That’s fine: I’m excited to be returning to Montréal for yet another holiday – the ninth installment of a vacation which remains one of the great highlights of the year.
Last year, I spent nine days in Montréal, followed by five days in San Francisco. This year, I’m flipping it around: five days in Montréal and then to San Francisco for a week, ending on New Year’s Day.
I’ve written before about some of the reasons I love the city, so I won’t go into greater detail. I’ll just say that I’m excited to be going back; I’m excited about seeing familiar sites and new ones; and I’m excited that we will likely have snow this year. It’s been awhile.
Where are we going to eat? Thought you’d never ask. The list is a collection of old favorites and new places, but each one has a familiar connection:
- Les 400 Coups: We’ve eaten at restaurants run by Marc-André Jetté, Patrice Demers and Marie-Joseé Beaudoin since 2008 (Laloux, Newtown were the others). Their food gets consistently better with each year and 400 has quickly gained a reputation as one of the best restaurants in the city.
- Liverpool House: This is my preferred star in the Joe Beef constellation. As I’ve written before, Joe Beef seems to attract a larger tourist crowd, while Liverpool House gives off more of a local vibe. I think that distinction blurs as the Joe Beef empire continues to grow, but Liverpool House feels more like the neighborhood (speaking of which, Little Burgundy is changing rapidly).
- Le Chien Fumant: This little 20 seat bar in the Plateau is gaining more attention by the year. A friend in the city tipped us off to it in 2010, and we’ve been going back every trip, for house-made charcuterie and the delicious, meat heavy dishes that define Montréal dining in the cold winter months. It’s a favorite.
- Nora Gray: That same food-savvy friend gave this place a rave review last year when it was still new and was getting decidedly mixed reviews from the Yelp and Chowhound crowd. We gave his recommendation a higher priority, and we were rewarded with a wonderful Italian meal. We’re going back. Nora Gray also made this year’s Best New Restaurants list in enRoute.
- Maison Publique: Speaking of restaurants that have been on the receiving end of a fair amount of crankiness from Yelpers and Chowhounders… there’s the brand new Maison Publique in the Plateau. Derek Dammann was at the helm of DNA, which was one of the true gems of Old Montréal until it closed this summer. He’s partnered with Jamie Oliver in the new place, but I want to be careful to note that this is Dammann’s restaurant; Oliver is an investor. What are people upset about? Do you actually care? You shouldn’t, and neither do we. Dammann is smart and innovative; he has a command of offal and a long commitment to Canadian wines (here’s the December 2011 wine pairing gallery from DNA); his food is delicious. (Want to read Marie-Claude Lortie’s review from La Presse? Here ya go.)
There’s a lot more to Montréal: there’s incredibly good coffee. My favorite is Café Myriade, where the city’s Third Wave (arguably) began. It’s on Mackay and has just opened a second location at 251 St-Viateur Ouest. There’s Olive et Gourmando, which continues to delight and, possibly, exasperate in the Old City. There are great museums; this year’s choices, based on current exhibitions, are likely to be the McCord Museum and the Fine Arts Museum. There’s the daily workout at Nautilus Plus on Ste-André and Ste-Catherine. There’s the Underground City, which is a lifesaver when your adventures outdoors turn especially frigid. And there are the crowds of shoppers. What was once Boxing Day has morphed in Boxing Week, much to the relief of nervous retailers. And there’s the rustic beauty of Quebecois French, which remains one of the most beautiful sounds in the world to me.
Can you tell my holiday is approaching? Four days and counting!