A Chef's Tour: Quebec City
One of the most beautiful cities in North America is Quebec City, which sits on the banks of the St. Lawrence River in Canada’s Quebec province. The city’s historic district was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985. Of all the cities in North America, Quebec City is as French as a city can be without actually being in France.
During a recent trip to Quebec City, we experienced firsthand a new trend that’s sweeping the food culture in Quebec: using indigenous ingredients, similar to those found in the Nordic climate. We noticed an emphasis on foraged ingredients, such as sea buckthorn, salicornia, cattail, fir, Nordic berries, wild mushrooms, wild fish and shellfish, with a focus on foods with high levels of monounsaturated, omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.
The chefs who are the major proponents of the new Nordic Quebecois cuisine are Daniel Vézina of restaurant Laurie Raphaël (Quebec City and Montreal) and Jean-Luc Boulay of restaurants Chez Boulay and Saint-Amour.
We have enjoyed meals at Laurie Raphaël in Quebec City several times, for both lunch and dinner. The menus change frequently based on what is available, daily and seasonally, in the local markets. The most memorable dishes we tried at Laurie Raphaël were smoked red deer gravlax with foie gras, oyster and sea urchin with black truffle and Champagne sabayon, mackerel quenelles with a velouté of kombu, delicately poached halibut with summer beans, sauce choron and a tempura of garlic scapes.
On Thursday and Fridays, Laurie Raphaël is open for lunch, and offers a five-course tasting menu for $50.00 (CAD) — an amazing value any day of the week.
Though Jean-Luc Boulay is almost unheard of in the United States, he too is considered one of the godfathers of this current school of cooking. We’ve had the pleasure of dining at Saint-Amour, which is best described as a special occasion restaurant, with a romantic old-world ambiance. Last winter, we indulged in the decadent eight-course “Discovery” tasting menu.
One of our many favorites was an unusual soup — butternut squash and curcuma velouté, garnished with a confit of smoked wild hare, fried shallots and an espuma or foam of hazelnuts. Another favorite dish was the seared magret of moularde duck with a sweet potato and foie gras purée and sea buckthorn sauce. Chez Boulay, the sister restaurant of Saint-Amour, has more of a casual, brasserie-like feel, with a menu that reflects the lush and hearty influences of French-Canadian homestyle cuisine, and impressive portions interpreted with a modern sensibility.
There is a prix fixe lunch menu of three courses in which the entree price determines the overall price. At Chez Boulay, two people can dine well, including drinks and dessert, for less than $100.00 (CAD). The dinner menu is more extensive and has á la carte pricing.
At Chez Boulay, there are a number of different starters or “tasting plates,” including a selection of house-made charcuterie (which we ordered), a tasting of French Canadian cheeses, or a plate of prepared fish and shellfish.
During our most recent dinner, we also indulged in the cured pork belly and clam salad, snow crab from the Gaspé Peninsula served with an apple-kholrabi mille feuille and milk sauce infused with bacon and hemp oil, and a tasting of two versions of boudin noir — one presented as a thick “pave” prepared in the classic manner and the other filled with cabbage and leeks, the recipes having been in the Boulay family for multiple generations.
The desserts at Chez Boulay have been some of the best that we have sampled in any of our travels: the frozen parfait with cloudberry confit, sunflower seed nougatine and honey from the chef's bee hives; and the iconic sea buckthorn meringue pie with a crème anglaise flavored with pine forest spikenard (spikenard is the flower from the nardos plant which is a member of the Valerian family).
It is always hard to choose which of all the restaurants is our favorite. It’s like asking us to choose which of our children is our favorite — an impossibly difficult task. However, we have a deep affection for Restaurant Toast in the Hotel Le Priori, located in the lower section of Vieux Quebec.
The chef-owner Christian Lemelin is producing his own version of modern Quebecois cuisine with an international influence. We have thoroughly enjoyed two dinners at Toast, one last winter and more recently this summer.
The small dining room features a fireplace, and in the summer we dined on the beautifully landscaped outdoor patio. Of the preparations not to be missed are the foie gras torchon with a “jambonette of duck” sherry vinegar, brioche with camerise ketchup (camerise is a Nordic berry similar in taste to a wild blueberry); seared foie gras on a crisp pork belly confit with nutmeg flowers, roasted squash, maple cranberries and poultry jus; Jerusalem artichoke vichyssoise with house smoked scallops, poached wild shrimp and sunflower seeds; surf and turf of lobster and sweetbread served with a mushroom risotto and Béarnaise sauce; seared halibut with a celery root brandade and lovage velouté.
We savored two perfectly executed desserts: a vacherin of seasonal local berries, wild honey, lemon sorbet and cream, as well as a frozen vanilla parfait with a compote of sour cherries, mascarpone, orange and bitter chocolate. Other essential restaurants are Échaudé and Le Quai 19 (more popularly known as Chez Rieux et Pettigrew), both of which are ideal locations for lunch.
Another food destination worth the visit is the Marché du Vieux-Port, a popular marketplace in the Old Port of Quebec City. Here you can sample the best of local produce, cheeses, meats, seafood and prepared foods, as well as ciders and wines from small, local artisanal producers.
While in Canada, we also spent four days in Montreal, a city we love for its restaurants and food culture. On any trip to Montreal, one would be well served to pay visits to restaurants Toqué! and Europea, owned and operated by Normand Laprise and Jérôme Ferrer, respectively. These chefs radically altered the face of Quebecois cuisine and transformed it into the many modern derivatives that are being practiced throughout the province.
Though there is too much rich food culture in Montreal to cover in this post, you can read more about our gourmet adventures in Montreal here.
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