When it comes to dining in an unfamiliar city, I always look for authentic epicurean experiences.
Get me out of the rat race of tourist restaurants and corporate chain eateries, and into a neighborhood bistro where I can actually observe (and participate in) the culture of the city. I want to eat where the locals are eating.
And you, my dear reader, probably share my affinity for local eating experiences.
The Claremont Café had been on my list of renowned neighborhood restos to sample for over a year. So I finally gathered my crew, co-bloggers @TamyEmmaPepin and @FreeMurphy, and we headed over to the neighborhood of Westmount to install ourselves on the patio for wine, appetizers and social media gossip. I quickly realized that my procrastination in visiting this bistro had been a foolish mistake.
As we chatted, we dined on the specials of the day – starting with seared tuna coated (appropriately) in Montreal steak spice, with Quebec asparagus and a poached egg. Next up was a chunky clam chowder with Genoa salami served in large cherrystone clamshells. And then onto a black truffle mac & cheese with a garlic crouton crust, essentially reducing any other form of mac & cheese to a whimpering shame. The entrées were well matched with a crisp pinot grigio.
What had taken me so long to get there?
The café, in its current form, begun 7 years ago when Aaron Fraser and three of his friends rescued the restaurant from a state of menu-mediocrity and less-than-hospitable-service. Since then, with new décor and developing a friendly and knowledgeable staff, the place has taken a 180-degree turn. Any regular will attest to this metamorphosis.
I chatted with Aaron about the food, and where The Claremont Café exists in the wide spectrum of Montreal culinary options.
“We serve all kinds of food – sometimes the Chef jokes that we are “going to Tunisia tonight” as he creates his specials. We need to serve certain staple items that the clientele expect, but our featured items are where the guys in the kitchen get to play. Our specials are up there with any restaurant in the city and we are right here, in Westmount.”
And I get the sense that The Claremont Café holds a firm place in the hearts of those Westmount folks that frequent the bistro. As I was leaving, I ran into a friend of mine who lives in the neighborhood, and he said, “Be kind in your review of my favorite Montreal restaurant.”
Little does he know that, when I get to have authentic epicurean experiences, I’m always kind.
Go check it out.