Monday, August 06, 2018

Eating OFF the Hill: Days Four, Five and Six in Quebec City

One cannot eat like a culinary King all the time -- at least not on my salary. So the second half of my trip to Quebec City featured less of the fancy meals. But there are still a few meals worth sharing.

I actually had plans to get back on track for lunch on Friday with the tourtiere at La La Cuisine, but after trekking down there I was turned away as apparently they closed at 2:00 PM and I had arrived at 1:40 PM.

Thankfully, there was a random Chinese place a few doors down that also closed at 2:00 PM but was still willing to offer me food in exchange for money.

Reasturant La Petit Dana

Normally I wouldn't cover random Chinese lunch, but customer service points to them after the bad experience at their neighbours. I ordered the lunch special, General Tao chicken with a chicken noodle soup, Chinese style.

It was soup, It was fine. It was hot. There were noodles. Also, another Diet Pepsi. Any time I saw a Diet Coke in Quebec, it was like a moment of wonder.

General Tao chicken. It was fine. It was good. Didn't taste pre-made, though of course it was. Chicken was crispy. There were the expected vegetables Filled me up for the walk down to the Museum of Civilization, aka random stuff from someone's garage.

Dinner that night was Chez Ashton again before going to a baseball game. No picture. Had a cheeseburger with sauteed peppers and onions this time; that was different. And a poutine with ground beef. Was enjoyable.

Saturday was a write-off, culinary-wise. Skipped breakfast, and hopped the bus up to Montmorency Falls -- swarming with tourists. Taller than Niagara Falls I'm told, but not as wide. There was a cool gastro food truck I wanted to try, but they were cash-only and I was cashless. So it was MacDonald's before getting the bus back down to the city and a torrential downpour chased me back to my AirBnB instead of more excursions.

I did order some St. Hubert delivery that evening though. No picture, but it was delicious and meaty. Sugar pie for desert to keep it authentic.

Sunday, and I had a half-day before catching the train home, and I was determined to do my last meal right. Brunch at Bugel Fabrique, recommended from Anthony Bourdain's visit to Quebec.

Bugel Fabrique

It's outside the main touristy district, a block back from Rene Levesque, although some did make the trek, along with many locals. I got there during prime brunching hours, so there was about a 20 minute wait, but when I was done the line had cleared.

It's a small, homey place with a small patio. Menu is very much like Kettleman's in Ottawa, and so are the bagels -- Montreal style. I had read they sweetened the bagels with local honey, but I didn't taste a difference.

I ordered a toasted sesame bagel with goat cheese and a side of fruit -- I ended up with swiss cheese instead. Had to flag them down after it arrived to remind them of the orange juice I'd ordered. As for the cheese, I thought, maybe this is how goat cheese melts? I confirmed that, of course not, when I got the cheque. So service was haphazard. And that was not $2.95 worth of fruit I paid extra for. I understand they've got to maintain their margins, but jeez.

It was a good bagel and a fine brunch spot, but no better than Kettleman's and weak on service, although friendly enough.

Train cold plate

With a 3:00 PM departure from Quebec City -- and the smallest Via business lounge I've seen since Dorval -- they served a cold plate between Quebec and Montreal. Either chicken strips with naan, or a cheese plate. And I was seriously conflicted, as a cheese plate is my usual go-to purchase when in Via economy. but they mentioned pickles and olives as a key part of this particular cheese plate -- and I dislike both of those. So, the chicken it was.

This one was an interesting mix of two cuisines: Greek and Indian.Little naans, Indian. Chicken strips with a curry sauce, Indian. Chick peas in tomato sauce, half-Indian? Diced tomatoes and cucumbers, Greek. Tzatziki sauce, Greek. Fusion, I guess? I added taziki and veggies to my naan before adding the chicken for a little flat bread. It was OK. Was excited when I saw the desert as I thought it was a blondie. But no, banana bread. Which would feel like a cheated desert, but I've made it and know it has a stupid amount of sugar.

