Friday, December 21, 2018

Eating BIG in Quebec City

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Exploring French-Canada (QC edition)

We decided to go to Montreal this past November. Bc we had the time to spend more than just a few days there we also decided to do Quebec City. It wasn't that high on my bucket-list but it was on my to do list so to say. I'd always wanted to check it out and always figured I would do so when I went to Montreal. So we decided to give QC three nights and while that was probably just right you wouldn't miss too much if you just did two. It's a beautiful city to walk and luckily the weather wasn't anything awful. In fact it warmer there than it was in Chicago while we were away. My favorite part of the city was the fact that it didn't feel like we were in North America. It felt like we were overseas somewhere.

Sights from Quebec City

My favorite thing to do here was walk around. I loved looking at all the different old school living spaces as well as churches and such. There's quite a good amount of ground you can cover from the Old Town area down by the river all the way up to the Upper Town area where the famous Fairmount Château Frontenac is found. As far as the famous hotel goes it was cool to pay it a visit but those type of spots with 400+ rooms are not my style. If looking for a more intimate experience I recommend the Auberge Saint-Antoine in the Old Town area. It's a closer to most of the good stuff.

Sights from Quebec City

Supposedly the food scene in Quebec City has done a 180 in the last 10 years. Quite a few people in the industry there had mentioned this while we were talking with them. As far as my hit list goes (spots I want to visit) I never had a smaller one. It's a small city and most of whats covered online is found in Old Town and the surrounding areas. I'm sure there's more out there but I didn't have as many must stop spots as I usually do. Not the biggest of deals bc we made sure to make reservations for each night. The popular spots are just that and most of them are small intimate places with limited seating so make sure to at least reserve for dinner. The food is heavy so keep that in mind for lunch.

More Sights from Quebec City

Though there's plenty of pluses to visiting Quebec City in the summer they had just started decorating for Christmas and it looked like it was a very festive Christmas city. There was a certain charm to the cold that I cant describe but keep in mind it was in the mid 40's so it's not like it was dead winter. Maybe Mid November is the best time to go bc it's not yet winter and Xmas stuff is up.

 Sights from Quebec City
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Fromagerie des Grondines

This is the city shop of a very well known cheese farm in the Quebec countryside. Aside from a  wonderful array of meats and cheese behind glass they also have food and coffee to dine in with. I'd read they make some great grilled cheese sandwiches using their homemade cheeses and locally baked bread. It was right by another spot we wanted to try so we stopped for a raclette grilled cheese. It would've been nice if I had a kitchen or something while in Quebec City bc the display case was filled with some outstanding looking stuff. It indeed reminded me of the meat and cheese shops in France. The sandwich was exactly what I thought it was going to be. Which was really good. The quality of both the cheese and bread was top shelf making for a delicious snack to start our day.

Raclette Grilled Cheese at Fromagerie des Grondines
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 Le Renard et la Chouette

This is a good spot to check out if you're looking to get away from big groups of tourists. The type of spot that many of the city's younger gastro driven locals seek out. It seemed like most of the younger crowd both in front of and behind the bar knew each other. We were there for some natural wines and some meats and cheeses. The friendly bartender asked what we liked and put together a perfect plate of charcuterie. In hindsight it would've been nice to see what the kitchen here can do but we had made sure to make reservations for each night as the popular spots are always packed.

Charcuterie at Le Renard et la Chouette
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Casse-Croute Chez Gaston

The entire province of Quebec is BIG on it's fast food. Every town has a Casse-Croute which is what they call these little shops selling poutine, hot dogs, burgers and more. They're known for their greasy walls and cheap food that's best enjoyed after some local brews. I snuck over to this spot rec'd on Reddit by a local. I wanted to try something very traditional for my first poutine of the trip and I got that at this location of a popular regional fast food outlet called Chez Gaston. I was told this was a superior location to others. It was a small spot that could fit maybe six people. I saw other locations that looked like full blown fast food outlets. This location was much more personal. The poutine was good but the fries suffered from the fatal mistake of not double frying. They need to learn that skill.

Poutine at Chez Gaston 
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Kraken Cru

The Saint-Sauveur neighborhood is home to some of the new and vibrant food experiences in town. I'd read that Kraken Cru sits atop the list of such spots. Critics, locals, and tourists are all in on the  third spot from local restaurateurs François Jobin, Olivier Thibault-Allard, and Olivier Lescelleur Saint-Cyr. Kraken Cru became a hit after being listed in the 2016 Air Canada sponsored list of the Best New Restaurants in Canada. Inspired by North America's east coast raw bars, the kitchen serves local oysters and other small plates featuring different bounties of the sea. As with all of this restaurant groups spots you can expect an energetic vibe from those behind the bar. We were welcomed here with some shots which isn't uncommon. QC has some really great hospitality.

Local Oysters at Kraken Cru
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Albacore

We decided to dedicate much of the day to the restaurant group mentioned above. Albacore is yet another spot from the Kraken Cru team that we wanted to try. The menu here is seafood focused but it's a bit more expansive compared to Kraken Cru. It seemed like more of a date night spot than a night out with friends. We tried an order of shrimp and duck dumplings. They say in a black bean like sauce. It was an interesting dish as far as ingredients. A pretty common theme at all of their spots.

