J’adore Quebec, J’adore Montreal. It’s such a wonderful place, full of great food and generally friendly people. I was introduced to Cantine Relais 202 by the lovely R at Chopsticks Optional. I also learned a new way to go across the border at the Champlain, NY exit, which I will use from here on out. It was great! We breezed through on our way in to Montreal, and only had a 10 minute wait on our way back to the US. I still always find the Canadian side of the border to be more friendly and welcoming. The US side tends to be very grilling and aggressive compared to the Canadian side.
Any way, Cantine Relais 202 is a great first stop across the border for poutine!
We got a small with curds and cheese, and ZOMG, it was great to eat the squeaky curds! This dish truly is something that we NY-ers just can’t seem to replicate. While Cantine Relais 202 is about 5-10 minutes from the border they predominantly speak French. I was expecting a bit more English so close to the border and ordered “Hi, I’d like a small poutine, please,”, but was met with “Quoi? Eh, Quoi?” so I fumbled into my godawful broken French, which got the job done.
Quebec/Montreal tip: While the province is bilingual, they prefer French and you’ll be better received if you begin politely in French if you are greeted only in French. Some folks will do “Allo/Bonjour” as a way to differentiate, but this is mainly in very touristy areas. I had a lot of success with a very heartfelt “Desole…”. I mean, think about it. You’re a guest, go with what your “host” prefers with if you can.
Stopped for coffee and wifi at Kitsune, a cute little hipster cafe that would have fit in perfectly in Brooklyn. Great latte.
We settled in to our Air BNB rental in Little Italy, and were delighted to find Bixi bikes around the corner! It was a great space to stay – two balconies, and 1.5 blocks from Marche Jean Talon!
We parked the car on the street and left it, choosing to rent bixi bikes for the duration of the trip. It was a great way to get around and I highly recommend it. $7/24 hours or $15/72 hours. You’ll get smoked by road bikes, but it’s great for going a few miles here and there, and a good way to build up the appetite between meals.
When we stopped for coffee, we noticed this tartare bar, Marche 27 on Prince Arthur. So we grabbed our bikes and headed down. There’s a Bixi station just across the street! This was probably the most expensive outing of our trip. Not sure it was really worth the price-tag, but I went with American price points, and most restaurant prices in Montreal are a bit higher than US prices. Makes me wonder about US subsidies, and all that.
Any way, here is what we ordered. Above is the small ahi tuna taratare bowl ($22). Noodle salad with some veggies, and topped with tartare.
Darn, I wish I took a better photo of this salad. These are all of our dishes. The blob in the center was this great grilled kale salad with beets, chevre, and corn nuts over frisee ($12). The corn nuts were smashed into bits, so they added a nice crunchy and salty texture to the salad. Albany John and I both loved this dish. The charred kale flavor, the cooked yet-still-firm beets. The textures and flavors were all fantastic together.
PLATTER OF TARTARE!! Had to get the tasting platter for $40. From front to back: Thai Salmon, Spicy Veal, Italian Duck, Traditional Beef, Japanese Tuna. 50g of each type, for a total of 250 g (a little over 1/2 lb)
The fish dishes were just okay. Not sure if it’s the location, but the fish quality was just “acceptable”. Good to try, but I’d order the beef iterations again. The Spicy Veal wasn’t really spicy. Like, at all. It really tasted quite mild and kind of bland. I really enjoyed the Italian – Parmesan, truffle oil (I know, I know, but it tasted good here), chives, and onions. A nice punch of savory. The traditional french tartare preparation was good, though I though it could have used a little more salt (but keep in mind I am a salt fiend).
We also got some fries ($4), which came with a tasty dipping sauce.
Service was prompt and friendly. The location was a bit clubby/geared for late-night crowds, which was a boon for late-night eaters like us. A cute, cozy little romantic place for dinner overall.
Here’s a shot of the caffeine station from our rental. Oh man, that was some good espresso.
