Saturday, September 29, 2018

Old Quebec Food Tour - Quebec City

We've done a few food tours in our travels and recently had the best and most innovative one yet: Old Quebec Food Tour in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. It was three hours and covered five tasting locations, but also included other points of interest, including historical sites and a discussion of the history. It was a nice combination: a way to get a good sampling of food in a foodie city, and to get some sight-seeing and historical background in our short time there. 

We were on a cruise ship, the Holland America Maasdam, which docked at the edge of the Saint Lawrence River just below Old Quebec, the historic part of Quebec City and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We walked about a half mile in the Lower Town, then took a funicular up a steep hill to the Upper Town. 
Old Quebec from the ship dock with Upper Town in the background. 
Funicular up to Upper Town. 
Chateau Frontenac
Our cruise ship and the Saint Lawrence River from Upper Town. 
Our first stop was Le Chic Shack, just down from the Chateau Frontenac, the most photographed hotel in the world. The Chateau Frontenac was the number one item I wanted to see in Quebec City because it is always featured in travel brochures. Until we got there I had no idea it was a hotel. I always assumed it was an old government building. It was a little less appealing as a hotel. 

At Le Chic Shack we were served poutine. Poutine is the signature food of Quebec, but has spread across Canada and is now sometimes referred to as Canada's national dish. We'd had poutine at least twice previously on our trip, both in New Brunswick. Poutine consists of French fries, cheese curds and brown gravy. We learned, at least from our guide's perspective, that the cheese curds in poutine should not be melted, but should retain their rubbery texture and squeak when you bite into them. However, our prior poutines had melted cheese curds and I liked them that way. The cheese curds in this poutine were huge, rubbery and squeaked a lot which is just wrong. Cheese curds are better aged, having lost that rubbery, squeaky texture. In poutine, they should be melted into the fries. These fries were not fries, but baked or fried chunks of potato. I like the limp and soft fries, but this was was a nice variation. The gravy was not mixed in, but sitting in the bottom of the bowl. However, I quickly mixed it in. As for the gravy, I prefer it white to brown. We had white gravy with lobster in it in Moncton and it was marvelous (I think it would still have been very good without the lobster). Overall this poutine was distinctive and fun to try. It varied many steps from run-of-the-mill poutine and was a good food tour choice. 
Poutine, as it came.
Poutine after I'd mixed it up.
Our next stop, La Buche, was the star of the tour.

We had four items there and all were excellent. First we had salmon (I'm guessing cold-smoked) with maple vinegar on it. The vinegar was not all sweet, but had a little tart. Very different. I liked it a lot. 
Next was yellow pea soup. I find references to Canadian yellow split-pea soup and Quebec-style yellow pea soup. Imagine how good it must taste on a cold winter day. It was thick, had some chopped scallions and smoked ham in it. Very good, but unbelievably not as good as the marvelously thick, split-pea soup we had on the Maasdam during a captains' reception - apparently a tradition on Holland America. It was as good as any split-pea soup I've ever had. 
Next came a little carton of shepherd's pie. It hard marvelously flavored mashed potatoes, serving as a base for the other ingredients, including corn, scallions, cocktail onions and some sort of shredded beef. The cocktail onions were kind of a shocking vinegary distraction and I didn't feel were necessary. The shredded beef was okay, but frankly, the mashed potatoes were so good that I would rather have had just them, they were that good. 

Finally, the most fun treat of the entire taste-testing was tire sur la neiga, called by National Geographic to be one of the top ten foods to eat in Quebec (poutine was another of the ten). It is a taffy formed by still hot, boiled maple sap, directly onto fresh snow (in our case, it looked like crushed ice). We watched them squeeze the maple sap onto the ice out of a plastic container, then the maple firmed up. We each took a wood tong, starting at one end, and wrapped the maple around the tong. It was wonderfully, sweet and gooey. A wonderful, wonderful treat. 

I was so entranced by the dishes at La Buche that I had to go back after the tour was over. I particularly wanted to try some more of the smoked salmon with maple vinegar. Unfortunately, we had a completely different experience. We got a waiter who spoke only French and we were unable to communicate what we wanted to him. The dishes were quite expensive which made sampling a bunch of items impracticable. I ended up guessing on some smoked salmon which was completely the wrong dish. It was particularly frustrating because we'd been there earlier and had English speaking waiters. I tried a little bit of the salmon, and in frustration, asked for the cheque, paid for it and left most of it. 
Paillard, the next stop, had potential, but we got a croissant. A simple, buttery croissant, when other very yummy looking pastries were staring at us from a distant, glass-encased counter. The croissant was okay, like other croissants I've eaten before, but come-on, give us the good stuff! This stop was a dud. 

Our next stop was Chez Boulay. We were relegated to standing outside to wonder what it looked like inside. 

We finally got a square of cream and sugar maple fudge with pine, which was fantastic (my photo is blurry), leading me to lament the fact that we were unable to decipher what other delectable items might be available inside. 
Finally, we stopped at BE Club Bistro Bar. We were ushered upstairs and sat around a railing over-looking the downstairs. 

We were served a mocktail, I don't recall what was in it, but it was just okay. 
Then we got mac n' cheese with black garlic crumble, smoked bacon and maple syrup. I really loved the bacon, but once it was gone the mac n' cheese was just okay. 
Although not all of the food or stops were great, overall it was a very nice tour. I came away with the impression that Quebec City is a foodie town and would be fun place to spend more time trying out dishes.  

