“Classic” Montréal and Québec City cuisine is a spin on French foodthat highlights local ingredients long available in New France such as root vegetables, maple syrup, and game such as caribou. Today, many restaurants also focus on the cooking styles of the world’s immigrants who now make their homes in the cities. The food scene includes both comfort food and plates that are adventurous and playful, and both entice travelers to visit and indulge.
Restaurants are colloquially called “restos,” and they range from moderately priced bistros and ethnic joints to swank luxury epicurean shrines.
Always look for table d’hôte meals. These are fixed-price menus, and with them, three- or four-course meals can be had for little more than the price of an a la carte main course.
Many higher-end establishments offer tasting menus, with an array of small dishes for a sampling of the chef’s skills. You might see surprise menus, also called “chef’s whim,” where you don’t know what you’re getting until it’s in front of you. Fine restaurants often offer wine pairings with meals, as well, where the sommelier selects a glass (or half glass, if you ask) for each course.
Local Food Highlights
Be sure to try regional specialties. A Québécois favorite is poutine: French fries doused with gravy and cheese curds. It’s ubiquitous in winter.
Game is popular, including goose, caribou, and wapiti (North American deer). Many menus feature emu and lamb raised north of Québec City in Charlevoix. Mussels and salmon are also standard.
Québec cheeses deserve attention, and many can be sampled only in Canada because they are often unpasteurized, made of lait cru (raw milk), and therefore subject to strict export rules. Better restaurants will offer them as a final course. Of the more than 500 varieties available, you might look for Valbert St-Isidor (similar to Swiss in texture), Ciel de Charlevoix (a blue cheese, hence the name “sky of Charlevoix”), and Le Chèvre Noire (a sharp goat variety covered in black wax). Québec cheeses pick up armfuls of prizes each year in the American Cheese Society competition, North America's largest. The fromages de pays label represents solidarity among artisanal producers who are members of Solidarité Rurale du Québec, a group devoted to revitalizing rural communities. Find some listed at www.fromageduquebec.qc.ca.
Beer & Wine
Alcohol is heavily taxed, and imported varieties even more so than domestic versions, so if you’re looking to save a little, buy Canadian. That’s not difficult when it comes to beer, for there are many regional breweries, from Montréal powerhouse Molson to micro, that produce delicious products. Among the best local options are Belle Gueule and Boréal. The sign bieres en fut means “beers on draft.” The Montréal beer festival, the Mondial de la bière (www.festivalmondialbiere.qc.ca), is a giddy event where typically over 100 breweries present their wares.
Wine is another matter. It is not produced in significant quantities in Canada due to a climate generally inhospitable to the essential grapes. But you might try bottles from the vineyards of the Cantons-de-l’Est region (just east of Montréal). Sample, too, the sweet “ice wines” and “ice ciders” made from grapes and apples after the first frost; many decent ones come from vineyards and orchards just an hour from Montréal. One popular winery is Vignoble de L’Orpailleur (www.orpailleur.ca). L’orpailleur refers to someone who mines for gold in streams—the idea being that trying to make good wine in Québec’s cold climate requires a similar leap of faith in the ability to defy the odds.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.