I don’t know if it was the horse drawn carriage that got me, or the idea that Montrealers spoke French but didn’t live in France, but I have longed to go to Montreal since I was 7 years old.
This weekend I got to live out nearly the last two decades of anticipation.
I convinced my college friend Ali to join me and she invited Nadia, her friend from middle school. I drove up from Vermont Friday evening, data turned off the GPS, and paper map in hand. I only got lost four times before I met the other two at our Airbnb. We collected ourselves and then hit the town.
We had no idea what we were getting into.
Apparently, this place is an institution and I had no idea. Someone had given us a recommendation (Uber driver maybe? I cant recall) so we joined the crowd lined up outside. A very grumpy woman made it clear that we could wait behind her. We made small talk with the server going back and forth from the dining area and back out to the street. Ali asked was good on the menu. He told us “We only have one thing. You’re here for the smoked meat sandwiches.”
And so we were. Rye bread, skiff of mustard, and piled high with smoked meat. While we were waiting for the food, Nadia glanced over at the grumpy woman who had been in line before us. She now sat at the bar, smiling and laughing with staff. Oh what a difference that sandwich could make.
Last for the night was a place called Le Majestique for a second drink and a round of oysters.
The next day we grabbed a late breakfast at a casual neighborhood eatery named Cafe Joe. I'm a sucker from fresh goat cheese in anything and everything, so I got the chevre omlette. Nadia and I also had a couple of pinky colored rose-hibiscus kombuchas. Huge portions of good food.
This stadium turned education center is housed within Montreal’s 1976 Olympic Complex. The biodome features 4 different eco systems from across the Americas, including a rainforest, polar exhibit, and one of the Laurentian Forest, which looked a lot like Vermont.
We probably could have spent all day strolling about the Olympic Stadium, next time I hope to visit the Botanical Gardens. Great way to kill time while you dream about your next meal.
I first learned about Joe Beef last year when I was in the habit of watching food shows while on the elliptical at the gym. There was show of Anthony Bourdain’s where he traveled and ate his way around a specific place. This one episode in particular was on Quebec. I worked up a sweat while Anthony ate his way around the province, stopping for beaver, a multi course meal in an ice fishing shack, and dined with famed chef’s David McMillan and Fred Moran, the brains (and guts) behind Joe Beef.
I didn’t mean to wait an entire year before visiting Montreal, but I knew I didn’t want to visit Montreal without visiting Joe Beef. It just turns out that reservations have to be made months in advance. I booked a table back in January for a late April trip, and basically planned from there.
I am almost ashamed to mention the other appetizer, the classic ham, not because it was disappointing, but because I sound like a cliché. The dish looked completely unassuming. With flakes of chedder sprinkled on top of a pile of shaved ham, it was pretty, sure. But then the server said the magic words, “brown butter.” It was one of the most incredible combinations I’ve ever had and I almost was moved to tears. I pulled myself together just as the server let us know our table at Joe Beef was ready.
I'd begged the others to let me order foie gras for the first time, and they agreed. It came out on a plate topped with a romaine salad and a side of toast. This was the dish I was most interested in experiencing and I had mixed feelings going into it. I've heard the lore of foie a lot over the last few years, spanning the PETA-like videos showing geese being force fed to the sustainable foie operation of western Spain mentioned in Dan Barber's Ted Talk. Check out J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's article on the nature of foie raising in the US if you are still wondering about the ethics of this dish.
Ali and Nadia, I will say, are some of the BEST people to dine with. Not because they are clever or funny or better at French than I am, but because they are the type that will insist you eat off their plate. When we ordered three entrees, we didnt even have to discuss that we would be splitting everything. We got a steak, a veal dish, and the lobster bacon spaghetti upon the insistence of our server, accompanied by the cheapest wine on the list.
We finished the meal with an old school American classic, Bananas Foster, which I had never eaten outside of my college cafeteria.
The entire meal was spent talking about how great the food was, how we should eat like this all the time, how this ruined all future dining because nothing could ever live up that that, ever. It was a meal of indulgence and borderline gluttonous, but a night that can live in a time and a place locked away in our food memories forever.
We closed out the restaurant before the checks were paid, after 1am. We crawled into an uber, drunk on wine and finery.
Olive and Gourmando was the perfect way to end the weekend. The cafe/bakery atmosphere was cute and vaguely ecclectic, but the brunch was incredible. My egg sandwich was good, but the savory ricotta toast (with housemade ricotta!) was great. It had the sweet/salty thing going on with the bit of honey drizzed on top, but also a contrast between fresh green pea shoots and roasted winter squash. I would drive another 200 km just for another order.
I love visiting churches when I travel new places, and the Basilica is definitely on top of the list. It was unique and just had so much to take in. Admission was $5 Canadian, but worth every loonie.
2472 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest
Montreal, QC H3J 1N5
3895 Boulevard Saint-Laurent
Montreal, QC H2W 1X9
Big in Japan
4175 Boulevard Saint-Laurent
Montreal, QC H2W 1Y9