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!