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Montreal’s Best Ice Cream

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Not only has Spring sprung but Summer has strummed her lovely tune! May Day was gorgeous in Montreal! We celebrated the warm evening by treating ourselves to some tasty ice cream. It doesn’t quite feel like summer until we’ve enjoyed our first Montreal cone.

Here are some of the best spots for enjoying ice cream in Montreal (in no particular order):

 

  • Yeh!: Yes, the name says it all. They put a neat spin on fro-yo (frozen yogurt); the flavors and toppings are self-serve and you pay by weight once you’ve created your masterpiece. Locations: http://www.yehyogourt.com/emplacement.php
  • Bilboquet: Wowzers! They really put the “art” in artisan ice cream (sorry, cheesy). But honestly, their fresh, homemade ice cream is simply divine! My personal favorite is the coconut sorbet. Locations: http://www.bilboquet.ca/adresses.html
  • Ben & Jerry’s: An obvious one! I wish they had more locations in Montreal because the line-ups on warm nights are absurd. For example, in my crazy youth, I once waited almost two hours for a cone (Crescent St. store). Locations: http://www.benandjerrys.ca/scoop-shops;jsessionid=B83C2A183C6AEBFAF328CAD3E87D40D9.bnj1_worker
  • La Cremiere: Their soft-serve ice cream is second to none. Known for their spiral cone (swirls of caramel, chocolate, or strawberry intertwined with the ice cream), they have many, many locations and most malls have at least one booth to serve you their delicious dessert. Locations: http://www.lacremiere.com/en/boutiques.php
  • Dairy Queen: Anther common choice but for good reason: they serve the blizzard! Named the blizzard because it’s a tornado of ice cream and your choice of topping, it’s their signature ice cream and one of my favs. Mmmm. Locations: http://www.dairyqueen.com/ca-en/Locator/?
  • La Dolce Vita: If you are in the West Island, I highly recommend this gelato shop. They make some of the finest gelato I’ve had since…Italy! They also have great combo suggestions–trust their choices. Location: 3776 St Charles, Kirkland, H9H 3C6.
  • Orange Julep: Ok, fine. Off-topic. But they do serve ice cream! Go ahead and order the ice cream if you have room after their delicious, greasy food and awesome orange drink. It’s a landmark. You have to try it at least once! Location: 7700 Boulevard Decarie, Montreal, H4P 2H4.
  • Twist et Creme: A childhood favorite had to be included. My father and I used to bike to this run-down shack of an ice cream stand and I loved every minute of it. I relived that with my son tonight–it was great! Yes, the decor is shabby and the “stand” is in the middle of a parking lot but it’s a West Island landmark as much as the Orange Julep is in TMR (Town of Mont Royal). They make greaaaat brownie sundaes. Location: 11898 Gouin O, Montreal, H1C 1B8.
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Maiko Sushi – Des Sources Blvd & Bernard Street (Montreal, Qc)

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Sushi is not for everyone. I think it’s a preference that falls into the love it (my family) or hate it category. Maiko Sushi (Des Sources Blvd) in the West Island has been (arguably) named the Best in the West. Nothing quite qualifies until it’s been tested by a toddler-run family.

We gave them a good chance: we went early (we were the first to arrive) and we brought the Ipad for emergency back-up. As soon as we sat down, we ordered my son’s meal; he’s a lightweight and a miso soup (and yogurt)  is enough for his bird-belly. They quickly brought it out and he entertained himself attempting to eat the soup with those plastic double-ended spoons they have at Japanese and Chinese restaurants.

The menu is varied and offers a nice selection of different sushi and cooked meals. Of course, they also offer a la carte sushi and they have a really neat “chef’s creation” menu of unusual sushi/sashimi combos ($18 each).

