MONTREAL, QUEBEC December 12, 2016 – A city is defined by the food it offers. The plates and flavors to be found in the Mount Royal City are worthy of a town whose appetite for life, and food, is huge.
Start with Da Emma Restaurant as unique for its location as for its dining experience. The restaurant is located in the basement of a former women’s prison where the walls of the 19th century building are massively thick gray blocks, the ceilings low, doors solid steel and windows are but slits, too small for even the thinnest of form.
Da Emma’s is a family affair, because quite honestly when you are there, you are family. The restaurants matriarch is Emma Risa, aka Mama, who with her husband Lorenzo Aureli came to Montreal from Rome, where Aureli’s grandmother owned a restaurant.
The menu presentation is as unique as the environment. Instead of a printed menu, waiters take diners through the days offerings via a blackboard that can be changed with the specials of the day.
The light berried 2011 Il Grappolo Brunello di Montalcino from the Tuscany Sangiovese grape graced the table. It is the perfect medium priced red table wine when multiple flavors and herbs are being savored.
De Emma’s food is traditional Italian – meaning simple and delicious.
A creamy burrata and tomato with fresh basil, thinly sliced, salty prosciutto with melon, crisp romaine Caesar salad and a Baked Rabbit Cacciatore richly prepared the same way as enjoyed in La Marche, Northern Italy, meaning hunter style with plenty of rich wine broth fragrant with herbs, onions and rosemary. The succulent meat following easily off the bone leaving a broth begging to be sopped up with fresh bread.
Poured with the baked rabbit was a lovely Lis Neris Gris (Italy 2013) which is consistently rated one of Italy’s best Pinots. With a light oak balancing the ripe orchard fruit and cinnamon it perfectly supported the rich rabbit.
On the table to share are generous plates of fresh vegetables including crisp green beans, artichokes, fusilli with tomato sauce and a plate of grilled zucchini and eggplant.
Other entrees done well in Mama’s glistening steel kitchen are a potato Gnocchi with sauce, an egg fettuccini with rich, fragrant mushrooms, and tortellini al gorgonzola.
One of the finest, and the highest in both ratings and location, restaurants in town, is the brasserie Les Enfants Terribles.
The food here is a delight of modern traditional French cuisine and street fair like gravy laden Poutine and maple syrup laced mojitos. A perfect reflection of traditional Montreal faire.
Poutine is a decidedly Quebec dish that has spread across the provinces. At first glance one may only see French fries, tossed with chunks of creamy cheddar cheese curds, all generously laced with gravy. But seriously, its more.
What makes or breaks poutine is the gravy.
Traditionally it is a thin, yet substantial brown chicken, veal, or turkey gravy, somewhat salty and mildly spiced with a hint of pepper that has been strained in a Chinois, or Chinese cap, sieve strainer, or a sauce brune which is a combination of beef and chicken stock thickened with a roux made of butter and flour, sweetened with maple syrup, a variant originating in Québec.
A traditional French duck confit, considered among the finest dishes originates from the farming Province of Gascony, is classically served with broccoli rabe and peach compote served atop a bed of crisp, peppery arugula meeting the highest expectations on each layer.
What makes duck confit extremely moist and flavorful is the preparation, which includes seasoning the meat before burying it in duck lard for days, then slow cooking the duck until crisp and tender.
A not-so-traditional fish and chips brings a large portion of flaky white fish dredged in crisp panko flakes, served with french fries and traditional mayo based tarter and vinegar coleslaw.
Street food and handhelds are a must for a walking city. A tradition for Canada are smoked meats and the place to find them is Dunns where the rye bread is soft and corned beef is piled high.
And then there is the tradition of French crepes, lathered with Nutella, folded up and enjoyed as you walk through the city.
There are also plenty of smaller casual diners. A favorite find, and highly recommended is Jerry Ferrer where chef driven food meets the casual dish to delightful results – meaning that foi gras and lobster become street food.
A lobster roll with large chunks of sweet, firm lobster claw, celery, cucumber, red peppers and vinegar – not mayo – based dressing on a soft, butter rich roll is filled with light and crunchy and sweet and savory.
Served with a Bec Maple Syrup sweetened cola and sweet potato frites (not fries) Chez Jerry’s would be, if living in the city, one of my first and favorite haunts.
Holders located near Old Town Montreal is the perfect place for brunch that combines mid-morning hip with classic foods like Eggs Benedict, egg rich crepes with fruit or a salmon Cobb salad. During this visit, there were three bachelor (ette) parties – two young ladies soon to wed and the Erratics, a group of guys from America that chose Montreal for their friends (second gentlemen on the left in photo) pre-nuptial party.
Visiting on a rainy Saturday, walking through the door the maître d’ at Holders greats us with clean, crisp towels to dry hair and pat clothes. In Montreal the weather just is. It does not stop the activities or the constant stroll of the native les habitants, or the tourists.
Old Montreal, located at the old port waterfront is a marvelous place to spend time visiting charming shops and peeking into courtyards. The best pastry shop in Montreal is a personal matter, however the best we found where in Old Montreal, tucked into the lower levels of Vieux-Montréal, the very oldest area in the city.
The neighborhood is located in the borough of Ville-Marie bordered on the west by McGill St. Ruelle des Fortifications on the North. On the east is Rue Saint Andre and on the south by the Saint Lawrence River.
It is in Old Montreal that you will find the cities oldest buildings along the cobblestone walks including The Old City Hall that is now the gigantic 150-year-old Bonsecours Market, the oldest and largest public market in Montreal.
Even though its role in Montreal has changed throughout the years (it now houses upscale cafés and boutiques instead of potatoes and pork chops), it’s still a major piece of French-Canadian architecture that one should not neglect walking through.
Throughout Old Town Montreal you will find delightful shops filled with things your did not know you truly need like Lunch A Porter where the art of lunch elevates with great food packing items, including art designed bento boxes.
From Old Town walk across the Rue de la Commune O and walk along the water front on the Promenade Vieux du Port to enjoy more shops, casual dining and one of Montreal’s most charming features, the box car shops. Paying homage to the trains that run along the water front, the reclaimed train cars now serve as mini-shops filled with everything from brick-a-brac and touristy tchotchkes to sparkling jewelry and tasty treats.
And a personal favorite, the Boivin Hastings maple syrup shop where reclaimed vintage bottles become chalices for Canada’s favorite export.
While there, enjoy a maple syrup slush as you peruse the unique bottles. Ask where the bottles come from and learn that many are works of art in and of themselves.
Maple syrup is the most prominent flavor of the Quebec provinces. It is amber, rich, sweet and delicious. Proprietors Paul Boivin and Lastings Hastings hand collect the sap using wooden buckets, boiling the sap over a wood fire.
The pale amber syrup flavor is rich, sweet and perfect. The vintage bottles make it the perfect gift for friends, family and yourself (take advantage of their flat rate $20 shipping to the U.S.). The maple syrup butter on hot pancakes is probably one of the best things you can possibly have for breakfast.
That said, don’t let the TSA confiscate it. It’s a solid!