Montreal: Day 1

It’s hard to believe we haven’t been to another country since our time in Italy, over 2 years ago!  With another baby on the way, Joe and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to get away for a babymoon.  We both wanted to explore a city that we had never been to and although overseas somewhere would have been exciting, I wanted to find a shorter flight being 6 months pregnant.  So we chose Montreal.  The timing is ironic with the presidential election just a few days ago.  We aren’t truly looking to move to Canada, but it does feel good to escape everything happening in our country right now.

After a short flight (under 2 1/2 hours!), we landed in Montreal shortly after 11pm.  We checked into our hotel and went right to bed so we were well rested to start our first full day in the city.  We are staying in the Old Montreal neighborhood and it is incredible how close this is to home, yet feels so European.  I knew people spoke French in Quebec, but I didn’t realize how heavily the French culture influences this area.  I had been thinking of Canadian cuisine I would want to try leading up to the trip, but hadn’t thought about all of the French cuisine we would enjoy.

We started with a light breakfast in the hotel, then got outside to start exploring our neighborhood.  After a nice walk, we returned to the hotel to get ready for the day and then officially ventured out.  By this time I was ready for a snack, but not quite ready for lunch.  So we found a cafe called Bar a Beurre (translates to Bar Butter) and enjoyed a nutella croissant and an espresso.  There are a lot of things that are hard to forego eating or drinking while pregnant, but decaf espresso isn’t disappointing.  It tastes just as good as the real thing (versus a non-alcoholic beer, for instance).  So it is a treat I will enjoy every day that we are here.  

After our croissant break, we continued to walk around Old Montreal and explore the neighborhood.  Even though we are well into November, there were still some nice fall colors to enjoy.  And the temperature generally wasn’t too cold, though it did get quite chilly from the wind as we were walking by the water.  

By the time early afternoon rolled around, we were ready to warm up with some lunch.  We found a cute little restaurant called Chez Suzette.  Joe and I split a baked french onion soup and the crepe la charlevoix, which was a crepe filled with ham, swiss and spinach and topped with a bechamel sauce.  It was rich and comforting and just the right amount for lunch.  

We did not do a lot of planning ahead for our trip to Montreal, so I figured our chances of getting into any extraordinary Montreal restaurants would be impossible.  One restaurant I began hearing a lot about is called Joe Beef.  And sure enough, when I looked for a reservation they were booked out as far as you could see into the future.  However, their website referred me to a wonderful app called DINR that would notify me if a reservation became available.  And sure enough, as we were walking around this afternoon, I got notification that an 8:15 reservation became available and I was able to grab it!  

After another rest at the hotel, we grabbed a taxi around 5:00 and headed down to the Little Burgundy neighborhood, where Joe Beef is located.  This neighborhood is more modern and felt more like Chicago than Europe (though French was still very prevalent).  We had a few hours to kill before our reservation and I was already starting to feel hungry again, so we stopped at a place called Patrice Patissier for an afternoon dessert and a couple more espressos.  I chose a creamy tart made with lemon, yuzu and topped with a whipped cream infused with tarragon.  It sounds a little bizarre, but it was so good!  The texture of each component was impeccable and the flavors were balanced perfectly (the tarragon was extremely subtle).  

Finally 8:15 rolled around and it was time for dinner at Joe Beef!  We ate an enormous meal and the restaurant did not disappoint!  The restaurant is a small space and less formal than you would expect for this caliber of food.  The service was excellent.  The menu simply exists on a chalkboard with small writing, all in French.  Our server took the time to walk us through every single dish on the menu in great detail.  

Note: it was extremely dark inside the restaurant, so the pictures aren’t the greatest quality.

To start we ordered croquettes with croque monsieur filling and truffle and the manila clams with short ribs.  The croquettes were delicious bites of indulgence, though a bit lighter than I expected (which was great with all the food we had coming!).  The clams on the other hand were heavier than I expected, but I kept describing them as a big bowl of yumminess.  The broth was super rich, the short rib meat was extremely tender yet didn’t overpower the flavor of the clams.  It was a serious bowl of comfort food!  Joe declared the clams his favorite dish of the night.

For our main courses, we ordered the rabbit and the lobster spaghetti.  The rabbit came prepared two ways: the leg meat was cooked on the bone and on the side was a roulade presentation with the meat rolled around rabbit sausage.  It was served with three types of cabbage (savoy, tuscan and brussels sprouts) and another rich broth-like sauce.  The technique on the roulade was impeccable and the rich meat and braised cabbage were a perfect combination.  

The lobster spaghetti was another rich and wonderful dish.  It was a fresh spaghetti and the texture of the pasta was the perfect chewiness.  The sauce was rich and flavorful, but not overly creamy.  And the lobster meat was tender and definitely the star of the dish.  We ordered the half portion which came with half of a lobster.  It was still plenty of food!  The half portion wasn’t listed on the menu, but our server suggested it so that we could try an extra dish.  I’m glad she did. Having said that, the lobster spaghetti was my favorite dish of the night.  

Somehow after all of this food we decided to order dessert (perhaps I used being pregnant as an excuse).  We ordered the server’s favorite, a pear and chocolate tart. It was really big and we didn’t finish it, but it was lighter than expected.  The crust was very light and flakey and had a braised pear in the center which was surrounded by a light chocolate mousse and whipped cream.  It was a wonderful and not overly-sweet end to the meal.  I highly recommend Joe Beef to any visitors to Montreal!

We really started our trip off on a good foot!  I worry it will be downhill from here.  But hopefully not.  We still have Montreal bagels, poutine, all things maple and several parts of the city left to explore!

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