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Restaurants & Bars

Food notes from Montreal (Toque and others)

Alex Ray | Oct 7, 199906:41 PM     3

I just returned from a trip to Montreal and Quebec City and wanted to share some thoughts on a couple of dining experiences there.

Toque was recommended by a couple of people on this board and elsewhere as well as by Conde Nast's list of "must-visit" Montreal restaurants. While indeed quite tasty, I can't really say that I found it to be "all that." Although my perception was clouded by having been seated next to this loud, drunken, obnoxious, ugly-American couple, the main dishes, nonetheless, were simply not that spectacular. I ordered a lamb dish, of a special type of lamb grown in Canada on a small island in the St. Lawrence River where the animals supposedly feed on salt-water-nurtured grasses. This was supposed to lend the meat a naturally salty taste. Guess what. It didn't. And since it was one of those places with a "confident" chef, there was no salt or pepper on the table. Consequently, I was left with a rather bland, tough, overcooked (I ordered it "medium" and got "well-done"), fatty hunk of lamb. I think the sides were interesting, but I don't remember what they were. The appetizers were fine, but I don't remember them either, and it's beside the point anyway, because an appetizer is not the meal itself. I skipped dessert - too depressed by the rest of the meal. Overall, consdering the price, I was a pretty disappointed.

Another place that did stand up to scrutiny was a place called Maestro S.V.P., located on Rue St. Laurent near Rue Prince Arthur. Excellent place for seafood. Lots of oysters on the half-shell to choose from (although the presentation was a bit odd: an overabundance of rock salt and a disarray of "condiments"). It wasn't a busy night, which translated to us getting our meals almost instantly. I was suspicious at first thinking they had thrown it together haphazardly and also because I wasn't sure how a Cajun seafood dish would fare that far north. I was pleasantly surprised. Although architecturally challenging and difficult to eat, my meal was stupendously flavorful: enormous prawns, a scattering of oysters and scallops, and an army of mussels with long strips of scallions and red and yellow peppers, all bathed in a creamy, sharp-n-spicy, bright orange sauce. Just amazing. Highly recommended.

We also spent two different nights wading through the sea of Greek restaurants on Rue Prince Arthur and ended up settling for the same one both times: Le Gourmet Grec. The first night I had a seafood platter (again!) loaded with lobster (scampi?), prawns, coquilles St. Jacques, some white fish filet, and potatoes. Pretty tasty all in all. The moussaka was also decent. The second time, I had a filet mignon brochette. Just so-so that time. Probably wouldn't go back to that one. But with so many other choices, who cares?

Lastly, a note on the much-touted Montreal bagel: the boastful claims are TRUE. Such heavenly bagels indeed, so chewy and dense. Wish we had even decent bagels here in San Francisco.

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