Musical Mélange: Montreal

Random Recipe  by Marie Caire Denis

Random Recipe concert  by Marie Caire Denis

Lucky me. I’m just back from the 35th anniversary celebration at the Festival International de Jazz Montréal. As world-class talents Diana Krall, Pat Metheny, Tony Bennett and B.B. King agree,”It’s the best jazz festival in the world.” Oh, yes.

Yoann Lemoine also known as Woodkid, performs at the Montreal Jazz Festival, 2014.

Woodkid performs at Montreal Jazz 2014

Each year I discover new treasures, and this year it’s Woodkid, the versatile French artist who “popped” opening night with an emotional and electric performance that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.

Two years ago, I was blown away by Sophie Hunger’s soul poetry. In 2009, it was Guy Bélanger’s harmonica genius, which sounds like an oxymoron until you hear him. This year I fell in love with Montreal trumpeter and singer, Nico Sarbanes, who has us on our feet in thunderous appreciation of I’m Through with Love.


Harry Manx & Dave Lindley

After sunny outdoor sets by St. Luc high school jazz band, Concordia’s Willis Pride Quartet, and a passionate performance by beloved Streetnix, it feels great to chill at an indoor venue. Gesu Centre provides a cool respite from sun and outdoor crowds at with lap-slide bluesman Harry Manx, sharing the stage with virtuoso guitar-man Dave Lindley, whose distinctive guitar wail will take you back to the first time you heard Jackson Browne’s Running On Empty.

Dinan Krall July 2014 - Photo Marie Claire Denis

Diana Krall by Marie Claire Denis

Or you may prefer the star-studded outdoor spectacles that offer something for every musical taste and all ages. The ever-burgeoning festival includes over 500 concerts and events — both ticketed and free. The indoor and outdoor lineup this year includes the incomparable Diana Krall, Rufus Wainwright, Diana Ross, Keith Jarrett, Dianne Reeves, smooth native-son Michael Bublé, and so many more. Plus special programs like Piazzolla Plays Piazzola, Zappa Plays Zappa — terrific.

I’m lucky enough to see Dianne Reeves’ blues performance of jazz standards and her trademark scat. Tonight she pays tribute to the great Celia Cruz — azúcar!

Trixie Whitley July 2014 courtesy photo

Trixie Whitley July 2014 courtesy photo

Daniel Lanois, a Montreal stalwart, opens his set with the very romantic and familiar Tremeloe — moving and electric. His woo-woo guitar work is familiar and plummy. Just as I start to go into a Lanois-trance, he switches gears and is joined by blues-mistress Trixie Whitley t whom he refers as “adventurous heart.”

Whitley lights up the stage with Surely You Were Meant To Be Mine. Drummer Brian Beck is an old hand, relaxed and ultra-cool. Whitley plays along with him on a smaller set of drums. As she gains steam, her expression is pure cat-and-canary. Real-time B&W film projected above the artists grants us a fascinating bird’s eye view of their collaboration.

Musical bright lights continue to assemble onstage with the legendary EmmyLou Harris who croons Ma Jolie Louise to French-speakers in the audience who roar in approval. On the legendary Lanois — and his talented friends — truly soar.

July 7 2014 courtesy photo

July 7 2014 courtesy photo

Countdown to 2015 – 364 Days

I plunge back into the festival masses – wow. With the exception of the enormous marches on Washington of my youth, I have never been in a bigger, happier and more peaceful crowd. For a woman traveling alone, the Montreal Jazz Festival can’t be beat for safety and security — Montreal, je t’taime.

Whether you drive or fly, it is always worth the trip to savor our jazzy and sophisticated neighbors to the north. Treat yourself to a dazzling world of music, culture, saveur and savoir at the Jazz Festival set in the heart of the Quartier des spectacles in downtown Montréal. You have 364 days to plan for 2015!  •

©Festival International de Jazz de Montréal - Victor Diaz Lamich (panorama 2)UP NEXT: :  Epicurean Adventures in Montreal!



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Montreal Night Life, Art & Cuisine – C’est Magnifique!

Cool Cuisine

While Jazz Fest takes over the Quartier des Spectacles in the downtown core and offers a diversity of food and drink, restaurants and eating opportunities abound in the sprawling festival site. Find everything from haute-cuisine by world-class chefs to gourmet sandwiches and open-air food trucks in Old Montreal, less than a 10-minute walk away. Stroll to nearby Chinatown for tried-and-true Chinese dishes, dim sum, banh-mi sandwiches and pho soup, sushi, Szechuan specialities, and much more. My daughter loves the bubble tea.

Just north of the fest are gastro-pubs, casual bistros and quirky upscale dining spots along Saint-Laurent Boulevard. Montreal’s all-season nightlife must include bar-hopping, and there’s no shortage of watering holes nearby. Settle into one of the city’s wine bars, sip microbrews at Benelux on Sherbrooke, Cheval Blanc on Ontario Street, Brutopia on Crescent Street, L’amere a Boire and Le Saint Bock on Saint-Denis, and Les Soeurs Grises in the Old Port. Late nights bring drink specials, wow. Dance the night away to jazz, rock or soul classics at clubs in Old Montreal, along Saint-Laurent in the Plateau.

FIMA4MURAL Festival Transforms Montreal

With an international public art festival bound to the celebration of creativity and the democratization of urban art, MURAL transforms the Saint-Laurent Boulevard for a week into a real open-air museum, where local and international artists unite their talents for spectacular, hands-on results. Creativity and the visual arts await, now, June 12 to 15!

There is so much arty, foodie and jazzy fun to be had this summer in my favorite North American city – Montreal.  I’m on my way. Don’t miss it!  •



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Singin’ and Swingin’

The Great Wayne Shorter

The incomparable Wayne Shorter by Victor Diaz Lamich

35th Montréal Jazz Festival June 26-July 6

FIJM_logo_2014_nbLucky me — I’m heading for the 35th Anniversary of the Festival International de Jazz Montréal June 26. Blues titan B.B. King says,”It’s the best jazz festival in the world,” and I agree. Artists like Diana Krall, Pat Metheny, Tony Bennett, Charlie Hayden and Al Jarreau concur: there’s nothing quite like it in North America.

Esperanza Spalding © Denis Alix

Bassist Esperanza Spalding by Denis Alix

Each year I discover a favorite artist, venue or sound. Three years ago it was the the poetic mistress of  art and soul, Switzerland’s own Sophie Hunger. I fell in love with the magical Esperanza Spalding a few years ago, too. This year I’m looking forward to Woodkid, the versatile French artist who’s guaranteed to “pop” opening night. I can’t wait.

My husband loves the outdoor “spectacles” that are sprawling, joyous, and free. For an intimate experience, hit the smaller venues for jazzy trios and quartets; I will see the great Harry Manx at Gesú. There is so much going on in the ever-expanding Place des Festivals — something for everyone. And music fans of all ages will be happily surprised at how much is free.

The Stellar Array: A Glimpse of the 35th Edition

Wow. Diana Ross, Rufus Wainwright, Bobby McFerrin, Tom Harrell, Keith Jarrett, Trixie Whitley, Dianne Reeves, Escalandrum, Ginger Baker Jazz Confusion with Pee Wee Ellis, Bombino, Farruquito, Piazzolla Plays Piazzola, Zappa Plays Zappa, and For the Record: Tarantino in Concert. And this is just a small sample.

The full schedule (see, includes over 500 concerts and events, ticketed and free. Whether you drive or fly, it is always worth the trip to celebrate with our jazzy and sophisticated neighbors to the north. Treat yourself to a dazzling world of music, culture, saveur and savoir at the 2014 Festival lnternational de Jazz Montréal!


This year I have been asked by RealFoodTraveler in Portland, Or., to explore the legendary saveur of the Montreal food scene. Jazz Fest founder and director Andres Menard was kind enough to share a few of his personal favorite bars and bistros with me. So stay tuned for every chewy, tantalizing and authentic bite of Montréal!  •

©Festival International de Jazz de Montréal - Victor Diaz Lamich (panorama 2)2014 Highlights:

  • Diana Ross –a true Diva if ever there was one, – is a showbiz icon and living legend. This is her very first visit to the Festival.
  • The brilliant pianist, daring composer, living legend and peerless improviser, Keith Jarrett, in a solo concert—it’s been almost 25 years since the virtuoso has treated us to a signature event.
  • Bobby McFerrin is a hypnotic performer and artist of a concert experience as dizzying as it is unforgettable—a jubilant musical pilgrimage.
  • Zappa Plays Zappa The fabulous, inspired and slightly mad project conceived by Dweezil Zappa: to revive his father’s wildly eclectic and ambitious repertoire.
  • Dianne Reeves has long since won her place in the pantheon of jazz singers; a flamboyant onstage performer loved by critics and audiences alike.
  • Ginger Baker with Pee Wee Ellis, Alec Dankworth and Abass Dodoo British drum-legend and rock titan, Ginger Baker, heads a quartet of major talent.
  • Farruquito One of the greatest male flamenco dancers of the century, Farruquito performs authentic, passionate and visceral flamenco.
  • Piazzolla Plays Piazzolla by Escalandrum Daniel “Pipi” Piazzolla, Nicolás Guerschberg, Mariano Sívori, Damián Fogiel, Martín Pantyrer and Gustavo Musso bring together the best of all possible musical worlds.
  • Tom Harrell Colors of a Dream with Esperanza Spalding, Jaleel Shaw, Johnathan Blake, Ugonne Okegwo, Wayne Escoffery This high-voltage jazz summit unites legendary trumpeter Tom Harrell, fascinating bassist Esperanza Spalding, and Jaleel Shaw on alto sax.
  • For the Record: Tarantino in ConcertAn electrifying spectacle, this troupe of 28 dancers, musicians and performers serves up cult scenes from the modern master of American cinema.
  • Rufus Wainwright Solo Wainwright unveils his latest release two years after thrilling us in Place des Festivals. Montréal’s beloved native son promises a very special solo treat.
  • Trixie Whitley The daughter of late-lamented soul-bluesman Chris Whitley once again enfolds us in her incandescent blues-soul universe—an amazing performer.
  • Bombino The young guitar star blew us away with his Tamashek desert blues-rock, literally born of rebellion. He’s had huge international success, and we’re thrilled he’s back in Montreal!  •

“Back In Montreal” by Leonard Cohen – Limited Edition Print – Hambleton Galleries




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Symphonic Dining

natalie-s-1-2-2014-5-of-51.jpg.1140x481_default chi-logo-rectangle-31.jpg.480x760Natalie’s at Camden Harbour Inn was honored Saturday with Diners’ Choice Top 100 Best Restaurants in America Award. The OpenTable Top 100 Award is based on five million reviews of 19,000 restaurants, nationwide – wow.

The celebratory luncheon created by Chefs Long, Stevens and Sturdivant featured wine pairings by Natalie’s poised and delightful sommelier, Micah Wells. My first course was Katama oysters with smoked potato, chorizo, creme fraiche and sofritto. My second was a gorgeous local farm egg, artichokes, gnocchi, aged goat cheese and a few pine nuts. Dreamy and unctuous, this is sexy food.

Dessert was equally decadent and included a take-home box with delicate swooshy macarons – my absolute favorite confection – how did they know?

Tianna Baker opentable_logofrom OpenTable presented the prestigious award inscribed on a sauté pan, and noted that Natalie’s is the only restaurant in the “Top 100″ located here in Maine.

Relais and Chateaux

New status for a historic Camden property

I was lucky enough to be invited to Daniel restaurant in December when Relais & Chateaux status was bestowed on Camden Harbor Inn over a yummy, first-rate luncheon by Bouloud himself. “First becoming Relais & Chateaux, and now this prestigious award!” exulted owner Raymond Brunyanszki yesterday, “It is an honor to be included on this list with so many incredible restaurants around the country.”


Raymond and Oscar

And he’s not kidding – the other Top 100 recipients include The French Laundry in California, Le Bernardin, and Eleven Madison Park in NY, and the Girl and the Goat in Chicago – very distinguished company!

Raymond Brunyanszki and partner Oscar Verest, their chefs, managers, waitstaff and sommelier have made Natalie’s at Camden Harbour Inn a true culinary destination – both an amazing place to stay and a incomparable dining experience. Ms. Baker compared Natalie’s to a great orchestra, whose players have mastered their craft and work in harmony to create “a symphonic dining experience.”  Play on. •


Executive Chefs Chris Long and Shelby Stevens

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A Big Bite of Broadway

Rana_BologneseAh, New York. We’re meeting at Chelsea Market, a former biscuit factory with a hipster vibe. It’s now a food and shopping court, just this side of touristy. I head for Giovanni Rana pastificio for a spritz, the sparkly cocktail that blends Campari and prosecco with a hit of orange. A spritz tastes like Italian summer and is a perfect way to celebrate the end of this dreary winter.

My companion arrives, predictably hungry. We savor Rana’s hefty artisanal charcuterie board with its tiny surprise of fried gnocchi — and save room for the Bolognese.

3penny_pageatlantic theater companyThe new production of The Threepenny Opera at Atlantic Theater Company reinterprets the 1928 musical by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill – a darkly funny, gritty piece by gifted director and choreographer Martha Clarke. Following the exploits of charismatic cad, Macheath, is a gas, and surprise! makes us hungry.

After Midnight

images-4A few blocks away is Mario Batali’s Otto pizzeria. Otto’s fennel and bottarga pie arrives steaming, with fluffy shaved fennel, mullet roe and delicate cheeses. Beautiful. If you’d prefer to skip Mario’s train-ticket schtick to Lucca, Roma, and Napoli (it just makes me homesick), go after 11:00 p.m. Cute doesn’t work after midnight.

llewynTime Travel

We’re in the mood for sentiment with a touch of social relevance. We head to Quad Cinema, an old-fashioned art house for  Inside Llewyn Davis. It echoes the NY weather, snowy and bleak, but is a wonderfully evocative trip to the 1960s.

DSCN0880Park Avenue winesThe Rock

Stop and admire the skaters at Rockefeller Center and the deco frieze that says,  “Wisdom and Knowledge shall be the stability of thy times.” Man, I hope so. I meander some more and take in as much of Times Square as I can bear. Expecting a guest, I conclude my ramble at Park Avenue Wines with midtown’s savvy wine guys.


My old pal Stephen Z. knows a thing or two about great meals. We meet at Kefi, a Greek restaurant with a rustic menu and great prices. The word “Kefi” expresses the bliss of a bacchanal, and ours includes Yiayia’s meatballs, tzatziki and soft pita, plus warm feta and a robust charred octopus with chick peas – definitely my favorite bite of the week. Kefi’s minerally Greek wines balance her rich Mediterranean flavors. Sample their potent array of ouzos – gia sou!

    imagesCRI_147112Between meals, we snack on galleries and museums, large and small. It’s a short walk to MoMA‘s glorious collection of old friends Henri Matisse, Picasso, Braque and more. 80916_A2_Chemex_CoffeemakerDon’t miss MoMA’s magnificent shop where my taste is revealed to be a mid-century modern cliché.

vintage-french-poster-artists-135Take the  subway to SoHo images-1and The Drawing Center – a great resource where I learn a lot about drawing and a thing or two about myself.

Don’t miss the Chisolm Gallery’s collection of vintage posters in Chelsea. Surprise! I love the wine, food and travel images.


Go straight to the top to Birreria for wood-fire roasted maitake mushrooms with pecorino and velvety green olive oil. Don’t be tempted by the fried shiitakes with sage which most resemble greasy baby cronuts. Enjoy the smoky maitakes, a few drinks and the view and call it a night. If you’re still hungry, head downstairs to Manzo for better choices and less racket. Or Pesce, where we’re obsessed with the sea urchin crostini. With a chilled glass of Vermentino – ecstasy.

Yo Adrian


Rocky, the new über-sincere musical at the Winter Garden Theater, echoes the iconic film. Little has changed: Rocky trains on sides of beef, gulps raw eggs, and Adrian still works at the pet shop. “I ain’t no bum,” Rocky says, “I’m no loser,” and we feel it.

images-1The show opens with the stirring trumpet fanfare familiar to boxing fans and Penn grads, “Gonna Fly Now,” and segues to a new anthem, “Ain’t Down Yet.”  The new songs aren’t quite as strong as they could be, but yo, the show has major muscle. Rocky’s lonely and punishing training – running along the Schuylkill and up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art – hits the stage with gritty, hi-tech black-and-white images of urban Philadelphia. The visual effects are stunning and by the end, we’re on our feet, yelling like the true boxing fans we are. This Rocky is electrifying. And yes – love wins. •

NY tableauPearsBeer casks at EatalyWisdom and KnowledgeNY breakfast II

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Eating The Polar Vortex

Opening_ceremony_CarnavalAlas. With a wastebasket full of canceled flights and snow piled higher than Marge Simpson’s hair, it’s clear I am not going to make it to this year’s winter Carnaval de QuébecI decide to stage my own damn carnaval and recreate some favorite Québécois treats. Jane and David Hartley four-wheel up the Hill to join us. Things are definitely looking up.


First things first. I prepare a steaming pot of Caribou, Quebec’s trademark mulled cocktail of red wine, maple syrup, orange slices, cinnamon sticks and whiskey. My interpretation substitutes an inspired hit of Jack Daniels, et voila!

It is hard to deny the pleasures of a hot toddy in the middle of a nor’easter.


iStock_000033421784SmallFortified, next is a classic French Tourtière, Canada’s traditional meat pie. Using equal parts ground pork and bison, plus nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and a cup of mashed potato, I pack the rich, dense filling into my “Canadian Living” recipe for buttery pie crust. Tourtière is rustic – do not attempt a maple leaf flourish unless you are Martha Stewart.


After our imaginary day of snowy tubing, ice slides, “extreme” sledding, cross-country skiing, skating, and snowshoeing along the Plains of Abraham with tubby festival escort, red-capped “Bonhomme,” we’re tuckered out and ready for a sweet reward.

Tarte au Sucre

I tasted my first sugar pie at the legendary foie gras palace, Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal, and have never forgotten. The unctuous tart combines brown sugar and maple syrup with eggs, toasted walnuts, butter and vanilla, and baked in a delicate crust until silky and achingly sweet – just this side of de trop. Topped with whipped cream, exquis! Best eaten in the company of good friends with some of Jane’s fresh citrus and berries. • 

“Recipes” – top right of page under EpicuriousTravelers header.


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Devouring New York: Let It Snow

Snowy NYC IIIt’s a blizzard. Thousands of flights have been cancelled. We land in high winds and blowing snow as passengers applaud with relief. The white-knuckle cab ride from JFK into Manhattan is two hours of slushy gladiatorial combat.

Raymond & Oscar

Raymond Brunyanzski  and Oscar Verest

I arrive on the Upper East Side rattled and undone. I snuffle past Alexander McQueen and realize I am woefully underdressed for luncheon at Chef Boulud’s eponymous restaurant, DANIEL, where I’m invited to celebrate the Relais & Chateaux status of Maine’s Camden Harbour Inn & Natalie’s Restaurant. Innkeepers Oscar Verest and Raymond Brunyanzski are tall and handsome, glowing like two beautiful Maine lighthouses.

Daniel Boulud and friend at R&C awards©margolispineoExquisite

We’re served puffy cheese gougeres and chilled Champagne. We compose ourselves on cocoa-colored sofas surrounded by seasonal blooms. Sweet bites of lobster and tiny fontina tarts with black truffle are savory and fabulous. Chicken liver mousse with porcini and more truffle is silky, decadent — tastier than my Bubbe’s but just as nurturing. Despite the cosmopolitan crowd, I quickly forget both the weather and my wardrobe.

All smiles, Chef Boulud accepts a special “welcome” award from friends and colleagues. Relais & Chateaux‘s Philippe Gombert graciously shares his secret weapon for gustatory excess, papaya enzyme. I vastly prefer his father’s recommendation — chilled Champagne.

Later, I breathlessly describe the scene to my companion who says if I use the word “exquisite” one more time he will throw himself off the Chrysler Building. Fair enough.

Cheri.wideaEvening in Paris

Martha Clarke’s Chéri is a new musical inspired by Colette’s story of a love affair between an older woman and much younger man. This sensual fusion of theater, music and dance features the American Ballet Theatre’s brilliant duo of Herman Cornejo and Alessandra Ferri. Sexy stuff in gorgeous light designed by Portland, Maine’s own ridiculously talented Christopher Akerlind.

Photo Greg Constanzo >

Crudo EscaBastianich

Trattoria Esca‘s salmon crudo in tangerine oil is followed by “Fatty Toro” – unctuous, delicious and unforgettable. House-made chestnut pappardelle pasta blends traditional Tuscan flavor with a kiss of sage. Whole branzino (sea bass) is prepared with white truffle, sea salt and Mediterranean skill. A sensuous feast should always follow a tragic love story, yes?

Vermeer_The_Girl_With_The_Pearl_Earring_(1665)Frick & Franklin

Between meals we graze the Frick Collection, whose current exhibition includes Vermeer’s beloved Girl with a Pearl Earring. We’re deeply moved by brooding Rembrandts and Adriaen Coorte’s Still Life with Five Apricots. I guess you could say art makes us hungry.

salzmann_06Franklin Bowles gallery in the West Village has mounted an extensive exhibition of Gottfried Salzmann’s work. At 70, his bird’s-eye cityscapes are gritty and vertiginous. How grateful I am for his fascination with skyscrapers, oh my.


Polpo at Babbo IIWe hit Babbo around midnight. With the possible exception of the music, Babbo never disappoints. Our favorite dish of polpo (octopus) is served grilled, blackened to tender submission. Delicate pumpkin-filled lune (moons) are sweet and silky. Calamari á la Sicilian Lifeguard is spicy hot with sweet meat and tentacles in a tangle of caper berries, olives and tomato — as robust and tasty as a Sicilian lifeguard.


We can’t get enough sea urchin crostini at Il Pesce at Eataly. Our server recognizes us from last year and maybe the year before. Uh-oh. We attempt to diversify, savoring the mussel, clam and pumpkin Brodetto – it’s good. So is the crudo, it’s excellent, as is the wine, Vespa from Joe Bastianich. But we’re obsessed with the sea urchin, obsessively returning three times, maybe four. Mario, please send the recipe so we can enjoy the holidays.

picasso-stein1Soul Music

The Mother Of Us All at the Manhattan School of Music tells the story of Susan B. Anthony’s struggle for suffrage in the pithy poetic voice of Gertrude Stein. This is authentic American history delivered via extraordinary native opera — beautifully staged, stirring and accessible.

bechdelfunhome189detailAnother remarkable journey is the new musical at the Public Theater, Fun Home, based on Alison Bechdel’s tragicomic memoir of growing up and coming out. “I’m changing my major to Joan!” will crack you up and break your heart.

2.30 at Chelsea MarketSame Time Next Year

We conclude with a ramble through the twinkling Chelsea Market for Christmas cards and a bowl of Giovanni Rana‘s tagliatelle Bolognese, sturdy and delicious. Our waiter is delectable, too, with hipster glasses and a thick swoosh of chestnut hair, delzioso.

Our final pit-stop is Macaron Parlour on St. Marks Place for a bag of Christmas cheer (read: buttercream and ganache). Savory flavors include s’mores, red velvet, and candied bacon with maple cream. Bite into an Earl Grey chocolate-filled macaron for a Smurfalicious blue surprise — I love New York. •


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