Montreal’s finest eating places are proof: this metropolis is a meals haven

French for “just a little weird”

Imagine a French farmhouse – roughly hewn wooden floors, lots of paneling – located in a shopping center (Plaza St. Hubert) and set up on a burgundy-colored bender. That might partly explain the staghorn beer taps and the upturned house dangling above the raised table in the center Montreal Plaza‘s main room. This means that this place brings just enough mood to seduce, but not overwhelm, both in the room and on the (small) plates. Arctic char tartare with crispy puffed rice pieces for the texture, fried zucchini flowers filled with duck bolognese and ricotta, whelk gratin with miso (basically a snail with an umami uppercut) – it all sounds a bit strange, but somehow works perfectly. Just like the room itself.

CASE MONDAY: Many restaurants are not open on Mondays. Thankfully, Eater Montreal has put together a handy list of who it is.

Haiti of the north
That a white brick house at this latitude can take you to the Caribbean speaks volumes about the execution – and the 101-provable rum – of Agricultural. Gastronom Jen Agg has teamed up with Win Butler and Régine Chassagne from Arcade Fire to open the eatery. Agg created the design, from the open mezzanine level with iron railings to the two-story bar to the painting by her husband Roland Jean, while chef Marc Villanueva brings the unpretentious Haitian cuisine. Agrikol, dark and loud and alive, feels a little like New Orleans after dark. The menu is packed with flavor, including ceviche, tender griot, pork and beef, seasoned and cooked to perfection. Bring a group, order the ti ponch (a bottle of rum with mixers and fixings) and try not to have fun.

This is what Montreal tastes like
You have permission to roll your eyes at the thought of a hyper locavore restaurant that wants to teach you a lesson on how food really works: The harvest in La Petite-Patrie only adheres to the Locavore part. In an eagerly small room filled with slightly daft paintings of famous celebrities, you’ll be treated to dish after dish to highlight what Montreal’s surrounding farmland has to offer. His ever-changing menu can only be discussed in the past tense, and so: the gaspacho, yellow and peppery and hiding shrimp just like that, tasted like summer, period. Mozzarella di Buffala came with roti and chopped eggplant marinated in olive oil and apple cider vinegar. (“Lemons aren’t local, so we use a lot of apple cider vinegar,” explained partner Denis Vukmirovic.) The duck breast – three large pieces, perfectly cooked, pink with a crispy outside – paired with homemade gnocchi that are seared on the edges and a bit deserves its own dish. And then came four mini fritters, filled with a kind of cheesecake batter, a strawberry sauce drizzle on the side. If the gaspacho tasted like summer, the fritters tasted like summer sex, in a studio without air conditioning, just with fans, with someone you’ve just met and not sure if you like them, but right now, oh god what happened is nice. You get the same double-edged regret at the end: that you may have gone too far and it didn’t take longer.

The harvest

Don’t miss the classics
Chef Martin Picard opens Au Pied de Cochon 2001 as a monument to rustic French cuisine and enjoyment. Foie gras is everywhere – in the poutine; on an ice cream sundae served with lobster; as a nigiri – but not his only trick. You can order shepherd cake or a whole roast pork head. Picard’s devotion to precision keeps everything classic, never grotesque.

Cooks David McMillan and Frédéric Morin of Joe Beef also belonged to the same base religion as Picard and opened Joe Beef in 2005. Like Au Pied, it can get voracious (it once sold a foie gras cartoon from KFC’s Double Down) but best shows a French mindset about Montreal ingredients, from the raw bar to the lobster spaghetti to vegetarian dishes. Reservations for Canada’s most famous restaurant can take months if you are picky. Fortunately, Morin and McMillan opened Le Vin Papillon, a place without a reservation a few doors down. Not quite the same boast, but the food is just as delicious.

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