Monday, October 5, 2015

Accord-Ing to Stella: A Weekend in Montreal

Squeezing in a road trip before winter was the best idea ever! Two weeks ago, Jon and I took a road trip to Montreal for three days - Friday to Sunday - where we filled our tummies with food and drinks...a lot of food and drinks. I gained almost five pounds! No regrets though because every calorie we consumed was worth it; we didn't have a single bad meal there.

Thanks to Honda Canada (Twitter: @HondaCanada, Facebook: Honda Canada) we took the 2015 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring to Montreal. This was my first time driving a hybrid and I hope it's not my last. Truth be told I really didn't want to give it back, not only because it was such a nice ride but it was so good on gas.

I'm not sure if you know but aside from being into food I'm also really into cars. I've loved cars ever since I was little. From gawking at cars on the street, spending hours building Tamiya models and watching Initial-D at home, to learning how to drive manual, attending car shows and making the trek up to Shannonville and Mosport with friends, cars have always been a big part of my life. As corny as it sounds I have a special place in my heart for Hondas too. I think it runs in the family! Right now my dad drives an Accord (his third one), my mom an Acura RSX, my brother a CR-V (he drove a Civic and a Prelude before too). As for me, I have a 2003 Civic Si-R. It's an oldie but a goodie.

So, was I stoked that Honda lent me an Accord Hybrid Touring (#AccordHybrid) for my road trip? Hell, yeah! Especially because I know the Hybrid will be amazing on gas The car achieves its excellent fuel economy by basically using three drive modes: EV, Hybrid and Engine. EV drive draws solely from the power of the lithium-ion battery  Engine drive utilizes the 2.0-liter DOHC i-VTEC® Atkinson cycle 4-cylinder engine, sending power directly to the front wheels for medium to high speed cruising. Hybrid drive blends the two for powerful acceleration and more efficient driving in stop and go traffic than Engine drive.*


With our bags packed and the navi all set up we were ready to hit the road. But first, McDonald's! Every road trip should start with breakfast at McDonald's :) Mad love for their hash browns.

Driving from Toronto to Montreal takes around five hours. We stopped at a few ONroute service centres along the way for coffee and bathroom breaks. This probably extended the trip a bit but it's okay, we had all the time in the world! Oh, and summer road trips mean dead bugs on the windshield...

The ride in the Accord Hybrid Touring was very smooth and quiet. This was especially evident when the Accord's EV mode kicks in. One time when I was at a red light I turned off the music as a test and, I kid you not, it felt like we were sitting in a small soundproof room. There was absolutely no noise coming from the car's engine. A comfy ride with great company under beautiful perfect.

We checked in at the Gouverneur Hotel close to 4pm and left the hotel for food shortly after. The hotel was in the Latin Quarter near Old Montreal so it was pretty convenient to walk everywhere. Having said that, we did end up walking a lot but it was a great way to burn off calories. There wasn't a cloud in the sky the entire weekend so that made walking around very pleasant.

So here goes! Our Montreal eats!

La Folie (left) (reg. $10.50, lrg. $15.90)
Mushrooms, corn, sauteed red onions, spicy sausage, bacon, sour cream, Jalapeno Popper & pepper sauce 
L'Astérix (right) (reg. $10.50, lrg. $15.90)
Smoked meat, mushrooms, sour cream & pepper sauce 
Our first stop was at La Banquise (Twitter: @restolabanquise, Facebook: La Banquise), a family-run poutine spot that serves more than 30 varieties of poutine. My first visit to this 24-hour poutine joint was five years ago (blog post here) and since then I've been itching to go back. My poutine this time was just as as good as last time. So happy! We both ordered the regular because it's enough, especially if you want to eat elsewhere afterwards.

Smoked Meat Sandwich ($9)
We were full from poutine but we made room for smoked meat at the iconic Schwartz's Deli (Twitter: @SchwartzDeli, Facebook: Schwartz's). Since it was still early, around 5:30-6pm, there wasn't a line-up. We ordered exactly what we went there for: a smoked meat sandwich. "Lean, medium, or fatty?" my server asked. I replied "Fatty!" naturally. It's the only way.

