But then we reached our destination. A man arrived with concern to relieve us of our drenched outer layers. He guided us to a table near the fire. A woman, switching effortlessly from her native French to the English of her recently suffering guests, greeted us with a warm smile and the promise of oysters. The stage was set for the evening's gastronomic symphony. Ah yes, this is why we're here.
The magic of a well-executed meal derives from timing and atmosphere as much as from quality food. The warmth in the belly, the lightness in the head, the tingle in the fingertips at dinner's end are earned through careful orchestration: the salt in the starter, the depth of the main dish, the sugar of dessert, all accompanied by the waitstaff's subtle nurturing. Open with wine, close with coffee. No rush on the bill...
Our dinner at Le Quartier Général (apportez votre vin) was not even our best meal in Montreal, barely top five. Québec's largest city is one of North America's great cultural crossroads. Perhaps nowhere else on Earth do the English- and French-speaking worlds collide so gracefully. Thanks to the city's Franco heritage, one is never far from a bakery or café. The waves of more recent immigrants have added generously to the lingual and cultural melange. The resulting restaurant options are dazzling, and rarely disappointing.
A few more highlights from this most recent visit:
- Alep - Syrian cuisine. Forced to choose, this was probably the site of our best meal. The lion's share of my wife's cultural heritage is Lebanese so Middle Eastern food is a big deal at our house. Alas, there is little on offer in Vermont. Montreal is another matter. We happily frolicked our way through the tasting menu.
- Trip de bouffe - Lebanese. Bakery/grocery store/lunch counter. The offerings were quite satisfying.
- Beautys Luncheonette - diner. A Montreal classic in operation since 1942. Hymie, the original proprietor, now 90 years old, greeted us from his counter stool and directed us to the appropriate table. Salmon with cream cheese on a bagel: these folks do it right. Milkshakes, too, plus the smart ass waitresses I love and expect from such an establishment. The Purple Penguin made very clear she would like to return on future trips.
- Miga - Korean. Regular readers already know of my passion for East Asian fare. Miga's chef is Indian but his expertise ranges to both Korean and Japanese. The atmosphere says corner dive sandwich shop but the food tells a loftier tale.
- Café Chat L'Heureux - cat café. One of two such establishments in the city. Relax with a cup of coffee - or hot chocolate in our case - as the resident felines scamper across the floor below or lounge on the catwalk above. Several adult cats live in the space permanently and litters of shelter kittens come through as well. The hope is to raise well-socialized cats primed for adoption.
Better boots are in the mail.