My Food Diary: Montreal Edition (What I Eat)
In This Issue...
On Thursday, we traveled to Quebec’s largest city for a weekend getaway, and had our fill of delicious, unhealthy, ultra-rich Montreal food. I hope you like reading about it as much as we loved eating it.
★ My weekly Food Diaries are a way of tracking what I cook, buy, and eat every day. They provide insight into my eating preferences, allow me to analyze patterns in my spending, and help improve my cooking. And I always share my recipes! ★
If you want to know what we were doing in Montreal, not just the food, check out my post about our experience here.
The Special from Wilensky’s
Wilensky, the first stop on our list, is a very retro deli known for its beef salami–baloney sandwich, The Special. This unassuming little shop has been a Montreal icon since 1932, and is just around the corner from our apartment!
There weren’t any other customers around when we walked in at around 3 pm on a weekday. The menu is extremely sparse, with the Wilensky Special being the only hot sandwich option available. It costs just $4.17 ($4.61 with a slice of cheese). Be aware that they, like many other mom-and-pop shops in the area, only accept cash.
The interior looks like it hasn’t been redecorated since the 60’s. On the wall opposite the counter are dozens of photographs of Wilensky’s staff with various people I assume are celebrities, although I didn’t look too closely.
When we bought the sandwich, we were a bit underwhelmed. It looked like an extremely flattened burger bun, and you couldn’t even see the meat between the buns. However, after my boyfriend took his first bite, he said he could definitely see why this is a “must-go” place in Montreal. Of course, I don’t know for sure whether he said that because this is an absolute tastebud chart-topper or because it was late afternoon and the sandwich was his first meal of the day, but either way, I think this place is worth a visit because of its status as a nigh historical landmark, not to mention its popularity with locals.
Ice Cream from Kem CoBa
Next, we visited Kem CoBa, an ice cream shop across the street from Wilensky’s. (They also happen to be neighbours of the famous Fairmount Bagels… which we’ll be visiting on Saturday). They are kind of known for doing everything well, from their soft serves (new flavours every month) to their unique hard ice creams to their refreshing sorbets. The line was stretching down the block at this place—apparently, today is the first warm day in Montreal all year ?—but it was worth it.
This is another cash only place, and our total together came to around $7 for two small cups. Not the most price-effective option out there.
Kevin and I both got hard ice creams. They provide a lot of exotic flavours, like salted butter, thai tea, and durian. I ordered a half-scoop of pandan and a half-scoop of fig orange. Both were great but the pandan was amazing. Kevin went for coconut. He didn’t really like the coconut flavour, and I agree, it was quite average. I think if you come here you should try one of their one-of-a-kind offerings.
A small sandwich and a scoop of ice cream do not make substantial meals, so we were both pretty hungry by the time dinner time came around. We had a 5:30 reservation at Toque! in downtown, so we took the metro there.
I’m gonna take this moment to shout out the Montreal Metro. The trains are clean and new, come pretty often, aren’t too crowded, and it’s very easy to figure out how to get to where you want. A total stress-free experience! Thanks STM!
Stepping into Toque! you immediately know you’re in a fine-dining environment. I didn’t think to take any pics of the decor, but I should have; it was a quirky, modern design, which matches the kind of food they serve.
There is a staff person for literally everything—your main server, sommelier, water server, bread server, bus boy, some dude to brush breadcrumbs off your table, etc.—so the service in general is prompt and professional. In addition, I’ve got mad respect for servers here because they must be fluent in both English and French. It must be especially difficult in these high-end places where the menu is already difficult to pronounce just in one language.
We decided on the tasting menu, which comes with seven courses, and a foie gras course after the second appetizer. And to start, we also ordered 30 g of caviar. (Yeah, we were really ballin’ for this meal, but we’re pretty much going to be eating street food for the rest of the trip so this makes up for it lol.)
