and definitely whetted our appetites for the rest of the meal.

Bison temaki

Bison temaki

Of the dishes I read about, the duck in a can definitely was one of the more debated entrees. Some loved it, others hated it. I couldn’t help but want to find out for myself. It’s basically half a duck breast, foie gras, balsamic sauce, cabbage, roasted garlic, and thyme, all cooked together inside an actual sealed can. The waiter brings the can to the table, opens it with a can opener, and pours out the contents onto a plate for you.

The waiter opening up the can of duck

The waiter opening up the can of duck

The duck itself was perfectly pink on the inside, but I found the meat to be tough. The skin also doesn’t have an opportunity to render, so it’s thick with fat, which some people love. I’m not averse to eating fat, especially when it melts in my mouth, but I thought this fat was unpleasantly tough and congealed. The foie gras was a bit lost in the dish, which was also disappointing. The cabbage and sauce were ok, but nothing spectacular, in my opinion. Overall I was on the side that thinks this dish is more of a gimmick, while Josh said it wasn’t that bad.

Duck in a can out of the can

Duck in a can out of the can

The stuffed pied de cochon was a HUGE platter of food. I knew the portion would be large, but I was surprised by just how big it was. As we’re still New Yorkers at heart, we had to compare it to the size of a Metrocard.

The stuffed pied de cochon vs. a Metrocard

The stuffed pied de cochon vs. a Metrocard

I mistakenly thought the pig’s foot was stuffed with foie gras, but that wasn’t the case. There was a big piece of seared foie gras on top though, which I was happy to see. The pig’s foot was really more of a pig’s leg, as there was more shank meat than gelatinous cartilage under the fried outer layer. Those of you who are averse to eating foot would be happy to know that! ¬†However, I absolutely adore pig’s foot, so I was pretty sad to only find bits of cartilage here and there. The pied de cochon was served on top of a mountain of mashed potatoes and tons of mushrooms and veggies. I barely made a dent in the dish, though I did manage to finish off all the foie gras (of course). It was a hearty, homey dish, but not refined or composed. Still, it was pretty delicious, especially if I got a piece of foie gras, some crispy skin, and both shank and foot meat all in one bite.

Stuffed pied de cochon with foie gras

Stuffed pied de cochon with foie gras

After we were finished eating, I asked for the rest of my dish to be packed up. The waiter seemed a bit surprised but he still complied with my request. The round foil container was packed to the brim and must have weighed about three pounds! Since we were eating so early, I knew I would want a snack later that evening, especially after we had a few drinks. I was definitely happy with my decision to take the rest back to our hotel, and it tasted even better later after all of the ingredients had time to meld together (even though it was cold, as there was no microwave in our room).

When Josh made the reservation, they told him that each seating is for two hours. At this point, it was almost 7 pm, meaning our time was up. The hostess had already walked by our table several times to check up on our status. I was sort of interested in ordering sugar pie for dessert, having never tasted it before, but I was pretty full and also didn’t want to go over our allotted time as I knew people would be waiting. The restaurant was packed (it filled up almost immediately after they opened), and there were lots of people standing in the entryway. Plus J had already taken a nap during our meal and was starting to get fussy. So we quickly got our check, gathered our belongings, and headed out. One of the people waiting for our table actually helped us carry our stuff out, as there really wasn’t much room to walk. J’s hat got lost in the shuffle, and the hostess helped us track it down under our table while we waited.

Overall I thought Au Pied de Cochon was an interesting experience. There is a lot of hype surrounding the restaurant, and maybe I expected more from it because of that. The food wasn’t bad, but it didn’t knock my socks off. The bison temaki was definitely a high point – it was a well composed, interesting dish, despite the sloppy plating. The stuffed pied de cochon was tasty, but in a rustic way. I was not impressed with the duck in a can, but Josh thinks I’m overreacting. The restaurant is also pretty expensive, though dishes are big enough to share. However, we weren’t able to take advantage of that with just the two of us. I would have liked to try more items, but the cost was prohibitive and I didn’t want to waste food by ordering more than we could conceivably eat. Dinner for the two of us, with just one appetizer, two entrees, and a bottle of wine, was about $265. To be fair, our entrees were some of the most expensive items ($40+) on the menu, and there are plenty of things in the $25 range. Josh also picked an expensive bottle of wine, but beer and cheaper wines are available.

In terms of service, we were pretty annoyed initially when they wouldn’t let us into the restaurant 15 minutes early to wait with the baby. However, the hostess did seem much nicer after the doors opened at 5 pm, and she was very helpful when it came to managing all of our belongings. Our waiter took a pretty casual approach when dealing with us, but he wasn’t rude or unfriendly. Our water and wine glasses were always filled, and someone promptly brought us hot water to heat up J’s bottle when we asked. The atmosphere of the restaurant is pretty bustling. It’s loud and chaotic, but everyone seems to be having a great time while eating and drinking. I was worried that it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to bring a baby, but most people didn’t notice when J cried due to the inherent noisiness of the restaurant.

