Monday, August 20, 2007

Montreal Part 3: Chinatown and NDG -- more old stomping grounds

It was very strange to see Montrealers heading to work on Monday morning. I assumed that the entire city spent their days recovering from the night before and planning the evening ahead. But, even so there were a substantial number of tourists and others people of leisure on the streets taking in the cooler, but still sunny weather.

Pho Bac: Why isn't there a place like this close to my office?
We took the day off from running, so after a late start we went to Pho Bac across the street (in Chinatown) for an early lunch. Old Montreal is just to the south and the main business district is immediately east, so Chinatown, and Pho Bac, really fills up at lunchtime with office workers. They are so lucky. You can have a healthy, satisfying, delicious meal here for around $5 and it is served to you within 3-5 minutes of ordering.

We've been to Pho Bac many times before and we keep coming back for the amazing pho, cold salad rolls, and imperial (fried) rolls. The pho comes with a heaping plate of garnishes, including bean sprouts, basil, chiles, and lime. Darcy always gets the one with rare beef, which is probably the most popular. If you're going for the first time, you should definitely have that. It's fragrant beef broth full of rice noodles, onions, and thinly sliced raw beef that cooks from the heat of the soup. Delicious. I love it too, but I usually get the one that has tripe added to it. I know; I'm the only one who likes tripe.

The cold salad rolls are rice paper filled with lettuce, vermicelli noodles, shrimp, and mint. They're so yummy and refreshing and they come with a sweet/salty peanut dipping sauce. My favourite. Both the pho and the salad rolls are relatively virtuous, so we always get some fried imperial rolls as well, which are little spring rolls filled with pork and veggies and accompanied by a sour vinegar dipping sauce. Sublime.

NDG (Notre Dame de Grace): Another nostalgia tour
In the afternoon, we set out to Darcy's old neighbourhood, NDG (Notre Dame de Grace), where he had his last Montreal apartment. He lived there for 3 years during the time when I was going to University of Waterloo. It's a slightly English area that is about 6 subway stops west of downtown. It's a bit of a trek from my sister's place, so we'd hadn't been back for a while.

I love walking through neighbourhoods I used to know well and see how everything has changed/stayed the same. It was very surreal. We got off the subway at Vendome station and took the familiar walk up Decarie to Darcy's old place. He had a '1-1/2' apartment there, which is Montreal-speak for a bachelor and the rent was $350/month the entire time he lived there. Was Toronto ever that cheap?

We strolled west on Sherbrooke and past our old breakfast spot (Astra Deli), Chalet BBQ (not Swiss Chalet, but similar food with more personality), our laundromat (Lavorama -- isn't that the best name?), and Cosmo (very famous and historic greasy spoon with only about 6 seats). We were sad to see that our Korean depanneur is now a window store, but the most important place is still there and is exactly the same: Villa du Souvlaki.

Villa du Souvlaki: Best souvlaki ever
I can't seem to find any information on the history of the restaurant, but I know it's been around forever and I've never had better souvlaki. The restaurant was dangerously close to Darcy's old apartment and we went all the time. Their menu is straightforward and simple (souvlaki, fries, Greek salad, vine leaves, baklava, etc.) and it never changes. Trying new things is great, but it's such a wonderful feeling to know in advance exactly what the food will taste like and that it will be fantastic.

As usual, we ordered chicken pitas (no onions), fries, and Greek salad, which comes with the most delicious garlic bread. The pitas are filled with grilled chicken, tomatoes, cucumber, and a tonne of creamy tzatziki. So so good. I know the fries are from a frozen package, but I love them. The Greek salad has very light (not salty or oily) dressing and is topped with a generous slab of feta cheese and a couple of hot peppers. Darcy and I love smushing the cheese with the peppers and spreading it on the garlic bread. I know it sounds like a cliche, but I can totally taste it now.

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