What do you think of when you hear mention of “Montreal,” the second most populous Canadian city? Perhaps Old Montreal with its deeply European architecture and street feel? The beloved Habs? (C’mon Carey Price! He’s gonna backstop the team to a Stanley Cup!) There’s also internationally renowned McGill University, located right in the heart of downtown. And of course, there is the famous culinary scene.
From November 1st until 11th, Montreal is hosting the second edition of Taste of Montreal. Similar to Toronto’s Winterlicious & Summerlicious and Ottawa’s WinterBites, restaurants participating in TASTE MTL offer diners affordable table d’hôte dinner menu options, priced at $19, $29, or $39.
And so, when Food Bloggers of Canada and Tourisme Montréal extended an invitation to us to try it out, Don and I immediately accepted. How could we refuse a chance to explore such a beautiful and historic city?
And, we got a chance to spend the weekend dining and sightseeing with Toronto bloggers Stella (@foodieyu) of Food Junkie Chronicles, Vickie (@kiki_BFF) of kiki’s B.F.F., Jess (@wherejessate) of Where Jess Are, and Montreal blogger Janice (@KtchnHealsSoul) of Kitchen Heals Soul.
Day One – Friday November 1st
So off we went on a sunny and surprisingly warm morning to the train station. Don and I love traveling by VIA. It’s comfortable, relaxing and there’s free Wifi throughout the entire trip. As we were taking VIA1, we were well-taken care of by staff. Served snacks, breakfast, coffee and tea, and drinks, the two hour trip into downtown Montreal went by quickly.
Don opted for a healthy breakfast consisting of yogurt, orange juice, a large fruit salad and granola-muesli cereal with milk. I choose a hot breakfast with eggs and roasted vegetables. Unfortunately, I was so hungry that I completely forgot to take a picture.
Upon arrival, we were greeted at the train station by Marie José of Tourisme Montréal who expertly flagged down a taxi. After checking into the Sofitel Hotel, Don and I grabbed a quick bite before we were whisked away to attend the 12th edition of Montréal Passion Vin at the Hilton Bonaventure Hotel. An annual benefit for the Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital Foundation (HMR), this year’s event raised over $859,000 for the future HMR Integrated Cancerology Centre. Presented by SAQ, with Standard Life as the major donor partner, this event ranks among the most prestigious wine industry events in North America and offers participants a chance to meet elite “wine artisans” of the wine world.
This year, seven wine tastings featured eight producers from three countries. With our fellow bloggers, we attended the third tasting, featuring Maison Remoissenet Père & Fils, a small Beaune (Burgundy)-based negociant. We tasted six vintage wines: a Meursault Genevrieres 1er cru 1992, Volnay 1er cru clos des chênes 1969 & 1978, Gevrey-Chambertin 1er cru combottes 1966 & 1979, and a clos vougeot grand cru 1964.
My favourite was the first bottle, a white 1992 Meursault Genevrières premier cru. A beautiful dark and rich yellow, it was crisp and dry, not much acidity with some honey and fruity notes. Given the opportunity, I think I could have drank the entire bottle. Instead, I decided to tease Don that he was as old as some of the vintages we were tasting. Afterward, it was off to FOU D’ICI!
Opened in November 2011, FOU D’ICI is an urban grocery store located in the heart of Montreal’s Quartier des Spectacles. Housed in an old brick factory, the cluster of buildings are remnants of the once illustrious fur trade industry. Focusing on local, urban, and organic, this hip store caters to foodies, epicureans and gourmets. You’ll find Italian and French meals to go, soups, salads, and prêt-a-manger sandwiches.
As Don and I walked down the aisles, we saw shelves proudly displaying numerous products from Quebec-based farms, orchards, and artisan producers. In the refrigerated displays, there was local meat, sustainable seafood, cheese and deli selections. There was fresh produce; house-made pastry and other delectable bakery; and a tea and coffee counter. Every product seemed carefully selected with an “emphasis on taste, health, and local proximity.” It felt like a love letter to la belle province.
