Just got back from a lovely weekend in Montreal with my girlfriend and I wanted to recap my culinary adventures. First off, let me that Im from New York and do a lot dining, however, I do not think that it makes me the definitive authority on fine dining, nor do I think that NYC is the end all be all of the foodie world (but it is rather close). Having said that, I must say that I went into the weekend with high expectations and was very eager given all the research I did.
First night we went to LExpress and I must say that I was fairly disappointed. I dont know if the reviews I read gave me a wrong impression or deep down I was looking for it to be a different place but in the end I didnt live up to my expectations. I was expecting a bustling bistro with the best bistro fare in the city and a great place to sit around and drink. What we encountered was a fairly bright and sterile room with decent, although forgettable food, and cold service. I was looking for this to be my one solid steak meal for the weekend, however my flank steak was rather dry (I ordered it medium-rare) and lacking flavor. My girlfriend had Cornish Hen that was stuffed with veal and pork that was rather good. For starters we had beet salad and something else that eludes me, but both were decent. We ordered a Crème Caramel and were a bit shocked to have it immediately come out, indicating to me that they seek to work in volume. The one good thing was that prices were fairly moderate (at least once translated to $US) and the wine selection was good and fairly priced, but I would rather eat at Pastis or Artisinal in NYC any day.
Second night we ate at Toque and once again we were a bit disappointed. After reading, that some hounds found the room too bright and sterile, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was in fact rather warm and inviting. We opted for the 6 course-tasting menu. While overall it was solid, there were only 2-3 standout dishes (braised veal ravioli and potato amuse to name two). From what I read, I was expecting something daring (like Tru or Trio in Chicago) but found that many times the dish simply did not come together. The service was knowledgeable and very professional, but I did get a sense that they were a bit condescending, probably due to us being relatively young. Im sorry that Im not providing more details about the meal, but my goal is to give a recap for other people wanting to visit Montreal given its foodie-mecca status. Having said that, I dont want to give the impression that Toque was bad, far from it, its just that I didnt find it to be the sublime experience I was looking for, plus it was very pricey $175 (Canadian) a person (including two moderately priced half bottles). For this price, I could go to any number of places here in New York and have an absolutely stellar meal (Daniel come to mind mmm).
Our final night, we were looking for something a little more hip and casual so we went to Globe. The restaurant seems much more like a lounge and indeed turns into a rather crowded bar later in the night. Once again I wasnt impressed too much by the food, but didnt mind too much since we were much more in the mood to go out drinking.
I guess that a lot of my disappointment arises from the fact that I was seeking to go to three completely different places (a solid bistro, a top notch avant-garde food place, and a hipster hang out) but none were as good as I hoped. Having said that, I did have a couple enjoyable treats. First off, we stayed at Hotel St. Paul, which is sort of like the W in America. The hotel is in the old city (very cute area) and the staff was as helpful and accommodating as could be. We ate breakfast there twice and while it was only a simple continental breakfast buffet, it was still fairly good. We also at a great deli like place on St. Paul, just around the corner, the name eludes me but it felt like eating in a provincial France. We found the lunch places on St. Laurent to be decent but the service was non-existent, everybody around us was looking around for the waiters with not-so-hidden annoyance.
Overall, both my girlfriend and I had a great trip, and while the dining wasnt up to my expectations, it would not stop me from giving it another try (heard good things about Arena and a couple others). Coming from New York, it's only an hour flight so it makes for a perfect weekend getaway. Hope this helps and please let me know if I did anything wrong or if you could suggest anything else for me to check out next time I visit.