I am in no way a ‘foodie.’ My love of food exceeds any kind of categorization or naming. Just because I blog, photograph and enjoy immensely the things that cross my lips does not mean that I belong in the category of those who take their food seriously. Nor does my love of food warrant the stellar artistic expression that the truly active foodies deserve. My love of food is wholly personal. I can enjoy Top Ramen, Fruity Pebbles and Bratwurst with the same enthusiasm that I enjoy foie gras, and an excellent glass of La Veuve. I don’t need my Top Ramen noodles served with sliced veggies and nuanced with lemon, I can eat them swimming in the MSG seasoned broth straight from the pot with a fork (and maybe some Tabasco sauce) just as I can drink my Veuve on ice from a Mason jar. But I have been blessed enough to travel the world and I have enough of a discerning palate to know the difference between the Veuve and Cremant de Bourgogne and enough subtlety of mind to know that the two are actually incomparable.
Many people have commented since I’ve been cocooning in Montreal, that Montreal reminds them of Paris. Indeed, upon my arrival, being so hungry for Paris, I, too, imagined that Montreal might deliver to my deprived veins the much needed Paris juice that I was craving since I had lost the heart to cross the Atlantic. Walking along the Fleuve St. Laurent waterfront, the wonderful stone buildings were reminiscent of my strolls along the Seine. With every step along Montreal’s Rue de la Commune Ouest, I felt the mounting anticipation of a fabulous antique store, a classical art gallery, an innovative design studio, or the city home of an old Parisian family. None of those were delivered.
Montreal is a wonderful city, but there is not much here to conjure the inspiration that Paris so easily provides if you have actually experienced Paris’ depths. For example, shopping in Montreal’s beloved Atwater or Jean Talons markets can never compare to getting your provisions from the Bir Hakeim Market on Boulevard de Grenelle. But this is only a failing for the city if one chooses to focus on what it is not. Having gone through my Dark Night of the Soul, I am keenly aware of the dangers of focusing on what something is not and as such, I am happy to take my newly awakened profound knack for joy and use it to see Montreal for the outstanding city that it is. And it is truly outstanding. The people, the maneuverability, the street life, the universities and it students, its Frenchness. Paris, non. French, yes. Absolutely. Awesomely. And with an accent Quebecois no less. Lots of little boutiques, green spaces, ateliers, cafes, bars and nightclubs, this is a big little city. Montreal has many treats nestled behind its tiny, demure store fronts. And this takes me to the original reason for writing this article– Montreal’s delights. Montreal has lots of little surprises waiting to jump out and grab your interest if you are willing to look. This article is really about croissants, pain au chocolat and chocolat chaud.
A few days ago, I was walking home from 90 minutes of Bikram yoga, soaking wet beneath my down coat because I can’t be bothered to shower at the yoga studio when my own home has all my precious toiletries and the most fantastic shower and bathtub EVER. I’ll take you on a tour of my bathroom sometime. It’s simple, but perfect and raises the bar on all bathing experiences. But more of that later. Back to my walk home…
So I toweled off and got redressed after yoga, slipped on my big down coat and beanie to protect my damp self from the chilly elements and began my walk. I realized that I had a few stops to make before I got home so I thought to grab a small bite to keep my energy up while I ran my errands. I passed a few places that inspired no enthusiasm, so I walked on a little more and came across a chocolatier. Really, I didn’t expect too much because I didn’t want sugar or chocolate. I wanted something savory that would expand in my belly and hold me over until I could get home. As I drew closer, I could see two women sitting in the front window enjoying what looked like more than just candy, so I peeked inside and spotted a display case with baked goods.
I entered and looked around feeling a little underwhelmed by the plainness of the shelves that were full of a variety of chocolates. This is why I am reluctant to comparing Montreal and Paris. Both cities deliver their own versions of delicious goods but Paris loves its packaging. It’s a rare shop in Paris that doesn’t have its goods displayed with a captivating package. Whether it’s chocolate Easter eggs at a chocolatier, a pair of used leather boots being offered by the local depot de vente, or ceramic crafts from an artisan come up from Provence, presentation reigns supreme in Paris. Montreal seems to put less emphasis on what you see, although they value truly what you get, which is why I am lingering here still. I went to the baked goods display and spotted croissants, pain au chocolat, little chocolate cakes, muffins and other goodies. I decided to have a croissant but didn’t have enough cash so I picked up a tin of chocolat chaud to justify a credit card purchase. After making my payment, I headed excitedly out the door and began tucking into my croissant. Nothing beats walking down the street eating a croissant or sandwich. It’s sheer heaven. I pulled the croissant out of its wax paper bag and I slowly took a bite. My nostrils flared as I paused to get my mind around what I was experiencing. Flaky, light texture, yet moelleux, soft. The butter. Was. Evident. But not like buttery. I don’t know how to explain it. It was as if butter had been raised to an angelic state and gently blessed this croissant with its essence. There is no other way to describe it. This croissant was perfect. So I know that I said that comparing Montreal and Paris was useless, but this fucking croissant was better than even the ones I’ve had in Paris. For one thing, it was bigger. Not much bigger, but maybe 5% bigger. There was more exquisiteness to enjoy. But never had I tasted something that harmonized the delightful savory/sweet balance of the croissant so perfectly. It was a cloud with butter. It was pastry with wings. It was delicious!
