Since it is the most significant trip I think I will be taking with Lil Sis this year (and it is all of 48 hours long) and Quebec City is an entirely new city for us with little/far less of the typical Canadian or American feel, I was stoked and energetic to plan! Or perhaps I was avoiding at times studying and planned instead but I did have to finish up my assignments by May 31 and the trip did not overlap, starting on June 1.
I used so many tools to plan! I plopped reservations into Google Calendar which I stare at every day for all the other calendars I keep to track and plan studying, working out, and errands. I scoured through a Lonely Planet list of top things to do in Quebec and dropped pins on a Google Map to figure out how far apart everything is. Then I mapped out an hour-by-hour itinerary using Trip It which has fields to store all the information like confirmation numbers, time ranges for activities, addresses, etc. And it was off the Trip It itinerary that we tripped merrily around the city from one reservation to the next and with some cultural sight-seeing as well!
It was a pretty harrowing Friday evening we arrived in Quebec City. It was a day for the record books with a rain storm system hitting Toronto with the result of flooding in the Union Stations and transit chaos. I kept watch on the Porter Airlines website and sure enough, the little island airport reported that our flight had been delayed. It did give us a few moments to unwind in the bustling lounge with the complimentary offering of snacks and Lil Sis enjoyed the second Prairie Girl cupcake I’ve given her. Both have been before after-work flights. Our flight was further delayed for a total of 90 minutes late so I was a little disgruntled rather than primed when we arrived at YQB, Quebec City.
We got the rental car half an hour before the reservation and since we somehow did not see the sign from the road, hunted elsewhere for parking… only to walk towards the restaurant set back from the road and behind some buildings and see the parking lot attached and be offered comped parking if we had parked there. Doh!
The restaurant is bright and big and overwhelming in that respect for my particular state of mind. We were lead through a more traditional dining area to their covered solarium with wicker chairs and blue ceiling lighting. It was pitch black outside but by day there would have been an uninterrupted view of the St. Lawrence River. Lil Sis would learn about how when I was in grade school and we studied Canadian history how very bitter I was when shipping business moved from Halifax to ports along the St. Lawrence. I was surprisingly defensive of Halifax then.
The menu offered a lot of seafood and I was dazzled to the point of not remembering what had attracted me about the menu and what I thought I might order. Perhaps I had made the reservation largely because it’s the only Quebec City restaurant on the St. Lawrence? We had eaten an assortment of food throughout the day so Lil Sis ordered a light carpaccio of seafood. I remembered how I thought I would have some roasted bone marrow and a hearty soup but Lil Sis persuaded me to try black pudding for the first time.
There is a “tofu” made from congealed pig’s blood that I have not yet tried so I wondered what I was getting into… and I’m glad I did not miss out. After one taste, I could handle the black pudding but the casing was a different matter and I left that. The taste of black pudding was like pate but not as smooth and it was very rich. I wouldn’t normally like warmed, mushy apples softened in liquour but it was a great complement to a bite of salty black pudding. Likewise the dish of mashed potatoes looked unappealing but it was light and complemented salty bites of black pudding.
According to Lil Sis, her carpaccio, beautiful as it was, was lacking in different and interesting textures. It was certainly light and she really liked my black pudding and apples and helped me out with them.
I thought we might pick up breakfast in the cafe attached to J.A. Moisan, the oldest grocery store in North America but it was a little claustrophobic and their pastry section did not induce drooling (their deli section was a different matter) so we walked down Rue Saint-Jean looking for the next cafe to capture our hearts and we’d duck into as it had already started raining lightly.
La Brulerie is a cozy and spacious with an open ground level with the service counter and seating along the window and an upper level with much more seating. It was just 9:30 and there was evidence around the refuse that they had been busy in the morning but it was quiet and we enjoyed the icing sugar-dusted chocolate and almond croissant-come-danish and pointed out that they stereo system was regaling us with an Elvis Presley CD. How cute.
Early in the stages of trip-planning, Lil Sis requested that we have tea at the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac. Afternoon tea there is pricey compared to my $25 average but nowhere near as much as the Fairmont Empress (even if you get a box of tea afterwards). But Lil Sis and I hadn’t been to tea together since about 2006 at the Wedgewood Hotel in Vancouver so it was long overdue. Lil Sis has some romantic notions about Fairmonts and chateaus perhaps, that perhaps got royally shattered during the trip but that’s one sick story with no place in this post!
We started with a small fruit plate each that cleansed our palates and whet our appetites for the tea set to arrive. While we were wrapping up, Pier-Marc left his trolley of tea for us to sniff and select our tea. Kyoto Rose is very popular but we thought it smelled too rose and pot-purri. Lil Sis’ request to smell Willow Stream Spa was practically denied by him as he knew she or many people wouldn’t care for it. I went with Vanilla Orchid which was not too rose at all and she went with the maple tea.
I might be finding that the sandwich level is my favourite. I am less partial to sweets than the next girl and since I eat the sandwiches first, I’m less hungry by the time I reach the other levels. The bread was a little drier than I would like but each sandwich was solid and I liked in particular the buttery proscuitto and asparagus sandwich, cucumber and tomato, and smoked salmon caper. Not a sandwich but I loved the “poultry mousse” in a buttery little box the most.
You’re still hungry after sandwiches which are relatively moist but the cake-scone-petit four level fills you up. The white wine (pound) cake was lightly fragrant with wine and moist and delicious. Then I enjoyed the still-warm scone with the clotted cream. The pretty pink and green petit fours were somewhat nondescript in flavour but tasty.
