Friday, March 4, 2016

On the Road: Braving the Slush

Why are we in Montreal in February?, I could not help but wonder as we trudged our way across the asphalt tundra.  New rain fell as I dragged my inadequate boots through ankle-deep puddles at the street corners.  Vermont is rough enough in winter.  Why head north? 

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.
Yes, there was more to our visit than food.  Montreal has wonderful museums and bookstores plus beanbag chairs at the planetarium.   But there's no denying, when my heart longs for a fine meal, thoughts drift northward.  Even in February.

Better boots are in the mail.


  1. I've only been to Montreal once. The trip did not go well (hotel problems). If I ever go back, I'll try to explore the gastronomic wonders of the city.


    1. I hope you get to go back for a better experience some day. I will have loads of restaurant recommendations for you.

  2. Wow, what choices you had there. I've never eaten oysters although a few friends tried to get me to try them on a trip to France. They seemed to enjoy them very much.

  3. Those oysters look good, but I generally eat mine outdoors, with oysters roasted on tin (with a wet burlap bag thrown over them)... That's fine dining in the low country :)

    1. I don't know if I have ever had them roasted. Both Fisher and Trillin have written about oyster loaf, a Louisiana specialty. I'm very curious about that.

  4. We're about to start experimenting with Moroccan.

    1. Sounds lovely! I can't say I know Moroccan well. There was a decent place in New York back in the day.

  5. Oh My Goodness this looks and sounds so wonderful.
    Of the few things I have not eaten, oysters on the shell is one that I want to try. I have tried the oyster shooter at Ginza and it was super tasty.
    I have never had Syrian Food. I hope to see more Syrian restaurants here now that we have so many more immigrants here.
    We are very lucky to have 3 Ethiopian restaurants that I love.

    It looks like you had a wonderful time. Thanks for sharing.
    cheers, parsnip

    1. I hadn't even thought of the gastronomic benefits of the Syrian refugees. All the more reason for Trump to shut up!

    2. When Trump says this it sounds so horrible but..... I so wish he would shut up.
      A stronger immigration system is need, especially where I live.
      A complete wall would be great along with no more drug and anchor babies. As I have mentioned before because of my brother working for the USFS in Law Enforcement, I know what is happening on the border. It is not good !
      But Two church groups have placed many Syrian families here and in Phoenix.
      Food is a language of friendship breaking bread together can only be wonderful.
      I hope some wonderful Cafes will be opening soon.

    3. Yes, a better system is needed. But blaming entire demographics of people is not the improvement we need. I understand all of your objections but compassion has to be paramount in whatever solutions we find.

    4. Hit the wrong key...
      But compassion and responsibility is a two way street.