By Denise Mattia
Among the many choices of appetizers on the menu, the purple potato and charred tuna tartar sounded appealing. It was served with a half pickled egg and Yuzu tossed in black sesame seeds and honey tarragon mayonnaise. The room was quiet and overlooked a terrace, which was open in the summertime. In Quebec City good food and pleasant surroundings are expected, and the menu at Cafe 47 in the Musee de la Civilisation is an indication of how locals appreciate and seek out fine dining.
Sightseeing and …
This was my second trip to Quebec in a few months. Luxury dining and spas were on my current agenda. I checked into the Manoir Victoria early, giving me time to wander around Old Quebec and have a facial before dinner.
The funicular is an easy way to travel from Upper to Lower Quebec. I took it, walked along the harbor front, had lunch at the Museum of Civilization and saw two exhibits there. On my way back, I met a colleague also heading for Le Spa du Manoir – Pevonia located on the lower level of the hotel.
My skin-care specialist, Natalie was waiting for me in a spa room. For the next hour I relaxed while she cleansed my face and décolletage with a caviar and pearl cream, massaged lotion into my face, applied a warm mist, a mild peel and topped my skin off with the Lunafirm lift and glow repair cream. I emerged younger looking, or so my colleague Teresa said.
Since our facials ended at the same time, we asked to see the spa facilities, which included a special NeuroSpa room. Designed in Quebec and made by a Canadian, its purpose is to deeply relax the user with vibration and music.
We both had time and the NeuroSpa room was available. Teresa went first and was engulfed in a blanket in a reclining padded chair. After learning the controls (there are three levels of intensity), a hood, like the weather hood over a perambulator, was brought over her head and torso. She reported afterward that she could see out, then music, which began as falling rain, changed to “nature sounds and instruments.” “I found it mostly pleasant, although I could have used more vibration,” she concluded, “especially on my feet.” I knew what she meant. A reflexology treatment after walking all day is the best.
Dinner was held at Graffiti Resto-Cite, an Italian family owned restaurant on Cartier Avenue. French chef Robert Saunier is passionate about preparing a menu to savor. Although it was chef’s day off, his second, Patric Boily served an imaginative and delicious dinner — choices of a tataki of tuna, Carpaccio of veal, salad, sweet breads or crab. Among the choices of entrees were filet mignon, Spring duck, veal Wellington, a grilled whitefish and a salmon cobble. I selected a rare tuna topped with shrimp on a bed of chopped baby celery root. The smooth pork-like taste of the tuna blended with the slight sweetness from the shrimp, while the celery root added texture and flavor to the mild fish. We discussed the following day’s activity over a light, sweet dessert and coffee.
Quebec is a lovely city to explore. We met Sebastien Ivers at Sainte Anne Street, across from the Chateau Frontenac for a walking and food tour. Sebastien, a native Quebecois, conducts private food tours in association with Tours Voir Quebec. Joining a small group of journalists, I became the “packman of Quebec,” gobbling sugary maple syrup and tidbits from Delices d’Erable (and learning about the treacly substance as well), enjoying cheese crepes from the charming bistro, Le Billig, (The café also serves six types of beer and ale from Boreale), sampling a selection of firm cheeses from J. A. Moisan, tasting wines from Patriarche and ending at SAQ Liquor, imbibing in ice cider wine (Cryomalus) and Coureur des Bois, an enticing, rich and complex crème of maple liquor. We made it back to the hotel sated and weary – and just in time to dress for dinner.
La Taniere is located in the outskirts of downtown Quebec City in South Bolton, off the beaten track. Since its inception in 1977, the restaurant and B & B has played an active role in preserving the environment and reducing the ecological footprint. Under the guidance of hosts, Karen Therrien and Frederic Laplante, new culinary techniques, called molecular gastronomy, are developed, producing a menu that’s both flavorful and nutritionally sound. The results are a pairing of flavors and wines that are designed to expand guests’ culinary sensibilities.
The dinner far exceeded our expectations. Nine courses were served, beginning with a trilogie savoureuse — three full flavors (lobster bisque, ginger and quail), which were blended and formed into spheres. No one taste dominated. The next course was a monkfish and smoked sturgeon mousse. A Huela de Adars Spanish wine complimented the piquantly pleasant taste of the fish.
Quail, zucchini and sweet potatoes were Dans le Bois (from the wood), a mild dish, delicately seasoned. This was paired with a French Loire red wine. Strange to my taste buds was Le Vie Silencieuse (the quiet life). I’d never have thought a partridge sabayon would go so well with berries and vanilla bread, and the Petillant Naturel – a crisp, finely carbonated sparkler low in alcohol – made the flavors pop.
Four more meat dishes followed before the desert – fruit in season served with a maple drizzle. Normally not a carnivore, I’m glad I didn’t pass up the opportunity to savor every dish and to dine in one of Canada’s best restaurants. I left hoping to be absolved from the three-hour evening’s excesses when we visited the Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre Shrine and Basilica the following morning.
Going Farther Afield
We passed close to the Montmorency Falls the next day on our ride along the St. Lawrence River waterfront to the Basilica. Both are magnificent tributes to nature and man’s engineering, and both are awe-inspiring. Farther north amid the breathtaking scenery of the Charlevoix region is Station Blu, a 30-acre Nordic thermotherapy spa.
Martin Gladu developed the concept of a spa in a natural setting (mountains, river and forest) without man-made disturbances. With the help of eight partners, a contemporary complex was built and includes a restaurant, steam and sauna rooms, massage areas, hot and cold pools and relaxation spaces. Martin proudly told us that Station Blu won the Gran Prix award for design in 2011, the year of its opening. We spent the day in total relaxation, visiting Spa des Neiges before returning to the city.
The Last Act
Located in Auberge Saint Antoine, a Relais & Chateaux member, Panache was a gastronomic and visual delight. The building is a former historical maritime warehouse (close to the Museum of Civilization) and displays artifacts from the French and British colonial regimes in a chic gallery-type settings.
Chef Julien Dumas creates a menu that’s a modern take on traditional Quebec cuisine. Our table d’hote dinner started with a beet tartare with strawberry and granny smith apples. The unusual combination of earthy, sweet and tart flavors awakened the taste buds, while the smooth buttery taste was paired nicely with the pleasant taste of the tender Lake St. Pierre walleye. The courses were always combined with a sweet or tart berry. Outstanding was the cheese and salad course, but the piece de resistance was dessert. The strawberry, ginger and tapioca ice cream was unique: creamy, tart, not starchy and slightly spicy.
I left Quebec knowing that I’d had some of the best cuisine the city offered. Still, I knew there were very likely more restaurants of the same caliber to try.
About Denise Mattia
A writer and photographer, Denise Mattia’s works are published nationally and internationally and include all aspects of leisure travel: art , culture, resorts, spas, food and wine and sports’ activities. She's the founder of the soon to be launched Yum-Yum-Traveler, a site devoted to reviewing restaurants in addition to her travel articles from around the world. She lives and works in Manhattan, where she was born.