Mentioned in my first post is a dinner over which it was decided that I was going to work on this project, and I do believe that is a very good place to start. My boyfriend Mike and I share many meals together, either cooking together or trying a new resto one of us finds. Some are fancier or healthier or more noteworthy than others, but all thoroughly enjoyed. Food and food-related outings will likely shape these posts, as food shapes many of our outings. At this particular supper we were concluding a long weekend getaway with a lavish meal at O’Thym, a rustically chic BYOW (bring your own wine) place in Montreal. Located closer than we imagined to our hotel on Boulevard de Maisonneuve, this restaurant was a terrific find and provided us with the perfect “last meal” experience. But I suppose I should cover the beginning and middle of the trip before I skip to the end.
Montreal has for a time been on my mental to-do list of destinations with the attached thought, “Oh, maybe I could whip out a few French phrases, pick up a baguette, and pretend I am once again in Paris.” Je suis desolee, Montreal! How foolish I was. This city has no need for mimicking the capital of its motherland, nor do its visitors for wishing they were elsewhere. While holding onto the language of France and very much desiring to preserve a French cultural identity, Montreal shines as a perfect combination of European sensibility and Canadian amiability. What I mean is, Montreal does have the feel of a European city, there is no doubt about that. Yet it still feels much smaller, homier, and more laid back than Paris. Canadians are really nice, eh! I’m not trying to stereotype here. Our tour guide of the city, Jean-Michel, was the friendliest, most helpful man. He also said “eh” at the end of every sentence, be it declarative, exclamatory, interrogative or imperative. If I brush up on my language skills, I could spend a lot of time amongst these French Canadiens.
Mike and I took off the Friday and Monday of Columbus Day Weekend for this excursion to the North. It was a 3-night, 2-day stay book-ended by 2 days of travel. The drive itself was around 5 1/2 to 6 hours, a straight shot up I-87 all the way through New York State, which is beautiful this time of year. Although I had hoped this road trip would take us through winding, scenic trails of New England, the Catskills and Lake George/Placid/Champlain areas provided enough colorful foliage to make me happy.
Our hotel, we’d come to find, couldn’t have been better located. We were in the Latin Quartier, a block away from a main Metro hub and two from one of the liveliest stretches in town, Rue Saint-Denis. After freshening up from the road, we ventured out for a stroll and dinner at Les Deux Gamins, a resto we found on Yelp. It was positively charmant. Seated outside of the Parisian styled bistro, we leisurely enjoyed a classic French supper. I began with escargots, all garlicky and in a sheen of warm butter; Mike chose the healthier, yet equally delicious (I take his word for it as I am not fan of salmon) salmon tartare garnished with lightly dressed salad greens. Our mains kept the same buttery vs. healthy (or -ier) theme: mine steak frites, his a pot of mussels. However, the mussel broth did have its fair share of butter, and made 2 baskets of bread disappear. Dessert came with theses prix-fixe menu choices, so how could we say no? Michael opted for profiteroles, a personal favorite of mine, while I went with a simple fruit crumble. With nowhere to rush, no schedule to meet, we stretched out a 3-course meal into the chilly night.
Saturday was brilliant. We grabbed a small breakfast, compliments of the hotel, and headed out to the Metro. Montreal’s underground setup was great. It did remind me of DC’s Metro a bit, specifically because of its high, patterned, clean ceilings. In this respect the two Metro systems stand in stark contrast to NYC’s subway and its cramped, sewer-like tunnels we crawl into every day. I thank the MTA for getting me where I need to go, when I need to go, but sometimes the subway just makes me feel dirty. In any event, we disembarked at Mont Royal and walked in the early light to Fitz and Follwell cycle tours.
