When in Montreal…

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We recently celebrated our first anniversary and decided to take a little weekend trip to Montreal to rejoice in our complete and utter cuteness.(I’ll pause here to allow you the time you need to let how adorable we are sink in.  We’re also accepting gifts for the occasion…)While in Montreal, we did all of the touristy things — a walking tour of the Old City, a visit to Atwater Market, a turn about the Montreal Observation Wheel, a climb up Mont Royal, even a helicopter ride above the city — but the highlight was (as it always is with us) the food.  A fun, diverse city that seamlessly combines history and tradition with modernity and innovation, Montreal is literally a food lover’s dream.  We came ready to eat and we were not disappointed.

BREAKFAST — Muru Crepe

The best part about Montreal is that even though it is only a 5.5-hour drive from Boston, it’s so European. The cobblestone streets, the architecture, the people assuming everyone speaks French — it’s basically one Eiffel Tower away from being Paris, and I had to fight the urge to put on a beret and neck scarf and start dancing around a la Gene Kelly in An American in Paris.

So, we decided that the best way to start the day would be with a small brunch in a French cafe.  Muru Crepe, a charmingly tiny creperie in the Old City, fit the bill perfectly.

We both started off with a Cafe Mocha, expertly made with the perfect ratio of chocolate, espresso, and foam and beautifully decorated to boot.

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I went for a light breakfast and got Greek Yogurt drizzled with maple syrup (because Canada) and topped with homemade granola and fresh strawberries and blueberries and award-winningly tasty caramelized bananas.Nate got the Trois Fromages crepe, a savory crepe that came with goat cheese, swiss cheese, and mozzarella cheese, bacon, potato, honey, and crème fraîche.  

The crepe itself was spongy and light, with a slight hint of eggy flavor, and the gooeyness of the cheese combined with the smoky bacon, starchy potato, and sweet honey made it clear why Muru is considered one of the best creperies in the city.

LUNCH — Schwartz’s DeliMontreal is famous for two things: smoked meat sandwiches and poutine, and Schwartz’s is one of the best and most noteworthy spots in the city to get both of those things.  The deli has been serving smoked meat from a special family recipe since 1928 — when Reuben Schwartz, a Jewish immigrant from Romania, first opened the restaurant on the now-trendy boulevard Saint-Laurent (home to tons of artsy murals, small boutiques, and artisan shops).  The meat is prepared with a secret blend of herbs and spices and then marinated for 10 days before being served — and you could really taste the difference.  

The smoked meat sandwich — served on light rye bread with a touch of brown mustard — was easily one of the best deli sandwiches I’ve ever had, piled high with juicy, flavorful, thick-cut pastrami of such high quality that it rivaled the best that New York City has to offer.

And, because a giant deli sandwich is obviously not enough, we also split an order of Schwartz’s poutine, a take on the classic Quebec speciality that had — wait for it — more huge chunks of smoked meat on top.  The smoked meat and gravy soaked into the fries and the cheese curds were delightfully salty and gooey, and it was all so good I forgot to feel guilty about many calories I had just consumed.

After nearly 90 years in business, there’s a lot of hype surrounding Schwartz’s, and the line to even get into the restaurant was so abysmally long we almost decided to skip going entirely and find another place to get a smoked meat sandwich.  Let me tell you — the hype is completely justified and the line was more than worth it.  Seriously, do not visit Montreal without making your way to Schwartz’s at least once.

DINNER — Restaurant Bonaparte

We decided to go all out for dinner — after all, you only celebrate a one-year anniversary once, and after a day of walking around and being touristy we felt like we were entitled to treat ourselves to the fanciest dinner the city has to offer.

Restaurant Bonaparte, located in the heart of the Old City, is really three restaurants in one — there are three distinct dining rooms, all with different aesthetics that add to the restaurant’s charm.  We were placed in the Impératrice Hall, a romantic space decorated in the Empire style of the Napoleonic era, complete with crystal chandeliers, a large fireplace, and French hotel paneling on the walls.  The best part?  Because the staff of the restaurant knew we were celebrating a special occasion, they gave us the best seat in the room — an intimate booth next to a window that overlooked the narrow, cobblestone streets of the neighborhood.

While there are a la carte menus available, Restaurant Bonaparte is famous for its five-course Tasting Menu, and we decided that five courses would give us the opportunity to try literally every type of French food all at once and, really, how could we pass that chance up?

For the first course, Nate got the lobster bisque, which was thick and creamy with a hint of ginger.