Train dinner

With Montreal receding behind us, after some weird maneuvering to get us facing the right way, it was time for dinner. Butternut squash ravioli, Korean beef, or lemon butter cod. My choice was easy -- the cod it was. As I've said before, the fish is always a safe choice on Via.

The cod could have been cooked a smidge less, and while I couldn't make out the lemon, the butter was subtle and added to a tasty fish, with quinoa and roasted veggies. Some brie and Swiss with grapes gave me the cheese I missed out on earlier, and the chocolate pudding was delish. A thoroughly enjoyable train meal.

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Friday, August 03, 2018

Eating OFF the Hill: Day Three in Quebec City

Breakfast on Thursday was the rest of yesterday's leftover tossard from Paillard, so for lunch I took the funicular down to lower town and managed to duck into Cochon Dingue just before the skies opened up.

Cochon Dingue

I was excited about both my choices at Cochon Dingue, but what really cemented the choice for me was the Charlevoix three cheese fondue appetizer. Haven't had fondue in forever, and was really looking forward to it. The menu description: three cheese fondues, Charlevoix cheese. Unfortunately, something may have been misunderstood in the translation, as here's what I got:

I was expecting a pot of hot melted Charlevoix three-cheese blend, and some bread on the side for dipping in said piping hot cheese. When the waitress placed this in front of me, I asked "is this the foundue" thinking perhaps there had been a mistake. But oui, I was told, c'est la fondue. Does fondue mean croquette? Isn't that also a french word?

Anyway, a bit disappointed, I dug in. There was at least melty tasty cheese on the inside, although not as piping hot as I would have liked. The accompanying berries were nice, but perhaps a bit strong in taste, almost overwhelming that of the cheese. A tasty enough appy, but overpriced for what you got and not the fondue I was looking for.

Thankfully, the main did not disappoint. When I saw the fish that Brian Tobin almost went to war with Spain over on the menu, I knew I had to see what the fuss was about and order the blackened local turbot with hollandaise sauce, veggies and rice. I love blackened fish, and this was not far behind my favourite ever blackened fish dish: the blackened drum I had at K-Paul's in New Orleans, where they invented the process.

This turbot didn't melt like butter the way the drum did, but it was tender, had a nice flavour, and the right amount of delicious crisp. The veggies were fine, the rice was plain but that was solved by mixing it with the hollandaise.

No room for dessert, the rain was finished and I had plans for a city and river tour.

Chez AshTon

Having gone on the fancier side for lunch, after my afternoon and evening of multi-modal touring I decided to finally hit the recommended fast food joint for a late dinner before heading back to the AirBNB. After all, I was told the trip would be a waste if I didn't hit Chez AshTon.

Rather than a Quebec McDonald's, I would say it's more like a Quebec Harvey's, with a dash of Arby's. Burgers, hot dogs, roast beef sandwiches and poutine are most of the menu.

I went with their signature double Ashton burger, which is a basic cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, and a thousand island dressing. The double patties are a must, as each aren't very big at all. It was a reasonable fast food burger.

Also had the regular style poutine (they have a bunch of fancier ones, but I went traditional). This is the bebe/baby size, they have two larger sizes. It was pretty good. I'm not usually a big poutine or fries guys, but the gravy was plentiful and tasty, as were the squeaky curds, and I finished it all off.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Eating OFF the Hill: Day deux in Quebec City

Slept in and got a slow start Wednesday -- because I'm on vacation, y'all. But once I hopped the bus downtown and walked through the St. Jean gate, it was straight to Café-Boulangerie Paillard, recommended by several as an important stop for baked goodies.

Café-Boulangerie Paillard

I managed to navigate the entire ordering transaction avec my limited Francais, including asking for a bag for one of the items when I saw it was plus grand, so that was cool for me. I've found most Quebecrs tolerant/patiently amused by my attempts.

The croissant was my focus going in, but perusing the display case the torsade de chocolat also caught my eye. I recently read an article about how Parisians say "pain au chocolat" and the rest of France says chocolatine, so I've been hungry for something similar ever since.

