Entries in Quebec (8)


Aux Anciens Canadiens

Note: This is the third and final restaurant review from our recent trip to Quebec City. See previous reviews of Initiale and Restaurant le Saint-Amour.


We were on a mission to try some Poutine, probably Quebec’s best known dish, consisting of french fries topped with cheese curd and brown gravy. It is much better than it sounds. The guide on our walking tour recommended a fast-food restaurant, which was crowded and had all the ambiance of a McDonald’s. That wasn’t for us.

We had about given up, when we stumbled on Aux Anciens Canadiens, a bastion of traditional Québécois cuisine occupying an old home built in 1675–6. One of the city’s oldest buildings, it has been a restaurant since 1966. The interior, with its thick stone walls and low ceilings, retains much of its old charm. It seems to be constantly full, and we were lucky enough to get a table on about 45 minutes’ notice.

Here (above) you see the Poutine, at CA$14 probably triple or quadruple what you’d pay in a fast food joint, but certainly well worth it in these surroundings.

We were somewhat at a loss to choose from the entrées, so we ordered the Québec Tasting Platter to share (CA$32; above), which included a bit of everything: Quebec meat pie, Lac St-Jean meat pie, meat and pig’s knuckle ragout, salt pork grillades, and baked beans—most of it very good. The various meats included the likes of bison, elk, venison, and caribou. Obviously, in these preparations one could not really tell them apart.

This was more than enough food for two people, especially after the poutine. Even without that, you’d need the appetite of a lumberjack to finish a plate this size. Service was attentive, and nobody minded that both of our orders were to share.

I don’t know Quebec City well enough to know how many restaurants serve food in this style, and I don’t know Quebec well enough to know whether its citizens ever really ate this way. Is this authenticity, or Quebec for tourists? All I know is: it was fun, it was good, and you should go.

Aux Anciens Canadiens (34, rue Saint-Louis, Quebec City))



We chose Restaurant Initiale for our second big meal in Quebec City. Like le Saint-Amour, which I wrote about in a previous post, Initiale was at or near the top of every Quebec dining guide I looked at.

Located in a former bank, the forty-seat dining room is decorated in sedate earth tones, with plenty of space between tables. The website describes it as “sobre [sic] and classical.” In New York, Per Se is perhaps the closest thing to it, but here there is no panoramic view of Central Park (or of anything).

A couple of weeks ago, New York Times critic Sam Sifton featured a letter from a clueless twit named Brian who criticized restaurants like Eleven Madison Park and Momofuku Ko because, “when a restaurant is too focused on food you lose passion and soul.”

Brian is full of crap, starting with his false dichotomy that a focus on food is inconsistent with “passion and soul.” I lost him at “foodies,” as in: “by catering to ‘foodies’ these restaurants have become boring. Foodies as diners are way too concerned with the food.”

I don’t want to spend any more time on Brian’s limitations, except to say: Initiale isn’t Brian’s kind of restaurant. But it sure was ours. We didn’t spend our whole meal reverently “studying” the food. But each course in our long tasting menu commanded attention, as exceptional food should.

At dinner, there is a choice among three “thematic menus” (three courses plus amuses for CA$69): Le Maratime, Produit Volaillé, or Le Goût du Chef; or, a long tasting menu at $125.

The cooking here was more precise, technical, and elaborate, than at le Saint-Amour. The chef, Yvan Lebrun, has a particular knack for integrating fruits and vegetables into a dish, rather than just serving them on the side, or as a garnish. As in the earlier review, I’m going to quote from the menu and, for the most part, let the photos speak for themselves.


1. Amuses bouches (above left)

2. Princess scallops three ways: red pepper-gremolata and nougatine (above right)


3. Turnip and armillaires mushrooms; char et broth aux pousse de sapin et garlic flower (both above)


4. Lobster and veal escalopinette bolognaise; pasta, tuile of coral, and lobster vinaigrette à la diable (both above). We were especially struck by the pairing of lobster and veal, which is one of those “you wouldn’t think it would work, but it does” kind of dishes.


