Quebec City, capital of the Province of Quebec and home to 700,000 French speaking charming and friendly people, is a very special destination, every season of the year. Those who live here consider themselves fortunate; visitors return often, and the currency exchange favors the American dollar. This is a walking city that has its ups and downs (bring comfortable shoes), and a region that offers so many opportunities to enjoy life and all its pleasures. Architecturally rich in history and tradition, Quebec celebrated its 400th Anniversary in 2008. Quebec and its people have many fascinating and poignant stories to tell. It is easy to be a glutton in Quebec; eating and walking my way around town elevates my taste buds, and builds new muscles in my calves.
The afternoon of my arrival, I stop by the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac to reconnect with Executive Chef Jean Soulard who is a vital part of the hotel’s reputation for exceptionally fine innovative cuisine. Jean has been growing fresh herbs for years in a special garden, which he personally cuts daily. Today he gives me a tour of his latest project, raising bees and collecting honey on the roof of the hotel; hundreds of bees buzz and swarm in and out of four wooden hives. He tells me:” I already have more jars of honey than I can use “.. Jean shares this recipe which I can’t wait to try when back in New York.
Orange and Honey Scallops
- 20 scallops
- 1/2 green bell pepper cut in small cubes
- 1/2 red bell pepper cut in small cubes
- 1 table spoon honey
- 3 tables spoons white vermouth
- 2 grated oranges and their juice
- 2oz butter
- 20grains of green peppercorn
- 2 oranges peeled into the flesh and quartered
- salt and pepper.
- Remove small nerve on the side of the scallop. Brush with honey
- Sauté the peppers in a pan 1 to 2 minutes with a little butter
- In a pan with little butter, cook the scallops over high heat 1 to 2 minutes on each side depending on their size..
Add salt and pepper. The scallops should be golden . Keep warm
- In the same pan, add the vermouth and reduce by half.
-Addthe juice and the grated oranges and reduce by half.
- While whisking, add the butter little by little in order to obtain a velvety sauce.
- Add the green peppercorns and the quartered oranges in a sauce. Keep warm.
-Poura little sauce in each plate and cover elegantly with scallops and bell peppers Decorate with lettuce leaves. Bon appétit, Jean Soulard.
Louie and I wander down to the Old Port, and through narrow cobblestone streets, stopping to window shop. Daniel Vezina and Suzanne Gagnon are the owners (he is the Chef, of Laurie Raphael Restaurant, at #117 Dalhouse. Daniel’s food wowed my palate on my last visit; and I am as pleased to see him again as he is to see me. Daniel is a celebrity in Quebec; he also has a television show, cooking school and culinary boutique. Daniel and Suzanne have recently opened a Laurie Raphael Restaurant in Montreal at the Hotel Dominion. He graciously invites us to stay for a little lunch. We are seated at my favorite table, separated from the kitchen by a window of glass; I observe the mastery going on in the kitchen, from the prepping for tonight’s dinner to the cutting of a huge slab of beef. We are served veal capaccio topped with a stripe of aioli mayonnaise and a single caper; then a chopped calamari, mussels and shrimp salad mixed with tomatoes, bell peppers and onions; we sip a couple of glasses of rose wine.
Daniel’s 21 year old son Raphael has just returned from his culinary studies and internships in France, Barcelona and New York, and is in the kitchen working side by side with his father. After lunch, I chat with Raphael; he is learning the serious side of meeting the daily challenges of turning out what many consider the most “outside the box creative and innovative cuisine” in the city. I ask if it is difficult to work with his father, and he replies: “Not really hard because now that we have a new Laurie Raphael restaurant in Montreal; he’s not in the kitchen that much. I want to understand and know everything; I want to run this restaurant through all courses. Now I am an intermediate chef, making the garnishes. The best thing about the kitchen is the teamwork; the best thing about our food is the great product we get and use. I want to work on projects like my father; I want to make our kitchen “a Quebec kitchen as a philosophy”, inventing new cuisines of Quebec with products from all over; we have 500 different cheeses. I like the rush of being in the kitchen; like in the army it is serious; it’s also a game. I want to make Laurie Raphael even better; that’s a serious challenge”.
