May 27, 2010

Formula 1 weekend in Montreal: the Peel Paddock and the best parties

Photo: Octane Management

By Alexandra Forbes

It's that time of the year again: Montréal's already buzzing in anticipation as it gears up to welcome the Formula 1 race back. This Ferrari-crazed town lives for F-1 weekend....  I don't usually make the trek out to the racetrack (pictured below), which sits on an island off of Old Montreal - but die-hard racing fans obviously do, judging by the huge numbers of tourists that flock to town that weekend.

Photo: Octane Management

I actually prefer to enjoy the city itself: a sort of collective madness takes over as fashion shows, music shows and other events take over the streets. And of course, this being a dude event, there's no shortage of hot girls in miniscule beer-company uniforms...

Usually, most of the action centers on Crescent Street - fun, but I hate all the crappy tourist-trap bars. This year, there'll be a more upscale street party on Peel, for the 1st time.

It'll be called PEEL PADDOCK.

Howd'ya like Mlle. Scarlett Johansson on the advert below? ;)

The street will be closed down between de Maisonneuve and Ste. Catherine, and most businesses have joined forces to make sure it's one hell of a party. Needless to say, mr. car-racing Carlos Ferreira himself, owner of Ferreira Café, is sort of running the show. Both his Ferreira Café and Vasco da Gama café are right in the middle of the action....

My advice? Book a table. Now.

Another fun party is being thrown by man-about-town Josh Silver, at the Le Crystal hotel. Here's the invite:


But the hottest ticket of all is the big-bucks fundraiser that will be co-chaired by Bernie Ecclestone (need I say more?) and Michael Fortier of Ogilvy Renault. Dinner + drinks cost $ 1000 per person.

Should be a very very fun weekend...

May 21, 2010

Grilled chicken + squid at Chez Doval: a Montreal classic!

By Alexandra Forbes

Across from my stool at the bar, ten large hens spit, crackle and roll above bright orange coals. “Mais duas cervejas, Mané,” booms the waiter with the heavy, dark moustache and gold bracelet. Two cold beers slide down the worn Formica counter. He puts them on his tray without a glance at me and hurries away. I have learned to arrive early at the impossibly noisy Chez Doval, Montreal’s most popular Portuguese restaurant, and to greet the waiters in Portuguese. They seem to like Brazilian girls like myself and even take the time to smile back and direct me to the bar. Six o’clock on a Thursday and the roar of customers is already in full swing, while an impatient, watchful line forms in a little corner by the door.

Grilled chicken—spicy or not spicy are the choices—is the pièce de résistance at Chez Doval. Vítor, the chap from Angola tending the massive old grill, pearls of sweat lined up along his forehead, estimates they sell four hundred chickens a month. If you ask the waiter what else there is, you may hear something that sounds like “sardines on the grill” or “veal with vegetables,” but don’t expect a list of side dishes or an opinion on what’s good. No help will be offered in deciphering the short, non-descriptive chalkboard of daily specials—written in Portuguese at lunch and French at dinner—nor will your waiter hang around while you figure out your order. Better choose. Fast.

Many customers, understandably, are unhappy with the service. My friend Nicolas Coté, a regular for six years, says, “It’s cheap and always a good time, but only the Portuguese are rewarded with immediate service.” Toronto’s Globe and Mail, features similar customer complaints on its Web site: “The boss pays no attention to his clients, preferring to sip his wine behind the bar.”

The boss was certainly too busy when I met him to be sipping wine (three dollars a glass, by the way, and quite drinkable). Fernando Rodrigues, thirty-four, was working the bar and espresso machine simultaneously, producing drinks at a rate of four or five per minute. With his typical dark-haired, Mediterranean good looks and impish half-smile, Fernando was also keeping an eye on every plate that left the kitchen. Between rounds, he casually told me the news: he and his two partners João and Carlos (both waiters there for years) had bought the Plateau landmark from the retiring owner, a Portuguese gentleman who owned it for sixteen years.

