Coming to Terms with Joe Beef

I ate at Joe Beef for the third time this summer. As those who’ve read my earlier reviews of dinners at Montreal’s temple to gastronomic excess (here and here) know, Joe Beef is my favourite restaurant in its genre in North America. I refer to “the curse of Joe Beef” often when contemplating the lesser offerings of more expensive restaurants in the Twin Cities. Going to Montreal and not eating at Joe Beef seemed unthinkable to me. And so when a trip to Montreal with colleagues materialized earlier this year making a reservation at Joe Beef was one of the the first things I did—I would be taking along with me a couple of friends who’ve heard me rave about the restaurant for some years now. It would be my first dinner there in the summer. Let me explain why we then almost didn’t go and why we finally did. Bewarned: I am going to spend rather less time talking about the meal than about other things. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

Jean-Talon Market, Pt. 2 (Montreal)

La Boite aux Huîtres
Here is the second part of my report on Montreal’s excellent Jean-Talon Market from my recent trip to Montreal. The first part covered produce and those food establishments we did not eat at. This report focuses on the few places we did eat at. I will repeat my caveat from the first report: I am not pretending to offer anything approaching a comprehensive or educated guide to Jean-Talon Market. I’ve been there once; we wandered and ate fairly randomly; I took pictures at some places and not at most of the others (this was also random, except I took photographs everywhere we ate). I’ve probably left out many of the most iconic vendors and we probably failed to eat some of the most popular foods at the market. So it goes. I hope to be back again in Montreal in a couple of years (I really love this city) and will try again then. In the meantime please consider this (and the first part) an insufficient but sincere advertisement for Jean-Talon Market: if you go to Montreal, go there.  Continue reading

Jean-Talon Market, Pt. 1 (Montreal)

Jean-Talon: Mushrooms
We were recently in Montreal for a few days. It was a wonderful trip despite the grey weather (and a nightmarish travel day to end it after we missed our early morning nonstop flight back to Minneapolis). We hung out with some old friends who work there, walked around the city and saw a couple of really good exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts (one on Toulouse-Lautrec and another on Robert Mapplethorpe). And we ate some very good food. When it comes to food in the French vein, traditional and contemporary, there is probably no better city in North America than Montreal. There certainly isn’t a better city for bakeries and patisseries. I’m going to start my report though not with a bakery or a restaurant but with a visit we made on the morning of our second day there to the famous Jean-Talon market. In case you don’t know, Montreal has a number of public markets that combine traditional farmers’ markets with restaurants/food stands and various purveyors of cheese, pastry, meat, fish etc. And Jean-Talon is the most renowned of these markets.  Continue reading

Ruby Burma (Montreal)

Ruby Burma
What better place than French Canada to try Burmese cuisine for the first time? It’s actually a bit odd that this should be my first time trying Burmese cuisine, given the proximity of India and Burma and the longstanding ties in particular between Burma and Bengal, but there you are. After the excesses of Schwartz’s and Joe Beef on my first day in Montreal I was looking for something very different for my second dinner in town and when I learned that there was a Burmese restaurant within reach and that it seemed to have received decent reviews I proposed it to my friends and they were happy to eat there. Continue reading

Grilled Chicken and Bagels (Montreal)

Chicken at Romados
No, not at the same time.

The day after our dinner at Joe Beef a friend and I went out for some Portuguese grilled chicken for lunch. I had no idea that Montreal had a significant Portuguese presence but a number of people suggested that I try some Portuguese chicken for an unfussy weekday lunch, and Romados was the place that was most highly recommended. We’d originally planned to walk there from my hotel (about a 2.5 km walk) but it was snowing lightly and so we cabbed there and walked back. But we didn’t walk back directly. Instead we walked up to the famous St. Viateur Bagel Shop (2.2 km), where I purchased two dozen bagels for my wife who has recently become bagel-crazy, and then we walked back from there to the hotel (3.7 km). I’m making a point of noting the distances for the benefit of my friends who know how allergic I am to exercise of any kind. It turns out that if you put me in a beautiful, walkable city, I will walk. It’s the countryside that I am wasted on. Continue reading

Joe Beef (Montreal)

Joe Beef
If Schwartz’s was one of the places I knew I was going to be eating at in Montreal, Joe Beef was the other. This is literally true: I had a dinner reservation; it is, they say, the hardest reservation in town but we secured it a while ago, once participation in the conference I was attending was confirmed (dining with me were my four friends on my panel, three of whom I had gone to graduate school with and one of whom lives in Montreal). Even a few months out, and even on a Thursday night, the best we could get for a party of five was a table at 9.30. When we arrived the restaurant was packed, the party before us was dawdling, and we were not seated till 10. This gave a couple of us a chance to scan and slowly translate the menu (more on this below) while the rest waited outside (there’s not much space inside for waiting, which made me wonder what people do when it’s really cold outside). Continue reading

Schwartz’s (Montreal)

I was recently in Montreal for a conference for a few days and, as you might expect, eating was high on my agenda when not at panels. I had recommendations from some Canadian foodies, including a couple who know Montreal well, but I didn’t need anyone to tell me to go to my first port of call: Schwartz’s, the iconic Jewish deli that opened in 1928. I say “deli” but by law it’s been “Schwarz’s charcuterie Hébraïque” since 1977. And they’re known primarily for one thing: smoked meat. That is what I was there for and you’d better believe that is what I got. (In fact, I am not sure that I saw anyone there who was eating anything else.) Continue reading