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My Favourites for Montreal in 2017
1. BABY COURGETTES, ESPELETTE PEPPER, CORN PARASOL (POP-UP, NOW CLOSED)
I wrote at length about Parasol (here), the exceptional summer pop-up from Jeff Downs, Julio Mendy, and William Cody—an extremely talented team. Truth be told, a number of things I ate there could have made this list (e.g. the grilled cucumbers, the peas). What I wrote about the courgettes in July:
Take the baby courgettes, sauteed until al dente in emulsified butter with tomato vinegar, Espelette pepper and fresh kernels of corn. They came topped with grated ricotta salata, basil and nasturtium flowers. Fresh, delicate, vibrant; the plate rated among the best I’ve had all year. Exceptional.
2. BRAISED CABBAGE WITH DUCK HEART BOLOGNESE VIN PAPILLON, 2519 NOTRE-DAME O.
I don’t remember everything about this meal—it took place back in early February of 2017—but this dish stays with me. A quarter of seared and braised cabbage served with a Bolognese of ground duck hearts, garnished with fresh mint, chilies, and creme fraiche. A confident, balanced dish. Montreal is very fortunate indeed to have the Joe Beef team.
3. NDUJA AND WHITE ANCHOVIES LARRYS, 9, AV. FAIRMOUNT EST
This small square of crust-less bread covered with nduja—a spreadable pork salumi—topped with fillets of anchovy is spectacular. The nduja is spicy, sweet, acidic, fatty; the clean, vinegary taste of the fish plays the perfect foil. Of the four times I tried this in 2017, three hit interstellar, endorphin-inducing heights; the fourth was merely OK (the salumi in that case seemed a little watery, the flavours more washed out). But, at its best: phenomenal. And, at a price of only $7, I challenge you to find me a better bet—or a better bite—in Montreal.
4. GAUFRES DE LIÈGE, JEAN-TALON MARKET (SEASONAL)
Only available in the summertime, these perfect waffles became a short-lived Sunday tradition. Simple, yet ridiculously good; the waffles, served warm and fresh, need nothing. The outside caramelizes during the cooking process, creating a sweet, complex and sugary crust. I return to Montreal in the late spring, and I’m hoping the same for these waffles.
5. HEIRLOOM TOMATOES WITH CLAMS AND HERBS RESTAURANT MANITOBA, 271. RUE SAINT ZOTIQUE O
I wrote about Manitoba last year (here), a restaurant with a spectacular setting, a great team, and very good (though not always great) food. At its best, however, the fare can hit phenomenal heights—like this dish, as I described in my review:
One was a dish of heirloom tomatoes with clams and herbs (tomatoes: perfect; clams: succulent, delicious). These they dressed with a vinaigrette made from the cream the clams were cooked in—beautifully balanced, great acidity and lightness—and some camelina oil (nutty, earthy flavour). The variety of herbs added vegetal tones, contrast. This was a marvellous plate, the kind you don’t want to end, or share.
6. CHICKEN CURRY PUMPUI, 83, RUE SAINT-ZOTIQUE E.
I had the great privilege of eating my way around Thailand for two months in early 2015. Pretty much without exception, everything was amazing. The food I ate at Pumpui last year tasted like that food from three years ago. This curry had whole pieces of chicken, chunks of potato, and warm spices and flavours, reminiscent of a massaman curry (e.g. cinnamon, star anise). With the addition of pickled chillies (found among the other condiments on the table) it felt perfect.
7. TOKYO RAMEN COROCO, 5407 AV. DU PARC
Montreal has its share of ramen restaurants, but Cocoro remains my favourite. They serve only two types (a small menu usually is a good sign), and both are great. I love the Tokyo ramen, which has a fantastic, well-seasoned and meaty broth. To me, this place beats the other newer and hipper ramen joints in the Plateau and Mile End, hands down.
8. ITALIAN SAUSAGE PIZZA PIZZERIA NO. 900, 1481 LAURIER AVE EAST
If a better pizza joint exists in Montreal, please let me know. I eat at No. 900 on Laurier East regularly, and praised the place last summer in my write-up on that and Napoletana. Here’s what I had to say about my favourite of their pizzas (in fact, my favourite anywhere), the Italian sausage:
My favourite pizza comes with tomato sauce, Italian sausage, fior de latte (a semi-soft, fresh cheese made in the style of Italian mozzarella), Pecorino Romano, and marinated hot peppers. The high heat of the oven blisters the crust, marking it here and there with burns and bubbles. These provide a smoky, bitter component, a contrast to the acidity of the sauce and marinated peppers, the creamy cheese. The sausage, seared and crisped in the oven, bursts with flavour, and a garnish of green onion and pesto—added post-cooking—brings a bright, fresh note. This pizza is wondrously good, and now I want one.