Friday, October 24, 2014

September/October "doings" beyond NYC: A trip west to Cody, WY + Boulder, CO (& nearby national parks) AND to Montreal, Quebec!

Yellowstone "geyser" scene - Photo:  R. Gartner
September and October, 2014, proved to be an abnormally busy period of time for this (generally)  moderately busy blogger.  Thanks to an invitation from our ole friends (and, ultimately, hosts), Haya & Rick Gartner, it was finally time to head out West to visit Colorado and Wyoming and a few of the major national parks &  towns located therein - like Grand Teton (entering from the town of Jackson, WY); Yellowstone (exiting the park at Cody, WY); and Rocky Mountain (in Colorado) where you will find some terrific spots to visit in the vicinity of the towns of Nederland (the wooden animal carousel of "happiness"!) & Estes Park, CO, way up in the mountains ... a short drive from Boulder and the University of Colorado
Grand Teton range - Photo: R. Gartner

 If you visit the area, be certain to visit Jackson, the cute little tourist town in Jackson Hole that serves as a gateway to Grand Teton and Yellowstone. You can, depending on the season - weather permitting, of course - drive straight through the ominous, snow-capped Teton range and into & through Yellowstone, seeing the omnipresent natural sites along the main route: both flora & fauna ... and snapping as many photos of the natural beauty of the region as you are able to, from all sorts of vantage points within the two parks.
Yellowstone bison - Photo:  R. Gartner
Throughout your visit, you'll   likely encounter herds of elk, bison, deer, the occasional moose or large brown bear, a mountain lion (AKA puma, panther or cougar), a pack of wolves, a porcupine, or a quick & "sly" reddish-brown fox. You'll focus your gaze, too, on hot gases or vapors emanating from numerous volcanic pools, ice-cold lakes, rough & rumbling rock-filled rivers replete with cutthroat trout, high country pine forests, and isolated owls, hawks, and, perhaps, a relatively rare peregrine falcon & other birds of prey ... or, simply, stand still & witness - marvel at - the stark beauty of the various sections of this huge national treasure!

And then, before you know it, you'll be on your way to Cody, WY (the home of the Buffalo Bill Center & Museums),
Outside Buffalo Bill Center - Photo R. Gartner
exiting the park while moving through steep, spectacular canyons - still passable by car or SUV or motorcycle in mid-September ... without occlusion, just yet, from the annual, daily (weekly?) snow squalls &
impending large snow drifts that would close roads such as the short one en route to visiting Old Faithful. You'll also see more than the occasional waterfall and odd colorful (or so you would imagine) bird flying toward you and then arcing away.
By the way, before you enter the national parks out of Jackson Hole, WY, you'll find a variety of eating places throughout Jackson (the town) at every price point - high end, moderate, and low end.
Across from The Wort Hotel - Dalia, moi, Haya & Rick

One spot worth a look - with both a moderate menu of steaks & burgers and interesting soups and salads (in the large bar area) and higher end dining as well - is The Wort Hotel ("Silver Dollar Bar & Grill"), where we all had top-notch French fries, and elk or buffalo burgers, along with specialty soups or salads, conjoined with a few medium-size steins of cold local draft beer ... or a tall glass of lemonade. Prices were reasonable for the hearty food they offered and, specifically, the burger plates three of the four of us scarfed down. The best - most tender, largest, most "well-accoutered" - proved the buffalo burger plates with salad & fries all cooked to perfection. 

Incidentally, "lodge" restaurants, "lodge" dining  rooms, grill rooms & cafeterias provide lots of choices to meet the needs of hungry travelers trekking throughout Yellowstone.

You know who - Mr. "Buffalo" Bill Cody
And the breakfast (coffee) scene is solid and available at the other end of the park, along the main drag in Cody ... to fortify (to satisfy) those interested in spending serious (and worthwhile!) time at the Buffalo Bill Center & Museum.

An utterly fantastic trip to Yellowstone, Jackson (Hole), Cody, Cheyenne, Laramie, and Boulder (the University of Colorado) & environs ... like Louisville, CO, for an introduction to Sweet Cow ice cream!

Lake Champlain view - from Amtrack, club car
On the other side of the North American continent, north, & just west of, of mid-town Manhattan - and nearly 2,000 miles (back) from Boulder, CO, stand the New Jersey Palisades, the Hudson River, the Hudson Valley, the Adirondacks, Lake Champlain & New York's "north country" ...  and Montréal, Quebec

Yes, we took to the rails via Amtrak and traveled that perfectly, iconically, scenic route - apparently one of the ten most scenic rail travel has to offer - from Penn Station to the Gare Centrale in Montréal where we dined & walked & toured through just about all of Montreal centre - from the Old Port & the Old City to the Quartier Latin; Mont Royal (the huge Olmsted park overlooking the entire island city); to the underground "city," McGill University, the St. Denis shopping/resto/cafe area, and Chinatown ... all the while benefiting from this year's beautiful, balmy "Indian Summer" mid-October clime. 

Qing Hua Dumpling resto - Street view
And while we'd been to Montréal before (twice, pour moi), we discovered much we hadn't seen or done on prior visits, including dining at Qing Hua Dumpling restaurant (1019 Boul. St.-Laurent, Montréal, QC; tel. 438/288-5366) where we (two) consumed a few local beers, a large bowl of hot & sour soup and two orders of "mixed" varieties of fried dumplings (30 dumplings in all!), stuffed with such mini-concoctions as beef coriander, pork & onion, pork & mushroom, curry beef, chicken & mushroom, and shrimp with zucchini & mushrooms or zucchini & egg.

