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Posted by Stephen Meuse May 23, 2012 02:50 PM
In Wednesday's Food section I reported on our crawl of newish, highish-end burger joints in Atlanta, but last week we ducked out of town for a few days in Montreal and Quebec City. Our main interest, as you might guess, being the new & slightly used wine bars and restos there. To pack as much as possible into an evening, our modus operandi is to nip into one or two spots for a sip and a bite at the bar before settling into a table somewhere else. We prefer to walk everywhere - the idea being to accomplish a same-day work-off of the calories we accumulate at alarming rates. Herein are a few of the things we took note of, in no particular order (click on any image to enlarge).
The first night, a cold, rainy one, we headed out from our hotel in the old city for a place we had been told not to miss, Le Comptoir, and passed by a place offering courses in wine, cooking and bar service.In the signage's French it's Ecole de Bar, Ecole deUnless we hook up at Le Cafe du Monde, which, I'm now beginning to think is a distinct possibility. A boisterous and shiny brasserie on the QC waterfront that Legal Sea Foods' Harborside could learn something from manages to be a lot of fun even if the food is just so-so.
Cuisine, and Ecole de Vin; in English "Bar and Coach, Food and Coach, Wine and Coach," which seemed perfectly clear to us. Indeed, it does seem to be un nouveau concept . . unlike PIZZEDELIC which seems a more or less vieux concept (pizza, wine, beer) given new life by means of a rather clever name. We were briefly tempted to give the pizza a try, but changed our minds. Another time.
Further up the Boul St. Laurent
we encountered Schwartz's Deli and Moishe's Steakhouse - both restos have landmark status here. We stopped to marvel at the pastrami stacked helter-skelter in Schwartz's main window. There's no attempt to style the pile. It's just a marvelous heap. Moishe's sign is captivating, for reasons I can't really explain. We stared at it for some time until it began to rain more insistently and we pushed on.
The comfy confines of Le Comptoir
were as sweet as advertised. The wine list here (left) is deep into Quadrant 1 territory (see How to speak wine bar now for an explanation). With a spectacular plate of charcuterie we sipped Thierry Puzelat's little gem of a gamay. The inside joke is that the property's name, Clos du Tue-Boeuf (roughly 'kill steer") is a near homonym of du boeuf and thereby a jab at Georges Duboeuf, emperor of Beaujolais nouveau. The way it says 'down with factory wine, up with the real thing' is sly and funny. See the punster here.
The word play motif was picked up by a bag a customer had stashed in a corner while she sipped her Tue-Boeuf. It reads "This bag is green." It took us a minute to catch on.
Another night found us climbing toward the section of town known as the Plateau via the scrappy Rue St. Denis. Passing Hopital St Luc, we saw a number of employes standing outside the main entrance sneaking smokes, then notice the guy at left, back to the street, shod only in hospital-issue booties, one hand clutching the flaps of his johnny for modesty's sake, with the other puffing idly on his Marlboro.
Our destination was a much-loved neighborhood spot called Au Cinqiueme Peche. We were put on to the place by a resident of the quartier. We'd call it an upscale mom & pop except that the proprietors aren't spouses, they're sibs - Normandy-born Lenglet bros.Benjamin (front of the house) and Benoit (chef de cuisine).
The pair featured in a 2010 New York Times story about Montreal restos putting arctic seal on their menus. The assiette de phoquonaille (it's fourth from the top on the blackboard menu at left - click to enlarge) is seal four ways, including as a merguez-type sausage.
Later, I ran into Audrey Tatou and her BF (I think that's her BF) in the Au Cinquieme loo and I can tell you she's every bit as beautiful and gracious in person as on the screen and in those perfume ads in Vanity Fair.
Whatever was going on between her and the BF looked a little awkward. It didn't strike me as the right time to ask for an autograph. We said good-bye, probably forever.
A significant element is the dining room's view of the enchantingly atmospheric St. Lawrence. Artefact, the sedate bar at the ritzy Auberge Saint-Antoine across the street has nothing like the view or the damn-the-torpedoes approach to a night out of the Cafe du Monde crowd. The stemware here (above left) are crazy big, so big you can use them to peer at people at other tables without it being obvious to them that they are under study. In the loo you get to watch a video on a flat screen display while using the high-speed hand dryer. Cafe du Monde is all about the gaze, it seems - and the laughter.Stephen Meuse can be reached at email@example.com
On the drive back, we stop off in Barnard, Vermont to visit the little winery I profiled in an April post (Hautes Cotes du Vermont). Deirdre Heekins' postage stamp-sized vineyard is as tidy as a pin. At left, a few hundred very young marquette vines are staked. At right, nascent wines carboys ferment in their carboys. As is not the case in most places where "garage" wines are made, Heekins' little cantina really is a garage, or was. Still unfinished, her 2011 marquette is strikingly different from the previous vintage which I described as surprisingly rich and weighty. This one has an alpine quality - austere, transparent, brisk - more the kind of profile you would expect from this hilly, high-latitude clime. This is just the kind of wine Audrey would like, I'm thinking.