Once I saw the torsade was like a foot long is when I asked for the sac. I had a few nibbles (delish, choclaty, buttery goodness) and into the sac it went for noshing throughout the day. And on to the croissant I went; buttery, flaky goodness. Fortified, I went out to face the day.

Ice cream break y'all

I'm writing a food blog, not a travel blog, so long story short I had no idea the Governor's Promendade hadso many damned upsteps...

... so for surviving, I treated myself to some soft serve (sugar cone upgrade ftw!) from the little shack at the top, behind la Citadelle. It was overcast this day but humid and warm, and it did not maintain structural integrity for long.

Dinner at Les Trois Garçons

Between the late breakfast, the soft serve and the humidity, I wasn't hungry during the usual lunching hours. I debated a late poutine lunch at Chez Ashton before a late dinner, but instead decided to go straight to an early dinner and do Chez Ashton for lunch tomorrow.

And so, having done a fancier dinner last night, I opted for one of the informal dinner options from my crowd-sourced list and grabbed a seat on the patio at Les Trois Garçons, just as they closed St. Jean to traffic and began towing quite a few vehicles.

With poutine on deck for tomorrow, I decided to go for a burger, and keep it local with Le Charlevoix, which the menu describes as "AAA ground beef, double patty (3oz.), 1608 and Hercule cheese from Charlevoix, fried and caramelized onions, artisanal bacon, bourbon BBQ sauce." All sounds like good stuff.

My meal came suspiciously fast, which could speak to their efficiency but is also suspect -- I doubt it was scratch made and cooked so fast. And if I'm paying $17.50 for a burger and fries, I want it cooked fresh from raw beef.

First, the fries. I'm often skeptical of the fries, but I believe these were twice-fried and they were very good, crispy and tasty. There was a choice of four mayos -- I went with the traditional.

Now, the burger. Bun was fresh, seedy and excellent with the right amount of chew -- according to the menu sourced from the La Fabrique bacon. To many burger places overlook the bun. I liked the cheese and bacon, but I thought the beef could have used some seasoning.

Or maybe it was seasoned, but it, along with the bacon and cheese, was overloaded by the heavy application of the bourbon bbq sauce. Too much sauce overpowering the other tastes, rendering them mute. Should have passed on the sauce.

Still, a lovely meal on the patio overlooking the tourist throng on St. Jean.

No desert tonight.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Eating OFF the Hill: Day One in Quebec City

I'm off to Quebec City until Sunday for my summer break, deciding to spend my vacation dollars North of the border for the foreseeable future -- as much as I would have enjoyed another baseball road trip. So, having crossed Halifax off the bucket list at biennial this spring, my first visit to Quebec City seemed a logical choice. And armed by many recommendations from mes amis, there will be food blogging.

Day one on Tuesday was six hours on the train, so other than dinner it was really a train food day, with breakfast and lunch in VIA One, before dropping my bags at my AirBNB and heading back to the old city for a real meal.

Train breakfast

I wasn't expecting breakfast  as it was a 10:15 AM departure on VIA, so outside the usual breakfasting hours. Prime brunch hours I suppose, though it is Tuesday. Still, just East of Ottawa they came around with the meal cart, offering an omelette or cereal, and as I hadn't eaten breakfast I decided to partake.

Now, those of you paying close attention at home know I'm not a big egg guy. Still, I wasn't feeling the cereal, and while I won't go out and pay separately for eggs, there is one scenario where, faced with limited choice, I will eat them. It should be an omelette with other stuff in it, and it should be smothered in copious amounts of ketchup. So, conditional on VIA having ketchup (which they did), that was my choice.

It needed more stuff in it though. There *may* have been cheese. But I saw no green peppers, or mushrooms, or what not and what have you. I ate it grudgingly, if only to get to the nondescript sausage patty underneath. The baked beans were a nice touch, and the fingerling potatoes a standout.

Train lunch

After a 30 minute layover in Gare de Montreal, where ongoing passengers were to stay on the train (I was told there was no time to go for smoked meat) we backed-up halfway to the airport, and then continued East again, deeper into Quebec. And soon, it was time for lunch.

