Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A 19-pound lobster awaited its fate

Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal. Your prayers for good food are answered.

By Victor E. Sasson

It's difficult but not impossible to get a bad meal in Montreal, the sophisticated, French-speaking city that is only about an hour away from North Jersey by plane.

By the looks of the people on downtown streets and in the metro, this city of islands is a rich, ethnic stew that is reflected in restaurants and fast-food places.

All prices are in Canadian dollars. This past weekend, a U.S. dollar was worth only about 95 cents Canadian. Meal taxes in Canada total about 15%.  

Almost everyone we encountered was bilingual.

Au Pied de Cochon

The big surprise at a restaurant that serves just about every part of the pig is the tank of lobsters near the door and a bed of shellfish on ice nearby.

Our waitress said the huge crustacean we saw in the tank was the "Monster Lobster," a 19-pounder the kitchen would turn into a number of dishes for $500 -- a discount on the menu price for lobster of $30 a pound.

We started with a soft-shell crab that was cut up, battered, fried simply and served with a fish-sauce dip ($18), and a salad of blue cheese, walnuts, crisp apple, endive and red-leaf lettuce ($9).

We also shared a Quebec specialty called poutine that elevates french fries into a main dish: This version had gobs of melted white-cheddar cheese and was  smothered in gravy ($7).

My wife and son shared a pig's foot ($22) -- the tender meat was shredded and served with onions -- and I ordered a fillet of hake that was cooked perfectly, only until it was translucent, and served Portuguese-style, with pork and clams in a pleasantly salty broth ($30).

On the way out, I saw a large man seated at the bar in front of the small, open kitchen tucking enthusiastically into something the size of a small fireplace log. 

He said it was a pig's foot stuffed with foie gras, which is as rich a dish as I can imagine.

Rushing to make our 5 p.m. reservation last Thursday, we had marched right past the restaurant, which has no sign. Look for the number "536" above the door.

I originally wrote that the restaurant's name translates to "The Pig's Foot," but was mistaken. It means "To the Foot of Pig."

Restaurant Au Pied du Cochon, 536 Rue Duluth East, Montreal, Quebec, Canada; 1-514-281-1114. Reservations recommended.

Restaurant Dima

Montreal is famous for its Jewish delis, but I'm not eating meat and, anyway, I wanted to get in touch with my Sephardic Jewish roots.

We took a long subway ride to North Montreal on Saturday, then a bus to Rue Dudemaine for an early dinner at a Syrian restaurant that serves Aleppo-style food. 

We ordered the usual suspects: A green salad, hummus and muhammara ($4 each); a trio of kebabs for my wife and son to share ($22), a dish of rice ($2.50) and a small portion of falafel for me ($4.25). 
Let me digress and discuss my pet peeve about the pocket bread served at Restaurant Dima.

Montreal has a number of Arabic bakeries that send their  thin, Lebanese-style  pocket bread to restaurants in South Paterson, where it is heated up in a microwave, plastic bag and all.
But why would a Montreal restaurant serve bread the same way? Why not serve fresh bread made only hours before?

I said to the owner of Restaurant Dima, gesturing to the bread, "I guess there are no Syrian bakers in Montreal." 

He answered there is no difference between Lebanese and Syrian bread, and he wasn't interested in my opinion.

The Syrian pocket bread -- the bread Fattal's in South Paterson bakes daily -- is thicker and just a bit doughier, all the better to scoop up dips or soak up salad dressing.   

I could have used that bread for Dima's simple salad of iceberg lettuce and tomato coated in a great olive oil, lemon juice and mint dressing. 

My son loved the kebabs, and the hummus had lots of tahini, but the falafel were just OK and the muhammara didn't have enough Aleppo red pepper in it. 

We were the only customers at mid-afternoon Saturday.

For dessert, I went across the street to Mahrouse, a Syrian patisserie, and bought three large graybeh (phonetic spelling) for $1 each. 

They are bracelet-like cookies made from flour, sugar and butter, with a single pistachio where the two ends meet.

These were bigger than my mother's, good and crumbly, too, though they didn't melt in my mouth as hers did.

The few Arabic food businesses are on a single block of Rue Dudemaine in a quiet residential area. 

Prices at Restaurant Dima are higher than at Aleppo Restaurant in Paterson, and Aleppo serves better food.

Restaurant Dima, 1575 Rue Dudemaine, Montreal, 
Quebec, Canada; 1-514-334-3876.

Armenian pizza

We attended the Formula 1 race on Sunday, and went to the circuit three days in a row for practice, qualifying, preliminary races and the main event. 

For Saturday, I picked up two Armenian pizzas downtown at a chain called Arouch. The za'atar  ($1.99) was dry, but the Greek ($2.99 for lots of fresh spinach and cheese) was moist and delicious even after a night in my hotel room mini-fridge.

Downtown Montreal also offers Turkish and Middle Eastern options, including a chain called AlTaib Boulangerie (bakery). 

Formula food

At Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, food choices were limited to hot dogs, hot and cold Italian-style sandwiches, gooey pizza, smoothies, ice cream and beer -- lots of beer.

I saw two men climbing stairs to a seat near us with a 30-can case of beer. 

The five French Canadians seated in front of us drank at least three bottles of red wine in about an hour to wash down pate with baguette slices, cubed cheese, and prosciutto and melon.

Unfortunately, as I discovered at the Italian Grand Prix last September at the Monza track, fan comfort at the Montreal circuit comes second to cramming as many people as possible into the track and the stands, with no shelter from the elements.

For at least the second year in a row, it rained, and the race started behind a safety car, but was stopped after 25 laps because of a heavy downpour. 

We joined thousands of fans who headed for the exits and the subway, and stopped at our hotel -- Chateau Versailles -- for our luggage before taking a taxi to the airport for the flight home.

We never saw the end of the race, which was restarted after a two-hour delay. Our seats on Sunday cost $260 each.


  1. Ouch, $22 for the kebabs is a bit on the high side. The last time I ate there a few years ago the food wasn't that pricey. However, I have noticed the price of almost everything has gone up in Canada over the past few years, particularly Quebec. So much for that strong Canadian dollar.

  2. Yes, prices were an eye-opener.

    The hummus, salad and muhammara were only half-orders.

    Our bill with tip at Dima was about $67. At Au Pied de Cochon, I spent $127, with tip and taxes, which are about 15%.


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