Bring Your Own Bottle in Montreal

Bring Your Own Wine to Montreal’s Finest Restaurants
By Kent E. St. John

GoNomad scout Kent St. John reconnoiters Montreal markets and restaurants.
GoNomad scout Kent St. John reconnoiters Montreal markets and restaurants.

Jean-Talon Market and Marche des Saveurs. The only thing I am sure about is that they will be fresh, and somewhat cheesy.

The Jean-Talon crowd will come in a rainbow of colors and freshly made up. The Marche crowd will be smooth and varied. The best part is I get to choose the wine and pay the restaurant nothing.

From market to table, I am following the freshest ingredients to Montreal’s Bring Your Own Bottle restaurants. Learning the phrase, “Apporttez Votre Vin,” may just be the best French you can learn. With the Euro’s rise and the dollars demise, this is the way to gourmet internationally.

Why Montreal?

If “an army marches on its stomach,” according to Napoleon, then Montreal is a beachhead. Surely as for a D-Day commando, research is imperative! I have the maps laid out on my desk in the Marriott Chateau Champlain. It is three AAA diamonds at a one-diamond price. Its nickname “the cheese grinder” fits in perfectly. Not only am I taking advantage of the Canadian dollar’s position in food but lodging. From the 36th floor I can live large and pinpoint the targets. Captain St. John ready and able! A secret dossier called French/English phrase book is carried with me. These are dangerous times.

The BYOB trend first popped up in Montreal in the 1970s. A loophole in the province’s liquor laws was exploited by a group of Downtown restaurateurs and then in 1987 regulations were officially amended. Today innovative chefs have embraced the concept; the payoff is twofold: less cost than getting a full-service license, and concentration on food prep.

In the Beginning

After using a story on GoNOMAD on Montreal ’s sites for exploring, I headed out on my own personal quest, food and markets. As a restaurateur in a past life, I was thrilled with Montreal’s offerings. The big four markets are Atwater, Lachine, Maisonneuve and my favorite, Jean-Talon. For a run down on them click here

GoNomad's roving connoisseur Kent St. John scouted Montreal's markets for the freshest ingredients.
GoNomad’s roving connoisseur Kent St. John scouted Montreal’s markets for the freshest ingredients.

There you can get the scoop on purveyors and even recipes. Jean-Talon happens to fall in one of my favorite food areas in many cities: Little Italy. It is early in the AM and already the stalls are set up and colors of legumes astounding. The click of my camera is nonstop.

Crates and bundles of vegetables are interspaced with picturesque butcher shops. A stop at the Premiere Moisson Bakery is mandatory; breakfast is strong coffee and fresh bread. My eyes are searching for the checked pants of a chef. Within minutes I have several targets, all carefully selecting just the right items for creative menus.

Mission Accomplished

I trail one to La Fornarina, Italian for “the cook”! That is my target for lunch. Its location near the market is a very good sign. Fortunately nearby just about anywhere in Montreal is close to an SAQ store, Quebec’s government-operated liquor shops.

The clerk, knowing La Fornarina, recommended a Cote de Rhone that fit quite nicely with my lunch of wood oven pizza with mushrooms fresh from the market. This became my method of food and wine selection for the next several days.

Recon Complete

Using my technique, I managed to gather some spots that displayed fresh products in international flair and allowed you to BYOB. To build your own list, ask purveyors at markets, or any local on the street. Everyone will have an answer; it is bonne cusine de Montreal!

Really test yourself by choosing a bottle for Couscoussiere, a North African eatery located downtown at 1460 rue Amherst (514 842- 6667) Try the Moroccan-style tangines (a type of traditional stew with meat, potatoes and vegetables) or a Tunisian specialty know as brik.

For a Bistro with blast go to Les Infideles situated in the hip Plateau Mont Royal area on Rachel Street. It is modernistic and sleek. Go Canadian with marinated artic char and mussels in puff pastry or caribou filet in black currant sauce. This place really challenges a BYOB enthusiast.

Poisson Rouge or red fish offers four course meals at around $33 Canadian and may be just about the best chic meal in Montreal! As the name indicates it offers great fish dishes. That’s right, fresh from the market! The mussels with fennel and cream were downright decadent. The seared blackened tuna was perfect. Spend a dollar or two more for a great bottle, the food is memorable and your wine should be also. Located on 1201 Rachel Street.(514 522-4876)

From Aussie to Zulu, Montreal offers an amazing selection of international food. Better yet, many are BYOB. Many do not charge any corkage fees, call ahead to see. Explore and do it cheaper and better,

Bon Appetit, next stop Philadelphia to check on its BYOB bests.

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