Carnaval in Quebec City: Where to Eat, Drink, and Stay
To visit Quebec City in the winter, when the mansard roofs in its old city drip with icicles, is to court disorientation. A four-hour drive north from Burlington, Vermont (or an hour-and-forty minute flight out of Newark, New Jersey), puts you in a 400-year-old city apparently airlifted, cobblestones and fortifications intact, from provincial France. For years Quebec City’s food scene has played Lyon to Montreal’s Paris, concentrating impeccable haute cuisine and down-to-earth dining based on local ingredients in one compact, easy-to-navigate destination. Lately, innovation has been added to the mix, thanks to “boreal cuisine” (think red deer, maple cream, and marine plants and fungi foraged from local forests and shores). And a new wave of open-kitchen restaurants staffed by relaxed servers is injecting some fun into the dining scene. A weekend visit around the time of Carnaval, Quebec City’s winter-themed festival (February 8–17, 2019), offers a taste of the Old World in the new. Book your trip now, while rooms and flights are still reasonable.
Have your first meal at Buvette Scott, on a sloping side street off rue St.-Jean, for an introduction to the chill spirit of the buvette, the Quebecois take on the wine bar. As vintage vinyl spins, bar staff serve cocktails mixed with housemade tonics while waiters, switching effortlessly between English and French, talk you through a well-curated list of biodynamic wines and chalkboard menus that alternate between the comforting (fish cakes and paprika gnocchi) and the adventurous (boar’s tongue and boudin).
Le Buffet de l’Antiquaire, set amidst a row of antique shops, is the place to start the day, with Quebecois breakfast staples: thin crêpes drizzled with maple syrup, or beans and toast slathered with cretons, a chilled pork spread. Pay a visit to the quirky boutiques of the St.-Roch district, home to L’Affaire est Ketchup, the original HQ for a trio of restaurateurs who shook up the local food scene by tabling refined ingredients in a bustling, elbow-to-elbow ambience. Equally fun spin-offs include raw bar Kraken Cru (190 rue St.-Vallier Ouest), the buvette Le Ket’Chose (1138 3e Ave.), and seafood-themed Albacore (819 Côte d’Abraham). If you can’t snag one of the 20-odd tables at sought-after Battuto, where chef Guillaume St-Pierre and pâtissier Paul Croteau have pulled off an alchemical mash-up of a French bistro and a superior Italian trattoria, book a Saturday night spot at the more spacious Laurie Raphaël, whose star chef Daniel Vézina offers encyclopedic tasting menus of ingredients, from flounder ceviche to smoked pork loin, sourced from Quebec’s top artisanal producers.
Finish the weekend at the 1608 Wine & Cheese Bar at Château Frontenac, where the menu includes an extravagant Sazerac made with cognac from pre-phylloxera vines. The circular bar is a toasty perch from which to view the Carnaval canoe races across the icy St. Lawrence River, or just wonder at the panorama spread out below: a snow-dusted vision of historic France, miraculously transported to the Americas.
When to Go
Carnaval takes place February 8–17, 2019. Visit carnaval.qc.ca for more information.
Where to Stay
The recently overhauled Château Frontenac is a hub of such Carnaval activities as the breakneck, wood-framed toboggan run established in 1884 (rooms from $258). A room at the nearby Art Deco Hotel Clarendon (rooms from $118), which boasts the restaurant Le Charles Baillairgé, which will celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2020, is a well-priced option. Or opt for a room at the Hôtel de Glace, a hotel made of ice (rooms from $495; January–March only).