Damas (Montreal)


In my recent review of the South Indian restaurant, Thanjai I noted that Montreal is home to a large number of restaurants from non-Francophone immigrant communities. I may have given the impression that these restaurants are all relatively obscure. This is not true. Indeed, my review today is of a Syrian restaurant that is one of the city’s most popular: Damas. It has been open for about 10 years now (I think), moving into its new, expanded digs about five years ago. On my first and second trips to Montreal in 2015 and 2016 no one told me I had to eat there. But this time it was probably the place most people told me to go to. I was planning dinner with old graduate school friends who live in Montreal, and they who once had the (now closed) Hotel Herman as their favourite restaurant in the city now said Damas is now in that spot. And so that is where we ended up for dinner on a Wednesday night. Continue reading

Thanjai (Montreal)


South Indian food in Montreal? Why not? While associated with cooking in the French idiom, Montreal is home to a large number of restaurants featuring the cuisines of the large number of immigrant communities that can be found in the city. Jewish concerns like Schwartz’s and St. Viateur may be the most famous, having become iconically Montrealer. The Portuguese presence is also long established as are immigrants from Francophone countries such as Haiti and Vietnam. But there are other communities as well—Montreal is home to a dizzying array of languages. On our final full day in the city we spent the morning in conversation with two non-profit groups in the Côte-des-Neiges neighbourhood that work with immigrant communities, especially people from lower income brackets. Right next to the building that houses the second group is Thanjai, a restaurant recommended to us for dosas. All 13 of us accordingly descended on them for lunch. Herewith an account of our experience. Continue reading

Dim Sum at Rosewood (Toronto)


Here is some better dim sum than last reported on from Minnesota. The dim sum at Rosewood in Toronto was nothing amazing on its own terms but was on a whole other level than that at Mandarin Kitchen which was no good at all. Of course, Toronto is one of the major centers of Chinese immigration and cuisine in North America, and for Cantonese food in particular Vancouver is said by the knowledgable to be the only metro above it. However, the best Chinese food in Toronto is now found not in the city proper but in the suburbs of Scarborough, Markham and Richmond Hill. The old Chinatown is no longer the center of Chinese food in the city. However, my group was staying close to Chinatown and we did not have space in our itinerary for a long round-trip just to eat brunch. And so a couple of us cast about for plausible places in Chinatown and Rosewood showed up on both our radars. Continue reading

Quetzal (Toronto)


Back to Toronto. As you probably do not recall, I was there with for a few days with a group of colleagues in June. On the first night the entire group ate a banquet dinner at Crown Princess together. On the second night I ate dinner by myself at Canis. On the third and final night two members of the group joined me for dinner at Quetzal, a modern Mexican restaurant that has garnered strong reviews since its opening last year. I gather that the strongest of the reviews came when the original chefs were on board. Early in 2019, however, there was a parting of the ways over artistic differences and a new regime took charge. I was advised that it was still worth a visit and so I decided to make the reservation. Continue reading

Oysters, Bagels and More (Montreal, June 2019)


One of the things I was most looking forward to on this trip to Montreal was a return to the Jean-Talon Market but this time in the summer. The missus and I went there in late October 2016 and we loved it, but it was chilly and there was not very much produce to be seen in the market. I was glad therefore that my group readily agreed to have the tour we did on the morning of our first full day in Montreal culminate at Jean-Talon. That tour, by the way, was organized by a wonderful group called L’Autre Montreal. They did a custom tour for us that went over Montreal’s immigrant history, starting in Old Montreal and ending in Parc Extension, where many more recent immigrant communities reside. I recommend them highly to anyone looking for an interesting introduction to the city (and I recommend our excellent guide Leah as well). After a three hour tour the bus dropped us off at Jean-Talon and there we dispersed into small groups to eat what caught our fancy and to wander the market. Herewith the photographic evidence. Continue reading

Crown Princess (Toronto)


Back to Canada. We took the train from Montreal to Toronto, a journey that takes longer than I’d thought it would before we purchased our tickets, and which mostly goes through rather boring countryside. Well, there may be things of interest in there, I suppose, but nothing very interesting to look at from the train. Arriving at our hotel around 2.15, we were all starving—we’d foolishly assumed there’d be food to eat on the train and there was nothing beyond snacks, and so very few of us had eaten anything since breakfast. Along with a few others I went out for a small snack to a Taiwanese place down the road from our hotel. This is not an account of that small snack. This is an account of the meal a few hours later that is the reason for our having gone out for only a small snack: a full-on Cantonese banquet dinner at Crown Princess, rated by many as the best formal Cantonese restaurant in Downtown Toronto. The best Chinese food, otherwise, I’m told is out in the suburbs of Markham and Scarborough. I’ve no idea where Crown Princess ranks in the Greater Toronto Cantonese hierarchy but I can tell you this was a very good meal. Continue reading

Agrikol (Montreal, June 2019)