So what’s my final verdict? I’m not sure. I was a bit disappointed when we left, especially since we had some great food the previous night at Le Moine Echanson in Quebec City (and the seared foie gras there was much better), but I also wished that we had been able to taste more of the menu. I’d like to go back with a big group so that we could share lots of dishes, and maybe I’ll have a different impression of the restaurant. I’ll have to hold off on whether or not I’d recommend the restaurant until then.

Au Pied de Cochon
536 Avenue Duluth Est
Montreal, Canada

Schwartz’s – Montreal

Thursday, June 13th, 2013 by virginia

Schwartzsmontreal

After spending two nights in Quebec City, we headed to Montreal to finish up our little Canadian adventure. We didn’t leave quite as early in morning as we would have liked, plus we ended up hitting some traffic on the highway, so we got to the city a bit later than we intended, around 1 pm. Since we had a 5 pm reservation at Au Pied de Cochon later that day, we were hungry but didn’t want to fill up too much before our highly anticipated dinner. Instead of going to our hotel first, we headed straight for Schwartz’s, a famed Montreal deli, and picked up some smoked meat sandwiches to go.

There was a line of people waiting to be seated in the restaurant, but we found a parking spot and Josh was able to run in to the takeout counter and get two sandwiches right away. They were already prepared and wrapped up in wax paper, so I hoped they were still fresh. We took them to our hotel and ate them immediately after we got to our room.

Smoked meat sandwich from Schwartz's

Smoked meat sandwich from Schwartz’s

The sandwiches were a decent size – not overstuffed like the crazy big sandwiches at Carnegie Deli, but still piled high with a good amount of meat. There was mustard on the bread already, so I guess it comes standard, since no one asked Josh if he wanted any. That suited us fine, as we both like mustard on our deli sandwiches, but I’m not sure what happens if you don’t want mustard. The bread was still soft but not soggy, which is a good sign that the sandwiches were recently made at least. However, the small size of the bread was pretty laughable compared to the amount of meat. It did a pretty bad job containing the sandwich, and I ended up with basically a fistful of meat with no bread about halfway through.

It didn’t really matter in the end, as the smoked meat was the star of the sandwich anyway. It was tender and had a good amount of fattiness to it, which prevented it from getting too dry. It tasted like a cross between pastrami and corned beef, with lots of spices crusted on the outside and a subtle smokey/cured flavor on the inside. It wasn’t overly salty, as I sometimes find deli meats to be, and I especially enjoyed the pop of the crushed peppercorns in the seasoning.

Smoked meat up close

Smoked meat up close

Overall Josh and I both liked the smoked meat sandwich from Schwartz’s, although I do wish that the bread to meat ratio was a bit better. Maybe if we get take out next time, we should order the meat by the pound and get bread separately, so that we could construct our own sandwiches. That would also allow us to tailor the amount of mustard to our preferences. Nevertheless, the sandwich was satisfying and the smoked meat itself was a treat. At about $7 per sandwich, it wasn’t a bad deal either. I’d definitely recommend stopping by to taste one of Montreal’s most famous smoked meat destinations.

Schwartz’s
3895 St Laurent Blvd

Montreal, Canada

Two Fat Bellies Hit the Road – Canadian Adventure

Sunday, April 21st, 2013 by virginia

Josh and I were experiencing a bout of cabin fever and decided to take a somewhat impromptu road trip to Canada for a long weekend in April, with baby J in tow. She has always been pretty good in the car, usually falling asleep immediately, but we didn’t have much experience driving long distances with her. We also hadn’t been away for a weekend just the three of us before, so we were a bit worried about having to pack up all of her stuff and managing everything on our own for four days.

Since half the fun of traveling is eating well, we decided to go to Quebec City and Montreal for a little sightseeing and a lot of good French-influenced food. While Google maps told us that Quebec City would be a 7.5 hour drive, it ended up taking us almost 10 hours altogether, since we had to make a few stops along the way to feed the baby. Other than that, it was a pretty nice drive through the Adirondack region.

We spent two nights in Quebec City, staying at the Loews Hotel Le Concorde, for which we got a great deal on Priceline. It was in a good location just outside the Old City, and we had beautiful views of the St. Lawrence River from our room. We spent one night at Le Meridian Versailles in Montreal, a boutique hotel that was a bit off the beaten path but still near the hustle and bustle of Crescent Street. The downside was that the room was a bit small, and space was extremely tight especially since we had to set up a pack n’ play next to our bed for J to sleep in.

All in all it was a great trip, one that we would happily do again. It snowed on our way to Quebec City but fortunately it was not too cold during the day, and we we were able to maneuver the steep hills of city fairly easily with J’s City Mini GT stroller. The stroller was also pretty good on the residual snow that we encountered, and we powered our way through the slush and mud. We had several really wonderful meals, and we were pretty proud of ourselves (and her!) for getting through the four-day weekend with only one major meltdown at a restaurant. Our little Canadian experiment proved that we could handle traveling with J on our own, and we’re already looking forward to planning our next adventure.