1440 Rue de la Montagne
Telephone: (514) 843-2525
Cost: $ 212.55
Chef Hats: 4.5
Change is good, but nothing truly lasts forever. When it comes to this city, the last decade has been a real game changer. The old city as we know it has metamorphosed into something unrecognizable for those who have lived here in the last 30 years. What we are left with is just fond memories of landmark places where we spent our youth. Some relics of yester years remain in some shape or form, either transformed partially into condo projects or totally gone except in the deep recesses of our minds. Others have been replaced by totally new structures. These days, it is safe to say that the city is looking more like a ghost town than anything else since Covid hit. The streets are unrecognizable, if you can get to them.
A few factors have come into play over the slow decline of Montreal. One, is the massive construction year after year that has overwrought the city for decades. The rebuilding of roads, impasse and re-routing and lack of parking has made navigation to the downtown core a nightmare to get to by car. Another is our incompetent city administration that feels that being granola by installing Bixie bikes and bicycle paths everywhere is justifiable and needed to bring this city to the 21st century. Meanwhile, it has pushed many businesses into bankruptcy. The last factor that hit the city real hard is Covid, which was the nail in the coffin for everyone. True nothing last forever, but the city that once used to be at the pinnacle of fame in the 40’s and 50’s with its burlesque shows and its laissez faire attitude is gone. The Olympics in the 70’s, brought us masses of tourists and put us on the map. The Formula 1 races in the 80’s and Jazz Festival cemented the fact that we were a multi -cultural city and could be just as trashy as any European city. Today, we are a mere former shell of itself. The anything goes attitude has almost all but disappeared. Montreal has slowly cleaned up its act in a way that has the ghosts of the past spinning in their coffins. Montreal used to be the city that everyone loved to play in, closest to New York City. Now a days, everyone must take Bixie bikes everywhere. The days of decadence and excessive is gone and sorely missed.
Born in the era of peace and love, for me Montreal was always a little débauche. Loved the fact that we had the choice to be naughty or nice. We would play the part, ad-lib as the moment dictated. We would laugh about the silliness of it all and the things we could get away with. But we grew up at a time when Montreal was fun, life was simple and people were still nice. We began our underage partying ways at the Kon Tiki located at Sheraton Mont Royal Hotel. We never got carded, no one cared, as long as people were making money and others were having fun. The Kon Tiki was the site of many boozy business lunches, called liquid lunches in those days. Underaged teenagers flooded the restaurant at night to line up for cheap drinks like the famous Scorpion, The Bolo Volcano, and Aku Aku Coconut. The Kon Tiki closed its doors in 1981 only to be replaced by a shopping and condominium project.
We had to find a place to party fast, by then we were of drinking age and legal. We chose to hit Casa Pedro or Carlos and Pepe located downtown on Crescent and Stanley streets. The décor was not as eclectic but we gladly settled for double glasses of Sangria or margaritas during Happy hour served with all you can eat free nachos and salsa. A little boring compared to the lush Polynesian décor of the Kon Tiki with its large rattan chairs, water streaming ponds and fountains and plastic palm trees. Although the 80’s were quite excessive, by then the places that made Montreal special were all but gone. The Limelight, Disco Charlie’s, The Oz, and Studio 55. Even, Casa Pedro closed shortly thereafter in the late 80’s but Carlos & Pepe is still running, it is now being franchised. Of course, the quality is not the same and neither are the drinks. Montreal can be an unforgiving city.
By the 90’s, still young, free and rowdy, we could do as we please. We no longer lived at home and the city was ours for the taking. I had never stepped foot into Thursday’s, but had heard it was a meat market. Many nights after a very prolonged happy hour with free pizza and a stream of shots dispensed by our buxom buddy bar maid at our favorite watering hole Weinstein and Gavino, we would sometimes bar hop to Thursday’s. Totally wasted and uninhibited we were ready for some hedonistic adventures and more drinking till the wee hours of the morning. Eventually we made our way to the roof top of Hotel de la Montagne to the Bar Magnetic or as we called it the “Magnito bar”. Summer nights were the best as we loved to watch people swim in the pool. The hotel was swarming with American tourists and the all the beautiful and coolest people Montreal had to offer, it was the perfect way to cap off the evening.
