Dining out in Montreal

There are several elements that combine to make restaurant dining a very pleasant experience. The quality of the food is of course primary, but the setting or the ambience and the service are both essential in creating the satisfying feeling of a dining experience worth having. When all these elements work perfectly together, the c

There are several elements that combine to make restaurant dining a very pleasant experience. The quality of the food is of course primary, but the setting or the ambience and the service are both essential in creating the satisfying feeling of a dining experience worth having. When all these elements work perfectly together, the cost factor recedes into the background. Indeed, for my wife and I, even great food would barely compensate for bad service.

The dining scene in Montreal reflects the great diversity of its people. Sometimes we want to discover different types of cuisine. Montreal is the place. At other times, we look for the warmth of a home-style meal. Again, Montreal is the place.

We are not food critics. We simply want to enjoy dining out once in while, and for whatever excuse we could muster. Sometimes a special occasion demands a visit to a well-reviewed restaurant. Every now and then we simply want to de-stress and relax in a warm hospitable environment. And at other times we simply don’t have time to prepare food at home; a tasty, affordable and quick meal would fill the need.

This blog is a succession of Montreal restaurants we have visited, the most recent at the top. We will not write about places outside of Montreal and internationally: those will be in another blog. In addition, Montreal restaurants that we found truly worthwhile will have their own write-up.

We hope that eventually, our list will be long enough to prove useful to you readers.

Rotisserie Panama – Greek cuisine

We loved driving around Greece. This was in 2017. We were fascinated and literally overwhelmed with the richness of the culture, both ancient and current. We were also very much enjoyed the cuisine. It was a great experience.

A fantastic time in Greece is perhaps the reason we are always interested in dining at local Greek restaurants. The Rotisserie Panama is the third in this series.

First, we were curious as to why a Greek restaurant would be named “Panama.” The friendly waiter explained that the former Greek owner lived for some time in that country. The new owner realized that business-wise it would be good to retain the name as the surrounding community knows the restaurant best as the Panama.There we go. Mystery solved.

The menu was very promising. We ordered the grilled platter (lamb, pork and chicken) accompanied with horta and a mix of fried zucchini and eggplant. Ouzo of course to begin and proper Greek coffee to finish the meal.

As is always the case in Greek restaurants, the portions were very generous. My wife and I shared the grilled platter but it could have been enough for 2 more people. The lamb chops were flavourful with just enough charring. I particularly couldn’t resist eating the fat portions with that rich taste and crusty texture. The pork was just as delicious, and the grilled chicken done to perfection. We were happy.

The horta is special to us, having first tasted the vegetable in Athens and then at Napflio. We ordered it not because the dish is spectacular, but because it brought us back to our travels in Greece. A sprinkling of lemon and olive oil on the boiled horta was all it took to resurrect those warm memories. We do admit that horta could be an acquired taste; even my Greek friend doesn’t like it. I find that amusing.

The fried zucchini and eggplant were so good as appetizers that we quickly finished the plate. Crisp thin batter, served piping hot with tzatziki on the side. All was good.

The Greek coffee I ordered medium sweet, double. Loved the chocolatey aftertaste. The baklava was ordinary, but a necessary complement to the strong coffee.

This was a great experience. We will be back for more.

Rotisserie Panama – 789 rue Jean-Talon (there are two other locations, Dollard des Ormeaux and Laval)

Date/time visited: 07 March 2020, noon


Au cinq parfums – Chinese cuisine

Ever since we explored HongKong and Eastern China in 2013 and enjoyed the regional cuisine wherever we went, it has been difficult finding a good local Chinese restaurant. Yes there are so many to choose from, but none of them come close to the quality of food we savoured in the mainland and in the former British colony. Even the establishments in our local chinatown are not that impressive. Since then whenever we sense a fancy for Chinese food and dim sum, we go to Tong Por Restaurant. (Not the best ambiance. Next time we dine there I will post a word or two about the establishment.) The other go-to restaurant for reasonably reliable Chinese food was Restaurant Kam Shing. Unfortunately the last time we had dinner there we were treated very rudely by a belligerent waiter. We vowed never to go back. We haven’t for almost a year now.)

