Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Eating well in Montreal

Duck in a Can at Au Pied de Cochon
I recently did a mini road trip in Quebec, driving up from Boston with a stop in Vermont for good measure. It's beautiful countryside if you ever get the chance to visit the area (well apart from the flat, straight, monotonous drive between Quebec City and Montreal). I've wanted to visit Canada for ages. I'm not sure why, but I tend to think Aussies and Canadians are quite similar. Maybe it's just our shared British colonial past. Anyway, we spent four days in Montreal and another two in QC, sampling lots of local food. Like any large city, central Montreal has an amazing variety on offer. I ate classic French (better than most bistros in Paris), superb Japanese, somewhat average Vietnamese, smoked meat sandwiches, bagels, burgers and, of course, the inimitable poutine. But the best meal I had was at Au Pied de Cochon, the Montreal institution and temple to foie gras and all things meaty.

We had a great waiter at PDC who successfully navigated us through the menu so as to avoid an onset of gout before dessert. He recommended three or so starters and a main course to share rather than attempt three courses each. PDC is generous with its portions and glancing around at the size of the trotters and the bison ribs, I was happy taking our waiter's advice.
Bison temaki at Au Pied de Cochon
We started with bison temaki. I've never eaten bison before mainly because it's not a meat you often see on menus. I had certain preconceptions about its flavour too, so I never thought a Japanese preparation with it would work, but I was proven deliciously wrong. The raw bison was tucked into a sheet of nori filled with rice and salad leaves and topped with a quail yolk to drizzle over. For all of its Dances with Wolves muscularity, the bison meat was surprisingly tender and didn't taste gamey at all. This was an outstanding dish and I'm now a convert to bison. We also ordered a charcuterie platter with grilled tongue and sausage as well as some rillettes and other cuts. There was also a square of jelly that looked like quince paste but was actually a slice of congealed chicken fat. Are your arteries hardening yet? Mine have.

Schwartz's smoked meat sandwich
For our shared main we ordered the (in?)famous Duck in a Can. The ingredients on the can list half a duck breast, some foie gras, roasted garlic, two sprigs of thyme and a balsamic reduction which is simmered for 20-something minutes before the sealed can is opened in front of you and emptied onto a cauliflower puree. There's also cabbage and bacon lardons along with cubed carrots and onions cooked in the can too. You can probably guess that this tasted as good as it sounds. The duck breast was a perfect tender medium and the seared foie was completely intact. It's an ingenious dish. After all of this, we rounded off the meal with a poached pear.

In the Plateau, it's almost obligatory to pay a visit to Schwartz's deli for some smoked meat (salt beef if you're a Londoner). We grabbed a sandwich and a pickle from the takeaway next to the main restaurant given the queues for a seat. There's a small seating area at the back of the takeaway section too, but since the autumn sun was shining we took to the streets. The sandwich was good, with tender, flavoursome meat enhanced by a great coarse spice rub, dominated by garlic, coriander seeds and pepper. You can buy some in a shaker to spice up your steaks too. I would have liked a punchier mustard on the sandwich though.
48 hour stewed pork on rice at Kazu
Kazu is a tiny, rammed and delicious slice of Japan in Downtown. Its no reservations policy and terrific home-style cooking mean you're pretty much guaranteed a wait of some sort. We tried for dinner one night but the 20 strong crowd and 9.30pm kitchen closing discouraged us from lingering too long. We were more successful at lunch the next day where the 48 hour stewed pork on rice, an amazing shrimp burger, a special of grilled-and-pureed aubergine served with tortilla for dipping, and ice cream sitting in a puddle of sake to finish more than made up for the previous evening.

Shrimp burger at Kazu
There are only about six tables higgledy-piggledy squashed together and a counter around the open kitchen, so it's a cosy set up. Menus plastered on the walls in Japanese, English and French give Kazu that izakaya feeling. There's a more limited menu at lunch time than at dinner (I would have liked to try the octopus recommended by a regular in the queue) but Kazu is worth a visit at any time. It's not a place to linger, but you'll definitely enjoy it.

At the diner end of the eating spectrum, Le Gros Jambon in the old town is worth a visit too. It has a fantastic interior with the walls covered in kitsch, vintage posters and signs. I had a deliciously rich BLT pimped with duck confit and a side of poutine. For breakfast. Mr B wasn't overly excited by his grilled cheese sandwich though. Again I would probably like to visit in the evening or on the weekend when the full brunch menu is on offer.
BLT with duck confit and Poutine at Le Gros Jambon
Breakfast spread at De Farine et d'Eau Fraiche
We stayed in an apartment found via airbnb.com located in the Village, which unknown to me was ground zero for Vietnamese restaurants. Joy! We were surrounded by pho places, but the two we tried out (Cafe Saigon and Pho Viet), while having good elements, were ultimately disappointing compared to the quality of most of the Vietnamese on offer in London. If you are in the Village though, I would recommend De Farine et d'Eau Fraîche for excellent coffee, cakes and muffins. It's where I spent breakfast each morning. Oh and there is a Five Guys burger joint in the area too where we had a second dinner after the first disappointing pho. Mine's a cheeseburger with jalapeños.

So what are you waiting for? Montreal has a lot to offer the foodie-inclined tourist and I feel like I barely scratched the surface in my short time there. If you are daunted by the prospect of all these great food options in a short period of time, just remember that Montreal is a very walkable city with lots of great parks. You'll work off some calories from that poutine walking up and down Mont Royal plus work up an appetite chasing all the squirrels.

Mentioned in this post:

Au Pied de Cochon on Urbanspoon Kazu on Urbanspoon Schwartz's Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen on Urbanspoon De Farine et d'Eau Fraîche on Urbanspoon Le Gros Jambon on Urbanspoon

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