Agrikol was my group’s last dinner in Montreal but it wasn’t my last dinner in Montreal. This is not because I stayed longer in the city but because I made a second dinner stop that night. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that I treated the group meal at Agrikol as an appetizer to the night’s main event at Damas, where I met two old friends for a fuller meal after abandoning my group. Unlike Damas, Agrikol is known not for Syrian but Haitian food. It is also known for being owned by Win Butler and Régine Chassagne of the Arcade Fire—they were co-owners when the restaurant opened in 2016 along with Jen Agg of Toronto’s The Black Hoof and her partner, the artist, Roland Jean, but as of 2018, the Arcade Fire power couple are the “sole” owners. Chassagne is of Haitian origin and the restaurant is a tribute to her roots. As you might expect from the Arcade Fire connection, it is not an informal/bare bones restaurant—as seems to be the case with Caribbean restaurants in most American cities—but a hipster destination. The restaurant is strikingly and attractively decorated inside and out—with murals by original co-owner Jean—and if our reservation at 6 pm on a Wednesday is any sign, packed with young and beautiful Montrealers. Continue reading

Canis (Toronto, June 2019)


From classic bistro fare in Montreal to an altogether more modernist meal in Toronto. Canis opened in downtown Toronto in 2016 and has apparently moved fairly quickly up the city’s fine dining charts. They show up at #27 in all of Canada in one of those restaurant ranking lists and if there are 26 better restaurants in the country then Canadians are doing very well indeed. The truth, of course, is that these restaurant ranking lists are all silly and highly subjective—just the next evening I ate at another place in Toronto that is higher in those rankings and thought Canis was far superior. Indeed, I thought my meal at Canis was the best fine dining meal I’ve eaten in a long time, far superior to anything I’ve eaten in the Twin Cities since the heyday of Piccolo. Outside the Twin Cities, I think I would have to go back to our dinner at Hotel Herman in Montreal in October 2016 to come up with one as good; and to Hedone in London in August of that year for one that might have been better. (All three of the aforementioned restaurants, alas, are now closed.) Continue reading

L’Express (Montreal, June 2019)


I am at the end of a weeklong trip to Montreal and Toronto with a group of colleagues. We had some very interesting conversations with intellectuals and activists in both cities. We also ate very well. I will be digesting the intellectual material slowly; the meal reports, however, begin a few hours before I leave the group to return to Minnesota. First up, is the very first dinner we ate in Montreal, just about an hour after our (delayed) flight landed. While the rest of our meals as a group centered on the cuisines of more recent immigrant communities, for the first dinner we’d decided to go to one of Montreal’s classic bistros: L’Express. Continue reading

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.  Continue reading

Hotel Herman (Montreal)

Hotel Herman: Buckwheat, chocolate, thyme
This is the final big meal report from our trip to Montreal in late October, though not the final Montreal report per se—I’ll have another very brief report next week, probably, on some pastry eating. This dinner at Hotel Herman was the last meal of our trip (unless, you count the terrible food we ate at the airport for breakfast and lunch the next day after missing our early morning flight to Minneapolis). It followed dinner at Joe Beef the night before (and brunch that morning at Olive et Gourmando). I wasn’t expecting to say that I might have liked this meal even more than our dinner at Joe Beef but that might possibly be true.  Continue reading

Olive et Gourmando (Montreal)

Olive + Gourmando: Oeuf Coquette
Back to Montreal, and this time we’re in Old Montreal. Our meal previous to this on our trip in late October was dinner at Joe Beef. The plan had been to have a lazy morning to recover from that dinner and then go to the Museum of Fine Arts in the afternoon before dinner at Hotel Herman (review coming soon). But our Montrealer friends that we dined with at Joe Beef recommended that we spend time wandering around Old Montreal instead and that we begin the day with brunch at Olive et Gourmando. I’m very glad we listened to them. The food was very good indeed and was excellent fuel for a few hours of walking around the old city. Continue reading

Joe Beef II: The Re-Beefening (Montreal)

Joe Beef: Spaghetti Homard Lobster
Actually, we barely ate any beef at this meal. We did eat very Joe Beefishly though though.

This was my second visit to Joe Beef. The first was in March of 2015—I was in Montreal for a conference and a friend who lives there made a reservation for our group of grad school friends who were all on a panel together. That meal was spectacular and was a large part of my desire to get back to Montreal soon’ish with the missus so she too could eat at Joe Beef and not just listen to me go on about it. This autumn we had the opportunity (and a reason) to do a weekend getaway by ourselves and so it was to Montreal that we decided to go. Note: neither late March nor late October are the optimal times to visit Montreal but I would suggest that there is no bad time to visit Montreal. It’s a beautiful city and if you like food in a French vein there is no better place in North America.  Continue reading

Le Comptoir (Montreal)

Le Comptoir, Montreal
Two weeks ago we were stuck at the airport in Montreal. We’d missed our early morning flight back to Minneapolis, couldn’t get another flight until much later in the day, and were distraught about missing Halloween with our boys. Now it’s Halloween every day and I’m thinking we should have just stayed there and sent for the boys and the dogs. Oh Canada! If it were only possible for me to move my entire whisky collection without having to pay colossal duty on it, I’d look seriously into moving north. Ideally, to somewhere within easy reach of Montreal, which has become one of my favourite North American cities to eat in.  Continue reading