Recently the restaurant Au Cinq Parfums advertised a new new lunch menu; we decided to try it out. We reasoned that if we liked it, we will then have a second Chinese restaurant to go to when we feel like it.

We ordered a simple lunch: fried egg rolls; hot-sour soup; beef stew with noodles; Cantonese noodles; a dessert. The chef’s skill is often exposed in the preparation of simple dishes like these. The egg rolls were crisp, hot and carried minimal fat. A great start. The hot-sour soup was well balanced and had a pleasing viscosity, arguably the best we have ever had locally.

The big test for us was the Cantonese noodles. We learned from our visit to HongKong how this seemingly simple fare can be crafted to become a most wonderful, impressive, hearty and tasty dish. Unfortunately, the version presented to us did not impress: it was made to appeal to the Western palate, understandably a good strategy that should please the existing clientele. Indeed, we were the only Asians in the dining room. In contrast, the beef stew was remarkable. The broth was rich and complex, clear and not built up with cornstarch. The meat was extremely tender. The noodles underneath were perfectly done and completed the dish. I can have this anytime. I hope that they will keep this on the menu.

The ubiquitous bottle of hot-pepper sauce deserves mention. It was properly spicy, but it also had a richness in flavour and carried a hint of garlic – elements that we don’t usually notice in this condiment in other establishments. The waiter explained that the chef prepares this himself or herself. That was a great touch.

Overall, we had a good but not great lunch. We will give it another try.

With respect to the modification of Chinese cuisine to North American expectations, I must relate our experience more than a decade ago at a Chinese restaurant in London Ontario. It was a small establishment, almost fast-food like, probably strategically positioned to serve the flow of people from the nearby hospital. We fancied the scallops listed in the menu. The owner explained to us in hushed tones that she will have the chef prepare for us “real” scallops done properly. The dish was delicious. I could just imagine what the usual fare might have been — the owner sheepishly explained that ordinarily, that dish was prepared with fish cut and made to look like scallops. The usual crowd is not able to tell the difference. Perhaps the owner thought we were Chinese and would know. An interesting experience.

Au cinq parfums – 9732 rue Birnam

Date/time visited: 21 February 2020


In search of a good phở – Vietnamese soup

When we first moved to Montreal in the mid-1980s, our neighbours recommended that we try this Vietnamese restaurant located in the vicinity of Victoria and St. Kevin, a couple of blocks from where we lived. The neighbours explained that a generous serving of soup sold for $1. The soup was delicious, they said. We hadn’t been yet introduced to phở and I confess we weren’t too keen on the restaurant itself. I used to walk past it everyday on my way to work. To me, the establishment didn’t look particularly inviting. Now I wish we did try their soup. Unfortunately, the restaurant is no longer there.

Since then we have learned to love phở, the Vietnamese soup that has become part of Montreal’s food scene.

We been to a few restaurants that serve phở and we have for some time now settled on our favourite place: Phở Thành Nam Quang on 740 Cote-Vertu Blvd. This eatery is located indoors, tucked into a corner in a small shopping centre. It’s far from fancy: rows of sometimes rickety tables with functional chairs. The phở however is truly the draw. The beef broth is clear as it should be, the aroma is rich and the flavour is deep and complex. The service is reasonably fast and friendly most of the time. The open kitchen adds a touch of authenticity, e.g., the two huge stock pots with that delicious broth constantly kept boiling. A large bowl of phở goes for $10. Well worth it.

Recently we noticed that there was a phở restaurant closer to where we now live, the Pho Mymy at 9460 Acadie Blvd. A few days ago we tried it to see if it was just as good as Phở Thành Nam Quang. The dining area looks new and well-lighted. There is a take-out counter at the far end where one can buy Vietnamese-style sandwiches, smoothies, desserts, etc. The phở comes from the main kitchen at the back behind double doors. The service was fast but a bit curt. The broth was alright but it was not clear and it somehow came across as thin and dilute, definitely not as rich and complex as that served at Phở Thành Nam Quang. The large bowl goes for $12, the higher cost most likely because of the location and the more Western ambiance.

We will try other phở restaurants; for now, we still prefer Phở Thành Nam Quang. If you do go there, we recommend that you also try their imperial soup and their spring rolls. The grilled chicken combo is also good. When you are seated, you get a glass of tea served hot in the winter and cold during the summer.