The caviar was served with potato chips and something that tasted like dill sour cream. I’ve never eaten caviar with chips before—and to be honest, I still prefer them completely plain because maybe I’m just a savage at heart—but they go surprisingly well with chips! The cream, though, was a bit overpowering and kind of masked the taste of the caviar.
The next course was the amuse-bouche, which was a single wild-rice chip adorned with oil powder and… a bunch of other things I don’t remember. It tasted extremely healthy, but didn’t blow the socks off my tastebuds, which would set the tone for the rest of the meal. Amuse-bouches always make me laugh because they’re so frickin tiny. Like, a single rice chip? What if I wanted a bag of this shit to snack on while watching Die Hard 2.
Anyway, not long after the amuse-bouche, the first course of the tasting menu arrived, and this is where the fun starts. The main attraction of tasting menus is, I suppose, the same reason that omakase is so popular. It’s the suspense of not knowing what each dish is until it’s in front of you, and putting your faith in the imagination of the chef!
Course 1/7: Appetizer
Our first appetizer was a scallop and strawberry ceviche in rhubarb water and olive oil, with cucumbers and onions. My boyfriend’s commentary: “It surprisingly works.” It didn’t work for me, though, and I thought it was kinda sour. I don’t like citrus-y flavours in general, so that might be why. My favourite part was the scallops, so I ended up eating all the other bits first, then spooning two entire spoonfuls of scallops into my mouth, like a kid who has to eat his veggies before he can start on dessert.
Course 2/7: Appetizer
The second appetizer consisted of the most tender asparagus spears I have ever eaten and an asparagus-mushroom puree, with a thin salted cracker on top. I cannot stress how juicy and crisp the asparagus was. And huge. I’ve never been big on asparagus, but I see now that I’ve been eating the wrong kind my whole life.
I also wanna take a second to comment here just how much bread we ate throughout this meal. Kevin and I went through two entire baskets of ciabatta and loved it. The butter was out of this world.
To my surprise, I wasn’t bloated quite as badly as I’d expected after finishing the meal. I think that speaks to how small their portions are, but I mean that in a good way—we were able to taste seven different courses (not to mention caviar, the amuse-bouche, and fresh bread) all in one evening!
Course 3/7: Foie Gras
Next up: the largest piece of the foie gras I have eaten in a single sitting. Honestly, it was maybe a little too big; maybe 75% of the size would’ve been perfect.
It was served with some onions, pistachios, and mushrooms, two shortbread crackers, and a few drops of sour cherry puree. The foie gras tasted especially good with the crackers, which were a little sweet and paired perfectly with the rich savoury flavour of the foie gras.
I feel like I’ve gotten enough foie gras to satisfy me for quite a while now, though!
Course 4/7: Pre-Entree
The first entree, which our server called the “pre-entree,” was a lamb shoulder with some herb leaves and two strips of dried mushroom (looked and tasted like bacon). I had a small bite of this one, but didn’t really like it, so my boyfriend ate both portions. He liked it because:
The tendon and meat went really well together: the tendon was soft but also very chewy, and they were able to infuse flavour into it, which is hard to do. The meat itself was flavourful, but wasn’t dry. [Overall, the dish] was a tender, flavourful piece of lean meat paired with a delicious tendon.Kevin
Course 5/7: Entree
Sadly both of the entrees were meat-based, so I wasn’t able to eat much of either one. This second one is duck heart and… more duck meat (we do not understand duck anatomy LOL). This was paired with a turnip and some other veggies (plus yet another puree) that I forgot. For some reason, that single piece of turnip made me laugh so much! But it was really tasty. They do veggies right at this restaurant.
I tried the duck heart and one piece of the meat, neither of which I enjoyed that much, but my boyfriend liked eating it. (When I think of duck, the first thing that comes to mind is those dingy Chinese BBQ shops selling cuts of crispy roast duck out of styrofoam containers. I honestly prefer those meats to this one, which was a little dry and under-seasoned for my taste.)
* EDIT: Kevin has just informed me that the long thing is not the turnip. It’s the two white things on either side of the duck heart that are turnips. I feel super dumb, and frustrated because now I have no idea what the long thing is! Some kind of root vegetable.
Course 6/7: Pre-Dessert
For the pre-dessert course, we had the option of a cheese plate or a sweet mini-dessert. I picked the cheese, obviously, and Kevin chose the sweet option. My cow’s milk cheese was basically a milder version of brie. It came with a berry puree and a thick cracker. I liked it, but I like brie better. 🙂
Kevin’s sweet dish was just… indescribable. His words:
It felt like I was putting things in my mouth but they tasted like nothing … I didn’t know what I was eating, but it wasn’t bad.Kevin
I wish I’d had a taste of it, so I could try to better put it into words. But in summary, it was a very confusing dish with a lot of sweet flavours that my boyfriend can’t quite put his finger on.
ANYWAYS moving on.
Course 7/7: Dessert
And finally we arrive at dessert! There are so many things going on with this one tiny little dish. First, there’s the slice of super sweet, rich cheesecake, with raspberry crisps that give it a sour kick to keep it interesting. Then, there’s the bite of soft strawberry mousse. And lastly the most interesting piece: a cucumber sorbet! Even knowing that it was cucumber-flavoured going in, I wasn’t prepared for just how weird yet wonderful it would taste. It was super refreshing, and served to tie the entire dinner together.
Not to mention, it is so pretty and Insta-worthy~
The petit fours were maple candies and something-that-tasted-like-turkish-delights-but-probably-goes-by-a-fancier-name. They were served with the bill as a cute and tidy way to end the evening. They were way too sweet for me, especially the maple squares, but Kevin enjoyed the hell out of both. Serving it on a rock is also such a cute idea. I wonder if there’s a restaurant supply store that sells specifically shaped rocks for plating purposes? Or did an employee of Toque! have to go out onto a beach somewhere and scavenge for flat rocks?
I loved the meal in general, would probably have loved it more if I’d remembered to mention I don’t really eat meat at the start of service, but nevertheless had a great time! This is one of the most expensive dinners I’ve had, but well worth it for the food and the experience.
Poutine from Chez Claudette
Later that night, we were both feeling a bit hungry, so we headed out to Restaurant Chez Claudette for some late-night poutine. This is a yellow-walled corner restaurant with an old-fashioned and modest look, and only 10 minutes from our Airbnb. When we visited at 9 pm, it was absolutely packed. Most people looked around our age and the place was as loud as you can imagine, so it’s probably a popular hangout spot for students in the area.
After standing in line for half an hour, we finally got our turn. Kevin ordered the Smoked Meat Poutine in the grande size (left), while I ordered their original Classique Poutine in petite size (right). We then waited another half hour for the food, while surrounded by Quebecois yelling at each other from all directions. Seriously one of the longest times I have waited for fast food. I mean, that is a long time to wait, right? Have you guys waited longer for something to eat? Is there some kind of super popular takeout shop that’s worth standing in line for an hour? Let me know.
Chez Claudette was well worth waiting amidst the chaos. The poutine from this place has the squeakiest cheese curds I have ever eaten to date. The fries are a wonderful dark brown colour, thickly sliced, and almost sweet. Although the gravy-to-fries ratio could be more generous, the quality of the cheese and the large portions of fries can hardly be beat.
All-You-Can-Eat at Panda Hot Pot
After attending an event at the F1 track, it was time to head to our dinner at Hotpot Panda with my cousin. (Taking this moment to plug her Youtube channel). I love this place! It’s the absolute perfect AYCE hot pot restaurant for pescatarians, especially if you like fish balls and other highly-processed-but-delicious “seafood”. They also have endless quantities of lamb, beef, fresh shrimp, veggies, noodles, and the other typical items you would expect to find in hot pot.
Although we were initially hesitant about spending a meal at a Chinese restaurant, when we were mainly looking for local Montreal food, I had such a wonderful dinner and would definitely come here often if I were a student in the city. I was so stuffed so quickly, which was the only part that sucked because I wanted to eat more! It was great to catch up with my cousin as she winds down her first year at McGill, and I’m glad we made time for it in the middle of all our F1 experiences.
Scooped Ice Cream at Ripples
Later in the evening, we made the 20-minute trek to an ice cream shop called Ripples for a little evening snack. A street festival called Mural was taking place on Saint Laurent just a block or two down from us, and Ripples is in the middle of the action. We got to partake in some of the festive atmosphere as Montreal celebrated its first days of summer.
The staff at Ripples are friendly and fast. The flavours are a blend of traditional and innovative, with your classic flavours like vanilla, Oreo, and mint–chocolate chip, and new ones like kulfi, chai tea, and sesame & halwa. Of course, samples are available of all the flavours. I ordered a scoop each of cardamom & nuts (top) and sesame & halwa (bottom) in a sugar cone, while Kevin opted for a cup with raspberry cheesecake (top) and cappucino chip (bottom).
Kevin was much more impressed by this place than by Kem CoBa. I liked it for the fact that there was almost no line (turns out we were just lucky this time; when we came here again the next day we weren’t so lucky). The servings also seem to be a bit more generous. They also take payment by card (minimum $5 for debit, $10 for credit).
OMG, this ice cream is so rich. This was the creamiest ice cream I’ve tasted since I visited the D Dutchmen Dairy many many many years ago, tucked away in the middle of nowhere in British Columbia. The cone I ate at D Dutchmen remains the most amazing ice cream I’ve ever had, but this is a close second.
On Saturday, we finally sampled from the two rival companies that have been dominating Montreal’s bagel scene. Fairmount Bagel was the closer of the two, so we went there first, with a garlic bagel for Kevin and “power” bagel (raisins, walnuts, sunflower seeds) for myself.
Are we missing something? These were just… okay. They were cold, dry, very dense, and tasted kind of like most other bagels I’ve had in my life. On the bagel scale, with Costco bagels (that artificial blueberry flavour… ew) at 0, and Safeway bagels at 10, these are maybe a 9. Sure, they’d taste better with lox or cream cheese, but imo a bagel should be able to stand on its own.
(Maybe it says something about me that I consider Safeway bagels a 10 on the scale. The best bagels are surely freshly-baked homemade bagels, but I’ve never made a true authentic bagel—although I’ll be sure to update this post when I do.)
After that somewhat disappointing experience, we next tried St Viateur, which is another equally popular bagel stop a few blocks away. I liked this bagel a bit better, but whether that’s because I prefer the taste of rye over raisins, walnuts, and sunflower seeds, is anyone’s guess. Kevin didn’t like either one.
I guess that popularity of Fairmount and St-Viateur isn’t because they are selling any flavour explosions, it’s more that bagels are very near-and-dear to Montreal’s food history. These two shops have faithfully been turning them out as quick, easy lunches for ages, making them part of the city’s collective memory. (In fact, Fairmount is turning 100 years old this year.) Then, of course, there’s tourists like us who read about these places online and boost their reputation further, even if the product itself isn’t anything spectaluar 🙂
Fine Dining at Bistro L’Entrepont
Compared to Toque! with its massive dining room and horde of hosts, servers, and busboys, Bistro L’Entrepont only had two servers in a cozy space that sat maybe fifteen tables at most. I wouldn’t be surprised if this small, tightly-squeezed restaurant was a family-run business—it gave off that kind of vibe. We stood at the doorway of the restaurant for several minutes upon arrival before anyone even greeted us, and it was another minute before we were led to our table. Despite the rocky start to service, the rest of the meal turned out perfectly, and both servers were so friendly that the bump can easily be overlooked.
We came here for dinner with Kevin’s friend, who had also arrived in Montreal to watch the F1 race. Although the dining environment couldn’t have been more different than Toque!, the food matched it in every way. Since it is also a restaurant that serves French cuisine, our food came in several courses. We all started with an appetizer, with choice of soup or quiche. I had the delicious creamy mushroom soup, while Kevin ordered the “salad,” which comes in a quiche.
I didn’t taste this, so I asked Kevin to give his thoughts. He gave me a list of words:
- “It wasn’t bad”
- “It was a good… salad”
- “It was edible”
The boy does not like salads, so this lukewarm reaction should not come as a surprise or as an indictment of the dish.
* NINJA EDIT to add a disclaimer before he sees this: It’s not that he doesn’t like vegetables, it’s that he has very high standards for how they taste. Blah blah moving on.
Next was a goat cheese, arranged with gorgeous “flower petals” that I think were pickled beet slices, and a puree. Is it just me or do French really love their puree…? The goat cheese was fantastic: very soft and herby with a strong flavour, just what I love!
I also think it would’ve tasted great on the complimentary bread that was provided, but this didn’t occur to me until later. (Btw, the bread here was a French style, softer and tastier than the ciabatta at Toque!, but the butter at Toque! was better. So I’ll call that a tie.)
Just before our mains, we got a little surprise: strawberry sorbet with gin! The strawberry part was delicious, the gin, not so much… I don’t mean that it was poor quality—I wouldn’t be able to tell—but since I made the choice to abstain from alcohol almost a year ago, I’ve really lost all fondness for it.
Kevin definitely loved the sorbet more than I did.
Upon combining the sorbet and gin, you can’t really taste the alcohol at all. I can see myself eating a ton of these and getting drunk by mistake.
Sorry I didn’t take a picture until we were pretty much through with them :’)
The main course I chose was a fish (haddock, if I remember correctly) with two kinds of root vegetable puree and a breaded pepper stuffed with potatoes and olives. It was amazing! The best restaurant meal (Western cuisine) that I’ve eaten was at Model Milk in Calgary. This was very similar and nearly as good. The fish was perfectly tender, the intense flavour of the stuffed pepper provided a great contrast, the asparagus were crisp just like the ones at Toque!, and the puree tasted better with every bite.
The only thing that could’ve been improved is if the fish had slightly more flavour. I appreciated the milder taste because I could really enjoy the flavour of the fish on its own, but I think the skin especially could benefit from a little bit more seasoning.
Kevin’s seafood fettucine looked amazing as well. My biggest regret at Bistro L’Entrepont: not ordering two mains LOL. I had a real pasta craving after seeing his dish.
The Portuguese shrimp were HUGE, amazing, not briny. The scallops were also huge. No hint of sand, it was super clean. Seafood can sometimes taste dry and pale compared to the sauces in the dish, but they were very good.
Although the portions look small, don’t let them fool you: these main courses were very, very filling. I don’t know what kind of witchcraft restaurants pull with plating, but I always start off thinking, “wow, this is nothing, I could eat like three of these in one sitting” to being really stuffed at the end of the meal.
Finally, for dessert, Kevin ordered the cheesecake. I passed, since I was feeling pretty full at that point, but I tried some of his. It’s amazing! Just a simple, very classic cheesecake, but you can’t go wrong with something like that.
In all, this second fine-dining experience was just as good as our first. In fact, Bistro L’Entrepont edges out Toque! as my favourite sit-down meal in Montreal. The bill for the two of us came to just over $100 before tips and tax, which is frankly a steal for the quantity and quality of food we received. I should also mention that Bistro L’Entrepont is a BYOB establishment. None of us at the table drank, so it didn’t matter, but that’s something to keep in mind if you do!
More Smoked Poutine from Chez Claudette
Believe it or not, even after the three bowls of free bread we consumed at Bistro L’Entrepont, we still had the stomach capacity for more carbs. What can I say, Chez Claudette’s poutine is that good! I wasn’t hungry enough to buy an entire meal for myself, so I shared some of Kevin’s smoked meat poutine.
This time around, there was no one around except us (no doubt it wasn’t late enough at night for the crowd we encountered on Thursday). I swear Kevin was salivating as we watched the cook grill up the smoked meat as he prepared our order.
