I spent early Monday evening with a nice Quebecoise woman named Katerine Rollet, who does a food blog for Montréal’s tourism board. She, or her bosses, or a combination thereof, wanted to find food connections between New York and Montréal.
You’d think that would be fairly easy. Montréal's just an hour flight or an easy six-hour drive away (go up the thruway, turn left at Montréal), but apart from Milos, which also has a restaurant, older than the one in New York, in Montréal, and Riad Nasr of Minetta Tavern, who is from Montréal, the only other connection we could find was T Poutine, a restaurant on the Lower East Side that specializes in the Québecois dish poutine, which is French fries covered with cheese curds and gravy (think nachos, only with French fries, cheese curds and gravy instead of chips, melted cheese and salsa), there's not much cultural culinary dialogue between what are arguably the two best food cities in the Northeast. Top Chef alumnus Spike Mendelsohn would have been good, as he’s from Montréal, but he’s not in New York anymore.
As far as Tourisme Montréal was concerned, Milos was too high-end for Katerine’s audience, and as far as I was concerned Kieth McNally’s restaurant empire, which includes Minetta Tavern, were too difficult to work with.
So I made reservations at T Poutine and the authorities in Montréal decided that it would be a good idea to compare New York and Montréal bagels.
New York is more famous for its bagels than Montréal, but the Montréalais are adamant about their product's superiority.
So we met at the original H&H Bagels in the remote, industrial reaches of 46th St. and 12th Ave.
Katerine was not impressed. But from what I understand a Montréal bagel is a different animal from a New York one — crustier and more pretzel-like.
She was nice about it, though, and expressed enthusiasm for the everything bagel, which does not exist in her hometown.
From there we were supposed to eat at T Poutine, but despite my having made a reservation there, it turns out that the restaurant is closed on Monday. This could have been a disaster, but Katz's Deli is just down the street from T Poutine, and is a worthy comparison to Schwartz's, a Montréal restaurant known fro its smoked meat, which is similar to corned beef.
Technically, that means Carnegie Deli would have been a better comparison, as Katz's is better known for its pastrami, but it was nearby, and a deli institution of similar gravitas, so we went there.
Not surprisingly, Katerine preferred Schwartz's smoked meat to Katz's corned beef, but, quite apart from the fact that she works for Tourisme Montréal, because I wouldn’t accuse her of being biased because that would be rude, she was raised on Schwartz's.
Also, this was her first time having pastrami, and she didn't take to it readily. To her, the taste seemed artificial.
What can I say? New York is a big, grown-up city. It can take a lump or two from time to time.
Katerine’s colleague, who has the great name of Tanya Churchmuch, recorded our experience at Schwartz's on video, which you can enjoy by clicking here.