I wander down Rue Saint Jean, hungry for lunch, and discover Portofino, a wonderful Bistro Italiano on the corner of Rue Courillard at #54; it is a great spot for people watching, and yet tucked into a side street. I am lucky to find a table in their sidewalk café, as the street is packed with tourists in town for Summer Festival. Owner Francois Petit, in partners with Chef Yves Moreau and manager Yanick Parent takes me down to his wine cellar; he is very proud of the “2 glasses” award from Wine Spectator Magazine, and his extensive $350,000 collection of wines from around the world. The brick pizza oven is sending out delicious aromas. Freshly baked sun dried tomato bread is brought to my table along with a thick balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil for dipping; he pours a glass of chilled rose which I sip. Portofino’s menu is mouth watering; they serve an interesting combo of pizza and pasta; with many toppings and ingredients to choose from. I leave it up to Francois to surprise me. It is most pleasant sitting al fresco in this charming restaurant with a gracious host. Francois brings me a huge plate; on it is a pizza topped with chicken, red, yellow and green peppers, black olives and onions . . . Plus a heaping portion of linguine with shrimp, scallops and mussels in a marinara sauce. Both are cooked to perfection; the pizza crust is thin and crisp like a cracker, the toppings moist and delicious; the pasta is marvelous with a spicy bite; I devour everything on my plate along with two glasses of rose wine.
The Roch neighborhood is unique; its re-gentrification has attracted interesting trend setters who have opened upscale boutiques, restaurants and clubs. It reminds me of New York’s Soho or Meatpacking District in their early days. We wander into Largo, a Jazz Club; a trio plays background to a vocalist’s sultry voice; the mood is mellow and we take in some their sounds before moving on. Jazz is big in Quebec, and there’s a great line up during the summer. Walking the streets, we pass many upscale boutiques and some of Quebec’s trendiest restaurants; we stop to chat with a few owner/chefs, and then pop into the Hotel Pur for a quick cappuccino from their self serve machine just off the lobby.
Saturday 9A.M. July 18th
A DAY IN THE COUNTRY
Richard Seguin, who works for Quebec City Tourism, is a true and well respected professional who knows how to pamper and please ladies when they come to town. He fulfills my request to visit Ile d’Orleans, and graciously arranges for Michelle, Demers, a knowledgeable guide to give me a tour of the islet, which is reachable by bridge or boat. We cross the bridge, and begin a truly amusing and pleasant day, stopping to chat, taste and linger with some of her favorite local purveyors and artisans, all of whom have interesting stories to tell, and products they produce to sell.
Ile d’Orleans has been inhabited forever. The Native Americans were the first people to be drawn to the island due to the abundance of fish and game. The fertile soil then attracted early settlers who established one of the first colonies of New France; 300 families living elsewhere trace their roots back to the island. Today, it is considered the most important district of Quebec. Farm owners must farm their land, and the island provides Quebec with an abundance of quality seasonal fruits and vegetables, cereals, maple products, smoked fish, pates, cheese, wines and fresh baked pies.
A great day excursion, and just a 15 minutes drive from Quebec, Ile d ‘Orleans is an epicurean delight; its stone cottages, vineyards and farms are home to an eclectic mix of interesting, and dedicated to their passion artists, farmers, wine makers and even Guy the blacksmith, owner of La Forgea Pique Assaut.
