Considering the perpetual “In Search of the Best” series of dinners, what better way to summarize 2008 than to review the most memorable Montreal restaurant experiences? We’ve been to so many places that it would take me a week to review them all. I’m also writing this blog without all the business cards I’ve collected to remember where I’ve been. So this review is not comprehensive. I’ve included links for more details on the restaurants I’ve mentioned.
I’ll start with one of my favourite types of food – Greek. For simple, high quality Greek, and best value for the money, Marven’s is the winner. The restaurant is in the middle of a residential neighbourhood and blends in with the homes, but it’s a Montreal institution that everyone knows about. Go early to avoid a long wait in line and go hungry. The portion are huge! For $13 I had enough calamari to feed me three times. Literally. It reheated wonderfully in the toaster oven, staying tender and crisp. If you’re looking for a Greek place with a bit more atmosphere, then I recommend Ouzeri, which is conveniently around the corner from my place. The dishes are served family style, so an order of meat, a vegetable and one of potatoes easily feeds two to three people. On theatre nights it’s packed, but service is good so you may still be able to get a table for two or sit at the bar. For a lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous experience, then Trinity is the restaurant for that. Seriously, dress up in your “want to be seen” clothes and be prepared for a significant bill at the end of the meal, especially if you go in a group and order family style. I left with my stomach very full and my wallet empty. The food is very good and the atmosphere is vibrant, but I have spent less on better meals.
One such place was Alep – a Syrian restaurant with great atmosphere and fantastic food. Our group was served family style in two rounds. The first was a variety of salads and appetizers which alone were a meal in themselves. The second round were the main meat dishes. The food could best be described as spicy Mediterranean where classics such as hummus and babaganoush are kicked up a notch.
Moving further east in the culinary world, Khyber Pass Afghan restaurant was another unique experience. The group was directed to a basement restaurant, which was made up to look like a cave. The food was still Mediterranean, but with some influences from India, such as the three different versions of basmati rice served with the meat dishes. It was also my first bring-your-own wine experience. I must say that the BYOW concept is brilliant. Aside from being more budget-friendly, there is nothing better than sharing a favourite wine along with good food and interesting conversation with new or old friends.
Other great BYOW places we enjoyed were Nantha’s Kitchen/Cash and Curry, a Malaysian restaurant we enjoyed on Formula 1 weekend, Il Piatto Pieno Trattoria, an authentic Italian Trattoria in Little Italy, and Le Piton de la Fournaise, a small African Reunionaise place in the Plateau. All the places were great experiences, but I really loved the last place. We were served by the owner, who was fantastic. I had an unusual shark curry, but most memorable was the chocolate cake, which pretty much ends the debate about whether chocolate is the best experience in the world. We’re still talking about that dessert months later. A repeat event was planned for Valentine’s Day, but, alas, the restaurant is only booking couples that night.
One more BYOW place I want to note is Apres le Jour where we held our “year end” (it was September) staff party. The $35 fixed-price group menu was wonderful – fine dining without the fine dining price – and accomodating to our vegetarians. The staff handled a large group beautifully. Service was always prompt, which is impressive for a group of almost forty people.
Considering it’s a wine bar, Pop! was most memorable for it’s unique menu. We spent quite a bit of time pondering what “candy cap mushroom milk foam” meant on the dessert menu, even switching between French and English to see if it was a translation problem. As best as we can tell, there was a comma missing between mushroom and milk, but there was so much going on in that dish that it was hard to tell if it involved mushrooms. For dinner, most of us had various Flammekuechen, the traditional recipe of which I think I’ve managed to duplicate at home.
I would love to return to Bistro le Porto for the overall experience. The menu is authentic Portugese, the Port list is astonishing, and the atmosphere encourages a long, leisurely dinner. If you wish, the meal starts with Port and ends with Port. I had grilled sardines, which are significantly larger than what we’re used to. While it was delicious, it was tedious to eat since the bones are not pleasant to eat or eat around.
As we got into winter, our appetites turned more toward warm comfort food. La Toulousaine near Atwater market specializes in Cassoulet – French comfort food. Be sure you’re really hungry when you order it – the beans, duck and sausage are rich and very filling. If you feel like you want a mini Jamaican vacation but can’t afford to travel, I recommend Mango Bay Tropical drinks, Jerk chicken with peas and rice, sweet potato pudding in a small, brightly painted restaurant with island music will transport you far away from the ice and snow, even if only for a short while.
We’re also doing a tour of local tea shops. So far, we’ve had afternoon team at Une grenouille dans la théière in Rosemont and high tea, complete with cucumber sandwiches, at Gryphon D’Or in NDG. Both were good, but so far I preferred the first.
Finally, I need to bid a fond farewell to the old Old Dublin. It’s the oldest Irish pub in Montreal, which moved around the corner from it’s original location in the Fall. I haven’t visited the new location yet, but the old one has fond memories. It was my first experience there that convinced me to move to Montreal. I hope they’ve maintained the same old pub atmosphere in the new location.
Here’s to 2009 and more memorable adventures in Montreal!