There are an overwhelming number of restaurants in the ‘touristique’ areas of Quebec City, making it hard to choose where to go. Some of these places are definite tourist traps, and don’t offer anything really out of the ordinary in terms of quality. Many, though, serve some really nice, fresh meals. Luckily, and without exception, we were also surprised by the reasonable food prices. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, eating authentic Quebecois cuisine may not be up your alley: most of the dishes contain lots of meat- game meat and ham, to be specific. The first settlers of the Canadian wilderness were trappers and hunters, and they made hearty meals with Irish, French and Aboriginal influences. Think tourtières (meat pies), creton (a meat spread) and maple-baked beans with ham. And of course, the more contemporary Quebec delicacy, poutine, a mixture of French fries, thick savoury gravy and squeaky cheese curds. There are also of course countless bakeries, delis with fresh, local cheeses and wine, lots and lots of wine. Decadence!
There are some healthier options, both at the touristy restaurants that don’t want to get left behind as people are becoming more health-conscious, and at a couple of raw/vegan/vegetarian spots. If your diet allows, this is one of the places I’ve been that I’d recommend a couple of small food splurges- it’s all about balance after all!
On the first day in old town we ended up at one of the spots that looks, in my opinion, a bit like an overpriced tourist trap. 1640 sits in the shadow of the Chateau Frontenac, so the location is ideal. We hungry, and keen to sit on the patio, and theirs was open. Though we were the only brave souls sitting outside on the mild but sunny day, the service was friendly and fast, something we quickly got used to in all our dining experiences in Quebec. The menu wasn’t particularly unique or extensive, but when my smoked salmon salad arrived, I was surprised to see the large portion and fresh, crunchy salad complete with lots of types of greens and sprouts. The salmon also came just how I like it, with diced red onions and finely chopped dill. The dish my travel companion had, an omelette and salad also got a thumbs-up from him.
If you are going to splurge a little, I’d recommend Le Billig, a cozy creperie with exposed-brick walls and somewhat out-of-place televisions in the Saint-Jean-Baptiste neighbourhood, just outside the walls of the old town. I absolutely love savoury crepes, so we headed here for brunch on day and were certainly not disappointed. Their crepes can be made from white flour or buckwheat, making this a viable option for the gluten-free crown, and there are tons of options that offered lots of vegetables. I had a savoury crepe with duck, goats cheese and spinach, though I had a hard time making a decision between that one and one of the options with grilled vegetables. The duck confit was perfect, tender and flavourful and matched so well with the spinach. My companion had an option with multiple types of cheese and big, delicious chunks of bacon. Both of them were huge portions and both were amazing. We didn’t try the sweet crepes, but I can only imagine they’d be quite good.
To balance out the crepes, for dinner that night we headed to Crudessence, a raw vegan chain that began as a takeaway counter in Montreal. The Saint-Roch location has a bright, clean and airy atmosphere and lovely little touches like chlorophyll water. The raw lasagna came with a delicious caesar salad, and certainly the best raw caesar dressing I’ve ever had. The lasagna was layered with zucchini ‘noodles’, and filled with lots of vegetables and sun-dried tomatoes which always add so much flavour. The raw BLT made with coconut ‘bacon’ my companion had was, according to him, a raw sceptic, ‘really good’. We were both fully satisfied after our meals and the bill came to just over $20 with taxes, a complete steal for raw meals.
The biggest surprise we had was when we chose a restaurant randomly after a bit of hungry wandering in Saint-Roch. Bati Bassak was packed when we walked in for a late dinner on a Thursday night, but we managed to get a table after about ten minutes. This Cambodian restaurant looks like a hole-in-the-wall, and it has a surprisingly inviting atmosphere, with dim lighting, lots of authentic Asian touches, and a few different small dining areas. As we waited, our appetites grew as we watched (and smelled) the wide range of curries, stir-fries, noodle and rice dishes, and other delicious-looking plates being served. We made our way to our table and were once again pleasantly surprised by the high quality and speed of the service. The food itself came quickly and was amazing. Period. We ordered two stir-fry dishes, the ‘cashew,’ with lots of veggies and shrimp, and the ‘bosan’ with chicken, more vegetables and perfect, light ginger-y sauce. They each came with a side- I opted for rice vermicelli noodles and my dining partner for rice. Both were cooked just right, and were equally as delicious mixed up with the light sauces of the dishes. They also offer a Table d’hote option which includes a soup, appetizer, main course and dessert with coffee or tea, all for only an additional $8.00 to the cost of the main.
I was determined to have a croissant before we headed back to Ottawa, so on our last morning, we headed to La Boîte à Pain (the Breadbox) for a was perfectly light, flaky and salty pastry.
If you’d like to make your own food, or pick up some snacks, La Carotte Joyeuse (The Joyous Carrot) is a large organic, specialty grocery in Saint-Jean-Baptiste. There are lots of your favourite standby options as well as prepared meals at the back deli counter.