SF Bay Area
Food and drink that has us seeing gold
Thanks to Mother Nature (cough, global warming), 2018 will officially go down as the year of the neverending winter. We have, quite literally, been reduced to a ball of pilled sweaters, abused gloves, and thermoses of lemon tea. Not okay.
In a desperate attempt to remedy the mundanity of cold temperatures, repetitive indoor activities, and a lackluster wardrobe, I booked a weekend getaway with my sister to Montreal. Yes, Canada: our friendly (seriously, why is everyone there so damn nice?) northern neighbor that is also super cold, but an escape from the ugly snow-covered streets of my Hell's Kitchen, New York neighborhood.
The trip, overall, was a success and I learned a few tips that I'd like to share for anyone desiring a quick, albeit necessary journey to a different country.
DO Stay at the Omni Mont-Royal
Montreal may not be as intimidating in scale as neighboring Toronto or New York City, but you'll be walking everywhere. Thus, it's important to find a hotel that is not only centrally located, but an ideal respite for weary eyes and sore feet. The Omni Mont-Royal checked off everything on my list of musts. The rooms are modern and spacious, the staff is exceptionally courteous, and you're a stone's throw from all of the city's major tourist attractions (including the Barbie Expo, which was a surprising must-see). They even have a fireplace and bar to warm and welcome you after a long day of exploring.
Aside from luxurious aesthetics and a five-star level quality of service, the property takes part in a monthly culinary series where they highlight one seasonal ingredient. Mushroom was the pick for April and I was delighted to find morel-infused vodka cocktails, as well as an exciting array of fungi-inspired appetizers to kick off our nightly happy hours.
There are plenty of lodging options to choose from, but our stay at the Omni was genuinely one of the highlights of my trip.
DON'T Rely on Review Websites for Restaurant Recommendations
A good meal is a good meal, though "good" is a subjective term that has been used and abused by sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and OpenTable. My sister and I booked a reservation at number one-rated Damas, but were quite disappointed with the tasting menu's one-noted flavors, paired with an outrageously expensive wine list. It wasn't a terrible experience overall, but we're not sure the algorithm of these online rankings is a true reflection of Montreal's best of the best. Frankly, we would have fared better at a cheaper hole-in-the-wall establishment that may not get the same love and attention as an over-publicized favorite. Pro tip: Ask the locals for true recommendations and turn off the Macbook. Your stomach and wallet will thank you.
DO Eat Your Weight in Foie Gras
You are in the Paris of North America, after all. Famed Au Pied de Cochon lives up to its hype with foie gras-heavy everything and an enthusiastic restaurant manager (Florent) will have you trying things you've never tried before (which may or may not include horse meat, pork rectum sausage, and the head of a fish).
We also stumbled across O'Thym in Montreal's gay district, an adorable BYOB joint with a seared foie gras appetizer that rivals anything I've ever sampled in France. The moral of the story is to eat lots and lots of bird liver and only feel bad about it when you're back in the States and feeling less than exemplary at the gym.
DON'T Go During the Winter
I thought the excitement of being in a different country would distract me from wind chill and icicles clinging to my nose hairs, but I was wrong. Montreal is a beautiful city, but it's certainly more beautiful in summer (or so I've been told). One should never escape the cold to go somewhere even colder. That's a lesson learned and I am clearly an idiot. (Oops.)
DO Save Room for Brunch
Our favorite meal, hands-down, was a brunch at unassuming Olive et Gourmando in Old Montreal. Aside from fresh pastries and buttery bread, their line of creative sandwiches anchor the menu with unusual and bold flavor combinations. The "Poached Egg On Your Face" panini, spotlighting spicy poached eggs, raw milk cheese, speck, and slow roasted tomatoes was a star, as was the truffle macaroni 'n' cheese, because frankly, how hard is it to mess that up? Be sure to save room for this most important meal of the day.
DON'T Climb Mont-Royal on a Full Stomach
The views: worth it. The indigestion after just housing a "Hangover Burger" at Burger Bar: Not so much. The hike isn't particularly strenuous, but you will be exerting more effort than normal, and this doesn't pair well with red meat topped with poutine, a fried egg, caramelized onions, cheese, truffle aioli, and bacon. Trust me on this one.
DO Take Full Advantage of Every Cultural Offering
Churches, museums, festivals galore; the City of Saints boasts an impressive cultural, historical, and architectural scene that rivals any major European city. You'd be remiss to not check out exhibits at the Museum of Fine Art or Musée d'Art Contemporain, or light a candle at the Notre-Dame Basilica. These gems are some of the most celebrated in the world and, at the very least, make for some impressive Instagram material.