As soon as I return home from a really awesome trip, I immediately must start planning another one.
Remember when I went to Greece? I came back and instantly started mapping out my visit to London.
Or how about my epic trip to South Africa? I went to Tulum just a few months later. France planning bled right into planning for Singapore and Thailand, and once I returned home from that vacay (and recovered from my bacterial infection), I frantically felt the need to go somewhere cool for New Year's Eve just a few short weeks later.
I considered somewhere warm like Miami, or a ski weekend in Vermont, but thankfully my travel partner in crime (Dana) texted me with the same urge and said "Let's go to Montreal!" Done and done.
Now, admittedly, the dead of winter probably isn't the best time to visit this beautiful French Canadian city, but we had a blast amidst the below freezing temperatures. Almost every part about Montreal makes you feel as though you've been transported to Europe with the Old World feel, and predominantly French speaking natives. And yet, it's just over an hour long flight from Hartford! Despite the cold, we managed to get a few sightseeing stops in... like the panoramic views from Parc du Mont Royal in the middle of the city, and the enchanting old-world feel of Vieux Montreal (Old Montreal) with its cobblestone streets. But let's be real. This was by in large a food trip. Because... when it's 22 degrees outside... you eat (and drink.)
Chateau de l'Argoat: Our home base for the weekend was Chateau L'Argoat, which is centrally situated between Plateau Mont Royal and Quartier Latin. The hotel is very walkable to several bars, restaurants and shopping. Additionally, it's close to a metro stop, which makes getting pretty much anywhere in the city a breeze. But what I loved most about this place is its quaint French-style charm and the friendly people who run it. From what I saw, each room had its own unique decor, with different sized rooms to suit your needs. There is a little common area on the ground floor that offers free continental breakfast and coffee each morning. The people at the front desk were always very helpful with directions or helping us call a cab if we needed. You truly felt like you were staying in someone's home, and it was a perfect spot to start our adventures.
Speaking of adventures... let's talk food! Instead of going chronologically, I'm going to break it down by meals: breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night (aka Poutine!) I'll also outline some of our favorite bars.
St. Viateur Bagel: One thing that should definitely be on your Montreal food checklist: Bagels! As I was doing some research before our trip, I learned that Montreal style bagels are very popular and at the same time very different from the ones you will find in New York. They are smaller, thinner, sweeter and denser than their NYC counterparts. The bagels here are still hand rolled and then half-boiled in water sweetened with honey before getting baked in a wood fired oven. I found them to have a delightful crunch and less of the chewy texture of the ones I'm used to eating. As for where to go... you basically have two options: St. Viateur or Fairmount. Similar to cheesesteaks in Philly or pizza in New Haven, there's a great debate over which one is better. We only tried one, but if you are there for an extended period of time... why not try both! Sesame is the traditional flavor, with 70-90 percent of the bagels sold being of that variety. (Also note: this place is cash only.)
L'Avenue: If you're looking for a more traditional brunch spot with egg dishes and mimosas, then L'Avenue is your jam. It appears on pretty much every "best brunch" spot in the city list, so expect to wait in line. The good news is... they serve brunch every day of the week, so if your trip happens to fall on a weekday, then your wait will be considerably shorter. We all went straight for the Eggs Benedict section and were not disappointed. Dana got the boiled ham, Kat went with smoked salmon, and I ordered the duck confit. (Insert that heart-eye emoji here.) A word of caution... the portions are HUGE. We probably could've split two between the three of us, considering each meal comes with a fruit skewer and the Benedicts all came with these insane potatoes that I stuffed myself with despite my full belly. The mimosas were tasty as well, and the whole restaurant had a funky-cool vibe.
Beautys Luncheonette: Finally, if you are craving a diner-style hangover cure... Beautys Luncheonette will most definitely hit the spot. One of the coolest parts about this place... it's been around since 1942, and the man who started it, Hymie, is still there greeting customers and telling diners where to sit. I asked if we could snap a photo with him and the 90-year-old owner deadpans to us: "Sure, why not." Kat stayed home for this meal, so Dana and I bellied up to the counter and both opted for the DIY Bloody Caesars (like a Bloody Mary except with Clamato instead of Tomato juice). I ironically ended up ordering the Beautys Special, which is a St. Viateur bagel topped with smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomato and onion (so I basically ate the same thing two days in a row.) Dana had the Beauty Breakfast melt with egg, cheese and salami on grilled challah bread.
Marché Jean-Talon: I'll admit, most of our days in Montreal we skipped lunch on account of our large breakfasts and wanting to save room for our equally large dinners later that night. But Marché Jean-Talon sorta checks off a sight-seeing stop and lunch all in one spot. (Additionally, if you are visiting in the summertime, this would be a great spot to grab some picnic provisions.) It's one of the largest public markets in North America and offers a wide variety of fruits & vegetables, as well as things like maple syrup, oysters, charcuterie and plenty of Montreal's famous raw milk cheeses. There are also food stands where you can grab a quick bite. I was drawn to La Crêperie du marché, serving... you guessed it: crepes! I opted for a savory one with mushrooms, ham, cheese and béchamel sauce. A perfect way to warm up on a cold day.
