Why Go to Quebec City to Eat?
Quebec City, the 400-year-old walled city in Canada's Quebec province, is beloved for its antique charm. Yet this welcoming, picturesque destination is a hotbed of culinary innovation.
A visit is incomplete without a choosy sampling of Quebec City's ardent and accomplished restaurants. Quebec City chefs have blended their proud French-Canadian patrimony with Quebec's natural bounty and created a distinctive, exciting Québecois cuisine.
Visitors can taste traditional Québecois dishes like tourtiere pork or game pie, bleuet wild blueberries, and ice wines in shops and the Old Port Market.
But Quebec's upscale dining is a must-experience: big local flavors without big-city pretensions. Here are my 5 favorite Quebec City restaurants, from classic to contemporary. Bon appétit.
London has Big Ben, Paris the Eiffel Tower. Quebec City has Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, towering over the city in turreted French grandeur.
The hotel's splendid restaurant, Le Champlain, is named after Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer who established Quebec City. Le Champlain is as much of a legend in the culinary world. It offers superlative cooking, both traditional and modern, by Executive Chef Jean Soulard, a Frenchman who crossed the Atlantic a la Samuel de Champlain.
It's pleasant to sit in Le Champlain's ornate dining room, replete with chandeliers, tapestry chairs, and wood sconces. But the best tables are in La Verriere, a gracious room with tall windows overlooking the hotel's Dufferin Terrace and the broad St. Lawrence River beyond.
Le Champlain's food is simply wonderful, with many seasonal choices. When I visited, the Menu Découverte (Discovery) featured an intensely flavorful warm quail salad. The more contempo Menu Inspiration offered a smoked-tuna millefeuille.
Year round, Le Champain diners can count on piquant steak tartare, tuxedoed waiters preparing Caesar salad, and cherries Jubilee, first created by haute cuisine's founder, Auguste Escoffier, for Queen Victoria. These days, Chef Soulard's steak Rossini and duck confit rival anything in Europe.
The details are as elegant. In-between courses, Le Champlain diners savor entremets (palate cleansers) like apricot sorbet with pink peppercorns. At the finish, there are complimentary house-made sweets. Wine pairings are imaginative and interesting.
- Le Champlain, Fairmont Le Château Frontenac, 1, rue des Carrieres, Quebec City
Quebec City locals and visitors alike treasure Le Saint Amour. Since 1978, this exquisite restaurant has been fueled by the utmost in ingredients, inspiration, and integrity. (The romantic name can refer to a Beaujolais wine, a village in Burgundy, and, as it happens, a Canadian hockey player. But many patrons interpret the name as a passionate reference.)
Le Saint Amour's Art Deco bar leads to an inner winter garden, the showpiece among the restaurant's three dining rooms. Here, designer Giovanni Maur has installed an art glass ceiling, abundant woodwork, and colorful modernist paintings by Quebec artist Jean Gaudreau.
Executive Chef Jean-Luc Boulay is arguably Quebec province's most charismatic and renowned cooking star. His food is inspired by classical French recipes by Escoffier. But Boulay's style is distinctly modern and all his own. Upshot: Le Saint Amour's food is consistently delicious and dazzling.
Goulu foie gras, from Quebec-raised duck, is featured here. Boulay's version, a terrine marinated in Armagnac and topped with fresh pear, is alone worth the Michelin détour (Le Saint Amour flaunts the rare three Michelin stars.)
Local sea scallops from Quebec's Madeleine Islands are served as a carpaccio with caviar and blinis. I found the dish breathtaking. Alberta lamb trilogy is a rack of chops crusted with pistachio and hazelnut. It arrives plated with tender shoulder meat worked into a cigar-shaped confit plus a Moroccan merguez sausage with savory black garlic and chickpea purée.
Wines are knowingly selected from Le Saint Amour's 12,000-bottle global cellar, and lovingly tended. Pastry chef Eric Lessard's "Cognac," a frozen pyramid with laced with caramelized hazelnuts and drizzled with maple butter, is a revelation.