Not wanting to fill up too quickly, I opted for the salad, which was a bed of mixed greens topped with toasted pine nuts and the most flavorful parmesan cheese I have ever tasted, tossed with a light vinaigrette.The second course was my favorite.  Nate chose the warm goat cheese and roasted almonds wrapped in flaky filo dough.  

Fulfilling one of my lifelong fantasies, I ordered the duck foie gras, which came with a savory crème brûlée and sauteed apples.  There are no words to describe how much I loved the foie gras — it was creamy and thick without being heavy, and when topped with the crème brûlée it had a melt-in-your-mouth quality that I could not get enough of.  

The third course continued my quest for all things French.  I ordered the escargot — garlicky and delightfully rubbery snails in parsley fricassee served with Provençal vegetables.  

Nate went for the mushroom ravioli, which were smothered in a sage butter sauce and tasted like fall.

Then, because this was the fanciest and greatest meal of all time, they gave us a pear and tarragon sorbet infused with ACTUAL CHAMPAGNE(!!) to cleanse our palates (seriously!!) before the main course, which — big surprise — was also amazing.

Nate went with filet mignon, cooked to perfection and seasoned with peppercorns and cognac.

I went with the duck breast, which was tender and juicy and topped with wild berries and a maple syrup glaze (again, because Canada) that enhanced the duck’s natural flavors with a wonderful combination of tartness and sweetness.

For dessert, we were given a Symphony of Homemade Desserts (which, in plebeian speak, basically is just a sampler platter of mini desserts made in-house by the restaurant’s pastry chef).  The highlight for me was the crème brûlée partly because it was absolutely delicious and partly because by this point in the meal I had turned into a full-on Fancy Snob™.

Was the meal decadent? Absolutely. But it was also probably the best meal I have ever eaten.  And to top it off, the service was impeccable, the staff was friendly and accommodating (not to mention very happy to congratulate us on our celebration), and the restaurant itself was beautiful.  If you’re in Montreal and have a reason to celebrate (or just want to Treat Yo Self), Restaurant Bonaparte is the place to do it.
Leaving Montreal was bittersweet, not only because we wanted more time there, but also because we had both gained a not-so-insignificant amount of weight from having eaten so well.  With a basically unlimited number of restaurants — big and small, fancy and casual — and an unlimited number of cuisines, Montreal is a food lover’s paradise.

Craigie On Main – Central Square, Cambridge, MA

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Just a five-minute walk from Central Square T-stop, Craigie on Main is an upscale, French-inspired restaurant that features innovative dishes that push the limits in terms of bold ingredients that somehow seem to compliment perfectly together.

One thing that was evident right away was the outstanding service from the entire staff. From the moment we walked in, the staff was nothing but friendly and accommodating. Throughout the night, we literally never lifted a finger to pour water out of the carafe on our table.

As mentioned, Craigie on Main is an upscale French-inspired restaurant, and the decor certainly reflects that. Where we were seated, there had to have been 8 different types of mirrors with antique-style frames. This, in addition to the dimmed lighting, created an intimate aura, making Craigie on Main a prime date spot. The spot even featured an open kitchen!

The dinner menu offers plenty of new dishes that you’ll have to go out on a limb to try. I admit, we didn’t know some of the ingredients listed on the menu, but in asking our waiter, he was able to explain the ingredients and what we could expect in terms of taste for each dish we quizzed him on. Our appetizer, for instance, was squid ink chitarra pasta, topped with manilla clams, roasted tomatoes, pork belly, uni butter. While the squid ink gives off a strong aroma, it worked in harmony with all the other ingredients, particularly the clams. It had a garlic-lemon undertone.Next was the main course. We decided on the Pennsylvania Dutch country chicken. Let me tell you about this entree. The chicken was fall-off-the-bone tender. It’s unclear what it was braised with, but it was delicious. Along with the chicken, were green beans, fennel, and raisins, with a very tasty mole verde sauce that had a mild kick to it.

To cap off our order, we ordered the milk chocolate cremeux. The only way to describe this was that taste was the only sense that existed in that moment, and all other senses ceased to exist – at least until we finished eating. The combo of milk chocolate, feuilletine, and walnut ice cream was just unbelievable and left me drooling for more.

We were very pleased with our experience at Craigie on Main, and would highly recommend going for a date or special occasion.

TL DR: With outstanding service, Craigie on Main in Central Square is a top notch upscale gourmet restaurant – but it’s about quality, not quantity here.