Enjoy.

Pho Mymy: 9460 Boulevard de l’Acadie

Date/time visited: 14 February 2020, noon


Phở Thành Nam Quang: 740 Boulevard Cote-Vertu

Date/time visited: 01 February 2020, evening


Ikanos bar à poisson – Greek cuisine

My daughter and son-in-law loved this restaurant. They enthusiastically recommended it to us. They gave us a generous gift certificate, certain that we too will love everything about it just as they did. So with high anticipation we made our way to Ikanos located at McGill Avenue, close to the Old Port of Montreal and within reasonable walking distance from the Victoria Square Metro station. Indeed we were highly impressed: we loved every minute of the dining experience.

Here’s my account:

The occasion was our 42nd wedding anniversary. We had arrived at the restaurant too early, a full hour before our reservation, and thirty minutes before the restaurant was open. Having walked from the subway staton in bitter -20C cold, we so wanted shelter. Thank God the staff warmly took us in apologizing profusely about having to work around us in order to get the dining room ready before the doors open. That was a great beginning; kind gestures have so much positive impact on anyone.

As soon as we were seated at our reserved table the server came over to get us started. A friendly young man, he took time to explain the menu in a manner that communicated confidence in the quality of their food. We decided we will trust this man to compose for us a great meal from appetizer to dessert. It turned out that our trust was well-placed.

Ikanos: the dining room

It was going to be a 5-course meal: appetizer; seafood plate; fish; dessert; salad. A bottle of tonic, a glass of white wine, small bread portions baked in-house to be dipped in olive oil; and we were ready.

The appetizers arrived: a cluster of thinly-sliced blades of zucchini encased in a thin crisp batter paired with tzatziki; small pita bread prepared in-house that came with two dips on the side, cheese-based and eggplant-based creations. Indescribably good. We marvelled at how the zucchini spears gave off enough steam on cooking such that it created an air layer that separated it every so slightly from the thin crispy batter that encased it. Fantastic.

The seafood platter came: large scallops; calamari rings; octopus. They were finished on a “josper grill” our server explained. The scallops and the octopus were slightly charred on the exterior, contributing that familiar and well-loved grilled accent. The plate was completed with slices of sweet pickled onions, capers and olive oil. The scallops and the octopus were perfect; the very tender squid rings might have benefited from a little bit more charring.

Of the seafood plate, the octopus stole the show for me. Let me explain. I first tasted octopus at the market in Santiago de Compostella, Spain. Octopus was one of the must-haves over there as per the guide books. I liked it then but not that much; I thought there was nothing in the octopus that really stood out for me. I sensed that I also had a slight allergic reaction to the dish. In contrast, the octopus at Ikanos was veritably a brand new experience for me and I savoured every piece that I ate. It was tender, it was delicately tasty, it had that “grilled” taste. I did not have the slightest allergic reaction to it. Perfect.

Calamari, scallops and octopus

Next came the fish, a sea bass. It was grilled, served opened with a sprinkling of capers, and deboned. Lesser restaurants can sometimes be cavalier about the preparation of fish: the fish is too easily overdone. Not at Ikanos. The kitchen prepared the sea bass perfectly. The meat retained its moisture as it should; it was tender yet flaked easily. The taste was pure and clean, exempt from even the slightest hint of oxidation. Bravo.

The fish plate was served with Greek salad. The feta cheese in the salad was not salty at all like it usually is in lesser restaurants. We couldn’t finish the salad and the server graciously offered to box it for us.

The dessert I admit was not as impressive although I finished all of it anyway. It was composed of small zeppoles on a bed of cream that had a gel-like consistency and finished with a sprinkling of coarsely-chopped almonds and honey. It was a good ending to the meal.

The staff knew that my wife and I were celebrating our wedding anniversary. They made it special by bringing onto our table a festive sparkler mounted on a half-orange. They also served us two glasses of liqueur to finish the meal.

Two things that I’d like to add:

The service was friendly, courteous, attentive and quick, all the more noteworthy because the dining room was filled to capacity, perhaps about a hundred diners. The plates and cutlery were replaced/renewed promptly after each dish. The staff was always present, but never obtrusive. It made for a great dining experience, where one can relax and be confident of being properly taken well care of.

And of course, the food was of high quality.

