Montreal in summer; it doesn't get much better than that...NYC hotel deals....
MONTREAL - I'd forgotten how much fun this town really is.
I'd been a few times with my kids over the years, but last week's brief sojourn was my first time to spend a few hours really looking around. I like the old city just fine, but I'd seen it before a number of times. I've also spent a bit of time on Crescent Street, attending a Jacques Villeneuve event at his Newtown restaurant when I worked in the sports department.
So this time I went to check out some spots a little further from downtown. I had dinner at the crazy Au Pied de Cochon last Thursday night, where I got to sit at the "bar" next to the open kitchen and watch them make all sorts of unusual things; including a roasted pig's head slathered with mashed potatoes. I did NOT try any. I thought the potatoes were weird, but then they started stuffing clams inside the pig's mouth, as well as lying them around the little guy's head on a plate.
Not something you'll get at Swiss Chalet, for sure. But it probably was quite tasty. I had an incredible lamb gnocchi that was better than anything I've had at an Italian restaurant, as well as some boudin. I expected the Louisiana version with rice and pork but got what I think was blood sausage. Not for me, thanks.
For a main I had a type of foie gras on top of pork and scrambled egg with a hint of maple syrup. Rich doesn't begin to describe it. So there was one awesome, one pretty good and one "not for me." But the service was great and they have a wine list a mile long. They also have a two-foot metal spike that they impale their wonderful French bread on, and the seafood looked tremendous.
It was my first time on Duluth St. in the Plateau Mont Royal neighborhood, but it won't be the last. It's a great street; feeling like Kensington meets College. Wonderful shops and a narrow street with lots of ethnic restaurants and a real, wonderful urban feel.
I also checked out the Mile End and had a bagel at both Fairmount and St. Viateur. I have to say I liked them both. I also got a fried bologna/salami sandwich at Wilensky, where they filmed part of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. They're quite specific about how you can only get mustard on your sandwich, which is served on flattened hamburger buns. Not an incredible meal, but fun and certainly traditional and historic, having been in business since 1932. I had a lemon-lime drink that was neon green; like creme de menthe or something.
It's a terrific area that seems like Montreal's Roncesvalles or Leslieville. Very multicultural and very cool. There was an African boutique, plus a Polish deli, a couple kosher Jewish spots, a great spot for caffe latte called Cafe Olimpico and a mix of Portuguese, too. It's a new favourite part of town for me for certain, and one I'd highly recommend to folks who've seen and done the "traditional" touristy parts of Montreal.
I stayed just one night, but quite enjoyed Le St. Martin Hotel Particulier, which is on Maissoneuve near Metcalfe. It's a stylish place that's like a large-ish boutique hotel, with a great bar and a good breakfast that featured croissants that are mashed up and baked in a cake with sugar and, I think, flour and maybe honey. Wow; rich and chewy and fabulous. Plus a small serving of eggs, fresh fruit, juice, a small croissant (unmashed), toast and coffee, all served in a second-floor setting overlooking the small lobby. The room was fine, with chocolates and beige and nice art work, plus one of those showers where you can open the louvered doors and let your significant other take in the view of you lathering up, just in case that's your thing and nothing wrong if it is.
The food at L'Aromate, which is attached to the hotel, was delicious at lunch. I had a great warm duck confit salad with greens and peppers, plus a perfectly chilled glass of rose. They have seats inside but also some comfy chairs under an umbrella on the sidewalk. It's perilously close to Maissoneuve, but it's next to a bike lane and not roaring traffic so it's actually a great spot. And there are plenty of beautiful Montrealers in and around the area on a summer's afternoon, so it's awesome for people-watching. I don't know if it's because they dress more nicely, but I do have to say the women in Montreal were absolutely stunning. I think it is the way they dress, actually. And when summer comes, they truly celebrate the season, with plenty of VERY short skirts and beautiful lines.
The tourism folks currently have a deal on, where you can get half off your third night, so check it out: www.tourisme-montreal.org/Offers
I flew back from Dorval on Porter Airlines, which was great. They serve free drinks on the plane, so I got a Steam Whistle Pilsener from downtown Toronto. it wasn't very cold but they added some ice for me. And it was a tall boy, not a small can! I didn't finish it, just fyi. I was being good. There was a small sandwich (very small), but at least it was something.
The lineup for security at Dorval was nearly a half hour, and they were far more rigorous about looking for tiny, hidden containers of hand moisturizer than any airport I've been at in years. But the flight got out on time, so no big loss. And one could argue the security folks simply were doing their job better than workers in, say, Toronto.
It was a fine flight, and we circled the Toronto Islands before approaching the airport from the west. I got some great shots out the window and then again on the ground as we waited for the ferry to take us back to the mainland. As I said last week, my ticket - $468 return - wasn't cheap. But it was a fun experience, and it's definitely convenient if you're downtown when the G20 isn't on. The departure lounge is terrific, and might be the best part of the whole deal, with free cappuccino and cookies and free wi-fi to go with a nice view of downtown Toronto. I'm flying them again on Thursday, which should prove interesting given the G20 being in town and all. Foolishly, I'm returning to the Island airport on Sunday night, June 27, when I think most of southern Ontario will still be in lockdown mode. It could be interesting finding my way out of downtown Toronto come Sunday evening, but there you go.
NEW YORK HOTEL SALE
Good deal in New York, folks. NYC & Company, the official marketing, tourism and partnership organization for the City of New York, today announced that 16 hotels in The Signature Collection, a group of New York City luxury hotels, will participate in the Third Night promotion this summer. The program gives visitors a complimentary third night at participating hotels after they book and pay for two consecutive nights between July 1 and September 5, 2010. Detailed booking information is available beginning today on NYC & Company's official tourism website at nycgo.com/thirdnight.
The 16 hotels participating in The Signature Collection Third Night program are: The Carlyle, A Rosewood Hotel; Hotel Plaza Athénée New York; Loews Regency Hotel; The London NYC; Mandarin Oriental, New York; The Peninsula New York; The Pierre New York; The Plaza Hotel; The Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park; The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park; The Sherry-Netherland; The St. Regis New York; The Surrey; Trump International Hotel & Tower; Trump SoHo New York; and The Waldorf Towers. Not a bad group!
VIRGIN ALERT FOR NEXT TUESDAY
Virgin America's first flight into Toronto arrives next Tuesday from San Francisco, with Sir Richard Branson and others on board. I hear great things about the airline from my sister in California, and it's certainly good news for consumers to have more flights available to California out of Pearson.
There will be daily flights from both SF and Los Angeles to Toronto Pearson.
In a press release sent out in April, officials said Virgin "offers business and leisure travelers a host of innovative amenities, including beautifully designed mood-lit cabins, fleetwide WiFi, standard power outlets near every seat and Red ™ — the largest and most advanced personal touch-screen entertainment platform in the skies. Since its 2007 launch, the airline has consistently swept the major travel awards, including "Best Airline" in both Condé Nast Traveler's 2009 Readers' Choice Awards and Travel + Leisure's 2009 World's Best Awards"
Toronto will be the first international destination in the airline's growing network, which certainly was pleasing news to local tourism folks.
Virgin America's SFO-YYZ fares start at $222 in Main Cabin and LAX-YYZ fares start at $212 one way in Main Cabin.** Tickets are on sale on Virgin America's Web site (www.virginamerica.com) and at 1.877.FLY.VIRGIN (1.877.359.8474).