When some normalcy returns to the world and you have the chance to visit Montreal’s Time Out Market, you will inevitably learn the French word “cabaret”, which is nothing more than a humble food tray en anglais. However, any other similarities to shopping centre food at this wildly popular Montreal eating spot end there.
Time Out Market, which opened in late 2019 and is closed temporarily because of the COVID-19 pandemic, invited 16 of Montreal’s top chefs to serve haute cuisine in what may look, at first blush, like a chic food court. But the differences are vast.
There is no fast food here, and your dish will be announced to you via a portable buzzer. While you wait for the buzz, you can window shop the other restaurants, all with open counters and even chew the fat with some of Montreal’s top restaurateurs. Chances are good you will meet chefs like Norman Laprise (except when he is involved in “Les Chefs” television show).
As I waited for my Loup de Mer (sea bass) to be prepared at Paul Toussaint, I had a long discussion with Toussaint, before becoming aware he was the owner/chef.
I also stopped for a look at vegan and vegetarian Foodchain (1212 McGill College Avenue), known for chopping everything on site. There is no animal protein nor lettuce on the menu, yet it creates memorable salad dishes, each with a specially invented dressing.
And yes, when my Loup de Mer was ready, I picked it up on my “cabaret” with washable cutlery and flatware. In fact, the only item not reusable were the serviettes.
This being Montreal, customers took their time enjoying their afternoon meal, often in groups, while others were busy working.
The scene reminded me faintly of the work space at the Crew Collective Cafe (360 St Jacques Street), which I had discovered earlier during an outing with Local Montreal Food Tours. This stunning collective work space is located in the 1928 Royal Bank of Canada building. I could not believe that, until recently, most Montrealers were unaware of its existence, and the area remained unused for decades. It brings to mind the beautiful railway stations of yesteryear.
One last food-related discovery I made in Montreal occurred the best possible way — by chance. We happened upon a speakeasy near the Hotel William Gray in the Vieux-Port.
Giving out the name and address of the speakeasy (clandestine bars set up during prohibition) would be contrary to the spirit of the beast, as the whole idea is to conceal and surprise. The entrance is typically nondescript and interiors are carefully designed to give an “underground” feel. Drinks are magnificent — with prices to match.
Country Tastes in the Eastern Townships
An extraterrestrial who landed in Quebec’s Estrie region 90 minutes east of Montreal, could easily get the impression he had landed in New England. That’s because American loyalists fled here after the American Revolution and ended up colonizing the area. You may know the area as the Eastern Townships.
As I take a slow tour of Ripplecove Hotel & Spa in Ayer’s Cliff, I could just as easily be in an ever-so-cozy Vermont ski resort.
From its modest beginnings in 1945 as a fishing lodge on Lake Massawippi, Ripplecove has since developed a well-deserved reputation as one of Quebec’s top inns with one of the province’s best restaurants, Le Riverain.
I enjoyed boudin and Arctic char prepared by chef Steeve Roundeau and was blown away by the dessert, a creation of the resident Korean pastry chef. The sommelier selected an excellent Sicilian Passito to accompany it.
But what I appreciated as much at the inn was its relaxed atmosphere, with each nook and cranny supplying a surprising twist. (Think reading room, old pics on the walls, outside activities.)
This escape followed a hard day of downhill skiing at Owl’s Head, a fabulous hill on the opposite side of another huge nearby lake, Lake Memphremagog. If you are a skier familiar with Quebec, you may have seen majestic river views from the resorts on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. At Owl’s Head, the views are just as outstanding, albeit on a smaller scale.
Mount Sutton, about one hour away to the west, is a ski resort famous for its glade skiing. This hill has been operating for decades and I was struck by its true integration into its natural setting. It has dedicated a huge swath of its land to the Nature Conservation Area of Canada, ensuring the survival of rare salamanders and orchids whose habitat is found there.
Had too much great food, or, gasp, tired of skiing? End the day at the nearby Balnea Spa or at the Eastman Spa. Both excel in providing a relaxing Nordic experience. The Balnea is easily the most beautiful Nordic spa in Quebec, and the Eastman Spa, the granddaddy of destination spas in Canada, is consistently voted one of Canada’s best.
MORE ABOUT VISITING QUEBEC
Quebec Original: www.quebecoriginal.com/en-ca
Montreal Local Food Tours: www.localfoodtours.com
Time Out Market Montreal: www.timeoutmarket.com
Hotel William Gray: www.HotelWilliamGray.com
Ayer’s Cliff Hotel: www.ripplecove.com