We were delighted with the sight of cupcakes (red velvet for Don and a berry cupcake for me), coffee, and a plate of Raincoast crips and Quebec cheeses waiting for us to devour.
Just the perfect treat before we headed out for our evening tour, courtesy of VDM Global, with our guide Michel Jutras.
“Right into the heart of Montréal” Walking Tour
This was one of the four tours offered by VDM Global during TASTE MTL that are led by experienced foodie guides. Think of the food tours by Ottawa’s C’est Bon Cooking. Michel brought us to the beautiful Quartier des Spectacles (or festival central), home to many festivals such as the Montreal International Jazz Festival, the Francofolies and the Just for Laughs comedy fest. The area also boasts performing halls, galleries, and, of course, restaurants, all celebrating the culture. This was followed by venturing down into the Underground City and back up into Red Light District.
Some stops we made along the tour include the Birks Café par Europea inside the stunningly gorgeous Maison Birks store. Feeling famished after shopping for that diamond ring or pair of earrings? Climb up a few steps and voolà, a café awaits you. Choose from the menu or have some sweets. The macarons are absolutely to die for. And, there’s also gold-specked covered chocolates you can purchase for that special someone (yes, the chocolates are edible!)
Just one more stop before dinner, the Café Grévin par Europea.
Our tour ended here, giving us a chance to rest our feet with a glass of bubbly and a plateful of macarons, the same ones served at the Birks Café.
Finally, dinner time! Our stop, participating Taste MTL restaurant, Lola Rosa.
(Parc Avenue location)
Under Chef Phil Carbone, Lola Rosa is a vegetarian restaurant serving a variety of specialties, including signature dishes such as Lola’s nachos and the hemp burger. With two locations, each has its own menu. Offering several beers from local microbreweries, ours is located near McGill University. With a fixed table d’hôte menu at $19, we were curious to see what our dishes would be like.
Don chose to start his meal with a salad, followed by a roasted beet tartlet and then a maple pecan pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. My appetizer was a tomato and rice soup, followed by a quesadilla and also the maple pecan pie. Later we added a side order from the regular menu, chickpea fries.
Although it was quite filling, we found the meal rather pedestrian and though service was friendly, it was incredibly slow. The highlight of our meal was definitely dessert.
Day Two – Saturday November 2nd
After a quick breakfast at Renoir (Hotel Sofitel’s in-house restaurant), we were greeted by Catherine Morellon of Tourisme Montréal, the main organizer of our trip. Back we went to FOU D’ICI for a maple workshop. Hosted by journalist & blogger Nathalie Richard and sponsored by les Produits de l’Érable du Québec, I found the history of maple syrup particularly interesting and delicious. We tasted four grades of maple syrup, ranging from extra light, light, medium to dark. This was followed by samples of maple butter, maple sugar, maple toffee, maple flakes, maple whiskey, and maple water.
The maple water is especially unique, it having taking 7 years for manufacturers to find a ways to sterilize it, maintain a stable shelf life, but keep the taste of maple. Though mostly sold in Quebec, it is available for purchase in Ontario.As I happily sampled spoonfuls of maple butter and toffee, we learned that maple syrup is produced only in North America, either in Canada or in Northeasernt United States. Canada is responsible for 82% of global production and Quebec, 75%. It takes 40 litres of maple sap to make just one litre of syrup. Internationally, the Japanese are the biggest consumers of maple syrup, which explains why Don and I often see Japanese tour buses parked in the ByWard Market, usually by a maple syrup stall. It’s not unusual to see Japanese signs by the cans of syrup greeting the tourists. Unlike most westerners, the Japanese don’t use maple syrup for desserts, but rather for cooking with meats or vegetables.
After our sugar rush, we were soon introduced to Jérémie Gaboug of Tourisme Montréal, who accompanied us to lunch at Juliette & Chocolat.
Juliette & Chocolat
With my chocolate allergy, coming to this shop was torturous. I wish I could tell you how the chocolates and desserts tasted, but with Don keeping a watchful eye over me (to ensure I didn’t sneak chocolate), I opted for a savoury meal, a buckwheat crêpe. In the name of “research,” Don ordered a chocolate trifle. Talk about depriving your wife of her favourite treats!