Shrimp/Duck Dumplings at Albacore
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L'Affaire est Ketchup

Our dinner reservation on night one was for the famous L'Affaire est Ketchup. Famous partly bc of their appearance on Anthony Bourdain's "Part's Unknown" episode on Quebec City. In that episode Tony is quoted as saying it was one of the most fun restaurant experiences he'd ever had. The vibe from the show made me really want to go and I would have my chance this trip. As I can personally attest the good vibes weren't turned on just for the camera. This is the first restaurant from the same dining team that owns Kraken Cru and Albacore. L'Affaire est Ketchup is the spot that made them famous. The theme here is rich Quebec dishes served up in a fun almost party like setting. The stove is one like you'd find at a fully furnished apartment in some random college town. So it's pretty funny watching them cook on what's basically a piece of shit. That said I call it that compared to some of the fancier stoves found in Michelin rated spots. In the end they know how to use it just perfectly.

 Starters at L'Affaire est Ketchup

Our meal was a tale of two sides. The first couple plates were just ok. A mushroom creme soup was more like mashed potatoes in terms of consistency. Maybe that's a QC thing? The other dish I don't even remember having. I need to do a better job of documenting my meals but sometimes you just want to enjoy the night. The next two plates were pretty much perfect in terms of what I was expecting. It wasn't freezing cold just yet but with it being a bit nipply at night both a duck heart dish and also a lamb shank were perfect plates of food for a cool November night. The heart was served in a rich brown gravy alongside some dried mushrooms. The meat had just the right amount of chew to make it feel like a perfectly cooked piece of rare steak. The lamb shank with local carrots was as good a dish I've had this year. In fact even though the first two courses were subpar the final two were good enough to give this meal consideration among the best of 2018. Especially with the hospitality as warm as it was. We drank shots with the chef who was sipping wine through the night. Rap was the music choice so some might find this place off putting but I wouldn't hesitate to go back.

Duck Heart + Lamb Shank at L'Affaire est Ketchup
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 Buffet de L'Antiquaire

This little diner is a longtime favorite of locals and bc of it's proximity to the tourist area it's also loved by us. I loved the old time feel of this two story diner that had a Wisconsin Supper Club vibe. They're open all day and the menu is pretty expansive. So it's a good choice for a large group especially of you have picky eaters in it. Breakfast is served all day and it's what most people eat here regardless of what time it is. I knew I was going to try a combo plate that featured all the good stuff. My classic Quebec breakfast consisted of two Eggs, Bacon, Sausage, Ham, Tourtiere aka Meat Pie, Potatoes, Maple Baked Beans, and Homemade Toast. The meat pie was on point. I loved everything especially the baked beans. Service was especially nice. My only regret was not returning to try some more.

 Quebec Breakfast at Buffet de L'Antiquaire
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Épicerie J.A. Moisan

Next stop is for those of you that like food by which I mean anyone who's reading this. Located up hill in the Saint-Jean-Baptiste neighborhood is Épicerie J.A. Moisan which is said to be the oldest grocery store in North America. It looked pretty cool so I made it a point to stop. It was worth said stop but I didn't think it was as cool as it could've been. Yes it's a specialty grocery store but much of the products were either stuff I've seen elsewhere or had little in interest in purchasing. Even the prepared foods seemed pretty average at best. I only spent 15 minutes inside so who knows for sure.

a peek inside  
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 Phil Smoked Meat

After a little bit of internet wandering I came to the conclusion that smoked meat isn't as big in QC as it is Montreal. There are no old time delis where they're making it the same way as when they opened or anything like that. There are however a few new school spots and Phil Smoked Meat was the one that caught my eye. Not bc of the sandwich though. There were mentions of smoked meat spaghetti which I came to learn is a thing in Quebec. Diners serving smoked meat will often offer it chopped up and served over a big plate of spaghetti and marinara. The smoked meat acts as the meat for the sauce. I get a big kick out of odd little regional treats such as this so I had to have an order. Wow. On what was a pretty windy day this warmed me up right. It worked together perfectly. Honestly it was better than most plates of spaghetti that I can remember. It's a great way to make use of the scraps.

Smoked Meat Spaghetti at Phil Smoked Meat
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Le Moine Echanson

Quebec City has a quite a few natural wine bars that seem worth exploring. Most all of them have what are said to be terrific kitchens too. Le Moine Echanson is one of the more popular ones especially wit locals. The menu is rustic and focused on lots of offal dishes. We arrived an hour before dinner service was set to start so we weren't able to try anything off the regular menu but they had a nice selection of charcuterie and cheese as well as oysters on special. We loved an extra porky pig rillette as well as some delicious local oysters. I don't remember the names of all the different oysters we tried but not one of them was bad. I happen to love the cold water creatures the best no matter which coast they come from. The French-focused wine list is predominantly focused on organic and natural wines which we've really come to love. If ever back in QC I'll come here for dinner.

