Entries in Quebec City (3)


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: ***