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Montreal Festival en Lumiere Eats: Feb. 16-26, 2012

Posted by Amie / January 27, 2012

Montreal Festival en Lumiere 2012I feel as though my design skills have gone downhill since last year's festival, so this year I'm going to stick to words (written and spoken) to walk you through the best lunches, dinners, snacks, drinks, and chocolate of the Montreal Festival en Lumiere for all budgets and tastes.

If you're new to Montreal you maybe don't know that February is the happiest time of the year for fine dining. Sure, we've got Le Bremner, Au Pied de Cochon, and Joe Beef living off their hard-earned celebrity chef-dom year-round, but for a week and a half in the middle of balmy February, Montreal actually has a net influx of amazing chefs, instead of a mass exodus of those chefs finally taking their Christmas vacation after the holiday rush.

Who are these ladies and gents from afar? This year they're Belgians, Washingtonians, Oregonians, and Outaouais(ians? Boy that's a lot of vowels...and a mouthful - pronounced something like "oo-tah-WAY-ee-ahns").

The Belgians come with beer, chocolate and a bit of everything gourmet. It's French-style food, but with outside ingredients and influences since Belgians don't produce a lot in-country, says festival spokesperson, Jean-Francois Demers. (Stream the interview I did with him below.) Instead they import the best of the best, but you'll see the same love of market-fresh cuisine that we have here, and the same love of wild game, cheese, wine, beer, and chocolate.

The Washingtonians and Oregonians include some of Seattle's top chefs and the states' most exciting wine-makers. There's a love of American cuisine and street food, but also a lot of love for Italy.

Then there's the featured Quebec region of Outaouais. Locavores rejoice! We're talking everything from the Quebec terroir - elk, wild boar, cheeses, vegetables, berries, and herbs.

Montreal Festival en Lumiere 2012Butternut Squash Soup Appetizers

Now the important part - you can do this festival the expensive way or the cheap way. Or somewhere in between. While I don't discourage going whole hog (both pig-wise and wallet-wise), I'm also going to lay out some options for those who still want money in the bank come March.

Best Expensive Meals

From Seattle: Matthew Dillon at Pullman Wine Bar. It may be the most expensive "casual" family-style dinner you've ever had at $80 a head plus tax and tip (before wine. $125 with, and it's a wine bar for goodness sake...), but this chef is inspirational. I'm not sure if he's bringing his own foraged products and veggies from his urban garden, and why bring up meat from his larder when we've got Outaouais up here just begging for him to use its game? But he'll like it here, and hopefully you'll like him at Pullman. Ask for a seat in the basement (dark and romantic) to watch the magic of the kitchen theatre unfold. Still not sold on the meal? Last year he got a nod from the James Beard Association as one of the Best New Chefs in the Northwest.
Reservations: 514 288-7779

From Outaouais: Jean-Claude Chartrand and Guy Blain take over Cocagne for a $80 before wine, $150 with wine dinner (tax and tip not included). This is Michelin star quality in Quebec, with the two chefs coming from L'Orée du Bois for two nights only. Very French. There's French bistro/brasserie music playing when you go to the website to give you an idea of the ambiance. Feb. 22-23. Reservations: 514 286-0700

From Belgium: Three nights at La Fabrique featuring Nicolas Darnauguilhem. This guy is a head chef, a pastry chef, and a sommelier, and usually runs his entire 24-person restaurant by himself. In Montreal the La Fabrique kitchen is helping him out, so the 5-course meal will be a snap, I'd wager. That's SO many extra qualified people making his life easier! He's a lover of natural wines and local, organic ingredients. Oh, and it's relatively affordable! $55 before wine, $90 with wine (tax and tip not included); Feb. 20-22
Reservations: 514 544-5038

Michelin-starred chef Laurent Martin at Vertige. If you like some celestial shine with your dinner: $75 before wine,
$115 with wine (tax and tip not included); Feb. 21-22.
Reservations: 514 842-4443

Montreal Festival en Lumiere 2011Last year's lunch at Restaurant de L'Institut - braised beef on polenta with vegetables and truffle

Fancy but Relatively Affordable Lunches: La Porte's "best of the last 6 years" lunches. No guest chefs, just the most popular menu items (3 or 4 you choose or do they? You'll be stuffed either way, I'd expect) served up fast for $35 including wine (1 glass? 2 half glasses?) plus tax and tip. Feb. 16-17, 22-24. I like this schedule because it means the kitchen's not doing the same food every lunch for the duration of the festival. They need ingredients to be freshly prepped for each service and nothing will sit around waiting to be ordered. Although, I'd expect freshness from this stellar kitchen any day of the year.
Reservations: 514 282-4996

Cheap Lunches:
So every year the festival throws these $12.95 lunches from "ethnic" restaurants into the festival lineup for those who don't want to splurge. They have nothing to do with the year's theme or invited chefs or winemakers, and the restaurants are always the same. They're relatively affordable restaurants any day of the year, but you do get an especially good deal on a prix fixe-style, multi-course lunch. Pizza, Portuguese, Iranian, and North African. Feb. 20-24, but try to go early in the week. See La Porte lunch above for why.

