An Omnivore Feasts (Again) on Montreal

omnivore posterA brief “call of duty” made me pass through Montreal ever so briefly last week, allowing me to get another quick bite of this delicious city. My stay occurred during the Montreal stop of the Omnivore Food Festival world tour. Lucky me, as the tour makes limited stops, this year going so far to Paris, Moscow, and Shanghai before coming to the eastern side of North America.

Spanning several days, the festival centers around a weekend “Masterclass” of food demos. Back-to-back demos take place for two days in the round in a planetarium-like setting at the Society for Arts and Technology. There’s lots of camera coverage, with duplicated images cast high above the audience in circular fashion against a backdrop that seems to simulate outer space. The demos are quite quick, emceed to generate interesting banter about the chef, his or her background and restaurant, and details about the preparation of a dish or two. It’s a fun format, though the darkness of the room (and desire for “coolness”) compromises on the quality of the projection, which means missing out on the sensual color and texture of the food masterfully prepared in the Masterclass.

A peek at a Masterclass session of the Omnivore Food Festival: Ivan Shishkin of Delicatessen in Moscow prepares pan-fried testes and uterus doughnuts.

A peek at a Masterclass session of the Omnivore Food Festival: Ivan Shishkin of Delicatessen in Moscow prepares pan-fried testes and uterus doughnuts.

Aaron Langille, recently of Cafe Sardine in Montreal, leads a Masterclass demo.

Aaron Langille, recently of Cafe Sardine in Montreal, leads a Masterclass demo.

In between the two days of demos is the big Omnivore party, in which attendees can sample the food stylings of the invited chefs and socialize late into Saturday night. Those who want a slightly more mellow experience can select from one of many dinners which pair a local chef with a guest chef from afar. In contrast to, say, Feast Portland—in which there is one seating with meals coursed out and the chefs providing explanation of each dish—Omnivore dinners offer staggered seating throughout the evening, as if you’re a regular diner at the restaurant, but with a special, set menu for the night.

I ate at an Omnivore dinner at Lawrence (where I enjoyed a meal last year), which kept it quite casual, offering more than one item for each course to give diners choices. Host chef Marc Cohen did the first courses, guest chef Giorgio Ravelli (of Upstairs @ Ten Bells, in London) offered up two pasta choices as second courses, and then each chef had something in the offing for the third course—which was followed by dessert. Tough decision-making, but no bad choices.

Course 1 at the Omnivore dinner at Lawrence: Hot smoked beef liver and hearts with carrots, honey, and fresh cheese (by chef Marc Cohen).

Course 1 at the Omnivore dinner at Lawrence: Hot smoked beef liver and hearts with carrots, honey, and fresh cheese (by chef Marc Cohen).

Course 2 at the Omnivore dinner at Lawrence: Squid ink tagliatelle with zucchini, squid, lobster bisque, and sorrel (by chef Giorgio Ravelli).

Course 2 at the Omnivore dinner at Lawrence: Squid ink tagliatelle with zucchini, squid, lobster bisque, and sorrel (by chef Giorgio Ravelli).

Course 3 at the Omnivore dinner at Lawrence: Grilled mackerel with buckwheat pancake, charred turnips, and elderberry capers (by chef Giorgio Ravelli). I was skeptical about making “crepes” out of this, but the flavors were amazing, with lots of smokiness in the fish. One of the most interesting dishes I've had this year.

Course 3 at the Omnivore dinner at Lawrence: Grilled mackerel with buckwheat pancake, charred turnips, and elderberry capers (by chef Giorgio Ravelli). I was skeptical about making “crepes” out of this, but the flavors were amazing, with lots of smokiness in the fish. One of the most interesting dishes I’ve had this year.

Course 4 at the Omnivore dinner at Lawrence: Suet, peach and crab apple pudding with creme fraiche ice cream.

Course 4 at the Omnivore dinner at Lawrence: Suet, peach and crab apple pudding with creme fraiche ice cream.

While in Montreal, the omnivore in me had a couple of open meal slots, so I jumped on an opportunity to finally go to Joe Beef, in the Little Burgundy neighborhood. Joe Beef’s “English gastropub” feel offers interesting contrast to Au Pied du Cochon, which feels more classical and Quebecois. Both serve up big plates of hearty food. As a solo diner, I felt well taken care of at a Joe Beef bar seat, secured with a phone call after a flight delay made me ditch my previous plan to show up pre-opening in hope of a coveted seat. The chalkboard menu is in French—awkward to see from my particular seat—but my server walked me through it in English, and then my neighbor at the bar filled in with details based on his completed meal, as well as other dishes he’d seen from his vantage point.

The "iconic" blackboard menu at Joe Beef. Note the vintage Playboy magazine on the shelf, which contains lots of other curiosities.

The “iconic” blackboard menu at Joe Beef. Note the vintage Playboy magazine on the shelf, which contains lots of other curiosities.

Horse tartare with artichokes and pecorino at Joe Beef. Fabulous flavor!

Horse tartare with artichokes and pecorino at Joe Beef. Fabulous flavor!

