Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 10, 2017
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Right this way

Your table's waiting at Montreal's inventive eateries

Ask a few people on the street to steer you towards the best restaurant in Montreal, and you'll be faced with fingers pointing in all directions. In fact, the city offers such a spectrum of dining choices that even its most knowledgeable residents can often be seen standing on street corners, hemming and hawing over where to go for supper.

Estimated at 5000 and counting, Montreal is home to more restaurants per capita than anywhere else in the country —— second only to New York on this continent. And it's not just the number but the vast range of cuisines that incites indecisiveness. Small ethnic eateries offering authentic tastes from faraway places can be found doors away from top tables preparing seasonal ingredients with French flair. Whether upscale or down-home, these good-value restaurants provide not only pleasure for the palate but a little food for thought, too.

BUDGET
Nonya
966 St-Catherine Street West; tel: (514) 875-9998
Budget prices, artistic presentation and a cosy ambiance ensure the popularity of this hip Indonesian hideaway. Its recent relocation to a prime downtown location across from major department stores is a step up from its former spot between a strip club and a greasy hot dog parlour. Nonya is a wonderful alternative to ubiquitous noodle shops and sushi emporiums. For those seeking a twist on Asian flavours, the cuisine of Indonesia has a subtle spicing all its own. Fragrances of tamarind, coconut milk, anise, chilies, garlic and ginger emanate from skewered meats and seafood.

In a spartan but stylish setting of burlap swaths and Hindu prints, Nonya's relaxed regulars munch on roasted peanuts and garlic while perusing the menu. Highlights include udang mangga, huge shrimp served with citrus-laced mango salsa, and nasi goreng, seasoned rice atop beef satay, adorned with a fried egg. Dishes are accompanied by fine slices of marinated cucumber that accentuate the delicate flavours. Desserts and beverages — particularly the vivid pink susu soda gembira — are equally unusual, adding to the feeling of tabletop travel.

Le Petit Alep
191 Jean-Talon Street East; tel: (514) 270-9361
One of the most atmospheric bistros in town, Le Petit Alep specializes in the cuisines of Armenia and Syria, more specifically, its ancient city of Aleppo. And at this neighbourhood haunt, Middle Eastern standards are entirely redefined and refined.

Among the morsels of exotica to sample, there's mouhamara dip made with walnuts and pomegranate syrup, crimson-tinged shish taouk in a sweet and sharp marinade, and tender lamb shank cooked in wine, oranges and cloves, topped with slivered almonds and pine nuts. Meals end on an irresistibly sweet note with desserts such as mehalabi, a milk pudding perfumed with rose water. This laidback café hosts a largely francophone clientele, who busy themselves reading newspapers, sipping espressos and taking in the ever-changing roster of local artwork on the walls. It's also a welcome respite for gourmet grocery shoppers from hectic Jean-Talon market across the street — a great stop for regional cheeses and ice wines.

Cluny
257 Prince Street; tel: (514) 866-1213
Over the last few years, Old Montreal has transformed itself into a playground for upscale urbanites, with many 17th- and 18th-century buildings being reinvented as swank shops and exclusive hotels. Its western edge, however, is still home to the remnants of the warehouse district, where underground arts culture and hi-tech offices flourish side by side.

Off the beaten path on a rather desolate block, Cluny offers a glimpse into the creative spirit that lingers in the area. It occupies a corner of the minimally refurbished Darling Foundry, a cavernous edifice recently recast as a gallery space and performance venue. Peeling paint clings to the 20-foot ceilings, while plastic benches and rough-hewn tables welcome fashion-forward patrons. This cafeteria-style lunchroom serves fresh fusion fare from an enormous counter: inventive sandwiches on crusty baguettes, crisp salads and antipasto plates of glistening grilled vegetables. Home-cooked daily specials and hearty soups are listed on a blackboard, along with well-considered wines available by the glass.

