Au Kouign-Amann (Montreal)

Au Kouign-Amann: Kouign Amann
This is the very last of my reports from our trip to Montreal in late October. While I’ve presented the rest of those meals in chronological order, this one is a break in the sequence. You see, we stopped in at this wonderful bakery on the way back to our hotel from a day of gorging at the Jean-Talon market—having finished there with a large order of poutine covered in foie gras-laced gravy—and a few hours before our dinner at Joe Beef. Don’t judge. Or if you do, consider that we walked all the way back from Au Kouign-Amann to our hotel downtown. At any rate, to go to Montreal and not eat at a boulangerie/patisserie would be both stupid and impossible to resist doing: there are literally seventeen of them on every street; and Au Kouign-Amann was one that was recommended by almost everyone who knows Montreal. 

As you would expect, they are most famous for the pastry/cake that gives them their name, the Breton kouign-amann. This is not to say that this is the only thing worth eating here. As we were not exactly hungry, however, we restricted ourselves to the kouign-amann and one other pastry (this we were told was a Danish, though it didn’t look like the pastry usually sold by that name in the US—please look at the picture below). As I’ve said before, I am very far from being an expert on European pastries and nor have I had a lot of kouign-amann in my life. And so I cannot tell you if these were truly excellent examples of their genres. I can tell you that we both liked them very much. I can also tell you that the coffee the missus got to go with her share was middling and that if you are a tea drinker you should not expect to find decent tea—in this area, sadly, Montreal is no better than your average American city.

If you read up on Au Kouign-Amann you will see many mentions of how difficult it is to get a table. This is because they have very few tables. It’s really a place to pick up pastries to go. As we were there in the late afternoon on a drizzly and windy Saturday in late October, we got lucky: one of the tables opened up just as we got there and the few people ahead of us in line were not eating in. It’s a quaint space, and you have good views of the bakers at work in the back. You order at the counter. The selection is not vast: the idea, I suppose, is to do a few things and do them all very well. The evidence of the couple of things we ate suggests that they succeed.

I am not an authority on European pastries and I am also not an authority on Montreal’s boulangeries and patisseries. For all I know, there are many other as good or better. I am not going to tell you, therefore, that Au Kouign-Amann is a place you must visit when you’re in Montreal. I will tell you, however, that you will not be sorry if you do visit it.

And that’s true for Montreal as a whole as well. I have now visited this beautiful city twice in two years, both times in less than perfect seasons—once at the end of March and once at the end of October—and I cannot wait to come back again. It won’t be in 2017—we’re spending three months in England on work in the spring and I will likely go home to India in the winter for a few weeks—but I hope to talk the missus into returning again in 2018. The next time we’ll get an apartment, stay for a week, shop at Jean-Talon and cook as much as we eat out. That’s the dream anyway.

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