Grilled Banana and Caramel Crepe ($11.25)
With fleur de sel caramel and a scoop of vanilla ice cream
Poutine and smoked meat. The only thing left now is something sweet. It seemed almost impossible to still have room for dessert but we did, and what's better than crepes in Montreal? We stopped by Juliette & Chocolat (Twitter: @juliette_choco, Facebook: Juliette & Chocolat) which was walking distance from Schwartz's. Fantasic crepe!

After all that deliciousness it was time to head back to the hotel and walk off our food babies. Our brains have shut down and we desperately needed to recuperate. Jon and I rested in our room for a bit before heading out again, this time for scotch. We spent a couple of hours at L'ile Noire Pub (Facebook: Pub L'ile noire), a lounge-y bar that boasts over 140 scotches. We enjoyed the following five 12-year scotches: Dalwhinnie, Cragganmore, Oban, Glen Moray and Dalmore. The first three were my faves :) 

Fairmount or St. Viateur? For one reason or another we found ourselves at 
St. Viateur Bagel (Twitter: @StViateurBagel, Facebook: St. Viateur Bagel Shop). St. Viateur bagels are hand-rolled, boiled in honey water, and cooked in a wood fired oven. St. Viateur have been making their bagels the same way since 1957.

As this location was not one of St. Viateur's café locations we had to find somewhere to eat our bagels. We ended up sitting on the steps in front of some church. I had my cinnamon raisin bagel ($0.85) and Jon had his all-dressed bagel ($0.85). Our bagels were dense and chewy with a nice crisp on the outside. Mine was sweet too because of the cinnamon and raisin, and Jon's all-dressed was fragrant and crunchy. We didn't end up going to Fairmount though. Too bad 'cause I really wanted to compare the two bagel shops. Next time!

Pizzeria Gema (Twitter: @pizzeriagema, Facebook: Pizzeria Gemawas somewhere I had to hit on this trip. After my very memorable dinner at Impasto last year I knew for certain that Gema was going to be just as amazing (Impasto and Pizzeria Gema are owned by Stefano Faita and Michele Forgione). I've been following both chef Forgione's Instagram and Pizzeria Gema's Instagram for some time now and their posts had me drooling all the way in Toronto. Anyhoo, rosé under the sun on the patio. Bliss.

Menina (left) - Escarole, capers, olives, mozzarella di bufflone, pecorino
Pizza of the Day (right) - House-made porchetta, pecorino, mozzarella di bufala, boccacini

The pizza deserves a close up! The light and crispy golden brown crust with almost burnt blisters is thin, and has the perfect amount of chew. It's not soggy in the middle so it doesn't droop. It also bends and folds without cracking or breaking. Phenomenal. 

Vanilla bean and Belgian chocolate swirl frozen custard
Added toppings: Affogato + crisp pearl

Vanilla bean and Belgian chocolate swirl frozen custard
Added toppings: Butterscotch sauce + rainbow vermicelli

I was so happy and satisfied with my lunch at Pizzeria Gema. I hope I can visit again soon, or better yet they should open in Toronto. Oh and a heads up: since our visit Pizzeria Gema have stopped serving a prix-fixe menu for lunch. Their lunch and dinner menu is now one and the same.

With a bagel, a pizza and frozen custard in our bellies it was time again to do some walking. We made our way to the Jean-Talon Market (Twitter: @MarchePublicMtl, Facebook: Les marchés publics de Montréal) the largest outdoor public market in North America. Although we didn't end up buy anything it was still really nice to tour the specialty shops and see all the beautiful fresh fruits and vegetables there.

