As we cruised into Quebec City on the Maasdam via a Holland America Cruise, we were immediately enthralled. Quebec City is a picturesque city on two levels, one along the banks of the St. Lawrence River and one on the bluff overlooking the river. Old Quebec City, the only walled city north of Mexico, is as close as you can come to a European city in North America and was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985.
Although we only had a few hours to tour Old Quebec City, they were hours well spent and we were really able to capture the charm and flavor of this old world city. Our group of travel writers (from the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association) met Richard Sequin from Quebec City Tourism in the Cruise Terminal and walked a short distance to the Musée de la Civilisation across from the dock. There we listened to a fascinating talk about why Quebec, the cradle of French civilization in America, has become such a celebrated destination.
We then departed on buses for a city tour and were enchanted by the historic stone buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, vibrant city life, and charming shops and restaurants. We made a few stops but wished we had time to linger with a cup of cappucinno or glass of wine at one of the many little sidewalk cafes (just like Paris) that beckoned to us.
We strolled around the historic Place Royale, where Samuel de Champlain established a trading post in 1608, and admired the old stone fortifications and Notre-Dame-des-Victoires, the oldest church in North America. We could imagine the area as a bustling marketplace in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is still a popular stop for visitors to immerse themselves in history and enjoy the inviting cafes and boutiques.
We also loved meandering around the beautifully landscaped Plains of Abraham and Battlefield Park where the Battle of Quebec, a pivotal battle in the Seven Years War, took place in 1759. French governance was transferred to the British after the Seven-Year War (known in the U.S. as the French and Indian War).
Of course there is so much history and ambiance to soak up in Quebec that we could have spent the entire day touring, but it was time to dine.
Our exquisite “dejeuner” was the highlight of our day. We were graciously greeted at Restaurant Initiale, 54 Rue St. Pierre, in the heart of Old Quebec City. Our hosts were co-proprietors, Rolande Leclerc and Chef Yvan Lebrun. The decor is contemporary and stylish, with vibrant, modern artwork accenting the inviting setting. Our table was beautifully set with vividly colored platters that dramatically presented the innovative dishes we were served.
We learned our lunch dishes reflected the regional, creative cuisine that now characterizes much of Quebec City’s culinary scene.
Our first Mise en Appétit course was blue fin tuna tartare from Nova Scotia, which was subtly flavorful and melted in my mouth. We then had choices for our next courses. For a starter, I chose thinly sliced, rich red lamelle of sockeye salmon, nicely accompanied by a sauce of sage, sorrel and cream. My second course was cream of petit pois (peas) with a lovely fried quail egg and pancetta. The combination of flavors was unique and delicious.
For my main course, I enjoyed a lightly flaky halibut filet served with tomato and haricots with a savory Choron sauce (classic French Béarnaise sauce tinted pink with a tomato puree) and hazelnut butter.
These courses were nicely paired with two wines, a crispy Bourgogne Chardonnay from Louis Latour and a rich 2009 Bordeaux from Chateau Bonnet, that enhanced each savory bite.
The service led by Rolande was meticulous and friendly with special attention paid to each guest. We understood after our gourmet meal why Restaurant Initiale has a Grand Chef Relais & Chateaux Certification and an AAA/CCA Five Diamond Rating.
After this fabulous lunch, we still had one more special treat ahead of us. You cannot visit Quebec without stopping at the iconic Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac, which has been the majestic centerpiece of Old Quebec City for more than a century. A recent restoration combines the hotel’s celebrated past with modern stylish touches that have made it a glorious site for staying, touring or dining. I guarantee that you will walk into the regal lobby and just say “ahh.” Short self-guided tours are available via either Apple or Android devices.
The hotel is also a culinary mecca offering several wonderful restaurants, including the high-end Champlain Restaurant, the trendy Bistro Le Sam, and the more casual 1608 Wine & Cheese Bar.
Executive Chef Baptiste Peupion met with us as we dined on artistically presented, delectable desserts. He talked about his focus on seasonal, fresh, locally sourced ingredients and innovation in creating dishes. I was impressed and would love to return for a full meal prepared by the Chef.
We sadly bid adieu to Old Quebec City, amazed at how much we were able to experience in a short time but already thinking about a trip back when we could spend a few days.
For more information go to Quebec City Tourism’s website.