Saturday, June 21, 2008

Minimooning in Montreal

We're going to take a break from wedding recaps so that we can wait for more photos to arrive and tell you a little bit about the weekend we spent in Montreal after the wedding.

We're going to try something a little different here - a collaborative post! We'll see how it goes...

M: Even though I love traveling, for some reason I gave very little thought to the honeymoon. I think there was just so much to do with the wedding itself, I didn't have the extra time or energy to plan a whole other thing. Planning travel, especially, takes a lot of research - flights, hotels, activities, food, the very thought made me feel stressed! At the same time though, we didn't want to just come back to Chicago after the wedding. It would have felt very anticlimactic to come back, and do our regular weekend chores - laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning up and then go back to work on Monday.

B: Since plane tickets were (and still are) ridiculously expensive, we cashed in some frequent flyer miles to get our tickets from Air Canada. They give you a free stopover, so this allowed us to stop in Montreal on the way back to Chicago after the wedding. As most of you know, I was actually born in Montreal (although we moved soon after I was born), and worked in Montreal the summer after my first year at UBC. We didn't really have much time to plan any sightseeing, but we knew we wanted to eat three things for which Montreal is known: poutine, smoked meat, and bagels. Also, I made a reservation at Au Pied de Cochon, a restaurant that has been receiving a far bit of buzz, largely because they make a poutine with foie gras.

M: So, the minimoon was really about two things: sleeping and eating. The weeks leading up to the wedding were crazy full and busy, and adrenaline carried us through the Sunday brunch. But afterward, all I wanted to do was lay in bed and think about the wedding! So it was actually really good that we were going to Montreal, a place we had both been, that we were excited about but didn't feel like we needed to "do" all in a few days. Ok ok, I know you're all thinking, show us the poutine! After a redeye flight, we got into Montreal early in the morning, checked into our hotel (which was pretty swank, actually - thanks Priceline) and took a nap. Then, we headed out in search of the good stuff. And we found it (get ready to hear angels singing):

B: For those of you who don't know, poutine is a Quebec specialty. On his show TV Nation (before Fahrenheit 9/11, etc.), Michael Moore travelled to Canada in search of our "national food". Apparently, he decided that poutine fulfilled the requirements. It's not really widely available outside Quebec, however, so we knew we needed to eat it at least a couple of times. The basic poutine has three ingredients: french fries, cheese curds, and hot gravy. Our first meal in Montreal was poutine and a sandwich (good, but not bjourn-worthy) at Frite Alors. This definitely hit the spot, and was a great start to the trip.

M: Good gravy, that's a-makin' me hungry!

B: We were pretty full, but only a few blocks away from Frite Alors is Schwartz' Deli, which is widely regarded as the place to go for Montreal Smoked Meat.

M: Yes, that's right, not long after we gorged ourselves on poutine, we schwaltzed into Schwartz's, where we were faced with this beauty:

M: The first time I had smoked meat was at a brunch the day after our friend Andrea's wedding. Though I'm not much of a beef fan, I actually really enjoyed it. (I stopped eating beef altogether in high school, but after a few years I picked it up again and have since re-joined the red meat ranks. But, I still don't eat any cuts that are best eaten red, like steak or prime rib - I know, it's so blasphemous!) Even though there was precious little real estate in my stomach (move over, cheese curds), this sandwich was excellent, all unctuous and salty and tender.

M: There would be no more eating Thursday, we were done for the day (don't worry, there is plenty of gluttony to come). We walked back to our hotel via St. Catherine's, a major thoroughfare that borders McGill University. It was much as I remembered from my trip out to visit Brian in 1997, in particular I noted several joints of the strip variety, advertising their "danses contactes" in bright orange neon.