Caesar ($6.75)
Vodka, gin, whiskey, or tequila served with worcestershire, Frank's RedHot, horseradish, BBQ sauce, pickle juice, bean and Clamato 
We love Caesars! A quick internet search showed that L'Entrepot Mont-Royal (Twitter: @Lentrepot_mr, Facebook: L'Entrepot Mont-Royal) serves one of the best Caesars in Montreal. I had my Caesar with vodka and beef jerky (extra $1.25) while Jon had his with whisky (by the way they ran out of beans so that's why you don't see any in the photo). Good Caesar, not a memorable one by any means but certainly a great value for $6.75. One thing to note about L'Entrepot Mont-Royal is that they offer an all-day $4.95 bar snacks menu. We ordered sweet potato fries, not 'cause we were hungry but because you can't just order drinks there apparently.

We were getting a bit tired so we headed back to the hotel to take a short nap. Zzz...zz...z...

Clockwise from top left: Hakutsuru Draft ($17), Soft Shell Crab ($9), Tonkotsu Ramen ($12.5), Octopus Takoyaki ($7)
A short nap turned into a rather long nap; by the time we woke up it was already 9:30pm. Hmmm, where should we go eat? What do we feel like? Jon and I often crave ramen at home in Toronto so it was no surprise that we found ourselves craving it again in Montreal. We ended up at Sumi Dojo (Instagram: @sumidojo, Facebook: Sumi Dojo), which turned out to be a pretty happening place. Like a typical izakaya Sumi Dojo is very loud and lively, and it gets even louder and livelier when diners order sake bombs (think loud drumming and servers yelling in Japanese). 

Hey guys, I actually lined up for Sunday brunch. First time ever. I never do it in Toronto because 1) I'm just not into brunch (gasp!), and 2) I refuse to line up at a restaurant for food (lining up for food at the movies, amusement parks, etc. are exceptions). I figured I might as well since I'm on vacation with time to kill. We checked out of our hotel and arrived at Restaurant L'Avenue (Instagram: @restolavenue, Facebook: Restaurant L'Avenue) around 9:45 am. Surprise, surprise. There was already a line. Not a long one though, thank God. We waited for 20 minutes for a table. I know it could be worse but still, never again.

Déjeuner du Ritz ($15.89)
3 eufs plein air brouillés baveux, saumon fumé, creme sure et caviar servis avec un croissant et une salade arugula
Both our brunch plates comes with an assortment of fruits on a metal skewer and it arrives before the main dish. I really enjoyed the fruits because they were very fresh and sweet, and really opened up my appetite. My smoked salmon & egg plate itself was tasty but I could only finish half of the eggs because there was just too much of it. The whole thing was very heavy and filling. The arugula salad, which was really just plain arugula, did very little to cut the richness. The croissant was nice, fluffy and flaky, and I basically stuffed as much egg and salmon and caviar into it as I could but I still had a lot left.

 One thing that irked me about L'Avenue is that they don't have English on their menu or a separate English menu. I basically had to guess what I was ordering. And to be honest, not that I didn't like what I ordered but if they had an English menu I probably would've ordered something else. They had a large menu and it would be nice to look through it and understand it all before making a decision. When we left L'Avenue the line was almost three times longer than when we first got there.

And with Sunday brunch we end our eating extravaganza in Montreal! Before we left for home we picked up some Schwartz's smoked meat and St. Viateur bagels for our family. 

Let me give you an update on the car :) We finally filled up gas for the first time on our way back. We technically didn't have to because there was still gas left but we didn't want to risk it (the next ONroute stop was some distance away). As you can see, we put 768.7 km on the Accord Hybrid Touring and I think we could've easily done another 250 km before the tank is completely empty (the Accord has a 60L gas tank).

A gorgeous sunset welcomes us back to home.

I filled up the car again the next day before returning it to Honda and just as I thought, with a half tank left at 487.4 km, the Accord Hybrid Touring can definitely get close to, if not over, 1000km on a tank of gas. This is super impressive! To think that its fuel economy would be even better with city driving...oh man, I want to keep it!

Thanks again, Honda Canada, for lending me the Accord Hybrid Touring for my road trip. We had such a great time in Montreal and I can't wait to head back soon!