 

MODERATE
Rosalie
1232 de la Montagne Street; tel: (514) 392-1970
Sleek and sophisticated, Rosalie was streamlined for success from the moment it opened in early 2003. The timing was certainly right for this cutting-edge bistro, which brought a much-needed touch of trendiness to the downtown core, where the dining scene has been slow to catch up to a revitalized shopping district. Against a backdrop of blonde wood and mirrored panels, sexy staff cater to label mavens and the business set. In warm weather, the action spills out onto a terrace, making this an address to see and be seen.

Supervising the action is tattooed chef Dave McMillan, of the ever-popular Globe restaurant, who's known as something of a bad boy in local circles. Here he focuses on haute and honest bistro classics with a modern edge. In addition to a topnotch steak-frites, his signature foie gras parfait is just parfait, a melt-in-the-mouth whip served with country-style toast dotted with hazelnuts and raisins, along with a dab of quince jelly and marinated onions.

Au Pied de Cochon
536 Duluth Street East; tel: (514) 281-1114
A trim and tailored decor. An unfussy and unpretentious menu. A decidedly down-to-earth attitude. And a chef who's rumoured to hunt his own meat. It's no wonder this upscale brasserie attracts well-heeled foodies in the know. The philosophy behind Au Pied de Cochon adheres to the slow-food movement, with entries such as "the happy pork-chop" celebrating products from small-scale, artisanal farms.

It also offers a classy take on Quebecois standards, including foie gras poutine and sinfully salty oreilles de crisse — pork-rind popcorn that'll go straight to your heart — literally. The down-home cuisine of acclaimed chef Martin Picard is deceptive in its simplicity, however. For a peek at the expertise behind the scenes, grab a counter seat and watch the clockwork choreography of the staff as they handle the battered saucepans in the open kitchen. With microbrews on tap, this is a perfect place to soak up the congenial vibe of the Plateau Mont-Royal. (No cigarettes here: the only thing smoked on the premises is the ham.)

SPLURGE
Les Chèvres
1201 Van Horne Street; tel: (514) 270-1119
Rumours of Les Chèvres' opening had the culinary crowd ruminating months before it was launched last year. The buzz has continued unabated, despite its discreet location in the residential neighbourhood of Outremont. Backed by four distinguished local restaurateurs — including Claude Beausoleil of Old Montreal epicurean epicentre L'Épicier — the kitchen takes high concept one step higher by shining the spotlight on the lowly vegetable.

An inventive tasting menu offers eight tongue-tingling courses, from whimsical drinks like red pepper juice to veggie-based desserts (and we're not talking carrot cake!). Committed carnivores will find some meats on the menu, mostly from organic sources, including breast of duck in a sauce of wild mushrooms served with carrot risotto. Though the body conscious will revel in the healthy offerings, manly eaters may feel that portions are restrained. Nevertheless Les Chèvres is definitely worth a visit for its sheer imaginativeness. Food is serious business here, but a sunny decor of stylized bamboo dividers and luminous lime colours keeps the mood light and good-humoured.

Toqué!
900 Jean-Paul Riopelle Square; tel: (514) 499-2084
It can boast more than a decade on the fine dining scene, but Toqué! is still a Montreal must. A move in January from St-Denis Street to Old Montreal makes it more convenient to boutique hotels, while weekday lunch hours provide more opportunity to sample its unique offerings. Anyone who thinks the city's best-known restaurant has "been done" will agree that the new digs, bathed in splashes of light and anchored by rich colours, merit a return visit. And the food always does, of course.

Like the word toqué — which plays off the chef's white toque, but also translates as "a little bit crazy" in French — gastronomic guru Normand Laprise has built a stellar reputation on letting his creativity run wild. His menu makes stops around the globe for inspiration, while mining the province and the Canadian countryside for ingredients. Purveyors and geographical sources are identified with pride, so look for robust scallops from the Magdalen Islands, lamb from the Lower St-Lawrence, wild mushrooms foraged by a friend and potatoes grown by a certain Madame Duquet. A surprisingly informal ambiance and an extensive wine list guarantee a memorable outing.

 

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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