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Fast Cars, Food and Fun at the Montreal Grand Prix

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Coming out of the Hairpin at Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve

This June my son Alex and I took the drive up Route 87, the Northway, to Montreal for the Formula One Race.  Alex is a huge fan, and I have become one as well, so this was much anticipated and represented his college graduation present.  We weren’t 100% sure what to expect, but the city seemed like a great place to visit, the race couldn’t be bad, and it was only a 6+ hour drive.  The harder part for this particular weekend is finding reasonable lodging, as the city books out early and every hotel triples their normal rates for race weekend.  Fortunately I booked very early and found a reasonable rate at a conveniently located, clean and quite nice small hotel in the city’s Latin Quarter.  Here it is, Hotel St. Denis.

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The entrance to Hotel St. Denis

 

Montreal is a combination of the elements you would generally expect to find in any large city.  There is an older section. a modern section, a more bohemian area, a Chinatown, a waterfront etc.  One thing that did stand out for us was that whatever section we walked through, and we walked everywhere, there was never a moment where we felt anything less than perfectly safe.  I had read several reviews for our hotel and some had mentioned the area being a bit shady.  I can’t for the life of me figure out what they were referring to, as we found it fine at all times of the day and night.  There were a few beggars, bu they were all very passive and not threatening.  The best part of this hotel was it’s location.  It was a ten minute walk to the Vieux Montreal (the old city), literally two minutes to the Metro stop, and ten minutes to downtown.  You can walk it all, or use the Metro, which is really a first class mass transit system – very clean and safe.

Unfortunately it rained a good part of the four days we were there, but that did not stop us from getting around a bit.  Still, there were lots of people everywhere, and Montreal was lively in spite of the rain.  There were race events every day as well, so we spent the bulk of every afternoon at the track.    We’ll spare you any talk of the food and drink at the track, as it was Budweiser and hot dogs, and pretty much nothing else.  Not an epicurean delight, but the cars were very, very cool and we had fun.

So here are a few more of the details:

Food:

Outside the racetrack the food is more varied and the options seemingly endless.  Near our hotel were Thai, Japanese, Indian, Chinese, Lebanese, Italian, pizzerias, burger joints and on and on.  Literally attached to the hotel on either side were an Italian and a Japanese restaurant, and they were both excellent.  We hit both of those, a brew pub in Vieux Montreal, a pizzeria on Rue Notre Dame and a couple of other establishments for drinks.  We’ll give you a brief overview of the two next door.

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Pacini’s – right next door!

As you can see, Pacini’s is literally next door.  They serve a very nice Italian dinner menu and are also open for a full service breakfast, which was really handy.  We found the food delicious and the prices very reasonable.  At dinner I had pasta with red sauce and a nice piece of halibut on top.  I have to say the red sauce is about the best I’ve ever had.  Alex had a big bowl of pasta as well and enjoyed it.  There were all the usual suspects with a few nice twists on the menu.  The wine menu was limited but adequate, and they offer different glass sizes in most restaurants in Montreal.  You could get a 3 oz or a 6 oz pour, as well as carafe’s and full bottles.  I found the 6 oz pour far superior to the 3 oz.

At breakfast Pacini’s serves traditional eggs (eggs benedict comes in several varieties), as well as other staples such as french toast.  Their prices are very reasonable and it was pretty crowded, but not overly so.  Waitstaff were all very friendly and bi-lingual.  That was one nice aspect of the city, everyone seems to speak french and english, certainly everyone in the service industry.

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Komiko’s

To the left of the door into Hotel St. Denis is Komiko’s, a Japanese restaurant which is very popular and generally very crowded.  We showed up one night without a reservation and they were able to squeeze us in, but just barely.  If you go I suggest you call ahead.  What makes it so popular in our opinion is the format, it’s an all you can eat for one price establishment.  It’s all made fresh to order, not a buffet.  They’ll give you a menu and you circle what you want, and you can re-order as many times as you like.  One thing to keep in mind though, they charge you a dollar for every piece of food you leave on your plate, so don’t order the farm right out of the gate!  The idea is to start slow and then re-order as you like.  This is not a meal to rush through.  The portions might throw you off as well.  When you order one calamari ring that’s what you get, not a plate full as we would be accustomed to.  It’s very fun and the food was good, from the rolls to the nigiri sushi, sashimi and cooked items.  Garden salads and desserts are also on the menu.  If this seems a little too adventurous for you they also have a regular menu with dinner entrees and bento boxes.  We would definitely recommend it.