Christophe-morel-chocolatesChocolates from Christophe Morel

Chocolate: A Chocolate Conference and Christophe Morel.

First off, there's a conference on the chocolate-making! Cacao may not grow in Brussels but they do a fine job transforming it. On hand will be François Deremiens and Laurent Gerbaud - two master artisan chocolatiers from Belgium - UdeM researcher Mario Cappadocia, and Nico Regout Marcolini of the "Circle of Cacao" (un-googleable...). $25 adults/$15 students and 65+.

Now French-born Christophe Morel and his rare origin chocolate. If you don't know this guy you should. His chocolates are mostly single origin (meaning only one type of cacao bean per bar) and shout chocolate "terroir". The Madagascar dark chocolate has just a little vanilla in it, and the Mexico is a little more dry, almost tannic, like your mouth is drying out by the second, but in a good way. And never bitter like dark chocolate can be, even when the cacao percentage gets up there. They're expensive bars but are available all over Montreal in specialty stores, and are best savoured by comparing small amounts of multiple bars, as M. Demers explains in the above interview I did with him for CKUT radio. So if you don't want to spend $35 (plus tax and tip) for "A Night in Chocolate Heaven" involving multiple courses of Morel's treats (Reservations: 514 878-3561), hunt down a few of his bars in Montreal and host your own tasting.

Free Stuff: First, though, go sample (for free!) chocolate mousse truffles, chocolate-covered blueberries, and watch the experts make savoury chocolate and onion confit at Jean-Talon Market Feb. 18-19. Those without a sweet tooth can stick to Pacific smoked scallops and Outaouais wild boar with red wine and wild blueberries. And there's always booze. This is definitely one of the most insider events of the festival. For some reason not a lot of people seem to wander up to the second floor (there's a elevator) of the Jean-Talon market for the free samples and culinary demos.

Other culinary demos at the festival include Belgian and Quebec cuisine and desserts workshops, but they're more expensive than some of the 6-course evening meals...You get what you pay for, though, with appetizers upon arrival, two glass of wine, two glasses of beer, then a participation-encouraged feast of mussels, cheese and caramelized onion tartine, and Belgian beef and beer Carbonnade snacks (to start!); endive and maple syrup upside-down tart and Maplewood smoked scallops to get you prepped for the mains; stuffed saddle of rabbit, beer-gravy Poutine, and neglected seasonal vegetables (to feel better about how much rich food you just created and ate) for the main course,; and beer ice cream, chocolate mousse with speculoos cookie crumble, waffles, and coffee to end. Where could all that food possibly GO? A human body just isn't that big. Should you bring tupperware??? $140. Tax and tip not included. Reservations: 514 750-6050 •

For Beer Lovers:
This year's festival includes a mini pubcrawl with tours and samples at 3 local breweries. It starts at St-Bock on St-Denis but doesn't say where it goes after that. It's pricey - $75 a person (including tax and tip) - but it comes with appetizers, and you'll definitely have enough to drink. Saturdays, Feb. 18 and 25, 2012, 2pm-5pm. Reservations: 514-288-9955

Two Other Fest Favs:
Grunge Night at L'Inconnu. This is supposed to be a grunge-inspired meal. I didn't know fine-dining and grunge went together in 1991 in Seattle, but what do I know? Not enough, clearly. Feb. 17-18. $65 before wine, $95 with (tax and tip not included)
Reservations: 514 527-0880

Oyster Bar at Decca77 over AYCE Mussels and Fries at Bistro Beaver Hall

$45 is a lot of money to pay for all-you-can-eat mussels and fries. Mussels are dirt cheap. You should just go buy 8 pounds for under $16 for yourself and see how far you can make it through them (less than $2 a pound at La Mer for the wild Iles-de-la-Madeleine version right now...). BUT AYCE oysters is another story. They're a pain to open and significantly more expensive than mussels. But I won't tell anyone if you go to Bistro Beaver Hall for mussels instead. It's still all-you-can-eat and there's no work involved! Perfect for people intimidated by the kitchen. And it comes with a beer. Decca77 will cost $15 more with wine. If you've never made mussels at home before, though, don't be scared. De-bearding mussels isn't hard, and you really don't need to make much of a sauce. Your call. It's the night of Nuit Blanche, so it'd be a good way to start the evening.

"How to De-Beard, Clean, and Store Mussels" from Becky Selengut, author of sustainable seafood cookbook "Good Fish". Also, conveniently, from Seattle.

What'd I miss? TONS!

Festival en Lumiere

Gastronomic Week and a Half
When: Feb. 16-26
How Much: free to budget-destroying
Where: All over the city - restaurants, Jean-Talon Market, UQAM, mobile culinary tours

Photo Credits: courtesy from Amie, except the Christophe Morel chocolates photo from



Evan / February 2, 2012 at 07:28 pm
Those Christophe Morel chocolates look amazing. Can't wait to try some.
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