Planning for this weekend trip, I had known I wanted bicycles included in some way. I may be bikeless in Brooklyn, but it’s not because I don’t love bikes. In my mind, Michael and I would rent two bikes for the duration of our stay and traverse the entire city, seeing all there was to see. In reality, though we may have covered much road, we would never have experienced Montreal in the same way if we hadn’t toured with these folks. It was an intimate, 4-hour “Montreal Highlights” tour comprised of twelve people, including the two guides. We were regaled with history, trivia, and culture while taking in the sights, beautiful weather, and easy-going street life of a Saturday morning in Montreal. Our charming guide Jean-Michel even took us to Atwater Market for gourmet pizza and local micro-brews. C’etait fantastique!
After that amazing stretch of the legs, we stopped back at the hotel for a brief rest. We decided to do a small dinner of brie, mesclun, and walnuts on baguette from Mamie Clafoutis, a darling little bakery serving perfect crusty bread. Our main outing of the night was to a beer bar, Vices et Versa. Michael and I are devoted lovers of the fermented grain, and our waistlines won’t let us forget it. So he did his research and found this place. Cozy and inviting, quiet yet lively, Vices et Versa and its 25-beer deep draft list welcomed us out-of-towners like old friends. I won’t bore you with the entire list of brews we had that night, but I assure you they were dizzyingly delightful.
If bikes were one thing I knew I wanted to do in Montreal, trying the city’s bagels was the other. St. Viateur Bagel is THE place, I had heard. Mile End deli in Brooklyn even gets these bad boys delivered. Every day. And while they are no comparison to my beloved New York bagels, they were delish! Lighter and sweeter, with a larger center hole, they made the perfect sandwich bread for a turkey club. To be fair, since I didn’t try one with cream cheese I can’t say for sure if they aren’t as good as New York. But I’m a creature of habit; I’ll stick to the bagels I was raised on. Nevertheless, I’ll surely pay a visit to Mile End for another taste. All carbo-loaded and ready to go, Michael and I drove out to the Jardin Botanique, a gorgeous patch of green…
We ambled through the light sunshine and clean air in a quiet and peaceful afternoon.
I would be remiss if I did not note that we did try the poutine for lunch that day. Needless to say it was gluttonously delicious: a Canadian take on the disco fry, which this Jersey Girl could deeply appreciate.
And that brings us right back to the table at O’Thym. We had planned on going to Au Pied du Cochon so that Mike could get a duck in a can, but they were fresh out of reservations. With our hopes dashed, we turned to ever-trusty Yelp and settled on O’Thym. Excuse me, not settled, scored. Au Pied du Cochon can keep its pig parts as far as I’m concerned. From the moment we walked in the door, I knew we were in for a treat. It even reminded us of Brooklyn a bit, of a restaurant you might find on Smith Street. Our server was cheerful and helpful to us Anglophones, sensing that we could use the English version of the menu. We heard the specials and scoured the tantalizing offerings up and down before finally making up our minds. (It takes me a while to come to a decision, especially when it comes to menus.) As we waited for our orders and discussed blogs-to-be, we were pleasantly surprised with a starter soup course: parsnip, mushroom and fennel soup. An earthy triumph. This was followed by our appetizers: Wagyu beef ravioli with Waguy heart confit and edamame beans, and prosciutto-wrapped pan-seared scallops. Mmm! An in-between, palate-cleansing refresher was offered: lemon sorbet served in a tiny martini glass of vodka with lemon zest. Talk about pucker. I loved it. All of this was preparing us for the delectable entrees coming our way. Michael ordered the duck, as he is wont to do, which had a crisp salt crust and was cooked to medium-rare perfection. I selected the rack of lamb with honey and sage. How good does that sound? It was tender and rich, subtly enhanced by the adroit aromatic and sweet flavor pairing.
Fat and happy, we strolled back to the hotel for the last, carefree sleep of vacation, mini though it was.
It’s unfortunate I didn’t get any pictures of our meals, but I never feel right whipping out my camera in a nice restaurant. I hope to get better about including some multimedia in my food posts, and cutting out some wordiness, but this was a special event with lots to tell. I promise to keep these more streamlined in the future, except when I finally get around to writing about Berlin. It has only been 5 months since that trip; it’s still within the statute of vacation limitations, isn’t it?