Asked to name the best restaurant city in America—meaning the United States—I offered the only reasonable answer: Montreal, a city with the culture, the cooks, the restaurants, the provisions, and the hospitality. (Also of significance is Canada’s nicely diminished dollar, which makes dining a deal.) Such a welcome package was neatly summed up by a Canadian pal, Mike Boone, who worked with me at the Montreal Star in the 1970s. He said, « We’re not just nice, we’re cheap. » write ALAN RICHMAN
The restaurants of Montreal are the attraction. Their evolution, which started in this century, has been swift. They are modest in size and technically proficient, and they provide a sense of casual fine dining that is embraced more wholeheartedly here than anywhere in the U.S. The dining culture is descended from those of both France and England— thankfully, more from France—leaving Montreal a sort of culinary orphan, free to seek its own path.
New York, which was considered the best American dining city in most eras, but no longer, has become ground zero for casual dining. (A restaurant critic for the New York Times recently announced his top dish of the year: a sticky bun.) Montreal has developed an engaging dining personality at the same time that New York has been losing the one it had.
Famed Montreal restaurateur David McMillan (Joe Beef, Le Vin Papillon) says, « I’ll tell you why Montreal is the best restaurant city, and it’s not about the skill of our cooking. We have the most advanced dining public in North America. I serve lamb liver cooked rare to 17-year-old girls. I sell tons of kidneys and sweetbreads. Manhattan is one giant steakhouse. Everybody there wants steak or red tuna. I don’t want to know how much red tuna is sold every day. »
Chef Normand Laprise, the grand old man of Montreal chefs (even if he is only 54), adds, « I visit pastry shops in the States, and I know Americans are not open- minded customers. It’s hard to sell any- thing other than cupcakes and macarons. »