5. Warm escalope of duck liver; beet crumble, apples, touch of buckthorn berry and leaves of tetragone (above left)

6. Roasted lamb from le Bas du Fleuve; grilled pepper and spinach, épigramme with mustard and yellow haricot beignet and haricots coco (above right). The cigar-shaped packet above the lamb chop itself is the chef’s take on a spring roll with lamb confit inside of it.


7. Cheese from Quebec: a) Rutabega velouté, pieces of Blue Elisabeth and leaves of sage (above left); b) Green bread-onion and Cap-Rond, wild ginger parfait glace and buckwheat (above right)


8) Dans les pommes (above left); 9) Mignardise (above right)

The service was just about flawless. After the 12,000-bottle wine cellar at le Saint-Amour, the wine list here seemed more pedestrian—certainly more than adequate for the surroundings, but not notable in itself.

Were it in New York, Initiale would be one of the city’s top handful of restaurants. It is remarkable that a much smaller city can keep such a place in business. Gastro-tourism alone can’t explain it, given that the city’s peak season is rather short. One must assume that the locals know fine food and aren’t shy about paying for it. Good for them!

Restaurant Initiale (54, rue St-Pierre, Quebec City)

Food: ****
Service: ****
Ambiance: ****
Overall: ****


Restaurant le Saint-Amour

A recent weekend trip to Quebec City presented a dilemma: with just two evenings available, where to dine? Compared to Montreal, where we’ve been twice, the options here are more compelling, and it was difficult to choose.

Restaurant le Saint-Amour caught my eye due to the focus on foie gras and seasonal game. I had not realized there was a 12,000-bottle wine list, mostly French, which stole the show. This must surely be one of the top handful of French wine lists outside France itself. Offering detailed maps of each wine-growing region is not a new idea, but the level of detail here went far beyond anything I’ve seen. I would return for that wine list, even if they served only breadcrumbs to go along with it.

The menu is expensive; there is no getting around that, with entrées running from CA$42–53. (A Canadian dollar is worth only slightly less than a U. S. dollar.) The “Discovery menu,” with eight courses for CA$115, seemed like the way to go. The food was excellent, with one exception, to be covered below. For the most part, I’ll give brief descriptions and let the photos speak for themselves.


1. Mise en bouche trilogy: caviar, oyster, and snowcrab.

2. Duck foie gras: “classic” terrine with armagnac; “natural” candied with paradixe pepper; blackcurrant reduction from Île d’Orléans. (Note: The à la carte menu has a foie gras “fantasy” dish, prepared seven ways, for $36.)


3. Lobster bisque: sliced scallop; corral and vanilla sabayon. This was the one dud, as the soup tasted chalky, and it was an odd decision to serve lobster for two courses in a row.

4. “La Gaspésie” lobster: grated crackling fennel, citrus cream sauce.


5. Piglet from Turlo farm: seared girolles; white truffle oil sauce.

6. Fine Québec cheeses: Anicet honey, dried fruit and nuts


7. Cocoa Grand Cru: flexible ganache, chocolate consommé, raspberry and lemon iced yogurt.

8. Crème brûlée (not pictured)

The main dining room resembles an art deco garden, with a soaring 35-foot ceiling and bright painted wood panels. The service was excellent, save for a couple of minor glitches (silverware not replaced; that sort of thing) that did not detract from the experience. The wine list is a Francophile’s wet dream, and the food very nearly lives up to it.

Restaurant le Saint-Amour (48, rue Sainte-Ursule, Vieux Québec)

Food: ***
Service: **½
Ambiance: ***
Overall: ***


Montreal Journal: Marché de La Villette & Les Bouchées Gourmandes

Marché de La Villette

Rounding out our Montreal journal are two casual places along rue St. Paul Ouest where we had breakfast and lunch.

Marché de La Villette has only been in existence for about four years, but it has the look of a comfortable bistro that has been there forever. There’s a take-out counter featuring an array of salads, quiches and terrines, but there’s a full-service all-day menu too. We’ve been there several times, but only for breakfast/brunch. It’s not exactly a bargain, with breakfast for two coming to around CA$40, but you don’t leave hungry, and everything is prepared to a high standard.

villette01a.jpg villette01b.jpg

villette02a.jpg villette02b.jpg

Pictured are: Crèpe with ham and brie (upper left), Cheese platter (upper right), Omelette with salad (lower left), and your humble correspondent (lower right).

bouchesgourmandes_outside.jpgIt’s a pity I didn’t have my camera the first day that we visited La Bouchées Gourmandes, which is just down the street from Marché de La Villette. It’s primarily a sweet shop, but there’s a breakfast and lunch menu too. The crèpes were outstanding — if anything, lighter, fluffier, and more textured than those at La Villette. We went back the next day for hot chocolate and a tart.

