It's only May, but it seems like 2013 has been a long year already. With Memorial Day approaching, I knew I wanted to find a place to escape to that required little travel, but made me feel like I was far away from all of the hectic happenings at work and in Washington, DC. My friend Judy and I started doing some research, and we quickly settled on Montreal. With a direct flight from DCA and only about 1:20 of flight time, this seemed like the perfect long weekend getaway with some European flair. We took off late Friday night and arrived to a cold, dark, and rainy Montreal. While the city is beautiful (especially Old Montreal lined with adorable cafés and restaurants), we unfortunately were stuck with terrible weather the entire weekend. While this normally has the ability to ruin a trip, nothing was ruined because there were so many amazing restaurants and food options that we were able to eat, drink, and be merry even in the midst of rain and cold. Some of our favorite spots from the weekend are below.
Given the dismal weather, Judy and I were looking for a place to hole up for a few hours, have a leisurely brunch, and take our time enjoying coffee, food, and whatever else sounded good. The concierge highly recommended Restaurant Holder which is located on McGill Street in Old Montreal. The space was warm and inviting, very chic, and filled with classy French speaking individuals. We immediately ordered a cafe a lait in a bowl-- yes, you heard me, a bowl. It was delicious, and so much coffee was needed after a late night flight and a cold and rainy day ahead. The menu was filled with delicious Parisian style dishes, but I decided to order the goat cheese and roasted tomato omelet with pine nuts and a side of gratin dauphinois. In addition, the meal came with a flaky and hot croissant that was to die for. The omelet was so fantastic and I loved the crunch of the pine nuts and the creamy goat cheese that was stuffed inside the omelet and slowly melted into the egg and tomato. In addition, the potatoes were decadent and creamy.
It was a wonderful first meal in Montreal, and I highly recommend it for brunch, but the dinner menu also looked wonderful featuring classics like beef tartare, duck confit, and mussels. Holder is located at 407 McGill 100-A Old-Montreal.
In every town there is always one restaurant you read about that is listed as a "must". This is Joe Beef. I booked the reservation about three months in advance and I recommend that you do the same. It's a small place with a lot of personality. The menu is listed on chalkboards on the walls, there are also all sorts of fun objects hanging from the walls such as deer heads with rosaries or a large buffalo head hanging in the bathroom, and the people could not be more friendly. We congregated towards the tiny space at the front of the restaurant while pouring over the options listed on the chalkboard before sitting down and ordering a lovely bottle of Pinot Noir. I had read about the steak, but I also had read about the lobster spaghetti which received rave reviews and I knew it was what I had to have. In order to save room and fully enjoy this decadent dish, I opted for no starters and went all in on this dish. Boy was it worth it! One of the more life changing dishes I have enjoyed in awhile.
The spaghetti was cooked to perfection, topped with close to two pounds of succulent juicy lobster, donned in a delicious cream sauce, and also included bits of bacon and chives on top. It was just divine. This is a dish I am going to be dreaming about for a long time. We also split a lovely cake with layers of chocolate and hazelnut for dessert, and left feeling so fat and happy. Get yourself to Joe Beef! Joe Beef is located at 2491. Notre Dame Ouest, Montreal, QC H3J 1N6. On Twitter: @JoeBeef.
Another cold and wet morning in Montreal, and we needed another great spot for a marathon brunch/lunch. This time we went over to the swanky Le Pois Penché which had purple velvet chairs, mirrored glass on the walls, and lovely French music playing in the background. It was reminiscent of Paris, and I immediately knew I was going to love it. Because we felt like being overly indulgent, we ordered a basket of croissants to start which included regular, chocolate , raisin and almond. We were sure to taste each one so that we could report back and compare. The chocolate was perfection. Judy decided to order the florentine eggs benedict with sauteed spinach which were served with fruit skewers and potatoes. I went classic and ordered the Croque Madame with smoked ham and maple swiss cheese, fresh tomato, and a fried egg on top.
The Croque Madame was made with super crunchy bread which softened as the fried egg cracked on top and covered the sandwich. We stayed long enough to order a round of Champagne, and the delightful atmosphere paired with the delicious French cuisine made it a great spot to enjoy in Montreal. Le Pois Penché is located at 1230 Boulevard de Maisonneuve Ouest, Montreal, QC H3G 1M1, Canada.
My friend Judy's brother happened to be in Montreal for the weekend for a music festival at the same time as us, and he had read great things about Pikolo Espresso Bar before he arrived. This was ranked as one of the best coffee shops in town so we took a stroll over to Parc Avenue and got ourselves some delicious coffee. The coffee comes from Calgary and Portland, and the latte I enjoyed was incredibly creamy. The shop is small but has high ceilings with a small seating area upstairs. There is a great vibe with a lot of character at Pikolo, and there were tons of McGill students hovered over their laptops doing work. We really enjoyed it. It's a great place to stop, rest, and enjoy some coffee as you are making your way through Montreal. Pikolo is located at 3418B Parc Avenue, Montreal, QC H2X 2H5. Pikolo Espresso on Twitter: @PikoloEspresso.
As we finished up at Pikolo Espresso, I noticed Pullman Wine Bar directly next door which I had previously read about in a New York Times special: 36 Hours in Montreal. Knowing this had been recommended, we decided to head in for a bit and enjoy some wine flights and a delicious cheese plate. Pullman was an adorable little spot with a very fun menu including small snacks such as spicy pecans and almonds, or cheddar and bacon gougères as well as fuller dishes that included braised lamb, ricotta gnocchi, and port-steeped Cheddar grilled cheese. We enjoyed the Pinot Noir flights, and found the staff to be incredibly friendly and accommodating.
Pullman is located at 3424 Avenue du Parc, Montréal (QC) H2X 2H5. On Twitter: @PullmanMTL.
For our last night in Montreal we wanted to experience a classic staple, and all signs pointed to Restaurant L'Express. We were told this was a bustling Montreal establishment that delivers some of the best and most basic French food. I saved up all weekend for read meat and was so excited to splurge here on the classic steak frites. The hangar steak was topped with a generous dollop of garlic butter that started to melt and drizzle down the sides of the hot steak. It was so rich, but so good. The frites were crispy and served on the same plate soaking up the juices and spices from the meat. It was excellent. We also each enjoyed the hot goat cheese salad starter, and we had a hot apple and currant crumble for dessert. L'Express knows how to do the basics well. This place does not disappoint.
Restaurant L'Express is located at 3929, Rue Saint-Denis, Montréal, QC H2W 2M4 .
I really enjoyed the long weekend away in Montreal, and think it's a great place to visit that kept us entertained and interested even in the midst of a cold and rainy spell. I do however think the weekend would have been even better if the weather was great, so I highly recommend planning your trip in the summer so you can spend time outside walking throughout the beautiful town and exploring all that Montreal has to offer.