We each ordered the $33 sushi/sashimi combo (strange move on our part because we normally order different meals to share). It comes with a miso soup, a salad, shrimp & veggie tempura, a mixed plate of sushi/sashimi (I’m going to guesstimate 12 pieces), dessert and green tea. Honestly, it’s a really good price and whereas I normally feel like I could go for McDonalds after having spent $50+ on sushi, I left Maiko Sushi very, very full. In fact, I couldn’t eat my dessert (my bird-belly son who never has room for actual food but always manages to polish off the dessert ate mine).

The miso soup was very tasty; I always hate miso soup that is cheap on the shiitake mushrooms and seaweed but super heavy on the tofu and overly watery broth. Their soup had plenty of tasty mushrooms, seaweed and tofu–excellent broth, too. I loved their salad! It’s a very simple mix of greens tossed with a ginger/sesame dressing and topped with tiny pieces of fried noodles but it was very, very tasty. Their tempura was delicately fried and the batter didn’t overwhelm the taste of the shrimp/veggies (often a problem with tempura, I find). So far, so good.

The first three “appetizers” really set me up for a taste-explosion of sushi and sashimi but I was somewhat disappointed. It’s not that it wasn’t good (it was fresh and it tasted fine) but I was underwhelmed by the selection and the large amount of boring maki rolls. Really, how much avocado in a rice-roll do you want in a chef’s selection? I know it’s cheap but come on. Also, the slices of sashimi were really lacking. Worst of all was the high amount of the “filler” sushi: tamago nigiri (fried egg on a rice roll), smelly mackerel and tons of the tasteless white fish. Like I said, it’s not that the sushi wasn’t fresh or that it didn’t taste good, I just felt that such a creative restaurant could have impressed me with a much better selection of rolls, nigiri and different raw fish.

To be fair, this was my third time trying this $33 combo at Maiko Sushi and it was the first time that I felt the selection was cheaper than normal. I really, really hope this is not a trend they are starting but rather the result of a less-than-creative chef’s decision.

Overall, the staff was super-attentive and one of the waitresses even offered to walk around the restaurant with my son when he was fussing and we were trying to finish our meals (super bonus points). The restaurant was still mostly empty so she had the time to entertain my son but she didn’t have to so the effort is certainly noted. In general, no one seemed to mind my son’s new-found love of screaming on top of his lungs (he recently discovered that screaming like this annoys the heck out of mommy and daddy so he’s happily testing our limits). But you know what? We never turned on the last-resort Ipad so kudos to the waitstaff!

The dessert was a small but sufficient portion of banana bread with ice cream. I can’t comment on that dessert but in the past, I have had their brownie/ice cream dessert and it was very tasty. Their green tea is also very good.

Unfortunately, parents of children who despise sushi will often avoid those restaurants. I think sushi restaurants realize this and they offer a variety of cooked meals specifically for that reason. Parents who love sushi: don’t deprive yourself of sushi-goodness just because your kids hate raw fish!

I will return to Maiko Sushi because I’ve had a number of very positive experiences and I feel like I might have had an “off” night. The idea of a restaurant’s “off” night always makes me sad because what if that night had been my first night? I wouldn’t have returned because I wouldn’t have known that that was an exception rather than the norm. First impressions really do count, don’t they?

Family-friendly? Yes (They don’t offer a kid menu so they lose points there but they fully gain it back with their general kid-friendly staff and layout)

Food? Ehhh, mostly yes

Service? Yes

Website: http://maikosushi.ca/

Address(es): 3339 des Sources Boulevard, Dollard-des-Ormeaux, H9B 1Z8

387 Bernard Street West, Montreal, H2V 1T6

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Cabane à Sucre Constantin — Sugaring Off in Quebec

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La Cabane à sucre Constantin

I’m going to let you in on a not-so-well-kept secret. The best part of spring–maybe even more than its sign of winter’s end–is the maple syrup! Every year I look forward to the production of “liquid gold” at the local sugar shack or cabane à sucre. My family is a little maple syrup crazy–we pour (ahem, drizzle) it on the traditional pancakes and waffles but we also use it as an alternative to sugar in almost everything possible. Have you ever tried maple syrup-sweetened coffee? Mmmm. Luckily Quebec is the largest producer in the world!