Of the chef’s selection of pastries, I enjoyed the mint chocolate ganache bite of cake most and next I liked the custard in the chocolate cake cup. The other square was like a gingerbread-spiced cake with a dense dollop of chocolate. And as we groaned about how full we were Pier-Marc brought over a plate with more chocolates. Lil Sis could fit her two in but all I could do was a small nibble of a piece and I was good for the next 2.5 hours until we had to eat dinner!
Having a race the next day made deciding the cuisine the night before easy: Italian. Was there a Spaghetti Factory to get it on the cheap? We noticed that big box stores and restaurants are absent in the tourist area and the area within walking distance from us. After a cursory look at several restaurants, I chose Il Teatro and, further, it was in a chateau! It turns out many a building is called a chateau even when turrets are not present. The Capitole is relatively grand-looking and stands at a colourful intersection in the lower town.
We each browsed the menu several times to select our pasta dishes. I dearly wanted sweetbread-foie gras ravioli for this girl has never before had sweetbread (and I was sure that I wouldn’t be able to tell it from the foie gras) or the black pasta with cream sauce but I had to stick with a well executed, tasty, but relatively unexciting capellini with basil, tomato, and bocconicci. Lil Sis went a little creamier with a tagliatelle with mushrooms and truffle and it smelled and tasted delicious.
Upon her suggestion, we got an appetizer to share and scallops turned out to be a brilliant idea in that it is a “fair” amount, shareable, and provided tasty mustard sauce to sop up with our bread. Thank goodness for a race the next day we were allowed to eat all of our bread basket!
A couple of doors down from Il Teatro is Paillard which won Best Croissant in 2010. (But who won in 2011, 2012??) It is a huge and bright space that is the very opposite of Le Brulerie in the morning.
From browsing the pastry offering online, I made a list of items I was most interested in including gelati, marcaron, Napoleon, trianon but the fancy layered pastries were sold out and gelato looked unpopular. The macaron prices were attractive so I got two, chocolate passionfruit and pistachio. Both were really sweet and I like pistachio better. Lil Sis ordered a flan and found it a little dense. I thought it was odd and cold, not being a flan-eater. I also got a croissant for the next day and it was delicious bites before and after the race!
I was absolutely excited to go eat rabbits and wanted to do it on Saturday but tea could only be on Saturday so we had to run like rabbits (not) and then eat them. Le Lapin Saute turns out to be part of the successful restaurant group Le Group Restos Plaisirs that includes Le Cafe du Monde from Friday, Cochon Dingue and Petit Cochon Dingue. I was saddened a little to be patronizing the same group twice when there was so much other choice but Lapin Sauté was a place I wanted to try!
Le Lapin Sauté is located on one of quaint, European-style cobblestone streets near the Fairmont. We missed it the day before so it was nice to still be exploring on our last day. It is adorable and cozy inside the restaurant and we got a corner table when the lunch crowd was leaving, lucky to have a choice between lunch sides of fries and dinner sides of vegetables. Lil Sis went straight for the rabbit in two mustard sauces while I deliberated longer. I definitely wanted the house specialty meat but in the form of poutine (which the neighbouring table had) or my “usual” concoction of appetizers? I ordered, or so I thought, the “appetizer to share” with rabbit “rillettes” (a pate), duck foie gras, and duck breast. I thought I had simply defied some French custom by ordering an appetizer as my main when the server double-checked us regarding our orders with a look of incredulity.
We were in awe of the platter that arrived. Had there not been rillettes present, I would have sent it back knowing it was wrong. As it was, when the server (a different one from who took our order) named off the items, I thought there were “hidden” items (like salad) the menu did not bother to mention and I thought there was something being substituted for the foie gras which was an inane conclusion stemming from fatigue or something. Or perhaps I missed what he pointed out as being the duck breast. So we just dug in.
Rabbit rillettes, I learned, was much like a chicken salad. I liked the onion confit but not the carrot confit and I loved and dream about the La Sauvagine soft cheese which I topped with some onion confit with great success. Lil Sis ate one of her two pieces of rabbit and her sides and helped me with my platter and I tried hers which, despite the mustard sauce was dry. To me, rabbit is even more white (dry) meat than chicken breast. It was satiating but I like the rillette more and may have seriously enjoyed the rabbit poutine!
So, when the bill arrived, we learned after sticker shock yet again, that they had made for me their picnic for two. Well, that explains everything. I was a little peeved because I hadn’t spoken up but we simply then did not need dinner! Thank goodness Lil Sis helped me so much such that she ate more and, hey, between the two of us, we ran a full marathon and some 5,000 stairs!
To go to Marche du Vieux Port or not? I was loathed to walk and drive in the city in the rain but my curiosity about the market and having ample time dictated our plans. As with everything, there was a parking fee but it could be validated inside. It was purely a market unlike St. Lawrence in Toronto and Granville Market in Vancouver with cooked food stalls and the long hall connecting the two wings of the building was a bower of fresh flower shops. The stalls did not hold my interest too much that particular day and the ones that stood out were preserves, a cranberry products stalls, and some wine stands.
And the bakery of course! All the macarons were fancily encrusted and I could not pull away from the idea of a foie gras macaron when I had been missing that from lunch. I asked and they had indeed used foie gras and I got one of my favourite food images of the weekend. Sliced almonds (not roasted) coated the snow white macaron which had pockets of delightfully salted cream.