Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Eating Well in Quebec
I think the promotional slogan of Québec City should be “On mange bien ici” i.e. “We eat well here!”
Great food is at the pinnacle of gastronomy in Québec. Absolutely fresh, local, seasonal ingredients are starring in Québecoise kitchens, whether eating at home or in a reknown restaurant.
Classic cuisine Québecoise was developed towards the end of the 16th century. It is a reflection of agricultural ingredients available locally to the early French settlers in combination with game smoked or cooked in the cooking fires of the First Nations tribes of the area and the bounty of the sea and rivers of Québec. Spices came from all over the world but the cooking technique is still mostly classic French with a soupçon of native ingredients and methods. We always loved visiting Québec for the food and in the past, when we lived in Manhattan, we were willing to drive for about 9 hours each way, to stay overnight during a weekend and eat in Québec City.
On this trip, courtesy of Québec tourism, we had a chance to experience creative restaurant kitchens; the dishes were not a French grandmother’s cooking as it had been on our past visits but were closer to the molecular gastronomy that I have tasted and loved in Europe especially in Spain, Italy and Denmark.
Molecular cuisine combines chemically compatible ingredients in the preparation of delectable dishes. One would say that this culinary discipline examines the transformation of food in the kitchen when using modern cooking methods (souse-vide is the most popular one) and adding foams, gels, emulsions and other taste enhancers. Salt and pepper are used very sparingly and in restaurants that practice molecular gastronomy in the kitchen you will never find salt or pepper shakers on the table. What comes out of the kitchen is considered perfect. Not that the dishes are bland! It is just that the technique and ingredients used do not require flavor enhancements such as salt or MSG.
Table d’hôte breakfast at the hotel Auberge Saint-Antoine, our Québec home-away-from-home, was a continental buffet with freshly baked breads, muffins and croissants, fresh yoghurt – which I took full advantage of drizzling it with aromatic honey – assorted cold cuts, cheeses and fruit, freshly squeezed juices and more. You could also get eggs cooked in different ways and baconor, bread pudding or pain perdu (French Toast) and more from the a la carte menu. Melanie Bedard, our waitress that also attended us during our lunch, was one of the most knowledgeable and courteous servers we ever had.
We had exceptional dishes every time we ate.
A specially set-up lunch was organized for us by the fireplace in an alcove of the bar, to taste the kitchen’s creations as only breakfast and dinner are currently offered by the hotel and we were having dinners outside the property.
The three course lunch from Chez Muffy, our hotel’s restaurant, was impressive with farmhouse and ocean inspired courses. Muffy, is the nickname of the owner’s mother who, at 93, still comes every day to the hotel to make sure that the operation runs “comme il faut” i.e. as it should be! Using organic agricultural techniques, the owning family’s farm works in concert with the executive co-chefs to create signature ingredients for Chez Muffy's cuisine.
The snow crab appetizer course with daikon radish matchsticks from the hotel’s garden, black and salmon caviar, a shoyu citric vinaigrette and Marigold flowers, was as beautiful to behold as it was to eat; a dish to die for!
The main; sirloin with a bordelaise sauce, caramelized onions that were filled with a different sauce and roasted potato roulades with touches of numerous other sauces on the plate was also exceptional.
And the “Dessert Tidbits” a plate of little pastry rondelles, lemon cream with brown sugar and other bits and pieces, followed by a nice cup of coffee was not shabby either!
The wine pairings were very good, with a Grüner Veltliner from Slovenia to start and an exceptional Barbaresco paired with the sirloin dish.
I spoke with Alex Bouchard, the executive co-chef – there are three co-chefs operating the different food venues at the hotel -- and I will attest that he knows very well what needs to be done to keep the kitchen at a very top level. He said… “We want to make people happy!”
But that was only one of the remarkable lunches we had.
By a bubbling stream on a rural property in Ste-Brigitte de Laval at Bora Boréal, we had another mouth-watering lunch prepared by the chefs and staff of Tanière3, one of the top avant-garde Québecoise restaurants, starting with an amuse bouche of freshly smoked breast of duck (the smoking hardwood fire was still burning when we arrived) with braised confit onions and crusty farm bread, made that morning. On a grating over the fire was also half-a-head of local hard cheese that was used as a Raclette. The cook scraped the melted cheese on fire-grilled toast and layered slices of the smoked duck breast over it; pure ambrosia!
It was followed by a twig nest that had an egg filled with a creamy emulsion plus morels and spinach.
The fish course was halibut with erythrone stems and leafs, day lily and wild garlic.
And that was followed by lamb chops with a side of Jerusalem artichoke and fiddlehead ferns in a Labrador tea sauce.
All were washed down with a sparkler and fruit-juice cocktail, almost like a Bellini.
And yes Mr. Shakespeare… they did gild the lily!
A series of lunch nibbles were presented in a number of restaurants and shops on Av. Maguire, Main Street, in a Québec City neighborhood, organized by Le Canard Goulu (The Greedy Duck) and associated establishments on that street that included Brynd Smoked Meat, Pizza Mag, Café Castelo McGuire, Faks Café, La Maison des 100 Thés (in French the name is a play on words i.e. cent-thé is pronounced santé - health); Verre Pickl’ and a number of others.
We just walked from storefront to storefront, trying such delicacies as a slice of foie gras torchon in a doughnut; fresh goat cheese in a jar; pizza slices; spinach-stuffed flaky dough; onion soup, etc. etc.
And then, of course, came the dinners. But those will be described in next month’s issue, as they will require much more space.
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