Two of us ate for under $20 at Pho Bang New York, a Vietnamese restaurant in Montreal's Chinatown. I had a filling bowl of vermicelli rice noodles topped with grilled shrimp, peanuts and fresh cilantro, above.
By VICTOR E. SASSON
On our annual vacation in Montreal, we tried with only limited success to control how much we spent on eating out.
Dining out in the French-speaking city can be as sophisticated and as varied as it is in Manhattan -- with prices to match.
This year, we tried a couple of inexpensive ethnic restaurants for lunch as our main meal.
But we also succumbed to the convenience of pricey restaurants in or near the Place des Arts, center of the 35th annual International Jazz Festival, the reason we drove to Montreal.
And we made a special return trip to Vanhorne, a 30-seat restaurant where my wife and I had a wonderful five-course tasting menu in 2013, and spent over $200.
The food was as good as we remembered, but the chef had changed, and he was so inflexible we couldn't even order a salad with our dinner.
Think 'mains,' not 'entrees'
On Montreal menus, appetizers are listed as "entrees" and entrees are listed as "mains."
During our eight-day visit, we ate lunches and dinners for $18.50 to $106, including taxes of nearly 15%, but not the tip.
I usually left a gratuity of 15%. In Montreal, many restaurants use a hand-held credit-card terminal that gives you the choice of adding a percentage tip or a dollar amount.
Go for the latter (a button under a dollar sign on the terminal screen) to avoid adding a percentage tip to the total of food, wine and taxes of nearly 15%.
And make sure you take a credit card, such as the Capital One Visa, that doesn't exact a foreign-currency transaction fee of 2% to 3%.
All prices are in Canadian dollars, each of which is equivalent to 95 cents U.S.
|My wife complained Pho Bang New York served her pho with dense beef balls that were far from hot, above, but she said the anise-flavored broth was good.|
Pho Bang New York
This popular restaurant slings bowls of pho, the anise-scented Vietnamese soup filled with noodles, vegetables and your choice of meat.
My wife ordered pho with beef balls ($8.27 plus tax) and I had a filling bowl of vermicelli noodles topped with grilled shrimp and peanuts ($7.82 plus tax).
Our check totaled $18.49. You pay at the register.
The shrimp with my noodles tasted fine, though they were about half the size of the colossal ones shown in the restaurant's photo menu.
My wife doesn't use chopsticks, but the waiter never brought her the fork she requested.
I got up twice and tried without success to find a clean fork in a receptacle on a table near the kitchen. She said both forks were dirty.
Pho Bang New York is highly rated on Yelp! and other peer-review sites.
Our experience shows how unreliable those appraisals can be.
Back home in North Jersey, we know where to find great pho, Simply Vietnamese in Tenafly.
|Garnish for the pho, left, and a bowl of spicy fish broth into which I dipped my vermicelli noodles.|
|When Pho Bang New York got crowded, a waiter seated a woman and her young son at our table for four.|
|The dining room ceiling at Pho Bang New York.|
Pho Bang New York, 1001 Boulevard St. Laurent, Montreal, Quebec; 1-514-954-2032. Cash only.
|An entree of wild-caught cod accented with fresh corn-mango salsa at Bistro Le Balmoral in Montreal.|
|A glass of Italian wine -- or half-glass to be more precise -- was $9 at Le Balmoral.|
Bistro Le Balmoral
Le Balmoral is a non-profit bistro conveniently located on the ground floor of jazz festival headquarters on Saint Catherine Street, near the Hyatt Regency Montreal, where we stayed.
We like the food, but service can be brusque. The menu notes that many ingredients are from Quebec or Canada.
My wife had a Green Salad ($6.50) and a main dish of Chicken Supreme stuffed with mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and smoked sausage ($22).
My pan-seared Cod Fillet was topped with fresh salsa and served over Gingered Black Rice and Vegetables, but the meaty fish could have been served hotter ($21).
With a $9 glass of wine, ginger ale ($3.50) and taxes, our check totaled $71.28.
|Chicken Supreme at Bistro Le Balmoral is served with pureed sweet potatoes and a rosemary and dune-pepper sauce. Below, a Green Salad with shaved parmesan.|
Bistro Le Balmoral, 305 Saint Catherine St. west, Montreal, Quebec; 1-514-288-5992.
|A ceviche of squid and shrimp, with freshly ground black pepper, was my starter at 40 Northh, a steakhouse in Saint Sauveur, a town about an hour's drive north of Montreal.|
My wife's pedestrian Iceberg Lettuce Salad was elevated by a rich blue-cheese dressing with pancetta.
Last Monday, we took a day trip into the mountains north of Montreal and stopped for lunch in Saint Sauveur.
At a steakhouse called 40 Northh, we liked the table d'hote or fixed-price lunch menu posted outside.
I started with a Ceviche of Squid and Shrimp, and finished with a grilled Wild King Salmon Fillet and simple fresh cabbage salad ($24).
My wife had an Iceberg Lettuce Salad with a sinfully rich dressing and the 40 Northh Burger with brie, arugula and french fries ($19).
We didn't notice that our lunches included a dessert course, a small chocolate souffle and ice cream, but didn't have room and sent the waiter away when he brought them.
I asked for fruit instead, but the waiter said there wasn't any available. I settled for black coffee. Our lunch check totaled $49.44.
Next year, we might try Saint-Sau, a pub with vegetarian dishes on the lunch menu, or Chez Denise.
|The 40 Northh Burger.|
|Saint Sauveur's main street, Rue Principale, is lined with flower boxes and restaurants.|
|The cathedral's cool interior is painted in pastels.|
40 Northh, 235 Rue Principale, Saint Sauveur, Quebec; 1-450-227-6673. Lunch served Mondays to Fridays.
To be continued with Brasserie T!, Vanhorne, Le Petit Alep and Hyatt's Regency Club.