You might think me strange for having written an article about great nights out in other cities before writing about great nights out in Montreal. Point taken. Now, before you get your hackles all raised about a)how short this list is and b)what didn’t get added on here, please keep in mind a few things. This is in no way a comprehensive list of what I consider to be the best restaurants in the city, although all 3 can make a case for being in the top 10 hands down for many people-easily top 5 for me. Secondly, I am working on a more extensive list of top hot spots to eat here but there are so many, oh so many, and so limited funds and time to get to them all. I could put out a top 10 right now but I don’t feel it would be fair without trying a fair number of places that I haven’t been to yet. I am not putting these names out there declaring them the best. I am saying when you go to these places bring your passport, your snakebite kit, extra clothes, and maybe a defribillator because there is no telling where you may end up and what shape you’ll be in when you get there.
So, if you are afraid to wake up in a haze in Cornwall with no wallet, no pants and no recollection of how you got there then read no further. If what I just said peaks your interest then please read on!
3) Le Mas des Oliviers– Serving authentic, classic French dishes from the Provence region for 47 years now in the heart of downtown Montreal it still surprises me when people(many people really) haven’t heard of this place. Eating here is as close to eating in France as I’ve experienced on this side of the pond. The staff maintains that perfect balance of professional, knowledgeable with warm, friendly and surprisingly funny. The staff have a dry humor that makes nights there all the more enoyable while Chef Pierre Dominique works his magic in the kitchen. This place is located within walking distance of the Bell Centre, home of my beloved Montreal Canadiens. I go to games fairly regularly and a few of us decided to meet here early before a game and have “a quick bite”. Let me make a note here, I am a hockey maniac. For me there is no such thing as showing up casually late to a game as much as there is no such thing as not giving my full on attention to the match once I am there.
So, we sit down and debate with our server whether or not we plan on getting just one bottle of wine with our meal. He must have done a good job of convincing us to get more because after some fantastic lamb, fish, escargots and much more I suddenly realize we’ve missed the entire first period. So, naturally we rush to the game as fast as we can, right? Nope, we order dessert and a nice digestif! I know we made it to the game eventually but don’t ask me what the final score was or even who we played. This meal had me in maximum relax mode and I barely paid attention to the match. For us in North America it is typical to plan a meal as something to do before another event. In Europe often times when you go out for a nice meal that IS your night out. I love that. Here you can enjoy a full evening without feeling like the staff is working you out the door to turn your table into more profit. Eat here. Soon. I command it!
2) Joe Beef– Dave McMillan and Frederic Morin work food miracles in this cozy, rustic, restaurant in what has become one of my favorite corners of Montreal; Little Burgundy. When I say this place is cozy I am not joking. It is a pretty small spot but tremendously warm and inviting. The menu changes here what seems like daily and to say the dishes are innovative is an understatement. These dudes have undying respect for the history of cooking and for traditional food and techniques that go back centuries but please don’t think that makes their food antiquated and standard. Nothing could be further from the truth. The envelope is being pushed here day after day, forcing other restaurants in this city to step up their game or get out of the way.
They are not food snobs in any way. They are simply food and dining lovers. Eating here you really feel like everyone you interact with just wants you to have a great night and walk/stumble away satisfied. The wine list is not extensive but they pair them perfectly with their meals and all bottles they carry are top notch. You think I am overselling these guys? You doubt me? What, because I am a fledgling internet writer? That’s fine. Hurtful, but fine. Well, if you won’t take my word for it then just know that none other than David Chang of Momofuku fame considers this place to be his favorite restaurant. Not his favorite in Montreal, not his favorite in Canada or North America. His favorite in the world. We are talking about one of the most highly regarded and sought after chefs in the world here people. There is an explosion across the planet where eating and cooking are concerned. McMillan and Morin are at the forefront of this food revolution, combining old world food with new world innovations. You don’t come here for a great meal. You come here to be a part of greatness even if it is just by cramming their food in your face. You come here for nights you will talk about for years to come.
3) Au Pied de Cochon I know, if you’ve read previous articles of mine you will know how much I love this place. But really, what’s not to love? Chef Martin Picard dances that fine line between maniac and genius, oh and does he dance it well. I love booking a late table here, say like 22h, and then just see where the craziness takes me. Obscene amounts of foie gras? Check. Tantalizing, juicy, melty fatty pork? Check. Daily specials that leave you swimming in a pile of your own drool as the expert staff explains them in poetic detail? Check. From the entertaining, friendly manager Jean Michel to the always accomodating hostess Alexia, and to whom I consider to be the best waiter in the city, Florent, the staff just make you feel like part of a big party. It doesn’t feel like you are eating in a restaurant. It feels like you are eating at a friends house who just happens to make some of the craziest, sexiest, and mouthwatering dishes you’ll find not just here but anywhere. I am not alone in my fanatacism.
You all know Anthony Bourdain right? Click on his name there and watch him battle through plate after plate after plate after plate of sexy goodness. I have to say the man is a trooper. We are talking about a guy who has eaten all over the world. He calls Picard one of the most important chefs out there right now. Why? Because the guy cooks balls out, with his heart on his sleeve, wastes nothing on an animal and challenges diners to work past the preconceived mass consumption notion of what food is. When you eat here you are eating animal. And you know it. No fancy, la di da fru fru shee shee presentations here people. Just jaw dropping portions and proud displays of the meat you will eat. No joke, when you order the rib, that’s right RIB as in singular, you get one MASSIVE bison rib on the bone and you can’t help but feel like part Fred Flintstone and part king.
Let me tell you another hockey story here for a second. I had tickets to the Canadiens game tonight where our former, beloved captain Saku Koivu is visiting for possibly his last time. It will be an emotional night as fans will welcome back the man who fought and won his battle with cancer here and created many great memories on the ice for over a decade. It will be touching to say the least. And I am not going. My friend booked a table for this place tomorrow night and I didn’t have the funds to do both hockey and stuffing my mouth full of foie gras back to back. So as much as I love hockey and would love to be there for a special moment I will be watching that game on TV instead. I sold those tickets and I am currently going through my stomach stretching exercises in preparation for another night of heavenly debauchery. Priorities.
So there you have it folks. If you are a Montrealer there is no excuse for you not to hit up these spots. If you are coming in from out of town there are no better places in the city to make your trip a memorable one. But remember, I warned you. Pack for any possible scenario and bring bail money and if you wake up in Mexico smelling of tequila and shame don’t say I didn’t warn you…and know that it was worth it.
Categories: Phood Philosophies