Canada is for [Food] Lovers

Last month my boyfriend and I took our first-ever road trip together. We left New York City and headed north. All the way north. To French Canada. We took a long weekend and spent two days each in Montréal and Québec City.

Days 1 & 2: Montréal

Where we stayed: The Gingerbread Manor (3445 Avenue Laval; 514-597-2804). We stayed in the Frontenac Room, a master bedroom on the 2nd floor with a sitting area, CD/DVD player, TV, daybed, and king-sized bed. Breakfast was all homemade, with yummy features such as apple French Toast or fruit blintzes.

Food Finds: For lunch, our first meal during our trip, we shared a plate of poutine, a local favorite made up of crispy frites smothered in brown gravy and topped with cheese curds. At Ilios (3922 rue Saint-Denis; 514-419-9994) we snacked on baklava and tiropita (cheese-filled phyllo)  and gobbled up the rich, creamy flan pies at Coco Rico (3907, boulevard Saint-Laurent; 514-849-5554). Our innkeepers recommended Chez Chose (4621 Rue St.-Denis; 514-843-2152) for dinner, and even made us reservations. in lieu of paper menus, a blackboard sat against the wall with daily dishes handwritten in French. The owner brings it over table-to-table and translates as needed. To start we had the steak tartare and shrimp salad with avacado and mayonaise. We chose the roast rabbit and duck confit with warm lentils for our main courses. When the bill arrived, it did so along with two small squares of just-made, still-soft pistachio nougat, the perfect amount of sweet to finish the meal.

Non-Edible Excursions: Hop on the clean and reliable metro, rent a bike to fit in with the locals, or take a stroll downtown to visit the outdoor plaza Places des Artes, the famed McGill University, and the Underground City, a huge indoor shopping mall. Check out the Botanical Garden, Jardin Botanique (4101 Rue Sherbrooke Est; 514-872-1400; open every day in the high season and closed Mondays in the winter; $17.75 for  adults). If you have your own set of wheels, make a detour up Mount Royal, which offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city.

Days 2 & 3: Québec City

Where We Stayed: Le Gite du Hu-Art (1673 Avenue du Lac-Saint-Charles; 418-806-2534). Situated on Saint Charles Lake in a rustic suburb 20 minutes by car from downtown Québec, this gorgeous homestead is a tranquil alternative to crowded urban accomodations. We stayed in the Zen room, which had cable TV, a refrigerator, coffee maker, spa robes, and a private bath with a Jacuzzi tub. Breakfast took place upstairs in a glass-walled sun room adjacent to the outdoor deck. Classical music welcomed us from a portable stereo, coffee arrived as soon as we sat down, and minutes later we had on our table two heaping portions of spongy, lightweight crepes stuffed with fresh apples and topped with homemade caramel sauce, with a side of tropical fruit salad containing berries, pineapple, and kiwi.

Food Finds: With the luxury of our own refrigerator, we indulged in self-made room service from ingredients purveyed from Intermarché St. Jean (650 Rue St. Jean; 418-522-4889). We picked up local aritsanal prosciutto and salami, some mild and buttery regional brie, personal fresh-baked foccaccia loaves, sparkling water (l’eau gazeuse), mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, and some herb vinaigrette. At night we hung out in our Zen Room channel-surfing and eating open-faced meat and brie sandwiches with salad, and even packed up sandwiches for lunch the next day. On our last night we went to Bistro Sous Le Fort (48 Rue Sous le Fort; 418) 694-0852), a charming little “resto” in the heart of downtown Québec a few blocks north of the Vieux-Fort neighborhood. A 10-minute walk from the scenic Rue du Petit Champlain that paralells the St. Lawrence River, this road offers the best option for street parking as well as many private lots.

We started with the A Partager! (To Share!) appetizer, which included duck and pistachio rilletes, a ramekin of baked camembert, paté, pickles, mustard, toast, and onion jam. For entrées we ordered the elk burker and steak frites. The appetizer, recommended for two people, could feed at least four. We did our best to clear our plates, not wanting to miss out on a single delicious bite, but still could not finish everything. My elk burger on a toasted brioche bun was tender and juicy, with a lean, gamey aftertaste. The steak frites, a long slab of beef dripping in garlic-butter juices, was a perfect medium-rare. It had amazing flavor and a soft, meaty texture, not stringy or sinewy at all like most hanger steaks. The ample portion of frites that accompanied both plates, crunchy, golden, and of the shoestring variety, made for a perfect side.

Non-Edible Excursions: Head to the indiginous Native American village Wendake for some interesting (and authentic) souvenir shopping. Everything is hand-made on or near premises, so while you may pay a little more, you know that it comes with quality. Located on the Huron-Wendat reserve, this is about a 20-minute drive northwest of Québec City. For some stunning natural beauty, visit the Parc de la Chute-Montmorency (4300, boul. Sainte-Anne, Québec; 418-663-3330; 800-665-6527). At 275 feet tall and 150 feet wide, this waterfall can be seen up close by either walking up a wooden stairway or taking a cable car. Once at the top, you can walk directly over the crashing waters on a suspended bridge. While the park is free, prepare to pay for parking, some snacks or souvenirs, and a cable car ride at least one-way, as the hike by stair can be challenging. Be sure to bring your camera!

I loved taking a road trip with my boyfriend, and I don’t think we could have picked a better destination. We fed our open minds and empty stomachs at every turn, returning home with plenty of pictures and memories. Plus a bag of cheddar cheese curds that we snuck back over the border.

July 2, 2012