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Trip Report Montreal for two days -- mini TR

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We just returned from a two-day visit to Montreal, just a quick hop up the interstate from Burlington.

Basing ourselves in a B&B near St. Louis Square, we were just a couple of blocks from the Sherbrooke metro stop and a good 30-minute walk or less to some of our favorite places. Here’s a quick rundown of some of Montreal’s good things we enjoyed:

Wednesday: beautiful Indian summer weather in Montreal; we checked into the B&B in mid-afternoon then strolled up St. Denis, paused at a sidewalk café for a pint of Quebec amber draft (a “rousse”). Then walked over to St. Laurent and circled back to the B&B.

Dinner: taxi over to Outremont and dinner at Lemeac, a fine French bistro. It was packed to the gills (on a mid-September Wednesday night…what’s happening?) Appetizers (which in Quebec are called “entrees” with the main dishes called “plats”) were smoked herring from the Iles de la Madeleine and soupe de poissons. Partner and I both had scallops on a bed of spinach and smashed potatoes with dots of caviar on top. Superb. Since it was a warm, humid evening we avoided wine and instead had martinis on one side of the table and good Quebec St.. Ambroise beer on the other. One dessert: date toffee pudding with cinnamon ice cream. One after dinner liqueur: chartreuse verte. An excellent evening.

Thursday: after breakfast we headed out to the Montreal Museum of Fine Art for the big Rodin show, just about to finish its Montreal run. We had bought our timed-entry tickets a few weeks before. The Rodin Museum in Paris is apparently renovating its quarters so it has sent 300 Rodin works traveling around the world and Montreal has hosted this wonderful exhibit for the last few months. The exhibit presented the full sweep of Rodin’s genius, with many of his small studies of figures, hands, feet, small pieces done in preparation for his great Gates of Hell. Stars of the show were The Thinker, the Age of Bronze, three of the figures of the Burghers of Calais, the Adam, the Cathedral, the Hands of God, and the Walking Man.

Staggering out a couple of hours afterward, dazed with all of this beauty, we took a taxi to one of our favorite restaurants, L’Express on St. Denis. Parking in Montreal is a no-win proposition and taxis are reasonable and easy to flag down. The favorable U.S. dollar exchange rate helps too. L’Express has been a Montreal favorite for decades and our lunch did not disappoint: another soupe de poissons, this version with very garlicky aioli (always a good thing) and parmesan toasts, a cold corn soup drizzled with olive oil and pesto, and a couple of small dishes of fried calamari with a salad of arugula, cucumbers and grilled chunks of red mushrooms (red mushrooms?? Never heard of such things…at first I thought they were bits of beet; they were meaty and tasty). We chose some delicious, cold house white wine to go with lunch.

L’Express is known for its homemade cornichons, which are placed on your table in a fat glass jar, together with a mustard pot and bread and butter. You can also buy a jar, which we did to take back home.

After dropping off the cornichons at our B&B, I walked down to the Musee d’Art Contemporain in the Place des Arts. This square is surrounded by the opera house, the concert hall, and the modern art museum. Currently Madame Butterfly was playing and I resolved to attempt a November return to the city to go to the opera (it will be Otello or Elektra). The fountains and steps in the center of the square are currently being rebuilt in order to have different lighting effects in the evening. It should be pretty spectacular when finished. I always enjoy the exhibits in this museum because they are so far beyond my little mental universe, very off-the-wall. Just don’t go expecting to see Picasso and Matisse—those folks are so 1950s (insert smiley face with raised eyebrow here).

More walking in the vast underground spaces beneath the Place des Arts. Montreal has made itself into a winter-living city, with underground courts and plazas, restaurants, cafes, boutiques, all built around the major metro stops. After much walking (I needed to burn off lunch in preparation for our celebration dinner with our friend D), I took the metro back to the Sherbrooke stop.

