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Monday, July 17, 2017

Strong U.S. dollar helped me eat my way 'round the world without leaving Montreal

EUROPEAN BERRIES: Raspberries from the European Union, right, and other berries at the Atwater Market, one of Montreal's big produce markets.
MOUTH WATERING: Middle Eastern pastries at Andalos Bakery, 350 Boulevard Lebeau in Saint Laurent, a Montreal borough.

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you charge your restaurant meals to a credit card, you'll be given a portable terminal and asked to add a tip of 15% or 18% on the total price, including wine. The total doesn't include the tax. You also can write in your own tip.


MONTREAL -- We ate well on our annual visit to the International Jazz Festival, which ran for 11 days on this large, cosmopolitan island in the Saint Lawrence River.

And in the last couple of years, a strong U.S. dollar meant our food purchases and restaurant meals were bargains when compared to northern New Jersey or that other famous island, Manhattan.

One U.S. dollar is worth $1.27 Canadian, down from $1.31 during our visit (June 28 to July 5).

The U.S. dollar seemed even stronger during our visit to Montreal in 2016.

Still, when I withdrew $100 Canadian dollars from an ATM on June 28, my bank in New Jersey deducted only $77.59 from my checking account.

At the Costco Wholesale on Bridge Street in Montreal, I spent $112.91 Canadian on four large plastic jugs of extra virgin olive oil from Greece and another from Spain; a 3-pound box of fresh shallots, and a bottle of red wine, charging them to a credit card that doesn't penalize you with a foreign currency transaction fee.

Back home, the Costco purchases totaled $86.93 on my credit card statement.

Although the U.S. dollar is strong, there is no way to avoid taxes of about 15% on restaurant meals -- more than twice what I pay in New Jersey -- and high levies on alcohol.

At Costco, I paid $2.08 Canadian in taxes on a bottle of red wine that cost $13.89 Canadian.

French or ethnic?

Montreal may be the largest French-speaking city in North America, but we don't go there to eat French food, which is prepared with artery clogging butter and heavy cream.

Instead, we get to pick among an incredible variety of restaurants serving ethnic food, and roam the city's large produce markets, which are feasts for the eyes.

On this trip, we also visited Andalos, a huge Lebanese bakery that sends fresh pocket bread to Boston and New Jersey, as well as to stores across Canada; and Adonis, the biggest Middle Eastern supermarket I've ever seen, at 3100 Boulevard Thimens (1-514-904-6789).

And one nice touch when you order a glass of wine in a Montreal restaurant is that your server will offer to pour you a sample to make sure it's exactly what you want.

Complex Desjardins

We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Montreal, which is perched atop the Complexe Desjardins, a multi-level mall in the heart of the entertainment district where the jazz festival is staged.

The mall also is linked to Underground Montreal and the city's subway system.

SAY CHEESE: Seafood Fettuccine ($20 Canadian) comes with fresh dill and a lemon wedge at Restaurant La Piazzetta, which also serves Neapolitan-style pizza, below. My wife loved her Spaghetti and Meatballs ($19). 

FARM FRESH: This may be fresh wild salmon season, but I saw only farmed Atlantic salmon fillets on menus in Montreal, including this lunch entree at Restaurant Casa Cacciatore ($23.95 Canadian). Couples at other tables were eating large bowls of spaghetti marinara and drinking red wine. My wife ordered Shrimp a la Cardinal ($24.50 Canadian), below.

TRADITIONAL ITALIAN: How traditional is Casa Cacciatore? My wife thought her water glass was dirty, so she asked for bottled water. This is what our server brought to the table.
SHOWING ITS AGE: The restaurant, which is near the Jean Talon Market in the heart of Montreal's Little Italy section, has been open for more than 30 years, as you can plainly see from the dark black stain on the red carpet runner inside.
OUT OF OYSTERS: The Fresh Lobster Salad ($21 Canadian) at Notkins, a well-known Montreal oyster house that didn't have any oysters the day we stopped for lunch. My Sea Bass Fillets a la Plancha were served over pureed beets ($19 Canadian), below. My wife had Fennel Soup ($6), we shared a seasonal salad ($5) and drank Pinot Grigio ($9 a glass).

ACCENT ON SEAFOOD: My appetizer was Roasted Sardines and Pickled Vegetables when I ordered the fixed-price lunch at Taverne F, a Portuguese restaurant. You get two courses, plus a green salad or handmade french fries, for $24 Canadian or $3 more than in 2016.
IN COD WE TRUST: Roasted Fresh Cod on a Warm Salad (cherry tomatoes, red onion confit, caper berries, olives, arugula, fried chickpeas and salsa verde) was my main dish at Taverne F.
MORE COD: My wife started with Cod Cakes over Piri Piri Mayo, above, and finished with the Taverne F Hamburger, served on a Brioche Bun, and french fries.
AND ALL THAT JAZZ: Taverne F has outdoor seating on the plaza where free concerts are staged during the jazz festival.
FEAST FOR THE EYES: A baker, butcher and fishmonger, among others, have shops at Atwater Market, which is a feast for the eyes, above and below.
FOR YOUR GARDEN: Concessions selling flowers and plants flank the Art Deco market building.
ALL DIETS ACCOMMODATED: For a quick bite to eat at the Atwater Market, try the paella, above, or a vegan meal, below.

BONES AND ALL: Fried Smelts with Spicy Mayo are made to order for $10.50 Canadian (cash only) at Aqua Mare, a fish store in Montreal's Jean-Talon Market, another large produce market, above and below. The smelts might remind you of sardines.

GOOD DEAL: At Jean-Talon Market, these American cherries were selling for $1.99 Canadian a pound when supermarkets in New Jersey were selling them for $2.99 and $3.99 a pound.
THEY HAVE YOU COVERED: Jean-Talon Market once offered free samples without toothpicks, but when we visited this year, we found the cut-up tomatoes, fruit and other produce were covered, and tongs were provided, making it more difficult to try something.
THYME FOR ZA'ATAR: One of the classic Middle Eastern flavors is the spice mixture called za'atar (Arabic for thyme), which is sold on pies mixed with oil, above, and loose in bags at Andalos Bakery in Saint Laurent, a Montreal borough. The dry mixture includes thyme, sumac, salt and sesame seeds. You can sprinkle za'atar over non-fat Greek Yogurt drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil, and eat it with a spoon or scoop it up with pocket bread. 
WE WERE STUFFED: We had lunch at Andalos, including vegetarian grape leaves and one stuffed with meat, fried eggplant, tabbouleh, and Lebanese meatballs served with white rice, above.

NO CREDIT: Andalos Bakery at 350 Boulevard Lebeau in Saint Laurent, a Montreal borough (1-514-856-0953), takes only cash or debit cards. We drove there during the week and easily found parking on the street.
ROLLING: Montreal subways run on rubber tires and are quieter than those in Manhattan. And during the summer, stations don't become ovens. The fare is $3.25 Canadian, but you get a discount when you buy two or more tickets or multi-day tickets from machines that accept cash, credit and debit cards.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: The annual Canada Day Parade in downtown Montreal on July 1 was a display of the country's diversity, above and below.
150 YEARS: Canada celebrated its 150th anniversary this year.
WEARING THE FLAG: A couple looking for a good place to watch the parade.