Who Needs Paris When We’ll Always Have Montreal?

“We’ll always have Paris,” Humphrey Bogart tells a tearful Ingrid Bergman at the end of the movie classic “Casablanca.” And indeed, Paris often is called the most romantic city in the world. But Francophiles are discovering ways to get their Paris fix — wonderful old cathedrals, superb bistros and historic neighborhoods set amidst a buzz of French chatter — without leaving North America or spending a fortune. That fix is called Montreal.

Bonjour! That’s French for good morning and it’s a great term to use as you wander the cobblestone streets of Vieux Montreal (historic old Montreal) just a short walk from the bustling and very modern downtown.

Among the must-sees is Pointe-à-Calliere, Montreal’s Museum of Archaeology and History. A national historic site, the museum has four main parts, including the recently restored Ancienne-Douane (old Customs House) which was built between 1836 and 1838 and the modern Eperon, a structure erected upon the ruins of older buildings with a basement that houses an ancient crypt.

An additional stopping point is City Hall, a fine example of Second Empire architecture, a style that originated during the reign of Napoleon III (1852-70) — who led the major building campaign to transform Paris into what it is today — a city of grand boulevards and monumental buildings and ultimately influenced Montreal’s architect as well.

Paris has its famous Champs-Elysées shopping area, but the stores along Notre Dame and Saint Paul streets in Montreal also are a delight. Another must-stop is the Bonsecours Market, which opened in 1847. Its sidewalk cafés, vendor stalls and shops still hum with activity today.

And, of course, on Notre Dame Street is the magnificent Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal, an awe-inspiring and magnificent cathedral built in 1892. There are guided and self-guided tours and The AURA, an immersive multi-media experience by Moment Factory that surrounds visitors with an amazing visual and musical universe, presented upon what is described as one of the most beautiful canvases imaginable: the basilica’s nave.

Contrary to what many might think, Montreal is a year-round destination with the 20.5-mile Underground City of stores, cinemas, restaurants, and more—perfect anytime but particularly in the winter when the temperature drops. Check out such places L’Art des artisans du Québec known for its woodwork, blown glass and amazing finery. Beautiful jewelry is made on the spot at Joaillerie St-Jean or Bijouterie Ralph et Elle. For books, stop by Renaud-Bray. Brands to be found in the Underground City include Rudsak for leather goods, Squish for gourmet artisanal candies and the Montréal-based, internationally famed ALDO shoes.

Pricewise, Montreal is a bargain and if you save your receipts, you can get your sales tax back.”

In comparison, the American dollar buys much less in Paris. It is a completely a European city with Old World charm minus the jet lag or a long trans-Atlantic flight.

So who should opt for Montreal instead of Paris?

Anyone who is looking for great value, ease of travel and who has a limited amount of time would be perfec.

For more information, visit Montreal.

Beautiful Vieux Montreal: Now Open for Summer Fun

Great news for those who love this lovely city–the dining rooms and terraces of Montréal’s wonderful restaurants are now open. It’s time to sample the culinary delights of the recently re-opened Experience Old Montréal restaurants (note that each restaurant makes a determination as to how many patrons can be served both inside and outside in order to respect the two-metre physical distancing rules, unless the patrons come from the same private residence or there is a physical barrier between them). Many Montréal restaurants continue to offer takeout and delivery service. Bars have been allowed to reopen since June 25, although they must respect the same sanitary protocols as restaurants and patrons must be seated – no dancing or standing at the bar. All bars must now close at midnight.

For those new to this beautiful historic section of the city, this is the perfect change to explore some of the most beloved restaurants and bars in Old Montreal. Not matter what meal– breakfast, lunch, dinner or brunch or what cuisine–French brasserie or bistro, Italian and pizza, Japanese izakaya and sushi, along with some of the best steaks in Montreal–it’s all there. Montreal bars are also perfect for a night out for drinks with friends or your office happy hour!

Enjoy the steaks and patio dining at Vieux-Port Steakhouse; the Paris-inspired menu from the Golden Age of French brasseries at Brasserie 701,

Dine overlooking the Saint-Lawrence River at Taverne Gaspar located on de la Commune Street, right next to the Auberge du Vieux-Port.

Gaming establishments like the Casino de Montréal and its restaurants such as Ajia, L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and Pavillon 76 and will hopefully be opening soon. L’Instant, the deli, is scheduled for opening on August 3.

For jazz there’s the atmospheric Modavie, the city’s hottest jazz bar and bistro. Enjoy live music while dining and stay for a drink or two to continue enjoying the sounds of some the best jazz musicians around.

History and elegance combine at L’Auberge Saint-Gabriel with its arched stone entrance and glossy red facade. Built in  built in 1688 by a French soldier, it was the first auberge (the French term for inn) in North America to receive a liquor licence, on March 4, 1754. Specializing in French and Quebecois and just steps away from the NotreDame Basilica, it’s location and style–stone walls and rich materials creates that wonderful sense of being in Old Paris when dining here.

To get in the mood to visit the restaurants of Old Montreal, may we suggest cooking a classic cassoulet as a start. So turn on your favorite jazz riffs, open a bottle of French wine, prepare the meal and, oh yes, most importantly, book a flight to Montreal.

The following is adapted from a recipe by Thomas Keller, Chef/Owner of the famed The French Laundry.

Photo courtesy of Williams Sonoma.

Thomas Keller’s Slow-Cooker Cassoulet

  • 4 lb. boneless pork shoulder, cut into 8 pieces and trimmed of excess fat
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 Tbs. canola oil
  • 1 cup panko
  • 4 oz. thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips
  • 4 cups coarsely chopped yellow onions (about 3 medium onions)
  • 2 cups dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 can (35 oz.) peeled Italian plum tomatoes, drained and
      coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 12 cups cooked Great Northern beans or other small white
      beans, drained
  • 6 fully cooked or smoked chorizo or garlic sausage links,
      about 1 1/2 lb. total, each halved on the diagonal
  • 1 garlic head, halved crosswise
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
  • 1 lb. baguette, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing
  • Coarse sea salt, such as sel gris, for garnish

Season the pork generously with kosher salt and pepper; set aside.

In the stovetop-safe insert of a slow cooker over medium-high heat, combine the canola oil and panko. Cook, stirring constantly, until the panko is toasted and golden, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer the panko to a baking sheet and season with kosher salt and pepper.

Add the bacon to the insert and cook until crisp on both sides, about 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Reserve the bacon fat in the insert.

Add half of the pork to the insert and brown on all sides, 7 to 8 minutes total. Transfer to a platter. Repeat with the remaining pork.

Add the onions and 1 tsp. kosher salt to the insert and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and softened, about 7 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 8 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, tomatoes and broth. Remove the insert from the heat and add the beans, pork, chorizo and garlic.

Place the insert on the slow-cooker base, cover and cook on low until the pork pulls apart easily with a fork, 9 to 10 hours. Skim off the fat, and remove and discard the garlic. Fold in the panko and the 1/4 cup parsley. Adjust the seasonings with kosher salt and pepper.

Position a rack in the lower third of an oven and preheat the broiler.

Brush the baguette slices with olive oil. Arrange the slices, oiled side up, on top of the cassoulet, overlapping them. Broil until golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes.

Let the cassoulet stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving. Sprinkle each serving with the reserved bacon, sea salt and parsley. Serves 8 to 10.