Le Quartier Général
Immediately when we arrived in Montreal at Central Station, we knew it was a very different place than most of Canada—and I don’t just mean the French signs that we couldn’t understand. In the caverns of the grand station there actually lies an amazing food court with an excellent patisserie, incredible deli sandwiches, and a well-stocked wine store. No, we are definitely no longer in the Canada that I grew up in. Throughout our trip it was the same everywhere we went. Everything we ate was frankly much better in Montreal than in other parts of this vast country, from 4am poutine at Chez Claudette’s, smoked meat sandwiches in a quiet Québécois diner across the road from Schwartz’s deli where tourists wait for the same thing for hours, to the buttery croissants enjoyed on a romantic terrace on Parc Avenue, to the late night and early morning wood fired bagels devoured on the narrow streets of Fairmount and St-Viateur. We may have to come to Montreal for the country’s biggest music festival, Osheaga, but it was the incredible food and the charming people that definitely made the biggest impression. One case in point was the excellent Plateau Mont-Royal neighbourhood bistro, Le Quartier Général , that serves some of the best food at its price point that I have ever enjoyed.
It was my first time in Montreal, and I will be the first to admit that Le Quartier Général was not the most obvious choice. This is a city with some heavy hitter chefs, such as Toqué!’s Normand Laprise, the Joe Beef boys David McMillan and Frederic Morin, and of course the restaurant empire of popular Food Network star, Chuck Hughes. But I wanted our one big dinner here to be more reflective of a place where local Montrealers ate, a place that represented very much the values of this unique city. Upon my research I discovered one aspect of this city’s dining scene that is fairly unique: you can bring your own wine. Yes, that’s right—not only can you purchase amazing craft beer at the dépanneur on the corner, but there are certain restaurants that allow you to bring your own wine, and with zero corkage fee. Unfortunately, many of them offer mediocre food and are frequented by those mostly looking for a cheap night out but not a great meal. That is with the exception of Le Quartier Général, which has been a critical hit and local favourite since it opened its doors in 2010 quietly off the beaten path on a stretch of Rue Gilford.
Full disclosure here: my friends and I met from up in Montreal from both Vancouver and Toronto and we haven’t seen each other for a long time, so our meal is hazily remembered. When we arrive slightly tipsy, each with our own full bottle of wine in tow, I am surprised how quickly we are accommodated. Our rosé is swiftly opened, the red poured in to a decanter, and our two bottles of white rightly refrigerated for later use. The menu is small and presented on two chalk boards that can be seen easily no matter where you are in the room. The décor is simple with pale wood tables, an open kitchen, and tiny decorative touches that elevate it just enough to compete with the lovely plates presented by the chef. Since the menu is in French, our friendly and informative waitress patiently explains each dish with an easy informative manner that makes us swoon. We all opt for the table d’hôte, that includes a soup, appetizer, main, and dessert, all for the price of 40 dollars each. I opted for the foie gras which is $10 more. Our dinner, all in, was less than $200: the deal of lifetime.
Dishes that stood out the most include that slightly seared foie gras which bursts inside like pudding, served on brioche with a smear of sweet berry compote. Absolute perfection. Pan seared scallops and shrimp, with hearty greens, although small in portion, tasted delicious. An enormous chop of locally raised veal, with a parsnip puree that tasted almost like vanilla. There was not a drop left on the plate. A Hamstead Rabbit, stuffed with chorizo, so incredibly hearty for such a normally delicate dish. And then the pièce de réistance, a Crème Brûlée whose burnt caramel cracked as loud as bell tower. I wish I could remember more but unfortunately the next 3 days of Osheaga, followed by late night shenanigans hitting the cities multitude of bars and nightclubs, has dulled the recollection of details. The one thing I do remember succinctly is the serene look on our faces and the distinct feeling that we had had one of our favourite meals ever. In the great French tradition, it was the company, the wine, the simple but perfectly executed food, that made all the parts of the experience combine beautifully into an ever elusive joie de vivre. Le Quartier Général, much like the story of Montreal itself tells a tale of a place that has great confidence in all that it has to offer and delivers it with such elegance. As for the rest of Canada we should listen closely as we have much to learn from this great city.