Our trip to Montréal was inspired by a new year's day Anthony Bourdain TV binge. While sitting in bed, eating amazing Thai food, we watched Joe Beef chef/owners David McMillan and Frédéric Morin eat foie gras off a stove in an ice shanty and decided we needed to visit this city ASAP. We booked our tickets for February and reservations to Joe Beef immediately.
Josef has a knack for finding the most interesting airbnb's. Perhaps not the most traditional place to stay, our loft was in Plateau Mont-Royal, a centrally located arts district. Inside of an artists studio building, our neighbors included a man who played recorder (professionally?) or at least enough to require late night rehearsals, a dance studio comprising of ladies hoping to get their groove back, and a few cats munching on takeout boxes. The décor was quirky, to say the least, with gas masks, machetes, hammocks and wheelchair seating. Aside from the chain smoking tennsnt below us, it was a fun and adventurous place to stay.
Joe Beef was a main attraction. To use Josef's words, we "submitted to the experience". We've found that for restaurants like this to be memorable, give your waitress your budget on the front end and just let her have her way with you. We ate foie gras of epic proportions, lobster pasta, a slab of dry aged beef that I still dream about, salads and sides with sauterne, fernet, a bottle or two of (amazing) wine.
This was an absolute formative food moment, but it was more than that. We were drawn to Joe Beef because of it's food, but also because of it's soul. The cookbook the Joe Beef team published called "The Art of Living According to Joe Beef" begins to hit at what we're after. What are these moments in life that you will remember, even tell your kids about? What kind of table will you sit around and have magical and meaningful conversations? Who are the innovators who are willing to cast off fame and renown to create something that is significant to them? What is real creativity and how can we be truer versions of ourselves by living out those visions in our minds?
Other food highlights included Au Pied du Cochon and their towering Foie Gras burger (recommended by our Cochon-winning friends at Corner Table in Minneapolis), brunch at Leonard Cohen's favorite hangout Bagels, Etc., sandwiches from Schwartz's Deli, and tartare and vermouth at Marche 27, just around the corner from our loft. A Japanese whiskey bar called Big in Japan Bar and cheap ramen served in styrofoam cups and plastic takeout bags also hit the spot.
One thing we learned was the only place colder than Minneapolis in February, is Montréal. It's surrounded by water and it's bone chillingly cold. This slows down zero people. They throw on their Moncler jackets and walk. Usually to the nearest coffee shop, of which there are many. We love coffee so we were happy to stop frequently and linger. Kitsuné, one of our favorites, was just down the street from our airbnb. Other highlights were Café Myriade II , which is attached to one of Liz's favorite boutiques Savoie Fils. There was also Code Black Coffee and Le Falco, which was recommended by our lovely friend Talin Spring.
Old Montréal is just that, beautifully old. Built in the 1600's, it has the feeling of Paris, of which it is no doubt inspired by. It still remains charming with horse drawn buggies, cobblestone streets and a cathedral, the Notre-Dame Basilique, which is stunning. One of the most erie things we have experienced was visiting Vieux-Port de Montréal. Ships, heaps of metal creaking in the cold and taller than the surrounding buildings, lined the shore. Also, the temperature was something we could barely comprehend. As native Minnesotans, we thought we understood sub-zero. This was beyond.
This district has become a tourist destination, which may not be ideal for locals, but it has brought a lot of innovation in terms of retail. One of these shops is Liz's favorite, called SSENSE, an early adopter of high end street wear and forward-thinking brands like MSGM, Jacquemus, and Hood By Air, to name a few of her favorites.
STREET ART & SHOPPING
An amazing contrast to the heritage and the cold, is the abundance of modern street art. The juxtaposition of this against the beautiful, european historic vibe is electric. In the Le Plateau Mont-Royal neighborhood where we stayed it was particularly vibrant. Art is a huge part of the culture and you can see that when we visited The Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal, which had a lovely film exhibit by Sophie Calle.