More Than Smoke and Mirrors at Cafe Grevin
While a fast food empire reigns four floors below in Montreal's underground maze of shopping malls, way up on the fifth floor of the Eaton Centre is a new bistro and wax museum, the North American outpost of the Parisian museum and similarly decorated restaurant of the same name. Beaux Arts this ain't, but the lunch fare by Montreal's Restaurant Europea, the "through the looking glass" Imax-style intro by Moment Factory and the uncannily realistic portrayal of Quebecois, Canadian and international celebrities in wax (Jacques Cartier's eyes don't follow you, but Trudeau is a bit shifty) makes the Grevin Wax Museum a strangely enticing new downtown attraction.
Before or after your trip down the rabbit hole, you might want a snack. Bonus: You don't need to take a picture with wax Sydney Crosby to enter the café. Cafe Grevin is offering a lunch deal - sandwich, salad or dessert, and a drink for $10.90. While that puts them on par with JavaU, fois gras and panna cotta never came so cheaply.
Europea, home of one of the most highly respected pastry kitchens and a bastion of Montreal's fine dining scene isn't stooping to lunchtime quickie levels with their mini baguettes of smoked duck breast, foie gras cream and caramelized onions, and tartiflette sandwiches of potatoes with Brie, mushrooms, bacon and white wine. and Parisian-style breakfasts ($9.50 - every morning until noon) caters to local mall and office workers in search of not a McMuffin, the meal a combo of baguette, jam, a croissant, orange juice and a hot beverage of choice (cafe au lait will have to cut it since the traditional chocolat chaud a l'ancienne is nowhere to be found).
The real draw, however, are the pastries and desserts from Jean-Marc Guillot, a French master pastry maker and the pastry world champion of 1993: plastic wine glass-sized servings of creamy panna cotta with raspberry gel on top and strawberry purée on bottom; sweet and sour mini lemon meringue pie parfaits, perfectly torched; and buttery, rich mille-feuilles pastries with apricots and cream (all $3.50). At Europea the same would cost at least twice as much.
Properly sated, or eagarly anticipating a decadent verrine of tiramisu, you should probably check out the wax. While the 4-minute visual spectacle created by Montreal's own Moment Factory is technically impressive and dizzying. It feels long, though, with Cirque du Soleil-style narrative ambiguity set to a soundtrack of Debussy-turned-xylophone-heavy-Appalachian Spring pumped out on a surprisingly disappointing sound system.
Move from Americana to rock-baroque ("rock-oco"?) as you enter the museum and confront Quebec TV personalities you'll only recognize if you're Francophone. Then on to the figure skaters and hockey players. Tourists will love it, but even locals may get sucked in my by the creepily realist hands of Andy Warhol. If you've ever wanted to punch Steve Jobs, well, you shouldn't here, but you could. You'd get sued for less than you would if he were real.
There are a few interactive parts of the exhibit. You get to design yourself in wax on a series of TV displays, taking a scan of your head and choosing your skin tone, wig, make-up and clothing. Plus, you learn about how the costumes for the figurines are made by hand. And despite the lack of modern day indigenous people in the exhibit, there's a fairly large section of the museum devoted to well-known Native Americans in fur.
And you don't get to perform with the Biebs.
Still, Le Petit Prince is sweet, there are astronauts, and there's a cocktail bar setup with movie stars and guess which famous Quebecoise crooner performing onstage...
Cafe Grevin at the Grevin Museum
How much: $17.50 ($14 for students...That should - but probably doesn't - come with tiramisu)
Where: 5th floor, Montreal Eaton Centre, 705 Ste Catherine W
When: Mon-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 11am-5pm (give yourself about 90 minutes to see the exhibit)