Friday, we started with dim sum breakfast (yup, that's right, we did it Hong Kong style), then headed towards Le Marche Jean-Talon, a huge public market. On the way, we stopped for lunch at La Montee de Lait, where we had a pretty light meal of asparagus (with an asparagus soup shooter) and salmon cooked sous vide (thanks to Iron Chef America, I actually know what that means!) in a really intense lobster bisque. We ended the meal with a cheese plate, which included a lovely local soft cheese whose name I can't remember. I forgot to take pictures for the most part, but for posterity, here is the aftermath of the salmon/lobster dish:

Some pictures from Le Marche Jean-Talon...
M: There were flowers a-plenty!

B: A "light" mid-afternoon snack of two pies, one with maple and the other with duck:

M: Pie, two ways - it doesn't get any better than that!

B: After some more walking around (and some shoe-shopping for one of us), it was time for dinner at Resto La Banquise. We tried just two of the 25 varieties of poutine available: one with chicken and peas and the other with hot dogs, bacon, and mushrooms.

Surprisingly, they didn't have a "breakfast" version with fried eggs, which we both agreed would be a great idea.

M: Can you imagine? Fries, cheese, overeasy eggs, and gravy (maybe white gravy, to 'lighten' things up a bit)... you'd just have to ignore that pesky little tingle running up and down your left arm...

Saturday morning we did a self-guided iPod tour around Vieux (Old) Montreal. We hit about 22 of 24 stops, one of which was the Banque de Montreal, a showy building with green marble columns. The security guard on duty seemed very proud, enthusiastically suggesting that we check out the little banking museum just inside. This picture is just from the entrance; beyond the columns is the main part of the bank - what a cool place to work!

After Vieux Montreal got vieux, we moved onto newer environs. We hopped on the metro and headed East. When we got off, we found ourselves at the Stade Olympique, which was built for the 1976 Summer Games, but was plagued with financial and structural problems from the get-go. It wasn't actually completed till 1987, and payment wasn't completed on it until December 2006!

Up the street, is the Jardin Botanique de Montreal, which houses over 22000 plant species over 180 acres. It has several different specific greenhouses and theme gardens. I particularly liked the "dangerous plant" garden. Who knew rhubarb leaves are toxic? Here is a lovely field of tulips for your viewing pleasure:

After that, we went back to the hotel to rest for a bit before the highlight meal of the weekend - our dinner at Au Pied de Cochon. You'll notice that we aren't talking much about the food on this day, because we were trying to make sure our appetites were at their highest for the evening's feast - we were saving ourselves, you might say! The meal deserves its own post, which will follow shortly.

We flew out on Sunday, but first took advantage of Montreal Museums Day, running through the Museum of Fine Arts for free. The most notable piece was this painting by French Canadian artist Paul-Emile Borduas:

I recognized it immediately upon entering the room, not because it's a necessarily well known or striking piece, but because I have been looking at it for the last 12 years, both in T-shirt form and as a hard-mounted print.

B: The summer I lived in Montreal, I volunteered to help with the International Chemistry Olympiad, which was hosted at McGilll, and they happened to choose this painting to display on the official poster and t-shirt. It was just a funny coincidence to see it hanging in a gallery.

M: So that's about it for our trip to Montreal! We left feeling rested, relaxed, and FULL. During our meals and walks around the city, we had plenty of time to talk about the wedding, and revel in our new status as a married couple, which, while not a full-fledged, adventure-filled honeymoon, was just what the Dr.'s (that's us) ordered.

A couple of more random photos:

We stumbled into this beautiful space to avoid a sudden rainshower. It's just a covered walkway between two buildings. I loved the high airy canopy and the meeting of all the angles.

Brian noted this display in the window of a restaurant. Someone ought to tell the owners that they have a dimsum and sushi landslide on their hands:

And finally, Montrealers know how to party, but they also know how to keep it under control. Check out this coin-operated breathalyzer! No, we never needed to use it...

A la prochaine!


riceandwheat said...

holy poutine! those plates from resto la banquise look ridiculously ginormous!

Brian said...

The poutines at Resto La Banquise came in two sizes. Believe it or not, we got the smaller size!