Well hello there, welcome back! This is the second of the multi-post series on bachelor and bachelorette party planning in this lovely city of Montréal. The first post provided some tips on lodging options, and this second post will go over restaurants suitable for a group dinner in establishments that are better than a run to McDonald’s. That is, these are restaurants I recommend for a nice sit-down dinner with your party group.
This particular series on bachelor/bachelorette party restaurant recommendations is divided into two parts. Part one of this restaurant series, below, explains the Montréal restaurant scene, basic tips, and high- and moderately-priced restaurant recommendations. Part two, in the next post of this series, will cover wine bars, Bring Your Own Wine (BYOW or “apportez votre vin”) restaurants, vegetarian selections, and frugal offerings. I will also be posting other tips and recommendations for bachelor and bachelorette party planning in this city on the topics of bars, events, and other related items. The first and previous post of this party planning series covered the general party environment in Montréal and hotel recommendations.
First thing about the Montréal dining scene: It is amazing. There are more restaurants per capita (744 according to a 2006 figure) than anywhere else in Canada. Plus, the Québécois do not accept crappy food. You will find there are many excellent restaurants in this city and pretty much all of them serve the most excellent bread. (Which is obviously not the center piece of your meal but a really nice extra touch and a personal obsession of mine.)
We also have apportez votre vin (“bring your own wine”/BYOW) restaurants, which allow you and your guests to bring a reasonable number of bottles of wine (or beer) to a restaurant to have with your meal. I have yet to encounter a restaurant here in Montréal that charges a corkage fee so all you have to do is bring your bottles and they will serve it with your meal. Keep in mind that these restaurants do not have a liquor license so they cannot refrigerate your bottles for you; they will instead bring a bucket with ice for your table, so keep this in mind if you are bringing a few white or dessert wines. Most of these BYOW restaurants are situated in the Plateau neighbourhood, home of many excellent restaurants in the city, and advertise their service as “apportez votre vin” on their websites and menus. I do have some favourite BYOW restaurants that I love, which I will mention in part two of this restaurants post.
Another point that is worth mentioning is that Montréal is not a vegetarian-friendly town. Depending on where you are coming from — especially a sizeable city like Toronto, Vancouver, or New York — you may be used to going to any restaurant in your home town and finding vegetarian options for your veggie friends. Montréal is not like one of those cities. The culture here is that of joie de vivre where French Canadians love their cheese, bread, wine, smoking, foie gras, and a pretty liberal sexual culture (that is why you are here, right?). Vegetarianism is seen as a form of asceticism not welcome by the Québécois still recovering from the fall out with the Catholic church in the late 1960’s, which ruled the province through its law and culture. Only 6% of the Québécois attend church weekly, the lowest in any western society. (Interestingly, most Québécois consider themselves Catholic.) Therefore, if you have vegetarian friends in your party you should double check the restaurant menus before committing. And do expect to get the “We have vegetarian — fish and lamb!” kind of responses as I have personally experienced.
I would say though that my biggest tip regarding restaurants in Montréal is to go for the kinds of restaurants that the city excels at. This means that, in comparison to other cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, and New York City, we suck at Asian cuisine. I am not trying to say that all Asian restaurants in this city stink — certainly not true as there are a few that I absolutely love. However, if you are from a big city with a sizeable Asian population, why come to Montréal to eat good quality sushi at an inflated price when you can get it at home for way cheaper and even higher quality? If you come visit this city in the lovely francophone province of Québec, steer towards the kinds of cuisines and restaurants where that you probably cannot get at home and that exemplify the best of the city. In my point of view, the best restaurants here are usually French, Québécois, central and mediterranean European, and Arab cuisines.
Additionally, you will want to try to find a restaurant that is large enough to accomodate your group and takes reservations. My restaurant suggestions below fit both these standards, but I should point out that if you are looking to book at some of the more popular restaurants you may need to call them months in advance. That is right, you are not going to get a table for six at Au Pied de Cochon in two weeks time, so forget about it. So this is my second biggest tip: book early. But keep in mind that if you do not score a reservation at your favourite restaurant of choice, there are many, many great restaurants in the city so planning a great meal for your friend will be done. And last but not least, I have included some alternative, frugal choices for the economical amongst us which you will find in part two. Below are some of my choices for high- and moderately-priced restaurants.