After lunch, we used our free time to explore Jean-Talon Market, one of Montreal’s four farmers’ markets. For the first time this trip, we gals and Don found ourselves without a tour guide and so, I was given the task as the map reader. A short Metro (Montréal subway system) ride later, we managed to make our way to the market. Located in the Little Italy district, the market is bordered by Jean-Talon Street to the north, Mozart Ave. to the south, Casgrain Ave. to the west and Henri-Julien Ave. to the east. Since it’s opening in 1933, Jean-Talon has undergone several changes, to become the largest outdoor market in North America.
As we made our way through stalls of fresh produce and fruits, seafood, and small food boutiques in and around Jean-Talon, it reminded me of a cross between Toronto’s Kensington and St. Lawrence Markets.
Our free time came to an end all too quickly. It was soon time to meet up with Jérémie for drinks and snack at La Champagnerie.
Located in Old Montreal, it offers a variety of meat and seafood dishes and an exclusive bubbly list of private imports including champagne. With bubbles available by the bottle, glass, or creative some craft cocktails, this spot is perfect to hang out with friends and to unwind. For snacks, we ordered poutine, escargot with blue cheese, and two orders of arancini.
Despite all the snacking, Don and I still had enough room for dinner at Icône Restaurant.
Located on St-Laurent Boulevard, Icône’s signature dishes include a charcuterie plate, terrine maison, and fowl and duck croquettes. Its kitchen works under the watchful eye of the chef de cuisine, Charles-Emmanuel Pariseau. It strives to serve “gourmet cuisine prepared with local products” and offers a “wine list of private imports.” This year, Icône is offering a $29 fixed menu for Taste MTL. Curious to try dishes from both the fixed and regular menu, Don and I opted to see what Icône Restaurant is really all about. Don chose to eat from the Taste MTL menu, I chose an appetizer and main from the regular.
We were surprised to find a number of their signature dishes being offered on the fixed menu. Not only were we impressed by the quality of the dishes, but the portion size. Each dish may as well have been ordered from the regular menu. Here was Don’s $29 dinner:
Regularly priced at $9, this platter is a steal with four meats (rabbit ballotine, duck prosciutto, porchetta, and mortadella.
From the regular menu, I chose the grilled octopus with olives, sour cream, and panzanella with roasted peppers, and cherry tomatoes ($15). I’ll share a photo of it once I find it, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. But, the main reason why Don suggested I skip the fixed menu is because of this entrée, the half fried chicken.
I LOVED it! Although I personally would have preferred the yolk to be a bit runnier, I wasn’t about to send the dish back. Firstly, I should mention that it was really half a cornish hen. The chicken was succulent and well seasoned. A nice layer of sausage separated the egg and chicken. The skin was beautifully crispy. The hint of honey added a lovely touch of sweetness to such a savoury dish. It turns out take on the Scotch egg was inspired by the Chef’s mom’s recipe. Coolest way to eat fried chicken evar!
Afterward, Don and I were grateful for a half-hour walk back to our hotel. It was much needed.
Day Three – Sunday November 3rd
On our final morning, we met up with our fellow bloggers and Jérémie for one last meal, a scrumptious brunch at the hotel restaurant Renoir. This was the fanciest and most delicious hotel breakfast Don and I had ever eaten. Just when we thought we couldn’t possibly eat any more, we somehow managed to sample something else.
After brunch, we shared good-byes as we returned to our respective cities via VIA rail.
Many thanks again to Food Bloggers of Canada and our most gracious hosts Marie José, Catherine Morellon, and Jérémie Gaboug of Tourisme Montréal for organizing such a wonderful weekend. It was definitely an experience Don and I will not soon forget. Your love for your city shone through all weekend long!
Goodbye Montreal! I’ll be seeing you again soon!
Sofitel Montreal Golden Mile Hotel
1155 Sherbrooke Ouest
Lola Rosa (Park Avenue location)
4581 Ave du Parc
3435 Boulevard Saint-Laurent