1.06.2012

la belle province... la belle ville

Montreal bagels! Why oh why did I not know about Montreal bagels all the other times I was in this great city??

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We had another easy drive from Duchesnay to Montreal. The first part of the trip was beautiful, through snowy woods and farm country, the same scenery we had seen by dogsled the day before.

When we got to our hotel, we were so pleased. The Petit Hotel is terrific! I absolutely recommend this place for urban explorers who appreciate a good hotel. Our room is large and extremely comfortable, with a stylish design and lots of little extras. The staff is very friendly and helpful, and you can't beat the location in Vieux-Montreal.

Instead of offering rooms with different amenities or types of beds, this hotel rates their rooms by size: small, medium, large, and extra large. We took the medium, only $20 more than the small, and it is really lovely. This page has some views of the rooms, with exposed brick walls, splashes of orange and mod design elements.

We walked around the neighbourhood a little bit - way more upscale than the last time we saw it - and chose a place for dinner that sounded like our kind of joint. Once again, it was like going to Paris for dinner - a homey little bistro with simple, classic French food, good, reasonably priced wine, and friendly staff. The kind of restaurant you find all over Paris, and something tells me they're not that rare in Montreal, either. When we finished our excellent meal, two servers brought us shots of grappa, each containing a grappa-soaked grape.

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This morning we went to Pointe-à-Callière, a museum of the archeology and history of the city of Montreal, built over the original site of the city, steps away from our hotel. We first saw a half-hour multimedia exhibit on the history of Montreal, which I thought was quite well done, then descended into the main exhibit.

Most of the displays are underground, built around the remains of a 400-year-old cemetery, the foundations of the city's first buildings, old sewers and tunnels and such, along with the artifacts that were found there. (Even though it's underground, 90% of is wheelchair-accessible - very nice design.) The museum also has changing temporary exhibits. The current one, about India, looked interesting, but we skipped it.

I really enjoyed this place. I felt like I gained a good, capsule understanding of the origins and historical underpinnings of Montreal - and it made me want to know more, also to its credit.

Next we found the nearest subway stop, Place d'Armes, and spent some time figuring out the transit situation. (I enjoy doing this in whatever city we're in.) After a major subway delay, we went to the Plateau neighbourhood, both to see the area and in search of bagels. We first found Fairmount Bagel. I was pleased to see onion and garlic varieties, a thing of the past. They were excellent - small, crusty, light. Nearly perfect.

Then we walked some more, and found St. Viateur Bagel, not to confused with a store of the same name on the same street. And what can I say, these were the best bagels I've ever had. The best bagels I've ever had! Do you hear me? I'm a native New Yorker, I was raised on bagels and smoked fish, and these were the best bagels I've ever had! We scarfed down one each, then went back for another each. Three bagels in an afternoon, sounds crazy, right? These are about half the size of a New York bagel, with a crunchier, crustier exterior, and perfectly light and airy inside. When we went back for the second bagel, we asked for whatever was warm. This turned out to be sesame, which I generally dislike, but I gobbled it up. It was heavenly.

I told the owner I couldn't believe how good they were. He said, "Where are you from?" I said, "Originally New York..." "Well, it figures." "...Now Toronto." "Even worse! What took you so long?" I don't know what we're doing tomorrow, but I must eat these bagels again before I leave.

Amazingly enough, we left St. Viateur feeling like we should still grab a little something to eat before heading back to spend the evening in the room, as we had planned. The Plateau seemed full of little casual eating places that in New York would be called diners or coffee shops. We chose one - B&M - and ordered tea, cafe au lait and poutine. That seemed reasonable enough, until the friendly server showed up with two tubs of poutine. And it was so good, it was hard to stop eating! Man, are we ever on vacation.

We found our way back to the subway and to our neighbourhood easily enough. On the way back to the hotel, we passed Notre Dame, the rose windows lit in deep blue overlaid with white angels. The Old City was lit everywhere, so beautiful.

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I love winter. I love being bundled up and walking in the cold, crisp air. But the second I walk inside - a shop, the subway, the hotel room - I am instantly perspiring and so overheated that I feel sick. This can be a problem.

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Allan noticed an ad on our city map that advertises the observatory of Montreal's Olympic Stadium as "the world's highest inclined tower". This cracked us up. For non-Canadian readers, Canada is a bit mad about The Tallest, The Biggest, The First, The Most. Sometimes the categories are sliced a bit thin in order for Canada to lay claim. The Tallest (freestanding) Tower (that is just a tower, not an inhabited building).

Even a quick glance at the guidebook we're using - Lonely Planet Montreal and Quebec City - reveals: Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, "North America's oldest newspaper"; La Chateau Frontenac, "the most photographed hotel in the world"; Quebec City's Winter Carnival, "the biggest winter carnival in the world"; and L'Eglise Notre-Dame-des-Victories, "the oldest stone church in the USA or Canada".

The world's highest inclined tower?? Come on.

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Tomorrow we have another full day in Montreal, then dinner with friends, and the following day we head to Vermont. As much as visiting folks in Vermont will be fun, I'd just as soon stay here. And keep staying here.

9 comments:

allan said...

I have to disagree with L. I thought Fairmont Bagels were better. The ones we had were crustier and crunchier. But, like her, I need to eat more evidence to make sure.

Simon said...

No, No, No, heresy, heresy. The Fairmont bagels are bigger and...um... more exotic. But the St Viateur bagels are the REAL thing. And my dog agrees with me, so there... ;)

laura k said...

Yeah, yeah, yeah. In NYC folks go on about which place has the best pizza, bagels, coffee, burgers, etc. I'm not into these debates, personally.

I don't recall the bagels at Fairmont being bigger, and they were most certainly not exotic. Nor were they "um...more exotic". St. Viateur makes whole wheat, cinnamon-raisin, and 9-grain - none of which are original bagel varities. While Fairmont's onion and garlic are types that were very common in my youth and well before that. Not exotic.

Amy said...

So...how did Montreal figure out how to make good bagels when no other place else but New York has be able to do so? What is the secret? After years of eating New England bagels, I am still always surprised by how good and how different NY bagels are.

laura k said...

So...how did Montreal figure out how to make good bagels when no other place else but New York has be able to do so?

Jews! :)

There has been a Jewish community in Montreal for a very long time. They are responsible for the incredible bagels and the "smoked meat", which is similar to pastrami but not the same. (More on that in the next post.)

Why Jewish people in other places have not brought better bagels, I don't know. But Montreal bagels... wow. Amazing.

Amy said...

Sheesh, I wish I had known when we were there a few summers ago. We had great food in Montreal, but no bagels.

Stephanie said...

I am so glad to know that you now know St. Viateur bagels...incidentally they deliver to Toronto and beyond (like the USA).

tornwordo said...

I'm so glad you got to do some quintessential things. I'm with you, St-Viateur bagels are the bomb. Fairmount is a close second. Jews! That cracked me up. So true. I think your characterization of Montreal as New Yorklike with a smidge of France is spot on. I always say it's a French San Francisco though. Too bad I was out of town!

laura k said...

Tornwordo, I'm sorry you were out of town, too! But I thank you so much for your suggestions and recommendations.

A French San Francisco, that's the west coast take! SF being my other favourite US city, it makes sense to me. :)