Bonjour, Montreal - Bonjour, Melted Cheese

We wrapped scarves around our necks, pulled toques over our heads, slid our hands into mittens, and set out into a frozen Montreal night. After just five minutes of crunching through snowdrifts, we threw up our hands at the passing glow of a taxi, crawled inside, and asked incredulously, “Has Vancouver turned us into two huge cold-weather sissies??”

You see, we were recently in Montreal for its biggest winter festival, Montreal en Lumiere, and the city looked (and felt) starkly different from the last time we were there. In September of 2013, we’d spent much of our time strolling around in t-shirts and eating ice cream. This visit came in the heart of a Quebec winter, one of the coldest they’ve had in years, and the city was white with snow and frost, and blasted with icy winds. Truth be told, having just left the unusually-warm-for-February Vancouver, neither of us were quite prepared for it.

Fortunately for our egos, we were told that we are not, in fact, two huge sissies. Our cab driver - and most people we talked to - were quick to point out that the extreme temperatures (dipping to -35 degrees with the wind chill) were unusual, and even they were alarmed by it. So after the initial shock of that first night, we survived the week just fine, and how’s this for optimism: we now think -35 degrees is wonderful, because it makes a big pot of melted cheese taste even better!

Montreal en Lumiere is a celebration of food, art, music, theatre, and outdoor entertainment that ran from February 19th to March 1st. The first event we attended was organized by Tourism Switzerland, the festival’s featured partner country. It was held at L’Auberge Saint-Gabriel, which in addition to being an uber-stylish restaurant, bar, and party venue, is also the oldest inn in North America! It was built in 1688 by a French soldier, and received its liquor license (the first one granted on the continent) on March 24th, 1754. In other words, its stone walls and wooden rafters have seen things.

We climbed many stairs up to its hugely spacious attic, where the smell of melted Swiss greeted us.

We were hungry, eager to warm up, and so happy to be here, the coziest of settings.

We started with a plate of charcuterie, including grisou (a specialty Swiss cured meat), shaved white ham, and salami, and watched as Father/daughter chefs Raoul Colliard and Marielle Colliard stirred up pot after pot of fondue.

When ours arrived with a hearty portion of crusty bread, we went to town. With it, we drank glasses of Fendant de Sierre white wine, and since it’s a Swiss tradition to eat fondue with strong black tea to aid in digestion, our server ensured our mugs were never empty. 

The combination of the sweet, nutty cheese and chewy bread was beyond satisfying, and thanks to our super-charged digestion, we finished the entire pot (and later had a sneaking suspicion it was actually portioned for four….)

Dessert was meringue-covered raspberry sorbet bombes, which were both darling to look at, and a nice light thing to eat after a kilo of cheese.

We sat and drank tea for a long time, surrounded by Swiss flags, enormous decorative cowbells, and the chatter of friends sharing dinner, until our long day of travel caught up with us.

Reluctant to leave the warmth of Saint-Gabriel, we explored downstairs a bit, then bundled up and walked back to The Sheraton, sans taxi! Sissies no more, winter, we are sissies no more.  

Thank you to the team wonderful team from Switzerland who fed us, and check back again soon for our next story from wintry Montreal - we travel back from Switzerland and enjoy a dinner made entirely from Canadian ingredients!




Montréal , Nous Vous Aimons! // Montréal, We Love You!

Hello! We’re back! We’ve taken a sleepy winter hiatus, during which many mugs of tea have been sipped, pots of soup have been stirred, cookies have been baked (so many cookies have been baked), and there have been some great hikes. 

While the downside of winter in Vancouver is the rain (as I write this, it is pourrrrring), the upside is that by January, green shoots are already pushing their way through the soil, and a few trees have even begun to hint at the possibility of cherry blossoms. With the damp greenery all around, it’s sometimes easy to forget that many parts of the country are still buried under snow, and that for some people, outdoor ice-skating is a regular part of the week (if you don’t believe us, check out Aimee of Simple Bites' Instagram feed!)

We’re keen to get in on some of that classic winter action, and are thrilled to announce we're going back to Montreal! In February, we’ll be heading eastward for the Montreal en Lumiere Festival, a crazy tangle of arts, culture, and culinary events, now in its 15th season. This year’s festival runs from February 19th to March 1st, and we’ll be there from the 19th to the 25th to eat, eat some more, then finishing up all that has yet to be eaten. There will be workshops to attend, markets to explore, and a heck of a lot of meals by local chefs, as well as some from Switzerland, this year’s featured tourism partner (bonjour, fondue).

Knowing that we’re going back to Montreal has triggered a very fun and never-ending game of “When We Go Back, I’m Going to Eat _____.” The first two things we thought of were from our Croissant Crawl, a bicycle tour that took us to some of the best bakeries in the city.

Dana’s first "I'm Going to Eat THAT" treat was the kouign amann from Patisserie Kouign Amann in Mont Royal. It's a ridiculous confection that's turned us into two kouign amann-seeking missiles.

The pastry I haven’t been able to shut up about is the “Oh, Mon Dieu!” croissant from Mamie Clafoutis, which gets its name from the obscenely thick layer of chocolate ganache baked inside it. Take the amount of chocolate used in 15 pain au chocolat, and then you'll have half the amount of chocolate that's inside the Oh, Mon Dieu. I'm serious.

Then there’s the smoked meat, poutine, cider, cheese, and bagels - DON’T EVEN GET US STARTED ON THE BAGELS - that await, as well as much more to discover, including plenty of foods from this year's featured Quebec region, Lanaudière. We’re so excited for FEAST Montreal: Round II, and looking forward to sharing it all with you!

Now, we must go find some real winter clothes....

*Thank you so much to Montreal en Lumiere, Tourism Quebec, and Tourism Montreal for inviting us back!