The next morning we headed to Marche Jean Talon! It’s a 7-day a week vegetable market. There are a few stalls of folks who purchased from distributors, but they’re fairly obvious. The majority of stalls are occupied by local farmers with beautiful produce.
There are several rows of stalls. It’s not an all-day type place to visit, but you could definitely kill 1-3 hours there depending on how long you linger.
Premier Moison! This was a brick-and-mortar building which had the best croissants of the market.
An inferior croissant, which was much more bread roll-y than croissant-y.
Love the branding.
If I lived in Montreal, my version of a farm share would be going to Marche Jean Talon and buying a few bucks off of the discount tables. I couldn’t actually see anything wrong with this produce. No blemishes or anything! It took a lot of control not to impulsively buy it all.
A few goodies from the morning haul – fail croissant, gooseberries, tart cherries, cucumbers, and a cantaloupe.
An awesome sectional couch from the rental.
Albany John has had the Biodome on his tourist list for years. We finally made it over there, and were… well… I was underwhelmed. I thought it would be bigger, with more stuff to see. There were basically a few large rooms with varying climates you’d walk in to. A few animals (which, BTW, the more I see animals in captivity as an adult, the more depressed I get when seeing them).
There was a sloth exhibit. One thing I found interesting about the Biodome is how minimal the barriers between exhibits/animals and people were.
Moar biking. We didn’t eat hear because it smelled like poo inside. Like, serious sewage leak or something.
This place was probably not much of a better choice. It was basically a Thai version of greasy Chinese takeout that we have in the US (except much cleaner).
Bar of pre-made stuffs.
$18 for a 3-choice plate and two rice rolls. Seemed pretty steep for what it was. The 3-choices of meat, veggies, and tofu were pretty greasy and bland akin to most “asian” fast food. But it provided the necessary calories to continue biking all over the city. I think we netted at least 15 miles that day.
This is from a grocery store. Oh man, I wish Liberte were as cheap here!
Another Hat Tip due to R at Chopsticks Optional. Marche Hung Phat for Vietnamese food.
Iced coffee, which was basically like dessert. Mmm, so good. Also necessary after biking all over the city.
Banh mi!! $3.99 each, and so good! We got a traditional banh mi, and one which also included Vietnamese bacon/pork, which is basically like adding char siu to it, and ZOMG, delicious.
Marche Hung Phat prefers French. I’m not sure if they don’t speak English, or just really prefer French. There was a younger guy there who could speak English, but expect this ordering to be predominantly en Francais.
Languages are so fascinating to me. I’ve got some mental (personal) block over speaking Chinese very well (I’m part Chinese. Why isn’t this coming naturally to me? Oh man, my inflection is totally wrong. I’m pretty illiterate. Why am I not excelling at this?!), despite years of classes. My French isn’t very good either, but I can get by. I have a serious respect for people who speak multiple languages fluently. I’m pretty sure if I came to another country that was bilingual, I’d pick one to do really well (the more commonly spoken), and then put the other one on the back burner. BTW, their French was fantastic.
Okay, personal idiosyncrasies aside…
Marche Jean Talon was on our way back to the rental, so we picked up some provisions to cook at home.
Spinach, zucchini, onion, beets, and some pork chops from Porc Meilleur. About $20 overall.
Dinner before our show. Oh yeah, we didn’t go to Montreal strictly for eating, but for the Just for Laughs comedy festival, primarily know as Juste Pour Rire. It’s a pretty big event, with some free shows, and some private events. We saw Kumail Nanjiani & Friends at Cabaret Underworld on Friday night. I heard rumblings about Seth Rogen being there in the back somewhere. We’d also tried to get seats at Au Pied du Cochon Thursday night, and evidently Seth Rogen was there, too. I’m not much of a celeb stalker (I am incredibly awkward), but I thought it was neat to be in the same place as anyone twice in two days.
Saturday Morning we headed back to Marche Hung Phat for brunchy good times. I had a dessert beverage cup while we waited for …
A big bowl of bun rieu ($7.99). The crab soup was okay. A bit light on the broth flavor, but overall a tasty way to start the day.