“What will change now that you have become the new owners?” I ask. Fernando, too busy to even look up as he filled two carafes with house wine: “Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”

My grilled shrimp appetizer all gone—it was crisp, salty and quite good—I order the pork chops with fries; one of the less interesting daily specials, as it turns out. I don’t share the Portuguese taste for overcooking meats and usually find the signature chicken too dry. Fortunately, the cooks have a lighter hand with fish. The sardines are done to perfection, with lots of grill marks on the crunchy skin and fatty white flesh falling off the meager bones. Same with the squid, its charred surface protecting the slippery white flesh, so tasty with a generous squeeze of lemon and some lettuce leaves. I finish by mopping up the juices with a warm chunk of bread. It is food that cries out for a glass of cold beer, and the combination leaves me woozy and happy, like at a Sunday family lunch in Brazil. At the end of my meal, João Gonçalves, the gentle-mannered, blue-eyed new co-owner, brings me two pastéis de nata, dreamy tartlets filled with an almost too sweet egg custard and sprinkled with cinnamon—they aren’t on the menu and waiters rarely mention that a fresh batch has come in.
Yet who cares that the waiters (all male, bien entendu) rarely smile and never say “Have a nice day.” The service may be brusque, but it doesn’t seem to discourage the crowds waiting for a table. Most customers seem happy just for the cheap grilled fare and cheap wine. It is no easy task to keep a dining room humming seven days a week, but the three partners seem to have what it takes. As Fernando puts it, “A restaurant is like a woman—if you leave her alone, someone will come along when you are away and take her.”


May 19, 2010

Top restaurateurs Normand Laprise and Carlos Ferreira open new places in Montreal

By Alexandra Forbes

It's no secret to Montrealers that there's been lots and lots of construction going on at the Quartier des Spectacles, the area where most of the city's festivals take place. The crews have been working for a long time, and many streets have been blocked to traffic, so I was very glad to find out that all the disruption will result in a few great additions to the public entertainment complex.

Among them, restaurants run by two of Montréal's top restaurateurs: chef Normand Laprise (Toqué) and Carlos Ferreira (Ferreira Café, Vasco da Gama), who held a joint press conference this week to announce the news:

I haven't received any info on Laprise's restaurant yet (which is still unnamed), but I really like the concept of Ferreira's new place. 

The F Bar will be a Portuguese brasserie, with 50 seats indoors and another 70 outdoors. Specializing in stews served in cute little cataplanas (copper casseroles), which Ferreira himself is buying in Portugal and bringing back to Montreal, its kitchen will be run by executive chef Gilles Herzog, voted  Meilleur Ouvrier de France (France’s Best of Trade) in 1995.

Judging by how popular the flagship Ferreira Café is, it won't surprise me if this becomes another instant hit....

Both restaurants are slated to open in June.

F Bar, 1458 Jeanne-Mance

Ferreira Café, 1446 Peel, tel. 514-848-0988

Vasco da Gama,
1472 Peel, tel. 514-286-2688

The Quartier des Spectacles is delineated by City Councillors Street, Saint-Hubert Street, Sherbrooke Street, and René-Lévesque Boulevard and takes up 1 square kilometer. It encompasses 80 cultural venues, totalling 28,000 seats. 

May 17, 2010

Restaurant DNA in Old Montreal: sommelier praised in Food & Wine mag

We've only been to DNA once, and didn't really notice the sommelier, to be honest. But... guess the boy (Alex Cruz)  does a great job, judging by the high praise in this month's Food & Wine magazine! We'll just have to go back there and check him out...

DNA Restaurant: 355 Marguerite D'Youville, tel. 514 287-3362

May 15, 2010

Koko's terrasse bar at Opus Hotel opens with big bash

GREAT party this Thursday: it was the opening night of Koko's terrasse, a huge outdoor lounge which stays open all summer and is one of the hottest happy hour spots in town.

Go-go dancers? Check.

Stylish DJ from Argentina? Check.