Let me give context. Having traveled extensively, my wife and I have developed the mindset that best examples of any given international cuisine is to be found in its own regional setting: Tuscan food in Tuscany, Peking duck in Beijing, Venetian cuisine in Venice, French haute cuisine in Paris, English High Tea in London, and so on. This mindset can be a serious drawback when it comes to dining in Montreal restaurants that specialize in a given international cuisine. For example, the local dim sum for us has never reached the quality that we tasted in HongKong; Montreal sushi is never as good nor as fresh as what we found in Tokyo; the local tapas or the pintxos never quite get up to the quality one can have in Madrid or in the Basque regions, respectively. And so it goes.

When we were first seated, I did explain to our server that we had been around the cities of Greece and we were hoping, truly hoping that the food at Ikanos would be just as good.

We were not disappointed. More than that, we were impressed. We will be back at Ikanos and try their other offerings. And we hope that this discovery for us will lead to more food adventures in Montreal that would be worth remembering.

Date/time visited: 19 December 2019; noon

Location: 112 McGill Street


Nostos – Greek cuisine

It was to be a meeting between good friends, a good chat over a meal. The conversation was great; I wish I selected a different item from the menu than the one I had.

Nostos serves Greek-style food. I had a pork gyro that came with a salad, rice and French fries. In addition, my friend and I shared a separately ordered half appetizer plate of calamari. A basket of sliced toasted bread was placed on the table.

The calamari was good: the squid rings were well-cooked but remained tender; the batter was light and thin. The plate arrived warm, fresh off the fryer. Check!

The pork gyro was not so impressive: the meat was overcooked and tough, atypical of the texture of well-prepared pork sliced thinly. In hindsight, my wife wished that I had the chicken gyro instead. I will know better next time.

The salad was simply a salad – no complaints. There were generous portions of rice and French fries. The bread basket was really unnecessary as the service was rather fast and the servers attentive. On the other hand, there were so few diners to serve at the time we were there.

Overall, Nostos was okay. Cost is moderate. It wasn’t fine dining, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so. It is what it is.

Date/time visited: 17 December 2019, 6 PM

Location: 9530 Boul. de l’Acadie


Firegrill Restaurant & Bar – Steakhouse

We simply wanted to have good lunch somewhere in the Place Vertu area in Ville St-Laurent. The Souvlaki Bar had a line so no go. When even the adjacent McDonald’s also had a line, it was to go look for a quieter establishment. I was willing to pay more. So in we went to the Firegrill Restaurant and Bar.

It is a bar after all so the atmosphere was such. Even at noon, the illumination was subdued. The bare walls and floor were very sound-reflective so it was difficult to carry a conversation with my wife seated just in front of me. I imagine the diners talked above their usual volume, contributing to that unintelligible din that characterizes the bar scene. True to its name.

I had NY strip loin steak which I wanted rare. My wife had a roast beef sandwich and a salad. I ordered an IPA. We were offered bread.

The bread was warm; there were just two mini pieces of what was shaped like a ciabatta. I suppose it’s better to be served a little and ask for more if necessary, than to be served a lot and waste the extra.

We shared the salad. It was a quarter-wedge of a head of iceberg lettuce (Iceberg Wedge 9 on the menu). The avocado slices and the blue cheese crumble were a good combination.

The IPA served me was distinctly citrusy as it should be, but not overly bitter.

The steak was well-prepared, rare as requested. The charring was excellent, and the flavour/aroma was just as it should be. However, a bit too chewy I would say, granted it isn’t tenderloin. Nevertheless…

The roast beef sandwich my wife had came with a huge pile of french fries. The beef slices were rare as it should be and the serving size was generous. A bottle of ketchup was unceremoniously plopped onto the centre of our small table. But, no matter…

The most amusing aspect of this adventure was that the server who tended our table reminded us of the late Tim Conway’s hilariously funny sketches of the “Old Man” featured in the vintage Carol Burnett TV shows. Only those of my age who would have watched some of those episodes would understand. If you go have a meal at this restaurant, I hope you don’t get the same waiter we did.

Pricey, but overall a good, not excellent, experience. Will probably not go back.

Date/time visited: 13 December 2019, noon

Location: 3500 Cote Vertu Blvd


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