Montréal is on my list of cities-I-could-happily-live-in-if-I-wasn’t-already-happily-living-in-Perth. I loved my 6 months of being a local there a couple of years ago, even in the middle of winter when getting anywhere meant wading through snow filled streets (I wasn’t quite brave enough to tackle the winter streets on a deadly treadly like in Uppsala), constantly putting on and taking off clothes, always having to take some tissues with you and actually resorting to using my hair dryer to warm my feet up on one particularly frigid night.
(All this said, it’s not so bad when you’re layering up, tissuing up and wading through those snowy streets to get to your local jazz bar to spend a couple of hours listening to an amazing jam session while knocking back a warming glass or two of red.)
I was therefore pretty excited to be heading back there last June, with the added bonus of it being around 50 degrees warmer (90 degrees F warmer) than when I left in January 2009. It felt a little strange at first to be back, like seeing a long lost friend that you kind of fancy, but the city and I soon lost our shyness and were revelling in each others’ company again.
I was staying downtown, but wanted to visit an old haunt for my first dinner back, and so my fellow traveller and I enjoyed a warm evening stroll through downtown and up the Plateau. I was very happy to see that the I HEART CHEESE bandit was still at large, but somewhat alarmed by the hammer reference (if you follow me on twitter you may be aware of the hammer pants incident – if not, please carry on blissfully unencumbered by images of said pants burnt onto your retinas).
Our walk up Boulevard St-Laurent took us past the famous Schwartz’s Charcuterie, founded in 1928 and characterised by the constant line of people waiting out the front to get their hands on a smoked meat sandwich. It is worth hanging outside Schwartz’s late at night just to see the looks of joy on the faces of boozehounds as they stagger out clutching their gigantic meaty sandwiches. Those boozehounds who aren’t chasing their last drink with a plate of poutine, that is.
Bypassing the call of the giant piles o’ meat, we eventually reached our destination – Club Español de Québec. I dined here a number of times when living in Montréal, always on Flamenco night when the place would be packed with people having animated conversations over the music and percussional dancing. I always left the restaurant determined to take up Flamenco when I returned to Perth, but sadly this went the same way as my resolve to continue learning French.
We were amazed to find the place completely empty when we arrived to the dining area upstairs, but quickly discovered that was because everyone was taking advantage of the warm evening out on the terrasse. After ordering some dishes that we had missed since leaving Montréal, we saw the table next to us eating some delicious looking mushrooms so we asked for some of those as well, and they were easily the standout dish of the night. Bursting with flavour, I could have eaten a bucket of them for my dinner. To be honest, I could have eaten a bucket of anything by the time our food started coming out. The service at the club is relaxed at best, and this combined with the soccer on TV meant our waiting times were fist-gnawingly lengthy. A jug of sangria can only sustain you for so long.
When finally fed, we loved our stir fried garlic mushrooms ($8.50), octopus Galicien style ($9.95), grilled sardines ($7.95), and our mains of squid ink paella and seafood casserole ($19.95 including bread, salad and dessert) before squeezing in a creme caramel each. It was all washed down with what remained of our litre of sangria ($21.50).
A couple of days later and we were at another old haunt – Les Enfants Terribles in Outremont. This area is within walking distance from Université de Montréal where I was working while living in Montréal, and so a number of lunches were eaten in this part of town when we wanted a break from eating together in the lab. I fell for the lamb burgers at Les Enfants Terribles with their inclusion of fresh goat cheese, and I was so happy to see them still on the menu when we arrived during a busy lunch rush.
Again sadly, the service was not great. Firstly our requests to have our bean salad sans dressing (which I apparently forgot to photograph) and my burger with side salad instead of fries were met with a very concerned look from our waitress and ultimately a message from the chef that he would do it JUST THIS ONCE for us. Then after waiting quite a long time, we were told that the controversial salad had been accidentally given to the table next to us, so we waited some more, fighting the urge (in vain) to fill up on the fresh crusty bread on our table. Finally however we were fed, and enjoyed our lunch. The burger bun was pretty lame – a little TipTop-esque – but the juicy lamb and tart cheese, and inclusion of pickles made up for it.
Being in Montréal also meant that I could catch up with Evelyne of Cheap Ethnic Eatz. Evelyne and I first met through the dinner group that she runs when I was living in Montréal, and we randomly came across each other again on Foodbuzz last year and became bloggyfriends. She was lovely enough to organise an impromptu group dinner during my visit, and after a number of inappropriate tweets about going Greek we got to catch up over a meal at Restaurant Nikas in NDG. The food was simple, enjoyable and affordable (also delightfully garlicky) and the service was incredibly friendly and efficient. Evelyne was characteristically entertaining and it was great to see her again.
Now, just in case you were getting a little jealous of my jetsetting and associated gorging, I feel I should tell you that I then spent the next few days in the lab playing with these guys and their friends…
Of course, I could not let a visit to Montréal go by without a visit to my favourite Montréal restaurant Aux Vivres. In fact, I managed to squeeze in two visits – once while on a solo and ultimately disappointingly unsuccessful clothes shopping expedition, and once with friends A and L. I was particularly excited about dining here with L, primarily because she’s awesome and it had been SO LONG since we’d seen each other, but also because she is vegetarian and had not yet experienced the joys of this restaurant which offers entirely vegan food.
Going here twice during my stay meant that I got to relive my two favourite dishes – the dragon salad bowl (shredded vegetables, lettuce, sprouts, toasted sesame seeds and dulse sitting on organic brown rice with dragon sauce) with grilled tempeh, and the Sirocco chapati sandwich (grilled eggplant, hummus, roasted red pepper, lettuce and olive tapenade) with grilled tempeh. We also had to have some of their dahl, and tried the cornbread with guacamole. Everything was flavoursome, fresh and delicious.
Although we were stuffed, we were all curious to try some of their desserts and between us ordered the date square, chocolate apple cake and the wonderfully named gâteau fauxmage (uncheesecake). The servings, like for the savoury dishes, were huge and we only managed a few mouthfuls each before asking for doggy bags. All desserts were rich and moreish, but I was particularly glad that my doggy bag contained the oaty date square.
The cheese puns continued after dinner when we went into a local supermarket in a quest for maple butter to take home for my sister. The lack of maple butter on the shelves was offset by the discovery of Fromidable. I challenge anyone to come up with a better product name. The definition of “formidable” in French is something like “great” or “terrific” but the definition of the word in English is more like “dreadful” or “fearsome”. I for one was fearful in its presence. Its great and dreadful presence.
Amongst all the eating and plankton corralling there was also much walking and shopping and smiling and listening to tunes (including some with DIY percussion) and laughing but all too soon it was time to say “le fromage est vieux et moisi, où est la salle de bains?”. Or perhaps I mean “Adieu Montréal, à la prochaine”? I never did follow up on those French lessons.