In this vast nation of ours, teeming with a myriad of extraordinary edibles, culinary gems, and stellar restaurant scenes, it’s about as difficult to pick a top Canadian city for its gastronomic offerings as it would be to choose your favourite child. Or so I would imagine.

But if I had to select, it would be Montreal. In a city with a population just shy of 2 million, Montreal offers discerning diners more than 5,500 restaurants – including a handful of home-style luncheonettes, which just happens to be one of my favourite words. Luncheonettes.

Even still, when Tourism Montreal invited me to check out first edition of Taste MTL – a table d’hote-style restaurant festival slated to become an annual event, I was a tad apprehensive, having seen what similar ‘special’ set menu programs have morphed into in other urban centres. ‘Nuff said.

But I needn’t have feared, for I should have known Montreal would not let me down. Having dined, tasted, sipped and sampled at more than a half dozen participating restaurants over three days, I’m pleased to report that this is one restaurant week I can truly recommend, and am already making plans to return for a second round… if not this weekend (there is still time!), then next year for certain.

While I didn’t necessarily hit all the blockbuster culinary hotspots of Montreal this time around, that was exactly the point of this route… to go a bit beyond the usual reach. But to be sure, there are indeed some heavy hitters to be had on this list of Taste MTL participating restaurants, including Restaurant Toqué!, Au Cinqueme Péché and Europea.

Here then, a meal-by-meal snapshot of what can be achieved and experienced in a weekend in Montreal.

Day 1:

Dump your bags, then head out on a walking tour of Old Montreal, stopping in at the awe-inspiring Notre-Dame Basilica, then on to Chateau Ramezay – an 18th century house complete with a kitchen with what looks like an over-sized hamster wheel suspended next to the hearth. A small dog would apparently be placed in the wheel, which would be forced to run, and which, in turn, would operate and rotate the spit in the fireplace.

Likely needing to erase the imagery of dogs encased in hamster wheels, head to the Sarah B. Bar in the Hotel Intercontinental to learn the finer points of absinthe and its colourful history.

Matthieu Saunier, uber-talented Executive Chef and overseer of Osco!, the hotel’s restaurant, has created an intriguing and thoughtful Taste MTL menu. A trio of quail is followed by risotto of braised beef, red wine, toasted pine nut and roasted pepper, and finished up with white chocolate and absinthe mousse.

Need a nightcap? Hit Le LAB Comptoir a Cocktails for a cocktail experience you won’t soon forget. Avoiding wearing anything flammable.

Day 2:

Bagels and smoked meat are on the morning agenda, with stops at Schwartz’s and St-Viateur Bagel — both iconic institutions revered by locals and visitors alike.

For lunch, Bistro Le Contemporain at Musée d’Art Contemporain de Montreal is a hidden gem, with Chef Antonin Mousseau-Rivard creating innovative, intricate and perfectly executed dishes, including trout sous vide with dill ‘cake’, crème fraiche and Mujjol caviar.

‘Hop’ around in the afternoon and visit a brewpub or two, with Dieu du Ciel and L’amere a boire brewing some fascinating and spectacular beers.

Secure a reservation at Au Cinquieme Péché – a charming restaurant which attentive and helpful servers and superlative cuisine whose name translates as “the fifth deadly sin”, a.k.a. gluttony. The confit of duck fritters adorning the magret de canard alone are worth a visit (see picture above). I will be back… as often as possible.

Looking for some post-dinner fun? Head to Casa del Popolo to hang with locals and take in sights, sounds and suds galore.

Day 3:

Get to Jean-Talon Market and savour a champion breakfast of almond croissant and coffee at Premiere Moisson. Next, nibble your way around the market, stopping in at such must-see vendors as Joe La Croute for artisanal bread, Le Marche des Saveurs du Quebec for specialty and local foods and wines, and Olive & Epices for, well, olives and spices.

Satiated and loaded down with Quebec cheeses, patés and microbrews, head home…and begin planning your return visit.

With participating restaurant staffs’ enthusiasm, innovation, and passion to share their offerings with eager diners, let’s hope next year’s edition of Taste MTL continues on the path solidly laid out with this inaugural fest. As well, I sincerely hope restaurant owners in other cities with similar fests are paying closer attention to what a celebratory restaurant week can truly aspire to and achieve.

Taste MTL Dates & Deets:

  • November 1st to 11th, 2012 (November 2013 exact dates TBD)
  • Over 100 restaurants participating in 2012, and looking promising that more will sign on for 2013
  • Innovative selections of 3 courses, and with 3 set prices: $19, $29 and $39
  • Participating restaurants offering special $19 late-night menu starting at 10pm

Alison Kent is a food, beverage & travel writer, recipe developer, food stylist, certified chef and bestselling cookbook author. Follow Alison at