Emma Bell gets a sneak peek at this year’s Montréal à Table.
Whether you enjoy Montreal for its culture, fashion or festivals, perhaps the best reason of all to visit Quebec’s largest city is for its food and drink – and now is the time to do it. In its fifth year, Montreal’s annual Restaurant Week, better known as MTLàTABLE, has returned with an impressive roster of dishes and dining opportunities with a three-course $21, $31 or $41 set price evening menu offered at 150 of the city’s restaurants. Taking place from November 3 to 13, 2016, the event, created by Tourisme Montreal and presented in collaboration with Les Vins du Languedoc, has become highly anticipated in a city renowned for its year-round festivals.
Good Food Revolution recently had the opportunity to experience a variety of the participating restaurants at the 2016 edition of MTLàTABLE, along with some of Montreal’s cultural attractions in honour of the city’s approaching 375th anniversary.
Our stay in Montreal began with a tour of the new observation deck Au Sommet Place Ville Marie and drinks with the after-work crowd on the outdoor patio at Les Enfants Terribles. The restaurant, situated on the 44th floor of 1 Place Ville Marie, offers 360-degree views of the city and bold, reinvented Quebec cuisine from Executive Chef Simon LaBorde.
Our thirsts quenched, we headed northeast to the Plateau, an eclectic and Bohemian neighbourhood, historically made up of immigrant groups from countries such as Greece, Portugal and Vietnam, now also home to students, artists and professionals. Our reason for visiting was to sample the fare at Lili Co., a cozy restaurant at the corner of St. Laurent and Villeneuve. Co-owned by wine manager and maître d’ Catherine Draws and Chef David Pellizzari, the restaurant is named for the partners’ daughter, Lili. Offering dishes inspired by the seasons, the weather and the market, the owners take pride in doing business with “farmers, pickers, winemakers, dairy farmers and cheese-makers whose souls are important to us and with whom we can share a drink from time to time.”
Featuring a menu with a varied selection of small plates, it’s a restaurant where sharing is a must. To start, we opted for the namesake cocktail, the Lili.Co, made with Tanqueray, Byrrh, Chartreuse, plum bitter and orange zest. Served at a leisurely pace, we dined on a fresh cantaloupe and tomato salad and a velvety cream of mustard greens soup, chicken yakitori with cashew butter, Arctic char with salmon caviar and jerk sweetbreads (highly recommended – offal is the house specialty). Dessert was perhaps the most unexpected and delicious course, the best of which was a sea parsley cake with oat mousse and apricot jam.
Our second day in Montreal began with the “Flavours of the Main” walking tour from Fitz & Follwell, where we had the chance to explore the history of famed St. Laurent Boulevard through its various food and drink offerings. Our knowledgeable and charming guide Francoise, a native Montrealer, took us through Chinatown, the historic “Red Light” district, the former Jewish Quarter and Little Portugal with plenty of stops for sustenance along the way, including Montreal Pool Hall for Poutine, Schwartz’s for smoked meat, cherry cola and a pickle and Romados for Portuguese egg tarts.
We spent the early part of the evening in the city’s Little Burgundy and St. Henri neighbourhoods, beginning with a Happy Hour tour from VDM Global DMC. We met our guide, Roland, at EVOO, where we sampled a three-course tasting menu. Focusing on locavore French cuisine with global accents, the team behind the restaurant consists of Peter Saunders, Sophie Ouellet and Claudie Harvey, a trio who became fast friends while working together at DNA in early 2008.
Sophie explained to GFR that EVOO participated in a trial project with nine other restaurants this past year, working with a small organic farm in Ste-Madeleine (about 55 km from downtown Montreal) with the idea of growing products that they couldn’t find elsewhere. While the use of high quality local products is an established tradition in Quebec, even more chefs are getting involved with these kinds of ingredients from the very early stages.
Looking forward, Sophie tells us, she expects “to see more chefs growing their own gardens, whether in their backyard, or using community gardens, or with farmers that harvest exclusive products. There is, of course, a marketing appeal to it,” she continues, “because urban agriculture is trendy and projects like LUFA Farms are expanding. But getting closer to producers and having the quality products you really want to work with, and that will inspire you, is also very important.”
With dishes like beef Carpaccio and smoked tomato jam, smoked king mushroom with an Appletree cheese croquette and the highlight, tender ravioli stuffed with goat, pear and parmesan, EVOO’s inspiration from local and high quality products is evident.
We continued on our way for a quick stop at Ils en Fument Du Bon for a tasting. The local shop, which sells Quebec craft beer, cheeses, meats and prepared foods specializing in one-of-a-kind sausages with flavours including bacon and cheddar, “Goddfather” and even a variety stuffed with macaroni and cheese. “Quebecers love their Kraft Dinner,” our guide Roland adds with a smile.
Ample sausages later, we had arrived at our final destination. Co-owned by architects Chantal Paradis and Marc-André Vallée of Dimension 3 Architects and Design along with chef Dany Bolduc, H4C is a former post office that was converted into a restaurant in 2013. Maintaining the warmth and elegance of the stately grey stone building, the interiors are cozy and intimate.
The ever-changing menu uses seasonal products from Quebec producers to showcase French gastronomy with accents inspired by the chef’s travels in Europe, Asia and America.
For Chef Dany, MTLàTable is an incredible occasion for local restaurateurs to showcase the best of the city’s culinary scene.
“It really gives the opportunity to people who would not usually dine out to access their local restaurants,” he tells GFR. “At H4C, we wouldn’t change the quality of the food because of the important discount offered during the event. It is a rebate on price, not on the dining experience. We use the same techniques, the same quality of products. It is a way of giving back to people in our community who wouldn’t be able to come to our restaurant on a regular basis.”
Our server informed us that most dishes remain on the menu for only a month or two, but the octopus has been a mainstay for the past eight months. “We just can’t take it off the menu,” she tells us, explaining that customers would be very upset. The dish, composed of grilled octopus with caramelized yogurt, tandoori spices, cashews and coconut does not disappoint – completely unexpected, it’s rich, incredibly flavourful and the perfect end to a day exploring city’s food and drink scene.
As always, it’s impossible to pick a favourite experience in Montreal. From the restaurant meals to guided food tours to conversations with chefs about their affinity for Quebec products, the pride in preparing high quality food made with local ingredients is evident. Whatever your tastes, MTLàTable is one of the best ways to sample the originality of one of the world’s greatest restaurant destinations.
Emma Bell is a food writer and communications professional based in Toronto. Follow her on Instagram at @emmamhbell.