Sorry about that mini-vacation; it was a tough decision whether I should continue blogging during my trip, but in the end I'm glad I was able to focus on having fun and not constantly worrying about updating and writing posts. But I'll be back to regular posting tomorrow, and I've got a lot of great stuff planned for the next couple of weeks.
A few highlights of my trip:
Okay, so I picked what was probably the worst weekend weather-wise to visit Montreal. As anyone living in New England/Eastern Canada knows, there was this storm that kind of made driving and spending any time outside nearly impossible. The weather definitely hindered our ability to do and see all the things we'd planned, but we made the most of it and did what we could. Mainly, that meant going out to eat.
I'm not sure if this is true of Canada as a whole, but the standards for food are WAY higher in Montreal than they are in New York, and any other U.S. city I've ever spent time in. Being a kind of foodie in training, I did a lot of research beforehand and tried to pick the best restaurants within a budget. I had the best meal of my.entire.life. at Chez L'Epicier, a beautiful restaurant in Old Montreal that came very highly recommended by posters on Chowhound. The food was unbelievably fresh, with gorgeous presentation and really creative flavor combinations. It was the kind of transporting experience where you're so focused on what you're eating that you stop talking and seem to forget where you are and who you're with because you're almost dumbstruck by how delicious your food is.
After we finished I went up to the maitre d' and (very politely) asked whether it would be possible if I could have an extra menu to take home, because I wanted to always remember what I ate and what a terrific experience we had. She said something in French, ran into the kitchen, and returned a minute later with a copy of the menu signed by the chef. I felt like such a nerd, but this made me really happy.
The other really special meal we ate was at Verses, the restaurant of the Hotel Nelligan, a really chic boutique hotel also in Old Montreal. The food wasn't nearly as creative or beautifully presented, but it was still one of the top 5 meals I've ever eaten. The real highlight was the dessert, a course that I normally enjoy but one that's rarely the best part of the meal. I ordered the pastry chef's special: a blood orange panna cotta with aged balsamic vinegar drenched strawberries and a piece of pistachio brittle. It was unlike any dessert I've ever eaten, so wonderfully light yet super flavorful. Andrew ordered the half-baked chocolate cake with Guinness (yes, like the beer) ice cream. After finishing, he declared that driving 7 hours in the pouring rain/sleet/snow was worth it, if only because of this dessert.
But it wasn't just the fancy restaurants that had good food, it was the regular sandwich joints and bakeries and tiny ethnic takeout places that had high quality food as well. If you're a fan of Middle Eastern food, you'll be happy to know that Montreal has a shawarma joint on just about every corner. The afternoon we drove in we were cold, wet and tired and wanted a quick, easy dinner to hold us over. A few blocks from our hotel (a nice hotel for a very reasonable price, by the way) was Boustan, where I downed chicken shawarma sandwiches, which they stuff with this spicy cole slaw, garlic sauce, onions and veggies and then grill until it's lightly charred and crispy on the outside and warm and gooey inside. So cheap, so filling, so good.
And since I'm a huge fan of public markets, we also visited the Jean-Talon market, the city's largest. I went from vendor to vendor, noshing my way through the place (I can't think of a better way to spend a cold afternoon). Here's a picture of me in front of one of the fruit vendors:
This was right after I polished off the yummiest swiss, ham and apple crepe, which was smothered in butter and went perfectly with some fresh squeezed apple cider. Mmm...
One other cool thing about Montreal is that people seem to dress better in general. I don't mean more fashionably, necessarily, but both nights it was awesome to be in restaurants where everyone looked like they made an effort to look put together, as a way of showing respect for the nice restaurant, the staff and the other diners. I was reminded of the second best meal I ever ate (and by far the most expensive) at Babbo in New York, which I spent months looking forward to and was really disappointed to be surrounded by people wearing old jeans and sweatshirts, when it was such a big, special event for me. Even dressed casually, the people in Montreal didn't look sloppy, and it was just a cool thing to see.
My boyfriend is convinced that people in Montreal (and again, possibly Canada in general) are more attractive than New Yorkers/Americans, but I think it's because people are overall in much better shape (this could be a direct result of prioritizing good eating, walking through those hilly streets and smoking like chimneys) and because they dress better. And a lot of young people pulled off that skinny, artsy, European bohemian look really well that tends to look kind of lame on a lot of the college students I see in the U.S.
I know it sounds like all I did was eat for 3 days straight, but that's only partly true. We were able to explore downtown and Old Montreal, check out the McGill campus and a little of Mont Royal, visit the Biodome (I don't care if the average age of visitors was 9, this place rocked) and Notre Dame Cathedral, as well as the Beaux Arts Museum. The weather wasn't nice enough to go out at night, so instead we curled up in the hotel and watched DVD's of Season One of House, which I'm just getting into. Pretty good so far.
One final thing- I got a chance to check my e-mail on Thursday night and thanks to your comments, I realized that I had been quoted in that day's New York Times style section, in an article on Lancome's Proenza Pink lipstick. It was absolutely surreal to see my quote in the New York Times, a paper I read every single day, and it's something I'll never forget. I was a little annoyed that the reporter didn't bother to write the full names and addresses of the blogs mentioned in the article, or link to the sites on the NYTimes website, but of course it's still totally fantastic to be quoted at all. You can read the article here.
Anyway, I spent 8 hours driving yesterday (Montreal to Boston, dropped off boyfriend, drove back to school) and I'm pretty much exhausted. Tomorrow I'll be back to all that beauty, fashion and pop culture craziness, so check back soon!
Monday, April 16, 2007