Hot girls? Check.

Hot guys? Check!

What's not to love?

Go for a drink, stay for dinner: the place is trendy but, surprisingly, also serves up impressive pan-Asian dishes.

Koko Lounge (at the Opus Hotel: Rue Sherbrooke Ouest, 10, 514 843-6000, 17h/3h)

Cirque du Soleil's amazing Totem show: in Montreal until July 17

I've seen many Cirque du Soleil shows over the years, but I've got to say that the new one that's now being shown at Montreal's Vieux Port left me speechless: it was AMAZING!

It's simply much better than the previous one, OVO. Better music. Better set. Better artists. Better costumes.

 I loved the way the set kept transforming into different natural "landscapes", from sunny beach to muddy marsh (below) and so many other things. How did they do it? Mostly, by projecting images on the slanted platform you see below: creatures swimming in the sea, or a plane flying over a jungle, etc.

©Daniel Demarais, Cirque du Soleil

Here it looks like a moonscape, for example:

©Daniel Demarais, Cirque du Soleil

I loved the number where two huge guys started off dancing to hip hop tunes on a "beach" and they flew across the stage hanging by a rope tied to a metal ring. An incredible show of strength.

I loved almost all the costumes. Here's a stylized "indian", for example:

©Daniel Demarais, Cirque du Soleil

Sexy trapeze number...

©Daniel Demarais, Cirque du Soleil

My favourite number: "Arctic indians" in a very sexy dance on roller skates, on top of a huge drum, with lots of lightning-fast pirouettes and spins.

©Daniel Demarais, Cirque du Soleil

Official Cirque du Soleil website.

May 8, 2010

Montreal now offers cheap bus rides to Trudeau aiport

Great news for travellers on a budget: the 747 Express is a bus which charges $7 for a one-way ticket from several points in Downtown to the Montreal Trudeau Airport (formerly known as Dorval Airport). The bus leaves every 20 or 30 minutes from Montreal's main bus station and makes several stops along René Levesque street:

    * DEPARTURE: Montreal's Central Bus Station (Centre d'Autocars de Montréal) near Berri-UQAM Metro Station: corner of Berri & De Maisonneuve
    * on René-Lévesque, corner of St. Laurent
    * on René-Lévesque, corner of de Bleury
    * on René-Lévesque, corner of Mansfield
    * on René-Lévesque, corner of Peel
    * on René-Lévesque, corner of de la Montagne
    * on René-Lévesque, corner of Bishop
    * Lionel-Groulx Metro Station
    * FINAL STOP: Montréal-Trudeau Airport

The same bus leaves Trudeau Airport every 20 or 30 minutes and makes the same stops, in reverse order:

    * DEPARTURE: Montréal-Trudeau Airport
    * Lionel-Groulx Metro Station
    * corner of Guy and René-Lévesque
    * on René-Lévesque, corner of Drummond
    * on René-Lévesque, Peel
    * on René-Lévesque, corner of Mansfield
    * on René-Lévesque, corner of Jeanne-Mance
    * on René-Lévesque, corner of St. Laurent
    * FINAL STOP: Berri-UQAM Metro Station, corner of Berri & De Maisonneuve

Here's a link to the full, detailed itinerary of the 747 Express bus.

May 6, 2010

The best of Montreal nightlife: Koko, Velvet, Ora, Ma

Back in March, Josh Silver, a man-about-town who knows all the right nightspots in Montreal, shared with this blog some of his recommendations. As with every other city, Montréal also has "the right spots" depending on the night of the week. Now, Josh has put together an updated lowdown, so that you can always be at the right place at the right night!

I recommend checking out a place called L'Orignal (it means "Moose" in French)... This "Chalet-Chic" restaurant will make you feel like you are Up North in a cool cottage! They have amazing Staff nights on Mondays where a lot of Old Montreal Locals hang out, the prices are inexpensive, the music eclectic, the staff AMAZING, and the food deliciously different!
If you like Oysters, this is the place! They have the best oyster shucker in the City (Daniel Notkin) working there. He knows everything there is to know about oysters, as well he hand picks the best & freshest stuff from around the Globe.

