Destination: Québec City
Located in a stone warehouse that was built on the wharf in 1822 (and now painted bright yellow with red shutters), Panache, which opened five years ago, remains the city’s most buzzed about restaurant. You can enter off the lobby of the Auberge Saint-Antoine or through an exterior entrance. Both ways lead to an entry framed by dramatic red velvet curtains and then a dimly-lit hallway that opens into a gorgeous double-height dining room with stone walls and a massive beamed cathedral ceiling. Tables are set on two levels, and it’s hard to say which are better those under the eaves or those on the first floor near the roaring central fire. (In summer a few are also set out on a terrace.) Bright velvet chairs and sexy lighting adds a modern edge so as historic as the space is it feels contemporary in an exciting way. The cuisine is French Canadian with a twist and an emphasis on local ingredients. Thirty-something chef Francois Blais celebrates the region’s bounty. Princess sea scallops marinated with candied lemon, cranberry and Champagne granite; duck foie gras with candied orange brioche, pan-seared with organic gooseberry and Iles-de-la-Madeleine lobster poached with lemon thyme bisque and Kamouraska glasswort salad gives you an idea. As haute as the cuisine is, though, there is a decidedly unpretentious quality to the place, from the lap blankets that guests are given to the variations on home-cooked favorites like Yukon Gold and sweet potato gratin and maple pecan and pine nut tartlet with almond milk ice cream. At lunch it is possible to order main courses for $25 Canadian, and there’s a set menu at dinner for $95 Canadian.
One of the best restaurants in Québec province, if not in Canada, Restaurant Initiale is overseen by a Relais & Chateaux grand chef Yvan Lebrun. He emphasizes his French roots (he was born in a fishing village in Brittany) and Québec’s culinary influences (expect maple sugar, seasonal berries, salmon and oysters to appear on most menus somewhere). The Collection menu ($69 Canadian dollars) features such dishes as roasted lobster with shrimp frites, rutabaga and herb butter or Florida crab with olive oil and avocado to begin; followed by, among beef and lamb choices, poached New Zealand Saint Pierre with baked McIntosh apples and a curry sauce. In a grand belle-epoque building that looks a bit like New York’s famous grid-iron building, Initiale sits in the heart of Québec City’s lower town, which can be swarming with tourists, yet it’s main dining room is an oasis of cool, contemporary calm. In addition, there are three private dining rooms, which feel like private apartment dining rooms, including the most intimate, the chef’s salon, which seats up to 12. Open for lunch Tuesday to Friday; dinner Tuesday to Saturday. Will open on Sundays and Mondays for groups of 20 or more.
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