Dinner: we taxied over to D’s apartment in Outremont for aperitifs and nibbles with her and her son, now breaking into the music world as a composer and singer. Much good conversation catching up on what everyone has been doing the past year. Then a call to Uber for a ride to the restaurant. This was my first Uber experience, quite amazing. In two minutes Mr. J. was waiting for us at the front door in his shiny new Toyota. He has a day job and his wife is going to grad school at night so he drops her off, does his Uber thing for a while and then picks her up at school.

Our dinner this evening was at a relatively new little place called Les Deux Singes de Montarvie, 176 St. Viateur West, in the Mile End neighborhood. This area is home to good cafes, innovative restaurants, and superb bagel bakeries (especially La Maison du Bagel). Les Deux Singes is small, with only a couple dozen seats, and it’s imperative to reserve at least two or three weeks ahead. One popular trip rating web site ranks it #1 of Montreal’s restaurants, and even allowing for some wiggle room this is nevertheless a very impressive ranking. It is co-owned by a delightful trilingual Iranian woman and her chef, Sean, a twenty-something prodigy who trained at one of Quebec’s culinary schools. The cuisine is highly imaginative and the menu brief, just four beginning dishes and four mains but the variety is great.

So here’s the list of treats for our really superb celebration dinner (a celebration just because we had not seen each other in a while):
Drinks: one basil vodka martini, two mango-mint-chili mojitos
Complimentary amuse-bouches: narrow long trays of avocado-melon-cucumber with olive oil drizzle
->First plates (the “entrees” in Quebec nomenclature): roasted zucchini blossoms stuffed with chicken with soy-sherry vinegar; prosciutto with pineapple-melon gazpacho with chili-parsley oil
->Main dishes (the “plats”): bavette steak with chanterelles and homemade kimchi; fresh pasta with chanterelles and chopped fresh herbs and homemade beef stock reduction
->Desserts: all kinds of things, fig cobbler, strawberries, ice cream…can’t remember
And red wine, forget the name

Definitely a Wow Wow evening. We waddled out and taxied home to bed.

Friday: Checked out of the B&B and headed for our traditional stop on the edge of Montreal before we get onto Champlain Bridge heading for home: Atwater Market. This is a big, two-story building with different food shops and Premiere Moisson, part of a Quebec chain which is bakery-patisserie-café-bistro-takeout all rolled into one. When we are here we always duck into Fromagerie Atwater, a true Temple of Cheese. We told the counter guy we wanted four different kinds of cheese and he loaded us up with treats. Plus a bottle of white balsamic vinegar and apple cider balsamic vinegar.

Then on the road south but we turned off the Champlain bridge, turning a little west away from the direction for Vermont, which is I-89, and instead going toward the New York interstate, I-87. But we shortly turned off to a farm road going toward another Temple of Cheese, Fritz Kaiser’s operation, the Fromagerie Kaiser. This is a terrific cheese producer which sells at retail but also sells through a major distributor to many restaurants throughout Quebec. It is located in the middle of the cornfields and farmsteads and I will give the directions for all Fodorites who are cheese lovers:

From Montreal, take Champlain Bridge/Pont Champlain and afterward follow the exit for New York/I-87. After about 20 minutes (well before you reach the border) turn off at exit 6 for “202 East/Lacolle”. Drive past several intersections with little farm roads (you are now deep into farm country), past roads numbered 217, 221…225 and then turn right on the next road, named “4th Concession”. Go about one-half mile and Fromagerie Kaiser is on the right. The address is: 459 4th Concession, Noyan, Quebec. Closed Sundays. The many types of cheeses found here are made from goat, sheep, and cow milk from regional dairies. The cheeses are mild, soft, strong, blue, creamy, hard…everything. Go!

Then back in the car to drive to the border, going south a few hundred yards on the 4th Concession, right on the farm road toward the border crossing “Noyan/Alburg Vermont”. Then you can go over to I-89 south to Burlington but we chose instead to follow route 2 south down the northern Lake Champlain islands and over the causeway linking South Hero Island to the eastern shore of Lake Champlain and home to Burlington. The Green Mountains were actually pale blue on the horizon, end of a perfect trip.

Moral of the story: you can squeeze a lot of enjoyment into two days in Montreal!