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I was last in Montreal over 5 years ago for my brother Dovid’s wedding. I was impressed with Montreal’s kosher scene and made a mental note to return during a less hectic time, and preferably when it wasn’t snowing outside 🙂
So we planned a trip this year over Canada Day (July 1st) to take advantage of the numerous festivals that occur then.
We’ve spent a summer vacation in Canada over each of the past 4 years.
-Vancouver (click here for trip notes from 2012) is a beautiful city with a nice vibe and a small but quality kosher food scene. We didn’t make it to nearby Whistler, but hope to one day.
-Banff (click here for trip notes from 2013) is one of the most stunning places in the world. No kosher food, but truly a must-see for everyone. I definitely plan on returning when the kids are older and can appreciate the amazing hikes and lakes there.
-Niagara Falls (click here for trip notes from 2014) is a bit touristy for me, though I’ve been spoiled by Brazil’s Iguaçu Falls. Toronto is a very clean city with a large kosher scene, though none of the food stands out as exceptional. There are lots of activities in the area though, including an excellent safari.
Montreal has by far and away the best kosher scene food in the country and can hold up its own against anywhere in the world. The activity scene itself is somewhat limited, but the festivals make up for it, if you time the trip right. If you have the time to venture out to the Laurentians or Quebec City you’ll probably find more to do. The Francophone flavor adds a bit of intrigue to the city, but for the good and the bad, Montreal is no Paris.
Lamb Poutine from Mediterraneo:
Unfortunately, Cleveland lost nonstop flights to Montreal with last year’s United de-hubbing, so we flew through Washington DC on the way there and Newark on the return. While NYC-Montreal is a great value for 4.5K Avios, from Cleveland the United 10K short-haul rate is nearly identical.
I brought along my brother, Mendy, for the trip so that Mimi and I would be able to have some peaceful dinners after the kids were in bed.
Mendy and I already had Global Entry, but Mimi and kids went in for a Global Entry interview before the trip. Of course, Nexus (which includes expedited entry to Canada and Global Entry) would be even more useful, but AMEX Platinum doesn’t cover Nexus despite the fact that it’s only $50 instead of $100 for Global Entry. I’ll never understand that pricing scheme, but you can’t ask questions about government pricing. The Global Entry interview was also able to be done in Cleveland, as opposed to driving to Detroit or Buffalo for a Nexus interview.
At first there were no openings for several months, but availability changes frequently and 2 slots opened up for the week before the flight, so it’s definitely a good idea to check online very frequently. I called the local Global Entry office and asked if we would be able to squeeze 3 people into 2 slots. It’s probably not a good idea to post the recording of a conversation with a Federal Agency, but here’s a transcript of the conversation,
Me: “Who can I speak to about a Global Entry question?”
Officer: “Well, I’m a government employee, which means I know just about everything. I don’t know if you’ve heard that or not, but spread the word! You’re 100% guaranteed to walk away with an answer, whether it’s legit or not I don’t know, but I’ll come up with something. Tell me about your Global Entry issue.”
Me (laughing hard): “Can a mother and her 2 kids apply for Global Entry in just 2 appointment slots?”
Officer: “I’d give it a shot. The official ruling is 1 person per appointment, because we have to do the same stuff for each person. No matter how small. But, if you have a child with a parent, I don’t know any of the officers that wouldn’t accommodate that. Yeah, go for it. My name is Officer <redacted>, if you get any kind of friction about it, just refer them to me. Not that you’re going to have a problem, but I’d like to give you a name to trace it down and make it all legit.”
Indeed, they had no issues other than them not being able to properly fingerprint Talia, our 1 year old. Rafi was able to be properly fingerprinted and all 3 of them were immediately approved.
With a 1 and a 3 year old, our current travel solution is to bring along 2 Cosco Scenara carseats onto the plane. We buy seats for both kids. It’s just safer and easier that way. We wheel the kids through the airport and right to their seat on the plane thanks to 2 GoGo Babyz Travelmates that fit into the overhead bins. The UppaBaby Vista and Rumble Seat get checked with the luggage.
