Montreal, Day One

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Montreal? For me, it’s poutine, of course. Warm, gooey, cheesy, potatoey perfection on a plate. I was on a mission to try my first real Canadian poutine, and visions of cheese curds and gravy filled my mind en route to Quebec last fall. I was taking a mini-trip with my Canadian boo Nishan, and was determined to eat my way through Montreal.

I arrived late at night and we quickly checked in to Le Petit Hotel, a cute boutique hotel and cafe along Old Montreal’s cobblestone streets. Then it was off to dinner at Barroco, a dimly-lit Spanish restaurant with good dose of local Quebecois influence.

Foie gras & "coffee"

We started with the foie gras and “coffee,” which was really a thick slab of coffee-infused foie and syrup served alongside a light salad. Smart move on the greens, which helped cut through the foie gras’ super rich texture.

Suckling pig chorizo

Next we shared a plate of suckling pig chorizo, which came with pickled vegetables and toasted baguette. The chorizo was incredibly flavored and paired so well with the acidic pickles. Score one for Quebec-style Spanish cuisine.

We woke up early the next morning to check out the neighborhood, and stumbled into Olive & Gourmando, a wildly popular brunch cafe in Old Montreal. After braving the lines and the French menu, we were seated. The fashionable crowd, indie tunes and beautiful wood furniture quickly made this one of my favorite places to eat in Montreal, and this was before the food even arrived.

Truffle mac and cheese with green salad

I had the truffle mac and cheese with a green salad for brunch, and Internet, this is without doubt the best mac and cheese on earth. I’m pretty sure nothing will come close to this and despite my efforts to replicate the dish at home, I’m still yearning for Olive & Gourmando’s version. Perfectly toasty on top and generous with the truffles, this gooey mac and cheese was perfect. The heavily herbed salad was a nice counterpart, but man oh man was that mac and cheese good.

Notre-Dame Basilica

We continued our morning in Old Montreal, arriving at the Notre-Dame Basilica next. The 19th-century church’s gothic interior reveals stained glass windows that depict the religious history of Montreal, and a gorgeous, deep blue and gold ceiling. Color is at the forefront in this church, and it’s one of the most beautiful and imposing I’ve ever visited.

We left Old Montreal in search of Marche Atwater, a popular farmers market in the Saint-Henri neighborhood. I suppose November isn’t the best time to visit a farmers market in Quebec, but Marche Atwater made up with meats what it lacked in produce.

Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral

It was off to another church next, so we took the metro over to Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral in downtown. Also a 19th-century basilica but not quite as huge as the Notre-Dame Basilica, this is Quebec’s third largest church.

We had dinner reservations at the famed Joe Beef, so took the train to Le Sud Oest and eagerly awaited our next meal. Joe Beef has earned the reputation for being one of Canada’s best restaurants, and Anthony Bourdain has even sung its praises. Still, we didn’t know what to make of the place when we were seated and told that Joe Beef does not offer menus. Instead, the menu (and by menu I mean chalkboard menu on the other side of the restaurant in the dark) would be read and translated to us from French by our waiter.

Listen. Our waiter was a trooper for going through the entire menu and laboriously translated each and every thing. But my memory can only go so far and the next thing we knew we were eating a plate of sliced ham covered in a mayonnaisey sauce wondering what had happened. Next came our entrees: Nishan’s a plate of venison and mine duck sausages with egg. (The duck sausages were pretty good.) Without a menu and not enough lighting to document the experience, the details escape me. I wish I loved Joe Beef as much as the rest of the food world does, but hey, at least their bathroom includes a taxidermied buffalo.

Joe Beef

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