Panza – North End, Boston

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There’s nothing better than Italian food and, luckily enough, Boston is home to some of the best Italian restaurants this side of the Atlantic. We recently took a trip to Boston’s historic North End with our friends (and visitors from Washington, DC) Nicole and Jasmine in tow for some authentic Italian food at Panza.

Panza is located right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Hanover Street and its small storefront makes it easy to walk right by it.  That, however, would be a big mistake since Panza — a cozy, relaxed, and homey space with mismatched plates on the wall and an open kitchen — has a menu full of classic (and reasonably priced!) Italian dishes that will satisfy pasta lovers, meat lovers, and seafood lovers of all varieties.

I went with the Butternut Squash Tortelloni — oversized, handmade dumplings filled to the brim with a slightly sweet and delectably savory roasted squash purée and topped with a rich brown butter sage sauce. The tortelloni had just the right ratio of pasta to filling and the sage butter sauce — which was flavorful without being too heavy — had an undertone of cinnamon that complemented the savory creaminess of the squash stuffing.Nate got the Potato Gnocchi Bolognese — small potato-filled dumplings in a classic beef and pork ragu. The gnocchi were flavorful and light (despite the fact that the combo of pasta and potato can sometimes make for a rather large post-meal food baby, these gnocchi had just the right amount of starchy goodness) and the meat sauce enhanced the flavor of the pasta even further.

Nicole and Jasmine both gravitated toward the poultry portion of the menu and went for the Chicken Saltimbocca and the Chicken Parmesan, respectively. The Saltimbocca came with salty prosciutto, creamy mozzarella cheese, and roasted veggies, all topped with a light and flavorful white wine sage sauce.  The Chicken Parmesan was exactly as expected — the chicken was slightly crisped and smothered in gooey cheese and delicious homemade red sauce.Both dishes came with a small bowl of pasta that was not wholly necessary considering the large portions, but was nonetheless greatly appreciated because, let’s face it, who doesn’t love pasta?

We left totally full but still completely in the mood for dessert, so we stopped for cannoli at Bova’s (which, pro tip, has amazing cannoli but never has the same long line as the more touristy Mike’s Pastry or Modern Pastry). We shared a cappuccino, chocolate chip, and classic plain cannoli — all of which were perfectly crispy on the outside and deliciously creamy on the inside.All in all, a perfect Boston night in one of the city’s most uniquely fun neighborhoods.

TL:DR:  Panza is the perfect place for a traditional Italian meal without the high prices usually found in most North End restaurants. Be sure to make a reservation to avoid the long lines!

Tasca Restaurant – Brighton, MA

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Nate and I are huge fans of the whole “sharing is caring” rule (especially when it comes to food sharing — arguably the best kind of sharing), so the concept of tapas is perfect for us. We recently decided to go to Tasca in Brighton, where we experienced Spanish cuisine at its finest.

We decided to get three items off the extensive menu (seriously extensive – there’s 35 varieties of tapas and ten full-sized dinner entrees), but everything looked so good that the decision was hard to come by. We toyed with the idea of getting the Brie a la Plancha (#29 on the menu), which comes with grilled brie and a tangy-sweet raisin chutney and a grilled garlicky baguette. We were also intrigued by the Confit de Pato (#19) — succulent roast duck leg served over braised red cabbage and apples — and the Costillas de ternera (#31) — braised short rib ragout with root vegetables and creamy horseradish on top. Tasca is the sort of place you have to keep visiting again and again so you can try everything that looks good (aka the whole menu).

Ultimately, this time around we went with the Solomillo (#20; a petit filet mignon served in a red wine sauce with mushrooms and a stack of potatoes au gratin); Salmon ahumado (#34; smoked salmon with red onion, capers, and dill crème fraîche with a side of crispy potato cake); and Fideos con mariscos (#32; Catalan-style roasted angel hair pasta with shrimp, calamari, mussels and littleneck clams baked in a garlic lobster broth).

The filet was perfectly cooked to order, tender and juicy and just the right amount for two people. The cheesy potatoes soaked up the au jus of the steak and were rich and creamy.

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The salmon ahumado was basically the Spanish answer to the traditional bagel and lox — the salmon was just the right amount of smoky, the potato cake was basically a huge hash brown (#heaven), and the creamy, smooth, slightly tangy dill crème fraîche tied all the flavors together in a perfect combination of savory, creamy, fishy goodness.  

