Archive for May, 2013

Le Moine Echanson – Quebec City

Sunday, May 26th, 2013 by virginia

lemoineechanson

After having a few pre-dinner beers at Bar Le Sacrilege on Rue Saint-Jean (yes, we brought the baby to a bar), we walked down the street to our dinner destination, Le Moine Echanson. The restaurant looks small from the outside, and it being a Friday night, we were worried about not being able to get in. Fortunately, there was a table available right by the door with a nook on one side that allowed us to keep J’s stroller pulled up next to us. The restaurant itself is broken up into smaller rooms, so there are actually more seats/tables than we originally thought.

There is no physical menu at Le Moine Echanson – what’s available is written on a board posted in the restaurant, and it changes seasonally. The menu was entirely in French, however, which posed a bit of a problem for us. Luckily we had a really great waiter who explained every dish to us and answered any questions we had about the preparation.

The wine list is also written on a huge board on the wall. Josh and I were planning to split a bottle but our waiter recommended that we order by the glass, and that he could pair a wine with each of our dishes. All the wines were reasonably priced by the glass, ranging mostly from $9-$12 each, so that seemed like a great option. All of the wines at the restaurant are “natural”, something that we don’t have a lot of experience with. I’m not sure I could distinguish the difference between a natural or unnatural wine, but nevertheless, the wines our waiter paired for us were mostly pretty good.

Our meal got off to a good start with half a loaf of some rustic bread that had a crispy crust and a soft, fluffy interior. The butter on the side was rich and creamy, a perfect complement.

Good bread and butter

Good bread and butter

This was a rare meal where Josh and I did not go halfsies, although we did taste each other’s dishes. I started off with creme brulee de foie gras, something right up my alley, if my Valentine’s Day present is any indication. The base of the dish was a smooth foie gras custard that was thick and creamy. It had a subtle liver flavor and was very rich and savory. The brulee aspect of the dish was actually a maple caramel on top of the custard that had crunchy sugar crystals in it. There was a whipped cream on top, though I wasn’t sure what it was flavored with; it mostly tasted like whipped butter and was a bit much on its own, but digging my spoon through all three layers yielded a fantastic mix of salty and sweet. I also liked all the different textures, and I found the dish to be incredibly creative, turning a dessert into a savory appetizer but still keeping some of the sweet elements. Our waiter paired the creme brulee with a sweet pinot gris that was like a dessert wine – very rich and sweet. I thought the pairing was great, as the sweetness of the wine was a good counterpart to the savoriness of the foie gras.

Foie gras creme brulee

Foie gras creme brulee

Josh ordered sausage on toasted bread, which was served with arugula, citrus marmalade, nuts, and a soft cheese. It was an interesting dish with lots of different textures, flavors, and hidden layers, although there wasn’t a lot of sausage on the board. Each bite yielded something different. This dish was paired with a chardonnay that was pretty traditional in taste, buttery, but still light.

Sausage on toasted bread

Sausage on toasted bread

For my main course, I had even more foie gras. The dish was goose three ways – breast, confit, and foie gras. It was awesome, probably the best dish we had all weekend. The foie gras was out of this world. Perfectly seared, lightly seasoned, it was crispy on the outside and literally melted in my mouth. I don’t know if goose foie gras is superior to duck foie gras, but whatever the case, this was some of the best foie gras I’ve ever eaten. The breast was also seared nicely with browned skin, a melty layer of fat, and juicy, tender meat. It was still slightly pink, which I prefer. The dark meat confit was mixed around underneath with the scalloped potatoes in a pool of glorious goose fat. There was an arugula salad on top that provided a shot of acidity to cut through all the fat. It was definitely a rich dish, but not greasy or too heavy, and I had no trouble finishing most of the dish. It was paired with a syrah that was full bodied enough to stand up to the richness of the goose, and had an interesting “funky” flavor to it. By funky, I don’t mean bad. It was earthy, tasting almost unfiltered. Maybe that’s what natural wines are supposed to be like?

Goose three ways -

Goose three ways – breast, confit, foie gras

Josh had pork shank for his entree. It was crusted with lots of different seasonings, and the meat was tender and juicy on the inside, falling apart easily with just the pull of his fork. The shank was served with a potato tart and some arugula on the side. It was paired with a gamay wine that was very different from the syrah, much lighter and fruitier in flavor.