We flew from Cleveland to Montreal on Monday morning and stopped off at the United Club beforehand. Somehow they allowed all of us into the club on my membership. The old Continental clubs are great as they have kids rooms where the little ones can let off some steam without bothering anyone else.
We have 2 Android tablets that I have loaded with Jewish music videos, kid friendly apps, and Shalom Sesame and Mitzvah Boulevard DVDs. Does it make us bad parents? Perhaps. But it keeps the kids occupied and not bothering other passengers. These sound-limiting kids headphones are great.
We flew on an E170 from Cleveland to DC, which is a great little plane. It has 2-2 seating but is big enough for large carry-ons and it had WiFi, which I used free thanks to my Business Platinum card.
The total travel time was under 4 hours, so it was a pretty efficient routing.
I used Avis Daily Getaway certificates that cost $30 each, far less than the rental rates in Montreal and they upgraded us to a Ford Flex.
Upon landing we headed to Pizza Pita for lunch.
The spicy Sicilian slice was excellent:
Mimi got a small salad, which turned out not to be small at all:
Montrealers love their Poutine (cheesy fries in gravy). It’s gross, but don’t tell them that.
The Pizza Roll is loaded with cheese, sauce, and delicious caramelized onions:
Moo Moo Tails: Fried dough, topped with cinnamon sugar, ice cream, and hardened chocolate. As unhealthy as it gets, but it just tastes so good 🙂
Then it was off to the hotel.
For a while before the trip I debated between the W and the Fairmont. The W is 12K points per night. The Fairmont would be free.
However, the W has great service and is a new modern hotel. The Farimont is a very large and grand older hotel with mediocre reviews.
In the end, free won out 😉
As I pulled up to valet the car (yes, $29/day valet isn’t free, but it is when Fairmont sends you hundreds of dollars in free annual gift cards) they said that their lot was full and directed me to other lots.
Alas it was rush hour and it took a full 30 minutes just to drive around the corner. Turns out that there were plenty of space in the Fairmont lot, they just don’t like offering valet service during rush hour.
Fairmont Montreal Junior Suite living room:
Fairmont Montreal Junior Suite bedroom, separated from the living room by pocket doors:
The powder room was just large enough for our ultra-light travel crib.
The hotel was one of our least favorite Fairmont properties. Many parts of the hotel seem very worn down. There is a small pool, but with over 1,000 rooms in the hotel it was always crowded. Service is very spotty. And another time during the trip the valet parking was “full.” It seems to correspond to rush hour when it would take a lot of valet staff to park the car.
After putting the kids to bed and leaving them in Mendy’s capable hands we went to Yakimono for dinner. Yakimono is famous for their sushi and the place was jammed. Luckily there was one empty table for 2 despite not having made a reservation.
Yakimono’s fries are outstanding, probably among the best fries you’ll ever have. Heavily spiced and perfect in every way. The problem is not filling up on them while you wait for the sushi…
The spring rolls on the other hand are pretty run-of-the-mill
The passion fruit daiquiri was so sweet and fake tasting that it wasn’t drinkable, the strawberry version was marginally better, but not great.
Of course the main course was sushi and it’s excellent. Only Chicago’s Shallot’s makes better kosher sushi than this place. And Shallot’s specialty rolls can reach as high as $25-$30 while rolls at Yakimono cap out at about $11.
The homemade sauces (Sweet, sesame, and spicy mayo) are all out of this world.
Exhausted and stuffed, we drove back to the hotel and went to sleep.
For breakfast on Tuesday morning we picked up some goodies from Montreal Kosher. Their goodies are ridiculously cheap, though nothing is out of this world. The horseshoe cheese danishes were good though.
We walked to the old city and old port of Montreal via Chinatown. It’s a bit of a hike from the Fairmont, but the weather was amazing and we weren’t about to drive it.
The old city and old port are charming areas and are well worth exploring
We planned on checking out the science museum at the old port, but Rafi actually fell asleep in the stroller, so we skipped that.