- Le Saint Amour, 48, rue Sainte-Ursule, Quebec City
Table perches in the swaggering, modern TRYP Quebec Hotel Pur in the trendy Saint-Roch neighborhood. But Table is far from what you'd call a hotel restaurant, and is frequented by hip locals.
Conviviality rules at Table, with laughter warming its wood-accented, minimalist design. Seating is at a long communal table that extends the length of the dining room. (If you're not thrilled to dine alongside a stranger, a few individual tables are scattered about the large space.)
Its lunch and dinner menu is composed of tapas-like small plates with Asian, North American, and European pedigrees. A onetime manager of New York's idolized Per Se restaurant, Peter Esmond, consulted on Table's menu. The sophistication shines through.
World cuisine describes Table's cuisine. Melt-in-the-mouth cod croquettes are resolutely Québecois. But the stunningly presented grapefruit ceviche recalls Ferran Adria's Catalan iconic El Bulli. (If you must, there's even authentic Iberico ham, properly sliced into paper-thin slices.)
Overall, Table's menu is disarmingly eclectic. Haddock tempura? Sure! Greek-style grilled octopus or classic brasserie steak frites? Indeed, both cut into small bites for sharing.
Table is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Even breakfast is global: French toast is made from challah bread (pain doré) and served with Quebec maple syrup.
- Table, 395, rue de la Couronne, Quebec City
Toast! is really two restaurants. One Toast! beckons from May to mid-October, when it's de rigueur to dine in the restaurant's shrub-lined courtyard. The other Toast! draws diners indoors during Quebec's colder months.
The indoor room is in Le Priori, a boutique hotel on what is said to be North America's oldest street, in Quebec's original Old Port neighborhood.
Both rooms are casual. The interior room has colonial-era stone walls and modern wooden tables with crisply woven placemats. Chairs are cushy and backed with black leather. Splashes of red and yellow warm the scene.
Toast!'s food is just as pleasing to the eye, with combinations chosen for color contrast. Flavors are equally bright. Toast! emphasizes local products such as veal from nearby Charlevoix, available year-round, and North Atlantic swordfish in fall and winter.
Toast! changes its menu every few months. During my late-summer visit, I relished a wonderful tartare of local Saguenay venison embellished with black garlic. Also on the menu that evening was an unforgettable fresh-mushroom crostini (Italian toast) appetizer.
Dishes are small in stature but big in taste. You'll almost always find a signature duck foie gras from Goulu. I also recommend the house specialty, suppli frit au Parmesan, rice croquettes served with a mélange of Quebec sea creatures.
Toast!'s three-cheese plate is a must for dessert; varieties rotate, and a fromage de Québec is always included. Then again, you should not forego the warm coffee soufflé.
- Toast!, 17, Sault-au-Matelot, Quebec City
La Traite: First Nations Fare, Natural yet Novel
La Traite winningly showcases the cuisine of indigenous Canadians: the First Nation. This unique restaurant is in Wendake, the Huron-Wendat community. It is 15 minutes by car from Quebec City, but a world away.
La Traite is located in the four-star Hotel des Premieres Nations, set amidst silvery birch trees. The dining room is handsomely designed with wood, stone, and other elemental materials and decorated with fur pelts and First Nation art. A spacious outdoor patio is warmed by a dramatic firepit.
Chef Martin Gagné, a Québecois of part Algonquin heritage, spotlights products hand-foraged from Quebec province's boreal (northern) forests and icy rivers. His unique menu is composed of traditional First Nation fare, prepared with modern techniques and intended for a global palate. Anyone curious about First Nation foods, or North America's most profound roots, will want to dine here.
Chef Gagné's menu reads like a James Fennimore Cooper novella: Grilled seal, greens on fiddlehead ferns with a wild mushroom tapenade. My dinner at La Traite began eye-openingly with elk tartare laced with fir jelly. Squab glazed with molasses and birch syrup made me a believer.
Many of Gagné's dishes are seasoned with plants that are native to the hotel's setting on the banks of the St. Charles River. These touches of dune pepper and powdered wintergreen add beguiling, unfamiliar tastes. La Traite is a treat.
- La Traite in Hotel Premieres Nations, 5, Place de la Rencontre, Wendake, Quebec
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