Chef Jérôme Gilpin of Verre Pickl’—Quebec City’s recent addition to its culinary landscape—places a wonderfully fragrant dish in front of me. “It’s scallops in aguachile, a traditional Mexican broth made with Serrano peppers, lime juice, cilantro, and tomatillo,” he tells me. As I take a sip, the spicy broth sears my lips, but the irresistible tenderness of the scallops keeps me slurping the fiery brew. As if to soothe the burn, Gilpin tempts me with the next entrée in tonight’s tasting series: a foie gras donut with guava jelly and hibiscus sprinkled on top. With the first bite the sweetness of guava, the richness of foie gras, and the softness of the donut fuse into a satisfying amalgam of gourmet comfort food. “Your dishes are very unique,” I share my admiration for Verre Pickl’ menu. “That’s because we design them that way,” Gilpin answers. Gilpin’s heritage is French but his partner chef Alexandra Romero hails from Mexico. The restaurant, which the couple owns together, serves a unique FrenchMex fusion, he explains. “We combine French techniques with Mexican flavors.”
Historically famed for its classic French fare, Quebec’s culinary scene has gone through a 21st-century upgrade. There’s still plenty of duck a l’orange and onion soup, but now the city dishes out a whole new level of epicurean indulgence. And while hyperlocal and seasonal has long been the top priority in Quebec gastronomy, now the chefs are taking it to the next level, each finding their own special niche. The traditional dinner format is changing too—many restaurants are forgoing the archetypal three-course menu, and are switching to small tasting plates, often served in family-style settings.
Verre Pickl’ is a prime example of this culinary evolution, but hardly the only one. At Melba, Alexandra Roy and Charles Provencher-Proulx serve a family-style feast of small sharable and seasonal plates, featuring their signature bison carpaccio and steak bleu d’Elizabeth—both are an absolute must-try and Instagram-worthy. At Chez Rioux & Pettigrew chef Dominic Jacques experiments with local meats and faraway spices, dishing out salmon tataki with sesame Temari, along with roasted lamb with cumin juice, corn salsa, and fried polenta. The daring omnivores can also try black pudding with shrimp, in which the former is made with blood, which gives it an inky color and rich taste. The less adventurous may just skip to the dinner’s final accord—frozen strawberry Pavlova, seasoned with fennel and rose.
More unique flavors await at the Île d’Orléans, an island in the middle of the Saint Lawrence River, three miles from the city, where local artisans surprise travelers with their own distinctive specialties. Here Cassis Monna & Filles makes black currant liquors as well as artisanal products—think cassis-infused foie gras and terrine. Confiturerie Tigidou specializes in jams made exclusively with the island’s berries and hosts a variety of tastings. Fromagerie Ferme Audet beckons with cheeses and ice creams made from goat milk—the latter is a surprisingly smooth and buttery treat.
At Tangier, chefs François-Emmanuel Nicol and Alexis Lemay find inspiration in the herbs and flowers of the boreal forest that surrounds the city. Both regularly forage in the woods for edible flowers, plants, and mushrooms, bringing in a new type of fare they call boreal cuisine. Their daily gatherings help create Tangier’s unique 12-course tasting menus, where dishes retain the aromas and textures of nature, aimed to awaken one’s senses. Here appetizers may include fraiche of coltsfoot—a small yellow, edible forest flower, followed by fresh lilies served with edible earth. Meanwhile, the entrées may feature quails with grilled cucumber and arctic char that arrive on the bed of non-edible but fragrant spruce shoots. Dishes are served in dim dining enclaves as if ushering in the ambiance of an evening forest with spotlights illuminating food just enough to intensify the epicurean indulgence. “Forests are full of food and our ancestors lived off them,” Lemay tells me. “So we are reviving this centuries-old wisdom and bringing the amazing forest flavors to our patrons.” But regardless of where chefs look for ideas, one thing is certain. In Quebec City, dining is no longer about satiating one’s hunger. It is about experiencing the food to the fullest—with each and every bite.