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Monday
Jun252012

30 Hours in Montreal

The deal was to leave at 5:30 Sunday morning.  That would get us to Montreal right around noon.  The drive is easy and beautiful.  I-87 North takes you just about the whole way.  You hit the Adirondacks not too far past Saratoga Springs and the view is enough to shut everyone up in the car for a while.

Five minutes after you pass through customs your cellphone is roaming. Another 55 minutes or so after that you're in Montreal.

Montreal is in Canada's province of Quebec, one that shares a unique history with the rest of the country.  Many French-Canadian citizens of Quebec support the idea of seceding from Canada and becoming their own independent state.  There have been two referendums in Quebec's past suggesting this, one in 1980 and one in 1995.  The latter was opposed by a very narrow margin.

While the "fever" surrounding the issue has been broken, there continues to be a significant part of Quebec's population in favor of the referendum.  Toronto being Canada's financial epicenter is a fact the residents of Montreal don't seemed concerned about.  Montreal is like Toronto's socialist sibling 500 kilometers to the North East.

Monday
Jun252012

Caffe Italia

Montreal's Little Italy is just North East of downtown Montreal.  Caffe Italia, on Boulevard Saint-Laurent, is in the heart of the neighborhood.  It's a timeless cafe that caters to the many generations of Italian Canadians and people passing through Little Italy.  There's a TV on the wall that usually has the news on, in Italian of course.  Caffe Italia is sort of like Little Italy's family room.  Grab a stool at the bar, order Nutella toast and browse an insieme, you'll fit right in.

The coffees are good, simple, espresso drawn drinks.  There are Proraso and other men's products behind the counter.  Caffe Italia is your one-stop-shop for your morning coffee and your shaving cream.

No substitutions.

There's a documentary from 1985 called Caffe Italia Montreal about "Montreal's Italians need to be accepted and integrated in their new society."

6840 Boulevard Saint-Laurent | 514.495.0059

Monday
Jun252012

La Maison de L'Original Fairmount Bagel

La Maison is on Fairmont Avenue West.  The bagels are rolled by hand and baked in a wood oven.  There's a bunch of bagels offered.  We stuck to the original with sesame and poppy seed.  The biggest difference between NYC and Montreal bagels, other than size, is the dough is salted much less here.  Subtle, and by no means a bad thing.

The culprit, pretzel-like exterior with a soft and dense inside.  Gotta eat 'em while they're still warm.  They're a bit smaller than New York bagels so you might find yourself eating two or five.

The smoked salmon spread.  You can get it with or without mayo.  Go without, there's no reason you should ever muddle the flavors inside that container.

74 Fairmount West | 514.272.0667 | www

Monday
Jun252012

Lunch at Schwartz's

Reuben Schwartz founded Schwartz's in 1928 after he moved to Montreal from Romania.  The restaurant takes pride in their natural product.  According to their website, it's one they prepare "the old fashioned way using a secret blend of fine herbs and spices and contains no preservatives."

You can order the smoked meat either "Lean", "Medium", or "Fatty".  Mustard or no mustard.  The brisket smokes for ten days and proves to be just as soft as the fresh baked bread it sits between.  The sandwich is incredible, both in flavor and value.  It's $6.50 and proves there is the perfect size for a sandwich.

The small room is always packed.  The constant line outside moves quickly so the wait is never unbearable.  If it were, it'd still be worth it.  

3895 Boulevard Saint-Lauren | 514.842.4813 | www

Monday
Jun252012

Jean-Talon Market

Marche Jean-Talon is in Little Italy.  It's an open-air market, open year round, that thrives in early summer as the weather warms and berries start to show up.  There's an interesting mix of private farmers and commercial importers, so you might find pineapples and citrus fruits on a stand next to rhubbard and asparagus.  

The market opens at 7am everyday.  The produce is immaculately lined up and displayed with a care that reveals the vendor's respect for their product.  It's a beautiful market, reminiscent of La Boqueria in Barcelona.  Here's a few seasonal stars:

7070 avenue Henri-Julien | www

Monday
Jun252012

Dinner at Restaurant Beijing in Chinatown

Montreal's Chinatown has its origins dating back to the 1860s, when Chinese immigrants first moved westward seeking opportunity.  The neighborhood isn't as big or dense as New York's, but the food options are just as bountiful.  With too many people and not enough time to check out Joe Beef, we ended up at a place called Restaurant Beijing.

It turned out to be a lot like Joe's Shanghai if you took away all the Xiao Long Bao.  Both restaurants have entrances entirely too small that open up into a great room full of round tables that are always full.  The place settings are the same: plate, napkin, chopsticks, tāngchí, tea cup.  There's no chili oil on the table at Beijing but they do have a hot sauce heavy on the garlic and full of flavor.  Here's what we had:

Dumplings in Hot Peanut Sauce ($4.50) - Six to an order.  The peanut sauce was a little too heavy for the delicate dumpling dough.

Beijing Fried Rice ($10.95) - All the right produce for a good fried rice with a few shrimp to boot.  An excellent char made it taste like the rice had been grilled somehow.  Couldn't stop eating it.

BBQ Duck 1/2 ($13.50) - Unbelievably tender.  The moisture was trapped behind the thinest, crispiest duck skin that had us second guessing the origins of chicharrónes.  The jus was sweet and salty and layered with flavor.

Singapore Rice Noodles ($8.25) - The only dish we didn't finish.  The noodles were under seasoned and dry.

Tofu with Black Bean Sauce ($9.95) - There was a shrimp on top of each of these tofu squares that got covered in a rich, glistening black bean sauce.  A decent dish but one that doesn't change my stance on tofu: it always just tastes like condensed air.

Spicy Green Beans with Pork ($10.95) - This is the same as the String Bean Szechuan Style (with Pork) at Joe's.  Slightly less salty here but the same blistered green beans with ground pork.  So good.

Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce ($9.95) - Similar to broccoli rabe.  Steamed and tossed with oyster sauce.  Left a little to be desired.

Spicy Eggplant with Pork ($10.95) - Still trying to figure this one out.  The pieces of eggplant were exceptionally dense with a concentrated, sweet flavor as if they had been candied.

92 Lagauchetiere West | 514.861.2003 | www