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Fine dining served up from rue to rooftop

Richard Ouzounian

QUEBEC CITY —Whoever first quipped that coming to Quebec City was like going to Europe without the expense or the jet lag knew what they were talking about. This place has a uniquely continental flair any time of year, although I love it best in the fall, when the air has a brisk bite and the foliage is gloriously coloured. There's a lot of excellent dining to be had as well, but you have to watch out for the "tourist- trap" restaurants. If something seems too kitschy or eager to please, then keep away. The real thing isn't so hard to find here.


Laurie Raphaël, 117 Rue Dalhousie (418-692-4555): The location on the old port is magical, the décor is bright and airy, the service elegant and the food sublime. In short, this is one place you must visit. The menu is devoted to regional ingredients, prepared with an imaginatively light touch, reminiscent of the best of la nouvelle cuisine. I had scallops served three ways as a starter, followed by impeccably fresh pan-seared halibut and ended up with a dessert of three "Spring Rolls": rhubarb, strawberry and mint. The whole experience was as close to perfect as it gets.


Le Cochon Dingue, 46 Blvd. Champlain (418-692-2013): There are three bistros with the same name in the city, but this one, with its wide veranda of tables for outdoor dining by the port, is my favourite. The breakfasts are large and tasty. I suggest "Le Panini du Matin" which combines egg, swiss cheese, bacon and tomato on a crusty loaf, served with spicy home fries and a giant bowl of café au lait. In case you're a bit less hungry, Le Petit Cochon Dingue, a few doors down at 24 Blvd. Champlain (418-694-0303) restricts itself to baked goods, with some of the best croissants I've tasted this side of France.


Aux Anciens Canadiens, 34 Rue de St-Louis (418-692-1627): This cozy place is devoted to old-style cuisine Quebecois as our forefathers would have known it — the kind of rich, heavy food meant to sustain you through those long, cold winters. The $14.95 lunch is one of the city's best bargains: soup, entrée, a glass of wine and dessert. After a goodly portion of tourtiére and tarte au sucre you may even find you have the energy to climb more of those incredibly steep cobblestoned streets that make the Old City such a delight and a challenge.


Restaurant Panache, 10 Rue St-Antoine. (418-692-1022): The Auberge Saint-Antoine is one of this city's most fabulous places to stay, so it's only right that its signature restaurant, Panache, be as wonderful. The emphasis here is also on the food of the region, but the elegant presentation and true imagination that have gone into each dish couldn't be bettered. A dinner made up of Emu Tartare, spit-roasted St-Appolinaire Duck and Molten Chocolate Bourbon Cake is dining nirvana. The warmth of the atmosphere and the sleek professional service are also first-rate. By this city's standards, it's an expensive restaurant, although it's cheaper than places of similarly high quality in Toronto.


Au Petit Coin Breton, 1029 Rue St-Jean (418-694-0758): With 80 different types of crêpes on the menu and the waitresses dressed in full Breton regalia, complete with tall caps and floor-length dresses, you might think this is a bit too touristy for you. And while there's a certain amount of that in the service and décor, the food is authentic. The crêpes arrive golden brown and their various fillings are all appropriately tasty. I'm particularly fond of the one featuring ham, asparagus and béchamel sauce, but you won't be very far off, no matter what you choose.


L'Astral, 1125 Cours du General de Montcalm (418-647-2222): Calvin Trillin of The New Yorker, one of my dining gurus, maintained that you couldn't get good food in a hotel restaurant or in a place that revolved. That would mean L'Astral had two strikes against it from the start, but this rooftop destination at Loew's Le Concorde breaks all the rules. You get a spectacular view of the Quebec countryside (21 kilometres on a clear day; one complete revolution every 90 minutes) as well as a meal worth writing home about. Sunday brunch is extremely popular and with good reason. The locally made pork sausage has real zip, the eggs Benedict is way above usual buffet standards and the fine selection of baked goods and desserts (including a sumptuous bread pudding with maple sauce) will finish you off nicely.




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