The place appears to be operated by a husband–wife team, with no one in the front-of-house except the wife. She moves at her own pace: that tart took her quite a while to produce, even though it was already in a display case and needed only to be plated.

But as long as you’re in no hurry, it is well worth a visit.

Marché de La Villette (324, rue St. Paul Ouest, Montreal)

Les Bouchées Gourmandes (310, rue St. Paul Ouest, Montreal)


Montreal Journal: Au Pied de Cochon


Although we would have but two evenings in Montreal, one restaurant from our last visit impressed us enough that we were determined to go again: Au Pied de Cochon, literally “The Pig’s Foot.”

pdc_inside.jpgChef Martin Picard has a cult following that almost any chef would envy. I cannot find a single negative review of the place. Maybe it’s because Picard is bribing diners with the most fattening foods imaginable, and serving them in eye-popping combinations no one else would dream of.

I wrote a fairly detailed eGullet post the last time we visited, so  I won’t repeat the background. The only thing that’s new since then is that Martin Picard now has his own cookbook. Like everything else at Au Pied de Cochon, Picard did it his own way, and published the book himself.

And the restaurant is, if anything, even harder to get into. We booked our table a few weeks in advance, but all they could offer me on a Saturday evening was 6:00 p.m., and we had to vacate the table by 8:00. This didn’t deter us: for all of the restaurant’s charms, it is really not a place to linger. The space is cramped, loud, and not especially comfortable.

We had the same server as last time, and once again he advised that an appetizer to share would probably be ample, given the vast portion sizes. I didn’t take note of our wine selection, but the list seemed more expensive than last time. We settled on a respectable red for $65.

We started with the Plogue à Champlain ($23; above), a hunk of foie gras with a buckwheat pancake, bacon, onions, potatoes, and maple syrup. The server explained that a friend of Picard had served this to him at breakfast, and he was so thunderstruck that he added it to the restaurant’s menu. And it was good enough to make you think that God made foie gras and maple syrup to be eaten together every morning.

Pot-au-feu ($60) is one of the few dishes actually advertised as being a portion for two. It’s traditionally a fairly humble dish, but you can count on Picard to spruce it up with foie gras, prairie oysters, and Guinea Hen, along with typical ingredients like boiled beef, bone marrow, and vegetables. We thought that the beef and vegetables turned out especially well, while the Guinea Hen didn’t really repay the effort to pry off the bone what little meat was left.

When we visit Montreal, there’s always a feeling of “so many restaurants…so little time.” But with much of the menu at Au Pied de Chochon still unexplored, it will probably still be a must-visit the next time we come to Montreal.

Au Pied de Cochon (536, rue Duluth Est, Montreal)

Food: **
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: **


Montreal Journal: La Chronique

lachronique_inside.gif lachronique_chefs.jpg
Interior shot (left); Chefs Marc de Canck and Olivier de Montigny (right)

My girlfriend and I spent a fun long weekend in Montreal last year. We enjoyed it so much that she suggested a return visit to celebrate my birthday. The question was: where to eat? Last time, we had a terrific meal at Toqué, and we wanted another meal in that class. An eGullet contributor suggested La Chronique.

The restaurant, located well apart from the central business district, occupies a fairly humble-looking space that belies the ambitious food. Belgian chef Marc de Canck has been at the helm since it opened in March 1995, joined more recently by his assistant Olivier de Montigny. It has garnered a mention in various international publications, including a favorable write-up from New York Times critic Eric Asimov in 1999.

The à la carte menu offers appetizers from CA$15–25 and entrées $34–45; there are only about half-a-dozen of each. We chose the seven-course degustation for $100 per person, with wine pairings another $50 or $100 (we had the latter). The explanations of the wines were unusually detailed, extending at times to full-blown tasting notes à la Wine Spectator.

