Montreal: European Eats Without the Lag
Montreal, a quick two-hour plane ride from D.C., offers a continental feel without the jet lag. The island city is friendly, manageable and walkable -- like the biggest small town you've ever seen. But though you'll save by not having crossed the pond, you won't necessarily save on dining: Expect D.C. prices, for the most part. We found those warranted, however, by good food, cozy surroundings and charming service. Here are six dining options from sunup to sundown and beyond.
Setting out to shop the long, busy Rue St. Denis, it seems a shame to take much time away for breakfast or lunch. So duck into Une Crepe?, a small restaurant just off St. Denis on Mont-Royal, for a fresh, filling and inexpensive meal. Choose from among myriad additions for your crepe or sandwich -- egg, spinach, various cheeses, ham, smoked salmon, etc. -- then relax and sip tea from real mugs and teapots as you gather your energy. Or as you try to recover it after your day of shopping: It's open evenings, too.
Une Crepe? has two locations: 425 Mont-Royal Est Quebec (514-849-0836) and 221 St. Viateur Ouest (514-270-6322). Salad or soup, crepe or sandwich and a drink was about $10 (U.S.) each. Metros: Mont-Royal, Laurier.
Just blocks from the Notre-Dame Basilica in Vieux Montreal, the city's oldest section, young people and families alike will enjoy the casually charming Cobalt. Exposed wood beams and stone walls make it cozy, and the simple wood tables each have a signature cobalt candle holder. During our visit, a Spanish-speaking group chattered as a little boy amused himself with retro Ms. Pac Man and Galaga video games. Nearby, a young couple smooched their way through lunch at a table tucked snugly into a stone wall. We had a salad of field greens and an ample panini sandwich with pork, bleu cheese and pear, served with kettle chips flavored with dijon and honey. Along with the jazz performed by two young musicians, this place hit all the right notes.
Cobalt (312 Rue St. Paul Ouest, 514-842-2960). Jazz and classical music 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends, plus jazz nights on Wednesdays. Lunch for two -- a shared sandwich, salads and two glasses of wine -- was about $25. Metro: Place d'Armes.
Ask for a table in the large atrium room at Via Roma in Little Italy on St. Laurent, a main thoroughfare that parallels St. Denis. It'll make you feel as if you're sitting in a garden, with its tall ceilings, exposed brick, greenery, vines and fairy lights. We opted for an appetizer that evoked sunny Tuscany: genuine prosciutto from Italy accompanied by an exquisite melon (perhaps from the nearby Jean-Talon Market, with its open-air stalls and interior counters of fruits, vegetables, meats and other fare), topped with freshly ground pepper. As we lingered over plates of pasta arrabbiata and penne with sausage and a bottle of red, other diners passed by, bound for the cozier, but louder, back part of the restaurant. We learned too late that the flat noodles on the menu of Italian country cooking are hand-made. Next time. Overall, Via Roma offers tasty dishes that aren't too heavy . . . or too pricey.
Restaurant Via Roma (7064 St. Laurent, 514-277-3301). Our dinner, including a bottle of wine, was about $100. Metro: Jean Talon.
We almost passed by Bocca d'Oro, which we spotted as we exited the Metro Guy-Concordia on our way to the Musee des Beaux-Artes downtown. A big cheesy banner was advertising lunch specials at the Italian eatery, not exactly a good sign. Luckily, a fellow art lover redirected us back for an early-evening celebratory dinner. We found an attractive restaurant with white tablecloths and dark wood, an intimate atmosphere, friendly, efficient service and basic Italian fare done right. We sampled the savory, creamy mushroom risotto; the cannelloni came stuffed with veal and the ribbon pasta with sausage had some kick. Best of all was the dessert: a lovely tiramisu with a sparkler on top, brought out to the tune of "Happy Birthday," sung with verve by our waiters, who presented both the dessert and a pen from the restaurant as impromptu gifts.
Bocca d'Oro (1448 Rue St. Mathieu, 514-933-8414). Lunch specials around $9. Our dinner, including a bottle of wine, was about $100. Metro: Guy-Concordia.
Angular architectural touches make Cube look far hipper than thou; it certainly looked far hipper than us. No worries: It's comfortably modern and very welcoming, and its young staffers are happy to guide you through the avant-garde menu. Still, the restaurant in Vieux Montreal's St. Paul Hotel is destination dining -- with a price tag to match (elegant artistry and imagination don't come cheap, you know). Our appetizer of squab and foie gras on leeks was accompanied by bread so artfully arranged in a box that it looked like a desk set. A cordial glass filled with a rich carrot soup served as a savory segue into two inventive entrees: New Brunswick salmon topped with lobster, accompanied by fennel and tomatoes in a truffle and purple basil milk froth, and a pan-seared beef filet and braised cheek with Jerusalem artichokes and ravioli. The finale: "And Some Apples," an artistic confection accompanied by black pepper ice cream and spiced hot caramel, and "All Chocolate," with sorbet infused with lavender flowers.
Cube Restaurant at the St. Paul Hotel (355 Rue McGill, 514-876-2823). Three-course lunch menu starts at around $25. Our dinner, including dessert and a bottle of wine, was about $150. Metro: Square Victoria.
A choco-basil martini? Why, yes -- turns out crushed fresh basil really sets off vodka framboise and white chocolate liqueur. You can get one (for about $6.30) a few blocks from Montreal's imposing City Hall at Version, a lovely restaurant whose bar features an adventurous drinks menu. We arrived too late to sample the Mediterrean cuisine on the menu, but no matter: The bar alone is worth the trip. Besides the martini, we sampled an Adam & Eve (about $8), a sinfully delicious concoction of Calvados (apple brandy, get it?), rum and white vermouth. We sipped and enjoyed the sleek surroundings with their chic red accents, puzzled by one thing: Why the table of pretty utensils and dishes near the door? A new concept, we were told: So many customers admired the items used or displayed here that the restaurant-boutique now sells them for home use.
Version (295 St. Paul Est, 514-871-9135). Specialty drinks start at $6.30. Metro: Place d'Armes.
-- Patricia Howard
For general information on travel to Montreal: Quebec Department of Tourism, 877-266-5687, http:/