Saturday, June 29 will be an unforgettable day in New York’s Central Park – with a free celebration of Canada’s best entertainment, sport and food. For the first time, Canada Day International, the organizers behind the hugely successful Canada Day London present Canada Day New York, a day-long festival with Canadian music legends Spirit of the West and Joel Plaskett joining award-winning electro-rock sensation LIGHTS on the main stage at Rumsey Playfield.
The snow capital of the world, Quebec City hosts the annual Quebec Winter Carnival from Jan-Feb. During those three weeks, the festival grounds turn into a giant open air ice museum with an ice castle surrounded by ice sculptures created by artists who come from around the world.
In 1973, the International Snow Sculpture Competition of Québec officially opened and four teams participated. It is the oldest snow sculpture competition and one of the most prestigious. Every year, sculptors from the four corners of the earth meet the challenge to create a work of art with this ephemeral and fragile medium under extraordinary conditions.
While judges award the winner in each of the categories, visitors can walk through these giant marvelous structures carved entirely of snow and ice. The sculpture are at least 5-6 feet tall and 4 feet wide, some even larger. It is incredible how these artists work outdoors in negative temperatures to create a unique piece of art that eventually melts away.
The snow bath was an essential party during the 58th Winter Carnival in Quebec this February. Eighty-some participants volunteered to shed their clothes down to their bathing suits to bathe in the snow, while it was -20C outside!
A little bit of preparation was needed in order to be on stage while hundreds of people watched. Participants had to sign waivers and vigorously exercise for almost two hours before the event. They also made use of the saunas at the Carnival to warm up their bodies before going for a snow dip.
The crowds cheered on as Bonhomme, the official Carnival mascot came to greet the snow bathers.
People were rolling around in the snow for almost half an hour. I suppose all the dancing and jumping around was keeping them warm. In the background, Macarena and 80’s music was blaring.
Super heroes don’t feel cold. Look at the expression on this man’s face.
Oh the joys of winter! You must have a great attitude to participate in a Quebec snow bath.
Eric Villain and Steve McCandless, chief owners of Bistrot le Clocher Penché in Quebec City say “We are constantly working to provide a table that reflects the human qualities inspired by our craftsmen suppliers: rigor, simplicity, generosity and love of the profession. This desire to pass through exquisite food and unpretentious values we hold dear defines the unique experience of the Leaning Steeple.” After a visit to the restaurant this past weekend, I felt these sentences accurately reflect everything it stands for.
Bistrot le Clocher Penché sources their ingredients locally, from farmers and producers located in Quebec (sometimes even down the street). They strongly believe in supporting local communities and providing fresh food. There is also attention to detail in the preparation of every dish, which is reflected in it’s flavor and presentation. To maintain quality, the kitchen serves a dozen plates every half hour or so.
Meaning bent bell tower, as in one located across from the restaurant, the menu keeps up with the theme of the church. Dishes are smartly named “First Communion, Adam’s Apple, The blood of the saints, Our daily bread, etc.” Consider this an upscale French Bistro with top of the line ingredients in a casual environment.
The brunch at Bistrot le Clocher Penché was simply outstanding! I had the La pomme de Adam, duck confit with apples inside a buckwheat crepe served with grilled potatoes and a mustard creme sauce. It came with a vanilla yogurt parfait with chopped pineapples, maple jello and streusal topping and a huge bowl of cafe au lait.
My brunch companion ordered La soeur Gribiche, which was fried fish and crab croquettes served with egg and tarragon sauce on a bed of green bean salad.
Le Clocher Penche Bistro
203, rue Saint-Joseph Est
Québec (Qc) G1K 3B1
Overlooking the St Lawrence River and Dufferin Terrace, in the heart of Quebec City, Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac is a landmark of elegance and history. The hotel was built in 1893 to promote luxury tourism and named after Louis de Buade, count of Frontenac.
Having dinner at one of the Chateau’s restaurant, La Cafe de la Terrasse was perhaps one of the best meals I will have in 2012. Chef Jean Soulard keeps up with the upscale European style ambiance by offering a menu that is fresh and inspiring.
Set in a 18th century casual setting, the restaurant offers a locally harvested seasonal and themed dinners. Friday evening is a seafood buffet and what a feast that was, fit for a Princess I would say. I am personally a huge fan of seafood and could be critical at time, but this one blew me away. Not only was the selection impressive, but every single dish was cooking to perfection. Never before I had tasted salmon so tender and delicate, it was packed with flavor yet melted in your mouth.