I present the menu selections and paired wines below in French, followed in each case by our notes: 

lachronique01a.jpg lachronique01b.jpg

La mise en bouche en surprise du moment [above left]

La Lotte farcie de homard, crème de ptd et pois verts à la truffe [above right]
France, Saint-Aubin 1er Cru Les Frionnes, Hubert Lamy 2004

The amuse-bouche was a small daub of gravlax with crème fraîche. The first appetizer was a fairly complex presentation of monkfish stuffed with lobster, with a potato foam, green peas, and purple basil. The lobster had a nice sweeness, balanced by peach and almond notes in the paired wine.

lachronique02a.jpg lachronique02b.jpg

Bar de ligne rôti, ravioli d’artichauts et sa vinaigrette tiède aux tomates séchées [above left]
France, Sancerre, Les Culs De Beaujeu, François Cotat 2005

La noix de ris de veau aux cèpes, foie gras et courge musquée [above right]
Amerique, Santa Rita Hills, Foley Pinot noir, Foley Estate 2005

Next came artichoke ravioli with red peppers and dried tomatoes, accompanied by the very smooth François Cotat Sancerre, which offered hints of grapefruit, green tea, aged in oak. I’m no great fan of artichokes, but I could appreciate the artistry of the dish.

After that, sweetbreads and foie gras in a chocolate and butternut squash purée. If you put so many ideas into one dish, the result could very well be mush. Instead, our note at the time was: “This is incredible.” The accompanying pinot noir offered hints of cherry and vanilla.

lachronique03a.jpg lachronique03b.jpg

Le duo de boeuf Angus, endive caramélisée et girolles [above left]
Italie, Bolgheri, Ornellaia, Tenuta san Giudo 2002

Le plateau de fromages fermiers d’ici et d’ailleurs [above right]
Italie, Monferrato Rosso, Pin, La Spinetta 2003

The last savory course was a filet of black angus beef, with a braised beef tail, braised endive, onion, and veal jus. This seemed less memorable than some of the other dishes. The accompanying Italian wine came with a tasting note that almost defied detection by mere mortals: black olives, leather, plum, blackcurrant, strawberry, and cherries.

The server brought around a cheese platter, from which we chose six, all of which were wonderful, including a couple of unpasteurized cheeses that could not legally be served in the U.S.. The tasting note for the wine: tobacco, coffee, chocolate, red fruits, and blackcurrant. 


La clafoutis aux pêches, caramel salé et glace vanille
France, Barsac-Sauternes 1er Cru, Château Climens 1995

Dessert was a light pastry with peaches, salted caramel, and vanilla ice cream, along with a sauterne. Tasting note: pineapple, mango, fig, and honey.

Service throughout was first-rate, and the timing of the courses—always tricky with a tasting menu—was just about right. The food at La Chronique has a bit less of the “wow” factor than at Toqué, but it must surely be one of the top handful of dining experiences in Montreal.

La Chronique (99 rue Laurier Ouest, Montreal)

Food: ***
Service: **½
Ambiance: **
Overall: **½



A friend and I spent the long weekend in Montreal. That gave us two dinners to splurge on. We chose Au Pied de Cochon (reviewed in the last post) and Toqué (pronounced “to-KAY”), which seems to be the dean of Montreal’s fine dining restaurants. We hadn’t reserved in advance, and our hotel concierge was skeptical of our chances on a Saturday night at short notice. However, he managed to secure a 9:30pm reservation, which was just fine for us.

We chose chef Normand Laprise’s seven-course degustation menu ($88). The printed menu doesn’t tell you what you’ll be getting — it’s “an elaborate mystery menu of seven inspired courses.” To the best of my recollection, this is what we had:

  • Amuse bouche of cold tomato soup with a cucumber foam, and a crisp mozzarella stick with a chive running up its spine.
  • Scallop with strawberry foam. This was the one unsuccessful dish, as the strawberry foam totally overwhelmed the scallop. My friend, who doesn’t eat scallops, was given a seafood ceviche instead, which she enjoyed.
  • Tuna tartare on a tortilla, with an avocado puree. This combination of tastes was the second most successful course, after the bass (see below)
  • Grilled striped bass, which my friend and I considered the most successful course
  • Pork belly, served in a sealed glass jar. This presentation was amusing, but frankly the taste of the pork was completely forgettable.
  • Duck breast in a mild pepper sauce, which we noted was an ample sized portion for a tasting menu
  • Goat cheese sorbet, which was excellent
  • Dessert, which I have entirely forgotten

