This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Quebec City

Arrived in Quebec City, checked into Hotel L'Aristocrate out on the edge of town but only 15 minutes drive from the old town.  Once settled in we started looking through brochures that we'd found at the TI. Found tons of things to do but due to our timing or the time of year, whichever you prefer, they aren't going on.

We did find a Hitchcock retrospective going on at an indie theater in a neighborhood downtown. We decided to head in and check that out and to have some dinner at a well recommended restaurant around the corner from the theater.

The drive into town went through several lovely old neighborhoods and we instantly fell in love with Quebec City. Well maintained yards despite the harsh winter temperatures. Lovely homes. It just had a cared for air about it that struck a positive note immediately.

The theater turned out to be in a video rental store upstairs from a pharmacy. We found parking right across the street and got to the theater in time to take in two Hitchcock films, one I hadn't seen before called Stage Fright and the second, a classic I love, Vertigo. I've seen Vertigo many times but never on a big screen so this was a real treat.

We go out to movies when we travel as a change of pace. If it is a film worth seeing it is fun to sort of do what the locals do, pony up a few bucks and sit in the dark watching a good film.

After the movies we walked over to Le Cochon Dingue, The Happy Pig, a well regarded local restaurant specializing in traditional Québécois cuisine. We arrived about 9:30 to a nearly empty place with the back half of the dining area already closed and the lights out. There were still three other parties there and they had no trouble seating us. We were surprised that at such an hour there were not more people still out and about. Apparently, either this part of town or the entire town don't stay up late. We thought it would be more Europe-like in its sensibilities where dining was concerned.

We both ordered steak frites which came medium rare as per our request and a pile of fries on the plate with it. There were three choices for sauces. I requested the mushroom sauce, my wife the house sauce. As the hour was late we didn't order anything else.

We were disappointed in the steaks and the frites seemed warmed over. Perhaps they were the last of the fries for the evening. Re-warm rather than heat up the fryer again? The steaks were too uniform in cut to be anything but frozen, precut steaks. Nothing special and they were seriously lacking in flavor. Too bad really. It was a cute place.

We headed back to the room and a good night's sleep.

The next day we headed into the old city and found good parking near one of the gates into the old town. Parking is very regulated inside the walls but there was plenty of good parking for about $7 for 12 hours right outside the walls.

We walked into the upper city and up and down the narrow streets. It was very European in look. The Chateau Frontenac is the centerpiece of this area. A stunningly beautiful hotel sitting on a bluff overlooking the St. Lawrence River. It is supposed to be the most photographed hotel in the world. It is part of the great Canadian railroad chain of hotels stretching across Canada. Each hotel is gorgeous and expensive but fun to walk through and imagine those who lived and played in this place a hundred years ago.

We walked on through town stepping into galleries and shops, stopping to look over menus displayed outside the many restaurants.

For lunch we picked a creperie mentioned as a good lunch place. I ordered a crepe with ham, cheese and mushrooms and Leslie ordered one with bacon and Swiss. Sadly, they were dry and my mushrooms tasted old, a taste that stayed with me for a few hours.

We'd hoped to take the Ecobus, transportation that took you along a route within the walls of the old city, but when we finally flagged one down to board, the sign said $3 a ride. It was supposed to have been one dollar. We opted to go back to the car and take it to the lower city and to drive through other parts of the old town as we went.

We stopped and walked through the market place down on the port promenade. It didn't take long to see what it had to offer, which wasn't much in the way of choices. We are so spoiled when we visit Vancouver, B.C. The Granville Market on Granville Island is always a bustling market with gorgeous displays of fresh fruit and veggies, meats, seafood, cheeses, baked foods, and year round. We have found nothing that comes close to that market out here on the east coast.
View of the lower city.

We found a very bright spot when we walked through the Champlain district in the lower city. Perfect streets with more shops, galleries and restaurants. It was just so tidy and neat. Here is also where you can catch a funicular up the hill to the upper city and the Chateau Frontenac hotel.

After an hour in the Champlain, we walked across the street to our car and looked up and down the St. Lawrence River which flowed right past the parking lot. It was a blustery day which was evident by the white caps across the wide river.