This post should have appeared weeks ago but unfortunately we’ve had shoddy weekend weather.  Quebec has countless sugar shacks around Montreal that participate in the annual sugaring off festivities; we decided to visit Cabane à Sucre Constantin this year. I encourage you to visit soon as they are closing April 28th, 2013. The season usually runs from February to April.

Located only 25 minutes from Montreal, Cabane à Sucre Constantin is in the lively town of St-Eustache. We arrived for the set breakfast at 10am and we were quickly seated and served. The reception/dining hall can accommodate a few hundred people so unless you are 30+ people, reservations are not necessary. It’s a very casual environment and you are seated at long tables beside other families in an open and boisterous room. The decor is dated but it adds to the appeal–it’s a farmhouse that serves traditional sugaring off cuisine!

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Breakfast at La Cabane à sucre Constantin

The food is brought to you but it’s considered all-you-can-eat. You won’t need more than one serving of each course as the food is extremely filling. They start you off with a delicious pea soup–warm and bursting with flavor–and you are then served the main course of eggs, potatoes, ham and beans. I wasn’t a huge fan of the eggs or potatoes (both were tasteless) but the ham and beans were very good. The dessert was a sugar-rush of maple syrup deliciousness!  I think my favorite was the “pouding chômeur” (roughly translated to a pudding for the unemployed or poor man’s pudding); it’s a bread-pudding (which acts like a sponge) completely drenched in maple syrup. They also offer pancakes, soft ice cream and sugar pie. I swear the whole group of people left the dining area high on a sugar buzz.

Included in your meal price, you also have access to a small doll museum, a puppet theater and one “tire sur la neige” maple taffy on a stick. We were too full for the maple taffy so we decided to wander around the grounds. For only $2 per person, you can visit a small but completely packed “zoo” full of exotic–or not–farm animals. My son was in heaven.

All the animals looked really healthy and all of them were clean. My only complaint would be that they stuffed so many animals into such a small area. The animals included parrots, reptiles, many types of birds and rodents and your typical barnyard animals like goats, pigs, sheep, ponies and even llamas. The owners allowed a few of the baby goats to roam freely through the area and my son was overjoyed when he fed them from his hand. Many of the animals seemed to be new mothers so we were lucky to see many babies.

Part of the price of admission included a one-man puppet show. It was very interactive and most of the play was song-based which encouraged audience participation. My son couldn’t keep his eyes off the show. At about 20 minutes, it was the perfect length for short attention spans.

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Puppet show at La Cabane à sucre Constantin

The doll museum was neat. My husband is generally creeped out by dolls–especially old dolls with cracked faces and eyeballs rolling back in their heads–but it was still interesting to see dolls from 3-4 generations ago. Dolls, like all cultural artifacts, reflect the time in which they were made so it was fascinating to see how the dolls evolved through a century filled with war, depression, racism and progress (among so many other factors!).

At the end of our stay, we enjoyed the famous “tire” of maple taffy on snow and the inflated kid’s amusement area. They also offer horse-drawn carriage rides for $3/person, mini 4×4 rides for kids ($4) and a free visit of the grounds by foot.

Overall, I highly recommend Cabane à Sucre Constantin! Even if some of the food was a little bland, there was plenty of great-tasting alternatives. The atmosphere was very family friendly and the staff went out of their way to ensure a fun and safe visit for all.

Location: 1054 Arthur-Sauve Blvd. (Route 148), St-Eustache, Qc, J7R 4K3

Website: http://constantin.ca/

Prices vary according to season and day/time. Check their website for prices: http://constantin.ca/cabane-a-sucre/tarifs-heures-douverture

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Ikea Montreal & Boucherville — Shop till you drop? Drop off the kids & shop!

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Family-friendly Ikea (they even have family parking!)

