A couple of summers ago, I spent four days gorging my way through Montreal with my friends Ken and Rose Pineau. Ken’s work had sent him for 18 months to the delicious Canadian city where fresh baguettes, chocolate-filled brioche and almond croissants packed bakeries on most every block. After listening to his vivid descriptions of the luscious meals there, I booked a flight to find out.

The first evening, we stuffed ourselves at Rose’s favorite restaurant, Chez La Mere Michel — rated 11th best in Montreal by Gourmet Magazine for the last three years.

The kind waiter — and the dessert — made a lasting impression. The waiter, who was in his 50s, seemed to genuinely enjoy his job and gave us a tour of the wine cellar. The desert, a soufflé served with warm cream and a touch of Grand Marnier, was ordered at the beginning of the meal to ensure it would be ready as the final course. After pouring the cream in the center of this golden pillow, we plunged down our spoons and scooped out a sweet, frothy, moist mouthful. Silence was the only way to pay homage to it.

Another night, Ken reserved a table at Le Bouche, an elegant bistro located in the hills 40 miles north of Montreal and has been rated number 1 in North America by Gourmet Magazine for several years. Ken was so excited he was giggling.

Now, this is a man who grew up on hot dogs and goulash. His mother hated to cook and had to feed nine hungry kids. Ken recalls eating spaghetti sauce made of catsup and water. Fish gravy was concocted from the fish fat and flour. But his mother’s culinary efforts paid off: When Ken entered the Navy, he thought the food was great.

Rose, who comes from a long line of fabulous French-Canadian cooks, revolutionized Ken’s palate. But not right away. On their honeymoon, 41 years ago, Ken recalls her making "chili that looked like she was trying to drown kidney beans — the water was clear. She cooked round steak that was so curled up they looked like soup bowls."

This is unimaginable, having had Rose’s homemade egg noodles, garlic-studded leg of lamb, bouillabaisse soup, pumpkin cheesecake and strawberry-rhubarb pie.

In some ways, Ken’s taste has become even more refined than his wife’s. He once made me hand-dipped chocolate covered apricots, and not just any apricots. He prefers the Australian glazed ones.

Now, back to Le Bouche. Yes, it was a magnificent experience. Who couldn’t like a five-course meal served with five kinds of wine? We rolled out smiling.

We also managed to pack in a couple of trips to a bakery near Rose and Ken’s apartment. Lattés and almond croissants for me, chocolate-studded rolls for Rose, and Ken had his usual slice of fresh mozzarella, basil and tomato on thick-crusted bread baked with kalamata olives.

Ken and Rose returned to Montreal for their wedding anniversary last summer and plan to go back every year. If I’m good, maybe they’ll take me along.


Healthier Thanksgiving food? The American Institute for Cancer Research suggests going heavy on the veggies, light on the meat and gravy this year. For a free brochure of more healthy tips, call 800-843-8114, ext. 27. … Or, better yet, try the Tofurky Feast, from Turtle Island Foods. It’s an all-vegan (no animal products whatsoever) treat that comes complete with tempeh "drummettes," Tofurky giblet gravy and even Tofurky Jurky "wishstix." It cooks in just 45 minutes, serves four and costs $20. New this year is the Tofurky Roast, for $10, which is a smaller version without the trimmings. Visit your local health food store or call 800-508-8100 to order.

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