Crusted pork shank

Crusted pork shank

We were pretty full after our appetizers and entrees so we passed on dessert. Josh got a glass of dessert wine that was actually chardonnay. It was really interesting, as neither of us ever knew chardonnay could be a dessert wine. It was sweet but not cloying, and had an intense raisin flavor to it. Josh liked it a lot and took a picture of the bottle with his phone; hopefully we can find it here in the US, or something similar.

Overall we really, really enjoyed our meal at Le Moine Echanson. In retrospect, it was the best meal of our trip, and we would go back there in a heartbeat. The food was fabulous, the vibe was casual and intimate, and service was great. Our waiter was extremely friendly and helpful, as was the rest of the staff. The waitress who took over at the end of the waiter’s shift let Josh taste several dessert wines before he settled on the chardonnay. It’s the type of place that lets you feel at home, letting you just sit back, relax, and enjoy the good food and wine. Prices were pretty reasonable for the quality of food that we received. It wasn’t cheap, but not overly expensive either. Our meals plus five glasses of wine came out to about $155 after tax and tip, and it was definitely worth it. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re in Quebec City.

Le Moine Echanson
585 Rue Saint-Jean
Quebec City, Canada

Chez Ashton – Quebec City

Thursday, May 16th, 2013 by virginia

Chezashton

One food that I really enjoy every time we’re in Montreal is poutine, or french fries with gravy and cheese curds. I knew going into our trip that we probably wouldn’t have time for any poutine in Montreal, since we were only spending one night there, so I looked up places to eat it in Quebec City. Overwhelmingly, all my research pointed us to Chez Ashton.

I was a bit hesitant since Chez Ashton is a fast food chain, but the reviews of the poutine were mostly positive. Plus there was a branch just down the street from our hotel, so on our way back after touring the Old City, we stopped in to pick up a poutine snack. We ordered the “regular” size, which is actually the largest size. Medium is “mini”, and small is “baby”. At just under $10 for the regular, it’s a bit pricier than what you would expect from a fast food chain, but it was a pretty hefty pile of food. We took it to go, and it was served in a large round foil container, absolutely packed to the brim with fries, gravy, and curds.

The "regular" size poutine

The “regular” size poutine

Fortunately, since it was such a short walk back to our hotel, the poutine was still piping hot when we opened it up, and it hadn’t steamed in the container for too long. The fries were still crispy on the outside, and the curds were warm and soft but still squeaky, which meant they were fresh. And boy, were there a lot of curds in the dish, more than I’ve ever seen before on any poutine. They were huge too, with most pieces thicker than the french fries. Josh and I actually aren’t really fans of the squeaky curds- we prefer the cheese on our poutine to be more melted and gooey, but the curds do add an interesting textural and flavor component to the dish.

Tons of squeaky curds on the poutine

Tons of squeaky curds on the poutine

The gravy on the poutine was actually really delicious – just the right amount of saltiness and a meaty, savory flavor. I wished there was more of it, because it eventually all got soaked into the french fries, which made the dish a bit dry. The fries did end up losing their crispiness midway through, but they were never really soggy.  We managed to eat about two-thirds of the container before calling it quits – it was definitely a huge portion. Perhaps next time we’ll go with the mini size instead.

Overall, I really liked the poutine from Chez Ashton. The website boasts that everything is made fresh, and it really seemed to be as such. The fries were the right size to stand up to the gravy and curds, not too thick or thin, and tasted like real potatoes, not the frozen variety. There were plenty of fresh cheese curds on top, and the gravy was really flavorful. Maybe next time I’ll ask for some extra gravy on the side, to help avoid the dryness issue once the fries soak up all the gravy in the container. I would definitely recommend the poutine here, and it’s probably even better after a few drinks!

Chez Ashton (multiple locations)
640 Grande Allée E
Quebec City, Canada

Cafe de la Paix – Quebec City

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013 by virginia

Cafedelapaix

Cafe de la Paix was not one of the restaurants I had researched prior to our trip – we sort of stumbled upon it when we were looking for a place to eat a late lunch and get out of the rain. We had finished up most of the Old City and had wound our way down the hill to the port area, near Rue Saint-Paul, when the sky just opened up and started pouring heavy rain and wet snow. We had already been looking for a lunch spot at that point, but there wasn’t much in that particular part of the city. We even tried to duck into a sandwich shop only to discover they had literally just one sandwich remaining, and it was pre-packaged in the refrigerator.

