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The Best of the Montreal Highlights Festival: Food and Drink 2010

Posted by Amie / February 15, 2010

Tuna @ Milos-Restaurant
For two weeks at the Montreal Highlights Festival (Festival Montreal en Lumiere) it's basically like the joy of Christmas has come again in the form of the most gourmet food and talent the city can offer or import, but left the stress and ridiculous knitted sweaters behind in a snowbank. Around this time every year Montreal goes from being a place with great food and restaurants, to absolutely busting at the seams with haute cuisine.

Starting this Thursday, February 18th and running until the 28th, the tastes of the Eastern Townships will be somehow combined with Portuguese wine, New Orleans spice, table d'hote dinners, lunches, 40 Quebec artisanal cheese producers, cooking demonstrations and happy hours across the city, all under the direction of guest Portuguese chefs and our own local culinary miracle-makers. So after salivating for days over the event schedule, crying at the ridiculous prices, sighing over the impossible array of options, and analyzing how to make the most of the event, these are the festival top picks:

Best Dinner: Restaurant Julien Feb. 18th or 19th ($50, or $57 including a glass of wine)
Best Lunch: Europea Feb. 18th, 22nd-26th ($29.50 including a glass of port)
Best Tapas: Vertige Feb. 18th or 25th ($35, or $49 including wine pairing)
Best Brunch: Cocagne Feb. 21st or 28th ($45, or more with wine)
Best Cooking Class (Non-participatory): at Europea Feb. 18th-26th ($35 including a glass of wine)
Best Happy Hour: Pullman Feb. 18th or 19th ($45)
Best Bargain Lunch: Restaurant Douro ($13, or more with wine)
(Tax and tip not included)

Don't see what you're looking for? Here are a few more options and a bit more information on the choices above:

For Everybody (Complexe Desjardins)
1. Festival of Quebec Cheeses (Feb. 17-20th). 40 Quebec cheese producers set up shop surrounded by Portuguese wines. Expect long lines, but delicious samples.

2. The Crossroads of Flavour (Feb. 23rd-27th). Local producers and artisans kick the cheese-makers out, or into the milk store. Featuring a bakery, a boutique, a specialty liquor store, milk and milk products store, and a general store (reminiscent of a quaint Quebec village) alongside tastings and and culinary demos.

For the Big Spender: Festival Feasts

Yes there's a $300 grand dinner at Ferreira Cafe Feb. 19th & 20th...ridiculous. There is also a $45 (not including wine) mystery Portuguese dinner Feb. 20th with guest chef Vitor Sobral at 350 St-Paul Est in the Marche Bonsecours. Call 514 908-9090 for reservations or purchase online.

For diners looking to splurge a little: Festival's Finest Tables
No dinners at the festival are really affordable, but here's a list of the top picks under $60 (not including wine, tax or tip). See below for lunch or brunch options, but the stars shine at night. These restaurants are set to impress with special evening meals (not Sunday/Monday, in true Montreal fashion) featuring invited chefs, mostly Portuguese, French or local cuisine, and Portuguese wines.

Bistro Le Repertoire Feb. 18th-17th. 6 courses of Portuguese standards.

$45 before wine, $65 wine included
Reservation: 514 251-2002

La Fabrique
Feb. 22nd & 23rd. Guest chef Danny St-Pierre only had to come from Sherbrooke, not Portugal, but he's a guest and should be treated as such. He's also got a CV that demands attention. French-trained, he worked at Toqué and Laloux, so if you can't make it to his home kitchen, Auguste, in Sherbrooke, now's a good time to check him out.

$45 before wine, $75 wine included
Reservation : 514 544-5038

Bu Feb. 23rd 24th. Skip the tasting menu and buy something à la carte to accompany your six carefully chosen wines. Bu is all about the wine anyway.

$34, sampling of six Quinta do Portal wines with the purchase of one dish
Reservation: 514 276-0249

Chez Queux Feb. 26th

An even better deal, depending on the quality of the wines, the owner of the Dona Maria estate in Alentejo, Portugal will be in attendance to serve tastings of his own vintages.

$Free, with the purchase of dishes à la carte! I assume this means the tastings are free...not entrance to the restaurant and watching this man is free.
Reservation: 514 866-5194

Au Petit Extra - 25th Anniversary. Forget about Portuguese cuisine and go to a French birthday party.

$37.50 before wine, $64.50 wine included
Reservation: 514 527-5552

Le Jolifou - Sri Lankan Night Feb. 18th-27th
One of the only non-Portuguese dinners, but it looks like one of the most interesting.

$55 before wine, $85 wine included
Reservation: 514 722-2175

Decca77 Feb.19th. The deal includes five shared dishes (Shared with who? Tapas style? Or big plates buffet-style? If you go, let me know what this means...)

$30 before wine

Feb. 27th Oyster buffet, but the wine will probably cost a fortune (It just sounds too good to be true): "After winning the 2006 Créativité Montreal award, the restaurant is opening its wine cellar and inviting you to partake of a buffet of oysters from near and far."

$20 before wine, who knows how much after
Reservation: 514 934-1077

DNA Restaurant Feb. 27th

What would happen if the Sommelier took control of the kitchen (because he's Portuguese and fits nicely into the festival theme) and the chef took over the wine pairings? This could be interesting. It could also be just decent, and not worth the money...but that's what makes it fun. It's apparently for diners "with a sense of adventure."

$45 before wine, $85 wine included
Reservation: 514 287-3362

Le Samuel de Champlain Feb. 22nd-28th. 5 courses of Quebec and Portuguese seafood

$38 before wine, $50 with one glass of wine included
Reservation: 514 878-9000

Les Cons Servent Feb. 23rd. New Orleans cuisine!

