Posted on January 14th, 2011 by .

The Happening Gourmand festival is happening right now (it started Jan. 10) and will run until Jan. 31. For any Toronto-folk reading this and scratching their heads, this is sort of like your Winterlicious. For Manhattanites, think New York Restaurant Week, only smaller and wrapped up in Old World charm and ambience.

What’s the deal? A family-owned business has opened the doors to all of their eight Old Montreal restaurants, inviting guests in from the cold with alluring set menus, called “prix fixe” or “table d’hôte” if your high school French escapes you. Each diner gets to choose from two appetizers, three main courses and two desserts.

Locals tend to come in groups (reservations are highly recommended!), since the inexpensive gourmet event is a good excuse to try out new restaurants and/or party on in the middle of winter, despite post-holiday blues when your credit card may still be cooling off in repayment mode.

All places offer wines by the glass, but at these prices, I’d go for the whole bottle. Here’s the “where” and “how much” plus some menu highlights. P.S. I am writing this at four o’clock in the afternoon, a pursuit that is making me very hungry for dinner indeed. See you in the Old Montreal!

$18 – Galianos
This easy-going Italian restaurant has upscale, rustic décor. My menu choice: I have my eye on the Pasta Trio: fettuccine alfredo, cheese manicotti and penne Bolognese. You can also splurge on the $29 dinner, from which I’d choose the baked fish option with scallops and shrimps.

$18 – Narcisse Bistro & Bar à vin
When I’m taking out-of-town guest to experience the beauty of Old Montreal, I often think of starting here, a historic building graced with old stonewalls that overlooks the river. My menu choice: I’d start with the black pudding pie with apple and maple syrup, then go for the sausages with mustard cream sauce, sauerkraut and potatoes. Still at steal from the $28-menu, you can have the pan-seared striped bass served with polenta and truffled asparagus, topped with white butter sauce.

$23 – Méchant Boeuf Bar & Brasserie
Thursday through Saturday, there’s a DJ on the scene, so you can imagine that it’s a younger, hip crowd that comes here. My menu choice: If you haven’t already tried it, the “must” is the Méchant Burger. It comes with bacon, two kinds of cheese, and caramelized onions. For six extra bucks you can replace your side of fries with poutine.

$23 – Modavie Restaurant Wine Bar
I’ve had drinks at this jazz bar before (there are live acts every night), but haven’t eaten here yet, so it’s high on my list of places to try. My menu choice: I’m torn between the grilled salmon with raspberry sauce or the osso bucco, the latter only $5 more. And whenever it’s on the dessert menu, it’s always my first choice: I’ll have the chocolat fondant, please and thank you.

$23 – Vieux-Port Steakhouse
One of the most charming steakhouses on St-Paul Street, this tri-level establishment is both family-friendly and romance-approved. For the latter, ask for an intimate spot by the fireplace to heat things up. My menu choice: The real deal and big attraction here is the tenderloin (filet mignon) medallions that comes with roasted garlic mashed potatoes.

$23 – Suite 701
I love the grand, ornate space at Hôtel Le Place d’Armes, which was in its heyday a Scottish bank. I’m a regular here at the bar for happy hour get-togethers or late night mojitos. My menu choice: It’s only five dollars extra for the lobster Bolognese, a no brainer, if you ask me.

$27 – Aix Cuisine du Terroir
This is a chic and cosy, semi-subterranean space that’s ideal for a tête-à-tête, if you can nab one of those circular banquettes. Chef Eric Kopp’s specialty is local produce or “terroir.” My menu choice: Just reading about the squash soup with roasted hazelnuts and cheddar croutons warms my heart. My top choice for the main: the beef short ribs made with (local staples) beer and maple syrup.

$27 – Verses Restaurant
This charming spot, is more subdued than the others, and boasts large windows overlooking the cobblestones of St-Paul Street. My menu choice: Enjoy your roasted salmon and aligot au fromage de chèvre (cheesy mashed potatoes) whilst admiring the scenic winter view. There’s also a $37 option that includes a seven-hour braised leg of lamb.

For more info and to see each individual menu, visit www.happeninggourmand.com

FYI: Outdoor dance party Igloofest is a concurrent event that’s just around the corner. Something to keep in mind if you’re feeling footloose, but dress warmly. I go in my ski-suit!

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