This continues on from Canada – Three Recipe Ideas!
After the Maritime Provinces, our goal was to meet up with several piano contacts in the cities of Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. We had also seen those cities a long time ago and were keen to return. We would only have short stays in each, barely enough time to see the key sights and check out the food scene.
We left New Brunswick heading north, through Edmundston. On crossing the border into Quebec, the immediate noticeable difference was that signage was only in French.
As we had travelled north, there were still remnants of snow and ice, and the deciduous trees were still bereft of leaves. We stayed one night in Temiscouata, hoping for a wonderful French-style meal. Instead we had perhaps the worst meal of the trip as, except for one or two, all the restaurants were closed “for the season”. However, one takes the bad with the good: the lake was still half frozen and looked very atmospheric, and the owners of our hotel provided some useful advice for our drive into Quebec City.
One suggestion was for us to stop at the pretty river side town called Saint-Jean-Port-Joli. Sculptures were located around the streets and we found a terrific French-style restaurant for lunch where we had our first experience of melon radish.
The drive from there into Quebec City was very flat but with a surprisingly active agriculture industry.
For a dramatic view of the Chateau, we were advised to take the short ferry ride from Lévis across the St Lawrence River to reach Quebec City, rather than drive over one of the bridges. Later that day we would walk up the hill to get a closer view.
The old quarters both on the flat and up the hill contain numerous streets reminiscent of a French town. There is much to offer the tourist and the Francophile.
The gourmet food outlet, Fou du Bio, stocks a wide range of Canadian food products. The owner, Anthony, took us through his surprisingly extensive display of wines from Quebec Province. We hadn’t even considered that wines would be produced in Quebec. The second photo is from their website. The third includes a section of their dessert wine collection.
Our hotel was at the bottom of the hill and proved to be nicely located. It was just across the street from the old market, which although in a beautiful building seemed to be suffering from low patronage and little atmosphere, unlike what we had found in Boston and what we would find in some other cities later on. From our hotel it was an easy walk into the lower old town where the best restaurants are located. Échaudé is a smart, very French, restaurant that we really enjoyed.
As it was, right next door to our hotel was Légende, a very stylish restaurant where we had our best meal in Canada. The cuisine was modern international and we were told they only use ingredients produced in Quebec Province, which severely limited their range of ingredients. One revelation was their use of flour made from crickets! The first photo was taken through the glass door connecting the hotel and restaurant, though we could only get seating at the bar that night. We did opt to try the cricket flour dessert.
In Montreal we were based near the old town and waterfront. There was much of interest nearby, including a wonderful bakery called Olive et Gourmando. There we had one of their panini, something a creative person had put some thought into to come up with several definitive options.
There was a good selection of restaurants, waterfront attractions and a large market building mainly full of shops for tourists. The town hall and other government buildings are in the area, as is the impressive Saint Patrick’s Basilica.
The more vibrant restaurant and cafe sectors were a kilometre or two walk further north of our accommodation. We suspect the best position to stay would be close to the arts precinct, home of the famous Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal. In front, there is a substantial plaza section of Rue Sainte-Catherine that leads into the Village quarter.
Unlike Quebec City, which is unique, Montreal reminded us of Australian cities, with wide streets, greenery and similar shopping and office precincts. There were some stunning older-style buildings, including one built by an insurance company that takes up a whole block.
On a previous visit many years earlier we had visited Schwartz’s Delicatessen and we wanted to return. So on a Saturday morning we took a roundabout walk through some inner-suburban streets to get there. We wanted to see examples of housing with their intricate stairs and balconies.
Arriving at Schwartz’s at around 1.30 pm we found a significant queue outside. However, it moved quickly. We wanted to order the brisket, which apparently is cured and smoked over many days. The large slabs were waiting in a warming compartment in the front window. The sandwich was as yummy as we remembered, as were a hot dog, coleslaw and pickles. It is clear why the place is insanely popular.
We did try restaurants during the evening, but two fell short of expectations. One was an Asian fusion-style restaurant with very interesting food. However, the evening ended badly when a waitress, who had not served us but took our bill, lectured us for not leaving a big enough tip, even though we thought we had. The next night, at an upmarket international-style restaurant, service again let us down. The sommelier, bar staff and waiters were not familiar with the wines on offer by the glass. That even applied to one made not far from Montreal which they originally told us was from France. And they weren’t familiar with the dishes either, providing inaccurate guidance which meant one of us had a main course they could not really eat. The final bill included an automatic 20% surcharge for service! It was a constant wonderment for us why, in the US and Canada, service is not included in the menu pricing (with a note on the menu that “service is included and goes to the servers”). In Australia what you see on the menu or wine list is what you pay for (including taxes), and you can tip or not tip as you wish. Being forced to tip while a waiter hangs over you watching what percentage you are going to select (15%, 18%, 25%, …) is intimidating. Automatically adding 20% for service that was not there is incongruous. A meal should not end on a sour note! We could not detect during our travels that service in the US and Canada was any worse or better than in Australia.
There were many aspects of Montreal that we could not experience. Before leaving, we made one diversion across the city to see L’Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal. We had been told it was one of the largest churches in North America and an important place of pilgrimage. Our visit was not for religious reasons but purely one of architectural inquisitiveness; it was truly massive.
We were soon on the road to Ottawa.
For a continuation of our travels, see: Canada – Ottawa, Toronto & Niagara!