They had begun drinks at the opposite end of the car from me so I was resigned to them being out of anything decent when they got to me (when I say resigned, I mean seething with first world, privilege unchecked pre-anger), but after serving the VIPs they began on my end, and the world was my oyster: chicken, beef or pasta.

Now, beef is usually overcooked in these scenarios so I tend to avoid it. And pasta, as I've said, feels too simple and cheap, something I could make at home. And did last night, actually. So chicken it was.

I was somewhat disappointed that I hadn't realized or been told it was actually a cold chicken salad, so that was a shock. Still, one I overcame and was fine with in the end. I took my roll and the chicken breast, and some of the salad and made a little sandwich. The salad could have used some work though. Other than two pieces of cucumber and two cherry tomatoes, and a few stray weeds, it was basically a large pile of carrot. And couscous as the side. Two salads; my bowl runneth over.

The now standard VIA vegan brownie, and it occurred to me now there was no after-lunch chocolate, with was a downgrade a few years ago from the post-meal truffles they used to serve. It's also often a challenge now to get drink refills after the meal service. But enough kvetching.

Café du Monde

Having found and settled into my AirBNB, I scoured my crowd sourced list of recommended local dining establishments and decided to head to Café du Monde. Located on the waterfront in the cruise ship terminal it should not be confused with the New Orleans restaurant of the same name, famous for its beignets. No beignets here.

It was busy but I didn't need to wait, and as I sipped a glass of Quebec red I decided on the table d'hote, starting with the French Onion soup. Because when in Quebec...

I don't think I've had French Onion soup since I was a kid. My Dad used to make it, so that would have to have been at least 15 or more years ago. I recall my sister and I used to just eat the cheese off the top, and he would get mad and make us at least make an effort at eating the rest. I also remember we had these cool ceramic french onion soup bowls with the handles we bought in France, which is perhaps why he made it regularly.

If Dad was watching he'd be happy to know I finished the whole thing this time. Plenty of onion, flavourful broth, and a cheese stronger than I'd usually have on its own, but delicious in this setting balanced off by the broth. And I rationed the cheese throughout the soup. Tasty.

On to the main course: duck confit and mushroom open ravioli. Now, I don't often have duck as I'm more of a white meat guy, but I'm expanding my culinary horizons this week and this was tasty.

The duck was very tasty, and plentiful, and the jus quite delish. Could have used more mushrooms would be my primary note. And I've never had this open ravioli thing before. It certainly allowed for more meat, but was a challenge to cut.

Because it was a three-course deal, I had a choice of deserts: some chocolate dot thing, or Crème brûlée. And again, when in Quebec...

I like Crème brûlée but I'm not a connoisseur, so when I ate my first spoonful and found it a bit cool/cold inside, I was unsure if this was how it was supposed to be or not. A quick Google  told me cool inside with a warm crisp top describes the ideal crème brûlée. So I carried on, and enjoyed.

Don't have Wednesday planned yet. But I know it will begin with fresh croissants.

Bon soir.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Eating up the Hill: Winner winner Chicken Farmers dinner

The annual Chicken Farmers reception is, for those who are fans of chicken, one of the top receptions of the Parliament Hill reception circuit, right up there with the Cattlemen. Last year's shindig was cancelled because of the gas leak in the downtown area, so they really wanted to bring the chicken this year.

Pulled chicken taco.
And bring it they did. Pulled chicken tacos. Two kinds of chicken wings (breaded and buffalo). Tater tot poutine with pulled chicken. Chicken skewers with tzatziki. And more.

Chicken wings, glorious chicken wings.

The tacos were a bit dry. The wings could have used more kick but were plentiful.

All about the tater tot poutine.
But the tater tot poutine was amazeballs. I usually don't go for poutine. Much like Ribfest, we have an annual Poutine Fest on Sparks Street; I usually take a pass. But replacing the fries with tatter tots? Genius. I had two servings.

Winner winner chicken dinner!

Assorted appateasers. That's what the kids say now, right? Appateasers?

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