July 8, 2020

Travels abroad: Montreal Part II

On our roam around Montreal, one of the goals was to buy a selection of local gift food that we could bring as a Christmas present to the BF’s parents in New Hampshire. We planned to add to the basket already started with two of the classics of Pike Place Market, smoked salmon and chocolate covered Chukar Cherries. We scanned all of the shops as we made our way to poutine at La Banquise, and through Parc La Fontaine that you see here at left, picturesque with the all the snow and skaters on the frozen pond. We thought that we might have to resort to something acquired at an Esso station on our drive south –which actually wouldn’t be so bad if the selection was anything like the local jerky that you can get in gas station mini marts in towns like Ellensburg and Moses Lake – but we lucked out by stumbling on Marché St-Jacques on our way back to the hotel. It’s all indoors and less rustic than Pike Place or my new favorite, London’s Borough Market, but it was absolutely the perfect solution to our gift food needs. Fresh fruit and vegetables, meets, cheeses, pasta, sweets, coffee, and tea – and plenty of it locally made.

You’ll see in the Google map mentioned in the previous post that we had done a bit of research on where to go for dinner the second night, as we’d decided that Au Pied de Cochon was the must-do and the other dinner slot was up for discussion. There seemed to be a fair number of good options, but the list narrowed significantly once we started calling around for reservations on Christmas Eve. As these things go, it turned out that the restaurant originally lower on our list because the photos on the website seemed to show food too perfectly plated, too precious, was the one open on Christmas Eve and with room for us. It also turned out that the food gods knew better than we did, because this was one of the best meals I’ve ever had. I should probably say “meal experiences,” though, because of course the time of year, outstanding company, warm interior, and the superb service all had something to do with that assessment.

Chez L’Épicier is in Old Montreal, around the corner from this twinkly square and just off the waterfront. From the street we walked up the short flight of stairs into white tablecloths, dark wood chairs and floors, cylindrical mesh-covered light fixtures, and a tremendous amount of exposed brick and rough stone and masonry. The two bright blue walls, one in each of the two large rooms, added a terrific punch of color to the cozy space.

While Au Pied de Cochon was all bustle and noise and big, saucy plates, Chez L’Épicier was much more restrained in interior and food. What we originally thought might be food that was too fussy, turned out to be beautifully constructed and intricately flavored dishes, one course after another. I’m including a photo of the menu – prix fixe in honor of the holiday – because it’s too fabulous not to share. The only item not listed is the amuse bouche of beet-flavored macaroon with goat cheese, absolutely tiny and perfect.

One of the best parts about travel is happening upon the unexpected, and it was just that when we stumbled across the Sphères Polaires on our walk from dinner to a late Christmas Eve service at Christ Church Cathedral. They were enormous – you get a sense of the scale from the people standing next to them – and emitted all sorts of sounds and flashing lights. No doubt, the perfect otherworldly follow-up to our magical meal.