Sep 30, 2010

Best restaurant bets in Montreal: Club Chasse et Pêche and 5ème Peché

The dark and moody Club Chasse et Pêche

Yesterday I got a query from a reader that I thought I'd share here, so that my answer can be useful to others, too.... Here is what Chris Grimm asked me:

Hi Alex,

My significant other and I visit Montreal once or twice each year (from metro NYC).

We always stay three nights, eat at two favorites, and try something new for the third. (It was always APDC + Anise + 1, until Anise closed, now it is APDC + Joe Beef + 1.)

Can you suggest a third for this Fall?

In the past we've been to Graziella, Toque!, Club Chasse, Milos, Europea, Decca 77, etc. We have no restrictions, but Joe Beef & APDC are similar enough that another direction would be good. I've been interested in the Italian slant of Liverpool House - but it also seems (for obvious reasons) similar to Joe Beef. Any young chefs doing interesting & different things?

Recalling Anise, do you have any idea what Racha is doing now?



Chris, you're right: Au Pied de Cochon and Joe Beef have an element in common: they both serve very tasty "ogre" food! :)

For something more refined, presentation-wise, but still very much Québec-driven, I'd recommend Le Club Châsse et Pêche, in Old Montréal. I always take out-of-towners and I've never had a bad meal. Short menu, meat-heavy. Cool/funky space with low ceilings, fun little light-fixtures that look like upside-down glasses, lots of references to hunting (hence the name, club of fishing and hunting). Desserts are to die for. Each night they do a different riff on surf'n'turf, - appropriately named chasse et pêche on the menu -, but obviously light years away from the cheesy American Red Lobster kind of thing. It could be sweetbreats and scallops, for example.

Menus change weekly, but they never take off the best-selling risotto of suckling pig with foie gras shavings which is absolutely scrumptious. My all-time fave Québec classic!
And their desserts, thanks to pastry chef Masami Waki, are genius.

423, rue St-Claude
tel. (514) 861-1112

These days I'm also loving a tiny gem on the Plâteau called 5ème Pêché. This charming little bistro serves very ambitious fare, with quite inventive presentations (a breast of duck over a metallic net from which aromatic fumes emmanate, for example). The chef is a master at mixing several different textures in one dish. This summer, for instance, I had an incredible salad served in a glass container which combined beets, red grapes and pistachios. Tendersness and crunch, sweetness and saltiness, all in each bite! Cheese plate is also done with obvious care. Low marks for comfort, high marks for food.

Au Cinquième Péché
330, avenue du Mont-Royal Est

Montreal restaurant critic Lesley Chesterman ate at Club Châsse et Pêche about 20 days ago and called her dinner "flawless" on Twitter. She's got photos to prove it, you can view them here.

Sep 28, 2010

Mount Royal Cemetery: fall foliage at its best at this "bowl of magic" says expert

Fall is finally here - and the colours in Montreal will soon be drop-dead gorgeous, as you can see in these photos I took last year at.... a cemetery! Yep: this is one of the city's top places for leaf peeping! Founded in 1852, the Mount Royal Cemetery is one of the oldest rural cemeteries in North America. The cemetery's 165 acres cover a good part of the north flank of Mount Royal. It's simply beautiful: walkways, wooded trails, 145 species of birds and century-old trees.

But don't take my word for it: Montreal's top tree and plant expert, Bronwyn Chester, calls it a "bowl of magic"! Recently, Chester (who writes about the topic in The Gazette newspaper) dedicated a column to the Mount Royal Cemetery, and graciously allowed me to reproduce the text below:

"Forgive me for taking you back to the Mount Royal Cemetery. Normally, I like to vary the innumerable locations on Island Montreal where trees abound. But, just as certain trees are exceptional, so are certain tree sites. Located on the north face of Mount Royal, spanning the bottom and two sides of the land between the Mount Royal and the Outremont summits, the cemetery is a bowl of magic. Insulated from the hum of the city and, indeed, from most evidence of the 21st and 20th centuries, it’s possible to feel suspended in time and space, and with that feeling, to feel nowhere except in the presence of an extraordinary landscape.

The vistas, old river beds, forest remnants, the strange and often wonderful gravestones whisper mystery. Yet, one never feels alone. The birds, squirrels, groundhogs and fox chatter and rustle their reminders to us all that they are the permanent residents – at least, among the living – of this sacred place.

And then there’s the mammoth, yet furtive, presence of trees. Look at one of the 200-year-old oaks, maples, hickories or pine from one angle and you might see little else. Walk up or down the slope a few metres and suddenly there’s a katsura, dawn redwood or hawthorn to be seen. The vision for the cemetery, you see, from its opening in 1851, has been to marry the grand old trees of the original forest, with the new, generally smaller, trees planted to accompany the dead.

One of the earliest of the planted trees is a sprawling mountain ash, the girth of which I have never seen elsewhere. Measuring almost eight feet (2.4 metres) around, the smooth, metallic grey bark seems stretched to the limit. It grows beside the tombstone of H. Brodie, a Montreal notary who died in 1899. Brodie was of Scottish lineage and I’m guessing the tree was planted close to the time of his burial. This mountain ash is the European Sorbus aucuparia, known to the Scots as witchwood because the tree was believed to keep away witches.

This particular tree was planted under the protection of what today is an old tamarack, or eastern larch, a coniferous member of the original forest, which was left uncut. Age has sculpted both trees into asymmetry and low lying branches, making it easy to see their fruit and leaf. You will find both in the B4 section of the cemetery. The tamarack is 93 in the cemetery’s index of tree species, making it easy to find the mountain ash.

How did rowan, witchwood, quickbeam – or any other of the Old World names for Sorbus aucuparia – become mountain ash? While the tree is not an ash, almost all species of mountain ash do have a compound leaf just like all ashes. However, the similarity stops there. All sorbus species, just like all its fellow members of the rose family, have alternate leaves, while the ashes leaves are opposite. The namer of our two native species, however, did get the mountain part right. Both mountain ash, Sorbus americana, and showy mountain ash, Sorbus decora, prefer rocky, upland sites though never far from a waterway.

While the robin values the fruit of the mountain ash, we humans do little with the tree aside from enjoying its beauty. A few people, however, still knowledgeable in the skills of the tree age, make a sweetened sauce with the vitamin C-rich berries (best to do after a first frost). Others, like Montreal wood-turner, Luc Fournier, make bowls from the red and cream hues of mountain ash wood."
For more info or to book a guided tree walk, contact Chester via this link.

And here, a link to an excellent interactive map showing nearby restaurants, on the Tourisme Montreal website.

View Larger Map


Sep 17, 2010

Toqué!'s Normand Laprise and Manoir Hovey's chefs featured in Relais & Châteaux book

Manoir Hovey Cookbook

Out September 28, Relais & Châteaux's new cookbook features thoughts and recipes from some of North America's greatest chefs - among them Patrick O'Connell, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Manoir Hovey's own Roland Ménard and Francis Wolf are also featured in the lavishly illustrated book, which is named 85 Inspirational Chefs.

This is a first-time collaboration of every single Relais & Châteaux chef in North America: 85 in all. This includes, of course, Montreal's own Normand Laprise, of Toqué! fame, and also chefs  Roland Ménard and Francis Wolf of Manoir Hovey, in North Hatley - one hour outside the city.

relais chateaux book chefs 

The book is food porn at its best.
It will be available at select bookstores and also at all Relais & Châteaux properties, for Can$ 60 plus tax. Or simply send an email to Manoir Hovey and they'll ship off a copy to you!