$55 before wine, $95 wine included
Reservation: 514 523-8999

Les Deux Gamins Feb. 18th-20th

Pan-fried black cod, La Belle Excuse sauce vierge, braised veal cheeks, Porto reduction...France and Portugal emulsified in seven courses!

$55 before wine, $85 wine included
Reservation: 514 288-3389

L'Inconnu Feb. 19th-20th. The Sherbrookian "bistronomy" of Geneviève Fillion's Le Bouchon takes over the unknown kitchen.

$55 before wine, $85 wine included
Reservation: 514 527-0880

Restaurant Julien Feb. 18th-19th. BEST deal on Louisiana cooking. The invited chef, Brian Landry has served multiple Presidents at his home restaurant, and won a whole slew of US Cooking Awards.

$50 before wine, $57 one glass of wine included
Reservation: 514 871-1581

Vertige Feb. 18th and 25th. Six tapas per person in two courses. A mixed bag of appetizers and then another mixed bag of appetizers. Cross your fingers. It could be good, especially since the wine is relatively affordable.

$35, before wine, $49 wine included
Reservation: 514 842-4443

Cocagne Feb 21. The most decadent brunches you've ever eaten...

$45 before wine - "Fish and Seafood"
Feb 28
$55 before wine - "Truffles and Foie Gras"
Reservations: 514 286-0700

Zawedah Feb. 21st 11:30am - Lebanese Brunch at the Best Western Ville-Marie Hotel, hosted by Zawedah Restaurant. Though it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the Portuguese and Eastern Townships focus of the festival, a Lebanese brunch is an experience not to be missed, and it's a better deal than the festival lunch special at Byblos, which, while very good, is similar to their regular menu at only a slightly reduced price.

$32 before wine, $43 wine included
Reservation: 514 288-4141

La Porte Feb. 18th-26th
4-course French/Portuguese meal including a glass of wine.

$32, one glass of wine included
Reservation: 514 282-4996

Europea Feb. 18th, 22nd-26th (selling out fast because it's one of the best deals around). A 5-course portuguese lunch.

$29.50, one glass of port included
Reservation: 514 398-9229

Cocagne Feb. 18th, 19th, 25th, 26th

$25 before wine, and while tax and tip is not included, an aperitif is! You just have to trust the chef...and have no food allergies and not be a picky eater, because it's a set menu with no exceptions.
Reservation: 514 286-0700

Cooking Classes
Italian Cooking Class
Sapori Pronto - Feb. 22nd & 23rd. 5 courses with Portuguese wines, but you're paying to watch your dinner be made. Kind of like an open kitchen where you get play-by-commentary and can ask questions. If you're just there to enjoy the food, wine and company, it's not such a great deal.

$55 before wine
Reservation: 514 487-9666

Dessert Workshop
Europea Feb. 18th-26th 10:30am, 2:30pm, 4:30pm. Watch award-winning pastry and dessert chefs craft Portuguese and International delicacies. Includes a glass of port and goodie bags. Just watch the creating, though. Don't play. This is not participatory...

$35 including a glass of wine
Reservation: 514 398-9229

Happy Hours!!!

Ristorante Sapori Pronto Feb. 22nd-27th. The festival's most affordable happy hour features 3 Portuguese wines and Italian snacks. I'm not sure we're talking polenta diamonds and tramezzini triangular tea sandwiches here, but you never know.

$25, wine included
Reservation: 514 487-9666 (but who reserves for a Happy Hour? It might actually be a good idea...)

Koko Restaurant and Bar Feb. 22nd-24th. Wine aficionados can have a relatively affordable glass of wine by a highly-esteemed wine maker. He'll apparently be around to pour you the glass himself.

$10 for a glass of wine. Hope you don't get hungry.
Feb. 25th - Want something stronger? The wine maker will leave on the 24th and in comes the Port.
$12 port wine cocktails
Reservation: 514 657-5656

Le Samuel de Champlain
Feb. 18th-28th. 3 course meal or happy hour tapas...your choice. This seems more like a meal with a $5.50 glass of wine, but it's listed under the Happy Hour category of the festival.

$24.50 before wine, $30 one glass of wine included
Reservation: 514 878-9000

Pullman Feb. 18th-19th. Wines from the Quinta do Mouro estate. Tapas included.

$45 for an undetermined amount of wine. This is probably not about the tapas. As usual at Pullman, focus on the alcohol.
Feb. 20th-27th features other wineries, apparently worth $5 less in quality??
February 20 and 27: Port, from savoury to sweet
February 23 and February 24: The Douro Valley
February 25 and February 26: Vinho Verde

$40 for 3 wines and tapas
Reservation: 514 288-7779

Festival's Lunch Menus
Everyday of the festival (Feb. 18th-28th) features special $13 lunches separate from the Festival's Finest Tables. These restaurants are the only representatives (besides Lebanese at Zawedah...?) of cuisines that aren't either French, Portuguese, Quebecois, Italian or Cajun. The festival could almost justify it as "places upon which Portuguese cuisine had some influence". Really, it just shows that the whole festival is only using Portugal and the Eastern Townships as a loose theme for all the amazing food in the city for a few weeks. These lunches are also a whole lot less expensive, but you're not always getting a good deal, as they're not usually that expensive anyway. Here are the festival's top picks, though you're free to go at any other time of the year for a very similar culinary experience:

La Khaima (North African/Moroccan), Ong Ca Can (Vietnamese), Restaurant Douro (Portuguese), Mogador (Moroccan), Rumi (Middle Eastern)

$13 plus tax and tip (no wine)

Enjoy the overwhelming onslaught of amazing food! And please let me know - email or leave a comment - about what you go to and if you like it. Pictures, emotions, and stories all welcome.

Photo by "Chefdeck" from the Midnight Poutine Flickr Pool.



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