I fought every impulse to go back and get another one. Every taste bud, every tooth, my tongue and my gums screamed MORE. How I dodged that bullet, I’ll never know. Maybe it was knowing that I could go back tomorrow. Which I did… After yoga.
The second time I went with enough cash and I scored the last pain au chocolate because they were out of croissants. Again, after leaving the store, I pulled out my petit friandise, and took a bite. Again, my nostrils flared and I paused to experience the joy that was happening in my mouth. Texture, flavor, flakiness, softness, butter and then: dark chocolate. YUM! I inhaled the pain au chocolat like it was Prana and I was a yogi. Gone in about 60 seconds. Couldn’t be helped. I smiled as I continued my walk and even flirted with a cheeky homeless man who told me I was pretty.
I got up this morning after a good night’s sleep and headed to the kitchen to contemplate the first order of business: Breakfast. I remembered that I had purchased that tin of hot chocolate from the chocolatier so I grabbed the unsweetened almond milk from the fridge and started heating it slowly on the stove top. I read the instructions and was surprised that it said to melt the chocolate in the warm milk. I opened the can to find large shavings and chunks of dark chocolate. Wow. A new experience. I was accustomed to powdered cocoa and although fine and rich, still resembled Nestle’s Quick. But alas, there was nothing resembling the rabbit in this can. What lay before me was rich, unsweetened dark chocolate that had been mixed with Chai spices.
So I took four tablespoons of chocolate shavings and melted them in the warm almond milk, stirred a few times to make sure that all the bits were dissolved and then sipped. I paused, my nostrils flared and I gazed into my cup trying to understand how heaven was able to squeeze itself into a mug. Smooth, warm, ever so slightly bitter (I’m talking ever so slightly as in not hardly even bitter, but a hint of bitterness) cocoa. Creamy and decadent with no after taste. I was really feeling this! The warming in my heart came from more than the heat of the drink. The high cocoa content was working its magic in my body and I was getting high. My heart started racing, my mood elevated… I was in love. Now I know what they mean about the hormones that are released when you’re in love and when you’re in chocolate. This was a potent elixir to draw from me dopamine, seratonin and adrenaline. I was on fire. The most delicious hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted and here goes another comparison– if you’ve ever had hot chocolate from Angelina’s Tea Room in Paris, this is totally reminiscent. Look, I said that Montreal and Paris are not comparable. If I had had Angelina’s chocolate in Las Vegas, it would be a Las Vegas reference. If the best croissants were found in Los Angeles, it would be a Los Angeles reference. It just so happens that the best croissants and hot chocolate that I personally have experienced have been in Paris– until now. Now they are in Montreal and I will never forget it. Montreal, you make me bow down.
But look, if I don’t hook up with a charming gentleman soon, I’m off my knees. But that is a different story for another day.
So that is what I have to say about the best croissant, pain au chocolat and chocolat chaud in the world. You might have noticed an absence of the name of the chocolatier that delivered me so much pleasure and inspired a blog post. Well, that’s the other thing about presentation in Montreal. You may not know where you are. Thank Goddess for Google Maps because I would still be wondering about the name of this place. Take a look at the tin of chocolat chaud and tell me if its effective branding. Tell me if you can divine the name of the store or company that makes it…
Those little initials in the box at the base of the label have nothing to do with the name of the shop. I don’t know what those initials are, but the name of the shop is Fous Desserts. Here’s their information:
809 Avenue Laurier Est
Montreal H2J 1G2 QB Canada
You will find me there after yoga at least one more time before I start my cleanse next week.
Here’s a video I found on the Fous Desserts website:
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You can find links to this post on Urban Spoon.