If you’re young and broke, but like good food, Montreal is the place to be.
Not only does Montreal have North America’s most restaurants per capita (sorry New York and San Fran), but the food scene is profoundly diverse, original and fun. Where else can you find a restaurant called Vladimir Poutine?
But my favorite motive for heading to Montreal is that many of its top restaurants, the ones that land it atop best culinary city lists, offer insanely cheap deals after 9 or 10 p.m. Maybe you can’t afford Moishe’s $52 ribsteak, but show up any Wednesday through Saturday after 9 p.m. and you can get it and an appetizer and coffee or tea for a measly $25.
Progressive Montreal is all about the common good, so even its swankiest restaurants offer late-night menus for budget conscious diners. It’s a win-win for all. Chefs clear their shelves for tomorrow’s fresh produce and you get the posh atmosphere without the matching price tag.
And just think, after 10 p.m. you can get away with your raggedy Guns N’ Roses t-shirt.
Here are five places for night owls:
Before 10 p.m., it’s nearly impossible to get out of his upscale Peel Street restaurant without dropping at least a hundy. No one’s complaining—the place is always packed, the wine list offers 60,000 choices (owner Carlos Ferreira knows the winemakers personally) and the fresh seafood dishes inspire reverence usually found in churches, mosques and temples. Opened in 1996, Ferreira introduced Montreal to fine dining, Portuguese-style and much of the food, wines, olive oils and even ramekins of lupini beans come straight from the motherland. After 10, native Portuguese chef João Dias offers an appetizer and an entree for $28. A steal when you consider the 23-ounce Angus prime rib on the regular menus is $120.
Forbes called it one of the top 10 steakhouses in the world. Wine Spectator lavished it with an Award of Excellence. And Penelope Cruz, Robert DeNiro, and Robert Downey Jr. are just a few of the celebrities known to frequent this iconic restaurant that has been in Montreal since 1938 when Romanian immigrant Moishe Lighter allegedly won it in a card game. Moishe’s sons still run the steakhouse that celebrates its 80th anniversary next year. After 9 p.m, Moishes offers a ridiculously cheap $25 dinner (appetizer and main course) complete with tea or coffee. And, yes, its legendary ribsteak that normally sells for $52 is one of the choices on the admittedly abbreviated menu. What’s not abbreviated are the condiments—the renowned coleslaw and dill pickles still accompany every meal—the service (the tuxedoed wait staff really know how to make a customer feel like a king) or the old school, Don Draper feel. You can’t miss this Montreal institution—just look for the giant recently-painted mural of Moishe’s regular, Leonard Cohen.
It’s no big surprise to find authentic French gastronomy in this former colony of France, but at this bargain basement price? The $21 menu which includes an entrée and appetizer or entrée and desert starts every night at 9 p.m. offers a vast choice of authentic French classics: snails on flaky phyllo dough, duck confit, French onion soup, foie gras, homemade bread and patisseries and lobster bisque that is reputed to change lives. The other departure from your typical white-clothed Parisian bistro is the hip, fun vibe. The tongue-in-cheek Catholic ambience even features chanting monks in the loo. Owned and operated for more than 40 years by Pierre Leveque and kin, Chez Leveque sources fresh ingredients (Pierre himself has been known to catch some of the items on the seafood platters), has a non-pretentious wine list (read: it’s actually affordable) and offers (again after 9 p.m.) what they call devilishly good ($6.66) martinis.
Unlike some late night menus that limit their offerings to a few choices, Lemeac keeps its brigade of 25 chefs busy long after Cinderella’s coach turns into a pumpkin. Late-night diners can choose between 15 appetizers (dishes such as blood pudding with celery root puree and cider sauce or smoked herring with warm fingerling potatoes and beet salad or snails with portabella and tomato ragout) and 12 entrees (beef tartare with matchstick potatoes, for example or herb crusted calf liver, potato purée, caramelized onions). Their $27 after 10 special even throws in coffee and tea. But here’s the deal. You can’t really go to Lemeac’s without ordering dessert. It’d be like going to the rodeo and ignoring the horses. Their nearly three-inch thick pain perdu (French toast made with brioche) is drizzled with maple-caramel syrup and topped with milk-jam ice cream. And that’s just the dessert hounded by paparazzi (it’s that famous.) There’s also a chocolate tart with ginger ice cream, chocolate and banana cake with popcorn ice cream and 11 others.
Kudos to innovative chef Alexandre Gosselin, who worked in France with Paul Bocuse and Alain Chapel before strutting his stuff in Montreal’s Plateau-Mont-Royal neighborhood. The upside of his ever-changing menu is constant opportunities to try audacious combos of flavors and ingredients. The downside is you’re destined to fall in love with say his scallop with chickpea and za’atar puree, paired with maple syrup, mango and chorizo only to discover, the next time you come, mouth a’ watering, Gosselin has begun flirting with some younger concoction. The after 10 menu is $25 and includes an appetizer and entre or an entre and dessert. Try the orange wine, one of the high-ceilinged gorgeous bar’s many private imports.