Mimi, Talia, and I rented a paddle boat for half an hour for $20 and took it for a spin around the water.
In case you were following my Island Hopper (Part 1 and Part 2, parts 3 and 4 haven’t been written yet) you’ll remember Nordy. Well apparently her father Nord is a celebrity in Montreal because there are directions to find him from pretty much everywhere in the city.
For lunch we drove to Exception 2.
We shared the fish taco appetizer which was decent, though the Guacamole didn’t taste very fresh.
The garlic bread was fantastico:
The French Onion soup was thick and delicious:
Rafi had chocolate chip French Toast:
Mendy ordered wild mushroom pesto ravioli. The mushrooms are very overwhelming to the dish and the pesto was subpar.
Unfortunately I also ordered my Gnocchi with pesto. The Gnocchi were very nice, but the pesto sauce should really be avoided here.
Mimi had a Greek Sandwich that didn’t impress her.
After lunch we went Montreal’s stunning botanical gardens:
Alas we didn’t make it through more than a quarter of the gardens before the kids lost patience and wanted to run around, something not easily done around all of the water features. Well there’s an awesome park in the gardens and the kids played there for quite some time before we had to drag them away to go back to the hotel for the night.
For dinner on Tuesday Mimi and I went to Mediterraneo Steakhouse. Unfortunately for them the restaurant wasn’t very busy, but on the plus side, service was incredible. Probably the best we’ve ever had in a restaurant.
We started off sharing the Lamb Poutine appetizer. It’s hardly poutine as there is no cheese and no fries, but there is fried Gnocchi which is close enough I suppose.
This dish is incredible, the lamb was succulent and delicious and went perfect with the Gnocchi. If you enjoy the Duck Gnocchi from NYC’s Mike’s Bistro then you’re going to love the Lamb Gnocchi here as well. Best of all, it’s triple the size of Mike’s Duck Gnocchi for half the price.
Here they said they couldn’t make a passion fruit cocktail as it wasn’t in season. But the Pina Colada and Strawberry daiquiri were very good.
I had a Delmonico steak. I’d prefer a thicker cut of meat, but the flavor the steak was excellent and the vegetables were well seasoned and delicious.
Mimi had a burger that was very good as well:
For dessert, a hot brownie and ice cream on top, a perfect cap to a great dinner:
Wednesday was Canada Day, and the plan was to checkout the kids activities at the old port. Alas there was heavy rain all day, so that didn’t happen.
The jazz festival is located right in front of the Hyatt and pretty close to the Fairmont and we went there for a free show in the morning:
There was a small parade that we caught walking back from the Jazz festival to the Fairmont:
For lunch we went back to Yakimono and once again with their incredible fries:
Yakimono was much less busy during lunchtime and the food quality seemed even better because of that than by dinnertime.
We got a salmon salad for this kids to eat. They just wanted the salmon, but it was cheaper to order the salad that a piece of salmon.
While Mendy, Mimi, and I chowed down on a boatload of sushi. Literally:
A boat consists of 5 rolls for about $50USD. They had no issue allowing us to customize the rolls. The Chef’s Special with asparagus was particularly delicious and the onion roll was great as well.
For dessert we went to Sprinklz where they have a wide assortment of frozen yogurt flavors:
And excellent hot and cold toppings as well:
Latte flavored frozen yogurt with a cookie dough ball topped in hot chocolate and hot peanut butter sauce:
After lunch it was still pouring, so we decided to go to the Biodome, an indoor activity.
It was originally built for the 1976 Olympics, but was repurposed as a sort of indoor zoo.
When we arrived we saw a line consisting of thousands of people that wrapped around the entire dome. We were about to leave when Mendy asked me if I had checked to see if we could buy tickets online. Lo and behold, I was able to purchase tickets on my phone and go right on in, bypassing the enormous line. Go figure as to why they didn’t announce that to the line?
The biodome consists of 4 ecosystems.
