This Thanksgiving, Chris and I decided to be selfish. We packed our bags, dropped off Izzy at a doggie-daycare/boarding palace and drove north to Quebec City. When people asked why Canada, I joked we were house-hunting after the November 8th day of doom. I’m not getting into it here because though I feel incredibly passionate about who represents the country we – we being all Americans of different races, creeds, orientations, genders – live in, you and I both are here for food with a sprinkling of other things. And in the vein of all this paragraph encompasses, before I start writing about a lovely city with lovely food and lovely people, I will leave you with this:
So, Canada. Oh, Canada!
Quebec City is only 5 hours away from us and it’s been at the top of the to-do list since we moved to Maine. A couple weeks ago, we decided that’s where we wanted to spend Thanksgiving. We found an AirBNB that was in walking distance to all the touristy stuff, dusted off our passports (and our pocket dictionaries), and filled up our gas tank and headed north.
Thanksgiving traffic is non-existent in Northern Maine. There were 20 mile stretches where ours was the only car on the road. Then we hit rush hour in Quebec City. We finally arrived to our AirBNB and looked for a place to park the car and all the signs, everything, were in French. After cherry-picking words out of phrases and feeling like the proverbial dumb American, we finally got settled. It was a little later than we anticipated so our plan to cook a romantic dinner at ‘home’ fell through. Naturally, we Yelped a solution and found Chez Victor, a poutine and burger joint around the corner. When we arrived, we were greeted by a very accommodating and patient waitress. We ordered poutine topped with seasoned ground lamb, goat feta and sun dried tomatoes in addition to a couple weird (in a great way) burgers, and all was right in the world.
The next morning, we awoke to the smell of baked goods (be still my heart). There was a little gluten/dairy free bakery 4 floors below us, and the wonderful smell penetrated the walls and floors. I didn’t complain! Wanting the glutenous and dairy-filled experience, we walked to Old Quebec to get an early start at Paillard Cafe, a Quebec City institution. It had a bit of a Panera vibe, but with lots of red. The pastries and coffee were good. They also had mile-long community tables for espresso-drinking with your fellow diner. To understand how much that makes my heart swell, refer to the very first graphic!
After le petit dejeuner, we walked around the city and popped in and out of store fronts and galleries like this one that sold beautiful persian rugs, handpainted dishes, and stunning light fixtures.
Our favorite gallery was one called Le Chien D’or . We met the artist who created all the work within and ended up hunkering down in the gallery for a good bit of time. Her company and artwork were lovely.
For lunch, we stopped by a little market and bought some local cheeses, truffle salami, terrine, fruit, baguette, and a Cadbury hazelnut chocolate bar and headed back to our abode to enjoy all the food. And wine. And then a nap.
The memory that will likely stay with me forever from this trip is our dinner at Chez Boulay.
Because I had been imbibing for an hour or two prior to our reservation, I finally mustered up the confidence to speak to the maître D in French, starting with “Ma francaise est terribly, mais je vais essayer.” He made a joke in French that I didn’t understand and was very patient with my broken language. He sat us by a window looking out onto the city street.
Our first course was the Salmon Tartare. My relationship with salmon is still a bit strained from my own boreal-dwelling days. But this was something different. I think about it and I salivate. It was so fresh that it didn’t taste like fish at all, rather it tasted like the sea, lightly oiled and herbed.
The main course was the Blood Pudding Duo, a classic French entree. It was the chef’s family’s recipe of cabbage and leek blood sausage, a slice of black (blood) pudding with boreal spices, potato puree and roasted apples. It was rich and decadent with a rounded sweetness from the baked apple.
Then there was Nagano pork belly and loin glazed with maple and a mushroom/fir glazed gnocchi, drizzled with a sweet mushroom sauce. Both cuts of pork were perfectly cooked and the play of textures between the homemade gnocchi, sautéed mushrooms and crispy kale was so inviting. So much, I’d curl up with the little Staub cast iron it all was served in and eat it every day of winter.
And if all of that wasn’t enough, we ordered a slice of Sea Buckthorn and meringue pie with pine-infused crème anglaise. What the hell is sea buckthorn do you ask?! We didn’t know either. Our Waitress gave us the skinny: it’s a tart, oily shrub berry that is the color of orange sherbet grown in parts of Canada. Like any tart fruit, it paired perfectly with egg yolks, sugar, a pie shell, and meringue.
It was a romantic date night, followed by a romantic date day of more pastries, this time from the quaint Panetier Baluchon. Compared to its more commercialized competition we visited the morning before, there was little English spoken, few frills and only a handful of tables in a small space. For those reasons, I swear, the pastries were better.