Here are some of the highlights from the dinner…
The property is beautiful to visit, dine or stay. The Chateau offers Valentine’s escape, elopement and winter family fun packages
There are lots of unique destinations and beautiful places around the world to spend Valentine’s day, an anniversary or a romantic getaway. But none of them come close to the Hotel de Glace in Quebec City, Canada. I am saying that because I woke up there this morning and felt like I have been transported into another world.
Last night, my husband and I checked into the Hotel de Glace meaning ice hotel located just outside Quebec City. With 36 bedrooms, a chapel, bar, lounge and slides, this one is the largest ice hotel in the world. There are outdoor Jacuzzis and sauna the couples can use to heat their bodies while dazing into the starlight sky.
After that you can go into the ice bar, get some colorful cocktails that match the decor of the rooms and dance late into the night. If you prefer something sober, there are activities such a treasure hunt and ice carving that the guests can indulge in.
In spite of the layers of clothing we had to wear to keep ourselves warm (it was -20C outside and -5 inside the room), it was very quiet and romantic. There were candles lit in our room where sleeping bags await us. The contrast of winter white walls, clear ice beds, colorful backdrop lights against the delicately carved murals created by award winning artists – all was a great sight for the senses.
There were suits and chambers in the ice hotel, each one with a different theme and layout. Some have an ice bed shaped traditionally, others like a circle or a star. The romantic suite has a king size circular bed, a sitting area, a fireplace and private spa. Many people come from around the world to propose to their beloveds, have a romantic getaway or even a wedding.
In fact, the non denominational chapel at the ice hotel has already hosted 24 wedding so far this season. The wedding planners at the hotel can arrange everything from flowers and dinner to a winter wedding dress for the couple.
The hotel is open only from January to March after which it melts away. To make a reservation, click on Hotel de Glace, Canada.
Oliver & Bonacini has a few restaurants spread around the metro Toronto area that range from casual affordable to super fine dining where celebrities have been spotted. The restaurants are the creation of celebrity chefs, Peter Oliver and Michael Bonacini. I had lunch at Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill in Oakville but they have other locations in Bayview Village, Blue Mountain, Waterloo and downtown Toronto as well.
This Café was located at the entrance to a high end mall, and appeared very sleek yet casual. There was a definite business crowd, along with a few older shoppers who seem to enjoy fine dining during the week. The décor was contemporary with gray and white metallic furniture. We were seated promptly and my 3-year old nephew was attended to with a high chair right away.
The lunch menu consisted of simple everyday dishes with a refined twist. They offered freshly made juice cocktails – an apple beet cider served warm and an orange mango pineapple concoction. I ordered the grilled chicken burger with sweet potato fries. The ground chicken patty was moist and well cooked, served with a chipotle mayo, while the fries were crisped to perfection.
We also tried the vegetarian Portobello burger which had roasted red pepper, roasted tomato, goat cheese and basil almond pesto on a giant roasted Portobello. It was a treat whether you were a vegetarian, or not. The beer batter haddock served with fries and coleslaw seemed a big hit with both young and old. My nephew ate it all without a fuss!
For dessert, I had to have the gelato combination – I really liked the pistachio (despite the little chunks of ice) but the milk cream was ok. Overall, Chef Zuzana Harsaghy did an excellent job in keeping the food real, appetizing, yet upscale.
Their dinner menu seems more adventurous, with many fusion influences. The butter chicken caught my eye and I will have to come back next time for it.
Krepesz Café is a charming little café located in the eclectic Kensington market in Toronto. Whether you want to grab a bite before setting out for a shopping spree or take a coffee break during your finds, this Hungarian themed coffee shop will not disappoint you.
I was pleasantly surprised by the artfulness in the presentation. Each cup of latte we ordered had a different design created on top. It made the coffee-drinking experience very pleasant.
For the very first time, I had a Chimney Cake. The menu said “Chimney Cake is a Hungarian sweet pastry. It’s made with yeast-raised dough rolled on a wooden cylinder and baked in a rotisserie oven. Sugar caramelizes on the outside creating a sweet, crispy crust, but inside it stays soft!” To me, it was a simple sugary dough cake that paired well with afternoon tea or coffee. You can watch a video of how they make it.
The crepe menu also looked intriguing. They had savory (chicken paprika, spinach and feta) and sweet (apple cinnamon, walnut apricot jam) amongst others. Next time you are in the area, make sure you give Krepesz Café a definite try for breakfast, lunch or coffee.