By the late 90’s, the hotel and bar were in terrible decline. La Lutecia, the only fine dining restaurant in the hotel permanently closed years prior. The roof top restaurant became cheesy and the bar in the lobby played host to a cast of geriatric patrons, who could barely move to the outdated lounge music. Sometimes you would be able to catch a call girl at the bar soliciting her services to make a quick buck. It was no longer cool to be seen there. The news came in Fall 2012 that the hotel would close for good. It was sold to Selfridge, a developer that would demolish the building to make way for a massive $140 million dollar project spearheaded by Ogilvy. Built three decades earlier, by owner of Thursday’s Bar, Herman Lindy along with Bernard Ragueneau, Hotel de la Montagne was going down in the history books.
Thursday’s, another one of Montreal notorious landmark, which was connected to the hotel via underground tunnel, also saw its closure in January 2020. Before the pandemic had its chances to completely ravage it into bankruptcy. Its demise was more due to bad management and the tectonic shift in Montreal’s nightlife as millennials flock to local bars or the city’s southwest neighborhood. Crescent street became uncool. But for many midlife Montrealer’s there were many fond memories of the wild nights spent at either the disco, a quick bite on the terrasse at The Beau Jeudi’s or the just a few drinks and flirtatious moments with total strangers at the main bar.
But they say nothing lasts forever, and Hotel de la Montagne was completely razed, after the closing on September 9 ,2012. Gone was the kitschy décor, the roman columns, the water fountain in the center of the lobby with a water nymph, the polite doorman in the red beefeater jacket who looked more like he belonged in London than in a French city.
In its place, after a 25-year hiatus, this city has a new Four Seasons Hotel. It opened in 2019, and the search began for a star chef to head the hotel restaurant. Not an easy feat to accomplish in Montreal because of our strong culinary culture and our fierce loyalty to local chefs. Big name foreign chef’s do not do well here, it is not like Toronto. Some may remember the whole Gordon Ramsay fiasco, and the landmark Laurier BBQ. It closed within a year. L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon opened at the Casino with lots of controversy a few years back. Bar George, never picked up on its game and its been one bad review after another. Daniel Boulud at the Ritz-Carlton is doing well and seems unscathed from critics for now. It seems hotel dining is not popular in Montreal, aside from a few exceptions for brunch. Everyone would rather go to Joe Beef, Toqué or Pied du Cochon.
Enter Marcus Samuelsson. An Ethiopian Swedish chef whose roster of restaurants include Red Rooster Harlem, NY, Red Rooster Shoreditch in London, and establishments in Newark and Bermuda. He has written award-winning cookbooks and has a solid television presence: He is a regular guest judge on the Food Network and host and executive producer of No Passport Required, a series by PBS and Eater celebrating immigrant cultures and foods in the US.
Samuelsson was born Kassahun Tsegie in an Ethiopian village. He was two when he
contracted tuberculosis during an epidemic along with his mother and sister. Orphaned when their mom died, he and his sister were adopted by a white Swedish couple, Ann Marie and Lennart Samuelsson. He grew up in Gothenburg, Sweden. His grandmother was his inspiration and soon attended culinary school and apprenticed in Switzerland and Austria before signing on with a cruise line to save for an apprenticeship in France. He joined the Manhattan-based Scandinavian restaurant Aquavit as chef at age 24, where he became the youngest chef to receive a three-star rating from the New York Times. The James Beard Foundation called him the best rising young chef in 2003.
Samuelsson and the Four Seasons crew spent two years working on the Montreal restaurant and bar-lounge that bears his name. The interior design of the hotel was overseen
by Montreal-based Atelier Zébulon Perron. The dining room is a streamlined look of pure minimalistic chic. Simple lines of white marble counters and table tops, black & white tiled floors and simple black leather banquettes. The biggest draw is the terrace with its retractable paneled windows, a wall of lush green plants arranged in front of the bay windows that open and convert the space into a covered terrace offering a view of Mountain street in the summer.