Friday, September 28, 2018

Red-Breasted Nuthatch

This is my second animal post in a row where the animal is on a big spread of green grass in a very public space (the last post was on woodchucks which I saw on Parliament Hill in Ottawa). This red-breasted nuthatch was in the middle of downtown Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. 
I don't recall seeing one before, although they do have a range that covers most of the U.S. However, their preferred range is northern and subalpine conifer forests. 
It has a black cap and eyeline, a white supercilium (eyebrow) and throat, rust-colored underparts, and a back and uppertail that are bluish/gray. It has a a short, pointed black bill. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018


The woodchuck is also known as the groundhog, whistlepig, groundpig and Canada marmot. I believe I've seen at least one before, while driving in West Virginia, and of course I've seen Punxsutawney Phil on television, the inspiration for the movie Groundhog Day. But recently, on the lawn of the Parliament of Canada in Ottawa, I sat and watched two woodchucks for several minutes and got some photos. 
Woodchuck on grass in front of Parliament in Ottawa, Canada.
The woodchuck is related to the marmot, an animal I've seen many times in the western U.S. However, their ranges don't overlap, or if they do, not by much. The woodchuck is found in the Eastern U.S. and through most of the southern Canadian provinces. 
Range of the woodchuck. From Wikipedia. 
The woodchucks I saw were smaller than the marmots I've seen, and smaller than the one woodchuck I recall seeing and the ones I've seen on television. 

I prefer seeing animals in their natural environment, not on a manicured lawn inside a fence with iron bars. But I take them where I find them. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

U-Cook Lobster - Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia

As part of our private tour, while in dock in Halifax, Nova Scotia, we were taken to Peggy's Cove and dropped off for about 20 minutes near the lighthouse. It was very crowded and I wanted to walk along the road and look at some of the tiny businesses that lined it. I passed a vehicle called "U-Cook Lobster" that advertised lobster rolls. U-Cook Lobster claims to be the only exclusive mobile lobster vendor in the Maritimes. 

A view across the street. 
I couldn't resist and ordered one (I did not cook it - I should have). It may be one of my very least favorite lobster rolls ever, except the one I bought in an airport once. The lobster was shredded, so it was light and not dense at all. Who wants shredded lobster (I want it to be dense and thick)? It had very little mayo or other condiments (on the lobster or on the bun) on a freshly cooked bun. It was a very weird experience of the taste of the bun over-shadowing the taste of the lobster. 
Never again. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Seaside Restaurant - St. Martins, New Brunswick

After a night in Saint John, we were off to find the Fundy Trail Parkway, a stretch of the Bay of Fundy. Along the way, as we hit Saint Martins, the Bay of Fundy appeared and we saw a group of restaurants near the coast. One of them claimed "world famous chowder." I was next to the ocean and seafood was on my brain. I pulled into the parking lot. Andrew was incredulous, "you never fall for a world famous sign Dad. Go to Yelp." 

I resisted and went inside to grab some takeout. Judy and Andrew were so impressed they stayed in the car. 

It was Seaside Restaurant with several signs also proclaiming "Award Winning Chowder." I ordered some chowder, a lobster roll and some poutine. 

Well, of course Andrew was right, and I knew he was right when we pulled in. When I came out he pointed to a sign on another restaurant that had a Trip Advisor "Certificate of Excellence" sign. What could I say?

The chowder was horrible. It was watery and had very little fish in it. We all took a try and left most of it uneaten. 
The lobster roll was pretty ordinary, but I'll eat ordinary lobster, so it was all eaten. Not much mayo or anything else and kind of limp meat. 
The poutine was interesting, our first of quite a few on our trip. It had dark gravy and melted cheese curds. I found out later that the ideal poutine has squeaky cheese curds that are not melted. Well, I don't like squeaky cheese curds and I like them melted, so to that extent I liked the fries. However, I did not like the flavor or type of gravy, more of a beef gravy. The poutine was all devoured, but mostly because it was there and we were hungry, not because it was particularly good.  
So I re-learned a lesson I already knew, never stop for a "world famous" anything sign. 

Monday, September 24, 2018

Spears Fishing & Charter - Saint Andrews, New Brunswick

Saint Andrews is a beautiful small town on a peninsula that juts into Passamaquoddy Bay, just off the Bay of Fundy. We'd driven there to go on a whale watching tour with Quoddy Link Marine. The Bay of Fundy has the highest tide differential in the world, getting as much as 53 feet toward the head of the bay and as high as 23 feet in Passamaquoddy Bay. The pictures show the huge expanse of land that the tide covers when it rises. 
This tidal flat will all be covered at high tide. 
This very long dock is mostly on dry ground. There is a huge variance at the end of the dock for low and high tide. We got off at low tide and had to walk up quite a steep ramp to get up to the top. 
After our boat trip, which took about three hours, we asked where a good spot to eat was and were told to go to Spears, near the beginning of the wharf. Spears does their own fishing and lobstering and sells their own catch. 

We learned that lobstering is open year-round in Maine, but circulates among different locations in Canada. In Canada, a particular area might only be open about a month and a half during the year. That means fresh lobster is not as readily available in Canada as in Maine. 

I ordered a lobster, some potato salad and some corn and bean salsa to eat on a picnic table outside. I was a little surprised that the lobster came covered in plastic in box. It was a little more informal than I expected. The potato salad was kind of bland as was the corn and bean salsa. The ingredients seemed fresh, just not particularly well seasoned. The lobster was also a little over-cooked. 
Lobster in plastic in a box.
Although the setting was nice, right on the bay, the food was just okay. Saint Andrews itself, looked like a very fun place to spend some time walking among the shops. Unfortunately, we did not have time for that.