Baskets filled with croissants, pain au chocolate, and beignets lined shelves of a old wood hutch. There were loaves of fresh breads in all shapes and sizes and don’t get me started on the refrigerated cases full of tarts, macaroons, and other beautiful pastries. It was so out-of-this-world, we went back a few hours later for some tarts to go.
After breakfast, we wandered back into the Old City to admire The Château Fontenac on our walking tour. We didn’t go in because neither of us had showered and I’m pretty sure I was wearing yoga pants to accommodate all the pastries in my belly. From the looks of the outside, I don’t know that yoga pants would have been well-received. I may be completely wrong here, but I suspect wearing yoga pants into a fancy hotel violates something.
Our next stop was Lower Town accessed by a funicular (!). Here, everything was decorated beautifully for Christmas with garland made of fresh evergreens, Christmas trees, poinsettias. We mosied in and out of the little shops, most selling wares made by local artisans: a chocolaterie, hand-knitted sock and hat shop made from local wool, and a cider house to name a few. Our favorite was a remarkable wood-working shop where artists hand carved all the beautiful statues, wall-hangings, figurines, decoys, wine corks (you name it) that graced the shelves and walls of the place. While you browsed, you could watch the craftsmen work on their individual projects.
Finally, we made our way to the Morrin Cultural Center, the only English language library in the city. If walls could talk, you guys! Since it was built in the early 1700s, the building has been the home of a library, the local literary and historical society, a college, a prison, and a military redoubt. We paid to go on a guided tour, and it was worth every penny. If you’re big on history, I definitely recommend this as a stop on your Quebec City tour. We toured both the preserved prison and classroom from the days they were used as such. We heard the eerie tales of prisoners and saw their names carved in the hardwood floors of their jail cells. We also learned that its college was one of the first in Canada to admit women (go, ghosts of Morrin College, go).
That night, we stopped by the German Christmas Market in the old city before heading back to our flat and ate leftover cheese and bread and polished off the last of our wine.
Oh, and we ate our to-go fruit tarts and chocolate from Panetier Baluchon. Neither of us wanted to go to sleep because waking up meant it was time to head home. But we did. With a little piece of the city to enjoy along the way.
And maybe, just maybe, there will be another trip to Quebec as early as January 1st. My birthday. Where the poutine, Chez Boulay, and perfect pastries await.
In the spirit of our trip, I’m reposting this poutine recipe from 2014. The original recipe was inspired by a trip to Victoria, BC. Give it some time, friends. I’ll learn to make the pastries and bread I love so much and tend to write so much about. What can I say?
I <3 carbs. J’adore les glucides!
- 6 large russet potatoes
- ¼ cup chicken fat or pan drippings from any poultry
- 1½ cups good chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons flour, heaping
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 sprig rosemary + 2 Tbsp. chopped
- 8 ounces cheese curds
- Truffle oil, to taste
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 5 green onions, thinly sliced
- Peel potatoes. With a large knife, cut potatoes into 4 or 5 pieces length wise and then slice into ⅓ inch sticks. Place fries in pot of cold, heavily salted water and turn heat on high. Don't overcook in this step because you don't want your fries to be mushy or fall apart. Rule of thumb: take the fries out once the water shows its first big bubble.
- Place fries on cookie rack to dry. Transfer to paper towel lined plate. Place fries in the refrigerator to dry and to cool.
- Heat half a gallon of vegetable oil on high in a dry, heavy bottom pot. Once the temperature reaches 325 degrees, remove fries from fridge and add a small batch to the heated oil and cook until a crust forms. Since you're working in batches, make sure the temp stays at 325.
- Return your fries to a cookie rack and place in the fridge again until cool.
- In a separate saucepan, heat chicken stock over medium heat and add rosemary sprig, garlic, and salt. While fries are cooling the second time, start your gravy by heating chicken fat or pan drippings over medium heat.
- Whisk in flour until a paste forms. Add about half a cup of the warm, herby chicken stock and continue to whisk so the flour mixture doesn't clump. Once well mixed, add the remainder of the warm chicken stock, continuing to whisk. Add chopped rosemary to the gravy. Simmer until gravy thickens.
- Heat oil to 385. Fry cooled potatoes again until golden brown Take fries from pot and place on a paper towel covered pan to absorb the oil. Season generously with salt and even more generously with black pepper.
- Once fries cool slightly, drizzle with truffle oil. Next, toss thinly sliced shallots with a little flour until the shallots are lightly covered. Add to hot oil and fry for about 20 seconds or until the shallots are crispy.
- Layer fries in a dish. Cover with gravy. Then top with cheese curds and crispy shallots. Garnish generously with green onions.