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A liter of home brew at Les 3 Brasseurs

Our other choices, a pizzeria and brew pub, were adequate but nothing to write home about.  The brew pub did serve beer in liters, which was cool.  It was also more beer than I like to drink at a meal and I found it a challenge, but did succeed.  The pizzeria, Pizzadelic,  was near the Cathedral Notre Dame on Rue Notre Dame.  The brew pub, Les 3 Brasseurs, was near the east end of Rue St Paul and Les Place Jacques Cartier.  That’s a fun area, with sidewalk cafes aplenty, lot’s of trinkets and curio shops and plenty of poutine.  Poutine is sort of the national food of Montreal and is essentially french fries covered in brown gravy and cheese curds.  Lots of people were eating it, but somehow we never tried it.  Next time.

There are countless options for restaurants in this city.  We passed hundreds during our visit just walking around, in every part of the city.  It would take years to really experience enough of them to say you had the pulse of the city’s culinary offerings.

The Hotel: As I mentioned earlier, the Hotel St. Denis was clean, comfortable and very, very conveniently located.  The room we had sported two double beds, a pull out couch, a large roomy space and an adequate bathroom.  The hotel staff CIMG1842was friendly and answered all questions politely.  Maid service was good and unobtrusive.  The CIMG1841parking was also very convenient, with an indoor car park located right around the corner and come and go access provided for $16 per day.    We never moved the car during our stay as the Metro was so convenient, and really the only reasonable way to get to and from the racetrack, which is actually located on an island.

With very good restaurants essentially attached to the hotel, and the Berri-Uquam Metro station a block away, this is a great place to stay and use as a launching point for seeing Montreal.  You can walk to Place Jacques Cartier in ten minutes and stroll the old city.  This is good value.  There are many, many choices, but I would definitely consider staying here again.

The City: Montreal has a bit of everything, and all of it is very accessible.  You can spend some time in the old city, with it’s range of shops and restaurants.  You can do the nightlife downtown in the more modern areas, where there are fine hotels and high priced restaurants.  There are also very reasonable restaurants as well.  Parc du Mont Royal looms above CIMG1758 CIMG1759 CIMG1770  the northern sections, and we did not get the chance to visit it.  There is beautiful architecture both old and new.  There are also very nice people.  Almost without fail we ran into nothing but courteous individuals, and English is not a bad word here either.  Everyone in the service industry was bi-lingual and were perfectly happy to speak English, or to let me flail away in bad French.  Never did we feel threatened, and the Metro is wonderful.  There is also an extensive underground network of passages and shops, which we just scratched the surface of and which must be a blessing in winter months.

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Notre Dame

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Looking West on Rue St. Paul from Place Jacques Cartier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’d definitely return here, either for the race or just for a visit.  Montreal is a great city.  Don’t forget the islands when you’re there.  Ile Sainte-Helene is just one Metro stop from the Berri-Uquam station.  There are museums and parks, as well as a large amusement park, La Ronde, on the northern tip of the island.  A short walk over a bridge brings you to Ile Notre Dame, which is occupied by the track, some more parkland, and a casino.

The Race:  Oh yes, there was a race that weekend.  If you’re a Formula One fan on TV, then I heartily suggest you take in a race in person sometime.  There is no way to describe the sounds of the cars, you just have to experience it.  We tried experiencing it without ear protection the first day and quickly bought some earplugs.  They are loud, screaming

One of Mercedes-Petronas Cars at pit row

One of Mercedes AMG Petronas Cars at pit row

The pre-race drivers parade.

The pre-race drivers parade.

machines that seem to want to jump out of their skin when the drivers push them.  Acceleration is breathtaking from the stands, can’t imagine what it’s like in the car itself.  The whole affair takes four days, if you include the open house on Thursday where you can meet the drivers.  Friday is practice, Saturday is qualifying, and of course Sunday is the race.  Along with Formula One there are some other car series racing as well, so the days are filled with the various sounds of Ferraris and Porsches and Formula One cars screaming around the track.  Just remember – it’s strictly Budweiser and carnival food inside, but you can bring in a cooler and many people do.

One neat aspect is that they open the track after the race and let everyone walk around it.  We

View of the Hairpin from Our Seats

View of the Hairpin from Our Seats

jaunted past the pits and got some close ups of the cars.  No drivers to be seen unfortunately.  However we did get a great momento on our victory lap, which was a large piece of one of the Rolex banners.  Some clever artifact preservation by Alex allowed us to get it home in one piece and it is now a prized part of his collection.  Race day was fun, but overall somewhat exhausting.  We just strolled Vieux Montreal for a a bit later in the day and ate in Les 3 Brasseurs before calling it a night.

Summary: Montreal is great, the race is a blast and we would go back.  What to change next time?  I think we spend a bit more and sit up by the start line and pits to see what the action looks like up there.  We probably stay at Hotel St. Denis again.  We hope for less rain.

I suggest you go sometime to see the city, if not the race.

A votre sante!

Too fast to focus

Too fast to focus

Alex Walking the Track

Alex Walking the Track

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