Monday, March 27, 2017

Arts and Cuisine of Montreal Beckon Savvy Travelers

Montreal is the second largest primarily French-speaking city after Paris. This metropolis is considered the cultural capital of Canada and abounds with fantastic cuisine and world-class art.

Northward Bound

March isn’t considered the tourist season in Montreal. It’s northern latitude means that chilling temperatures are still common in this cosmopolitan Canadian city of about 1.6 million.

We had some compelling reasons for making our recent visit, though. Montreal is celebrating its 375th anniversary, the world debut of Another Brick in the Wall – The Opera, and Montreal is our favorite Canadian city. Tourisme Montreal hosted the trip as I scouted the city as a prospective site for a future conference.

When we leave Northwestern Ohio at this time of year, it is usually to warmer climes in the south. This time we were greeted with temperatures of 5 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. That in no way slows down this bustling city. With a stylish scarf and a hooded parka, Montreal residents love walking in their city no matter the chill.

Putting On The Ritz

Our accommodations were at the swanky Ritz-Carleton Montreal. This five-diamond hotel blends the best of historic elements with modern features. The hospitality and service were superlative.

We arrived before our room was ready, so we adjourned to the hotel’s fine dining restaurant, Maison Boulud. This is the bastion of Chef Daniel Boulud and our light lunch was served in the popular greenhouse section of the restaurant. My beet salad was artistic and scrumptious.

The Ritz-Carleton was opened in 1912 and one of the best vantage points to enjoy the Grand Dame of Sherbrooke Street is the Dom Pérignon bar. The bar is located in the Palm Court, considered the city’s most glamorous lobby.

The luxury and attention to detail that is evident in the food and spirits is on display in the accommodations as well. Our spacious room had state of the art technology, including lights activated by motion sensors, curtains and blackout shades remotely controlled, a deep soaking tub with a handy television plus one more essential. The bathroom featured a multi-functional toilet/bidet with heated seat, automatic sensor and remote control. This baby had more controls that the Apollo moon mission – seat covers that open by themselves, a deodorizing feature and a drier. As you can see, even the smallest detail is not overlooked.

You satisfaction is assured when you stay at Montreal’s Ritz-Carleton.

Our Montreal Visit’s Best Bites

With a city that loves food, great cuisine, funky bars and interesting shops are around every corner. In Old Montreal we visited Graziella, which focuses on elevated northern Italian cuisine. We enjoyed Carpaccio de Speck with caramelized pear, hazelnuts, arugula and Pecorino cheese. My entree was Vitello, a milk-fed veal loin with parsnip purée and roasted vegetables. To accompany the meal, there was an ample supply of Dogliani Superiore, a Dolcetto wine from Italy.

Lovers of baked goods and pastries are living the high life in Montreal. For sweet fans, Léché Desserts is an “artisanal doughnut café” in the St. Jacques neighborhood. It has a mind-blowing assortment of doughnuts that include coconut and lime, lemon meringue, white chocolate, s’mores and maple–bacon.

In the Little Burgundy area, delightful restaurants and food shops are springing up, including Patrice Patissier. The shop was opened by prominent pastry chef Patrice Demers. It swims in amazing aromas of fresh ground coffee, dough and crèmes.

Well made bread is essential to life – at least as I see it. I was informed by one of our hosts that baking is a specialty of Montreal and – the city has the best bagels, despite claims to the contrary by New York. Montreal bagels are smaller and typically plain or covered with sesame or poppy seeds – don’t ask for a banana mango bagel in Montreal We visited La Bête à Pain bakery in Griffintown town and tore into some delightful artisan breads.

Our course, we wanted to explore the wine scene in Montreal. We visited Pullman Bar à Vin for some small plates and flights of wine. I enjoyed a trio of wine from France’s Savoie region. The first was a sparkling Brut Zero made with the Gringet grape (a new one for me). This was followed by a white still wine made with Gringet as well. The red part of the trio was  Chateau de Merande Arbin Mondeuse Le Comte Rouge made with the obscure Mondeuse Noire grape. Pullman is quite a find. My wife enjoyed a great glass of Nero D’Avola with bison burger sliders.

Le Beaux-Arts In Montreal

There are more than 50 museums in Montreal and the fine arts are an integral part of life. We were fortunate to visit during the Chagall: Colour and Music exhibit at Le Beaux-Arts Musee (Museum of Fine Arts). The exhibit runs through June 11, 2017, and is exhilarating to the eye and the heart. Music was pervasive in Chagall’s childhood in Russia and permeates his works on display in Montreal. A pleasant surprise was the display of costumes he designed for numerous ballets, including The Firebird and The Magic Flute. The museum also has a superb restaurant, which means you can happily spend an entire day at the museum.

At the Place des Arts we were guests at an opera happening to mark the 375th anniversary of Montreal. Roger Water’s legendary work, The Wall, was presented on the opera stage as Another Brick in the Wall – The Opera. Pink Floyd fans expecting to see a rock opera and play air guitar to the well-known tunes were in for a surprise. The operatic version composed by Julien Bilodeau with stage direction by Dominic Champagne, was truly an opera. Although the lyrics were word for word, new music was composed for opera.

The experience was spectacular, bringing to life the concept album with soulful music and stunning visuals and choreography. The style, passion and artistry were delivered in true Quebecoise style. Only in Montreal – you’ll need to come and see the city for yourself.

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