Apart from being totally swayed by the fact it’s the city I grew up in and love, I really think Montreal deserves enormous props for its growing foodie-destination reputation. In fact, it has been undergoing a bit of a gastronomical face lift since I flew over the pond at Christmas.
In the next week, on top of attending the Maudits Soupers organized by Omnivore, I will be running right left and centre to test the new and not-so-new restaurants, shops and wine bars that give the city its exciting edge.
As I walked through what used to be my childhood neighbourhood, the Mile End, I couldn’t help but notice new businesses had popped up everywhere. The fact that Montreal isn’t a very expensive city and that quality of life is high really does encourage younger and let’s face it, probably poorer albeit gifted and ambitious young culinary talent to open their first ventures. What’s cool is that it’s also not limited to the little guy since restaurateurs like Daniel Boulud set up fancy shop at the glam Ritz Carlton Hotel and Jamie Oliver is investing in Derek Damman (ex-DNA) at Maison Publique to open shortly.
Here are a couple of places I love and want to share with you.
1045 Avenue Laurier Ouest, +1(514) 270-0999
Right, so I should disclose that I do have a particular fondness for this Outremont restaurant seeing as I worked there for over a year with an incredible female-rich team. A couple of things changed since I left: the wine program used to be ran by Stéphane Leroux (best sommelier of Quebec 2011) who has now been very competently replaced by the dynamic duo that comprises Julie Barrette and Sarah Deguire. The girls both graduated from ITHQ with sommelier degrees and have worked at the restaurant for years. Consequently, the wine list has grown in its french selection and particularly in the natural department as they are both fans of clean, delicious and interesting wine. Thierry Germain’s Saumur “Insolite” 2010 was vivid, mineral and grapefrui-ty and once it warmed down a little, it paired perfectly with the deliciously tender salmon tartar and the generous lobster salad. Food at Leméac is constant and delicious. The pain perdu is the best I’ve ever had because it just goes all out. Anyone who has ever tried it knows exactly what I’m talking about: the first time you have it, it’s always the same set of emotions in this order: shock, fear, courage, jubilation, happiness and satisfaction. The after 10pm set menu is 27$ and a real steal with generous portions and great choice. They also have incredible brunches on Saturday and Sunday: love those homemade donuts.
174A, West Bernard Street, +1(514) 274-1514
Peter Bahlawanian and his wife opened their first Spice Station in Silverlake, Los Angeles. Since he was born and bread in Montreal, he returned home and opened two more stores. The concept is simple, he sources the best possible spices from all over the world in small quantities to retain freshness when necessary and puts them in beautiful jars that he places on shelves lacing the walls. He has fifty different kinds of salts, peppercorns from across the world, peppers, carobs, teas, herbs and all kinds of treasures lurking in the hundreds of jars that naturally decorate the shop.
For a sommelier, discovering new smells is an incredible way to build up olfactory memory. So often when smelling a wine, you can discern herbaceous or spicy odours that are not always easy to define. Of course, Spice Station is equally interesting for chefs who are preparing a meal and want to add an edge. In fact, Peter told me that they sell to a lot of great restaurants both in L.A. and in Montreal. Sometimes, a chef can just smell a particularly interesting or unique herb or spice and that could inspire an entire dish. While we were chatting, Peter opened a couple of jars to the great joys of our noses.
The difference between Mexican and Turkish oregano was astounding, with one being more minty and the other more earthy. If that isn’t the definition of terroir, I don’t know what is!
He also had us smelling different salts: white truffle salt (garlicky), black truffle salt (honeyish), vintage Merlot salt (a little vinegary), smoked salt, and so on.
Because so little people exercise the sense that is smell in a very active way, I found Peter’s concept a great and exciting way to get the nose muscle going.
4869 Avenue du Parc Montréal, +1(514) 750-6577
When I lived in Montreal, Buvette was the designated after-shift lair and sitting around a table with five or six other sommeliers was a real treat: everyone orders a bottle and we just get into our semi-drunk blind-tasting mode. The first thing to do before this marathon however, is to down a nice cold beer, it helps prepare the palate for what’s coming!
Every night, it is jammed pack. You go into the super loud crowded space, a DJ is spinning at the bar, you lose your voice after about twenty minutes of screaming into your friend’s ear about what to order, you eat little bits (cheese, charcuteries or the delicious accras de morue) or bigger ones ( a full roasted chicken) and you’re happy because Chez Simone, la vie est belle! The wine list is tightly edited with all kinds of great discoveries from all walks of natural to not so natural. Among the contenders last night, delicious Tavel rosé 2010 from the infamous Eric Pfifferling of course: it travels really well and has not lost its cool. Jean-François Ganevat’s Chalasse Vieilles Vignes 2009 was a little more tired from the trip and Marquis d’Angerville’s 2006 Volnay 1er Cru “Champans” was robust and too young but with great potential.
And that’s how the night ended: with me crazily riding home under the pouring rain on a Bixi which is basically the less efficient equivalent to the Parisian Velib’.
Montréal, je t’aime!