My brother Eric and I were both born in Montreal. We didn’t live there long as the wanderings of our academic parents began soon after, taking us to Halifax, Nova Scotia, followed by London, England, where we spent 15 years and then back to Canada in the late ’60s.
Still, that lovely city of my birth has always loomed large, partly because, as children, we regularly made summer visits there to see both sets of grandparents, crossing the Atlantic several times by ocean liner (not a good memory) and because my dad would sometimes talk about growing up in that city’s famous Jewish neighbourhood now called Mile End or The Main.
Names like Baron Byng (the high school attended by the likes of him, Mordecai Richler and Irving Layton); Rue St. Urbain (my dad’s family lived on that street and on several others close by including Bagg and Esplanade) and Schwartz’s inimitable smoked meat emporium came up regularly in his not-too-fond reminiscences. The latter well-known eatery, a favourite haunt of his (and mine), was an exception.
My brother now lives in Montreal’s east end. Visiting him and just hanging out in this wondrous city are good reasons for me to make the trip. Also, it’s an excuse to sit on the train and have a leisurely read.
I make regular pilgrimages to Schwartz’s – midweek afternoons about 3 p.m. are good times to get a seat – and to that landmark bistro called L’Expres. My bro has also introduced me to a terrific cheap and cheerful Portuguese eatery (located on Marianne St. near Leonard Cohen’s house in The Plateau) called Doval and a lively Greek spot called Symposium on Park Ave. where we once had a delicious and highly entertaining meal due to the lively antics of its owner.
On a recent visit, Eric and his partner Claire took me to a quirky newish place not far from their working-class, mostly Francophone neighbourhood called Bistro sur la Riviere at 2263 Lariviere. It’s a tiny, two-tier room bedecked with colourful paintings and usually packed with people seated at its few tables.
There’s a blackboard bearing the daily menu (all in French) that included the usual steak frites (I found my steak too thin but the frites excellent), roast chicken, daily salad and creme brulee but it also listed Pork Cheeks with Sweet-and-Sour Sauce. This dish was divine: tender, juicy morsels of meat in a delicately rich sauce that had just the right balance of sweet and sour. I’ll be back in the hope it’s on the menu again. And the price is right at this welcoming boite.
I had never been to Montreal’s old, funky little Chinatown on the southern edge of downtown so, when the craving hit for Chinese, my brother and I headed south of Rene Levessque on St. Urbain.
We wound up at Mon Nan, a long established eatery with a live lobster tank – our first hint of its specialty in seafood – at 1096 Rue Clark near La Gauchetiere.
The food here is excellent, especially their famous appetizer of two steamed oysters in black bean sauce served on the shell and No. 48, Fuji Sizzling Steak: slices of seared beef with lots of fresh ginger and flavourful, al dente stir-fried veggies like broccoli, bok choy, carrots and mushrooms.
I saw people eating snails and some pretty good-looking stir-fried squid. It’ll soon be time for a return visit to try those and to make my way through the reasonably priced, interesting menu.