My upbringing in a small Northern Ontario city gave me many specific attributes that I will always be grateful for. One of those things is a drive to reach for more. Underwhelming food diversity in my hometown amongst other factors, gave me the taste to move to the culinary metropolis of Montréal.
Immediately, as I entered La belle Province, I felt excitement knowing every meal of the year could come from a different kitchen, in a different style, and enhanced by the Montréal flare. Look, realistically I was never planning on going to eat out every single day, but one can dream.
It has been a month since my feet hit the ground in the 514, and I want to share my reflections on moving to a food-centric city, and what I look forward too in the coming months.
First thought: On the first night in my new city, I found myself at this very popular and busy Japanese spot called Kazu. The service was bustling, the line was winding outside even in -30 Celsius weather. The view of the food through the window kept us sane while being stuffed in the small entrance like sardines. Everyone got to know each other between those glass doors. After some awkward small talk with a friendly couple, we quickly shifted to the inside of the restaurant, and colourful dishes were already at the table. The food was refreshing and crazy flavorful. I convinced my dad to order a bottle of Sake, and we downed it while enjoying the bounty of pickled vegetables, noodles, eggplant dip. That was the declencher for my series of outings in Montreal. The rest of the city has showed up in a big way. This ball of anxiety is building up inside of me, knowing I probably will never get the chance to grab a bite at every dive, late night spot and hole in the wall.
My favourite spots after a month: I have been going out a ridiculous amount during this first month, mostly to distract myself from the immediate shock of uprooting my life, but also because of my detrimental habit to buying take-out food. Here are my favourite places to eat so far.
Tacos Frida – St-Henri
This little taco spot in St-Henri is a lunch time marvel. Here, I was the victim of my chronic over-ordering and ordered 6 tacos. At only 2.95$ a piece, these supple flour tortillas stuffed with cactus, vegetables, and for the carnivores, an assortment of meats. As I sat alone, pretending to do work on my laptop, I stuffed the cactus tacos down my gullet. After finishing 4, I just had to go for a second wave of taco heaven.
Elena Pizza, Wine and Coffee – St-Henri
I happen to spot this yellow door in my peripheral vision while exploring the streets of Saint-Henri, in Montreal’s Soutwest. It was like discovering the door to Narnia. I was drawn to the door like a moth to a light, and went into the place like a child goes into his parents closet looking for his Christmas gifts, slightly tentative. What I discovered gave feelings reminiscent of spotting my signed Saku Koivu Montreal Canadiens jersey in my dad’s sock drawer. An incredible atmosphere, great wine, and the best pizza in MTL. The tomato sauce was sweet and flavorful, as if it had been reduced to showcase only the good side of summer’s fruit. The crust is slighly yeasty, crispy and chewy at the same time. The burrata is the cherry on top, the nail in the coffin. Highly recommended.
Café Myriade – Shaughnessy Village
This coffee spot near Concordia University in Shaughnessy village is my introduction to coffee and an adult routine. The small spot is filled with its regulars characters, for good reason. The coffee is wicked, the baristas are whipping up lattes, while mixing sweet playlists, that feature Flatbush Zombies. Simplicity done well.
Sushi Momo – Saint-Denis
Rebranding a staple of Japanese culinary culture is a pretty daunting task. Creating vegetarian versions of this versatile dish is a bigger challenge. When you remove the centrepiece of the dish ; the fish (some would argue it’s the rice), you really need to provide an alternative that becomes as exciting visually, and tastes spectacular. At Sushi Momo, they leap over the challenge like a hurdle sprinter jumping over an anthill. I’m not scared to say its the best sushi I have ever had. I appreciate that they step away from trying to mimic animal protein and lean into what nature’s harvest can bring to the table. (No pun intended.)
Moving away from home is hard. But having this variety of food, makes it worth while. I’ll update my Montreal recommendation list monthly. I know most people from Montreal are clearly aware of these spots. I feel myself becoming more of a local with each passing day. My goal is to discover new restaurants that have not hit the spotlight yet and showcase them to the locals. Cheers to whoever reads this. If there are places I need to try in MTL, please reach out.