SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAThe concepts “vegetarian” and “fine dining” are not exactly synonymous. So I joined a three-night group visit to Quebec City with a certain amount of trepidation. I’ve been vegetarian since childhood and nowadays I’m pretty much vegan, though I try to be slightly more flexible when traveling. While this is an important part of my personal ethics, I loathe making a fuss when I’m out with omnivores.

I needn’t have worried. If I posed a challenge to restaurateurs unused to being bound by food restrictions, nobody complained. My forays into Quebec City’s fine dining establishments couldn’t have been met with more gracious service.

Graffiti

My first night in Quebec City, we ate at Graffiti. This local institution is owned by an Italian family but has a French chef in the kitchen. The result is a combination of the two culinary cultures. The main chef, Robert Saunier, had the night off, but second-in-kitchen-command Patrick Boily did an excellent job feeding my group.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERALike most fine dining restaurants, Graffiti has a meaty menu. But I managed to avoid the foie gras, fish and snails and concentrate on the special delicacies supplied by the chef for me. The first course included an asparagus-topped miniature toast and a cherry tomato stuffed with mushrooms and truffle oil. This was accompanied by plenty of fresh bread with balsamic vinegar and oil.

Next came an enormous, lightly-dressed salad with lots of green beans, and a main course of risotto with peppers and other diced vegetables. The risotto wasn’t on the regular menu, but there was a vegetarian angel hair pasta dish which looked like it could easily be adapted to please vegan diners. Dessert was strawberries and sorbet.

La Taniere

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAA sign outside Le Taniere recommends diners be open-minded before entering the restaurant. Which only served to make me paranoid. What on earth would they try to feed me?

This unusual restaurant on the edge of Quebec City labels itself “cuisine boreal.” Much of their food is influenced by the molecular gastronomy movement. I had only a vague idea of molecular gastronomy, so I looked it up on a website called molecularrecipes.com. It described this trend as “a new style of cuisine in which chefs explore new culinary possibilities in the kitchen by embracing sensory and food science, borrowing tools from the science lab and ingredients from the food industry and concocting surprise after surprise for their diners.” That turned out to be quite true, as every dish was surprising.

La Taniere – which means “the lair,” as in an animal lair – turned out to be a good experience despite my skepticism. As a vegetarian, I’m never in favor of mystery foods unless I’m at a strictly vegetarian restaurant. But our group’s amazing hostess, Paule Bergeron, made sure the chef was prepared for my visit.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERACo-owner and executive chef Frederic LaPlante had planned a ten-course meal with wine pairing for us. The menu is very heavy on unusual animals. I don’t know how many vegetarians wander in, but since one of my courses came with what the server called “allergy bread,” I’m guessing they have some gluten-free customers. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan curious about La Taniere, I would definitely contact them ahead of time to make sure they can accommodate you.

While my comrades ate bison, quail, monkfish liver and a whole gaggle of other animals I’d never thought about eating, I received ten vegan delicacies. These included celeriac squeezed into a small white cube, served with the grain freekeh and spinach; mushrooms on polenta; and homemade tofu with cucumbers. All the courses were small, exquisitely arranged, and unlike food I had eaten before. My whole group was intrigued and entertained.

Some of the flavors were very surprising. Perhaps the strangest was a shot of non-alcoholic pine drink with a grape-sized gel thing that exploded in my mouth.

One of the most over-the-top offerings was bacon-stuffed rolls with meat-glazed butter. I’d never heard of meat-glazed butter. I think this is when they brought out the allergy bread for me.

The wines were all private, small-batch varieties that civilians can’t buy.

If you’re visiting Quebec City and you’re an adventurous omnivore, this is definitely a place you should go. If you’re an adventurous vegetarian or vegan, call first. My trip to Le Taniere was a one-of-a-kind experience in my life thus far, and certainly worth having.

Panache

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAOur last night in Quebec City, we ate at Panache, one of the city’s finest restaurants. It’s attached to a gorgeous hotel, which we got to tour before dinner.

The property started life as a wharf in the 1690s. Later an enormous warehouse was built, which now houses Panache. The Price family, one of Quebec City’s oldest and most prominent families and the owners of the Auberge Saint-Antoine, decided to incorporate the historic theme into the hotel and restaurant. Each hotel room is named for an artifact dug up in an archeological dig on-site. More artifacts are grouped in larger recessed boxes along the halls and in the reception area where other hotels would have paintings.

The attention to historic detail is especially apparent in Panache. Like the rest of the hotel, as many of the original floors, walls and beams as possible are incorporated into the design. The stairway – a vintage reproduction – is a gorgeous ornate wrought iron, made in Ottawa.

Our group got to eat in the private upstairs dining room that opens onto a deck where the chef has his herb garden. It was still a little nippy for this year’s herbs to be planted, but we ventured into the cool air to admire views of the Saint Lawrence River.

Julien Dumas has been Panache’s chef since May 2012. He’s big on local products, as evidenced by the herb garden. You can’t get much more local than the restaurant’s own roof.

Our first course, beet tartare, was aesthetically displayed, like everything that came out that night. Dumas paired the beets with strawberries and granny smith apples. The mixed bread basket was also amazing in its freshness, deliciousness and variety.

Everybody else had steak or walleye, but the chef made me a special dish of smoked onions with mountain cranberries, garnished with a few chard leaves. Our server told me to combine the onion and cranberry flavors in each bite.

Next came the cheese plate. As a mostly-vegan, I skipped the cheese but had some salad with truffle oil dressing, maple-coated pecans and an apple reduction with orange and honey.

For dessert, Dumas made coconut milk ice cream with strawberry and Japanese parsley, plus a mixture of parsley and strawberry tails. The delicate rice lettuce leaves looked like angel wings on top.

The chefs and servers were extremely accommodating in all three of the fine dining spots I visited. Lucky for me, our hostess arranged everything. If you’re traveling on your own, it’s always a good idea to look online at menus first and check how veg-friendly a place looks. If in doubt, call first and ask. Being polite, planning ahead and carrying a few snacks just in case, makes veg travel much smoother.

Restaurant Le Graffiti

La Taniere

Panache

 Photos by Teresa Bergen