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On Honeymoon 🍯
Notes on our trip to Montréal and Québec.
In Spanish, honeymoon is “luna de miel,” a direct translation that nonetheless is far more evocative to me—probably because I didn’t grow up with it as a word that signaled a tropical vacation with electric blue drinks, garnished with a paper umbrella, to be taken after a tacky extravaganza with bad food. As Israel and I walked (and walked and walked) around Montréal during our luna de miel, I said that it brought to mind a moon dripping in honey—sweet and sticky, to be caught on tongues. It was only in translation that I could understand and appreciate the significance of the entire concept; in translation, it ceased to be cheap and tawdry. In translation, it was delicious.
The reality of it, too, was ceaselessly delicious. It was our first trip out of the U.S. empire since we went to Mexico City in February 2020. We drove, despite my noted distaste for cars, because the train wasn’t crossing the border and I wanted to show Israel the expanse of New York state, with the possibility of stops along the way in the Hudson Valley. I at least briefly showed him Kingston and Sweet Maresa’s, the world’s best vegan bakery, and I got to visit a Hannaford supermarket—I’d never been, and I love to see new supermarkets.
We made no real plans for Montréal, though, aside from a good deal on a hotel room in the historic part of the city (Israel, being a historian who grew up in Old San Juan, always wants to stay in the historic part of the city). I wanted an almond croissant from Sophie Sucrée, I knew that much, because they’re the only good vegan croissants I’ve ever had (nothing in New York can compare), but we were going to otherwise be moved by the muse.
Our muse turned out to be, by way of connection through brilliant writer and baker Simon Thibault, Marc-André Cyr, a baker who founded A Taste for Grain, a festival in celebration of Canadian grains. After telling Cyr we are vegetarians who wanted, while in this city, to drink a ton of natural wine, he came through with a wildly generous list of recommendations in which we were able to at least make a dent.
(Disclaimer that I am mentioning our experiences so as to pass on generous recommendations, especially for those who don’t eat meat, and with the note that no tourist can ever know a city—but I think and hope they can appreciate one. It’s in that spirit that I share where we ate. Here’s a full Google Maps list of where locals told us to go; we didn’t make it everywhere.)
One of those recommendations was Elena, an Italian spot focused on pizzas, pastas, absurdly generous salads that are an entree unto themselves, and wine. While traveling, I am more vegetarian than usual (to my stomach’s dismay) in order to be accommodating, as a guest and as an eating partner, and at Elena, they serve the most incredible goat’s milk ricotta cannoli. We went for dinner on our first full day in the city and returned on our last for more. The hospitality, too, was very good: Our waitress on that first night gave us her own list of recommendations on receipt paper, and on that last lunch, they put a sparkler in our cannoli in celebration of both our marriage and my birthday.
For said birthday, we did dinner at Denise, which to my stomach’s delight was incredibly vegan friendly. I did start with oysters, of course—it was my birthday—which were sourced in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. They did an absolutely stunning vegan mushroom mazamen, or dry ramen, that I’ll be thinking about for a while.
Earlier in the day, we headed to Le Butterblume, where for breakfast we had sweet potato gnocchi, as well as an extravagant tartine topped with mushroom mousse and radicchio. We popped into their next-door épicerie, as well, where we got two local Québec wines to bring back home.
By Wednesday, my freshly 36-year-old ass was finally no longer hungover from our wedding three days’ prior (and, in my defense, the abrupt change from tropical weather), and we did museums, our favorite being a very small and free selection at the Canadian Center for Architecture, including “Middleground: Siting Dispossession” on the role of architecture in settler colonial displacement that had a lot of overlap for current experiences in Puerto Rico. Their bookstore is truly fantastic and I picked up a couple of books on food and landscape that are proving to expand my thinking, which had frankly never extended to these really important matters, as I’d always considered architecture to just be “how a building looks.” It’s much more, and I’d love more reading recommendations on the subject.
A favorite of ours and everyone else for breakfast was Olive et Gourmando, which has a daily wait for tables for good reason. There are extensive vegan options, the best being the potato salad in a creamy sauce, covered in the crunch of everything seasoning and generous brightness of fresh dill. They also have a classic ’90s-style tofu sandwich for lunch that brings with it, thankfully, 2021 notions about the significance of acidity. All-around cozy, which is why we ate here three mornings in a row.
We took a day trip to Québec City and later kicked ourselves for not making more time there. It’s absolutely stunning, breathtaking! And the food we had was outrageously good. Thanks to some last-minute Twitter guidance, we went to Nina, for the best Neapolitan we had on the trip (and we had quite a bit, as Israel is a pizza nerd in training). Expert chew on that crust, which I had an inkling would be good when I noticed the menu had a pie called The Greenpoint. “These are real pizza nerds,” I said, and I was right. Many vegan options, too. For beer and a massive order of nachos, we went to Le Projet, where the playlist was glorious, the server wore a Phoebe Bridgers shirt, and the ceiling was one of the coolest I’d ever seen. (Thank you, Rémy Charest and Phil Vasquez!)
The next day, we went on another excursion, this time to Brasserie Dunham, recommended to us by the beverage director at Denise. Another superb playlist, really good bar food, and next-level beers in a cool and cozy little town. It was a rainy day when we were there, but they have a huge outdoor space that I imagine gets packed on nice weekends.
Our trip officially closed out (after that extensive lunch at Elena) with Vin Vin Vin, where the wine list is divided by vibes (I wanted something punk, naturally), the food selection is extremely veg-forward, and even though we were surrounded by Tinder dates, we didn’t want to leave.
But leave we did, and we did what we’d been doing all week: ended the night with an espresso at the Café Olimpico by our hotel, where we watched folks flirt or talk about soccer—sorry, football. The next day, we did our long drive and landed in Patchogue, where we ate more pizza, this time from my hometown favorite DelFiore, drank the Champagne from our wedding that we hadn’t gotten to, and ate from a Sweet Maresa’s rainbow cookie slab while my parents gushed about how good the food was at our wedding.
After so long without going anywhere outside of San Juan and New York, to be reminded of the wider world was a privilege and a gift. (A gift, too, to be at this point triple-vaccinated and to have gotten PCR tests beforehand.) Montréal and Québec will be special for us forever—our moon, our miel.
This Friday, paid subscribers will receive the next in the holiday recipes, which is going to be a peppermint bark cake: chocolate-mint cake with a vegan white chocolate frosting.
Forthcoming recipes: Chocolate-Tahini Shortbreads, Gingerbread Cake with Lemon Frosting, and Spiced Vegan Coquito
I was on WHYY “The Pulse” to discuss being meatless at the holidays.
I had the honor of writing about my friend Mayukh’s book TASTE MAKERS for Book of the Month, and we’ll be in conversation—along with Reem Assil!—on Thursday for Commonwealth Club. Register here.
Books on food and “space.”
A big holiday meal that I’ll write more about for Friday’s “From the Kitchen”!
Baker, cook, and artist Chelsea Kravitz, whom I spoke to in “On Cake,” is working to open her café Flourish on Long Island. It will be a really innovative space for the area, supporting local farms and more—the kind of place Long Island desperately needs! There’s a Kickstarter here, if you can spare.
Brooklyn Packers, whom I spoke to for “On a Cooperative,” is fund-raising for a new website that will help them bring more local, organic food to more people, accessibly, from their new home in Bed-Stuy.