I apologize for the Spartan descriptions, but that’s about as much as I remember after a long and exhausting day. Service was terrific. The restaurant has a strange affectation of laying all the silverware at a 45-degree angle to the diner, and laying knives on their edge. It presents no inconvenience, and it is even a bit witty, but we wondered about the point of it. The restaurant is enormous and well appointed. Tables are both large and very generously spaced.

This was a very strong degustation menu, and for the $88 price a very compelling dining choice for the visitor to Montreal.

Toqué (900, place Jean-Paul-Riopelle, Montréal, Québec)

Food: ***
Service: ***
Ambiance: ***
Overall: ***


Au Pied de Cochon

My friend and I spent last weekend in Montreal—the first visit for either of us. Au Pied de Cochon (“The Pig’s Foot”) was tops on our list of restaurants to try. We were totally delinquent in making reservations, so we were pleased that our hotel concierge was able to book us in at 9pm on the night of our arrival (Friday), and Toqué (see the next post) at 9:30pm the following evening. In New York, we probably wouldn’t have had such luck.

Perhaps a better name for the restaurant would be Au Pied de Cochon et Canard, because the signature ingredient is foie gras. A whole section of the menu is dedicated to foie gras, and it figures in many other dishes as well. Several of the foie gras selections are clearly meant to be humorous riffs on popular comfort food normally served without it, such as foie gras poutine, foie gras grilled cheese, and foie gras hamburger. (A recent article in Gourmet said that Au Pied de Cochon goes through 300 pounds of foie gras per week.)

Poutine is a popular fast food dish (even McDonald’s has a version of it), consisting of french fries, cheese curd, and gravy. Foie gras poutine, naturally, is the same thing, but with a huge hunk of seared foie gras as the centrepiece, and a hint of foie gras in the gravy. We thought it was terrific.

Many of the dishes have cryptic names, of which the most humorous is “duck in a can.” There is no explanation on the menu, but our server explained that it’s duck breast and foie gras cooked inside a can. We didn’t order this, but we saw a serving of it delivered to another table. Sure enough, the server brings a medium-sized soup can to the table, opens it with a conventional can opener, and then pours the meal onto the diner’s plate. Who would think of such a thing?

During the summer, the menu skews towards seafood. We saw massive raw bar platters being delivered to the tables, priced anywhere betwen $45 and $320. Pork, lamb, and venison also remain fixtures on the menu. Au pied de Cochon’s steak frites is made with venison all year long.

We ordered the pied de cochon foie gras, which again would be obscure if the server didn’t explain that it’s a whole shank of pig’s foot with foie gras, mashed potatoes, and vegetables. It was indescribably good, and the kind of dish you’re not going to find anywhere else.

Portion sizes were enormous—not just the things we ordered, but also the servings we saw delivered to other tables. Our server kindly advised that one order of poutine foie gras and one order of pied de cochon foie gras would be ample for two people, as this wouldn’t have been apparent from the menu. That pied de cochon was $48, but when served for two it is a bargain.

The apple pie was the only thing we ordered that was listed as a portion for two on the menu. Naturally, it was big enough for three. It came freshly baked, and was about the best apple pie I’ve ever tasted in a restaurant.

The chef, Martin Picard, has made a reputation with his button-down shirts (never tucked in), wild hair, and three-day-old beard. While we were there, he was all over the place — cooking some of the food, drinking beer and wine, and chatting up the customers. He said “Bon soir” to us as we left.

The space is informal, with tables fairly close together. The restaurant is only about 20 feet wide (although it is fairly deep). To get to the men’s room, you actually have to pass through the open kitchen. However, service was friendly and attentive. Our server recommended a superb wine at about $48 that went perfectly with our foie gras festival of a meal.

Au Pied de Cochon (536, rue Duluth Est, Montréal, Quebec)

Food: ***
Service: **½
Ambiance: *½
Overall: ***