Montreal is a unique city in that they have a lot of European-influenced restaurants throughout the city. For a very late lunch on the first day I was in the city recently, some of my colleagues and I ate at a trendy wine/appetizer bar called Pullman in the central part of Montreal.
When I arrived in Montreal, I was sort of hungry. I didn't have breakfast because I had a scheduled 8:30 a.m. flight out of the Quad City Airport in Moline and I had a 11:00 a.m. connecting flight out of O'Hare to Montreal. I figured I'd have no problem getting something to eat at O'Hare before I flew on to Montreal. But the plane coming in to Moline to take us to Chicago didn't arrive at the gate in Moline until 9:10 and we didn't back out of the gate until 9:45.
By the time we landed in Chicago and deplaned, it was 10:35 a.m. The connecting flight was in the F gates of Terminal 2 - I had come into the C gates of Terminal 1 at O'Hare. I had 25 minutes to get all the way across the airport. Thankfully, there's an inter-terminal bus between the C and E concourses that boarded right next to the gate I came into from Moline. I was able to hop aboard that and make it over to the E concourse and then walked to my flight on the F concourse. They were boarding for the flight to Montreal - I was the last one on the flight. So, I didn't get a chance to get anything to eat.
A quick two hours later, I'm in Montreal. I whizzed through customs - the new international terminal at Montreal's Trudeau Airport (it was known as Dorval the previous times I'd flown in) was much more efficient than the old international terminal. The only fear I had was that my bag didn't make it to Montreal. Long story short - after waiting for a half-hour before the bags from my flight did get on the carousel, my bag was there and I was out the door through the secondary customs area meeting up with my colleague, Ian, who had flown in to Montreal from his home in Toronto.
We were both hungry, but we had to first meet up with some of our other colleagues at a cigar place in downtown Montreal. Since Cuban cigars are legal in Canada, a couple of my American colleagues love to go to these "cigar bars" to try a fat Cuban cigar. I'm not a smoker, but I wasn't going to bitch. Actually, the place we went to - La Casa del Habano - was pretty neat. If I were a smoker, I would have dove in and enjoyed an authentic Cuban cigar, myself.
La Casa del Habano (see map) featured two large humidor rooms where the temperature and humidity were kept constant. In fact, an associate would have to let you into the locked humidors to keep the atmosphere constant in the rooms. After you make your selection, you pay for the cigars and then you're invited to retreat into the bar area in the back of the establishment. There's a small four seater bar and about a dozen overstuffed chairs and couches to sit on. I was worried that my clothes would wreak of tobacco, but there's a strong air-filtration system in the room and with about 10 guys in the room (including four of my colleagues) smoking big ol' cigars, I couldn't tell I had been anywhere near tobacco when I peeled off my clothes getting ready for bed later that evening.
One of the joys of the place was that they had an impressive selection of Scotch to choose from. While I didn't partake in the smoking of authentic Cuban cigars, I did treat myself to a couple glasses of Oban whisky. It was fun catching up with everyone and I didn't mind that my stomach was still rumbling due to not having any food in it for nearly 20 hours.
Actually, La Casa del Habano is a world-wide chain with locations in 55 countries on six continents. Of course, there are none in the U.S. I can almost imagine the flood of locations opening across the country once the Cuban blockade is lifted. It's actually a pretty neat place and a pretty neat concept, even though the amount of smokers continues to drop.
OK, so I told you all that to get to the nitty-gritty - my visit to Pullman. We met up with our Montreal colleague, Simon at the trendy little wine bar in the central part of Montreal on Ave. du Parc (Park Ave.) (see map). The concept of Pullman is simple. They had a ton of great wines from around the world available either by the bottle or by the glass, and a menu of appetizer including cheese, nuts, small sandwiches, and something called "foie gras cookies." I sort of wanted to try those.
Pullman opened about seven years ago, housed in a building that is over 130 years old. Co-owners Catherine Belanger and Bruno Braen also owned a small restaurant in Montreal's "Little Italy" district, "Le Petite Italien". Braen's main job, however, is as an architect and designer of interiors for restaurants. Braen's design for Pullman is somewhat of a contemporary industrial feel. Lots of a hard edges, unconventional chairs and a combination of wood, metal and ceramic are found throughout the restaurant. The center piece of the restaurant is the wine goblet chandelier that hangs from the ceiling over the main bar.
Pullman is named after George Pullman, the inventor of the sleeping rail car and the luxury rail car. A picture of Pullman hangs just inside the front door in the main bar area. I think the concept of the Pullman is supposed to be sort of like being on a Pullman luxury rail car, although I didn't quite pick that up on my visit. In fact, I don't even know if there's a Montreal connection with George Pullman. The naming of the restaurant after Pullman is somewhat of a curious deal.
Belanger and Braen have traveled the world in search of some of the best wines they can find. The bulk of the wines on the wine list at Pullman I was unfamiliar with. In fact, my colleague, Ian, is pretty well versed in Italian and French wines and he wasn't overly familiar with many of the wines, either. "A few things I recognize," he said, "but I'm clueless on most of these."
We took a seat in a booth on the upper level of Pullman and I really didn't care what we got - I was hungry. The menu was basically a sheet of paper that you checked off for the dishes you wanted. There were a lot of interesting things I wanted to try. We sort of discussed what they had on the menu and decided to order up a little bit of everything.
We ordered up a couple of bottles of an Italian chianti I wasn't familiar with, and a French red - Mas de Gourgonnier Rouge Les Baux de Provence. Then we ordered a slew of appetizers to tide us over until dinner. Our waitress, a cute and petite French-Canadian blonde, was pleasant and funny, even though her English was a little choppy. My colleagues, Simon and Todd, are both fluent in French, however, and they made sure she got our orders correct.
What we ordered were the mini-bison burgers that were served with matchstick potato fries. The bison burgers were lean and a little dry, but it was no matter to me. I was hungry and I probably would have eaten fried liver at that point. But they were pretty good, so good that we got another order of them.
Another thing that we ordered again after devouring the first plate was the venison tartare that came with homemade potato chips. The venison tartare had a garlic/lemon/spicy taste to it and was served with some capers. The venison tartare went quickly, to the point that we were fighting over the last bit with both plates that came out.
We also got an order of fried calimari and onion rings - breaded and deep fried big chunks of calimari with Pullman's lightly breaded onion rings. Both the calimari and the onion rings were not all that greasy, and they had a nice taste to them.
Another interesting thing that I tried was the Russian-style Gravlax. Gravlax is basically raw salmon that has been seasoned with salt, dill weed and sugar and wrapped and cured for about 24 to 48 hours. Gravlax began in Sweden where the fishermen would literally bury the fish in the sand and the sea salt would cure the raw salmon. The Russian-style Gravlax at Pullman was served with caviar on a small piece of bread. It was damn good!
One other thing that we got were some port-steeped cheddar grilled cheese sandwiches. Port-steeped cheddar consists of a high grade of sharp cheddar cheese, then they steep, or saturate, the cheese in a sweet port wine to give it an extra zip in taste. Those little things were very good, as well.
While some people may equate a place like Pullman as a tapas bar, the food on them menu at the restaurant is far from the typical Spanish tapas restaurant. However, there is some similarities in that both Pullman and a tapas bar will use indigenous ingredients that are grown, caught or raised in the area. Pullman was a rather unique place for me and one that I enjoyed immensely. The food was good, the wine was great, the local scenery (read: the local women) was wonderful. I really like experiencing new things when I'm on the road and Pullman was definitely a new thing for me.