QUEBEC CITY — “This is the first drink that most teenagers in Quebec City get drunk on,” our guide Francois Vidal said, as we sipped glasses of Caribou. It was syrupy and sweet, and strong.
Vidal explained that the cocktail originated with Native Americans, who used to drink the fresh blood of caribou. Later, hunters and trappers added alcohol to the blood “to give them energy.” The name stuck, but our Caribou cocktail substituted wine for the animal blood, was sweetened with maple syrup, and fortified with whiskey.
We were sitting in La Bûche (418-694-7272, www.restolabuche.com), one of the city’s buzzing, new restaurants, a contemporary take on a sugar shack set in the woods, complete with rustic picnic tables, paper placemats and checkered napkins. The service was warm and the food (rabbit wings, venison tartare, and meat pies) was top-notch.
“It’s amazing what’s happening in the city right now,” Vidal said, as he opened the door to Le Tournebroche bistro, our next stop. “Young chefs are creating restaurants with new ideas, passion, and dedication, and they’re changing the food scene.”
The warm and unpretentious bistro (418-692-5524, www.tourne
broche.com) specializes in organic, rotisserie chicken, and is known for its strong local, farm-to-table ethos. We tasted the crispy, juicy, well-seasoned chicken (some of the best we’ve had), along with chips of deep-fried chicken skin, and its signature frites (blanched first and then fried).
We were on a guided food tour with Tours Voir Quebec (866-694-2001, www.toursvoirquebec.com), that promised seven stops and 15 tastings. Along the way, Vidal pointed out other restaurant hotspots and city highlights: Aux Anciens Canadiens, a longtime favorite serving traditional French-Canadian cuisine (“I think they’re more French than the French”); Frère de la Côtes (“a really good steakhouse”); Chez Boulay (“very talented chefs, specializing in game meat”); and Pub St.-Alexandre (“great beer selection”). We passed the Holy Trinity Church, which Vidal encouraged us to visit later. “Best secret in the city,” he said. And, we popped into Delices Erable & Cie (514-765-3456, www.deliceserable
etcie.com), where we found all things maple: maple liquor, maple tea, maple wafers, maple vinegar, maple salts and peppers, maple butter, and maple hand and body lotion. We left smelling like a pancake.
We were headed outside Old Quebec’s city walls, into the still slightly gritty, working class neighborhood of Saint-Jean, an incubator for edgy ideas and avant-garde entrepreneurs. “This neighborhood is where things first start,” Vidal said. “It had the first gay community, the first organic store. When something works in Saint-Jean, it moves inside the wall.”
Our first stop was Le Snack Bar (418-522-4727, www.snackbar
saintjean.com), a rustic little joint with wooden tables and wooden block seats, that Vidal assured us served the best poutine in the city. None of this fancy stuff, he said; this place served it the way it was meant to be, made on the spot, with top-quality ingredients, kept simple. French fries, cheese curds, and gravy. “It’s food for fun,” Vidal said. “Meant to be eaten at 3 a.m. after the bars close.” Not that we’ve had a ton of poutine to compare it to, but this basket of slightly crunchy, meaty fries, topped with thick cheese curds and doused with house-made, deeply-flavored gravy was worth every decadent calorie.
We waddled out, thankful to be walking off a few calories before entering Le Moine Echanson (418-524-7832, www.lemoineechanson.com), a quirky, wine shop/café, with great wines and great food. The story goes the owners wanted to open a wine store but they couldn’t get a permit. So, they opened a restaurant instead, that also happens to sell and serve an amazing selection of wines from around the world. “We have a lot of funky, fun wines that you can’t find elsewhere,” the owner said. “Every bottle here has its own personality.” We enjoyed cod fritters, served with a chilled 2013 French Roussanne.
There were two more stops on the tour, and though we’d enjoyed every bite (and story) so far, we were stuffed. Alas, it didn’t stop us from eating the ham and cheese crepes at Creperie-bistro le Billig (418-524-8341, www.facebook.com/Creperie
bistroLeBillig), made the traditional Breton way with buckwheat flour. Or, from devouring a divine piece of white chocolate stuffed with a dark chocolate ganache and hazelnut filling from Erico chocolatiers (418-524-2122, www.ericochocolatier.com). Now, we were officially full and done.
But who knows? We might be back in this ’burg later, when the bars close, craving poutine.
Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.