First stop over the bridge is , Cassis Monna & Filles, # 721 Chemin Royal where I meet Sculptor/farmer Bernard Monna who mastered the art of growing black currants, and then transforming them into high quality products, including a crème de cassis that earned a 1995 Gold Medal award, three aperitif wines, a wine jelly, onion jam, and black currant mustard. His daughters, who are following in his footsteps, have recently opened a darling petit roadside café that serves the best sangria I’ve ever tasted, made with cassis of course. We are also served a plate of pates, rich with chunks of currants. Downstairs are the fermenting barrels and tasting/purchasing room. When Bernard is not sculpting his huge metal rooster weathervanes or making wine, he is dancing tango in Quebec, or in Argentina.
At the Vignoble de l’ Isle de Bacchus, a small family owned winery and Inn; I taste an amazing tangy, not sweet award winning ice wine, made from Vidal Geisenhein that won the Grand Gold International medal in Montreal’s 2,800 blind tastes. I must admit, not being an ice wine lover, this spicy ice wine, made from grapes harvested in the snow, could convert me.
It’s on to the Poissonnerie Joseph Paquet, a local fish shack at # 2705 Chemin for a tasting of his farm fed and wild smoked fish. Joe’s smoking room turns out a variety of simple but very fresh tasting delicacies. We use tiny plastic two prong forks to sample an array of salmon, catfish, cod, trout, sturgeon and eel; we dip into an interesting sauce. Bucket Joe, as he is called, has gonna fishin for eel, so I miss a popular island legend. The process used marinates the fish in a mix of vegetable oil and salt for 48 hours. It is cooked for at least four hours, turned again and again in the fire; the maple smoke gives it an unusual taste.
La Halte des Anges is the farm and roadside shop of Anne Noel Deschamps at # 4586 Chemin Road in Sainte-Famille. Often called “the pie lady” she offers us slices of fresh – out - of – the- oven -still -hot sugar, rhubarb and strawberry pies.
We stop at Ferme Leonce Plante for strawberries, Ferme Francois Blouin for blueberries;
It is 3 PM when we finally leave Orleans. It has been a wonderful day, filled with the joy of meeting strangers who, if I had time to linger longer, would no doubt become friends.
Richard Seguin picks me up at the hotel, and we walk to Saint- Amour Restaurant in the old city, and one of his favorites; he has booked a table for 6:30, a bit early but it will allow time for a leisurely dinner before Sting’s 10:P.M. performance. We receive a warm welcome from the manager. I am told Paul Mc Cartney dined here when he performed at Summer Festival 2008. The restaurant is beautiful and interestingly appointed; we sit in the glass covered garden. The menu is creative, ambitious, unique and truly inspirational . . . from the lightly seared tuna in a seaweed crust to the sea scallops stuffed with mushroom tartuffade, carnaroli risotto and green asparagus heads with an emulsion of Nolly Prat mousse perfumed with white truffle. The menu is divided into Discovery and Inspiration; foie gras is their signature and they serve it three ways: in a terrine with a fig puree and Orleans island blackcurrant reduction . . . Seared in apricot and syrupy duck juices . . . and Decadence, a tasting of seven variations of Le Goulu farm duck foie gras. Not wanting to get confused by the menu, I ask the waiter David for suggestions. Richard orders their classic sweet breads, topped with shrimp (interesting twist), served with butternut squash gnocchi’s, sautéed Swiss chard and morel fungi; I go for the squab Both dishes are equally succulent; the wine pairings and service are excellent. David our waiter leaves me with a thought “I like to see this place as a factory of good memories”. Before we know it, it is after 10, the show has no doubt started; we take a short cut that leads to the Plains of Abraham.
The buffet breakfasts at the Hilton Hotel are sumptuous, scrumptious, and included in the room rate. I pile my plate with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, garnished with capers, onions and chopped tomatoes, for my last breakfast. Marie Luce, the exuberant tour guide will take me to the airport at 9:30.
As my Continental flight taxes down the runway I bid Quebec, and all she has shared in four amazing fun packed days, a heartfelt a la prochaine (Until we next meet again).
For more info on Quebec's hotels, restaurants, attractions and festivals:
http://www.quebecregion.com/ or 1-877-783-1608