Last week we celebrated my 40th birthday in Montreal! We wanted to go somewhere fun and, surprisingly, have never been to Montreal together, and neither of us has been since we were teenagers.
Montreal is about a 7 hour drive from home. On the way, we stopped to visit family for a couple of nights in Eastern Ontario, then headed into the city.
I'll let Matt, the Beer Baron, talk about all the beer he tried in an upcoming post, but one of our first stops was Atwater Market to check out the beer and cider selection at the Fromagerie. We collected several selections to enjoy in our hotel room.
We chose the Delta Montreal as our hotel and it was great. The Jazz Fest was on while we were there and it was right next door. It was an easy walk to Old Montreal and shopping downtown.
On our first night we wanted to check out some beer bars, so we started walking towards Mile End, the hipster neighbourhood North of old Montreal. On the way we decided to stop for an appetizer deal I'd read about online. Laloux is a lovely French restaurant but we wanted to try the Menu Entracte at Bar Laloux - two appetizer courses and a dessert for only $20, available in the bar every night after 5:30. But when we got there the bar was closed for a private event, so they offered us seats on the terrasse to enjoy the special.
I had a lovely grapefruit cocktail while we looked at the menu. This was an incredible deal. You choose your first course from a selection of soups and salads. The second course is a smaller version of a main, then there's dessert, but it was plenty to make a meal for us.
For our first course, I had trout with fennel and orange salad. It was served with orange mousse and a wonderful orange sauce. I loved it!
Matt had a gorgeous asparagus carbonara - thinly shaved asparagus with bacon and a poached egg.
Next for our second appetizer, I had quail with beets and buckwheat with a honey glaze.
Matt had maple-glazed pork belly with pear purée, field peas and king oyster mushrooms.
And for dessert, I had wonderful maple profiteroles with hazelnuts and vanilla ice cream. Profiteroles are one of my favourite things, so I was very happy!
Matt tried the lemon tart with rosemary marshmallow and grapefruit pink pepper sorbet.
Did I mention all this was $20 per person? It was outstanding. It was definitely enough for us for dinner. The presentation was beautiful and the service and atmosphere were lovely. Highly recommended!
Afterwards we went to a secret cocktail bar! It's called Big in Japan Bar and it is behind an unmarked door on St-Laurent near Rue Rachel. I'd read about it online and wanted to give it a try. The servers are formally dressed and very professional. Matt ordered bourbon on the rocks and loved the huge ice cube.
I had a bourbon cocktail too and it was delicious. We ended the night at a craft beer bar that I'll let Matt fill you in on later.
The next morning, we decided to take a tour of Old Montreal. We don't usually do organized tours when we travel, but this tour included entry to the Notre-Dame Basilica, which we wanted to see, and we're so glad we did! It was spectacular!
Our guide gave us interesting commentary about the architecture and changes over the years. I also loved the chapel with more modern sculptures and carvings.
After the basilica, our guide showed us other sites in the old town and gave us a bit of history. The city has a rule that for every new project, 1% of the cost has to be spent on new public art. This means there are wonderful sculptures all over town.
After the tour we were hungry and thirsty. We were going to try a pub for beer and maybe poutine, but I found a nearby restaurant called Les 400 Coups with a lunch prix fixe menu and a nice beer selection. Two courses for $22 or add dessert for $5 more. We went with two courses - it's lunch after all.
Matt had a wonderful cold carrot soup, pictured above. He absolutely loved it. It was topped with dill and fresh ricotta. He couldn't get over how smooth and creamy the soup was.
I had a beautiful radish and cucumber salad with crispy shallots on top.
For our main course, Matt had roasted rabbit with barley and a blueberry purée. He loved it!
I ordered arctic char with grains and a rhubarb purée topped with a light celery salad. I love ordering fish in restaurants. This was beautifully cooked and the sauce was such a great match.
We don't normally eat like this, even on holiday. We normally stick with one course each, or try street food. But these menus were such good value and the food was truly outstanding!
That evening, exhausted from shopping, we went in search of poutine, but ended up at Dominion Square Tavern downtown. The atmosphere is wonderful and they have fantastic cocktails. Matt had a mint julep.
And I ordered a royal gin fizz.
We shared mussels with bacon and cider served with fries for dinner and they were the perfect thing.
The next afternoon we checked out the Jazz Festival. In the daytime, bands can be found playing all over the festival and at night there are bigger concerts on the stages. It's totally free and seemed like a really well-run event. We saw many happy people enjoying the day.
For lunch we finally found our poutine at Restaurant Mâche on St-Denis. It was delicious but we couldn't finish it all.
We were a little tired from walking, so we decided to rent Bixi bikes. Stations can be found all over town. You pay at the pick-up station with a credit card and drop them off at a different station near your destination. It was $2.25 for 30 minutes for each bike, so it's cheaper than a cab or the metro and much more fun! There are stations all over town to pick up and drop off bikes. You can also get a day or weekend pass for unlimited use. Great idea!
Finally it was time for my 40th birthday dinner. After looking at menus online for weeks, I chose Lawrence in Mile End. This is the wallpaper in the washroom, and I love it!
To start I had something I'd been craving ever since we decided to come to Montreal - oysters and champagne! I rarely have the opportunity to order oysters but I really love them and they're the perfect special occasion treat.
For our main course we shared braised oxtail with fried potatoes and braised dandelion greens. It was very tasty but very rich and we couldn't finish it all.
That night we watched fireworks from our hotel and checked out the Jazz Fest one last time.
Before the long drive home, we made one last stop for beer and bagels to take home. Matt picked up a bunch of local beer and cider we can't get in Ontario and I got two dozen bagels at Fairmount Bagel. There was a line out the door but it moved pretty quickly. Montreal bagels are thin and chewy and I've been enjoying them for breakfast all week.
So our trip to Montreal was a huge success. We found amazingly friendly people everywhere we went. The service was really fantastic in all the restaurants and bars we tried. Everyone we met spoke English and French beautifully. We only regret that we waited so long to travel to this food and drink utopia, and I think we'll be back soon!