The first snow of the year fell silently on the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal, leaving a powdered sugar cookie effect in its rouse. The light flakes would have effectively muffled out the clamor and furry that routinely ensues the tourist quarter of the metropolis. It quickly became obvious, however, that pedestrian traffic was scant. On this day, a hush overtook the outdoor courtyards and entire street of Saint-Paul alike. Being lunch hour, we seized the occasion to grab two seats at Olive & Gourmando, ordinarily notorious for long lines at noontime.
Olive and Gourmando was featured in March's edition of Gourmet magazine as one restaurant in their special tribute to Affordable Montreal.
Upon entry, the walls of the establishment are taxed with virtual eye candy, homemade products such as cherry jams, spicy nuts and homemade granola. The promise of Valhrona chocolate takes the cake in brownies, biscotti and brioches.
Being December, festive selections of fruitcake and Christmas, chocolate and fig breads were on the menu.
Recovering from the copiousness of the store's inner sanctum, my lunch partner and I effectively scrutinized the day's specials on a chalkboard near the counter. A delightful cold sandwich option included smoked trout with capers, sun dried tomatoes and spinach. But it was the gooey hot paninis which seduced us both as the obvious choice on such a winter's day. For myself it could only be Le Nouveau Chevre/The Goat Cheese, caramelized onions, goat cheese and a side of homemade ketchup
and Le Cubain for my associate, packed and pressed full of Gruyere cheese, ham, pork, mayo and homemade Chipotle.
We sipped cappuccinos until too-piping-hot to-handle grilled sandwiches were delivered to our table. I became mezmorized between fine wisps of steam emitting the slightly barnyard smell of soft goat cheese. The zing of the soft onion cut the creamy richness so as to avoid overwhelming the senses. The breakdown in texture from fresh, crisp baked bread to melting hot cheese was uncontested. Le Cubain received comparable reviews.
For dessert, O&G sells other local goodies. I chose from a selected few of Les Chocolats de Chloé, two bars, one of cocoa nib the other of ginger & dark chocolate. I decided they would make excellent stocking stuffers and bought two more.
The appeal of Olive and Gourmand is, no doubt, its ability to be simple while still adding a pinch of the acceptable whimsical edge. It's all about taste and this is about as good as it gets at mid-day.
Olive and Gourmando, 351 Saint-Paul W., Montreal, Quebec (514) 350-1083