The first is a steamy rainforest.
There’s an Antarctic zone:
A marine zone.
And a Laurentian forest zone.
The Biodome isn’t a must-do, but it’s a decent activity when it’s rainy outside.
After putting the kids to sleep Mimi and I went to Chops for dinner.
We were in Chops last June in Miami and we absolutely loved it. Surprisingly when we returned to Miami on a stopover while flying to Brazil they were already closed.
The Chops in Montreal appears to be thriving though. I made reservations which was a good thing as the place was jammed.
Peanut Butter Beef Dumplings are outstanding, really an incredible dish.
The Spring Rolls however were pretty mediocre.
As in Miami, the Chops’ Delmonico Steak is thick and succulent. An excellent cut of meat.
Very nicely spiced fries came with the steak:
Mimi got an order of Ribs. Flavor was good, but the fat to meat ratio was very high.
She got mashed potatoes on the side that were nothing special:
For dessert I ordered a frozen Lemon Meringue Pie, which sounds odd, but was incredible. Tart, sweet, airy, crumbly, it all worked while frozen for an awesome dessert.
The hot chocolate cake on the other hand tasted like something you might serve on Pesach.
Canada Day marked the beginning of the monthlong Fireworks competition and the view from the old port may not have been as good as from La Ronde or the closed off Pont Jacques-Cartier Bridge, but it did the trick:
There were several street performers throughout the old city afterward:
Afterward I wanted to take a peak in the W Hotel that we passed up on:
The Wow suite is a 2 floor suite with a living room, powder room, and balcony on the lower floor:
Upstairs is the bedroom and master bathroom
On Thursday morning we stopped off at Cheskie’s Bakery:
Their cheese goodies are just far above and beyond any other bakery’s. Even if you’re not a cheese baked good fan, this place is a must.
We brought home a box of cheese crowns, cheese muffins, and cheese cannolis. They made it home surprisingly well and all of them have to be tasted to be believed:
The chocolate babka was also good, though their rogelach were not.
For lunch we went to Mozart.
Their french onion soup has a fantastic flavor, though it’s a bit runnier than I like french onion soup.
Rafi loved and polished off the grilled salmon
The Pesto Cream Fettuccine was excellent:
Talia gobbled a plate of Penne with Broccoli
The Cheese Ravioli did not have a good texture and I wouldn’t recommend it:
But the Gnocchi was fantastic:
Before heading to the airport we stopped at Maxi, a grocery store with lots of kosher products (cereal, chips, sauces, etc) that can’t be found in the US.
And we got sandwiches from Mont Royal Bagel. Rafi was excited for a chocolate chip bagel, but they only had Sesame bagels remaining.
We never did make it to the Science Museum, Olympic Stadium Tower, Mont Royal Park, or Jean Drapeau park.
At the airport Mendy and I were able to check all our bags and bring them past security while Mimi got the kids into their Carseat/Travelmate contraptions.
After returning the car we skipped the US customs line thanks to our Global Entry cards. Alas because Talia wasn’t fingerprinted she had to be manually processed, but there was a dedicated line just for that situation which meant no waiting.
We connected through Newark on the return. Many people hate flying through Newark. I love it as it means I can get some of the best kosher General Tzo or Sesame Chicken in the world with free delivery from New Kosher Special to the airport. I even made the order on their website using the GoGo internet from the plane!
Divine General Tzo from New Kosher Special:
For the first time on the trip the United Club didn’t allow us all into the club without paying for Mendy’s entry. Instead we ate in the food court near out gate.
Afterward Rafi and I went plane-spotting (After flying on some 87 flights he knows his planes!) and compared the 767 parked at the gate bound for Sao Paulo to the 777 parked at the gate next to it bound for Tel Aviv, 2 destinations that we’ve taken the family to within the past year. He made quick friends with another kid on his way to Brazil and told him about the 767 plane he was about to board. Then it was off to our final plane back home to Cleveland. On the flight home Rafi and I eagerly plotted our next trip to burn the old mileage stash on.