I found out that Albany John and I cannot eat 6 croissants in one day before they start to deteriorate in texture. Sadface.
Two baguettes. Oh man, I wish there were a Premier Moison nearby.
Baguette & Croissant crumbs.
Albany John can always find graffiti in Montreal. Here are some of his pics:
Montreal’s food trucks are interesting. The people of Montreal are getting into food trucks, but the regulations prevent food trucks from operating on the street like we have in NY. Instead, they’re primarily seen at festivals where the streets are blocked off, or private events.
This milk shake was not good. Proof that food truck doesn’t automatically = awesome. Very watery. Like iced milk.
And then back to Cabaret Underworld for Al Madrigal! Ironically, Cabaret Underworld was a 3rd floor walk up.
But they had great graffiti/art on the walls of the staircase to look at on the walk up.
We got to Cabaret Underworld early enough to snag front row seats for Al Madrigal! I even got to say hi at the end when he did a meet & greet with the audience after the show. I was incredibly nervous and awkward “Hi! I’m a huge fan! That was a great show! I was crying at the end, you were so funny!” I seriously fangirled out. Sorry, Al Madrigal.
Neat art exhibit at a local artist area on St Catherine. These folks also help put on the Under Pressure graffiti series.
Chibi devil house.
We then roamed the city. It was also the night of a fireworks display, so we headed to a hilly part of Parc Jeanne-Mance, but needed some snacks along the way. I swore I’d avoid Schwartz’s smoked meats, but… well, it was right there.
No, not there. Somehow we missed going into Cinema L’Amour this time around. But right on the same block is…
Schwartz’s smoked meats. Now with aggressive panhandlers out front! There wasn’t a long line out of the door when we went, which was nice.
I got a half pound of fatty smoked meat, and had packed half of a baguette in my backpack. The meat was fine, but I still don’t get the hubbub over this meat. It’s good, but it’s not *that* good. I mean, then again, I smoke my own meat so it’s not like this is the only place I can get my smoked meat fix.
We had a little picnic and watched the sky explode.
Sunday was our last day, and so we went back to Marche Jean Talon for breakfast. The last time we went to this creperie was years ago when my friend first introduced us to Marche Jean Talon and the guy working that day was a real douche. I remember ordering some crepe, watching him make it, roll his eyes, then make it again, and handed me/us two crepes mashed together and condescendingly saying “The order is normally not this much, but I messed up the first one, and so I gave it to you for free with this,”. You really had to hear it, since it’s all in tone, but seriously, I’d never heard someone be such an asshole about messing up an order before and acting like what he was doing was an act of benevolence. He rolled his eyes and sighed when I said “Um. Okay. Thank you.”
Oh, and the franken crepe he made was kind of sucky and soft overall. Serious douche canoe.
Fortunately our experience this time was much better. Service was excellent and efficient.
Obviously, I ordered dessert for breakfast. Salted caramel crepe. I couldn’t detect any salt, but this was tasty.
Albany John went for jamon, bechamel, and mushroom, which was probably a much wiser breakfast choice. Great flavors and very hearty.
I continued dessert-for-breakfast by stopping at Havre-Au-Glaces at Marche Jean Talon.
FOR BURNT MAPLE SYRUP ICE CREAM!!! CAN YOU EVEN?! It was so delicious. The burnishing straddling the fine line of bitter and sweet so well.
Havre aux Glaces is primarily French speaking as well, but not to worry if your ice cream ordering skills are rusty (like mine). You’ll get through it just fine.
Oh Montreal. I already can’t wait to return! It was great to spend time checking out the Little Italy section of Montreal, as we normally hub around downtown and St Catherine. But we are getting older and it’s time to try new things. Break out of the comfort zone! Continue the adventures! Also, I’m starting to hate crowds of people and ear-splitting music even more as I get older, so most bars hold no appeal to me. The next place to try is Au Pied du Cochon. I really hope to get there one of these years.