Sunday, March 12, 2006

Montreal: O Montreal

In my third trip to Montreal since the first of the year, I finally got to see some of the city. And, as I had expected, I dig it. Very much. The parts I liked the best remind me of neighborhoods in Brooklyn, like Red Hook and a less gritty Cobble Hill. I was able to drive around a ton, alternately sightseeing and working at the three printing plants needed to print V Man 6 (which turned out really nice, again with the invaluable work of Transcontinental Printing and Dave, my favorite hot French-Canadian pressman).

After moving from Boucherville, I stayed one night at Hotel Nelligan, in Vieux Montreal on cobblestone-lined St. Paul Street. Right in the heart of Old Montreal on the oldest street in the city, this is an excellent hotel - a fireplace and ginormous jacuzzi in my room that gave me heart palpitations, I heated it so high. I have to admit, I love boutique hotels like this. All the services, the good food, the amenities, the ass-kissing staffs, the amazing breakfasts. I would be such a hotel whore if I could afford it all the time. Vieux Montreal is gorgeous, well-maintained if a little sleepy at night, and chock-full of historical sites to dork out over. And yeah, we've all seen cool churches all over the world, but Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the more special ones.

Lunch was eaten at Schwartz's, a Jewish deli in the Plateau neighborhood that specializes in smoked meat. What is smoked meat, you ask? It's not pastrami, not corned beef but it's simply...smoked meat. Schwartz's was the Montreal answer to Katz's, only I liked this kind of huge meat sandwich better than whatever I've had in New York. Even if it meant waiting in line for 20 minutes in the sleet.

I had a delicious dinner at Toque! (pronounced two-KAY, not TOOK, by the way) in downtown Montreal. Toque! has been lauded as a premier dining spot for 10 or 15 years, with chef Normand Laprise being one of the first to use mainly Quebec-produced products. However, I got the feeling that Toque! has seen better days. It just didn't seem that innovative to me, with a lame hotel bar decor and kind of a rote presentation. Don't get me wrong - it was good (sucking pig! uhmmmm....), but seemed to be resting on it's former laurels as the best restaurant in Montreal. Perhaps that was in 1997.

I do like the fact that before meals in the fancier spots here, you always seem to get an Amuse-bouche (def: a small complementary appetizer that amuses the mouth) to whet your appetite.

The neighborhood I liked the best - and only saw because the UV coatings for the cover were done there in a big industrial building that contained tons of creative services - was Point St. Charles, a neighborhood just west of downtown and south of the Lachine Canal. It looks like Red Hook, or parts of Williamsburg. And not that that means that it's pretty by any means, but there's lots of single family homes mixed with industrial buildings, tucked away between the river and the canal. And big surprise, it used to be a rough working-class Irish neighborhood, now slowing changing over to condos, with bike trails along the canal. Can I pick 'em or what? I guess I only like neighborhoods where cancer is a daily danger.

Lastly, I have to learn some French. I embarrass myself on an hourly basis in Montreal by mangling French pronounciation.

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