The Best of Montr al Dining

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Montr al is one of Canada's culinary hot spots...

Au Pied de Cochon
Canadian, $$-$$$
Whatever you do, don't let your cardiologist see Martin Picard's menu---pigs' feet stuffed with foie gras is hardly light fare, and neither are pork hocks braised in maple syrup or the oreilles-de-crisse (literally, Christ's ears)---crispy, deep-fried crescents of pork skin that Picard serves as appetizers. But it's foie gras that Picard really loves. He lavishes the stuff on everything, including hamburgers and his own version of poutine (french fries, gravy and cheese curds). Oddly enough, the trendy regulars packing the club don't look particularly chubby. 536 av. Duluth, Plateau Mont-Royal. 514/281-1114. Reservations essential. AE, DC, MC, V. Closed Mon. No lunch. Metro: Sherbrooke or Mont-Royal.

Brioche Lyonnaise
Eclectic, $-$$
You'll have to look long and hard in Montr al to find a better butter brioche than the one here. Order one along with a steaming bowl of cafe au lait, and you've got a breakfast fit for royalty. Come back in the afternoon to try one of the butter - and cream-loaded pastries in the display case. Heartier fare is available at lunch and dinner, and the place is open till midnight. The atrium in the back and terrasse are open in fine weather. 1593 rue St-Denis, Quartier Latin. 541/842-7017. AE, MC, V. Metro: Berri-UQUAM.

Club Chasse et Pêche
Contemporary, $$-$$$
Don't fret---this isn't a hangout for the local gun-and-rod set. The name, which means Hunting and Fishing Club, is an ironic reference to the wood-and-leather decor Chef Claude Pelletier inherited from the previous owners. He's jazzed it up with some halogen lamps that make it easier for you to see the food, which looks almost as good as it tastes. The elegant setting, Pelletier's innovative style, and impeccable service have made this a favorite with the city's serious foodies. For a different riff on an old favorite, try Pelletier's version of surf-and-turf---you get the lobster tail, but steak is replaced with a juicy lump of suckling pig, or a crispy heap of sweetbreads. 423 rue St-Claude, Vieux-Montr al. 514/861-1112. Reservations essential. AE, DC, MC, V. Closed Sun.--Mon. No lunch Sat. Metro: Champ-de Mars.

Joe Beef
Contemporary, $$$-$$$$
Dining at Joe Beef is a little like being invited to a dinner party by a couple of friends who just happen to be top-notch chefs. David MacMillan and Fr d ric Morin were pioneers of Montr al's modern dining scene until they got tired of living on the edge and opened this little restaurant to rediscover the joy that got them cooking in the first place. Now they cook whatever they want for a bunch of diners who are more like friends than customers. There's nothing fancy or fussy about the cuisine---everything is simple and good, from the oysters to the grilled rib steak. And if you're really hungry, try the cream chicken with little onions, or the spaghetti with big juicy chunks of lobster. 2491 rue Notre-Dame Ouest, Downtown. 514/935-6504. Reservations essential. AE, DC, MC, V. Closed Sun.-Mon. No lunch. Metro: Lionel-Groulx.

La Rapiere
French, $$$-$$$$
The musketeer D'Artagnan, master of the rapier, came from southwestern France, as do most of this elegant restaurant's specialties. Start with paper-thin slices of the house-smoked goose meat or a portion of delicately pink duck foie gras, followed by a cassoulet of duck, pork, and haricots (beans). For dessert there's nougat ice with custard, creme brûl e, or an excellent cheese plate. The room itself is soothing, with terra-cotta-colored walls, tapestries, and stained-glass windows. The restaurant is in the Sun Life Building. 1155 rue Metcalfe, Downtown. Reservations essential. AE, DC, MC, V. Closed Sun. No lunch. Metro: Peel.

Schwartz's Delicatessen
Eclectic, $-$$
Schwartz's has no frills. The furniture is shabby, the noise level high, and the waiters are, well, brisk. But the cooks do such a good job of curing, smoking, and slicing (a skill in itself) beef brisket that even when it's 20-below zero you can't see through the windows because locals line up outside to get a seat. The place does get awfully busy, so avoid lunch and dinner hours, and when you do get in don't ask for a menu; there isn't one. Just order a smoked meat on rye with fries and a side order of pickles---and make it snappy. Your waiter is in a hurry. 3895 blvd. St-Laurent, Plateau Mont-Royal. 514/842-4813. No reservations. No credit cards. Metro: Sherbrooke.

St-Viateur Bagel Caf
Contemporary, $
Even expatriate New Yorkers have been known to prefer Montr al's light, crispy, and slightly sweet bagel to its heavier Manhattan cousin. (The secret? The dough is boiled in honey-sweetened water before baking.) St-Viateur's wood-fired brick ovens have been operating since 1959. With coffee and smoked salmon, these bagels make a great breakfast. 1127 av. Mont-Royal Est, Mile-End. 514/528-6361. No credit cards. Metro: Mont-Royal.

Toqu !
Contemporary, $$$-$$$$
Toqu is slang for just a little mad, and the name fit when Chef Normand Laprise catered to hip types in a bright and funky storefront on rue St-Denis. But there's nothing mad or crazy about his current gray and burgundy home on the ground floor of a glass tower, or about the pinstripe, expense-account crowd it attracts. Still, Laprise---the earliest champion of home-grown Qu bec products---hasn't lost his touch with the food. The menu changes daily, depending on what he finds at the market, but dinner could start with ravioli stuffed with braised duck followed by lamb from the Gatineau Valley. For dessert, cross your fingers and hope the almond-crusted blueberry pie is on the menu. 900 Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle, Vieux-Montr al. 514/499-2084. Reservations essential. AE, DC, MC, V.

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