Between massive meat courses, I asked my server at Joe Beef for something with vegetables. They gave me this nice half-salad...with ham, of course.

Between massive meat courses, I asked my server at Joe Beef for something with vegetables. They gave me this nice half-salad…with ham, of course.

Big plate of veal kidneys with chanterelles, accompanied by fries, at Joe Beef.

Big plate of veal kidneys with chanterelles, accompanied by fries, at Joe Beef.

It was back to Little Burgundy the next day for a “brunch” (actually lunch) experience. Having enjoyed a meal at Les 400 Coups last year, I was eager to see what pastry chef Patrice Demers was up to in his newly open Patrice Patissier. The atmosphere is casual and the service friendly. In the aftermath of my previous night’s meat-fest (and knowing sweets were to follow, as I surveyed the showcase that greets you upon entry to the restaurant), I chose two vegetable-based items that seized on the seasonality of local produce, and then continued with a signature dessert plus a pastry to go with coffee.

Tomato tartine with herbed ricotta and radishes, plus roasted carrot salad with fennel and yellow prunes, at Patrice Patissier. Summer freshness.

Tomato tartine with herbed ricotta and radishes, plus roasted carrot salad with fennel and yellow prunes, at Patrice Patissier. Summer freshness.

I had a similar dessert when Patrice Demers was at Les 400 Coups, so I was pleased to have this as a "palate cleanser." It's called "Green," and is white chocolate yogurt with green apple, pistachios, olive oil, and cilantro. Great textures and flavors!

I had a similar dessert when Patrice Demers was at Les 400 Coups, so I was pleased to have this as a “palate cleanser.” It’s called “Green,” and is white chocolate yogurt with green apple, pistachios, olive oil, and cilantro. Great textures and flavors!

Patrice Patissier's kouign amann is crunchy with good caramelization. Café allongé with it hits the spot.

Patrice Patissier’s kouign amann is crunchy with good caramelization. Café allongé with it hits the spot.

One reason the food is so fabulous in Little Burgundy: The Atwater Market marks its border. Bursting with beautiful produce and flowers, this active market is open daily and is also home to butchers and a fishmonger. There are other vendors selling such things as cheese and wine—perfect if you want to put together a picnic to take a short stroll down the street at Lachine Canal. Or, you can enjoy food prepared onsite. I actually spotted Demers eating at Satay Brothers; he was one of many who raved about their food.

Flowers and fruits at Atwater Market.

Flowers and fruits at Atwater Market.

It's tempting to buy maple syrup at Atwater Market.

It’s tempting to buy maple syrup at Atwater Market.

After an evening commitment out of town, I returned to Montreal close to midnight, and during approach remembered why Autoroute 20 isn’t called a highway: It turns into a street with traffic lights in Vaudreuil-Dorion and L’Ile-Perrot. Seeing a sign for L’Ile-Perrot, I remembered that this is the location of the highly touted Smoke Meat Pete. Tired and with no data (GPS down!), my motivation for finding it was low, but then stopped at one of the traffic lights, I spotted the restaurant in a building to the south side of the road. I cut through a parking lot and came in for a late night meal, with live music a bonus.

Smoked meat platter at Smoke Meat Pete. And a cherry soda. Good meat (too many years have passed to compare it to Schwartz's), but the fries did not live up to the "best in Montreal" billing (sweet, but slightly soggy).

Smoked meat platter at Smoke Meat Pete. And a cherry soda. Good meat (too many years have passed to compare it to Schwartz’s), but the fries did not live up to the “best in Montreal” billing (sweet, but slightly soggy).

They're quick to tell you that it's the best smoked meat in Montreal.

They’re quick to tell you that it’s the best smoked meat in Montreal.

With meals ending around midnight each day, I was happy to call Le St-Martin Hotel Particulier Centre-Ville home for several nights. This luxury boutique hotel is conveniently situated downtown, an easy walk to many sights and attractions, and just a block from a Metro subway station. Hotel rooms are contemporary and yet quite comfortable, and Bistro L’Aromate on the ground floor is a fine place for breakfast if you’re not out exploring some of the city’s great bakeries, as I’ve done in the past. There’s also an onsite fitness lounge and pool if you feel inspired to burn calories in contrast to simply consuming them.

Le St-Martin Hotel Particulier Centre-Ville on De Maisonneuve Boulevard. (Photo courtesy of Le St-Martin Hotel Particulier Centre-Ville.)

Le St-Martin Hotel Particulier Centre-Ville on De Maisonneuve Boulevard. (Photo courtesy of Le St-Martin Hotel Particulier Centre-Ville.)

The pool at Le St-Martin. (Photo courtesy of Le St-Martin Hotel Particulier Centre-Ville.)

The pool at Le St-Martin. (Photo courtesy of Le St-Martin Hotel Particulier Centre-Ville.)

Being back in the room at Le St-Martin felt so comfortable when in a food coma. (Photo courtesy of Le St-Martin Hotel Particulier Centre-Ville.)

Being back in the room at Le St-Martin felt so comfortable when in a food coma. (Photo courtesy of Le St-Martin Hotel Particulier Centre-Ville.)

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