I’m usually a huge promoter of outdoor activities but lately the weather has been so lousy  in Montreal. Whereas with the first signs of spring we are out hiking and hoping for our first camping trip, I sit here today watching snow falling in the middle of April. It’s not the mid-winter light and fluffy snow; it’s worse than rain–the heavy, penetrating snow that dampens your clothing and leaves you thoroughly cold and soggy.

Unless the weather brightens, we’ll be sticking to indoor entertainment this weekend. Ikea has indoor entertainment for children and their parents! Like my previous post on Chapters, Ikea offers free entertainment for kids while parents can dream about their Ikea house. (Fight Club has forever ruined that for me!)

Ikea is like Costco in that I’ve never successfully left the store without purchasing something. Judging by their billion-dollar profits, I think it’s safe to say that I’m not the only one who can’t leave without a purchase. So I don’t feel bad when my toddler spends an hour or more in the kids’ section playing “house” or running around all the toys that are open and on-display.

For the older children, there is the famous ballroom. The aptly named “Smaland” is just bursting with young and fun energy. Come on–admit it!–you still wish you could belly-flop into the pool of plastic balls. Unfortunately, my son doesn’t meet the requirements yet; he’s still not tall enough (37″-48″) and he isn’t yet potty-trained. Children are only allowed in with their socks.

Ikea's Smaland Ballroom

Ikea’s Smaland Ballroom

The food isn’t the greatest nor is it the healthiest but it’s hard to beat their prices and my son adores their fries. They have vegetarian options for those who would prefer to stay away from their meatballs (though I’m not sure if their “meat”balls have ever even seen meat…) and they do have healthier options like chicken salads and a smoked salmon plate.

Ultimately, Ikea really caters to kids: their bathrooms are fully equipped (I’m pretty sure they offer diapers), there is never a lack of highchairs, they offer free (decent) bibs and all kid meals come on plastic plates (luckily because my son enjoys the occasional plate-flinging session). Ikea has family parking spots (though good luck finding an empty one), stroller-friendly elevators, wide aisles and kids running around everywhere!

The Montreal (Cavendish) Ikea is currently undergoing renovations but when it’s complete it promises to be the largest in North America. While they still have the play area for younger kids, the ballroom isn’t available. The good news is they are improving and enlarging the Smaland play area! The parking size is also supposed to increase dramatically–good news since that lot is a total mess on weekends. Until their renos are finished (Summer 2013), I would recommend heading over to the Ikea in Boucherville.

Ikea website: http://www.ikea.com/ca/en/

Locations:

Montreal Store: 9191 Cavendish Blvd., Montreal, Qc, (H4T 1M8)

Boucherville Store: 586 De Touraine, Boucherville, Qc, (J4B 5E4)

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Breakfast of Champions – Restaurant L’Avenue du Plateau (Montreal)

Montreal loves its breakfasts. Our family regularly has breakfast for supper and when I announce this treat, my husband gets giddy. Let’s just say that if L’Avenue was down the block, you’d have to roll me there because I’d have gained so much weight from eating there daily. Needless to say, L’Avenue serves an amazing breakfast/brunch.

Sadly, we haven’t been to this part of town in a while and as I write this (and drool to the thought of their awesome breakfast sandwiches) I find myself planning a trip to the Plateau just to begin the day with their food. The last time we were there, my son was young enough to sleep in his bassinet. And that’s why I’m writing this post.

I googled the restaurant because (like I said) I was dreaming of B-fast and I noticed quite a few resto review sites rate this restaurant poorly for kid-friendliness. I’d like to explain and dispel this myth.

I think the reason most people rate L’Avenue so poorly for child/family friendliness is because it’s so jam-packed. Not only is it common to wait outside the restaurant for a table (actually, I’d be worried if there isn’t a line on the weekend) but once you’re inside, you can barely move. Of course, this is all part of the charm. It’s a greasy, noisy, crowded and delicious joint–people will either love it or hate it.

