Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ode to Montreal in the fall

Ah, Montreal, my beloved foodie city. You never let me down.

This weekend was my belated celebration for the promotion I started at work in the beginning of October; it was also, in some ways, a sort of rest and recovery trip after my sister's wedding last weekend. That was an amazing day in and of itself, but so tiring for all involved, and this trip was a great way for Chris and I to recharge. We even took the train there and back, so he wouldn't have to do the boring 2-hour drive two days in a row. It was awesome.

We got an incredibly nice room at a little boutique hotel in Old Montreal, with a view of the port. Arriving at lunchtime, we were able to leave our bag there though our room wasn't yet ready, and headed out in the rain to find some lunch-like sustenance for a planned trip to the archaeology and history museum of Montreal. I knew we weren't far from Olive et Gourmando, a funky gourmet shop that makes legendary sandwiches and baked goods, so off we went wielding umbrellas. There was a lineup, but we were able to wait inside and stay dry, and not twenty minutes later we were at a cosy table for two.

The space is like a university coffee shop crossed with a Provencal bakery, with a counter full of cake stands stacked high with croissants plain and filled, brownies, brioches, and palmier cookies at one end, and twenty or so tiny mismatched tables under an assortment of whimsical paper lanterns. There are shelves lined with house-made jams, jellies, and trail mix, imported olive oils, vinegars, savon de Marseille and biscotti. At the very back of the room is the food counter, with a hand-drawn chalkboard list of the hot and cold sandwiches they offer. You're assigned a table number, and you order your food at the counter and then they bring it to you, along with coffees, teas, juices or even wine or beer.

In addition to the fancy sandwiches (more on that in a moment), they have a glass case filled with yummy-looking salads, antipasto and cheese plates, and chilled beverages. There's also a daily soup, and on Saturday it was red lentil and coconut milk. Oh, my gracious, was it good - thick and almost stew-like, with big chunks of celery and carrot, and a nice hit of Madras curry powder enlivening the whole thing. We shared the small bowl like misers.

The aforementioned sandwiches seem pricey, until you bite into one and realize what high-quality ingredients you're dealing with. Chris and I both ordered hot pressed panini-style 'wiches. In a shocking move, Chris went with the one I'd generally be most likely to order: goat cheese and a pile of caramelized onion, served with homemade ketchup for dipping. Not to be outdone, I ordered the one he would generally go for: the Cubain, with braised pork loin, ham, melty Gruyère cheese, andhouse-made mayo with finely chopped pickle, lime, coriander and chipotle. Both were incredibly tasty, on high-quality chewy, crusty rolls pressed flat in the panini grill.

A decaf espresso and a couple of chocolatines (miniature chocolate croissants) for the road, and off we went into the rainy afternoon. We went to the museum, which was awesome, and the Marche Bonsecours, which was sort of dull, sadly, and then had a quick catnap at the hotel before getting gussied up for the 5 a 7 in the hotel restaurant. It's a nice thing that some of the boutique hotels do before dinner - a complimentary glass of wine and some cheese and fruit and bread, to start off your evening out. We enjoyed a glass of lovely Argentinean syrah, then walked up to the Metro and zoomed to the Plateau for sushi at Mikado.

And what a meal. I decided to splash out and get the salade Maritime for my starter - mixed salad greens with a light vinaigrette, topped with chilled seafood. There were a couple of sweet shrimp, thin coral slices of smoked salmon, and best of all, generous chunks of crab leg meat. It was gorgeous too, served in a square white bowl and eaten with chopsticks. I wanted another one as soon as I finished it.

Chris also went for seafood in his starter - but tossed into his miso soup, which he adores. A big shrimp, some white fish chunks and something else he doesn't recall all nestled among the shiitake mushrooms and shards of seaweed and green onion in a salty broth went down nicely on a chilly evening.

We ordered a bunch of rolls and some sashimi for our mains - well, the sashimi was all for me, but I did successfully introduce Chris to unagi rolls - grilled eel and fresh cucumber drizzled with ponzu sauce. Utter divinity. He also had a shrimp tempura roll, a California roll and an avocado roll; I had yellowtail and organic salmon sashimi, and it was totally perfect. They were quite generous with the fish, too - three gorgeous slices of each. The yellowtail was my favourite, as always, but the organic salmon took my breath away with its flavour. Just... wow. No regrets at all about the meal, with which Chris drank an Asahi beer and I had a glass of provencal rose.

We declined dessert, since I wasn't in the mood for ice cream, and instead wandered over to the Starbucks for tea and a cookie, then walked a little ways down Laurier until we reached Baldwin Barmacie, the funky lounge J and I discovered last May. We sipped cocktails and soaked up the atmosphere for a couple of hours, then caught the metro back to the hotel and slept the sleep of the well-fed and relaxed.

A continental breakfast was included with our room, and it was actually pretty nice - we managed to score the very last two chocolatines, though the fact that they ran out with 1.5 hours left in the breakfast period speaks to a supply-and-demand problem. They also had plain croissants, cheeses and ham, breads for toasting, yogurt, granola and cereals, juices, hard-boiled eggs, fruit salad and plenty of hot coffee, even decaf. We fortified ourselves against the day and headed out to the Plateau for a scrounge through used CD stores and Asian bazaars.

Lunch was square, thin-crust pizzas at a *gasp* chain place we discovered years and years ago called Pizzedelic - we saw one, we were hungry, and nostalgia took over. Despite the cartoon coloured decor and kid-friendly menu, they also make some decidedly grown-up pies. I had one called the Andalouse, with thin slices of spicy chorizo, roasted red peppers, black olives, garlic (and they're not kidding) and mozzarella cheese. Chris had one with a bunch of mushrooms, hardly surprising. Both were on thin, crispy-chewy whole wheat crusts that held up nicely to the toppings. Quick, tasty and filling, if not groundbreaking.

We made time for one last foodie stop, though, before heading to the train station: a pot of tisane and a slice of decadent chocolate cake at Brulerie St-Denis. We grabbed baguette sandwiches at a shop in the station to bring on the train for supper, and they were surprisingly tasty for "fast" food. A good eater's weekend, for sure - especially the sushi and the paninis. If you're in Montreal, treat yourself. It's well worth it.

No comments: