Montréal en Lumière seems like a really elitist festival. Glancing at the program, you see the best restaurants in town offering meals that average at $60 a head, not including tip or wine, and you think, that’s two weeks of my grocery bill, for one meal. But if you dig through the program, you can find events and meals that are more aligned with the average budget, and it is well worth taking the time to find out what is going on. After all, for once, a festival is not competing with a million other festivals. Also, any excuse to eat and drink well is good enough for me.
The Special Events series is a great place to start. The Festival of Our Cheese is free admission, and is a great opportunity to discover local producers and what is on offer. The Mondial of Cider is another event that is budget friendly, where $20 will get you in, get you a tasting glass, and 10 tasting tickets which will allow you to try a variety of cidres and cider-based cocktails. There’s a maple syrup themed evening at $25/adults and $15/students and seniors, which aims to be informative and delicious. Lastly, there is a new event called “Pay Your Age,” where participating restaurants are allowing children under twelve to experience the same food as you are paying an arm and a leg for, at an extreme discount.
Montréal en Lumière features three regions per festival, and this year its Shenzhen in China, where Cantonese is the dominant cuisine, a series of Bostonian chefs and Laval regional products and talents are being featured this year. In the vein of the festival on a budget, I am going to recommend that you head over to Jean-Talon Market, where certain products will be featured, such as local lamb from Laval (!), and the Ferme Jeunes au Travail’s work, an organization that helps youth at risk integrate into the agricultural job market, will be on display. Further, there will be workshops with local Laval chefs, for free, on February 20-21st from 9am to 5pm, so get yourself a free cooking lesson from the best.
It’s hard to get away with a cheaper experience at the Finest Tables series, but if you check out the brunch and lunch offerings, you can find something that suits your taste. Bistro Beaver Hall is doing a weekend brunch for $21 (!) and that includes a mimosa. If you are looking to benefit from the Bostonian contingent, you can check out the Road Trip to the East Coast meal at État Major for $22. There are also a few Dim Sum days planned out, at $6-$12 per plate at Ikanos and at Laloux. There is even an upscale Chinese buffet being served at Le Balmoral for $26, and a late night Cantonese experience that goes until 3 a.m. at Le Local at $7 to $19 per plate, per shared dish. This is not an exhaustive list, so basically, if you comb the program, you can find some exciting ways to participate. If you prefer a drink, head over to the Lab for thematic cocktails at their usual prices.
Keep in mind, the way that this festival works is that you have to book early, or you will not get a seat at the table. Also, if you have to change your reservation, don’t be a jerk, call ahead. Restaurants are not making bank on this festival, so it’s only polite to give them a chance to at least break even by opening up your table. I have to give a special shout-out to Laloux, for being the only restaurant that is going vegetarian for their special night. At $60, it is not exactly budget, but for a five-course experience where I do not have to be a pain in the a, I’ll take the hit. Bring you appetite, but don’t break your budget, and I’ll see you at the resto.
For more information, go to http://www.montrealenlumiere.com/en-ca for the full program. The Festival runs from February 18 to March 5, 2016, and I am not kidding about booking early!