Montreal's Quintessential Restaurants: Dine Out with Montrealers
By Sherel Purcell
Montréal Local Expert
Choosing restaurants in Montreal is a breeze. The most obvious method is to drop in to those that appear to cater to a local crowd and not just tourists! An easier method to choose your perfect dining spot is to follow my suggestions so you can reserve ahead, especially on weekends. Standards are generally quite high in Montreal restaurants and prices reasonable. Like most places, lunch is often the better deal.
Don't overlook local hotel restaurants especially if you hear a lot of French - because who knows food better? Consider restaurants a bit off the beaten tourist track too like those in East Montreal, The Village or newer hotspots like Griffentown and the Pointe St. Charles neighborhoods on the western edge of the city.
Quality restaurants with multiple locations like Premiere Moisson and L'Academie are not really chains and should not be regarded as such. Some of the fussiest palates on the planet live in Montreal making it almost impossible to get a bad meal here as Quebec in general and Montreal in particular reject large, international chain restaurants. Dining in Montreal is all about authenticity, quality and enjoying the dining experience. Montreal restaurants therefore become a tourist attraction in themselves.
Tops on the list of favourite dishes to order at Beauty's (owner's nickname) include:the fresh-squeezed orange juice, the mish-mash omelet made with hotdogs and sausage, The Special - a large, toasted sesame seed Montreal bagel stuffed with Lox (smoked salmon) tomatoes, onions and light and airy cream cheese and the super filling smoothies and milkshakes. Pancakes are more savoury than sweet and a serving of real maple syrup will cost an extra $2.50.The perpetual lines suggest they are doing something right but best to get here early on weekend mornings or compete with the last-night party crowd for a seat. (514-849-8883)
9 Chez Schwartz Charcuterie
Celine Dion has purchased Schwartz's but vows to keep it the same. Let us hope so. The grubby hole in the wall fixture on St. Laurent (The Main) offers only one real choice: the perfectly smoked meat brisket sandwich served with fries and a pickle best washed down with a cherry coke. It's cramped, noisy and the garish lighting encourages a fast turnover which is just as well as the line moves faster so more can get their fix of the sweet meaty deli treat. (514-842-4813)
Parlez-vous Francais? You will have a better time at this hip French Bistro if you do. Young, upwardly mobile Francophones flock to L'Express to see and be seen and to eat the best steak tartare et pomme frites on the planet or the tantalizing duck and foie gras. Calf liver, salmon and ravioli top the favorites list of this Plateau neighborhood haunt. All is washed down with a wide assortment of wine, including some good French vintages best purchased by the half bottle. A dessert of rich creme caramel tops off the perfect French meal. (514-845-5333)
7 Rumi Grill
Rumi Grill Restaurant Montreal can best be described as a cross between a grill house and a tearoom. For over a decade Rumi Grill has been serving lamb, beef, chicken and seafood in either half kilo or whole kilo portions accompanied by pickled vegetables and a choice of spicy sauces.Persian saffron, Aleppo pepper and pomegranate provide seasoning for many of the dishes. Vegetarians can choose from a variety of dishes including falafel wheels, hummus, baba ghanoush and muhammara dip. An assortment of home made, non alcoholic drinks include a basil lemonade and a ginger drink along with a good selection of teas, as might be expected from a "Silk Road" tearoom. (5146706770)
6 Restaurant L'Académie-Montreal
L'Academie focuses on great mussels (moules) with creative sauces. "Moules et frites" offers diners a large serving of steamed mussels in a variety of cream or tomato-based sauces.The best tomato - based sauce, a savory marinara, tops the "Moules Italien". "Moules Roquefort" caters to those looking for a rich, roquefort cheese sauce. With any dish, order an extra plate of the fresh french bread to soak up the extra sauce. Three floors filled with chatty patrons and waiters rushing by with generous platters make for a lively setting. Thursday night seems to be the most popular when service can get a bit slow. Reservations are recommended but the lines seem to move well should you show up without booking. (4509881015)
