From: Tina Ujlaki
Subject: Montreal

July 01, 2003

I just got back from three days in Montreal—enough time to get a serious foie gras fix, but not nearly enough to explore all the classic restaurants, let alone the hot new ones. But I squeezed in a few memorable meals.

I love eating foie gras in a restaurant that doesn't even have tablecloths. Au Pied de Cochon, which opened a year and a half ago, has the soul of a wine bar and the energy of a three-ring circus. Freshly fried pork rinds in a paper cone, pickled venison tongue and lamb shank confit are all standouts. And this is the place to try poutine, the Quebecois classic of French fries and salty, squeaky cheese curds doused with gravy. The restaurant's version comes with an optional foie gras garnish—go for it (536 rue Duluth Est; 514-281-1114).

At the 22-year-old institution Le Passe-Partout, baker James MacGuire and his wife, artist Suzanne Baron-Lafrenière, make you feel like they're receiving you in their home. Downstairs is Baron-Lafrenière's art gallery; upstairs is the bakery and cozy dining room. We had a wonderful saddle of lamb from a ranch on the nearby salt marshes and Frisbee-size coconut tuiles that we swore we could never finish. Of course, we hoovered every shard (3857 blvd. Décarie; 514-487-7750).

I'd been hearing about the 10-year-old Toqué! for ages and was not disappointed when I tried it. The most impressive thing about chef Normand Laprise's cooking is not how creative he is with ingredients and flavor combinations (very!) or how well he executes his ideas (brilliantly, often), but how intelligently he works within the season and how devoted he is to local products. His food is modern and exalted; it's stacked and foamed and multicomponented, but the smoked salmon, potatoes, lamb and guinea hen all come from nearby. Our waiter was slightly arrogant, but only in English—he was amusing and lovely in French. I had the dessert of basil-flavored ice milk with passion fruit-raspberry mousse and poached raspberries in mango juice, a riot of textures, flavors and temperatures—wow! (3842 rue Saint-Denis; 514-499-2084).

I wish I'd gotten a chance to try some of the food at Le Petit Milos, a modern Aegean grocery and deli from the owners of Estiatorio Milos in Montreal and New York. They were just opening (and still unpacking) when I was there, but I spotted an impressive selection of artisanal Greek pastas, jarred dried fruits and wild greens, many of which I'd never heard of. Next time I'm in town, that'll be my first stop (5551 ave. du Parc; 514-274-9991).

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