Apr 15, 2013

Montréal's best restaurants: a very personal list

Maison Publique
by Alexandra Forbes

I get the question "what's your favourite restaurant in town" so often that I figured I shouldn't postpone any longer listing some of my top restaurant choices. Of course it's very silly to try to rank places: I have a different favourite for each occasion. So, without giving this much thought, stream-of-consciousness style, here are my current darlings:

1- Joe Beef
For a fun-filled, white Burgundy-fuelled night out, it's always my top choice. As my friend P-A tweeted yesterday, "there are restaurants, there are meals. And then there are those where time stops".

2- Park
To satisfy my sushi cravings, when I don't want to go very far (I live a few blocks away). I avoid sitting at a table at all cost: a seat at the bar, across from chef-owner Antonio Park, is a million times more fun if you're into food.

3- Nora Gray
Same advice here: the bar is so much more fun, because that's where co-owner Ryan Gray holds court. And does he ever know his wines! Fun, casual, great Italy-inspired menu, sexy dimly-lit room (sometimes too noisy).

4- Grumman 78
Best for dinner with kids, if you, like me, run away from "family-friendly restaurants". In a refitted garage lit with Christmas lights, in a very relaxed and cool ambiance, you'll eat a Montreal re-reading of Mexican pub grub.

5- Club Chasse et Pêche
My favourite dining room: sexy, romantic. In fact, it's my favourite restaurant for a date night. Never ate a bad dinner here.

6- Ferreira Café
The best fish and seafood in town. The best service, too. At lunch, the vibe is very expense account, at night, much less so.

7- Kazu
My favourite hole-in-the-wall, always my first choice for a Downtown lunch.
1862 Sainte-Catherine St W 

(514) 937-2333

8- Mangiafoco
If you're in Old Montreal, this should be your choice for lunch. Pizzeria and mozzarella bar frequented by locals, owned by a guy that is passionate about food, wine and all things Italian.

9- Maison Publique
Top place in the Plateau neighbourhood. My advice: don't feel like you have to go for the meat-centric dishes that made its fame. I actually find that the strongpoint at this restaurant-that-looks-like-a-gastropub is the spectacular seafood. Best crab I've ever had in town was here, for example.

10- Au Pied de Cochon
It's been so written up, so praised that it's almost become a cliché. Still, if it's your first time in Montreal, don't even think of skipping it.

All addresses and phone numbers, and exact location on the city map (except for Kazu) are here, in this "Montreal HEAT MAP".

And last, but not least, a few places I forgot to mention, definitely worth the detour:

Best steakhouse by far. And not as staid as some Montrealers think. Owner Lenny Lighter is very hands-on, and it shows: impeccable service, great wine list.
3961 St. Laurent Blvd., tel. (514) 845-3509

Best Italian by far - the real deal. Speaking of far.... that's the only problem, it's way up near the Jean-Talon market, which is why I don't go there as often as I'd like to. Partners Aniello Covone and sommelière Alyne Russo really know their stuff.
236 St. Zotique St. E.; tel. (514) 273-5776

Funnest oyster bar, even though master shucker Daniel Notkin has left....
479 Rue Saint Alexis

(514) 303-0479

Apr 12, 2013

Joe Beef chefs are inspiration for René Redzepi's presentation in Toronto

René Redzepi during the interview at the Terroir Symposium

So I went to Toronto for one day, just to check out the Terroir Symposium - a gathering of food-industry people and journalists. I won't bore you with my remarks - fellow food writer Renée Suen did a great job of summarizing what was said there in this post for Toronto Life, with photo slideshow and all.

Why talk about a Toronto event in a blog about Montreal? Firstly, to say that it's too bad that the Canadian city that is most talked about for its food scene had no chefs there to represent it (though local food critic Lesley Chesterman did participate in a heated debate about local vs. "imported" chefs). Derek Damman, of Maison Publique, dropped out, and no replacements were found (or seeked?)

Secondly, because the definitive highlight of the event - the moment when Noma's René Redzepi read a moving and personal story about food and memory on stage - was inspired by two guys who are the very essence of Montreal: Joe Beef's Fred Morin and Dave McMillan. I found this out when my colleague Marie-Claude Lortie asked René why he'd decided to invite the two Montrealers to speak at his very high-profile MAD Symposium in Copenhagen, which will take place in August.

What Redzepi said about the chefs is pretty much what I think of them myself, as I wrote in this confessional post. But I was surprised to hear that he'd become a fan simply by reading a feature on them in Lucky Peach magazine. Who says food magazines are becoming irrelevant, huh?

Here's some crappy video footage I shot of that part of the interview: