Wednesday, November 6, 2013

TASTE MTL - Taste the Best of Montreal

From Nov 1-11, 2013, the city of Montreal is hosting TASTE MTL (#TASTEMTL), a culinary festival presented by Tourism Montreal (Twitter: @Montreal, Facebook: Visit Montreal) in association with the SAQ. The second edition of TASTE MTL a.k.a. Restaurant Week, is a culinary and cultural celebration of one of the most incredible cities in the world with 128 restaurants taking part. TASTE MTL provides an opportunity for Montrealers and tourists to discover new places to eat with a host of of special events around the gastronomic city alongside fixed-price table d'hôte menus. TASTE MTL offers three fixed prices for evening meal service ($19, $29, and $39, respectively) as well as a fixed late-night menu priced at $19 (click here to see the list of participating restaurants)This year the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers joined TASTE MTL as an official partner, which means that you'll find chefs using maple on the menus at participating TASTE MTL restaurants. By the way, did you know that TASTE MTL is one of North America's 15 best food festivals according to Fodor's magazine?

I was one of five lucky Canadian food bloggers/members of Food Bloggers of Canada (FBC) chosen to cover TASTE MTL last weekend. Needless to say I was completely stoked about my trip! Not only was I thrilled about all the sight-seeing and food I was also looking forward to spending the weekend with some amazing foodies including Jess (@wherejessate) of Where Jess Ate, Vickie (@kiki_BFF) of kikis B.F.FJenn and Don (@foodiePrints) of foodiePrints and Janice (@KtchnHealsSoulof Kitchen Heals Soul.

So here goes! My whirlwind TASTE MTL weekend recap!

DAY 1 - Friday, November 1, 2013
I woke up early Friday morning and headed to Union Station for my train to Montreal. This is my very first time taking VIA Rail (@VIA_Rail) anywhere! The ride was pretty comfy and relaxing - I was able to catch up on some work too with their free wifi. This sure beats driving for 5 hours! 

My lunch on VIA Rail
Cod with vegetables on a bed of rice served with side salad, dinner roll and a glass of white wine.

Once we arrived to Montreal we dropped off our bags at Hotel Sofitel (@SofitelMontreal) located on prestigious Sherbrooke St. I was greeted with this lovely plate of cheese and fruit in my room. What a great start! I forgot to take photos but I assure you that my room was very spacious with an enormous king-size bed with breathtaking views of the Montreal skyline and Mount Royal Park. The staff at Hotel Sofitel was also incredibly helpful and friendly.

First destination in Montreal: Montreal Passion Vin wine tasting event. This year marks the 12th edition of Montreal Passion Vin (@PassionVin2013). Presented by SAQ with Standard Life as the major donor partner, the event was held at the Hilton Montreal Bonaventure Hotel and is among the most prestigious wine industry events in 2013. The proceeds from Montreal Passion Vin is to support the construction of the HMR Integrated Cancerology Centre. This is no doubt the most extravagant wine tasting I've ever attended!

We tasted six wines from Maison Remoissenet Père et Fils:
- Meursault Genevrieres 1er cru 1992
- Nolnay 1er cru Clos des Chenes 1978, 1969
- Gevrey-Chambertin 1er cru Combottes 1979, 1966
- Clos Vougeot Grand cru 1964

After Montreal Passion Vin we headed to Fou D'ici (@FOUDICI) for coffee and cupcakes - much needed fuel for our "Right into the heart of Montreal'' tour coming up next. Fou D'ici is an all-in-one market (comparable to Pusateri's and McEwans in Toronto) in the Quartier des spectacles offering a variety of local meats, fresh sustainable seafood, artisanal bread, Quebec organic produce and over 300 cheeses. They also have fresh sandwiches, in-house made sushi, salads and chef-inspired ready-made meals for people on-the-goOur tour guide Michel Jutras of VDM Global (pictured below) met up with us here.

On our walking tour, we checked out the heart of the action in Montreal - the Quartier des spectacles, or Festival central - followed by going down to the Underground City. Below is the Place-des-Arts cultural centre.

We saw some brilliant artwork at the Place-des-Arts subway station. The station featured this beautiful piece by Frédéric Back: a massive stained glass mural entitled L'histoire de la musique à Montréal ("history of music in Montreal"). The work is composed of thousands of layered pieces of glass backlit by 105 lighting tubes and supported by a tonne of steel. The glass surface is rippled, causing the brilliant colours to shimmer ethereally. 

We stopped by Birks Cafe for a quick tour. Located on the mezzanine floor of the legendary Birks jewelry store, patrons can enjoy brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, snacks, and even a glass of wine in an elegant and relaxing setting. The Birks Café also offers a fine selection of pastries and sweets available to take home. Our tour ended at Cafe Grevin where we enjoyed a glass of bubbly and tasty macarons. The Parisian-style cafe has breakfasts, lunch boxes, gourmet sandwiches, and full-meal salads along with bakery products and fine pastries.

Old Montreal's 18th century Pierre du Calvet House was once an ancestral family mansion. Now an elegant inn, it boasts an impression collection of antique furnishings. It's also home to Les Filles du Roy, one of the neighbourhood's oldest restaurants, famous for its cozy design, guests dine around its stove and massive stone chimney.

