Jun 30, 2009

The other day I did a private tour of Montreal with a guide specialized in design and architecture - very cool, in fact, I'll show more of it here later. But one spot where he took me, the restaurant Marché 27, really caught my eye. I just loved the walls doubling as blackboards, the white subway tiles, the vibe of the clientele. So I promised myself I'd be back.

A few days later, I did! I stopped in for a quick lunch.

The place is a few seconds away from Boulevard Saint Laurent, a.k.a. The Main, the street that divides the island into East and West, and where much of the action takes place at night.

O Marché 27 is the essence of Montréal: the food is good yet not fancy, the atmosphere is very casual and hip. I tried a tartare of salmon that was made to order, nicely seasoned and paired with ultra-thin crisps. Very nice.

For dessert, I had a "tiramissú" that was much bigger and foamier than the original recipe but... absolutely delicious!

The place has character, and the people I saw all looked very of-the-place - I doubt tourists ever go here.

As I left, I recorded a little movie showing the surroundings...

Le Club Chasse et Pêche, best restaurant in Old Montréal

First thing I've got to say is.... sorry about the not-so-great photos, but Le Club Chasse et Pêche has the feel - and lack of light - of a cave. The name means Hunting and Fishing Club, and the menu sticks to that theme: the surf'n'turf is the specialty, and changes daily. Hunting is also quite big in Québec - although chefs aren't allowed to serve wild game - and meats like caribou and boar drive the meat-centric menu.

Le Club Chasse et Pêche is everything that the other joints in Old Montréal aren't: cool, hidden, with the feel of a discovered gem. Servers are super casual, yet very knowledgeable, rattling off menu items and describing wines in great detail.

It had been quite a while, so I decided to return two weeks ago to the
Chasse et Pêche, just to make sure it's still worth the recommendation. In a word? Absolutely!

Appetizer: seared foie with snow crab, morille and a soft-yolk egg. Odd pairing, I know, but it all worked, somehow. And the toasted slice of baguette brought a welcome crunch.

My main course was wapiti (a cousin of the caribou, let's say), very rare as it should be, with pine nuts and rutabaga. Another winner.

Dessert was a chocolate "incognito" - which looked and tasted like a parfait, and, on the side, caramelized pecan ice cream. Sounds incredible and it was, indeed, pretty good, but the parfait itself was a bit lacking, flavour-wise.

And the best part of dinner is walking out and being right smack in the middle of Old Montreal, and being able to slowly stroll along the cobbled streets to the car or cab, enjoying the vibrant scene.

Montréal's top restaurant critic, Lesley Chesterman, reviewed the restaurant recently and wrote a full report, with pictures much better than these... Check it out here.

Le Club Chasse et Pêche: rue St-Claude, 423, Montreal, tel. (514) 861-1112

Jun 26, 2009

Montréal: 10 reasons to love the city

Welcome to the blog Montréal for Insiders! Here you'll get an insider look at the Montréal that doesn't make it into the mainstream travel sites and guides. But before we begin, a bit of basics.... or Montréal for Dummies.

Here are 10 reasons to love Montréal, according to guest contributor Alexandra Forbes.

1- Lobster poutine at Garde Manger.

What?! You don't know what a poutine is?! A classic poutine is composed of a mound of fries + ultra-fresh cheese curds that make a squiiik squiik sound in the mouth, and gravy. The luxe version at Garde Manger - my favourite little restaurant in town - comes with big chunks of lobster. Need I say more?

2- Botanical Gardens. And no, it's not just for people with kids. In summer, the huge Chinese pavillion is lit up with a myriad colourful lanterns and they release bunches of butterflies. Quite a sight.

3- The mother of all tourist clichés? The smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz's. Yeah, the place is packed, serves no booze and touristy as hell, but... it's unavoidable - a must-see for first timers.

4- The hip coffee shops and épiceries with a "Wallpaper aesthetic", ever more numerous.

5- The incredibly affordable boutique hotels of Old Montréal. The last one I stayed in, called Gault, is fine, but I prefer the more upscale St. Paul or the Place d’Armes...

6- The relatively small and delightfully walkable Downtown, where you always get glimpses of green and of the mountain that gives the city its name.

7- The ultra casual restaurants, like Liverpool House, where frequently dinner turns into a party, the chef joins in and gets drunker than the customers and the good times last till early morning.

8- Vieux Montreal, or Old Montréal, the historic district where the city was founded. Cute, old, cobblestones, horse carriages... postcard-worthy, in short.

9- Crescent Street, with its cute townhouses and shops. Ultra touristy, yes, but loads of fun, especially during the summer when the terrasses are hopping.

10- Mont Royal, the park that gives Montreal its name. Criss-crossed by trails, sprinkled with ponds and picnic tables. Soothing. And.. what a view!