I hate Valentine’s Day. Fine, maybe that’s a little extreme: I strongly dislike Valentine’s Day. You see, I am one of those rare female hybrids who is repelled by overtly romantic gestures on the one hand, but a hopeless romantic on the other. I believe in true love and companionship &- not in watching the sunset together or having a candlelight dinner overlooking the ocean. Unfortunately, Valentine’s Day is built on the kind of frou-frou, generic, pre-packaged romance that makes me cringe even on a good day. So, if you’re like me and simply want to enjoy a nice, kitsch free evening with that someone special this V-Day, I can’t think of anything better than sharing a delicious meal together. That said, I did your dirty work and searched the city for spots with good food, good ambiance and a cheese factor of zero.
1378 Notre-Dame St. West, 514- 931-5299, major cards accepted
There’s a street in the Caribbean island of St. Martin that has earned itself the nickname, “restaurant row.” This seemingly endless stretch of delicious restaurants is a playground for foodies like myself who go gaga over the amount of choices and variety. On the significantly larger island of Montreal, there are many restaurant rows, but one of the newest and best in my books is on Notre-Dame St. West between Atwater St. and Mountain St. In October, I dedicated Val’s Bites to three eateries on the street, and although I’m moving further east, I can’t seem to stay away. What initially drew me to CafÃ© Griffintown was word-of-mouth and the fact they have live jazz music several times a week. Driving by it and peeking through the windows, I also sensed a certain warmness and coziness I wanted to get in on. So, on a particularly Antarctic night, I grabbed two friends and went. Between the open-air kitchen, the simplistic, slightly rustic dÃ©cor and the casually dressed waiters,I felt instantly relaxed, and as though I had entered the home of a good friend.
Food wise, our meal began on a bland note with the citrus cured smoked salmon appetizer, but took off due to the macaroni and cheese cooked with aged cheddar, Bierbrier ale, brioche bread crumbs and Mimolette cheese. Usually, when I order this dish at restaurants, I find it too cheesy (if such a thing exists), but at CafÃ© Griffintown, the macaroni and cheese had the perfect ratio of cheese to creaminess. Their signature burger, comprised of half beef, half lamb and half duck meet with smoked cheddar was also a hit. The brownie with whipped cream rounded up the evening rather nicely. Although we went on a Saturday, which is typically not a live music night, there was a lovely jazz trio playing for most of the evening. When I think about it, CafÃ© Griffintown is quite romantic and that’s because it doesn’t try to be &- it just is. And that my friends, is what I’m talking about.
Mains: $13-24; weekend brunch: $10-15
Buvette Chez Simone
4869 Parc Ave., 514-750-6577, major cards accepted.
I may not be able to tell a merlot from a pinot noir or a chardonnay from a riesling, but my oh my do I love me a good wine bar. At a bar Ã vin, as the French say, novices like me get to bypass the pressure to select a fitting wine and the obnoxious waiters who think asking for a wine suggestion, gives them license to bring you the most expensive bottle on the list. Instead, at wine bars, you are surrounded by a staff of knowledgeable experts whose job it is to help you pick a wine, or make you sample a variety of wines you normally wouldn’t. This is partly thanks to the large selection of by the glass and half glass options such bars are known for. Now, think of how sexy and totally not lame it would be to experiment and learn about wine with your significant other. Although I’m not new to the wine bar scene, Buvette Chez Simone is by far my new favourite. I love that it’s jamming on an otherwise mundane Tuesday night and that the light fare is as good as the extensive, reasonably priced wine list.
I also love the no fuss dÃ©cor, particularly the large wooden bar occupying half the space and the bare light bulbs dangling from exposed red wires. A round of applause for the food as well. Buvette Chez Simone’s menu consists of mainly appetizers (great for trying lots of different things) and their signature oven-roasted chicken that you can order as a quarter, half or whole portion. Served with potatoes, carrots, parsnip, turnip and onions, it was excellent, save for the odd tasting yogurt like sauce on the side. Meanwhile, the tuna tartar arrived on a cutting board and was unexpectedly paired with strawberries, mango, endives, chips and aioli. I pilled everything onto the chip and the unusual combination of flavours was superb. The veggie p’tÃ© and foie gras were also top notch. And the best part: the two new wines I got to savour because of the half glass option and the bartender who seemed to read my mind both times.
Appetizers: $3-15; chicken: $12-39; wine: 1/2 glass $3.50-6; glass: $6.50-11.50; bottle: $33-220
1045 Laurier Ave. West, 514- 270-0999, major cards accepted.
There’s only one thing better than when a distinguished restaurant decides to cater to the masses by offering an affordable lunch special and that’s a dinner special. Located on one of the most picturesque streets in the city’s Mile End, LemÃ©ac is not only of my favourite bistros in town, but god bless its soul, the place has got a dinner special that’s a force to be reckoned with. If you arrive at 10 p.m., or later, any day of the week, you can indulge in an appetizer, main course and either coffee or tea for the Boxing Day price of $22. And, no, this doesn’t mean you’re relegated to the menu items no one cares for, because this special, dear readers, consists entirely of LemÃ©ac’s most popular dishes. Take for instance the beef tartar main course with a side of French fries or matchstick potatoes. The light, mouth-watering tartar rivals any I’ve eaten in Paris and New York, while the fries merit an entire column of their own.
Another delectable main course is the quintessential French bistro hanger steak with butter on top, and of course, more flavourful and crispy fries. Ordered medium-rare and prepared to perfection, this dish never fails to satisfy my carnivore cravings. If you’re a fan of raw, the truffle oil salmon tartar is another great main course option, although it’s sometimes a touch too oily for my taste. I know I started backwards, but in terms of appetizers, I recommend the pankoe-crusted goat cheese, apple and walnut salad, or the escargots prepared in a basil butter sauce. I’ve been here several times, and despite two order mix-ups, the service is generally high calibre, and I can’t get enough of the ultra elegant, modern-day bistro design. Word of advice: arrive at 10 p.m. sharp for the dinner special because it has a rather cult-like following and lines are probable.
10 p.m. menu: $22; regular menu mains: $18.50-39; weekend brunch: $7.50 – 15.75