Monday, 4 February 2013

The Mile End less traveled

During my walks I've been mostly hanging out either on Sainte-Catherine, walking on Sainte-Catherine or Maisonneuve from the Concordia university area all the way to Place Des Arts, or walking up Saint-Laurent to Mont-Royal and coming back down Saint-Denis. Occasionally, I'll walk on Notre-Dame from Place D'Armes all the way to the Little Burgundy and the Atwater market and head up the street of the same name until I reach Sainte-Catherine again. But, that last one is rare. It brings back too many memories.

Recently, when I got to the corner of Saint-Laurent and Mont-Royal, I thought "you know, I never really go north of here. I should probably do that sometime and check it out." I used to travel up there every day when I used to work as an intern for an open source software consulting company ten years go. This week I decided to go and take a look to see what's changed. To be honest, not a lot has changed, other than the fact that there are some new ugly modern condos whose facade doesn't fit with the local architecture and heritage of the neighbourhood. But, what can we do when the city is going on an all out condo construction rampage where they build more condos than there are actual people to live in them. Anyway, enough with the rant.

Wednesday night was fairly warm. Like, spring weather warm. It was 10 degrees Celsius. (50 F) The snow had melted everywhere and the air was moist. The city smelled like a gigantic wet dog. I drove downtown and parked around Place Des Arts. I know a spot where there's always free parking available after 9pm. I got out of my car and walked up Saint-Laurent. On my way up I stuck to the west side of the street since I always walk on the east side. I spotted a cool little sore that sold Montreal memorabilia. T-Shirts, mugs, posters, hats, etc. With all sorts of prints from famous spots around the city like the Farine Five Roses flour manufacture neon sign, the big orange from Orange Julep on Decarie boulevard. That's kind of cool, I guess. Especially if you want to represent Montreal wherever you go.

Other than that store, I didn't take any pictures until I reached Mont-Royal. My objective was to take a few shots at what is further north. And when I did, the first place that I thought was worthy of talking about is a vegan place called Aux Vivres, which translates somewhat to "to foods" or "at the foods". It's basically a small restaurant and grocery store where everything is 100% vegan. I'll be honest. I am a meat eater. But, there are times when I want to eat a good meal that's easy to digest and the best thing for that is vegetarian/vegan food. Looking at their menu, it seemed very interesting, but it's pretty much the same as any vegan place. Most of the items are inspired from Asian cuisine and, other than the burgers and a couple of dishes, there didn't seem to be a lot of hot meals. I'd probably go there in the summer instead for a light dinner or something. Overall, it seemed like an interesting place.

Further up, there was another place called Robin des Bois, which is the French name for Robin Hood. It's a nice looking restaurant with a special twist. It's a not for profit organization. From what I read in their window, the restaurant is supported by volunteers and they donate all profits to some charitable organizations that "help fight solitude, social isolation and poverty". That's pretty noble of them. Their menu seems quite nice too with a lot of variety and some awesome dishes too. To my understanding, the menu is organized by table d'hôte and how much you are willing to pay. So you have a $20 dinner, another at $35 and for groups you have shared dinners at $50+. They also received many awards for being a great place to go to the guide Debeur, Zagat Rated and others. I think this would be a great place to try out some time.

Further up there was another place that seemed a bit mysterious. Or maybe it's just me. Whenever I see a a really nice looking place that's completely empty, it just seems mysterious. Why would such a great looking bar/restaurant be empty? Well it was on a Wednesday night after all and it was kind of late. Maybe I should swing by on a Saturday around dinner time and see if it's still the same. But, I digress. The place is called the Sporting Club Montreal. What's weird is that it doesn't look like a sports bar. There were no TVs! It also said it is a Bar à bouchées, which means something along the lines of finger food bar or food bites bar or something. That makes it even more mysterious. A sports bar with no TVs that serves what I could only imagine would be tapas, a European Spanish cuisine thing where you serve various finger foods for dinner. A little googling revealed an article in the Nightlife magazine that his is basically a nice tapas wine bar with a decor inspired from the glorious boxing days of old. The article also mentions that it's an awesome place if you want to sit down, taste different kinds of wine and match them with the various bites that their cook comes up with. It sound like the kind of place for a great tasting adventure.

And right next to it (I swear, they must share the same kitchen or something) is a small restaurant with almost the same decor. It's called The French Connection and it's a restaurant, like we say, du terroir, which means from local sources. Looking at the menu, as if the name of the place wasn't a big enough hint, this is definitely a French restaurant. It looks good, very fancy, but expensive.

Just across the corner from that place, there was another restaurant called the Biarritz. It looked really nice inside. The menu was very interesting as well and very original, but limited. You can tell they are very specialized. The prices were quite reasonable too. It looks like a cool hangout and I would definitely like to try it out eventually.

Just a few more steps down the road and there was yet another wine bar. This one, however, is a deli wine bar. It has, apparently, been named one of Canada's best new restaurants. The place is named Le Comptoir Charcuteries et Vins which means The Counter, deli and wine. This has nothing to do with the famous Schwartz's or Dunn's smoked meat deli kind of place. This is a swanky restaurant that prepares and serves deli cuts in all sorts of extravagant fashions, coupled with matching wine. If you like small, expensive portions of food, this is where to go.

