Jazz Fest is here! Montreal’s Jazz Fest, that is. Each summer, in Quebec’s largest city, thousands of music aficionados spend days under a bright sun grooving and swerving to the scats of modern jazz. Inaugurated in 1980 by the late, great Ray Charles, and set in the heart of the Quartier des Spectacles in downtown Montreal, this year’s 32nd edition of The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal will run from June 25 to July 4, 2011. Set within the borders of St. Laurent Boulevard and De Bleury Street from east to west, and Ste. Catherine Street and President-Kennedy Avenue from south to north, the fest will host more than 750 free outdoor concerts and an additional 250 ticketed indoor concerts.
This year, the festival’s late-night opener will be none other than the dynamic Prince, returning to Montreal’s Metropolis after 10 years, and former Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant, also the recipient of the Montreal Jazz Festival Spirit Award. Other marquee names include Tony Bennett, Peter Frampton, John Legend, K.D. Lang, Sade, and Marianne Faithfull, while the traditional jazz lineup features Canada’s own Diana Krall, vocalists Dianne Reeves and Dee Dee Bridgewater, a duet made up of pianist Brad Mehldau and saxophonist Joshua Redman, and veteran bassist David Holland collaborating with pianist Kenny Barron. The 1970s jazz-fusion group Return to Forever, a mainstay on the Montreal Jazz Fest circuit since 1980, takes a turn on the stage on June 26th. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/manskilo)
Now, as any chronic Jazz Fest attendee knows, participation in such a musical marathon takes stamina. Luckily for concertgoers, Montreal is oft recognized as Canada’s premier foodie city, offering a mouth-watering assortment of pleasures for all taste buds. So, when it’s time to take a (brief) break between sets, refuel at one of these tantalizing spots.
The Question of the Bagel
Compared to New York bagels, Montreal’s bagels are smaller, sweeter, and denser with a larger hole in the middle. Boiled in honey water before baking (and always baked in a wood-burning oven), the bagels of Montreal have ignited inner-city debate. Montreal locals fall into one of two camps: Fairmont or St. Viateur. The debates over which one of these two popular spots is better have been raging for decades. With nine days of music, you’ll have time to form an opinion of your own. (Photo, from St. Viateur, courtesy of Flickr/Sifu Renka)
Foie Gras and what?
Translated as “the pig’s foot,” it follows that Au Pied de Cochon (P.D.C.) is a love letter to the bounty of meat, especially pork. On entry, wall-to-wall tables front an open-kitchen and wood-burning oven. Servers run back and forth with purpose, and the air is thick and boisterous. Foie gras on poutine? On pancakes? Duck in a can served with a can-opener at your table? By mixing highbrow products like foie gras with comfort foods like French fries or pizza, then adding on a succulent selection of steaks and chops, the pleasure principle at P.D.C. insures continued success. Tip: Don’t miss this one!
Craving the Left Bank?
Though bistros are many, few can truly replicate the Parisian experience as thoroughly as Montreal’s L’Express (3927 rue St-Denis, 514-845-5333). The black and white checkered floors, the red walls, friendly staff, the partially handwritten French-menu all feel authentic, but when the jar of cornichons and bread arrives — baguette perfect — you know you’re in good hands. Order any of your favorites from croques and confit to tartares and tartines, they’re sure to deliver. For me? The quiche Lorraine and steak frites (pictured). Hands down. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/friedwontons4u)
The Next Great Restaurant
A new addition to the restaurant scene, Les 400 Coups buzzes with energy. As the city’s toughest reservation, persistence pays off. The polished black space with high aluminum-tiled ceilings, globe lighting, and an eight-seat bar feels different and the staff is eager to highlight the menu, which changes daily. My menu featured a piglet ravioli with a lobster bisque broth and an arctic char with a Peking duck base that put me in a trance. So, what’s on the to-do before my next trip to Montreal? Booking back into Les 400 Coups.
Meet Me in Old Montreal
Old Montreal is a treasure chest of cobblestone streets and hidden foodie gems. Case in point, the one-two punch of Barroco and Bocata on Rue Saint-Paul West. With a great soundtrack, a romantic candlelit exposed-stone ambiance, and an eclectic menu of Spanish and French dishes, Barroco (pictured) is the big brother to next-door wine bar Bocata, where French-speaking couples linger over Spanish-influenced tapas, cheese, and charcuterie plates, and a grand selection of mostly European wines.(Photo courtesy of Barroco)
Similar to the varied pool of musical talent at Jazz Fest, the culinary scene in Montreal is impossible to sum up with just five selections. So, if you have the time after the shows, it’s also worth checking out Kitchen Galerie Poisson for fresh-caught fish, Garde Manger to impress a date, Le Club Chasse et Peche for a boy’s night out, Schwartz for Montreal’s infamous smoked meats, Olive et Gourmando for coffee and sweets, Joe Beef for ambiance (and food!), and Lawrence for some killer morning-after brunch.