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You’ve already heard the hype. You don’t need me to tell you that Jeffrey Finkelstein has an impressive resumé of work experience at world famous restaurants Noma, El Bulli and French Laundry and that he’s set up shop here in Montreal. You know that the bread from his Hof Kelsten has fed diners at likes of Le Filet, Club Chasse et Peche, Toqué, Dominion Square Tavern, Nora Gray, Joe Beef, Toqué and Les 400 Coups because you’ve already tasted it. Yes, you can breath a sigh of relief. We’re finally in on secret source of good bread in this city.
Tucked away and hidden behind a nonchalant doorway and a flight of exceptionally steep steps is one of Montreal’s best terraces. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, let alone give the impression that it has one of the city’s largest open terraces. Le Club Social Espagnol’s main function is to serve as a meeting spot for Spanish ex-patriots to gather, hang out, eat, drink and talk. Most of the clientele are middle-aged and elderly Spanish men watching soccer games and cheering for their favorite players and teams or at other times, casually playing Bingo. Then you have people like us, who aren’t frequenting the place for either of those things but come instead to enjoy the sunshine on the deck and a pitcher of fantastic red sangria.
Omnivore is a cute Mediterranean restaurant serving a mix of themed platters and delicious, fusion-type sandwiches. The place has a bit of a hippie sort of vibe that’s all at once calming and forwardly friendly, accentuated by the long wooden communal table and the close quarters that encourage diners to sit and eat together. Leafy plants decorate the windowsills and eclectic animal and abstract art decorate the colourfully tiled walls. You walk in, give the chalkboard menu a good look and step up to the counter to order. If you’re staying to eat, take a seat and wait for the servers to bring you your meal.
La Cornetteria. You’ve probably heard of this tiny Italian patisserie before because of their zeppole. Ah, the famous zeppole that makes an appearance only once a year, for a one month limited time only. Come March, Italian bakeries from all over repurpose their ovens to produce the little puff pastry almost exclusively, popping them out at a dizzying pace. La Cornetteria happens to make some of the best ones.
There is just something about pho that brings people together. This is especially true on cold, frigid days like the ones we’ve been having here in Montreal lately. -20 and -30 degree weather? Yikes. A bowl of tasty, warm soup and noodles warms you up like nothing else. Looking for just that effect, we headed to Pho Bang New York in Chinatown for some of the good stuff.
Burger de Ville arguably serves some of the best burgers in the city. For an all-Canadian product and AAA graded steak cuts, a simple cheeseburger will cost you a mere $5.50. Don’t want the cheese? $4.75. Say what?! That price point is pretty unbeatable – taking into account the quality of the patty and the multitude of *free* toppings you’re privy to (caramelized onions, sauteed mushrooms, jalapeno peppers, harissa mayo, old fashioned mustard etc.) – there is hardly any other establishment that can compare on the same level. Burger de Ville serves honest, straightforward food with lots of room for customization – you’re the boss here.
Rumi Express is the junior counterpart to Rumi, a higher priced middle eastern restaurant on Hutchison. Short and sweet: Rumi Express is a no frills, quick service spot that seems to serve the St Laurent main lunch crowd.
The ramen noodle bar just keeps getting raised higher and higher in Montreal – just when I think I’ve had the best, I went for lunch at Ramen Ya on St Laurent. Ramen Ya is a great and understated little restaurant with seating along the kitchen bar and a few tables for groups.
I think Montreal may be becoming ramen spoiled. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. When Big in Japan first opened in 2010 I ate there a few months later. To be honest, at the time I was simply happy to have cheap Japanese pub food in a convenient location (St Laurent and Pins) and in many ways, I still am.
We arrived at Bouillon Bilk on an infamous restaurant night – Valentines day. Yes, it was a night of overbooked restaurants and high expectations. Bouillon Bilk can be hard to notice from the outside – it is situated on a sketchy stretch of St Laurent between St Catherine and Ontario.
There is no eatery in Montreal as sacred and untouchable as Schwartz’s Deli. While some claim smoked meat allegiances to The Main or Smoked Meat Pete – none can deny the history enshrined within Schwartz’s walls since 1928. Fans of the Deli will tell you that over the last 80 years, little has changed – and they may be right. Despite numerous rumored offers to create Schwartz’s franchise restaurants across North America, the owners have refused all and have remained in their iconic location on St Laurent Blvd. In the fall 2008 they expanded and opened an additional take out location next door.
Kam Fung offers the most authentic and traditionally found dim sum dishes in the entire city. Legendary by name, it is easy to see how popular they are by the hordes of people lining the restaurant entrance come noon. The best time to come in order to avoid the wait time is just before the rush, at 11:30. There is a tradeoff though – while service is quick (it always is), the food is hot and there is less clamor around while eating, there is greater variety in the dishes served during rush hour. By no means am I saying that the dishes served before aren’t good – on the contrary! There is just more choice later on. You’ve been told. For those who have never been, it is perhaps a good idea to go along with someone who has some experience in ordering dishes as it may seem overwhelming at first – people are constantly shouting, and it’s not in English. There is a regular flow of traffic in the restaurant, enabled by diners leaving after their meals or just settling in as well as the always moving body of cart ladies hawking their foods.
One of those quick in and out restaurants, Sumo Ramen specializes in… you guessed it. Ramen noodles. The large cartoon sumo wrestler that represents the place is instantly recognizable, giving the place a bit of edge over say, Hakata Ramen. With the majority of the clientele being student based, the prices are friendly and quite reasonable. We ordered a Heineken and a standard milk tea with bubbles. I have to say that the bubble tea here is not the best you can get in the city. The milk tea did not taste super fresh – more like it was made out of a powder or something concentrated. The tapioca balls seemed thin and lacked substance – they were not chewy or bouncy like you would expect them to be. I would suggest going to Magic Idea for a proper cup of bubble tea instead. I do definitely appreciate Sumo Ramen’s effort though.
Having opened its doors about two months ago, Restaurant Biarritz is a new restaurant venture headed by Stéphane Bouzaglou who has previously worked with celebrity chef Daniel Boulud (check out this post from Singapore for a review on his Bistro Moderne). The place is a cozy, tiny little thing that exudes friendliness and warmth, offering up a casual chic atmosphere to meet up with friends and family.
Ethan Wills and Marc Cohen, owners of the Sparrow (check this out if you don’t know about Sparrow already) opened Lawrence relatively recently and have managed to create an admirable online presence. Generating online buzz both in Montreal and abroad, their menu that changes daily/weekly depending on what the freshest ingredients at the market are. This enables the chefs to explore their creative culinary talent as well as to play with the menu options so that customers that go often are never bored – check out their Twitter account (@lawrencefood) for live updates of what’s to be served. This was my second time here – I love the atmosphere and the staff who work there. Everyone is extremely friendly and knowledgeable about the food, the way it is prepared and are able to suggest dishes that would most likely please the customer’s palate given some basic information.
Sparrow is a lovely little bar on upper St. Laurent teeming with well dressed youth and intelligent looking people – the antithesis of Chez Serge, the mechanical bull boasting bar across the street. More along the lines of Snack and Blues, the place serves all kinds of finger foods, a list of cocktails both basic and specialty and a variety of beers. Service is friendly, people are friendly and some of the food is (vegetarian) friendly. If you want a table, I suggest going early – around 10 or 11. After that, it becomes difficult to even find a space to stand as the bar fills up quite quickly after midnight. Having become a favorite in my roster of bars to go to, Sparrow has obviously done well for itself as the owners has recently opened up a full on restaurant a block away called Lawrence. I will be going there tonight, so come back and check out the blog tomorrow!