Tuesday, June 10, 2014


It's been a while.  I missed you.  We have a lot to talk about.

I spent about a week and a half in New York and Montreal, and the entire trip was a dream.  In New York, I witnessed (and sang at!) the Central Park wedding of two old friends, discovered the magic of Inwood (aka upper upper upper Manhattan), walked mile upon glorious mile every day, shared an afternoon cocktail with the delightful director of the Daily Meal's Culinary Content Network, spent lots of time with friends, and ate terribly well.  

In Montreal, homebase was an apartment in Mile-end, an area once old and modern, neighborhoody and super hip.  The area felt so comfortable to me that I found myself thinking I could live there. (Then I remembered the merciless weather nine months out of the year.  Yeah, no.)  There's so much I could say about this trip:  I watched as people breakdanced to French hip-hop in front of the Contemporary Art Museum downtown; I saw amazing street art everywhere; I trekked through green at gorgeous Parc du Mont-Royal, I had an ice cider tasting with local cheeses; I marveled at the sheer density of inviting cafes, and walked, walked, and walked some more.  Here are some more highlights: 

I should start out by mentioning Fitz & Folwell, the awesomest bike shop in the land.  They offer a culinary walking tour (we like those here) of Mile End and Little Italy, and many of the stops below are from the tour.  It's a fun way to spend a few hours, eat some good food, and walk lots.  Our guide, Danny, was a doll, and they offer various bike tours in Montreal as well.

At Alati-Caserta, a decades-old Little Italy bakery across the street from a church funded by Mussolini himself, we tried their signature cannoli, and they were perfect:  shatteringly crisp shell, and a rich ricotta filling dotted with tiny chocolate chips and a light orangey flavor, barely sweet.  Giant bags of ricotta filling sat unassumingly in the fridge in the plain sight of shoppers.

Pagaille! was my local coffee shop, and it was perfect.  They provided me with needed breakfast protein in a land of pastries, along with delicious homemade rillettes and jams.  Free wifi (through Montreal's awesome Île sans fil program) and available plugs, incredibly friendly service (oh, Canada), a few seats outside to enjoy the sun.  But the best thing about Pagaille was the petit pagaille, the café's signature espresso drink:  somewhere between a macchiatto and a cappuccino, espresso measured meticulously by weight, served in a dainty tulip glass.  Perfect.  I brought back bags of beans as a souvenir, much to the delight of the owner.

When visiting Schwartz's, the historic Jewish deli (or as the sign charmingly read, "Charcuterie Hebraique") known for its smoked meat sandwich, we went with the classic, along with addictive fries and a fine pickle.  (I bucked tradition and skipped the cherry soda.)  Before walking in, I reminded myself: this isn't pastrami, don't compare it to Langer's, appreciate it on its own merits.  And with that pep talk firmly in my brain, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Fell in love with the buildings in Old Montreal. So fun to get lost walking through the streets.

Wilensky's Light Lunch has been sitting on the same friendly corner in Mile-End since 1932.  At Wilensky's, you order the Special, you don't ask questions, and you don't make substitutions.  (Though these days, you can add cheese to your Special -- but that's a pretty new innovation, only available for the last 30 years or so.)  What you get is a flattened, fried baloney sandwich with mustard that satisfies the most little-kid part of your appetite.  And if you're lucky, Sarah Wilensky (Moe's daughter) will make you a fluorescent lemon-lime soda to wash it down.
In Little Italy, I visited Cafe Italia.  This place is a old school Italian cafe, complete with cute old men sitting with their newspaper, Barbisol sold behind the counter, and deep, rich, strong espresso drinks.  Legit.

Juliette et Chocolat.  Just ridiculous. So decadent, so delicious, and open until the wee hours of the night when absolutely no one needs to stuff more food into their body.  But, my God, that fondant au chocolat, topped with both chocolate sauce and fleur de sel caramel sauce, and served with ice cream, was from another planet.

Arts Cafe was recommended to me by my Airbnb host, and was the hippest café I've ever encountered.  Sunny patio, excellent peoplewatching, a perfect little macchiatto in a robin's egg blue cup, and a little revelation called breakfast poutine:  potatoes and other vegetables, excellent white cheddar melted over top, a poached egg, hollandaise, duck confit.  Across-the-board swooniness.

Travel for me always leads to lessons.  My last day in Montreal was a Sunday, and I spent it walking through the streets of Mile-End.  It was truly a glorious day: the sun was shining, maybe for the very first time this year, and the streets were luminous.  Everyone was out: walking dogs, making impromptu banners for Mother's Day, crowding into café terrasses on every street corner for brunch.  Beautiful young hipsters feigned nonchalance as gaggles of Orthodox Jewish moms pushed strollers and chatted in Yiddish.  This scene felt so familiar, and so dear to me, that as I walked through, I was bubbling with happiness.  With slight differences in flavor, this could have been Williamsburg, or San Francisco, or more to the point, my own neighborhood of Los Feliz.  I felt it then, and I've tried to bring it home with me:  I am exactly where I should be.  I just need to soak in it a little more:  More walking always.  More cafe time.  Fewer items per day.  Montreal couldn't be more charming.  What's better than a trip that reminds you how good you have it at home?