Dinner was at the aux Ancience Canadien Restaurant in the middle of old town. It specialized in Québécois cuisine, meat pies, rustic, hearty fare.

We each ordered a bowl of the soups of the day, one yellow split pea and the other a cream of vegetable. We enjoyed these as we sat by the fire and took in the wood carvings on the walls.

Our mains at Anciens Canadiens.
For our mains we ordered a slice of five meat pie in a flaky crust. Beef, pork, venison, bison and elk were blended in with potatoes and onions and a Salmon en Croute with layers of mashed potato, dill and Atlantic salmon chunks. Again the pastry was flaky and buttery. Delicious.

Our dinner came with dessert so we each ordered a piece of pie, one apple and the other maple syrup pie. Both warm and once again, with a flaky crust and covered with fresh cream. 

The waitress was wonderfully attentive and informative. Very nice meal and a great way to finish the day.

Ever have a day that starts out terribly but winds up wonderful? Today proved to be one of those when I discovered my photo storage disk wallet was missing. I had no idea where I might have lost it along our travels. Spain, Portugal, Canada? Which hotel could I have set it down and not put it back in my pack?

So, I set about sending e-mails to all the hotels we stayed in Europe where I thought I might have left it, which was most of them. It took so long to do that our intention to drive to an island outside of town known for its artisan food producers, had to be canceled. But we discovered that we were inside the lunch window for the restaurant in our hotel which came highly regarded.

Now, you have to understand that hotel restaurants are not generally known for high quality cuisine. What they are known for is their high prices and low quality. There are exceptions to this rule but they are extremely rare and I've never heard of an exception in a Best Western hotel which was where we were staying. But everything we read about restaurants in Quebec named Oneida Fenouilliere one of the very best.

Lamb shanks. Yum!
We had a 15% off coupon so we decided to give lunch a try. Dinner prices were way higher so this would be a chance to try it out without it hurting too bad if it turned out to be a dog. What a surprise!

We ordered the 3 course lunch which included a choice of 3 entrees, several mains and dessert. We both went for the porc rillettes, a kind of pâté but with the meat in a paste formed into the pate shape. A couple of slices accompanied by home made pickle slices, a tomato jam and bits of water cress created a lovely start to our meal.

As a main I ordered the lamb shank which came with various perfectly paired bits of fresh vegetables--Brussels sprouts, quinoa, squash purée, peas and pickled beet. It was a work of art and the combinations on the plate were perfectly paired. I ordered a delicious Argentinian Pinot Noir to go with it.

Leslie's main at Le Fenouilliere

My wife ordered pan seared salt cod topped with a tapenade, fromage en croute, carrot purée, mashed potatoes with herbs. Fresh peas and baby book choy. With it she had a refreshing French Bordeaux white wine.  

The dessert course choices were a banana cheese cake and a chocolate panacotta. We got one of each to try. The cheeses cake came on piece of slate and with a pool of fresh caramel sauce in which two fresh blackberries swam amid bits of ground nuts.

Banana cheesecake
The panacotta was chocolate-orange flavored and was accented by an orange slice, a kumquat with its dried leaves still attached. Both desserts were works of art, looking too good to eat. Much to our taste bud's delight, we did anyway.

La Fenouilliere was by far our best meal during our adventure in eastern Canada and what a surprise to find it right downstairs in our Best Western hotel. Amazing!

After the meal, we walked back upstairs to get ready to go out only to discover it had started to snow. The room was too warm for us to do anything more than take advantage of it and settle in for a nap.

Late in the afternoon we drove over to the Beaux Arts museum. Leslie really wanted to takeout in so while she spent an hour there, I spent it writing in the cafe.

Our final evening in Quebec City was spent back where we had started, at the cinema with the Hitchcock retrospective taking in one more of his films. The snow had started coming down and the wind had picked up so a warm, dry place showing one of the master's greatest films seemed like just the ticket.

Tomorrow we head back in the direction of Montreal and then into Vermont, finally back in the good old USA.