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Sampling the Five-Star Cuisine of Montreal
By Ralph Collier

The sum of happiness has never been brighter. More of you are living longer, healthier and in many instances wealthier lives than ever before. More are flying to parts of the world not previously on your immediate agenda. If you do not have the time to enjoy the Romance of France this year, talk to your travel guru about Montreal, a glorious town that is known for gastronomic delights which it serves regularly with elan. One simply cannot talk about the city without discussing its most colorful restaurant.

Even if you can't tell a one armed bandit from a roulette wheel, there is one sure bet at The Montreal Casino: the award winning cuisine at NUANCES' Baccara Room, one of just two 5-star restaurants in all of vast Canada. In a city whose inhabitants can differentiate between bakers, patissiers and traiteurs - the connection that knows how to make dough - as a restaurateur you must be head and shoulders above the rest of the flock to earn 5 stars.

Executive Chef JEAN-PIERRE CURTAT On our last visit to NUANCES, the top dining room of the Societe des casinos du Quebec, Executive Chef JEAN-PIERRE CURTAT paid a jubilant tribute to one of the world's celebrated artists, Claude Monet , in whose honor an exhibition 'Monet at Giverny' was installed at the Musee des Beaux Arts. Curtat's dinner is a triumphant winner and local folk displaying the sang froid for which they are famous, flock to the casino with full knowledge that dining in these splendid surroundings is not a gamble by a long shot. The degustation menu, as well as the Monet menu served last spring, were unforgettable creations infused with fresh herbs - it is no secret that the chef cultivates his own herb garden high atop the casino. Recognition of his talents is predicated on the freshness and quality and the refinements of the dishes emerging from his kitchens.

The degustation menu begins with a soufflé, that light mixture of pureed ingredients that puff up when baked, sweet or savory; a cold snow crab mousse garnished with caviar is followed by the most exquisite consommé any writer could possibly wish for confirming that we have arrived at the table of an energetic never-say-die chef. The consommé has been three days in the making, bolstered by port and brandy and topped with a foie gras salpicon. Curtat and his staff cook with all their heart and soul and you can taste it in marvels like their lightly poached grouper enhanced with pistachio oil, fresh country vegetables and pine nuts.

A roast Quebec venison is served in an elegant Grande Veneur sauce accompanied by a marmalade of beets and figs. For many folks who live up here as well those in town for a visit, a day without a pastry is a day not worth living and the NUANCES dessert menu offers an explosive number of flavors. But few gastronomic events are awaited as breathlessly as our table's Gateau Chaud, a chocolate cake with melting coffee-flavored sauces oozing from its warm interior. Service throughout dinner is the height of courtesy. In a profession filled with egomaniacal inhabitants, Chef Curtat's modesty is refreshing. As one of our tablemates confided in the local patois: 'kissing don't last - cookery do'.

One dare not discuss Montreal without touching on the language issue. In this city not many summers ago, the French tongue was so predominant that Yankees speaking English were all but ignored when asking questions in their own idiom. Hardly a trace of that antagonistic philosophy remains in this second largest French speaking city in the world and the strength of he U.S dollar makes the city and all of Canada a relative bargain and hear this. Pay attention now. Montreal is actually safe at all hours.

The value of most attractions is good in a city where a visitor can leave the car in a garage and walk, where there is much to be seen and bought without maxing one's plastic. A sterling example is Montreal's underground city - especially in the cold winter months - when locals move to the caverns to escape the frigid climate outside. And what an underground it is with seamless tunnels connecting subterranean destinations, department stores, boutiques, bars and Metro stations, the Metro being comparable to that of Mexico City. Stations boast bright colors and muted lighting with trains operating quietly on pneumatic (rubber) wheels, all in a safe atmosphere and quite clean when compared to the grungy, graffiti covered subway systems in most U.S. cities. But above all, there are the friendly Quebecois who welcome all who will join them in appreciation of their city, particularly in the summer and fall when they take to the streets and participate in that most joyous of all pleasures, dining al fresco.

For information about NUANCES Restaurant, please call 514-864-1086.

Ralph Collier is a member of the American Society of Travel Writers, and has guided thousands of vacationers and business travelers to rewarding adventures with his widely syndicated radio series and newspaper columns.

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