My three-course dinner with Jess at Les Filles du Roy:
- Salade bourgeoise de bebes epinards, vinaigrette aux agrumes, feuillete au fromage de chevre du Quebec
- Menu surprise du Chef (Veal medallion, +$5)
- Tartelette au sucre et a la fleur de sel

DAY 2 - Saturday, November 2, 2013
After a quick breakfast at Renoir (the restaurant at Hotel Sofitel) we headed to Fou D'ici for our maple workshop. Hosted by journalist and blogger Nathalie Richard (pictured below, left) and sponsored by les Produits de l’Érable du Quebec, we started the workshop by tasting four types of maple syrups - extra light, light, medium and dark - followed by sampling other maple products such as maple butter, maple toffee, maple water, and maple flakes.

We've come a long way when it comes to maple products; it's certainly not just maple cookies anymore! Check out the booze below... they contain maple! A brut and aperitif with maple sap and a whisky with maple syrup liqueur - they all tasted incredibly delicious with a hint of maple without being too sweet (the whisky was my favourite).

A few interesting facts about maple:
- It takes 40 litres of maple sap to make one litre of syrup
- Maple products such as maple taffy, maple sugar and maple butter are made simply through additional cooking. Nothing else is added to the maple sap. 
- Quebec maple products are sold in 52 countries around the world (2011)
- Maple syrup contains at elast 54 polyphenols and so falls between banana and broccoli in antioxidant capacity, which is an invaluable assest for sugar.
- Maple syrup is only produced in North America, either in Canada or in the Northeastern United States. Canada is responsible for 82% of global production, and Quebec, 75%.

For more information on maple syrup, visit:,,,

Open since 2007, Juliette & Chocolat (@juliette_choco) on Laurier Avenue serves sweet delights, including hot chocolate, brownies, pastries and chocolate fondues, as well as savoury crepes, salads, wines, beers and ciders. An onsite chocolate gift ship completes the charm of this elegant venue.

My lunch at Juliette & Chocolat:
- A glass of cider (Bretagne, 750ml)
- Milk chocolate: Ghana 40.5% - Hints of hazelnut and caramel, strong cocoa taste with an after-taste of green tea
- Goat cheese with pears and honey buckwheat crepe

For a taste of Montreal's local culinary culture, we headed over to Jean-Talon Market after lunch. The Jean-Talon Market is the largest outdoor public market in North America and has been attracting crowds to Little Italy since 1933. In addition to the ubiquitous fruit, vegetable and flower stalls is a tasty array of specialty shops that feature spices, oils, cheeses, meats, pastries and exquisite products that are specific to Quebec.

Using fresh, seasonal, and local produce, La Champagnerie (@Lachampagnerie) offers a wonderful variety of meat and seafood dishes and an exclusive wine list of private imports. Champagne by the glass as well as creative cocktails using champagne at La Champagnerie gives guests an opportunity to taste different brands and varieties of champagne.

Our pre-dinner drinks and snacks at La Champagnerie:
- Poutine: Shredded maple-flavoured pork, brie cheese and foie gras poultry veloute, cheese curds
- Arancini: Risotto balls with goat cheese and apricots
- Blue Cheese Snails: Served with grilled rosemary focaccia
- Sloe Gin Fizz: Gin, mashed cassis, apple & plum cordial, fresh lemon juice & bubbles.

Imadake (@imadakeizakaya) is an izakaya serving appetizer-size dishes meant for sharing (comparable to Guu in Toronto). Known for its party ambiance and sake bombs, the venue is loud yet fun, providing an interesting dining experience with warm and friendly service. Conscious of health and the environment, Imadake uses organic and sustainable products.

My dinner with Jess at Imadake:
- Fried goat cheese with raspberry maple syrup
- Ebi mayo
- Takoyaki 

- Miso beef tongue
- Karaage with wasabi mayo
- Miso black cod
- Green tea cheese cake
- Red bean ice cream

DAY 3 - Sunday, November 3, 2013
Sunday brunch at Renoir in the Hotel Sofitel consisted of an elaborate buffet spread with everything that you'll ever want for brunch. Raw oysters, smoked salmon, baskets full of pastries (OMG the croissants!) made-to-order omelettes and waffles, charcuterie, cheeses, fresh fruits, endless assortment of desserts... the list goes on and on. I was so busy eating that I only managed two photos! I'm officially ashamed of myself (speaking of which I probably had four plates of oysters and smoked salmon).

After a quick stroll in downtown (i.e. shopping) it was time for me to head back to Toronto. I was pretty tired from the jam-packed weekend so I didn't get any work done on the computer this time...I opted for a nap instead. Time flies when you're napping in these comfy chairs 'cause before I knew it I was already at Union Station.

I just want to say THANK YOU to Tourism Montreal and Food Bloggers of Canada (FBC) for this amazing press trip! 

For those of you interested in travelling to Montreal for a weekend-getaway, check out these impressive stats about the dining scene in Montreal:

- In 2013, CNN Travel placed Montreal among its top 10 summer food destinations
- Montreal is on Frommer's list of the World's 10 best cities for outdoor dining
- Boulevard S. Laurent and Mile-End are among Zagat's 9 Must-Visit International Food Streets
- In 2011, CNN ranked Schwartz's smoked meat 27th on a list of the World's most delicious foods
- According to the Regie des alcools, des courses et des jeux, in August 2013 Montreal had a total of 368 BYOW restaurants

*This trip was complimentary. The opinions and views expressed on this post are my own*