At Milos, traditional Greek architecture meets raw industrial space that produces a casual taverna atmosphere. The understated elegance appeals to sophisticated diners thanks to the formal white tablecloths and well-designed lighting. Patrons can see the fresh fish resting on large ice beds and watch their food being cooked from the open concept kitchen. Tempura - like vegetables and saganaki cheese are fried just right to match the tender crispiness of fish selections lightly dusted with oregano and other spices. Portions of the "fish of the day " platters - sold by the pound - are large enough to share. The taramosalata, Greek sardines with lemon, oregano and olive oil, lamb chops, and avgolemono soup are all good too. The yogurt is made from local goats milk, and much of the produce and herbs are organically grown on regional farms. (514-272-3522)
4 Au Pied de Cochon
This popular spot for Québecoise cuisine caters to serious carnivores, especially pork lovers, for which the restaurant is famous. Chef Picard, an avid game hunter, has little patience for vegetarians. Ten choices of foie gras include a favorite atop a mound of poutine. "Duck in a Can" is stuffed with thyme sprigs, foie gras, carrots and celery delivered with a can opener. In keeping with the Québecoise theme, finish the meal with a slice of sugar pie. The noisy, convivial atmosphere is better suited to a night out with old friends than a first date. The later the evening, the livelier it gets. Reservations are highly recommended. (514-281-1114)
3 Casa Tapas
While Casa Tapas, Montreal's favorite Spanish restaurant serves full meals, it's better known for its extensive tapas menu. A night out here is perfect for small groups sharing small plates. The dining room is comfortable and inviting with sufficient space between tables so even when the restaurant is crowded (Thursdays to Sundays - be sure to reserve)patrons never feel intruded upon. Diners are greeted by the "wine wall" suggesting the impressive wine list dominated by Iberian selections as they enter the classic space done in muted colors and white table linens. With the vegetable offerings, choose something containing more than two principle ingredients. The most successful of the seafood choices include the lightly seared scallops served with figs. Mussels served in a variety of sauces are another crowd - pleaser. (514.848.1063)
2 Boulangerie Première Moisson
With over 17 locations, Montreal natives and visitors alike can always find a reliable outlet for breakfast and lunch at reasonable prices. Premiere Moisson (First Harvest) Bakeries can are found on trendy Montreal streets such as Sherbrooke, Mont Royal and Bernard. Attractive display cases crammed with pork and brie sandwiches crowd the olive sourdough rolls stuffed with sliced tomato, basil and bocconcini. Homemade cabbage rolls and lasagna served with soups are popular lunch and take out items too. The fussy Quebecoise palate demands quality, value-added ingredients like flaxseeds, oats and soy. True to its home-style roots, Premiere Moisson follows age-old baking techniques allowing bread to rise atop burlap in drawers without artificial heat or steam. Flavors develop naturally as does preservation qualities. The bread bakes on stone decks in non-polluting natural gas ovens that prevent the bread from drying out. (450-455-2827, 866-455-2827)
1 Carte Blanche
One wall of Carte Blanche is a color-field painting by Belgium artist, Andre Claes which balances the chic black and white decor. Popular with local media and Quebec film and TV stars, Carte Blanche is the ideal venue for a special occasion, a first date or a small get-together. The young owners hail from a small village in the center of France (former home of actor, Gerard Depardieu)and stick with traditional recipes like apple tarte tatin from the late 1800's. Pure, simple and traditional best describe Chef Andre's creations. Specialities include shepherd's pie made with blood pudding and carmelized apples served with a maple chutney and a perfectly seasoned duck confit cassoulet. Seafood lovers enjoy a sesame seed-encrusted salmon filet served with a lime and ginger caramel sauce or perfectly seared sea scallops dressed in a light, tangy oil topped with sun dried tomato pieces. (5143138019)
About Sherel Purcell
Sherel Purcell is a travel writer who specializes in Montreal and Quebec, golf, contemporary art, cycling and food and wine. Her articles appear on USA Today's 10Best, About.com, Aol, Matador, Vacay, Travel+Escape and other large sites as well as print magazines including Dreamscapes (Globe and Mail) and Frommer's Budget Travel.
Read more about Sherel Purcell here.