I’ve had the good fortune to live in Canada, a country whose people, culture, and natural beauty I love. My wife and I also spent a week eating our way through Quebec recently – a mission that didn’t suck.
If all you know of Canadian cuisine is poutine, you might be surprised to find that Canada, the second-largest country in the world, is not just renowned for its stunning natural landscapes, but also for its diverse and delicious cuisine. With a multicultural population and a deep connection to the land, Canadian food culture reflects a wide range of influences and ingredients. Canada’s culinary heritage is heavily influenced by the diverse immigrant communities that have settled in the country. British, French, Indigenous, Chinese, Italian, and many other cultures have contributed to Canada’s food landscape. This multicultural diversity is most evident in the country’s major cities like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal, where you can find an array of international restaurants and markets.
Some of the best Asian cuisine I’ve ever encountered was in Vancouver, where the Pacific Rim heavily influences the culinary scene there. But as I mentioned, our recent vacation was limited to Quebec, specifically Montreal and Quebec City.
When it comes to iconic Canadian dishes, poutine takes center stage. Originating in Quebec, poutine consists of crispy french fries topped with cheese curds and smothered in rich gravy. It’s the ultimate comfort food and can be found all across the country. Variations include toppings like pulled pork, mushrooms, or even lobster for a gourmet twist. We did not eat poutine during our visit to Canada. Call me crazy, but soggy French fries are just not my thing. We did enjoy many spectacular meals, from high-end dining to Montreal bagels. In fact, we ate 16 restaurant meals in 7 days. (Keep in mind: we’re trained professionals.) Here are some highlights.
Brasserie 701 Lamb Shank with Potato Gnocchi
After a day of airports and airplanes when we arrived at our Montreal hotel – Hotel Place d’Armes – in the evening we decided we’d had enough traveling that day and decided to eat dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Brasserie 701. It was an excellent choice and if you think hotel cuisine has to be routine, you’re wrong. Brasserie 701 featured classic Parisian brasserie/bistro cuisine that was outstanding. I especially loved my lamb shank cooked for seven hours and served with potato gnocchi, glazed with a wonderful wine and veal reduction.
Brasserie 701 Quebec Foie Gras Torchon
Quebec is renowned for its foie gras and I wasted no time tucking into a wonderful Quebec foie gras torchon at Brasserie 701, served with mango and grilled country bread.
Jardin Nelson Roast Pork with Garlic & Rosemary Sandwich
One of the more beautiful settings for lunch or dinner in Montreal is Jardin Nelson, a patio terrace restaurant in Old Montreal on Place Jacques-Cartier where diners are surrounded by flowers, plants and foliage galore. And there was a jazz trio playing during lunch, making it even more special. Jardin Nelson bakes bread from scratch daily and my sandwich of homemade roast pork with garlic and rosemary was one of the best I’ve ever eaten. Since Jardin Nelson is 100% outdoors, it closes during winter.
L’Express Roasted Quail with Wild Rice
Dinner on our second night in Montreal was at L’Express, a beloved bistro that’s been around for something like 45 years and has the feel of a Left Bank eatery in Paris. The menu at L’Express is chock full of classic dishes like chicken liver pâte with pistachios, bone marrow with fleur de sel, croque-monsieur, steak tartare, calf liver with tarragon, hanger steak with frites, and one of our favorite dishes: roasted quail with wild rice.
L’Express Scallop & Strawberry Ceviche
One of the more eye-popping dishes at L’Express – and every bit as delicious as it looked – was ceviche de pétoncles et fraise (scallop and strawberry ceviche), an absolutely marvelous dish. I’d never have thought of marrying raw scallops with strawberries!
The morning after our dinner at L’Express we boarded the Via Rail train from Montreal to Quebec City, which was a treat in itself. We were treated to lunch onboard, complete with a selection of wines, beer and spirits. Definitely the way to get around in Canada!
Lapin Sauté Duck & Rabbit Cassoulet
Quebec City is a wonderful walking city and we covered a lot of ground, beginning with a dinner on the lovely patio at a restaurant called Lapin Sauté in the Petit-Champlain district – a place specializing in all things rabbit like rabbit salad, rabbit poutine, rabbit tart, rabbit rillettes, etc. – and where I enjoyed a hearty cassoulet with duck sausage and braised rabbit thigh. Much to our surprise, our server, Annabelle, had worked and lived in Sugarhouse previously and may be working at my wife’s restaurant this winter. It’s a small world after all.
L’Orygine Veal Crudo with Quinoa Chip
One of the more interesting and creative dishes we encountered in Canada was at a lovely restaurant in Old Quebec City with beautiful terrace dining called Bistro L’Orygine. There, Chef Sabrina Lemay creates unique dishes like veal crudo (raw) with chanterelles, buffalo labneh, cipollinis marinated overnight in vinegar and crowned with a big crisp quinoa chip.
Matto Spaghetti alle Vongole
Adjacent to our Hotel le Priori in Quebec City is a terrific Italian restaurant called Matto, where we had an excellent dinner on their sidewalk patio. We were lucky to be able to chat with owner Rocco Cortina over delectable dishes like spaghetti alle vongole and my wife’s excellent risotto.