Dining at La Salle A Manger in Montreal last night, I discovered a couple of novel culinary treats. The menu was atypically categorized as just Raw, Cold, Warm, Vegetarian, Meat and Fish. I tried the gravlax with yogurt with orange and fennel salad. It was a burst of flavors, contrasting citrus against the soft salmon. From the Warm, I ordered sweetbread in apple, walnut, and cream sauce. This was my first time eating sweetbread for me, since I am not much of a meat eater. In fact the meat was so tender and creamy, it melted in my mouth, that I could have never guessed I was eating veal throat meat. The restaurant boasted its meat selection in a glass closet which you could view from the dining area. No wonder it was so fresh and delicious! This was my first discovery.
The second one was Farroto. Being an Italian food lover and an excellent cook of risotto, my first guess was that Farroto was its long lost cousin who wasn’t adventurous enough to go out and explore the world, therefore it never got as famous as Risotto. Turns out I was right! Farro is a spelt, hearty, grain from an older generation. It has a nutty texture, similar to that of dirty rice (rice with husk) and cooked the same way as risotto. The vegetarian dish that I ate had well roasted pieces of root vegetables (turnips, potatoes, carrots) with faro in a heavy cheese sauce, topped with parsley leaves. I will have to go back and try this at home.
There were homemade desserts and cheese selection for the last course. I picked the pistachio biscuit, topped with chocolate cream, with a side of oranges, served on a plate lightly painted with Mexican dark chocolate. It looked like artwork that exploded its palette one it entered your mouth.
The city of Montreal is just across the border, yet an entire world away. Crowned as City of Festivals and Paris of North America, the French influences are found everywhere from architecture, language, culture to cuisine. While there are a number of great eateries to choose from, here are my personal top choices that you could cover in a day.
Start your day off at Olive et Gourmando, a lively bakery located in Old Montreal. There is a good chance there will be a wait to get in, but its well worth it! You can chose from dozens of freshly baked croissants, pastries, muffins or my personal favorite, the banana chocolate brioche. It goes well with a hot cappuccino after which you have enough energy to stroll through the neighboring attractions including Basilique Notre-Dame, district’s riverside edge and Pointe-à-Callière (Museum of Archaeology and History).
For lunch take a stroll through the neighborhood of petite Italie ( Little Italy) which will transport you to a street in Naples. While there are dozens of restaurants to choose from here, restaurant Casa Napoli offers the best value for money. A family business of over 28 years, the owner offers northern and southern Italian cuisine in an ambience of The Godfather. There is also a dainty sidewalk patio too where you can watch Italian families shopping for traditional items or catching up with friends. There is plenty to choose from the menu. The mozzarella is so fresh that it melts in your mouth. The pizzas live up to the restaurant’s name as well. It is the closest you can come to going to Naples being in Canada.
Take the metro to Sherbrook and a bus ride over to Musée des Beaux-Arts (Museum of Fine Arts). You could visit this extensive and one of the most famous museum’s firs , and then walk two streets over to Nocochi Pâtisserie Café (2156 Rue Mackay, Montreal, QC H3G 2J2, Canada, (514) 989-7514). This small delectable café is perfect for afternoon tea. Here you will find a variety of petite size melt in your mouth cookies, cakes, chocolates, nut filled dates, nut filled apricots, marzipans and Turkish delights. They are not cheap and you can get by eating a lot. They also have some nicely packed boxes to take back home as gifts.
Vieux-Montréal is home to a considerable number of restaurants catering to most tastes and wallets. However, a must try right off the bustling Place Jacques-Cartier is a French bistro called Le Jardin Nelson for dinner. It gets quite busy on weekend nights and they don’t take reservations. If the weather is nice, ask to be seated in the back patio where you would feel like you have entered a tropical garden paradise. There is live jazz music almost always. It even has raincatchers to protect you in case the weather is uncooperative. While the menu can cater to picky eaters as well, try the traditional crepes that are offered with a variety of fillings from mushrooms, rabbit, and duck to lobsters and shrimps.
Visit one of the three locations of Juliette e Chocolate for an after dinner treat. They serve traditional or old-fashioned, dark, milk or white chocolate as shots, milk shakes or smoothies, combined with fruit or if you are more adventurous with spices, and even married Liquor for cocktails, hot or shakes. And that’s not all! If you still like a dessert to go with your chocolate, you can order crepes, pastries or fondue. And please don’t forget to take one of the many varieties of brownies they make to have later. “The only thing I can’t resist is temptation!” – Oscar Wilde.
After partying at the numerous bars and clubs that Montreal is famous for, night owls usually end up having La Poutine. It is a fast food invention of Quebec consisting of French fries, cheese curds and brown gravy. You can find it in surprising combinations (even with foie gras) at pretty much any corner of Montreal. It is not the healthiest snack but a must try in this region.
~ As appeared in Do It While You’re Young in September 2010.