Sunday, May 29, 2016

Montreal in May Day 3

With my tummy fully recovered, I set out day 3 with the goal of walking and eating my way around Montreal. The underground metro was an efficient way of getting across town, but I felt that I was missing out on seeing the city. That's ok, because little did I know just how much walking I was going to do above ground.

Rue Peel Station

My first destination was Little Italy northeast of downtown. In my trip research, I came upon chef Chuck Hughes' recommendations on eateries around town. Following his suggestion, I stopped at Caffe San Simeon for a cappuccino. If I was impressed with the city's French and English fluency, I was even more impressed this day as I experienced different neighborhoods besides Chinatown where other native languages are spoken! People in café were throwing around Italian, French, and English like it's easy. Multilingualism is such a beautiful thing!

Cappucino at Caffe San Simeon

I can't resist exploring grocery stores in different cities or countries and was happy to find a well-stocked locally made and imported Italian food store.

Milano Grocery Store

Freshly made pasta at Milano

I spotted a juggler performing in the middle of the street as I was leaving Little Italy to find a lunch spot in the Jewish quarter.

The walk took longer than expected and forced me to go through this sparsely populated underpass area. Luckily a pair of cyclists rode by, and I sped up to get out of the area with them.

After emerging from that spotty area, I arrived at the Jewish quarter where there are cute shops, residential buildings, and enticing restaurants.

Flower shop

Montreal architectural trademark - stairway entrances

Montreal is all about smoked meats, which wasn't what I expected. I always thought it was a more NYC item, but Montreal takes smoked meat sandwiches very seriously. Apparently, the Montreal smoked meat has less sugar and is seasoned with the classic Montreal steak seasonings.

It seems that locals like it even more than the stereotypical Montreal food symbol, the poutine. There are several great spots for smoked meat sandwiches, and I picked the one that is a local favorite that doesn't have a line out the door, Lester's.

Lester's Deli

Right off the bat, one reason why Lester's doesn't have a line may be because it's so far from any metro stations! After my long trek on foot from Little Italy, I was really dreading my impending walk to the closest station. I told myself that since there's nothing I can do about it, I might as well enjoy my lunch!

Root beer and a classic Lester's smoked meat sandwich with pickles and fries hit the spot. The meat was tender yet lean. The bread was like an edible napkin. Who needs bread when you have delicious meat?

I love the vinegar spray bottle for salt and vinegar fries!

Before leaving the Jewish quarter, I bought half a dozen bagels from St. Viateur for breakfast for the rest of the week. Why eat hotel breakfast bar bagels when we can eat locally made fresh ones?

St. Viateur Bagels

After taking a deep breath of freshly baked bagel aroma, I trekked back towards the underpass, but this time, I took the stairs to get up to the highway and took in the view from above.

Walking on the highway

After Mike got out of the conference, I suggested taking his coworkers to experience classic French food at Restaurant l'Express before they return to Seattle the next day. The ambiance was spot on and the food was impeccable. Restaurant l'Express was the highlight of our trip because it introduced Mike to French cuisine and bone marrow, and he thoroughly enjoyed the experience! We also had a great time unwinding with his coworkers!

Restaurant l'Express

We all got really excited about the giant jar of house made cornichons that came with bread basket.

Just weeks ago, we watched an episode of Julia Child cooking fish soup (la soupe de poissions) with Jacques Pepin. I love starting meals with a warm bowl of soup, and chose this comforting dish as my first course.

La soupe de poisons

Mike wanted to try something new and bravely ordered the bone marrow (l'os a moelle) with sea salt. He enjoyed spreading the roasted marrow on the croutons and actually liked it more than my soup!

L'os a moelle

For our main course, I ordered roasted quail with wild rice (les cailles roties et le riz sauvage) and Mike ordered the beef, chicken, and vegetable stew (pot au feu). The quail was the best dish I tasted on our whole trip. It had a sweet-sour balsamic glaze that awakened my palate and the quail was actually quite meaty for its size. It was exquisite! Mike's pot au feu may look simple and bland, but the meats were tender and flavorful.

Les cailles roties et le riz sauvage

Pot au feu

This day more than made up for my first day of being tied to the hotel and eating bland food!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Montreal in May Day 2

After spending a day recovering, I was ready to treat myself to a leisurely lunch and prep for Mike's birthday. We started off the morning walking to Mike's conference site. He ended up walking through Dorchester Square Park every day for work.

Birthday Boy at Dorchester Square

After dropping Mike off at the conference, I walked to the metro, purchased a week-long pass, and got out at the Place d'Armes metro stop to explore Old Montreal and go to a fancy pastry shop. It's interesting exiting out of Place d'Armes because Chinatown was to the left and Old Montreal was to the right, and the architecture provided obvious visual cues.

