Thanks to everyone on this board for the helpful suggestions for good eating during our weekend in Montreal. Here is a summary of where we dined and how it was:
Dinner: ("taking out conservative eaters"): We ended up at Da Vinci for our conservaitve diners. (Why conservative always means Italian I'll never understand...) It turned out to be the right choice, though. The food, while not innovative, is excellent: eggplant was creamy, calamari greaseless, and sauces veered to the lighter side. Plus, our hockey-business friends were thrilled to see the Boston Bruins hockey team dining next to them. Also, Salvatore is an excellent host.
Lunch: La Brioche Lyonnaise. The sandwiches and salads were solid but the bread was not outstanding. In retrospect, I think it was the desserts that were the draw, and we didn't have any of those, still full as we were from cannolis the night before.
Dinner ("Brunoise - eat at bar?"): Brunoise. As good as everyone has said. Dining at the bar was actually a lot of fun, as we had the oppportunity to talk to our server and get more input on our menu choices. The standout surprise was the licorice parfait dessert. Not candy-store licorice fans, we were stunned by the subtlety and floral character of the natural licorice, and it paired incredibly with the poached pears and pear sorbet. We still can't decide if it outdid the vanilla panna cotta with basil syrup and passionfruit.
Daytime: simple street food, which we found impressively fresh.
Dinner: L'Express. We had a reservation at Restaurant Yoyo, but when we arrived, they were inexplicably closed. (Their sign still claimed that they were open.) Already in the neighborhood, we decided to give L'Express a go, and were able to snag seats at the bar. The bread, cornichons, and chevre chaud appetizer were all excellent, but we were disappointed on several levels. Our plats (steak frites and filet de dore) were uninspired and our server tried to upsell us at every turn by large margins (attempting to sell us wine at twice the cost, for example). He also rushed us through our entree and then left us sitting for a half-hour waiting for our plats. The room felt oddly bright and sterile, despite the omnipresent smoke. It just didn't feel worth it.
Lunch: La Banquise. This was our first poutine experience, so we chose the "classique." What a fun - if heavy - food. In fact, we can't figure out why no one is selling this in NYC....maybe there's an opportunity there....!
Heading out: Le Pain Dore. We snagged a couple of baguettes for the road. We tried some in the car, and they were good but would have been better first thing in the morning. As suggested on the bag, we put them in the oven for 3 minutes when we got home, and then they really sprung to life. Baguette and cheese was just what we needed, flopped on the couch, at the end of the long drive home.
It was a great trip, with great food. Thanks again for all the suggestions and input!