Photos by Ellie Jordan, Words by Marisa Kent
I decided to start this article off with a little background information on Quebec City, QC, one of the most egregiously overlooked cities in the entire world.
One of the earliest settlements in North America, Quebec City was founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain, father of New France (an area that stretches from the northernmost part of Quebec to Louisiana.) The most famous part of the city, aptly nicknamed “Old Quebec," is composed of two-hundred-year-old stone buildings and European-style churches, and is surrounded by “the only fortified city walls north of Mexico" (Canadian Broadcasting Company). The walls were initially built by the French but eventually expanded upon by the British after the city was taken in the 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham, and even America got in on the action (of course) when the city became the site of one of the first battles of the Revolutionary War. All is peaceful now (unless you count the ongoing culture war between traditionalists who want to keep the city French and those who advocate for English and French bilingualism), but the ramparts remain and give the city a magical, old-world feel that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in North America.
Canada may have a reputation for being a soft, aw-shucks version of America, but for all intents and purposes, Quebec City is European (except maple syrup flows freely, outlets are compatible with American electronics, and water is free). 95% of the population lists “French” as their native language, and people here have the sort of brusque, intangibly glamorous demeanor that you’d expect overseas. Cuisine from pretty much every corner of the world is represented- my travel companion and I were surprised to stumble upon a sizable Asian market, as well as a Moroccan coffee house- but Quebec City’s real specialty is, of course, French food. The first stop on our tour was Casse-Crepe Breton, a relatively small establishment on Rue Saint-Jean that my mom, a seasoned Canadian, describes as “the best place for crepes in Quebec City, hands down.”
Quebec City isn’t cheap- many of the restaurants on Rue Saint-Jean boast $30 dishes, and the exchange rate is more advantageous to the Canadian dollar- but Casse-Crepe Breton is surprisingly affordable, especially when compared with a place down the street charging $15-20 per crepe. For $7.95, I was able to buy a meal-sized crepe with four fillings; dessert crepes were priced around $4-5. My travel companion, a vegetarian, found no shortage of options on the menu, and for $5.95 purchased a mozzarella and asparagus crepe that she described as “really, really good.”
In case you were on the edge of your seat about the contents of my crepe, it consisted of ham, Swiss cheese, egg, and mushroom, a combination that managed to be satisfying without sitting in my stomach for hours after the meal. The restaurant allows you to build your own crepe from a rather diverse list of toppings (bacon is included, and you can also add maple syrup, natch) but if you’re like me and feel overwhelmed when faced with a broad range of choices, the menu provides a section of pre-created crepes, helpfully titled “Need a little inspiration? Here are some suggestions!” The crepes came with a side of particularly zesty julienned carrots (I never thought you could use the word “zesty” to describe carrots, but here we are), and the crepe batter was poured and griddled before our eyes in the restaurant’s open kitchen. I was too full to order anything for dessert, but I did sample my travel companion’s strawberry-and-Nutella crepe, and it was incredible. My only bone to pick with the place is service-related: once you’re seated, the service is great, but because seating is so limited you have to squeeze into a cramped vestibule outside the restaurant for about 15 minutes before you get to sit down. This setup probably adds to the place’s mythos, however; even if there are only a few people waiting, the restaurant always looks filled-to-the-brim from the outside.
A word to the wise: alcohol is ridiculously expensive here, and even though those of you under 21 are probably excited about the prospect of whipping out your driver’s licenses and legally ordering your own legal drinks, legally, beer can cost you upwards of $15 per pint, and wine prices are even more exorbitant. If you have cash to spare, Pub Alexandre on Rue Saint-Jean has the most staggering selection of beer and wine that I have ever encountered; if you’re set on ordering a different kind of beer from every South American country, this is the place for you, and you can do it while listening to a live band covering Guns ‘n Roses in French. If you’re traveling on a budget, it’s probably best to stick to water, because the water here is immaculate- there’s no trace of the gross metallic flavor you get in American water, and this includes the tap water from our hotel sink, of which I drank at least 30 cups.
Quebec has an extremely high concentration of “real restaurants” with fancy silverware and $30 dishes, so I figured I’d have to review at least one. My travel companion and I decided to stop at Le Lapin Sauté (that’s “The Sautéed Rabbit,” which is actually available on the menu), an upscale but surprisingly affordable place near the city’s famous Chateau Frontenac. If you’ve got something against rabbits, this is the place for you- there’s rabbit poutine, sautéed rabbit livers, rabbit pie, cottage rabbit pie, two mustards sauce rabbit, honey and rosemary sauce rabbit, rabbit cassoulet, rabbit rilletes, rabbit kidney salad- and while vegetarian options are fairly limited, there’s soup, salad, pasta, cheese, and a great dessert selection.
For $21.95 I ordered the rabbit pie, which took awhile to get to our table- Quebecers don’t place the same premium on instant service as Americans do, and restaurants tend to take their time- but it was well worth the wait. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from traveling, it’s that no matter how much you like to think of yourself as one of the “good Americans,” your entitlement will inevitably come out at some point; my travel companion and I actually started tapping our feet a couple of times before catching ourselves. The rabbit, of course, was fantastic. If you’ve never had rabbit, it can come out flavorless if not done right, but my dish was both full of flavor and easy to eat, e.g. not chewy or stringy. The restaurant also has a great selection of fish, duck, and steak, and apparently changes up its menu pretty frequently.
According to TripAdvisor, Quebec City has 1,124 restaurants, of which Lapin Saute is ranked #10 and Casse-Crepe Breton #70. That means that there are 1,122 more for you guys to try out, all just an 8-hour bus ride from Boston. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can stay at one of the world’s only ice hotels (as in everything is made out of ice, including the beds), but there are plenty of more affordable hotel options both inside and outside of Old Quebec. You too can afford to live and eat like a European sophisticate, if only for one magical weekend.
“Quebec City Restaurants.” TripAdvisor. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurants-g155033-Quebec_City_Quebec.html.