Pursuits: Francine Prose on Montreal in the Spring: The Time of the Butterflies

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That was not what happened. The receptionist hid his consternation beautifully, conferred with a few co-workers, then returned, smiling, to say: “My colleague is smarter than I am, and has figured out how we can make this work.” They showed us to a table against a long banquette at which we could sit Pablo between his sisters, Emilia, 11, and Malena, 7, comfortably and with enough room so that he wouldn’t feel hemmed in. Before we’d even ordered, they offered to bring out plates of pasta with butter and cheese for the kids.

Later, when the younger kids did get restless, a host brought over a toy animal she’d improvised, using a few wine corks and some sticks, a creature with which Pablo and Malena played happily while their parents and grandparents dined on exquisite braised piglet risotto with foie gras shavings, perfect seared scallops with fennel purée and lemon confit, halibut with chorizo and almonds, and, for dessert, maple syrup parfait with red berry sauce.

The staff was similarly resourceful and accommodating at the legendary and marvelous restaurant Joe Beef in the Little Burgundy neighborhood, widely known for its dedication to excellent, lavish portions and gourmet excess, and at Le Pied de Cochon, one of my Montreal favorites and a 10-minute drive from the old port, where, though we were by then slightly woozy from two days of feasting, I insisted that at least one of us try one of the restaurant’s specialties: duck in a can. It’s an ultrarich dish that — as a waiter with a can opener releases it from the can — arrives with an especially dramatic presentation, as the food and sauce and delicious aroma spill out.

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