Guess what?
Dumplings by the dozens(+) - steamed or fried - are, of course, the specialty of the house and proved to be absolutely enticing: extremely fresh, delicate, and, as we always enjoy them, very lightly pan- (or wok-) fried ... perfectly browned & golden! Qing Hua turned out to be an excellent choice, and so were two others. The first, one of the city's few remaining traditional restaurants Français, Chez Queux ("au coeur du vieux Montréal"); and the second, a much more contemporary French-inspired establishment, Restaurant Europea. Lots of showcasing, here; a theatrical event as much as a dining experience - where we explored, in toto, "la finesse de l'Art culinaire!

Place Jean-Paul-Riopelle / Ring of fire

In continuous operation since 1973, Chez Queux (housed @ 158 rue saint-Paul est; tel. 541/866-5194) serves the very finest in traditional French fare, offering both a la carte and table d'hôte (3-course, prix fixe; $47. Can.) menus at reasonable price points given the high quality of food preparation and the particularly affable, attentive & professional service. Traditional dishes are carefully created & plated and, overall, memorable. Indeed, there are very few restaurants that we have come across, of late, that include ris de veau ("sweetbreads") at all, no less being listed on both appetizer (with arugala salad, citrus & truffle oil) and main dish (served with braised morels!) menu sections(And the wine we selected - a light & fruity French Pinot Noir, Les Jamelles, 2011 [$33.] - paired well with all of our mains, including my plate of sweetbreads.)

Chez Queux
Palais des congrès (et moi)
But the pièce de resistance - and, for me, the most memorable dish offered at Chez Queux - is the salade César (for two) created and mixed table-side, one portion (as requested) containing chopped anchovies, the other not. The salad proved absolutely scrumptious, abundant, and, well, a bit of perfection itself ... so painstakingly & accommodatingly prepared by our waiter!
Restaurant Europea
Restaurant Europea, on the other hand, is an interesting, whimsical establishment where Grand Chef Jérôme Ferrer whips up distinctive culinary creations with "finesse" ... serving superior food ... not at all traditional in any strict culinary sense. Located in central ("downtown") Montréal (@1227 de la Montagne; tel. 514/398-9229), Mr. Ferrer serves great food, brought, at times, rather idiosyncratically "plated" to the table. And he provides various surprises (we four diners recall, for example, the chef's "book" of infused, "smoking" salmon!) throughout the dining experience - from initial amuse bouche(s) to the wealth of desserts laid out at the end of the evening adventure

 Europea - A portion of the drama
All this theater-laden culinary art is, however, carefully presented a la table and the creations are generally successful - of show-stopping high quality conceptually and exceedingly tasty, as well. During evening hours, Europea offers three menus - a la carte; table d'hôte (@ $89.50 Can.); and a multi-"course" (several item) tasting menu, or menu dégustation signature (@ $119.50).    

Beef jerky on mini-clothesline
Two members of our party of four chose mains from the a la carte listing; two chose the table d'hôte. Thus, many of the items (e.g., the risotto) could (and would) be shared and all four of us would, of course, receive the numerous ancillary "surprises" pour les bouches!

Sea bass filet
A pricey but excellent & extensive wine list is available for your pleasure; and a knowledgeable & fun sommelier, for your consultation. Once again, we selected a Pinot Noir (Burgundy / Les Ursulines, Jean-Claude Boisset, 2012 @ $60.) which was tasted, and ratified, by the house wine maven on duty that evening!  A number of items that we consumed - along with our Pinot Noir - were tasty, refreshing, memorable. 

Those "dishes" - large or small - that we felt were, somehow, etched in our memories included the following: lobster cream cappuccino with truffle purée; creamy mascarpone & burrata risotto ... with sautéed mushrooms & asparagus, green pea mousseline & tendrils, and Béarnaise shelled egg & crumble; a sea bass filet cooked in a hay-lined pot, beetroot spaghetti, sorrel leaves poached in a grapefruit juice & blood-veined sorrel; and the lapin / Stanstead rabbit confit Yazu, cavatellis (small pasta shells) with parmesan cream, and fresh thyme gremolata & lemon peel.

A bit of dessert
Desserts, "sweets" & coffee followed, not too quickly (no rush whatever!), but, when delivered, full of diversity - from a bag of mini-Madeleines to a tray of mixed flavored macaroons (see photo) to delicate bowls of berries and perfectly sweetened crème fraîche. Dark, rich coffee proved much needed after this elongated but stunning culinary experience, a veritable performance ... not to be forgotten!
Centre-ville, Montréal (Hilton Garden Inn, center)
While there are many (many!) things for the tourist to partake in on a visit to Montréal, this particular visit was scheduled to be a short one (just a few days), so we pretty much decided that  our key activities - and the mild & sunny weather solidified this decision for us - would be strolling around town (veritably inhaling the diverse areas of the city) ... and dining!  

Centre de design - l’Université du Québec à Montréal
We certainly did those two things in spades and even got to the Design Center / Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) for a private look at their current exhibition. Indeed, in a short period of time, a couple of night's stay, we managed to do a great deal and see much of the city from our comfortable, exceedingly guest-oriented & hospitable "home base" at the Hilton Garden Inn, Centre-Ville (380 Sherbrooke, Ouest) ... Montreal