Brunch at Schwartz’s Deli
Schwartz’s Deli is the must-go destination if you want smoked meat in Montreal. It’s so popular that there are actually two buildings at the same location: one a dine-in restaurant, the other exclusively for takeout. Tourists were literally taking pictures of the front sign as we were walking in, around 10 am, for a meal before heading to the F1 track.
On the walls of the diner are newspaper clippings and photos of Schwartz’s staff with celebrities, similar to Wilensky’s. Apparently, Celine Dion loves this place. We joked about seeing an F1 driver come in this weekend, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them have visited before.
The smoked meat sandwich, which is what the deli is known for, contains what Kevin approvingly calls “substantial meat.” This picture doesn’t do the real thing justice, in which the bread looks more like an afterthought than an equal partner.
Since, as you can see, the meat-to-bread ratio on the sandwich is terrifying, I ordered the poutine despite the server asking me, “Are you sure?” with a concerned look. I explained that I don’t really eat meat, and felt kind of apologetic for it in this diner where everyone’s job is devoted to meat every day.
The poutine was awesome as well (although the cheese curds didn’t squeak). I mean, how can you really fuck up gravy, fries, and cheese? I love that each poutine place has their own distinctly unique gravy, and yet almost all are equally good.
Soft-Serve from Kem CoBa
In the afternoon, we circled back to Kem CoBa to try their soft-serve of the week. We had high hopes for this one, although the flavour was… interesting: chocolate and raspberry swirl. I loved it, but this was all Kevin had to say:
As for my opinion: Ripples is the clear winner out of the two, but Kem CoBa isn’t bad either. It really depends on which flavours you get. I’ve never seen pandan as an ice cream flavour anywhere else, and I would come back for that alone. I also thought the chocolate and raspberry was a neat combination I would never dream up on my own, so I’m glad we got to try it here.
Dinner at Poutineville
For dinner, we had poutine yet again!! This time we tried a new one: Poutineville, a franchise of a chain of restaurants around Quebec. The number of different poutine options on the menu is staggering. We were both paralyzed by indecision.
In addition to the “fancy poutines” on their regular menu, they also offered a number of “global” poutines. For example, the Indian option was poutine with butter chicken… In the end, I chose the “France” poutine, which involves shoestring fries, a French onion soup inspired gravy, and French fried onions. Kevin went with their namesake, the Poutineville, a dish of “crushed potatoes, fresh cheese curds, mozzarella, with braised beef and our red wine sauce.” Yeah, they’re not going for any authenticity awards here.
Although I didn’t enjoy my France poutine as much I would’ve a regular poutine (too much onion, not enough fries), Kevin loved his. He liked the twist on the potatoes, which were smashed potato wedges instead of the traditional fries. However, the cheese curds were not squeaky. Seems like kinda an oversight at a place with poutine in its name. However, I’m happy that we were able to try yet another poutine restaurant while in Montreal. I swear I’m ~90% poutine at this point.
After dinner, we walked back to Ripples so Kevin could erase Kem CoBa from his mind (I feel like I need to emphasize that IT WASN’T EVEN THAT BAD, but anyway). I got the chai tea and thai tea flavours in a cone, while Kevin got a scoop each of caramel, cookies n cream, and raspberry cheesecake in a cup.
I don’t know what happened to the photo of this one, since we both strongly recall taking a picture, but it has disappeared! So sorry, no amazing mouthwatering picture of Ripples ice cream 🙁
The Main Deli
While I waited in line at Ripples, Kevin also got another smoked meat sandwich at a deli directly across from Schwartz’s, called the Main Deli. This place was empty compared to the other one, but according to Kevin it is just as good as Schwartz. A lot of Montrealers online mentioned this as the alternative to Schwartz’s for something that tasted equally yummy but was less touristy. Indeed, there was no line when Kevin went to order his sandwich for takeout. So if you’re not down to squeeze with a bunch of other people for a taste of Schwartz’s, try this place instead: we couldn’t tell the difference.