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The highlight of the meal for me, however, was the Fideos con Mariscos. The portion was extremely generous for tapas, and the dish was chock-full of enough shrimp, calamari, mussels, and clams that Nate and I didn’t even have to fight over who got the bigger portion (although in all fairness I think I might have taken more than he did…sorry, Nate!).  The garlic lobster broth was creamy and flavorful and had undertones of an Alfredo sauce.  The sauce was neutral enough to bring out the flavor of the seafood but simultaneously flavorful enough to stand on its own — even bites with just the lobster-broth coated angel hair pasta were delicious.

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Pro tip: when the bill comes and your server asks you to fill out a comment card, make sure you not only give comments, but provide your email address as well.  I know, I know…spam emails are annoying. But ever since giving my email address to Tasca way back when I first tried it a few years ago, I have never eaten a meal there without some sort of coupon giving me a percentage off my meal. In fact, with the $10 coupon Nate and I used when we went this time around, we basically got two of the tapas we ordered on the house.

The restaurant is also very into promotional events. There are weekly sangria tastings, special holiday menus, and even live music flamenco dancing. Tapas range in price from $5 to $9 and the portions are larger than those found in most tapas restaurants in the city, so it’s definitely a good value. Plus, with exposed brick walls, candle-lit dining, and ample seating, Tasca is a great place for a date night or just a slightly fancy yet also totally affordable meal with friends. A trip to Tasca is basically the next best thing to a trip to Spain. Without having to bring your passport or getting searched by the TSA.

TL;DR: Tasca serves up authentic and delicious Spanish tapas at a reasonable price — with its romantic ambiance and easy accessibility via public transportation, it’s a great spot for dinner dates and more than worth the trip to Brighton!

Top of The Hub – Back Bay, Boston, MA

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I don’t consider myself a particularly fancy person, but sometimes it’s necessary to throw caution (and budget) to the wind and celebrate life’s little victories. Recently, Nate and I did just that in the heart of downtown Boston.

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We decided to channel our inner Tom Haverford and Donna Meagle and indulge in our very own version of Treat Yo’Self (for those of you who don’t watch Parks and Rec, you should really get on that). And we were not sorry at all. Dinner at the Top of the Hub was everything we hoped it would be and more.

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First, let’s set the scene: 360-degree views of the Boston skyline from 52 stories up (it was pouring that night and it was still one of the most spectacular views of the city I’ve ever seen); an exquisitely set table right by the window; and live jazz music (think Fred Astaire meets La La Land).  The restaurant advertises itself as Boston’s most romantic dining experience — completely true.

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We started with cocktails. I got the Oak Punch — oak-infused vodka with strawberry puree, orange juice, pineapple juice, and brown sugar. It was sweet, satisfying, and tasted like the summer. I had no idea that oak-infused vodka was a thing, but I could actually sense a slightly woody aftertaste with each sip, and it counteracted the sweetness of the fruit juices in a really satisfying way. Nate followed my lead and got and equally tropical drink. He opted for the Banana Boat – Bacardi oakheart rum, banana liqueur, cream, brown sugar, and pineapple juice.  It was deliciously creamy and refreshing…basically the beverage equivalent of a trip to the Caribbean (minus the cost of airfare).

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Sipping fancy cocktails while Frank Sinatra played in the background would have been enough for me, but we decided to go big or go home and I’m glad we did. The meal was probably one of the best I’ve ever had in Boston or in any other city. In an effort to not totally break the bank but still get a good taste of what the Top of the Hub had to offer, we decided to go halfsies on an appetizer and a meal (we were celebrating, but we’re not anarchists, you know?) We started with a plate of the Short Rib Gnocchi. The short rib was mouthwateringly tender, the gnocchi were fresh and homemade, and the portion was just the right amount to whet our appetites for the main event.

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We’re both meat eaters, so for dinner we went with the 14-ounce Center Cut NY Strip Steak. It was more than enough for two people.  Tender, juicy, cooked to perfection — it was a steak for people who really, really love steak. It came with a slightly salty, rich marrow butter on top which helped to enhance the flavor of the steak’s natural juices. I’m not usually a person who puts butter or sauce on steak, but the marrow butter truly made the meal. It also came with Truffle Au Gratin Potatoes (cheese and potatoes in a casserole…need I say more?) and grilled asparagus (because Oprah says there should always be something green on your plate).

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For dessert, Nate surprised me with a custom cake made by the restaurant’s pastry chef. Chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting and my name written on it. Truly the cherry on top of a perfect night. If you’re celebrating a special occasion or simply want to have an amazing dining experience that’s totally worth every penny, there’s no better place in Boston.