It's been a few years since my last visit, and last weekend's short but sweet romp through Montreal was wonderful.
After getting into the city in the early afternoon, we were pressed to check in to our hotel, and then zoom off to get some lunch. We were walking around St Denis when we just had to stop somewhere, anywhere, for sustenance. We slipped into Cafe Soleil (or something like that), and I was prepared for disappointment, as the menu looked like any other salad/sandwich/pasta joint with a terrace. After scanning the menu for a bit, the only thing that appealed to me was the merguez sausage sandwich, which was surprisingly good. They also had a homemade harissa to apply to the sandwich, making it even more flavorful. My friend's chicken pesto sandwich was pretty ordinary.
Dinner the first night was at Chez Leveque on Laurier. I had such a wonderful lunch there on my first visit a few years ago, that I knew I had to go back there to see if I could recreate that experience. It was better than ever. From the table d'hote menu I had an appetizer of shrimp in a hollowed out tomato with a light buttery sauce, and steak tartar for the main course. My companion had a pasta for his appetizer and the duck in blueberry sauce for his main, and we also shared an order of the pheasant terrine as a second appetizer. Even before the meal, we were enjoying the complementary house pate and cornichons. The pheasant terrine was robustly flavored, and had a nice coarse texture of liver and perhaps some pieces of shredded dark meat(?) The server came out with a small portion of the tartar to see that the spicing was to my liking. I could have asked to adjust the level of spice and salt, but it was perfect as it was -- I like mine with ample spice. Though the fries were just a bit on the limp side, I enjoyed the mayonaise dip it came with. The duck came with an interestingly tangy-sweet blueberry sauce (reduced with vinegar perhaps), and accompanied with some asian vegetables and good mashed potatoes. Dessert was also a surprise. The blueberry tart I ordered was so fresh, it looked like the blueberries were picked that morning. I don't know how they did it, but the blueberries were all whole and separate, yet they stayed connected to the slice. The creme caramel, though not a standout, was also very nice. This was a first rate experience, and if I lived in Montreal, it would easily become a regular spot. It was also very reasonable, especially with the US exchange. The total with tax and tip was $95 Canadian for both of us (with wine, coffee and bottled water) -- roughly $30 US apiece.
I made certain to seize the opportunity to eat at Schwartz's, which I missed the first time around. The smoked meat was fabulous. And the sour pickles there are the perfect accompaniment. I also got to try a sandwich at Ben's deli, but found it rather lacking next to the Schwartz's meat. I then bought 2.5 lbs of Schwartz's meat to take home with me to NYC. I called a few friends the next night to have a Schwartz's/Katz's tasting, and they're both good in their own ways. I think that the Schwartz's meat suffered in the transportation to NYC. Besides Schwartz's, I grabbed a few bagels from St. Viature. It's really too bad that these bagels don't have a shelf-life more than a half day, as they're great fresh, but they're rock hard by the time they're past their prime.
Besides Chez Leveque, I had a great dinner at Bistro Continental on St Denis during my first visit, and decided it was worth another try. Just the week before, a friend in NYC insisted that if I found horsemeat in Montreal, I should order it, as it was something she really enjoyed in France, but isn't available in the US. And to my surprise, there it was on the menu at Continental. I ordered the horsemeat steak in a wine sauce, and the house paté for appetizers. There was a beef-horse meat tartar in the "simple menu" section, but I decided to go for the steak since I just had a tartar the previous night. Unfortunately, the food didn't live up to my expectations, set from the night before and from my previous visit. The horsemeat was good, but there was too much sauce that covered up the flavor of the meat, so I didn't get a real good sense of it. Everything else we ordered was fine, but just didn't live up to the quality of the food from Chez Leveque. The marlin steak that my friend ordered was a bit overcooked and dry, the gazpacho was pretty ordinary, the house paté was nothing special, but the salad we shared was very nice with gorgonzola, sautees pears, and a wine reduction dressing. I think if I liked chocolate more, I would have really enjoyed my very rich chocolate dessert, but it was far too rich for me, and my friend wasn't very thrilled with their version of a deconstructed tiramisu. Total for two again came to about $95 Canadian (with wine, bottled water).
The other chow highlights were visits to both Atwater and Jean Talon markets. Although I didn't buy any produce, I was amazed at the variety and the quality. I took samples of peaches, tomatoes, berries, whatever I could finagle. The butchers, bakeries and cheese shops looked great. I really wanted to get some sausages from the sausage vendor at Atwater, but didn't want to risk getting it confiscated at the border. I did get a loaf from the bread bakery at Jean Talon, and am still enjoying it.
I can't wait to get back to Montreal and eat some more.