Chinese-themed Holiday Inn to the left of Place d'Armes metro stop

Basilique Notre Dame de Montreal to the right

I really wanted to check out the interior of Notre Dame, but I figured that Mike would want to explore it together later in the week.

Basilique Notre Dame de Montreal

I continued on to the streets behind the cathedral and found a few cute shops at the ground floor of the character-filled 1800s stone buildings, but there were still many touristy souvenir stores that I avoided.

After a lot of walking, I finally reached Maison Christian Faure, a highly regarded patisserie and pastry school. I previously read about how they make some of the best croissants in Montreal and saw photos of their beautiful desserts, and I knew that I had to get Mike's birthday cake(s) here.

Macarons and cakes at Maison Christian Faure

But first, I needed to catch up on good food and taste test the goods before buying the birthday treats!

Je fais du snacking toute seule

I started off my lunch with a deliciously velvety carrot bisque followed by a lobster and crab pâte à choux. Rather than a roll or a bun, the pastry shell made the "sandwich" light, airy, and crunchy.

Velouté de carottes

Pâte à choux de homard et crabe royal

In keeping with the pâte à choux theme, I selected a yuzu cream-filled éclair for dessert. Yup, the desserts here should be good enough for Mike!

Yuzu cream éclair

After lunch, I decided that I needed to burn off the calories and keep the birthday treats cold so I walked all the way back to the hotel. It was tiring, but I got to enjoy a few cool sightings, a couple of which brought back memories of my art history education.

 Professional dog walker

 Parisian Art Nouveau metro entrance

Ju Ming's tai chi-inspired sculpture

Once Mike got off of work, we headed to Chinatown for one of his favorite Chinese dishes, dumplings! I know. Why the heck did I pick Chinese food when I could've picked French food? Well, I figured we had the whole week to try French food and that we should probably stick to what he enjoys on his birthday! Plus, Chinatown is familiar yet slightly different around the world! It's fun to do a comparison of how Chinese food and culture have adapted to different countries.

Mai Xiang Dumplings

In Montreal, the Chinese menus are in Chinese, French, and English. The only other time I experienced a French-Chinese menu was in Paris, but those menus were missing English.

Pork, shrimp, and mushroom dumplings, lamb and chives dumplings,
and curry beef pan fried dumplings

After dinner we walked around Chinatown and found some interesting juxtaposition of old Breton-style buildings and Franco-Chinese signs.

We ended the day by trying two of the four desserts that I brought back from Masion Christian Faure. Mike enjoyed the lime mousse tart filled with raspberry but was very suspicious about the pink rose-flavored tart. Yes, I got that for myself, and I'm not ashamed of it! We saved the chocolate pecan mini-cake and mango passion fruit tart for a later day and savored every morsel of the well-crafted treats!

 Joyeux anniversaire, Mike!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Montreal in May Day 1

We recently went to Montreal for Mike's work conference, and I tagged along to make it more of a birthday trip for Mike. The best thing to come out of this trip was my relative ease in speaking French compared to my struggles while living in Paris back in 2006 - 2007. It's not like I've advanced my grasp of the language since living in Paris. If anything, my vocabulary and grammar have become quite rusty. However, the locals in Montreal made me feel at ease communicating with them in what likely sounded like broken French. When they felt compelled to make it easy for me and switch to English, I told them to please let me practice speaking in French and they obliged. While in France, I was afraid to speak because I felt that every time I said anything, I was being judged. I spent much of the time composing grammatically correct sentences in my head rather than just going for it. This time, I just blurted things out and occasionally fixed my sentences out loud. I had no shame and had a blast!

A warm welcome! Thanks, Marriott!

The trip started off fairly rough because I caught a stomach bug at the very last minute in Seattle. I took it easy on my first day in Montreal and kept close to the hotel. I didn't have much of a plan except that I needed to have easy access to a restroom. I heard about the underground city but didn't realize that it was integrated so thoroughly throughout the city that the entire downtown area seemed like a giant mall above and below ground! All I had to do to enter the réseau sous terrain (RESO) was to go to the bank next door to the hotel and follow my way to the endless string of shops. At one of the malls there was a free Barbie exhibit with donations going to Make a Wish Foundation.

The collection was impressive! My favorites were the old Hollywood Barbies.

Barbie Exhibit

"I Love Lucy" dolls

"Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "My Fair Lady"

My two favorite outfits from "Gone with the Wind"

Later in the week, I made Mike come with me so he can take the following silly photo.

Broken French Speaking Barbie!

Afterwards, I had a bland sandwich on purpose and headed back to the hotel to work remotely and rest.

A dull lunch at Au Pain Doré

I was disappointed that my first dinner in Montreal was a $2.59 can of chicken noodle soup from a beer shop, but I was able to recover quickly to enjoy the rest of our trip!