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Tastes and sounds of Montreal appeal to US tourists

Anthony D'Ambrosio

Montreal's Jean-Talon Market is located on the edge of the city's Little Italy neighborhood.

These days, Montreal is selling itself to U.S. tourists as more than just poutine and a port.

Poutine is a popular Montreal dish of French fries topped with gravy and cheese curds; and Montreal’s Old Port on the St. Lawrence River offers day cruises, museums and cobblestone streets.  

They are still must-eats and must-dos, but city promoters have been boosting their efforts to show real foodies and music lovers from the United States that they have more to offer, and many tourists see it as a lower cost alternative to Europe, say tourism experts.

“Our big draws are jazz, concerts, street performers,” said Marie-José Pinsonnault, a spokeswoman for Tourisme Montreal, adding that music festival publicists have been promoting the city’s growing jazz offerings to tourists in the states. “And there’s the new gastronomy experience,” she said, about the city’s growing number of restaurants and culinary walking tours. In addition, she added, recently the town’s seen an epicurean escalation thanks to a local chef who’s been making a name for himself in the United States.

Native Montrealer Chuck Hughes, who is chef and owner of the hard-to-score-a-reservation restaurant Garde Manger, has been hosting Food Network’s “Chuck’s Day Off” and he’s now competing to become “The Next Iron Chef.”

Local hotel managers said many U.S. tourists are asking for reservations at Hughes’ restaurant, in addition to wanting seats at establishments that offer authentic French fare, as a result of his growing popularity in the states. “Many from the U.S. are telling us they’re coming here for the cuisine and for the jazz,” said Michael Chehade, director of guest services at Auberge du Vieux-Port, located across the street from Montreal’s Old Port.

He said that guests also have told him that “Montreal is like Europe, only not so far and not as expensive.”

All these factors may be one reason there’s been a recent an uptick in U.S. tourism. After a few years of declines, the city saw a nearly 5 percent increase in travelers from over the border to 959,229 in 2010, up from 914,517 in the previous year.

If you’re a foodie, or jazz lover, here are some Montreal options:

Montreal International Jazz Festival
Considered one of the biggest jazz festivals in the world, Montreal International Jazz Festival runs for 11 days and offers 800 concerts, the majority of which are free. The next one begins June 28, 2012. 

Jazz venues
House of Jazz, a favorite of locals and tourists, looks like an old-time jazz club with leather seats and mirrors. Or for a more bohemian feel, check out Diese Onze, offering a more stark jazz bar setting and an eclectic menu including everything from satays to foie gras. In addition, a growing number of restaurants and bars throughout the city are offering live music on many weekend nights.

Culinary walking tours and public markets
Walking tours through Montreal’s food hotspots, including Old Montreal and Montreal’s Jean-Talon Market in the Little Italy district, are provided through Tourisme Montréal and VDM Global. Or you can just walk yourself, or take public transportation, to Jean-Talon, or the city’s other year-round public markets, including Atwater, Maisonneuve and Lachine.

Montreal High Lights Festival
The city’s port comes alive in the dead of winter during this festival of lights that runs from Feb. 16 to Feb 26. It offers food and wine tastings and culinary competitions, in addition to an array of concerts and light shows.

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Eve Tahmincioglu writes the weekly "Your Career" column for msnbc.com and chronicles workplace issues in her blog, CareerDiva.net.