Montréal en Lumière is held over 10 days from late February to early March. It combines 300 ticketed and free culinary events with live music and art, including Montreal’s Nuit Blanche. In 2014, the festival will take place February 20-March 2. Each year, organizers theme Montréal en Lumière around international cuisine. Buenos Aires had a starring role this year followed by Philadelphia and Quebec’s Saguenay-Lac St Jean region.
We had a spectacular time. Montreal is a great road trip at any time of year but at the end of February when you’re growing a little weary of winter, Montréal en Lumière is the perfect remedy to chase away any winter blues. Here’s our road trip at a glance:
Late Thursday night
We were starved by the time we crossed the bridge onto the island of Montreal so we chose Le Manoir for a late dinner. Just off the TransCanada (Highway 40) at the boul. St. Jean exit in Pointe Claire, Le Manoir is an old stomping ground of mine. From the outside, the brasserie resembles a church. Inside, enjoy a steak washed down with a draft or share a quart of beer (a Montreal tradition).
Travelers on Trip Advisor voted Montreal’s Europea as one of the best restaurants in the world in 2012. This Relais Chateau was packed with Montréal en Lumière diners when we arrived. A three-course Buenos Aires-inspired menu featured a Corn Velouté with mashed jalapenos and prosciutto crisp that was so good it’s burned in my memory. I wonder if Chef Jerome Ferrer plans to serve it again soon.
Montreal is for walking! THE best dressed windows are here out of any Canadian city. Store after store along rue Ste. Catherine, Montreal’s main drag, inspire new spring outfit ideas and I want to shop (badly). We finally duck into Simon’s, a popular Montreal department store for a quick look. Next is the SAQ (Montreal’s version of a liquor store) where I discover a reasonably priced Lebanese red wine (who knew?) in the store’s “Specialités” (vintage) section. Later, a Le Devoir writer introduces me to Pikolo, a favourite boulevard St. Laurent espresso bar. The place is packed and we can’t find a seat so we end up at Van Houtte around the corner, Montreal’s answer to the common coffee shop.
Friday night – I’m headed to Académie Culinaire in Old Montreal. The academy is a popular Montréal en Lumière choice. About 150 of us are divided into small groups to make appetizers, then chocolate truffles. Our appetizers go down easy and so does the wine they are paired with. I love the feel of this place. Three hours whip by. Am thinking this is the perfect alternative to a sit-down meal and I can even learn french as well as some new cooking tips if I choose. Courses are offered in both languages.
Marché Jean Talon is a Saturday tradition. During Montréal en Lumière you can sign up for a guided culinary tour and sample market fare, but today I’m on a mission to find Philippe De Vienne, the spice man that my Académie Culinaire chef has told me about. We find Philippe and his store, Olives et Epices, and I buy Madagascar wild whole pepper to take home. Next it’s lunch with our friends Ole and Danielle at one of their favourite Montreal finds, Le Petit Alep, a Syrian restaurant opposite Marché Jean Talon. We enjoy a platter of mezzas and fresh greens. I take note of the resto’s small outdoor terrace. In summer, it must hop. We’ll be back.
Saturday night – I’m headed to Montreal’s Bonsecours Market. Four hundred of us sit down to a Montréal en Lumière lamb dinner prepared by a chef flown in for the event from Buenos Aires. Later a group of us walk back downtown pausing in front of Montreal’s magnificent city hall to enjoy fresh maple taffy.
A soft snow falls as thousands of us gather in the Place des Festivals, one of Montréal en Lumière’s massive, free, outdoor sites in the heart of downtown Montreal. There’s live music. People are dancing. Cozy lounge areas have outdoor seating around wood-burning fires. Haute cuisine hot dogs are roasting on massive skewers set above the fires. Crowds are lined up to try the brightly lit outdoor slide and ferris wheel. Art installations project massive images on area buildings. It’s Nuit Blanche in Montreal, the grand finale of Montréal en Lumière 2013 and a memorable end to our latest Montreal road trip.