Quebec City could be described as more picturesque and charming, but in a manufactured way, since most of the city is new or has been rebuilt recently, giving it a bit of a Euro-Disney French feel, but it doesn't entirely not work.
Chateau Frotenac is one of the main attractions in town and it can be seen from most locations in the city. Fairmont bought it so you can stay there or enjoy one of their restaurants or wine bars with nice city views.
The city center is tiny and easily walkable. Easily walkable if you're from San Francisco that is, and used to walking up steep grades. Or if you simply plan on eating as much as we did, make it a point to climb those hills between meals to work up an appetite. Let's get to it.
Quebec City Specialty Food Stores
Again the French Canadians know what they're doing in the food department. Rue Saint-Jean is a foodie lovers paradise with great cafes and several wonderful, well-equipped specialty food stores. Epicerie Europeenne opened on Saint-Jean back in 1959 and is a compact, well laid out grocery store selling unique mustards, salts and spices.
I was a bit more fond of its neighbor across the street, J.A. Moisan, who's actually been around since 1871. It's said to be the oldest grocery store in North America. I would love to have this store in my neighborhood with its large selection of oils, vinegars, wines and chocolate, all displayed with a throw back general store feel. It's the perfect place to make a picnic.
C'est Si Bon on the other end of Rue Saint-Jean has all the sweets you want. We were big fans of the chocolate with maple cream inside, but many good options in this colorful store.
They do have a covered market by the water, Marche du Vieux Port, with local farmers selling fruits, flowers, fish, vegetables, wine, honey, etc...but it's not a must stop if you live in a major city with more of the same.
I did, however, like the specialty store in the market. They had an interesting wall of spices, with each one tucked neatly away behind a little door so as not to mix smells and flavors.
Quebec City Specialty Foods
As I mentioned in Montreal, there are some unique specialties from the area, including smoked meat and poutine. Poutine tends to be a late night snack, read post-bar food, but since we weren't leaving most of our dinner until after 1am, we needed an alternate plan. We went to the most talked about place for poutine in Quebec City, Chez Ashton. Chez Ashton looks like McDonald's inside, or at least what I remember of it since that's not a place I've been in for quite some time....again, without drinks.
Poutine is an odd kitchen sink combination of french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. Chez Ashton actually had well developed, rich gravy, but I'm going to go out on a limb and saying that the frites weren't freshly cut or recently cooked. I'm sure people don't normally critique poutine (sober), but suffice it to say, I think they'd be a whole lot better late night.
I didn't give up though. When we went for our requisite smoked meat at Brynd where there was an option to have your meat with a side of poutine, so I doubled down in the name of research...and because I had been climbing hills all day. I do have to say that they were much better here with the curds melting into the gravy, allowing for a little less chew.
The smoked meat itself was surprisingly delicious, but I wasn't expecting much from the descriptor. It's like the best, fattiest, juiciest pastrami. They must know how good the meat is and that it needs nothing, because it's only served stacked high on some soft rye bread. There's nothing else on it.There are some different mustards in squeeze bottles on the table, which I did use, but you really didn't need much. The enormous pickle served on its own plate was also a nice touch.
Another talked about food item in Quebec City is the crepe. We checked out Casse-Crepe Breton on Saint-Jean and were not disappointed, except for the wait to get a table and to get our crepe. I liked the batter that produced a thinner, more crisp crepe.
The Grand Allee is also a nice stretch of road with wall to wall restaurants and outdoor patios. It's a great place to stop for a bite or drink and watch the world go by....assuming, it's not the dead of winter of course.
Another good place for a glass of wine if you're down in the old Port area is Le Cercle. They had a wide variety of cocktails and snacks from cheese plates to main dishes, but we'll get to the main attraction soon enough.