Happy Hour at Le Moine Echanson
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Chez Boulay

We chose this well known bistro for our anniversary dinner. Despite it's popularity with visitors most everyone had good things to say about Chez Boulay. Bc it was a Monday many other spots were closed so we decided to try this spot where the menu is focused on turning local ingredients into Nordic cuisine. The dining room is a big open space which I liked. The kitchen is open air too. Despite the fact it was a Monday the place was packed and I think that was bc of the fact the 2018 conference for Relais & Châteaux Guide sponsored operators was taking place. So there were lots of big shot hotel owners and such and of course they had reservations here. Luckily we did too.

Foie Gras at Chez Boulay

For starters a simple piece of fresh seared foie gras was a no-brainer for me. This was covered in a red wine deduction and tasted like I imagine Paris did in the 70's. Sometimes you don't need to elevate a plate. Sure it's not a great shot for instagram but I bet it would get more likes than a pretty plate of salad. The Bison Tartare however was an instagrammable dish. Diced raw bison meat is mixed with daisy capers, toasted canola oil, puffed wild rice, crispy endives and chicory. Damn!

Bison Tartare at Chez Boulay

We chose a Porc Plate for Two as our entree. I was shocked by how much meat came on the plate. Not just that bit also two well sized melted Perron cheddar croquettes. The pork shoulder was cooked confit style with camelina oil, sautéed fingerling potatoes, and Jerusalem artichokes with lardon, mustard and camelina milk. Sitting on the bottom of the bowl was a big pool of brown gravy. Maybe not as exciting as some of the newer spots but it sure seems to be a reliable option for good food.

Confit Porc for Two at Chez Boulay
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 La Dominicaine - Café Traiteur

After two straight days of heavy eating I needed something not French-Canadian for lunch. I found this cute little Dominican cafe which was an absolute surprise. Though with a little bit of research I learned that Dominican Creole French is a thing. The reviews for here were all so glowing. I could pretty much tell from the pictures it was a gem in this predominately French-Canadian city. The menu changes up daily with with different dishes making appearances on different days. I had seen this wonderful plate of Dominican meatballs in the pictures and I was really hoping they had it on offer when I visited. It was my lucky day bc sure enough that was one of a few plates being served that day. The Albondigas plate came served with rice and beans as well as a vibrant avocado salad that took me from cold Canada to somewhere warm. This was just what I needed as far as a little bit of international flavor. I believe it was the owner behind the counter and he was a very gracious host. I'll remember this one.

Albondigas at La Dominicaine - Café Traiteur
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L'Oncle Antoine

This old time locals bar was right down the block from our hotel. I walked over late one afternoon to check it out. Very cool spot. It really does feel like somewhere in Europe though not necessarily France. This had the feel of an old English or Irish Pub. Aside from the fact the bar is basically a big cave they're also known for their French Onion Soup. Nothing better to kill a hangover than a bowl of French Onion and some more booze. You can enjoy these treats by the fireplace. Usually I find most restaurant made French Onion soup to be trash but this was not that. It had a nice deep beef flavor in the broth and at least a two inch blanket of melted Gruyere. I could've spent the night drinking here.

French Onion Soup at L'Oncle Antoine
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La Buvette Scott

My favorite dining experience of the trip came from this cute little French-Canadian bistro. La Buvette Scott was recommended often when I was doing research. Someone from the QC reddit page made it clear that I shouldn't miss this place so i got us a reservation through the hotel. It's a small intimate space just like that random little bistro in Paris we all have memories of. The menu changes nightly and is written on the wall. This was a common case on the trip. But you need not worry if you cant read French bx as mentioned earlier the hospitality in this city was world class. Perhaps nowhere was it better than here. We quickly engaged in conversation with the owner who happened to be headed to Chicago soon. I swear there were like 2 or 3 other hospitality people who had said they're coming to Chicago soon too. All of them to eat and drink. Food wise we got a few plates, all great.

 Salt Cod Fritters and Butternut Squash Appetizer

For starters an order of salt cod fritters was terrific. Not just the flavors but the texture was about as airy and fluffy of a fritter as I remember. Some thin sliced butternut squash was topped with caviar, kimchi. Spectacular dish. The wife insisted we try it and I'm glad she did. It was a skillful creation. Moving along an order of endives au gratin was again another spectacular dish. Loved the change of pace from the usual potatoes. Somehow the endives were crisp on the outside and silky smooth like mashed potatoes within.  For the entree a plate of pork belly with a bit of broccoli, grilled cabbage and Worcestershire sauce was one of the best plates of food from this past calendar year. The pork was about as perfectly cooked as I can remember. Which reminds me. It's time to get to work on the season finale year end "Best of 2018" post. Coming out next week. See y'all then. Merry Christmas.

Endive Au Gratin and Pork Belly with Broccoli 
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Note: To find the locations of all the spots featured in this post, as well as places I didn't make it to, please click HERE for my google maps guide to Quebec City. Click HERE for Montreal.

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