Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Restaurant Manitoba, Baton Rouge, Pizza Il Focolaio and Brasserie T!

A large Shrimp Roll with Horseradish Mayo ($14) from the lunch or midi menu at Manitoba, an unpretentious neighborhood restaurant in Montreal that prepares only organic ingredients from Canada.
Manitoba's blackboard menu didn't list thick pieces of house-cured bacon when I ordered Morue or Cod Fillet with onions and a sauce made from nettles ($16), but my wife was glad to eat them with her shrimp roll and after our meal, ordered six more slices to go.


MONTREAL -- Too many restaurants, too little time.

That's always the way it is during our visits to this cosmopolitan French-speaking city, which boasts a Manhattan-like array of fine-dining and ethnic restaurants.

Taxes of about 15% are more than double those in New Jersey, but the U.S. dollar's favorable exchange rate took the sting out of three of us eating every meal out for eight days.

We revisited favorites near the concert halls of the 37th edition of the International Jazz Festival, and tried two new places, funky Manitoba and Il Focolaio, an authentic wood-oven pizzeria with an astounding selection of 75 pies.

All prices are in Canadian dollars. The U.S. dollar was worth $1.27 to $1.29 Canadian dollars during our visit.

I started lunch at Manitoba with a Cold Celery Root Soup, which had a thick buttermilk base ($7).

Restaurant Manitoba

I had heard a great deal about Manitoba, which offers "a taste of the forest in our plates, a taste of nature in our glasses," and I wasn't disappointed.

The restaurant, which serves new Canadian fare, is now our favorite in Montreal, replacing the shuttered Vanhorne.

For lunch, I had a cold soup that tasted strongly of celery; a smoky, pan-roasted piece of wild cod that melted in the mouth; and two glasses of red wine.

My wife chose a radish salad to start; a large, delicious shrimp roll, and nougat ice cream for dessert.

Our teenage son had a green salad, the cod with thick-cut bacon and a glass of red wine (the drinking age is 18 in Canada).

Our lavish lunch, including taxes and four glasses of wine, but not the tip, topped $150 Canadian or about $105 in U.S. dollars.

Restaurant Manitoba, 271 Rue Saint Zotique Ouest, Montreal; 1-514-270-8000. 

A taxi from our downtown hotel cost $20 Canadian (about $15.60 U.S.), including the tip, but we paid only $3.25 each to take the No. 80 bus back along Avenue du Parc, a major north-south street (coins only).

Manitoba's Green Salad, above, and a Radish Salad with Creme Fraiche and Lemon, below, $7 each.

Nougat Ice Cream.
This is one time I should have ordered a bottle of wine. The three of us had four glasses of Ombre du Soir organic red wine from France, but the check listed only three at $14 each.

The entrance to Manitoba on a quiet Montreal street.

Seating is at a bar and tables, above and below, and during our lunch, two chefs worked in an open kitchen, rear. The floor is unpainted concrete.

Our server also tended bar at Manitoba, but only a few tables were occupied during our leisurely lunch. The back of the dining room is a large glass garage door, which was open to a garden.
BATON ROUGE IN COMPLEXE DESJARDIN: The Lobster Salad ($21) at Baton Rouge, a popular steakhouse in Montreal, doesn't ordinarily have this much tender claw meat, above. But the restaurant was so busy, the kitchen sent out the first one with no lobster, below, and to apologize doubled the usual portion of the delicious crustacean.

My wife and son shared a pound of Baby Back Ribs with mashed potatoes ($29).

A House Salad served in a large soup bowl at Baton Rouge was $11, above. A Caesar Salad was $13, and you can add chicken for $8 more.

A 9-ounce glass of red wine was $11, above. A 6-ounce glass was $8.

We had to wait about 20 minutes on a busy Sunday for a table at the Baton Rouge on Saint-Catherine Street West, where the kitchen, servers and managers were slammed by the jazz festival crowd, above and below.

The restaurant also has seating outdoors. Web site: Steakhouse & Bar
IL FOCOLAIO: This downtown institution offers 75 different wood-fired pizza pies, each one the size of a large dinner plate, including No. 23, Campagnola, with pancetta, onions and olives (hold the mushrooms) ordered by my wife and son, above ($15.50).

The pies are cut into quarters, and I saw many customers eating them with forks and knives, as they do in northern Italy.

Pizza Il Focolaio

I loved the incredible selection of authentic Italian pizzas, inexpensive house wine, optional lactose-free cheese and the service at Il Focolaio, a downtown Montreal restaurant that has been slinging wood-oven pies since 1934.

But our lunch there was marred by flies in the dining room, including big and small ones that buzzed around my table during the hour I waited for my wife and son to meet me there (they walked in the opposite direction for 20 minutes).

When they finally arrived, my wife had to cover her pizza to keep those nasty, dirty insects from landing on it.

After I paid the bill, I went downstairs to the men's room and encountered another fly, as well as the strong smell of urine and deodorizer.

Now that I'm home, I may call the Montreal Health Department to alert officials to the unappetizing conditions.

When I first arrived, the host found a table for me, even though the restaurant was almost full, and a waiter poured glasses of water and gave me menus while I sipped a glass of red house wine ($5.25), and waited for my wife and son.

I mentioned the flies to the host as I was leaving, and he thanked me, though he didn't seem surprised or ask a waiter to get out the fly swatter. 

Pizza Il Focolaio, 1223 Rue du Square-Phillips, Montreal; 1-514-879-1045. 

Web site: Wood is good

At Il Focolaio, No. 71 is a pizza with pesto, fresh tomato slices, fresh arugula and balsamic glaze ($16.25). The Montreal pizzeria is the first I've encountered to offer lactose-free cheese for an extra $1.50, and it's organic, too. I asked for both pizzas to be made well-done, but they weren't.

The restaurant's menu says "wood is good," but I've found coal is better and imparts a deliciously smoky taste to the pizza crust.

We shared this terrific combination, called Giardino, a Caesar Salad topped with Grilled Vegetables and served with two pieces of chewy pizza dough rubbed with tomato ($13.75).

A can of San Pellegrino Limonata was $2.75.

BRASSERIE T! I found a perfect lunch dish -- grilled Dorade or Sea Bream served over crunchy spring vegetables ($26) -- at this fine-dining restaurant on the Place des Festivals in Montreal.

Brasserie T! and Taverne F, a Portuguese restaurant, operate in sleek steel-and-glass boxes set end to end. You can get a fixed-price lunch of two courses and a side dish at Taverne F for $21 or less than the price of an entree at Brasserie T!

My son loved the tender beef in his Flank Steak with Toque Butter and Fries ($26). On the other hand, my wife was unhappy with her Shrimp Roll ($20), which was smaller but more expensive than the one she would have at Restaurant Manitoba, and a mix-up over her getting fries instead of salad ended up in the waiter adjusting the check to compensate us.

All of us were delighted with a starter of Cheese Croquettes, made with parmesan ($8).

We also loved another starter, a salad of Potatoes and Smoked Surgeon ($7).

A glass of Portuguese wine at Brasserie T! was $10.

The restaurant has outdoor seating on the plaza where free concerts are staged during the International Jazz Festival. Web site: Brasserie T!

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