True to new-motherhood, I arrived with a huge diaper bag loaded with junk I will never, ever need or use and an equally gigantic stroller equipped with a mammoth-sized bassinet (my toddler could still fit in this). To be exact, it was the Quinny stroller with the Dreami bassinet attachment and I promise to blog about it one day. Just for laughs, I’ll picture it below:

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The Quinny stroller with Dreami bassinet attachment

And so I arrived with a screaming infant in this behemoth and my husband dragging the diaper bag. Let’s just say that everyone had to move their chairs for me to push the stroller through to our table but no one cared and most people gave me empathetic smiles. The waitstaff was super accommodating given the tiny space that each table is allotted and they all worked together to give us the booth near the back of the restaurant (less foot traffic meant less maneuvering the stroller).

This is a small restaurant and I think expanding it might change the appeal. Perhaps this restaurant isn’t the best for gigantic strollers (umbrella stroller next time) but it is certainly child/family-friendly. The unique decor will certainly appeal to any child and the general atmosphere is lively and entertaining. The food is delicious and the menu caters to smaller bellies.

Overall? A definite Yes.

Location: 922, ave. du Mont-Royal E (corner rue St-Andre), Montreal, H2J 1X2. (514) 523-8780

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Eat dessert first. Jack Astor’s Restaurant (Dorval)

I’m officially making it my mission to find a restaurant that combines quality food, family-friendly atmosphere and decent service. Tonight I found a restaurant that qualifies for 2 out of the 3. Not bad but still the food left something to be desired.

Jack Astor’s Bar & Grill is in the West Island just along Highway 40 at exit Des Sources. It’s in a mall along with a Canadian Tire, a BouClair and a Cinema Guzzo. Address: 3051 boul. des Sources, Dorval, H9B 1Z6. It’s a chain so there are 3 others in Quebec (Boisbriand, Greenfield Park and Laval) and many more spread across Canada (particularly Ontario).

The decor is fun, young and inviting. One corner of the restaurant, for example, is devoted to Elvis paraphernalia–the “Elvis booth.” I particularly appreciated the brown paper tabletops and crayons they provide to entertain children while the food is prepared. My toddler was busy scribbling his Jackson Pollack lookalikes while Mommy decided what to order.

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The Elvis Booth at Jack Astor’s. Also, a tribute to Twilight.

The waitstaff is young but I was very happy with the level of attention they gave us and the honest politeness with which they served us. This restaurant is hopping! And one of the reasons it’s family-friendly? It’s so loud in the restaurant that no one even batted an eye at my hollering toddler. The waitstaff was so busy that they didn’t even notice that he was launching yogurt across the table. Oh the things that settle our nerves as mothers…

They have an ample supply of high chairs, the bathroom has a (female only) change table and the menu caters to children with a large selection of meals. Half the restaurant is a bar but honestly, it was kind of “sectioned” off and by the time people start really drinking you and your child will be snug in your bed so it was a non-issue.

My husband and I ordered a burger and we ordered a kid-sized pasta dish for my son. True to my son he wouldn’t eat one bite of the pasta (it was bland but not bad) and settled instead for yogurt and crackers. Godsend: they brought out my son’s meal before ours was prepared so he’d be on dessert (i.e. distracted) while we were eating our food.

I’m so disappointed that I didn’t like my meal. My burger was charred and the bun was stale. I had really high hopes because the night started out so well in the other categories. And while it qualified for the service/family requirements, the food was just not tasty enough to warrant a “oh, we’ll be back soon” approval.

The good news is that while my son wouldn’t touch the actual meal (pasta), he devoured the brownie covered in caramel sauce and whip cream.

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Yes, he licked the plate clean.

Should I base the restaurant’s rating on my son’s appreciation for their brownie dessert?

Well, maybe we’ll return for dessert!

Service: Yes; Family: Yes; Food: No

Overall rating: Maybe

 http://www.jackastors.com/