J was obviously not a happy camper, especially because in addition to the rain and snow, the wind was blowing like crazy (she hates wind). I even had to close my umbrella for fear that it would be ripped out of my hands and fly away due to the force of the wind. Fortunately, we had a plastic rain cover for her car seat, bought specifically for this trip with the weather in mind. It wasn’t the greatest cover but definitely served its purpose in keeping her dry. So with the rain pouring down on us, we booked it back up the hill to the main part of the Old City, hoping to find a French-style cafe or pub. Josh really wanted a croque monsieur, and I didn’t want to settle for just any old restaurant.

The rain slowed down a bit so we bypassed a hamburger joint (called the Chic Shack – haha!), a Chinese restaurant, and a “European” bar that served pub food (but no croque monsieurs). Unfortunately, J was getting hungry herself and was starting to get even more upset so we ended up entering the next restaurant we saw. It was a French restaurant, which is what I preferred given where we were, and I was really hoping to get a good meal out of the ordeal. It was late but they were still serving lunch so we settled in at a large round table near the door.

The restaurant looked fancier than somewhere I would normally pick, with white table cloths and ornate decor, but it also seemed a little dated to me. There was only one other couple eating in the restaurant, and they finished up well before we did, which was fortunate because J ended up causing a ruckus for basically our entire meal. As soon as we sat down, we asked the waiter for some hot water to heat up J’s bottle, and he obliged with a teapot full of water. She grabbed at the bottle once it was warmed up, but then refused to drink any milk for some unknown reason. She also refused to eat any cereal. And after that, it was pretty much over for her.

Our waiter was also nice enough to give us the wifi password so Josh could play some Elmo on youtube for J. That appeased her for a bit, but she was still bursting into random crying fits. Somehow in between all the mayhem we managed to place our order, though only one of us could eat at a time while the other held J and walked her around or pushed her back and forth in her stroller. So how was the food? (This is supposed to be a food blog after all!)

The basket of bread we received held some decent slices of baguette that had good flavor and an ok crust. It also included pieces of toasted baguette that were super crunchy, bordering crouton territory, but still good, especially slathered with butter.

Bread basket

Bread basket

The lunch menu was sort of a “menu of the day” option. You picked the entree and it came with the soup of the day and dessert. The price was based on the entree you selected. Josh picked mussels and I chose coq au vin. The soup of the day that we both received was cream of broccoli, which was perfectly fine. It was pureed to a nice thick texture, and was more broccoli than cream. It warmed us up after our bout with the weather.

Cream of broccoli soup

Cream of broccoli soup

The mussels were served mariniere style, in a white wine and garlic sauce. The mussels were plump and tender, not fishy tasting, but the sauce lacked pizazz. It could have used more garlic, more wine, and more salt. It wasn’t a bad dish, it just needed more punch. The fries on the side were a disappointment. They were the thin shoestring variety I prefer, but they seemed to be made from frozen fries and were soggy and oily.

Mussels mariniere with french fries

Mussels mariniere with french fries

I didn’t get to eat the coq au vin right away since it was my turn to walk J around, so it was a bit cold by the time I got to it. The chicken was still tender and came off the bone easily, but I thought it tasted more like roast chicken, not a chicken braised in wine. There was no wine flavor to speak of, just plain chicken taste. It was fine, just not what I think of when I hear coq au vin. It came with roasted potatoes and vegetables on the side.

Coq au vin with assorted vegetables

Coq au vin with assorted vegetables

Per the menu, our lunch came with dessert, but with J making such a fuss, we really didn’t feel like sticking around for another course. Our waiter, while accommodating to our requests, seemed a tad annoyed with all the crying (not that we blame him), and we just wanted to get her on the road again so that she could calm down on the walk back to our hotel. By that point, the storm had passed and it was sunny and blue skies all around. We quickly settled our bill (~$45 after tax and tip) and went on our way. It was pretty reasonable for a 3-course lunch (even though we passed on dessert), but the food was just ok. The dishes were mostly classic French, but nothing exciting or super flavorful.  I saw the regular menu and it seemed pretty expensive, so I don’t think it’s somewhere I would have gone voluntarily if I had a choice. We were sort of stuck with it due to the weather, and while it served its purpose, I wouldn’t recommend it or go back. Fortunately for us, that was the only time on our trip where J had a major meltdown in a restaurant, and we got through it somehow. It definitely wasn’t fun, but I hope with every restaurant experience, she’ll get better and better.