Au Pied de Cochon: When I was planning out our dinners for the trip, Au Pied de Cochon was #1 on my list thanks to a recommendation from my friends Matt & Marisa, and everything I had read about the chef Martin Picard and the restaurant itself. (After visiting in 2001, Anthony Bourdain called it "one of my favorite restaurants on the planet and Picard one of my favorite chefs.") So, you can imagine my extreme disappointment when my outbound flight was rescheduled for the following morning and we had to forfeit our Thursday night reservation. They were completely committed for Friday night, but when I explained our dilemma over email, they were extremely sympathetic and agreed to squeeze us in.
What followed was by far our most memorable meal of the weekend. I would estimate that 80-90% of the menu somehow incorporates foie gras, so if you are a fan of it, you are in luck (think stuff like foie gras pizza, burger, chicken nuggets and poutine!) Our server, Flo, was friendly and knowledgeable and entertaining and everything you want your server to be and made sure we ordered all of the best dishes. He started us off with a Foie Cromesquis (bottom left), which was literally a melt-in-your-mouth piece of foie that becomes liquid during the frying process, but enclosed in breadcrumbs. The duck carpaccio (bottom right) is another great starter with mushrooms, egg yolk and chives. To offset all of the meat, we also got a salad (top left), with no shortage of delicious blue cheese. It was a nice contrast to the very rich Plogue à Champlain (top right): a plate of seared foie, bacon, potato, buckwheat pancake, cheddar cheese and maple syrup. (Basically the most French-Canadian dish ever created.) But the star of the show is a must-order item: Canard en Conserve. Translation: Duck in a Can. The photo doesn't do it justice, but this video attempts to: (press play below)
The cans are made fresh each day at 4pm, stuffing them with duck breast, bacon, foie, cabbage and carrots and then cooked in the can for 27 minutes in boiling water. Adding theatrics to the dish, the can is then opened table-side and served over a cauliflower puree and bread. They may as well call it "Heaven in a Can." Make your reservations well in advance and keep in mind they are closed Mondays and Tuesdays (and some holidays.) Oh, and don't plan on doing anything afterwards... all you will want to do is go to sleep.
Lili.Co: For our NYE dinner, we opted for an upscale tasting menu at Lili.Co, which was named Montreal Eater's Restaurant of the Year in 2015. We sat at the counter overlooking the open kitchen, watching the chefs prepare our 7-course menu that started with oysters served with puffed rice and a dashi vinaigrette (top left) and ended with an apple pie tartelette that was topped with smoked cheddar, seared foie gras, and warm maple syrup (bottom middle.) One of my very favorite dishes of the night was the braised carrots with brussel sprouts, Lebanese cream cheese, preserved lemon and sunflower seeds (top right.) We also received king fish, duck breast, lobster and pork belly... and all for just $85 Canadian. (So about $65 USD)
Le Mal Nécessaire: If you go to only one bar in Montreal, make sure it is this one. Le Mal Nécessaire is an underground tiki bar in Montreal's Chinatown (not too far from Old Montreal.) We went on the earlier side, but I could see this being a fun spot as it gets busier into the night. You absolutely must order one of the four drinks served in either a pineapple or coconut. Only one of them is actually served flaming, but Dana asked "Can you just light mine on fire anyways?" Our bartender laughed and happily obliged.
We also stopped in at Bishop and Bagg, a cool British Pub that has good drinks and delicious-looking food. (We got the hot cider drinks to warm up after our trip to Mont Royal.) We started our post-dinner NYE bar hopping at La Distillerie No. 1, an intimate little cocktail bar, before making our way down to an underground speakeasy in Old Montreal called The Cold Room.
La Banquise: A trip to Canada just wouldn't be complete without a plate of poutine... aka fries doused in gravy and cheese curds. There are plenty of places to get poutine in Montreal... and they range from fancy (think foie gras or lobster poutine) to greasy spoon-type drunk food. (I personally prefer the latter.) La Banquise is sorta the OG spot in Montreal that started as an ice cream shop back in 1968. It's open 24 hours, and they offer 30 different varieties of poutine... but we went with the classic. As you might expect, there will likely be a line (especially if you go around 1am on NYE), but it's worth the wait. Fried potatoes, cheese and gravy... mmmmm... it really is the perfect late night snack and has me wondering why there aren't more places like this in the U.S.?!? (Also note they only take cash or Canadian debit card, but conveniently offer an ATM machine inside.)
Shout out to Dana, who powered through despite being bit by the flu bug right before her flight from LA... to Kat, who was also battling a cold, and to me... who experienced not one, but TWO cancelled flights on this trip (Thanks Air Canada.) All in all, it was a whirlwind 72 hours, but so much fun and a perfect way to ring in 2017! Looking forward to many more travels this year...