I recommend that you go for dinner at a place called Ora  in Old Montreal... 394 St. Jacques st. west (Old Montreal).
Girls eat free so it's always crowded on Tuesdays... 

Check out L'Appartement Resto Lounge in Old Montreal for a cool dining environment with many of Montreal's attractive individuals, have a drink in their cozy lounge downstairs before or after dinner. 600 William Street, corner with McGill street.

If you are in the mood for live music, head to the Jello Martini Lounge on Ontario st. (just east of St. Laurent). There is an amazing Martini list, great live music (Soul & Funk), cool retro environment, and hip local crowd.

I recommend "Le Vauvert" swanky restaurant / lounge (located in the St. Paul Hotel in Old Montreal)... Amazing "Happy Hour" on Thursdays (enough said).
Dinner menu is terrific! This place is a favourite hang out for Models & the Jet-Set type...
French Folklore states that Le Vauvert was a Castle in France where the Devil himself used to hang out and play!


Macaroni Bar, an awesome Supperclub! It serves amazing nouveau Italian cuisine such as gnocchi poutine and other exciting dishes. After dinner, the place gets absolutely hopping!
DJ "Avi Large" knows how to rock the room with some of the best dance music out there...
There is an outdoor terrace so the place is a lot of in the Summer as well...
From beginning to end, this place offers a totally fun experience! This is the place to be on Friday nights for sure...
Macaroni Bar: 4448 Boulevard St Laurent, corner of Mont-Royal

Have a spectacular Pan-Asian dining experience at Koko Supper club located in the Opus Hotel. This place has an incredibly stylish environment, with a sophistication that stands out.
Dinner turns into a Party after 11pm....

The Velvet Speakeasy Lounge is one of the coolest new spots to open in Montreal in a while. The place is situated in the very old and charming Auberge St. Gabriel. From the first experience walking in down the long cave like corridor lit by candles, to the eclectic bartenders / waitresses that work there, the music, cool underground atmosphere, and hipster crowd, this place is a total blast! Saturday nights are my favourite there... This place is very unique, and will stand out as somewhere that you have never experienced before."  
Velvet: 420 St. Gabriel. Old Montreal.
Also new on the scene is a very swanky cabaret / burlesque lounge called "Le Papillon Rose"... Beautiful, plush decor, suave "scenester" type people, and sexy burlesque shows going on while you sip your favourite poison out of a martini glass.
1071 Beaver Hall (just up the street from the "W" Hotel -Old Montreal

For an intimate and tantalizingly warm spot on Sunday nights, head to Barroco restaurant for their Famous "Lobster Shack Sundays"... (self explanatory). Ask for Roberto. To see the menu and a video, click here.

Josh Silver (Hype Energy Drink Canada) can be contacted at

Koko's terrace, Montreal's hottest outdoor bar, reopens next week

Montrealers wait all year for this: warm nights, heated party calendars... summer is here! And nothing says summer like an outdoor bar. There are hundreds of them in Montreal, but few - if any - as cool and hip as Koko's, at the Opus hotel. (For those who don't know, Koko is a fun supper-club type place where great food is served until the time when lights are dimmed and the place turns into a huge party).

Koko's terrace is already in soft-opening, but will officially be open for business next Friday, May 14.

Koko Lounge (Rue Sherbrooke Ouest, 10, 514 843-6000, 17h/3h)

Barroco restaurant in Old Montreal: delicious food, delicious vibe

We just went back to Barroco restaurant in Old Montreal for the THIRD time in one month, simply because.... the place rocks! Amazing ribsteak with chimichurri sauce, amazing service by barman Graham and owner Roberto. Great vibe: dimly lit, stone walls, great-looking crowd.

Barroco: Rue St. Paul Ouest, 312, tel (514) 544-5800

Here is a short video of our evening: