It really isn’t. But I’ll get to that in a moment… Let me start off by saying I had a fabulous trip to Montreal last week. I rode a Bixi for the first time (rent-a-bikes that we are now starting to see here in NYC courtesy of Citibank), I saw Penguins sleeping at the Biodome (it’s currently winter in the Southern Hemisphere and they apparently need their snooze time), and finally mastered saying “Merci” with the proper accent.
And of course no trip into international territory would be complete unless I fell in love… Oui oui… one man in particular won my heart. His name is Chico and I met him while picnicking in the park:
Don’t we look cute together? Chico’s family warmed up to me immediately and allowed us to spend the day together. And what fun we had playing catch and laying in the grass! Together, we learned a new game—pétanque. It’s similar to bocce ball and it involves throwing balls on a rectangular playing field and getting them as close to the designated target as possible. Make sense? Probably not, but what can you expect from an American who can barely explain the rules of baseball?
And then there was Pierre… ooo la la… those Frenchmen get me every time. He was the shy, quiet type who doesn’t get out much. I decided to take him for a much needed day/night on the town in Montreal. Can't you see the look of joy in his eyes at finally getting out of the house?
Hmmmm... perhaps I'm the one who's overjoyed, while Pierre just has dilated pupils. As for my friends, while they were initially reluctant to let Pierre tag along, they eventually accepted him as part of the group:
Pierre made the journey with us via my backback to see the Penguins at the aforementioned Biodome. He was so excited to meet his fine-feathered friends, but unfortunately, there were not as excited to see him:
He's totally passed out! Not one penguin even lifted a wing to wave hello to Pierre. Sacré bleu! To cheer him up, my friends and I took him out for some beer, foosball and pool. You can see my friend Sue conferring with him on a pool shot:
But back to the poutine… What the hell is poutine, some of you are asking? Well, it was my last night in Montreal and I also wanted to know the answer to that question. My friend Mark had been raving about it since his trip to Montreal and basically told me not to return to the states unless I tried it. At the core, poutine is French fries, gravy and cheese. This, in and of itself, sounds delightful and delectable to my taste buds. But wait a minute… you can then add an assortment of meats and veggies to your dish! The possibilities are endless. What normally was something you ate at 3:00 in the morning when you were drunk in a diner began to sound like a legitimate meal. I mean, if I add chicken and mushrooms to my poutine, I’ve essentially hit the four basic food groups: meat, vegetables, bread and dairy. Voila!
My friend Mark recommended La Banquise as the quintessential place to try poutine:
With me, were two people from Montreal, two others from France and one American like myself. The server greeted us, but then disappeared for fifteen minutes before she came back. After taking our order, she disappeared again but I barely noticed. I was thrilled to be so close to finally sampling this Canadian casserole I had heard so much about! What I did notice, however, was the sudden reappearance of the server, who unceremoniously dropped our bill on the table. At first, I thought it might be some kind of joke. After all, we hadn't even gotten our food. Not only that, the server hadn't done anything other than take our order. Did she really think we should pay the bill and tip her in advance of our meal?
I wondered if this was common practice in Montreal, but everyone around me (including the Canadians) was as surprised as I was. A few minutes later, the server returned and stood at the table until we paid the bill. Seriously. She did not walk away until she had all her money, even though our food had still not arrived. I was utterly shocked. This wasn't take-out service. We were sitting down at a table to enjoy a meal. Where I come from, you do not pay for your food in advance unless you’re at a McDonald's or a Starbucks.
I am actually a server myself, and perhaps that is why I took my treatment to heart. It should be noted that La Banquise is open 24 hours a day/7 days a week and probably gets their share of unsavory characters in various states of sobriety. That said, my friends and I should not be punished for drunken customers who "dine and dash." I want to be treated with the same respect I would give anyone that sat at one of my tables in my restaurant. It comes down to caring about your guests and giving them a good experience, whether you’re at a diner or a Michelin star restaurant.
If nothing else, La Banquise should print their payment policies on their menu and/or have the servers clearly communicate it to their tables so everyone knows up front what the deal is. While I enjoyed my poutine very much, the service definitely left a bad taste in my mouth. Thankfully, there’s always alcohol available to wash any unpleasantness away…
As I made my journey home the next morning, I emailed the restaurant to let them know about our experience and the inappropriateness of our server’s behavior. (I have yet to hear back from them and suspect I never will.) I crossed the border without any incident and as I listened to music, I glanced out the window. Next to me, was a truck driver who had the following sign taped to his window, “Show me your tits, girls.” I guess that was his way of saying, “Welcome to America.” It wasn't exactly the "Welcome home" I expected, but I guess that's why it's called "The land of the free." And I wouldn't want it any other way.