It’s summer in Montreal and the nights are perfect for venturing out to dinner on a bike. “What could be nicer?”, I asked myself while speeding down Atwater Avenue. I turned left on Notre-Dame Street, warm wind in my face. The plan was simple: bike all the way down the street just past the beautiful Basilique Notre-Dame church (which does a cool light show, Et la Lumière Fut), to Quattro restaurant, then dig into a restorative plate of pasta…
But then…. I simply couldn’t resist stopping for a drink and a bite at Joe Beef, the famous little restaurant that sits on a stretch of Notre-Dame called Little Burgundy. After shutting down for renovations, it had just reopened and I was anxious to see the new look (turns out the now-extinct nextdoor neighbour McKiernan Luncheonette, of the same owners, has been annexed to Joe Beef and has become its oyster bar). Nice!
The sun had set but the sky was still bright and bluish-mauve as I hopped back on the bike and continued on my way to Quattro. The workout made me hungry and I was even considering following my papaerdelle with the cotoletta di vitello alla milanese (breaded veal cutlet) – I’d been told it’s their specialty. And maybe some tiramisù for dessert? Despite the name, the restaurant is owned not by four, but three guys – all Italian, apparently. “Quit food-dreaming and keep pedalling”, I thought to myself as I entered Old Montreal, still riding along Notre Dame, hungrier and thirstier by the second. That’s when I saw the familiar deer antlers that I instantly recognized: L’Orignal restaurant, one of my faves! I locked up the bike thinking I’d stop for a quick appetizer of oysters and Chablis.
What amazing oysters! Luckily, master shucker Daniel Notkin was behind the bar. Watching him work his magic at lightning speed and discarding many oysters that don’t pass his smell test is quite the spectacle. This self-professed “oysterologist”, founder of the annual Oysterfest festival in Montreal, simply keeps you glued to your bar stool as he chats and describes the week’s offerings and the special characteristics of each oyster. He’ll say things like “these angels are firm and meaty, with a good amount of salt, and a mix of different sea grass flavors that ends on a beautiful minerality”, to the great amusement of the clients. Before I knew it, I was ordering another dozen!
Long story short, by the time I was finished with my two glasses of excellent Chablis and 18 oysters it was past 11 and I suddenly realized I couldn’t possibly continue the gastronomic marathon while still expecting to make it home, alive, by bike. With a tinge of regret, I left l`Orignal – a mere three blocks from Quattro – and turned around for the ride home…
Joe Beef, 2491 Notre Dame West, (514) 935-6504,
L’Orignal, 479 rue Saint-Alexis (at Notre Dame), (514) 303-0479
Quattro: 17 Notre Dame West, (514) 903-2909
Photo Credit: Ristorante Quattro, Alexandra Forbes