Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Anniversary Trip - Part Quatre: Montreal

We followed the road along the St. Laurent River to get to Montreal. We passed tiny communities and a lot of farmland. For lunch we went to a hamburger stand called Casse-Croute of Neuville. These burger joints dotted the winding road, but this one was perched along the bank of the river with picnic tables for one to enjoy the view. We ordered Hamburger Fromage and Frites (2 personnes). The burgers came with a toasted bun and the fries were thick-sliced and heavenly.

Montreal is a bigger city than Quebec and looks much more like a city even though part of Montreal is also called the Old City.

We stayed at Acceuil Chez Francois B & B located across from La Fontaine Park. This area is populated with row houses and reminded me of the Fan District in Richmond. The one big difference is that the stairs to the second floor of these townhouses were located outside. Francois was a great host, very laid back, and a great cook. We had scrumptious and filling breakfasts every day. Francois was also a wealth of information about the city, how to navigate the bus and Metro, and where to eat.

Let's start with places for lunch:

In Vieux Montreal at Place Jaques Cartier, a variety of French-style cafes line each side of the cobblestone square. Touristy, yet also quaint. Each cafe had tables inside and out. The weather was grand and we chose La Maree because it was on the shady side of the square and it had a bright blue awning. We were seated in a prime people-watching spot. For wine we selected Chateau de Roquetaillade-La-Grange from Graves. One of the few Bordeaux wines we had all trip. And going against the red wine grain and against my usual personal preferences I ordered trout. It arrived slightly smoked accompanied by an orange cream sauce. So good! Hubby had the hangar steak and was quite satisfied. Around Place Jaques Cartier there are many art galleries and a little enclosed shopping area called Bon Marche. It is the building with the silver dome...

Near one of the commercial/business districts we had lunch at Rosalie located on rue de la Montagne. More upscale; men in suits; waitresses in short, low cut dresses with 4 inch black heels; outside dining; men in suits having extended alcoholic lunches. We decided this might be the high end "Hooters" of Montreal. I told my husband to enjoy the view while he could. In any case it was amusing to watch the other diners, especially the group of men ordering bottle after bottle of wine and asking for an extra glass so the waitress could also partake in the merriment. Once again the weather did not dissapoint and we ate outside. My husband decided to try the Rickard's Red Beer. He thoroughly enjoyed the Canadian brew and is trying to find it here in the States. I opted for a half bottle of Cotes du Rhone, which paired well with the Onglet (hangar steak accompanied with sauteed green beans and au gratin potatoes). My other half had the Rigatoni. After the meal we had plenty of time to enjoy the rest of our wine and beer, and the street scenes and the other views. And we contemplated dessert. And then we saw the list of after-dinner drinks. And we saw it - Belle de Brillet. We discovered Belle de Brillet at a wine shop in Washington, DC. The amber nectar comes in a pear shaped bottle and is indeed pear cognac. It is about 30% alcohol and has a slight sweetness, thus, it's not as harsh as an eau de vie or a typical cognac. For us, it's perfect after a meal and can be sipped alone or imbibed with a light dessert. We had never seen it listed in a restaurant until Rosalie. Of course, we ordered it and lingered a while longer in the sunshine.

We also had lunch at the Casse-Croute in the Botanical Gardens located near the 1976 Olympic Stadium. We had the typical burgers and the (once again) great fries. What was great was the view from our picnic table and then the subsequent garden scenes...

A place for afternoon refreshment:

The Botanical Gardens were quite extensive. When we returned to our B&B that afternnoon we decided to seek out a place to relax and quench our thirsts. We happened upon Studzio. A small little cafe on rue St-Denis with little cafe tables located out front. We were atrracted to this particular place because every occupied cafe table had a pitcher of sangria sitting on it. Red wine, fresh fruit juice, and slices of oranges and lemons. Very refreshing. And while at Studzio we also discovered something peculiar about Montreal. If you have something alcoholic to drink, you have to also order something to eat (even if it's only a dollar's worth). Studzio happened to have a light tapas menu and we ordered a tapanade trio with bread.

Let's talk dinner:

There are a slew of great places to eat in many areas of Montreal. We concentrated on one area a few blocks from where we were staying - the intersection of Duluth and St. Denis. The reason: Apportez Votre Vin (Bring Your Wine). This area of the city and only this area contained a myriad of establishments that allowed you to bring in your own wine with NO corkage fee! Amazing! And, of course, right on this corner there is a SAQ (Societe des alcools du Quebec): the Province-run wine and liquor store. Every night the wine shop was packed and the check-out line was long because everyone bought wine to take to dinner. And even though the taxes on the wine were significant, buying wine retail is still much, much cheaper than buying in a restaurant. We ate French our first night at La Prunelle. Fabulous duck confit. All of the large windows open up, so, even as we sat inside, it felt like we were at an outdoor cafe. The next night we had Italian at L'Academie. A hopping three-story place. We ate on the 2nd floor and were, thankfully, seated by the window which put us out of the mainstream of the hustle and bustle. Across the street was a hair salon that was just closing up. We were able to observe the staff relaxing with friends in the client chairs. The fried calamari was run of the mill but the veal parmagiana and the veal with roasted red peppers were excellent.

On our last night we headed out of our culinary comfort zone and tried Khyber Pass - an Afghan place. After securing our bottle of wine from the SAQ, we headed for the Pass. We tentatively peeked in and the place seemed almost abandoned. Did we make the right decision? But, we wanted something different and forged ahead. As it turned out no one was eating inside. Everyone was on the terrasse, the outdoor patio in the back. And we happened to get the last available table. Good for us! For starters we were presented with a soft flat bread and three different sauces: green coriander, white yogurt, and red pepper (not hot). I liked to mix the green and the white together. The Table d'Hote included soup, appetizer, main course, dessert, and coffee. The soup was noodles with beef in an herb infused cloudy broth. I have no idea what the herbs were, but what a great tasting soup! So different, yet, so good. The appetizer was herbed gound beef fried pastries - it looked like a flaky empanada. Once again, good, but, a little on the heavy side. The main course was grilled chicken kababs served with three different preparations of basmati rice - cardamon (green), garlic (white), and cumin (brownish red). The cardamon rice was the best. The chicken was moist and tender. Dessert was a white custard or pudding. Very sweet with ground cardamon on top. A different take on dessert for us and not something we would seek out on our own. I'd have to say the soup was the best and most surprising dish. And I would recommend this place for folks who would like an out of the ordinary culinary adventure.


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