We seem to have committed to lazy starts, which, when I’m on vacation, I absolutely don’t mind at all. We ultimately lounged around the apartment until lunch time before heading out for the day. First stop: food! We’d passed an interesting looking place on the walk home yesterday that I suggested checking out called La Réserve du Comptoir. It was actually a charcuterie but also served sandwiches and coffee. The interior was chic and minimalist, but the piece de resistance was its glass-panelled meat locker, which customers could sit and peer into. Row upon row of saucissons sec and other dried meat hung neatly, and David was just salivating. We ordered a pair of sandwiches, smoked beef with goat cheese, shallots and eggplant for me and smoked sausage with lettuce, mayo and shallots for David. They were super delicious! We sat happily noshing on our sandwiches and admiring the selection of cured meats.
Once we’d eaten our fill, we made our way down to the metro station and hopped on a train headed for Vieux Montreal (“Old Montreal”). It was supposed to be warmer than yesterday, though it certainly didn’t feel it. It was still somewhere around -8 C, but the wind chill felt particularly brutal. We made our way over to Notre Dame de Bon Secours, only to find out, much to my dismay, that it was closed on Mondays. I knew that many things in Montreal are closed on Mondays, but I’d hoped that a church would remain open. I’m usually much better about checking up on things, but my pre-trip research had been somewhat limited this time around. We continued onwards towards the heart of Old Montreal, down the promenade of the Old Port. The bone-chilling cold was getting to be distracting, so we thought we’d try and find a café to warm up in.
We meandered our way down the main drag of Old Montreal, Rue Saint Paul, which was lined with various tourist shops and pubs, to be expected along a main tourist thoroughfare. The architecture reminded both of us not of France but actually Edinburgh, with its stately grey buildings. We were, however, out of luck when it came to cafes. Finally, we came across the next sight on my list, Basilique Notre Dame de Montreal, which was (mercifully) open and, thankfully, warm. The interiors were truly breathtaking, and we stood in awe, gaping at the ceiling and gorgeous altar. I’ve always loved cathedrals–the hushed, reverent calm that falls over everyone as they appreciate the beauty of their surroundings. We made our way around the cathedral, taking in the beautiful stained glass windows depicting scenes of Montreal city history and ornately carved wood ornamentation.
Once we’d had our fill of the cathedral, we braved the cold and headed back outside. Across the square was the original headquarters of the Bank of Montreal, the oldest bank in Canada, dating back to 1817. The Pantheon-like building houses a small museum, and is actually sandwiched between the current head office and the old bank. From there, we walked down Rue Notre Dame, passing the impressively imposing Hotel de Ville, until we’d come full circle to where we started the afternoon. To get our bearings and out of the cold again, we popped into an adorable little bakery/café, Bar a Beurre, for a cup of hot chocolate and a giant oreo for David. We decided we’d do another loop around Old Montreal, going farther past the cathedral to see what the rest of the area looked like. We stopped into a few shops, in part to keep warm but also to check out their fun various wares, grabbing a couple postcards for our fridge. It was a fun, if not quiet, street, with several interesting high-end stores selling furniture and clothing housed in imposing stone buildings.
We eventually reached the end of what looked to be old town, so we turned back and went in search of a pub for a quick drink. It was now exceptionally cold, an I was greatly regretting my ill-advised choice of lighter boots, as I’d lost feeling in my feet such that it felt like I was walking on frostbitten stumps. We finally made it to Gaspar Taverne, a place that David had noted on our walk out, and I was eager for the central heating. We lingered over our drinks, and David took advantage of the happy hour special of $1 oysters by indulging in a half dozen. Once I regained feeling in my extremities, we headed back to the apartment.
Our hosts had recommended trying a place for dinner across the nearby park called La Salle à Manger. It had popped up during my restaurant research, so I thought we’d give it a try. After changing into burlier boots and arming myself with mittens, we trekked across the snow-laden park to find the restaurant. It had a spacious, open feeling, with fun wooden benches and chalkboard menus. Much of the decision to try the place was motivated by the fact that they had foal on the menu, and David was super interested in trying it. Funnily enough, as much as I love food, I often look for restaurants that I think David would enjoy (aesthetically and/or gastronomically), probably because I derive as much pleasure from watching him enjoy his food as I do eating delicious things.
For appetizers, he started with foal tartare, while I chose a bit of blue cheese. My cheese, unsurprisingly, was delicious and presented with an assortment of nuts, pear slices and jelly. David’s foal arrived with a side of deep fried pig skin (aka pork rinds). It was relatively coarsely ground with plenty of chives, lemon juice and even a bit of pork rinds. He noted that, like other tartares, it had a lightness to it that you wouldn’t expect from eating raw meat. It had an intense, wild flavour–recognizably distinct from other kinds of meat he’s tried. All in all, a success!
For our mains, I opted for a sweet potato ravioli with walnuts in a butter sauce. It was suitably delicious, quite similar in flavour and texture to butternut squash ravioli. David went with a pork chop served with fried polenta and various veggies. To say that he enjoyed the dish would be an understatement. I semi-seriously joked afterwards that upon first bite of the pork shop he had the same reaction as he did upon first sight of me on our wedding day. I think he literally teared up it was that delicious. He said that it tasted like how he believed pork used to taste before it was “industrialized”, that is to say, plenty of fat (both in the meat and around it) and a rich, woodsy flavour to the meat itself. It was excellently cooked–the fat itself just melted (wasn’t chewy at all) and the thick-cut chop was perfectly seared. This may seem like a remarkable amount of detail in describing a pork chop, but David spent a great deal of time musing on its wonders. We keep a top 5 meals we’ve ever had around the world, and David’s #1 has been a delicious pork dish from Bouillon Racine in Paris since 2010. He declared that this one would actually bump that one from top spot. High praise indeed. Our cocktails were also delightful–I sampled a lemon spritz (white wine, citron, curaçao, soda) and David thoroughly enjoyed a New York sour (bourbon, egg whites, red wine, citron). After we finished, we headed back to the apartment, with David occasionally giggling and crowing with delight at all the deliciousness. Victory.