The US definitely has more variety, but the quality of food in Canada can’t be beat. Even drunk food here is super tasty and not simply smothered in grease and carbs (and I can attest to that as I ate it sober!)
In Montreal, there are two absolutely essential culinary experiences. Bagels and smoked meat sandwiches. And if you have the time and money, a dinner in the dark is also in order.
Shwartz’s is in every guide book and has become this huge iconic thing to check off on every tourist’s list. But back in the day when A lived in Montreal, it really was the best place to get a giant sandwich on the cheap, and he used to eat here all the time.
A was really excited to go again, but it was very different than how he remembered. The lines were literally out the door for both a table and the take away counter. The take away line went pretty fast, and they have counters to eat at in the back. It’s not obvious from the menu, but they have 3 levels of fat content, and we chose the lean and the middle option. The lean was too lean and I’m guessing the fattier option would have been too fatty, so without very specific tastes, I would stick to the medium fat content. And of course, the requisite black cherry soda. You can also leave a note on a napkin on the wall to provide entertainment to the next folks who come to eat.
While we went to Shwartz’s specifically for the nostalgia, for everyone else, any smoked meat sandwich will give you the same experience. Culinary-wise, it’s literally smoked meat on white bread with yellow mustard. Super delicious, but not some huge, difficult deal. And also definitely not (objectively) worth the current price tags– more than double what the were 15 years ago!
Of course they cannot beat NYC bagels, but these are really good in their own category. Montreal bagels are smaller, chewier, and they definitely have much fewer calories (as are most things in Canada!). They make a perfect brunch and with a little shmear of cream cheese and smoked salmon, it was seriously worth it to walk a full hour to get them. Make sure to get whichever ones are freshest because they’re extra yummy that way!
Dining in the Dark
I read about O.Noir and immediately wanted to support it. It’s a restaurant that employs blind waitstaff and the entire dining room is in pitch-black darkness! This is to of course accommodate the staff, but it also really enhances your tastebuds once you’re deprived of your sight.
As all of the waitstaff are blind, this restaurant creates a job for them that they would otherwise not be able to have. In Canada, the visually impaired have an unemployment rate of about 70%. A portion of the proceeds of the restaurant are donated to local organizations that help visually impaired people. After learning all that, I insisted we try it before heading back to QC after a fun weekend, but the food turned out to be well worth it alone, even putting all the social justice aside.
The first restaurant of it’s kind is in Germany, and the famous restaurant is in Paris, but O.Noir is the best bet on our side of the Atlantic for a delicious gourmet meal in the dark. It’s a concept that has become more and more popular, and I hope it catches on!
The process is pretty straightforward, you show up at your reservation time, you’re given a locker for your things, bags, all electronics, pretty much everything as you can’t bring most things into the dining room. We placed our drink orders at the lighted bar, and we ordered. They have a regular menu that has items you can select, but they also have a surprise option for each course, which we decided on. We were asked if we had any dislikes or allergies because they would accommodate them. I think we said we didn’t want to eat veal or pate. We also said that we’d like to be done with our meal by a certain time, because we had to catch a bus back to QC, and they were able to time the meal according to that preference.
We were introduced to our waiter–we had Rodrigo, all the way on the left above. He explained the process of walking in, getting seated, how to call for him if he’s needed (spoiler-you say his name, no need to shout!) We walked in caravan-style with your hand on the shoulder in front of you. After being seated, we were served our three courses. We ended up with scallops for apps, duck for mains, and a dessert that we never quite figured out but that was absolutely delicious.
It’s a little difficult to use utensils without seeing, but luckily no one can see you make a mess of yourself or tuck your napkin in like a bib. We ended up using our hands a lot and licking our fingers quite a bit. It was really fun to guess what we got as we ate, although I’m ashamed to admit A realized we were eating scallops before me and scallops are my absolute favorite seafood!