I visited Montreal last month as a guest of Tourisme Montreal and as part of GFR’s work with the Terroir Symposium and Wines of South Africa. I managed to get quite a bit of eating and drinking done while I was there, including an amazingly fun and delicious dinner at Nora Gray, which I wrote about at length here. But that was just one stop of many. Here’s a three more old and new favourites from the trip.
Pullman – 3424 Parc
Sommelière Veronique Dalle at Pullman holds court at this wonderfully sophisticated wine bar that has become, for me, a must-stop, either as a cinq-sept warm-up for dinner (it opens at 4:30 and is perfectly centrally located whether you’re off to the Plateau, the Old City, Little Burgundy or wherever) or a casual and relaxed dinner. Dalle’s list is au courant for the current thirst in Montreal for natural wines, and leans toward the Loire and Rhone, but is also interestingly diverse. When I was there for a couple of hours one evening, she entertained not one, but two, visiting winemakers, while pouring me a number of lovely wines that were completely novel to me, while I snacked on just delivered seafood from the Iles de la Madeleines. I suggest unconditional surrender and letting her and her expertly trained staff of sommeliers do their thing and pour whatever they’re excited about.
Pastaga – 6389 St. Laurent
Martin Picard and The Joe Beef guys’ restaurants get tons of attention in the English speaking press in no small part because of their connection with Anthony Bourdain and David Chang. They are also great, innovative and expressive chefs who run amazingly vibrant, exciting and inspiring restaurants – it’s all well deserved. But there’s tons of other stuff going in Montreal outside of that Norman Laprise-trained group, including Martin Juneau’s Pastaga, which is up St. Laurent past Mile-End and into Little Italy. Pastaga has nothing to do with noodles, by the way, it’s a Provencal derivation of pastis and the cooking here Montrealais: Gallic takes on Quebec ingredients. Juneau won great praise as a young chef at the various incarnations of La Montée de Lait, which from 2005-10 was at the vanguard of the new casual Montreal restaurant scene (along with Pied de Cochon, Joe Beef and Chuck Hughes’ Garde Manger). Pastaga (opened in 2011) follows this style, with bare tables and big open kitchen at the back – they’re also launching a food truck this summer, which Juneau was busy converting when I was there. I ate at Pastaga at a Wines of South Africa sponsored lunch that Juneau cooked with Cape Town chef Peter Tempelhoff. Juneau’s standout dish was a family style tray of rustically grilled lamb chops, with the most exquisitely complex grape sauce, and his menu reflects this sort of tension between fine and simple dining.
Maison Publique – 4720 Marquette
Maison Publique is often referred to as ‘Jamie Oliver’s restaurant’, which it is not. It is true that Oliver is an investor in chef Derek Dammann’s gastro-pubby boite, on a quiet and otherwise residential street near Papineau and St. Joseph. And since Oliver has never invested in any other restaurant outside of his own, and since Dammann was his founding head chef at Fifteen in London, and since there is definite Anglo bent to the food at this ‘public house’ the confusion is understandable, but the what happens here is all Dammann and all very Montreal (or dare I say Canadian?) in the end: a fusion of the new English sensibilities with this city’s French accent. The menu constantly changes and is super fresh, locavore and in season. The decor is fun and relaxed as is the service. And while Dammann, who has long been involved with the Terroir Symposium, and his kitchen crew don’t take themselves very seriously, they do the food. Expect to leave happy and full.
Malcolm Jolley is a founding editor of Good Food Revolution and Executive Director of Good Food Media, the not-for-profit corporation which publishes it. Follow him at twitter.com/malcolmjolley