Cafe de la Paix
44 Rue des Jardins
Quebec City, Canada

Breakfast in Bed

Monday, May 13th, 2013 by virginia

DSC_0075

One of the perks of being a mom is getting to partake in a Mother’s Day tradition – breakfast in bed. Josh got up early on Sunday morning and took J downstairs with him, letting me have the rare luxury of sleeping in. The two of them woke me up later and surprised me with breakfast, but because I didn’t want to eat alone or spill anything in our bed, I took the tray back downstairs and ate with them instead. It was a lovely start to my very first Mother’s Day, and it’s definitely a ‘time’ that I will always remember :-)

Sous vide eggs, half an everything bialy, honeydew, and prosciutto, plus coffee and a mimosa

Sous vide eggs, toasted bialy, prosciutto, and honeydew, plus coffee and a mimosa

Paillard – Quebec City

Sunday, May 5th, 2013 by virginia

Paillard

We had one full day to explore Quebec City so we made sure to get a somewhat early start. We entered the Old City on Rue Saint-Jean, passing through a gate and out onto a busy street lined with restaurants and shops. There was definitely more of a European feel in the Old City, and I liked it immediately.

It was drizzling a bit so we quickly walked to our breakfast destination, Paillard, a cafe-boulangerie. It was a huge space with tall ceilings and lots of seating. The were little round tables in the front, as well as several long communal tables in the main area next to the bakery cases and coffee station. Josh went to the bakery line to order some food while I settled at the end of a communal table with J’s stroller, where there was more room for us to maneuver. Since it was mid-morning on a weekday, the cafe wasn’t too full and it didn’t take Josh too long to pick up our food.

The bakery cases and lots of seating

The bakery cases and lots of seating

We decided to share a few pastries and half a baguette. First was the croissant, which was flaky on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. One bite and the crust shattered delightfully in our mouths. Flavor-wise, it was buttery without being greasy, and had just the slightest hint of sweetness.

Buttery and flaky croissant shell

Buttery and flaky croissant shell

Next was the pain au chocolat, which was not as flaky on the outside as the croissant, but who can resist any kind of chocolate-stuffed pastry? Perhaps it was just not as freshly made, as the edges were a bit tough. Nevertheless, it was still devoured.

Pain au chocolat and croissant

Pain au chocolat and croissant

The baguette was a bit of a disappointment, as it had been sliced in half lengthwise and toasted. I would have preferred to try a freshly baked baguette in its natural state, and the toasting left the bread soggy rather than crunchy. Texture-wise it seemed a bit dense and flat, and the crust lacked any crispness, but that was due to the toasting. It must have sat in some sort of warming tray afterward and steamed itself. As a result, I don’t think I could fairly judge the qualities of the baguette, but it had good flavor and was a nice vehicle for butter and a pear-vanilla jam they gave us on the side.

Baguette/jam and cappuccino combo

Baguette/jam and cappuccino combo

I also got a regular coffee while Josh had a cappuccino. The coffee was good – not too burnt-tasting or bitter. The cappuccino was a lot stronger, and I saw people with giant bowls of it, but Josh settled for just a cup and seemed pretty content.

Overall we thought Paillard was a good breakfast option for some quick coffee and pastries. We weren’t in the mood for something heavy or overly complicated, and this fit the bill. The croissant was top notch, and there were some beautiful-looking desserts in the bakery case, though we didn’t have a chance to try any. While the baguette that came with our breakfast was disappointing, the assortment of breads seemed pretty impressive, and I would have liked to try a regular baguette since this boulangerie is so highly rated. I’ve also read rave reviews about their sandwiches, so it might be a good lunch destination if you’re looking for something fast and casual. Prices are cheap, especially compared to a nice bakery in NYC. Croissants are under $2 and most of the dessert items were less than $4. Breakfast for the two of us cost under $15 in total, and it provided us with enough energy to walk the entire Old City while pushing J’s stroller up and down many steep hills. I would recommend Paillard for its simple breakfast options and central location in the Old City.

Paillard
1097 Rue Saint-Jean
Quebec City, Canada

Le Hobbit Bistro – Quebec City, Canada

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013 by virginia

LeHobbit

I had done some research on restaurants in Quebec City prior to our trip but I wasn’t set on exactly where I wanted to eat, and I wasn’t really sure where the restaurants were located relative to our hotel. I wrote down a bunch of names and addresses, and so when we finally arrived in Quebec City late on Thursday night, we zeroed in on the restaurants closest to our hotel. There were two restaurants on the same street nearby so we walked past both and settled on Le Hobbit Bistro, which seemed like a slightly brighter, more upbeat and open space than our other option (where we ended up eating the next night).