Paillard Jambon & Fromage Sandwich
Following a very interesting and informative walking tour of Old Quebec City we stopped for lunch at an artisanal bakery and cafe called Paillard – a must for lovers of good bread like that used for the yummy jambon & fromage baguette sandwich.
L’Échaudé Duck Confit with Spaetzle
For over 30 years L’Échaudé restaurant in Quebec City has been frequented by loyal regulars who appreciate the outstanding service, excellent cuisine, and the impressive wine selection of more than 500 wines from 13 countries. I love duck confit and order it whenever I can. At L’Échaudé their duck confit leg came with spaetzle, green shallot cream, grilled asparagus, and roasted Brussels sprouts. It’s perfect comfort food.
Veal Sweetbreads with Peas & Chanterelles
Another fabulous dish at L’Échaudé was the one Faith ordered: ris de veau, petit pois, clos-des-roches et chanterelle, which translates as veal sweetbreads with peas, chanterelles and Le Clos-des-Roches, which is a firm pressed washed rind cheese from Quebec, similar to Gruyere.
Back in Montreal, a bucket list mission for me was to try a genuine Montreal bagel. So we trekked from our Place d’Armes Hotel over to the St-Viateur Bagel Shop in the multi-cultural neighborhood of Le Plateau Mont-Royal to bag some Montreal bagels.
St-Viateur Bagel Kitchen
Montreal bagels have a rich and storied history, deeply rooted in the city’s Jewish community. One of the defining characteristics of a Montreal bagel is its hint of sweetness. Like other bagels, Montreal bagels are boiled before baking. However, they are boiled in honey-sweetened water, giving them that signature glossy and slightly sticky crust.
Tucking into a Montreal Bagel
The process of boiling bagels in honey water infuses the bagel with a subtle sweetness and contributes to their chewy interior. Traditional Montreal bagels are then baked in wood-fired ovens, which can impart a faint smoky flavor and ensure a crisp exterior. If you love a good bagel, the Montreal bagel experience is an essential one.
Heirloom Margherita Pizza
Like here in Salt Lake City and elsewhere, Montreal has its food halls and we were mighty impressed by one called Le Central, a gourmet food hall where you can find everything from Spanish pintxos and Japanese ramen, to Hawaiian snacks, Portuguese chicken, caviar, seafood, churros, sweets, sandwich, pastas and much more. My Margherita pizza from Heirloom Vin & Pizza was as good as any I’ve had anywhere.
Saving the best for last, our final dinner in Montreal was at Mon Lapin restaurant – a reservation that is very hard to come by. Mon Lapin is a small restaurant and very inviting – not fancy but very cozy and has been called Canada’s Best Restaurant. Reservations have to be made 30 days in advance online and we discovered that they are fully booked on any given day in under 10 minutes from when the online reservation system opens up, which we learned was at 10 P.M. MST.
Mon Lapin Razor Clams with Corn & Spring Onions
It’s a vibrant, bustling restaurant in the Little Italy neighborhood of Montreal. One of the owners told us that she actually feels bad that it’s so hard to get a reservation because she would like for folks to be able just to drop in to Mon Lapin without a lot of fuss and bother. That is more possible in warm weather since the restaurant has additional patio seating.
Mon Lapin Mackerel Crudo
The eclectic menu from chefs Marc-Olivier Frappier and Jessica Noel includes dishes like a starter we enjoyed which was mackerel crudo with fresh fava beans and yogurt fume. Other provocative seafood dishes at Mon Lapin include scallops with cantaloup and zucchini flowers with anchovies.
Mon Lapin Heirloom Tomatoes with Beef Crudo & Sea Herbs
Another unique starter was heirloom tomatoes with raw beef (their version of beef tartare), sea herbs and fresh greens.
Mon Lapin Tagliolini with Sungolds & Bottarga
A vibrant and fresh tasting pasta dish at Mon Lapin was the delicious homemade tagliolini with sungold tomatoes and bottarga – the roe of bluefin tuna or gray mullet.
Aside from the eclectic menu, another thing that differentiates Mon Lapin is their visionary wine list, which is peppered with lots of natural wines. We particularly enjoyed a bottle of Italian Rosato from Faro in Sicily produced by Bonavita winemaker Giovanni Scarfone, as well as Muscadet Granite Clos Des Perrières from Burgundy, which a friendly wine savvy co-owner recommended to us. We even spotted a bottle of Ruth Lewandowski wine on the wine list, made by Utah native and winemaker Evan Lewandowski.
Mon Lapin Newfoundland Cod with Zucchini Scapece
The Muscadet Granite Clos Des Perrières paired especially well with Faith’s entree of Newfoundland cod with zucchini scapece and marjoram, which was wonderful. Our final meal in Canada at Mon Lapin could not have been more enjoyable or more memorable. Be sure to put it on your bucket list if you’re ever in Montreal.
Photos by Ted Scheffler
Culinary quote of the week: “Canadian cuisine is defined as local, seasonal, sustainable ingredients, in the hands of many cultures.” – Chef & Restaurateur Eric Pateman