Sorry I didn't take a better shot, I didn't want to photograph their patrons.

After walking for a bit with nothing that stood out, there was a bar with some loud music and a very... lush... front window. I couldn't see inside from all the plants, but there were a lot of people coming in and out of the place. The place is called Casa del Popolo. From my Latin French background, I can assume this means The house of the people. Looking at their website, I realize it's a cafe/bar/concert venue. And they seem to be associated with the Sala Rosa, which is literally across the street from them. That place is another cool spot with a Spanish restaurant serving tapas, paella and other dishes as well as its own concert venue as well. Since my sister just spent 6 months in Barcelona for school, maybe I could take her there and see what she thinks of their Spanish food. The Casa del Popolo and the Sala Rosa look kind of underground. I know I passed in front of them before, but never really noticed them. It's probably a real hipster hangout and if I talk about it to any of them, they'll be all like "I used to hang out here before it was cool" and I'll be all like "Calm your tits and loosen up those jeans Mr. Beanie McBeardo. Nobody cares." Anyway, if there's good food, good drinks and good music, it's worth it. I oughta try it out some time.

Further north I found a burger place. There are two types of food that I absolutely LOVE. The first is Japanese ramen noodles and the second are hamburgers. Montreal lacks good gourmet burger places that don't cost an arm and a leg because the restaurant owners pimp out the place and turn it all into a luxurious fancy dining restaurant with wild bison filet mignon burger or some other expensive crap. They're hamburgers! It's like charging $50 for some fancy fried fucking chicken! Come on! Anyway, the place is called Burger de Ville (city burger) which doesn't really inspire me. It sounds like it's made from ground rat meat and stale burger buns found in a dumpster in the alley. Or maybe something along those lines:

Anyway, Burger de Ville is the name of the place and if I can has cheezburgers, I checks it out. The menu was a standard diner menu. Burgers, fries, poutine, steak, salads, etc. From the big flashy sign and the good looking interior (from angle I saw anyway), I was a bit disappointed. There wasn't any big variety of burgers or anything special. Nothing worth calling the place Burger de Ville anyway.

Finally, I walked all the way up to Saint-Viateur where the local Ubisoft headquarters are located. I actually have a couple of friends and a cousin who work there. I know one is a sound designer and my cousin's a sysadmin who manages a shit load of important gaming servers. He keeps them up and running so you guys enjoy your online gaming. I find that pretty fucking awesome in my opinion. Like I mentioned before, I used to work in that building for another software consulting company.

Saint-Viateur was where I was going to stop. I kind of knew this area back in the day and  there wasn't much to see north of that street. But, on that corner there were some pretty awesome eateries and it just seems like there are a couple more that popped up. There's a deli shop on a corner there and it's owned by an old Italian couple I think. They served freshly made sandwiches during the day. I swear to god, I have never had a tastier sandwich in my life thus so far. And, I recall that they used to sell some kind of soup. I think it was a clam chowder. They served it only one day of the week and there used to be a looong lineup all the way outside onto the sidewalk to the corner of the block to get some of that soup. If you didn't get there early enough, they would run out and you'd be shit out of luck. Fortunately for me, I had the privilege to have a couple of bowls while I worked there. I remember that the soup was extremely delicious. I'd very much like to get some again eventually.

Right next to it, a fish n chips place opened up called Comptoir 21. They have a simple menu with various fried seafoods. The place is small and has this really nice neighbourhood restaurant feel to it. It's a great place to grab a quick meal. I'm a big fan of fish n chips, especially since I discovered Brit n Chips last year. But, Comptoir 21 looks interesting and I'm very curious to try their fried fish and see what it's like. The restaurant opens late, 'til 11pm. Maybe I'll stop by sometime and grab a quick dinner before walking back down to go home.

At that point I turned around and started to walk back down the Saint-Laurent boulevard and get back to my car. Walking up the Plateau all the way to Mile End was a long walk, but definitely worth it. I made some pretty good discoveries that night, some I didn't even mention here as there were a lot more. But, most of them were excessively expensive and exaggerated. One place served French cuisine and there was not a single dish on the menu that was under $25. And that's just for one plate, not a table d'hôte or anything like that. That's a bit too much for bite-sized servings of raw meat with a couple of leaves of greens if you ask me. Oh! And on my way up to Mile End, I met one of my friends who works at Ubisoft. He told me he liked my blogs, especially the one with the recipes. I was really happy to hear that! You know, it's hard to tell how much of an audience you have when only very few people comment on your posts. Anyway, I don't care too much about having an audience. I like doing this because it keeps my mind off of the other crap that happens in my every day life. And the original purpose of this blog was to keep someone up to date with my life and give that person some advice on where to go if ever they wanted to get to know this city better and all that it has to offer. But, I'm just glad there are others out there who enjoy what I write. At least this is not all for nothing.

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