When I received an email earlier this month about submitting a proposal for this month’s Foodbuzz 24×24 post (where 24 featured bloggers highlight their unique meals occurring around the globe during a 24-hour period), I realized this was going to be happening while I was on a short getaway weekend in Montreal. You guys know from this blog that I have become quite passionate about the local/sustainable/organic movement, and I wanted to take this passion and extend it to my travels. Some people throw all the “rules” out the window while on vacation, I wanted to do something different – I wanted to apply the same rules as I would while eating out in Boston – seek out restaurants that support local farmers, serve organic produce, meats from humanely raised animals and sustainably caught fish. And when in doubt, choose the vegetarian option (vegetables and grains have a much smaller environmental footprint than meats and there is no question about their “raising” and slaughter practices). In short, I wanted to show myself and “the world” that you can eat more sustainably, even when traveling… and you can still enjoy the City’s food culture to its fullest (you just may have to try a little harder). I was up for the challenge, and since Foodbuzz chose me as their featured publisher, this past Saturday was my test.
I did a lot of research before going and found out that information is quite choppy on the subject. There are plenty of vegetarian (even vegan) restaurants in a big city like Montreal but I have a carnivore husband that is not as meticulous about knowing the source of his meat… and there has to be meat at nearly ever meal! Restaurants with local (and better yet, organic) meats were hard to find. I had a few charcuteries on the list that were completely inconvenient to get to since we stayed in downtown (read: large restaurants serving to the masses). So even with a good amount of planning we were left on our own, “winging it” for breakfast.
I was hoping the helpful concierge at our hotel would tell us all about a local hole-in-the-wall spot where we could find some local breakfast delicacies. Instead, she suggested eggspecatation.
This is a small chain restaurants with a few locations around the city (and as I see on their website, around the continent). It was a pretty funky space, clean and energetic yet a little gimmicky with their egg motif.
My date <3
I browsed a very large menu, and went with my plan B – ordered the vegetarian option. It’s actually quite easy for me, especially for breakfast.
Bagel Dore – two bagel halves dipped in egg batter, cooked on the grill, topped with bananas and strawberries; served with yogurt and honey
Plan B still looked pretty beautiful, don’t you agree?
The yogurt + honey was the best part. Fresh strawberries were everywhere in Montreal (they are in season!) so it is very possible that these were local. They were extremely fresh and I ate every piece. The bagels were actually the worst part of the meal – they were tasteless and had a weird mouth-feel. I picked at them but chose to save stomach space for something more worthy.
Overall: I give my breakfast a B- on a sustainability scale. It was not organic, doubtfully local but it was vegetarian. I wish this place was more locavore friendly but I believe in making the best choices given the circumstances and I certainly did that.
Next up: a trip to a marche (a farmers market) – it doesn’t get much local than that!
We walked a long way to the old Montreal. I couldn’t help but snap millions of photos. I got a whole lot of the “common’ we’ll never get there if you keep stopping every 2 seconds” looks.
… but how could I NOT stop every 2 seconds?
We finally got to the marche. The little stand with all sorts of (local) maple products got me super excited. Oh, this was going to be gooooood!
Metres d’ART? Say what?
Here we were… at an ART marche.
It was beautiful inside but we were starting to worry that a FOOD marche was going to close if we weren’t going to move it. So we continued on our journey to a marche that was actually on my list (I swear, I did prepare for this trip!). And completely by accident (Adam was the one with the map), I ended up bumping into a place from my list – Serafim cafe bistro – serving 100% organic food.
The place was a little less “cute” than I was expecting. To be honest, it looked more like cafeteria style food.
And it was dead.
We still were not hungry for lunch. I considered grabbing a dessert to-go but the cheesecake that spoke to me did not look transportation friendly. So we continued on our journey, dedicated to locate a real food marche with local farmers and produce as far as the eye could see.
Oh and did we find it… may I introduce you to Marche Jean-Talon (only a short Metro ride away)? You’re going to like it, I promise.
There were strawberries… so many strawberries (and so cheap!)
… and so much more! My head was spinning. I could hardly contain the excitement!
Everything was so beautifully presented, and there were so many samples! Let’s call these “lunch part I”
Local and organic lunch part I. A++
We bought some local strawberries… and a few plums that were possibly the best plums I’ve had in my life (those samples work!).
Wait, product of what?
Ok, so we made mistakes. I still maintain these were possibly the juicies, sweetest plums ever. I think this post would write itself if we went to San Francisco. I did pick up some definitely locally produced chocolates Privilege – Maison du Chocolat.
… and we were off once again to find the best poutine in town (according to Adam’s research on yelp). We were in Montreal after all. This was very much needed… and we were getting hungry!
Another ride on the Metro, without getting lost at all (or did we?), we finally spotted La Banquise.
… and 30 seconds later were seating at this cute little patio. Oh, life is sweet.
La Banquise is a family owned business that just recently celebrated its 40-year anniversary. The restaurant originally was founded as an ice cream shop, converted into snack bar specializing in hot-dogs and fries and eventually featured poutine. Two flavor combinations turned into 25+ over the years. This was definitely poutine-galore (I couldn’t fit the whole list in that first picture!!).
Everything on the menu is local, including local craft beers. I went for the Cidre Mystique – it was so crisp and refreshing!
Adam chose the Boreale Rousse. I tried it and thought it was nice and smooth (kind of like his Amber beer from the night before).
