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Montreal from A to Z. 'F' is for food
Two 'metro geeks' team up to create an online guide to restos within walking distance of Montreal subway stops
The Gazette

Le chemin le plus court vers son estomac passe par le metro. ... The shortest path to one's stomach passes by the metro.

So opens MetroBoulotResto, a quirky, bilingual, online guide to places to eat within walking distance of Montreal metro stops. The name's a play on the Parisian adage metro-boulot-dodo (metro-work-sleep).

"Lots of people use the metro," reasons Cedric Sam, 26-year-old co-founder of the site with Jennifer Wu. "I use it to discover new places, so this guide is for people like us - foodies in transit, and non-foodie travellers.

"People are on the run a lot. We always have those guides classified by neighbourhoods, but you still have to get there and chances are you are going to get there by metro. That's why we have a site like this." Here are the site's caveats: There's a bias for Asian eateries ("because we happen to be Chinese," Sam says).

Walking distance is defined as within 15 minutes of a stop.

"Resto" is a loose term that includes patisseries, chocolatiers and ice cream parlours.

The guide is not exhaustive. It doesn't cover every eatery - or even every metro stop in the system. There's nothing east of Papineau Ave., Sam notes.

Actually, it's a pretty arbitrary listing, based on the travel habits and eating preferences of Sam and Wu, with a sprinkling of contributions from a couple of friends.

"It's not as if I'm a professional reviewer," Sam says. "It's 'tonight I went to this resto. ...' We're not taking ourselves seriously. I just like to go to restos and I like to share that with other people." But what the guide lacks in professional criticism, it may make up for in down-to-earth information. Some samplings: "When they say spicy, they don't mean white-person spicy." "The wait staff will fill up your coffee until you have a heart attack." "Delicious vegan with an eclectic no-waste concept. You must finish your meal or you don't get dessert." "The meat sometimes tastes funny, and I'm not sure if it's the marinade or the fridge." The initial idea for the site came from Wu, a McGill University law student. She and Sam each had restaurant reviews on their blogs.

"She googled me one day, found out I am Chinese, that I speak English and French, and added me to her blog," Sam says. "Actually, we've never met in real life, we've communicated only via email. It's cool how the Web brings people together." Her website simply listed places where she likes to eat, using the metro as a guide.

"I took it from there," says Sam, a Web programmer. "I bought the and came up with the name. She did the graphic design; I did the computer part." The site is bilingual. "It detects the browser you have. Depending on the language you use, it will appear in that language." Sam and Wu have each contributed about 35 reviews, occasionally writing separate reviews of the same place - like this soup joint, Pho Lien, near Cote des Neiges metro: "Most popular place on the block. My mom likes their Pho. Closed Tuesday." (JW) "The pho served there is one of the most well-presented in the city. Rare beef, sliced extremely thin, and placed directly over the noodles at the interface between the soup and ambient air. ... The rice cakes w/eggs is a house specialty you can't find elsewhere." (CS) The reviews are short and sweet, informal and friendly. "Sometimes it's only the highlights," Sam says. "We didn't want to bore people." "It was meant for foodies that appreciate good eating for what it is, and don't need the glam and fancy atmosphere," Wu says in an email from Bangkok. "Plus I wanted to be to the point about what makes each resto special: like the fact that my mom likes their pho, or that the owner was an ex-Peking Opera star. This is only because I'm bored with the same old typical restaurant critiques, with their canned reviews for canned tastes. Who's interested in that?" But the metro system is still at the heart of it all.

"It would be cool to have (a guide) with buses," Sam muses. "But the metro is cool. We are transportation geeks, crazy about the transit system, how many lines, the logo. ... We even had a survey online, on which metro you used.

"I'm one of those, and Jen, too - metro geeks and foodies." The map of the metro system, with its orange, green, yellow and blue lines, is what comes up when you go to the site ( Click on a stop to bring up a list of eateries that Wu and Sam have reviewed, and you may also find a photo of the platforms.

"Lionel Groulx is my favourite because there's no name visible in the photo but you can recognize it from the floor pattern," Sam says.

He planned to launch the site the day the Laval metro extension opened, but got it up a week early. Oddly, he got his driver's licence the same day.

One final caveat on the site: "Since it's running off my home computer in the basement, when the electricity goes off, so does the site." cfidelman@

© The Gazette (Montreal) 2007


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