HIGH END AND SUPER POPULAR
Au Pied de Cochon gets mentioned in every Montréal tour book for a reason: Yes, it is very famous, but it is also very good. The restaurant also exemplifies Québécois cuisine in that you get duck, maple syrup, foie gras, poutine, and pig’s head. The place located in the Plateau is a carnivore’s dream come true that celebrates the bon vivant philosophy of French Canadians. The place is also loud and boisterous, and will have very slim pickings for vegetarians. Unless you book waaaaay in advance, good luck with getting reservations. And in that case, you may just have to console yourself with watching Anthony Bourdain eating to his death in an episode of No Reservations.
Another strong choice that is sometimes considered the anglophone version of Au Pied de Cochon is Joe Beef. Joe Beef is located in the gentrifying neighbourhood of Griffintown and, like Au Pied de Cochon, loves the highly controversial foie gras in the form of what they call the Double Down: Deep friend foie gras with bacon and cheddar cheese. If you are vegetarian-leaning like I am, it is a bit too much to watch someone eat this but for the duck lovers out there, this place is for you. Interestingly, Joe Beef will cater to vegetarians and are willing to prepare a vegetarian pasta off-menu, so this place can accomodate your vegetarian friends. However, just like Au Pied de Cochon, reservations must be booked very much in advance. And if you fail to snag a dinner date at the restaurant, console yourself with their award-winning cookbook, The Art of Living According to Joe Beef.
Le Garde Manger, of Chuck’s Day Off Food Network fame, is a Québécois and seafood specializing restaurant in the Old Port. Their famous lobster poutine is exactly what you can expect from this high quality establishment which comes complete with young, attractive servers and guests that are reaching across to other tables to hit on each other. The lights are dim and prices are high, and again this is another place that may be hard for vegetarians. Tables are in high demand so book way ahead by calling and leaving a message, and waiting patiently by the phone.
For mid-priced restaurants four come to mind, all which are located in the Plateau. (See a pattern here?) Restaurants listed are in random order. First choice: L’Express, which reminds you of a Parisian bistro with mirrored walls, wood panelling and a busy scene that looks like it is out of a Toulouse Lautrec painting. The restaurant is famous for its steak frites and quality wine list, as well as late weekend hours meaning you can book a great dinner for past midnight. However, L’Express does not serve any vegetarian main dishes.
Au Cinquième Péché, translated into “the fifth sin,” is another Montréal establishment that celebrates the hedonistic side of food. This restaurant is also one of the few in the city that serves baby seal (“phoque” in French) while also serving at least one vegetarian main dish. Imagine that — you can bring your anti-PETA friends and vegetarian friends together for one meal! You can also choose to submit yourself to the chef’s special five course meal ($60 to $70) if you are a serious foodie or would like a meal with elements of surprise.
A few blocks away is my third choice in this category. I love La Salle à Manger because the restaurant perfectly balances a youthful energy with formality of fine dining, very much exemplifying the Plateau neighbourhood where it resides. Located on Mont-Royal street, the restaurant opens up its front doors and windows in the summer where you and your friends can participate in some prime people watching. The menu changes regularly to reflect seasonal and locally sourced ingredients with quite a number of vegetarian offerings. Non-vegetarian offerings, however, are dominant and include their famous salmon tartare appetizer and main plates such as rabbit leg with stewed tomatoes and mushrooms.
Finally, if you are not in the mood for French and Québécois cuisine, I also recommend Casa Tapas for a Spanish tapas dinner. Tapas are definitely fun to share with a big group, so a Spanish tapas restaurant is very appropriate for a festive bachelor/bachelorette party dinner. Casa Tapas also boasts an exclusive wine collection of Spanish imports to go with your seafood- and meat-based dishes. Alas, you will not find many vegetarian-friendly dishes at this restaurant though with very limited offerings it is possible your vegetarian friend can manage if they are low volume eaters.
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The second part of this restaurant series recommends wine bars, bring your own wine (apportez votre vin), vegetarian, and frugal restaurant choices.
Published Posts in the Series:
The Montréal Bachelor(ette) Party Planning: Introduction and Hotels
The Montréal Bachelor(ette) Party Planning Guide: Restaurants, Part One
The Montréal Bachelor(ette) Party Planning Guide: Restaurants, Part Two
The Montréal Bachelor(ette) Party Planning Guide: Activities