The waitress mentioned that everything was local but to be honest, I was still not convinced about their meat source. So once again, we went the vegetarian route. We split the regular size of the poutine Mexicaine – hot peppers, tomatoes and black olives (with 100% vegetarian sauce – extra)
The regular was plenty!
This was pretty indulgent. Adam and I were starving by this point so we pretty much polished this plate off. A little disgusting if you ask me but I think this was in order. I definitely loved the veggies (hot peppers were my favorite!) and the pieces with less gravy were my favorite – just give me cheese (fresh mozzarella?) and veggies and I’ll be a happy girl.
I enjoyed my two chocolates from before for dessert.
We saw a few cool sustainable spots on our way back to our hotel. This coffee shop serving fair-trade coffee
A natural grocer with the most organic products I’ve seen on our entire trip (and my picture of the outside did not come out ) – it was on Rue Rachel. I bought a few local goodies to take home (you’ll see them in future posts). This adorable patisserie could not escape me either. I believe that supporting local artisan chocolatiers is very much part of the local/sustainable equation.
This boule au rhum was so unique. I nibbled on it throughout the afternoon.
And if you can believe it, eventually dinner time came. This was the most special meal of all.
Although I am sure in a large city like Montreal there are many restaurants that serve some locally sourced produce, finding a truly sustainable restaurant for dinner was definitely a tough task. Luckily, my friends at twitter, helped me find this gem: DNA. The coolest, most out-of-the-box restaurant I have ever been to. And yes, it is sustainable. Let’s take a quick look at the super modern decor…
From their webiste: Situated near the port of Old Montreal, DNA is the complicity between Derek and Alex and their passion for Canadian products. DNA’s menu honours old world traditions including house-cured charcuterie, regional pastas, local meats and seafood and a commitment to sustainably grown and harvested produce. DNA’s award winning wine program offers the most diverse Canadian wine list in the country.
Meals at DNA begin with complimentary sparkling or still water. We filter, chill and carbonate it in-house to uphold our respect for the environment.
Adam and I went with the complimentary in-house carbonated water. It’s such an easy thing for restaurants to do yet just makes the meal just slightly more special (and of course the in-house carbonation is significantly more environmentally friendly than the bottled variety).
I also ordered the rhubarb mojito (special of the night) – it was fantastic – not very sweet, nice and minty. I could drink these all night long.
Before we even made our order, amuse bouche appeared on our table. This was some kind of pate with mustard and some kind of spread (I think it was described in French to us). It was phenomenal. The menu looked a little scary (read: tripe parmigian, veal heart tartare, lamb carpaccio) but if this was how it was all going to taste, we were in for a treat!
I actually chickened out and ordered the safest appetizer on the menu – squid sicilian style with almonds, capers, currants and tomato (hey, that’s what sounded best to me!)
It was so flavorful – slightly spicy with lots of fresh tomato flavors and a nice crunch from the almonds. I LOVED my appetizer. Adam ordered the lamb carpaccio – the actual meat was so mild, it was almost tasteless, but the rest of the sauces and veggies it came with I really loved (from the bite he gave me).
Our waiter forget to bring us the bread so I asked for it. We got to choose from a few varieties which were freshly baked in-house that morning. I picked the olive bread and Adam got the white. Instead of the typical EVOO, DNA serves their bread with locally produced sunflower seed oil. It was very mild in flavor compared to the more strong-tasting olive bread. I enjoyed about half of this piece.
I also ordered a glass of a Syrah from Naramata Bench in Canada (apparently forgetting to snap a photo). This meal was going well, very well.
For my entree I actually ordered one of the pasta specials. The waiter brought this basket of mushrooms to the table when he described it to us, and just seeing the morels and a few other varietals made my mouth water. I typically order a meat entree when eating at “safe” (sustainably speaking) restaurants like DNA, but my love for mushrooms supersedes such logic.
This was amazing. Giant mushroom chunks, simple oil oil drizzle, homemade pasta and parmesan cheese. Simple and amazing. I ate every morsel.
And yes, because I have a separate stomach for dessert, there was that too. Adam and I “split” the sea salt & hazelnut tart with ginger gelato and olive oil (read: he ate 1 bite exactly, and I ate the rest of it)
The ginger ice cream threw me off at first but I really enjoyed it after my taste buds learned what to expect. I could probably do without the EVOO drizzle (extra calories, no additional taste).
A few brownie bites came with the check. These were actually not very good so we took tiny bites and left the rest.
Did you notice the little paper under the amuse bouch, by the way? These are old menus. How sustainable is that? Bathrooms also have real towels (which can be re-washed)…
… and you can even purchase some of the local products and homemade products from the restaurant to take home with you. Love it!
This was definitely a unique dinner. I truly enjoyed it (Adam’s dishes were a bit more daring and after all – perhaps a little too far out of the box for his liking). If we lived in Montreal, we’d definitely be back to this restaurant. DNA’s sustainable practices get many “brownie points” in my book.
And that’s how you do it – eating mostly sustainably while traveling. As you can see from this post, we were unable to eat 100% organic and local produce but I believe that it does not need to be an all or nothing mentality. Every little bit does help! It is my mission to make educated choices that fall within my own ethical and personal guidelines (that honor our future and the future of the Earth), regardless of whether I am in my own city or traveling abroad. I hope that this post showed you that it is in fact doable… more than that, that through this challenge, you may come across places and taste foods you never would have otherwise.
Where would you suggest I go if I visited your city with the same mission?