More than just poutine (but that, too): Surprising flavors enliven a brief tour through one of Canada's culinary capitals
THE BLOB If you thought the first thing you'd see when you landed in Quebec City, Canada, was a mime in a black mock turtleneck playing "My Heart Will Go On" on an accordion, you'd be almost right. Almost, because the Blob promptly devoured him — chewy! — and went on to enjoy a brief culinary tour of one of the most charming, clean, and friendly cities she's visited.
Also surprisingly diverse: waves of Canadian immigration have gently streaked "traditional" Canadian cuisine (yes there is such a thing, from the "meat pie" pork tortierre of the Blob's maternal grandmother to Canadian bacon, berry jams, sweet pickles, and caribou steaks) with global flavors. Quebec being heavily French, there's also an attention to detail and service that boosts its current restaurant boom to another level — without stinting on any creamy richness.
Chefs here have dived into experimenting with local St. Lawrence Seaway ingredients like meaty Îles de la Madeleine sea scallops, tender green saltwort, smoked Kamouraska eel, late spring fiddleheads and asparagus (all experienced at the superior L'Échaudé in the stonewalled Vieux-Port area, www.echaude.com). Blackberry cassis and cider, made in the bright, tin-roofed farmhouses on Île d'Orléans across the river, boutique chocolate galore, and ubiquitous maple delights from Quebec's interior sweeten the pot.
"Smoked meat," a.k.a. molasses-cured pastrami, piled on a plate with a pickle (Joe Smoked Meat, www.joesmokedmeat.com) or tucked deliciously beneath cheese and a layer of butter spread on a pizza (Pizzeria TM in nearby Thetford Mines) fattens up, as does that ubiquitous Quebecois staple, poutine, in a panoply of forms. Let's eat.
RABBIT PIE AT LE LAPIN SAUTÉ
Holy leaping quaintness. This cozy joint in the Lower Town, tucked amid shops selling Inuit art and hip-mom scarves, is a true Quebec experience. Pretty waitstaff offer the house specialty, rabbit, in a dazzling variety of formats: juicy in white bean cassoulet, dipped in honey-rosemary sauce, roasted with "two mustards," even plated with a hefty side of duck. Simplicity is best, the Blob may have learned from some Beatrix Potter book. So a slice of rabbit pie ($21.95) it was, savory-sweet, with currants and potatoes, atop a splash of balsamic sauce. Paired perfectly with a local Boréale Rousse beer? Mais oui!
52, rue du Petit-Champlain, www.lapinsaute.com
NEIGE RECOLTÉ D'HIVER FROM LA FACE CACHÉE DE LA POMME
Ice cider, who knew? The Blob has been put off by ice wines before — too sweet, too supermarket-y — but this premier line of Quebecois ciders ($47 per 375 ml, less expensive versions available), distilled from frosted apples, has changed her life. Wonderful after a spicy meal, the chilled-syrup, full-bodied sweetness lingers in your mouth like a very good port, but without the sting.
DUCK POUTINE AT LE COCHON DINGUE
Le Cochon Dingue is a Denny's-like restaurant chain (but better), and poutine — fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds — is a French Canadian staple that's become popular in the US. Poutine is available everywhere, from fast food versions to ones with foie gras or hunks of venison. The measure to which all poutine is held? The squeakiness of its curds. And this affordable version ($10) with shredded duck in a sweet gravy has incredibly squeaky curds. It's squeaky curdlicious.