Recently Anna and I took a quick weekend trip up to Montreal for a belated celebration of our wedding anniversary. It's only about a five and a half hour drive from Boston through a lot of pretty country up in Vermont so it's a bit of a shame that I've only been up there once before. My previous visit (Anna had never been) was back in the 90's when I was fresh out of college and I went with four guys who stuffed themselves into a room at the Travelodge (try not to imagine the smell)... and let's just say our, uh, "priorities" were a wee bit different on that trip... so this was a pretty fresh experience of Montreal.
We stayed at LHotel whose claim to fame is having a pretty impressive collection of Pop art decorating its walls... we passed a couple of Lichenstein's and a Warhol on the way from the elevator to our room. It's got a great location on the edge of old Montreal and is right near the metro, so you don't really need to do any driving. We didn't eat there or really spend much time in the room besides sleeping, but the people at the desk were nice and the room was reasonably priced... so unless you want a lot of amenities, I think you'll do well there.
Now, Montreal obviously has a lot of French food, which is not particularly friendly to vegetarians (unless all you want to eat are salads)... and Canada's most famous food, poutine, is a meaty gravy and cheese curds covering fries. So we had to do a little leg work to make sure Anna had some good food to eat. Luckily, on the poutine front La Banquise exists, which among it's 30 odd varieties of poutine has a vegetarian version. You can see our order pictured up top... the closest is "La Kamikaze", which I ordered, and contains hot peppers,tobasco, and merguez sausage. I found it to be quite excellent, and something that surprisingly lived up to the hype Canadian partisans are always heaping on it. It's not something I would want to have every day, but it certainly puts your standard chili or cheese fries to shame. Anna was intrigued enough to want to tinker with the vegetarian version at home... so who knows, maybe we'll post a recipe for it someday... though we'd also have to make the cheese curds I think, since that's not something you see in Massachusetts grocery stores.
The weather wasn't great... not bitter cold, but drizzly... so we took advantage of the metro (which seems great by the way) to head to the the big Jean-Talon market after our poutine. It's got both indoor and outdoor stalls vegetables, food, bread, cheese, meat, fish, etc and I believe it is year round (at least the indoor section). As tempting as the vegetables were... there were some very cute collections of wild mushrooms that were nearly irresistible... it didn't make a whole lot of sense to buy any, so we only window shopped.
There are a number of shops that encircle the market such as the above Capitol Butcher. Meat wasn't really on the grocery list either, but we did bring home some Quebec cheeses. Some of the fromageries we visited were a little intimidating thanks to big crowds and the shouting out of numbers I can barely recognize from high school French class... but we ended up at Marché Des Saveurs Du Québec, which specializes in local products. While there was a bit of a language barrier, we did very well and came home with three pretty unique cheeses.
That evening also managed a fancy vegetarian tasting at XO Le, which was just about 50 feet from our hotel. Really quite nice with impeccable service... probably the longest meal I've ever had but paced so well as to not feel that way. The food was great... modernist in style which powders and foams and whatnot, and was very good. It was quite expensive of course, but that's what you expect for such an evening.
On the way out we picked up half a dozen St-Viateur Bagel's right out of the wood oven and made a stop for a quick picture on top of Mount Royal. All in all a quite enjoyable trip, and hopefully we won't let decades pass before we get back up to it again.