Postcard From Tom: Montreal

Sunday, April 6, 2003

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's monthly report from the road.

If you can't have Paris in springtime, Montreal makes a good stand-in. A favorable exchange rate led me last month to this island city in Canada's St. Lawrence River. Here are three restaurants to explore:

AU PIED DE COCHON (536 Rue Duluth E., 514-281-1114)

It's a carnivore's paradise at this bustling newcomer, where you can begin with a platter of lusty cured meats and forge on to lamb shanks, crisp pigs' feet or a "hamburger" stuffed with silken foie gras (goose liver, a ubiquitous staple on local menus). There's nothing fancy about the interior, warmed up with a big brick oven. If meat isn't your thing, take comfort in onion soup, fresh oysters or salmon wrapped in potatoes. Dinner entrees $8-$14.

L'EXPRESS (3927 Rue St. Denis, 514-845-5333)

You've been warned: This venerable French bistro is so popular that you need a reservation even to eat at the shiny zinc bar. Everyone sits slacks to skirts in the small dining room, too, surrounded by black-and-white photographs on walls of yellow and dark red. The kitchen offers something for every appetite; take your pick from quiche, croque monsieur, maybe a perfect steak frites or veal kidneys spiked with mustard sauce. Dinner entrees $8-$14.

TOQUE! (3842 Rue St. Denis, 514-499-2084)

Normand Laprise may be the most famous of Montreal's chefs. Certainly, he is one of the most adventurous. Few other cooks would have the confidence to cap scallops with a foamy green apple mousse or pair guinea hen with a broth of milk and raw cocoa. The shocker? Such dishes work. Like a lot of upscale restaurants here, this one blends informality with chic. Picture mod shirts on smart waiters and white paint on brick walls{ndash}and don't miss cauliflower soup with nuggets of foie gras. Dinner entrees $16-$25.


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