The setting is stunningly gorgeous. It is located on the third floor of the Four Seasons Hotel. Not recognizable and no comparison to the old hotel. As soon as you step out of the elevator, you come face to face with an entire wall of floor-to-ceiling done in gold metallic. It exudes a sexiness with its “je ne sais quoi’’. Rich and classy with white and velvet grey couches lining the walls. Everything is new and very impressive. The bar, is done up in soothing shades of cream, grey and green, from an art deco-inspired era. On the opposite side of the bar you can access Holt Renfrew -Ogilvy to shop till you drop or till your wallet is totally empty and your credit card is maxed out.
A recommendation, go the other way and get something to eat first at Marcus. You will not be disappointed. The restaurant is seafood heavy, but they have a good choice of meats. You can sample oysters, clams, lobster and crab, sashimi, tuna and salmon tartars. They even have a Wagyu beef burger and chicken sandwiches. Just fancier and more expensive.
This evening we started with a simple green salad with vinaigrette. For appetizers we had a grilled octopus and salmon tartare. Both were well presented and very tasty. The octopus won over the tartare over presentation and originality, well cooked and with the appropriate accoutrements.
We finished with a main meal of sea scallops in a light cream sauce and tuna tartare that came served with Ethiopian bread. La piece de resistance was the whole roasted cauliflower which was out of this world and shared amongst four people.
The hospitality was more than exceptional, our waitress was professional, knowledgeable and attentive. The ambiance elegant and fun. The food pleasantly surprisingly good. Marcus is a great place to people watch, the patrons this evening were beautiful, young, tasteful and dressed to the nines. Even their hair was to coiffed to perfection like the service and food. Upon exiting the restaurant and entering the bar area, we could not help but notice how many people had filed in after our 6 pm meal. The place was popping and filled to the brim like a cup of fine champagne. The music was current and but loud. A mix of house music and techno dance. Beautifully dressed young millennials lined the couches and hallway, as if they were going to the prom. Except this was the end of January. We never dressed like this at the Magnito bar. We went in our bathing suits and speedos, or simple tees and jeans. Maybe Jordache designer jeans at the time and a pair of stilettos.
It’s nice to be young, but as they say nothing lasts forever especially not eternal youth. On my drive home, could not help but think that I was sad to see the grand dame disappear as it was part of me and my past. Somehow one can’t help but feel that history is erasing itself slowly in this city. I don’t believe in living in the past, so we move forward with making new memories. Marcus is a good place to start. We made ourselves a promise this evening that we would return in spring to sit on the terrace and begin to enjoy a new chapter of our lives. Then freakin Covid hit.
Meanwhile, a recipe to try at home to tide you over till next spring or as they say a la prochain. It is not the exact recipe, but it is a close sample of what is to come.
Korean Roasted Cauliflower à la Marcus
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Serves :4 persons
This is a punchy, vegetarian and gluten free roasted cauliflower recipe adapted from Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurant, Red Rooster in Shoreditch, London. I have modified it to make it my own.
• 1 cauliflower head-whole
• olive oil- brush on whole cauliflower
• bunch of coriander or * Italian parsley- chopped
• ¼ red onion minced- or 2-green onions- chopped
• Gochujang glaze- a Korean BBQ sauce with chili. Makes 3-1/2 tbsp glaze.
• 1 tbsp -chili paste
• 1 1/2 tbsp honey
• 1 tbsp mirin
• Corn crumble- optional
• vegetable oil
• 1 corn-on-the-cob, kernels cut off
• 2 tbsp. pumpkin seeds 2 or substitute-slivered almonds
• garlic 1 clove, minced.
• Heat the oven to 200C. Rub the cauliflower with 2 tbsp of olive oil and garlic.
• Roast for 1 hour or until nicely browned and tender when pierced with a knife. Meanwhile, whisk together the gochujang glaze ingredients in a bowl.
• Heat 1 tbsp of vegetable oil in a frying pan and fry the corn kernels over a high heat for 3-4 minutes until charred.
• Add the pumpkin seeds or almonds, and fry for 1 minute until golden.
• Brush the cauliflower with the gochujang glaze and sprinkle over the corn crumble, coriander and red onion and serve warm.