There restaurant was busy, but not overly crowded, which was fortunate since J’s stroller takes up a lot of space. The waiter was pretty accommodating about shifting the tables around a bit so that we could put her (and all of her stuff) out of people’s way. It was after 9:30 pm by the time we settled in, and the waiter informed us that the kitchen would be closing soon so we quickly placed our order. Josh was in charge of the wine while I picked the dishes that we would share.

He wound up ordering a 1999 Bordeaux from Chateau Les Mangons. It needed a little time to open up a bit but wound up being smooth, medium bodied, not too dry, and very drinkable. The bread basket, on the other hand, was kind of sad with some limp pieces of baguette that had virtually no crust on it.

Bordeaux and baguette

Bordeaux and baguette

For our appetizers, we got the French onion soup and the sweetbreads with fig and truffle oil. The French onion soup was warm and comforting on a cold night, exactly what you expect, but nothing extraordinary. It was well seasoned, hearty, and had lots of melted cheese on top – there’s not much more you can ask for from a French onion soup.

French onion soup

French onion soup

I was really excited for the sweetbreads but I had started with the soup while Josh had started with this dish, and look on his face after he took one bite was not encouraging. He wouldn’t really explain to me what the issue was so after we made our customary swap midway through, I gingerly dug in to see what the face was all about. Immediately, I noticed that the texture of the sweetbreads was off. It should be crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, but this was chewy and gristly. I don’t know if that was intentional or if they didn’t clean the sweetbreads properly, but the texture is what threw Josh off. We both agreed that the plating, however, was gorgeous.

Sweetbreads on top of celery root puree with fig and truffle sauce

Sweetbreads on top of celery root puree with fig and truffle sauce

Flavor wise, the dish was screaming for salt, which was scattered about the plate in little flakes, but not actually on the sweetbreads themselves. There was also almost no sauce on the plate, and whatever sauce there was didn’t really taste much like figs or truffle oil. That was pretty disappointing, since I love both. The celery root puree underneath the sweetbreads was properly seasoned though, as was the little microgreen salad next to it. When I got a little bit of everything on my fork and dragged it through the salt flakes, the dish was actually pretty tasty, if a bit subtle, but the texture was still bad. I had very mixed feelings about the dish overall, but I didn’t hate it as much as Josh did. If the sweetbreads were the crispy/creamy texture that I’m used to, I would eat it again. But they weren’t, and Josh thought it was just bland and bad in general. Oh well.

The main courses fared much better. We shared the venison skirt steak and the duck confit. The venison was tender and not too gamey, perfectly cooked so that it was pink and juicy on the inside. However, it also wasn’t seasoned enough. A little bit of salt would have really elevated the flavor of the meat. Nevertheless, the pureed sweet potatoes underneath were super creamy and perfectly balanced between sweet and savory, and the melted leeks were buttery and mellow. Except for the lack of salt, we both really enjoyed the dish.

Venison skirt steak with pureed sweet potatoes and melted leeks

Venison skirt steak with pureed sweet potatoes and melted leeks

The duck confit was served with a port sauce and roasted vegetables. The duck was perfectly prepared, with the meat falling off the bone at the slightest push of the fork. I was amazed that the skin was still super crispy, a great textural contrast to the tender meat. The port sauce was intensely flavorful, slightly sweet, and paired perfectly with the wine. And unlike the venison and the sweetbreads, this dish was perfectly seasoned, which made it our favorite of the evening.

Duck confit with port sauce and sweet potato puree

Duck confit with port sauce and roasted vegetables

We passed on dessert, opting to enjoy the last bit of our wine instead. Overall we really did enjoy our meal at Le Hobbit, despite the few missteps with our dishes. While the texture of the sweetbreads was definitely problematic, everything else was just a seasoning issue and could have been easily fixed with a dash of salt. We liked the vibe of the restaurant, which seemed to be full of locals – most tables were groups of friends chatting in French, eating, and drinking. Our waiter was very accommodating, and we did not feel completely out of place dining with a baby. Prices were pretty reasonable – not cheap, but in line with a nice meal out. With two appetizers, two entrees, and a nice bottle of wine, dinner cost about $165 after tax and tip. It’s definitely a place I would recommend to someone traveling to Quebec City.

Le Hobbit Bistro
700 Rue Saint-Jean

Quebec City, Canada