Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Goldring Travel's 2011 Food & Wine Cruise on the Seabourn Sojourn - Part I


The 2011 Goldring Travel Food & Foliage Cruise started with an early morning flight to Quebec City, Canada, all of my luggage arriving (Yeah!) and a 25 minute taxi ride to the Chateau Frontenac Hotel, which is located in the heart of Old Quebec City and overlooks the cruise ship piers.

The Chateau Frontenac Hotel is the grand dame of Quebec City and, as older hotels do, renovations are underway.  Unfortunately, this causes some of the top suites to have a fully obstructed view…that I was not told about.  Not good.  Fortunately, however, I was able to assure that all but one couple did not have that issue.  The Fairmont Gold rooms are very well appointed and I am staying in a Signature Room with a great “office” within a turret that has a 180 degree view of the old city out of three windows as well as a very comfortable lounge.  While the bathrooms are a bit tight, they are well appointed with excellent amenities.




After dropping things office I met up with some of my guests for a drink and then a walk around Old Quebec City.  It is shockingly clean.  The streets are clean.  The buildings are clean.  Even the roofs are clean and freshly painted.  For me it takes a bit away from the charm of an old town and almost has a Disney-eque feel to it.  That aside, there are some very nice shops, interesting architecture and some wonderful eateries.   With a brilliant blue sky and unusually warm temperatures the leisurely walk was quite enjoyable.

Because I am interested in wines, we decided to stop for a glass at a local wine bar.  It was, unfortunately, everything I feared of Canadian wines being the prototypical far too sweet and syrupy. I was not, however, frustrated because I know there are some interesting wines… and I am going to find them.

Back at the hotel, we enjoyed some late afternoon snacks and a beer in the Fairmont Gold Lounge (where there is an honor bar and a continental-plus breakfast is served to its very limited guests).  This is a great haven because the hotel, which has a rather long and narrow lobby, was crowded with hundreds of Holland America passengers who were about to embark the Eurodam.  The upgrade to me is well worth it.  I like quiet and personal service…hence a Seabourn cruise; not a Holland America one.

Now it was time for dinner.  I had heard great things about the restaurant Le Saint Amour and I was not disappointed.  The décor is eclectic with brilliant reds, detailed woodwork, stained glass and such right next to a modern room that was sectioned off for a part of our meal and then the wall was raised to give the place a totally different feel as the dinner was concluding.  It is hard to explain, but let just say dining under a giant Ficus tree added nicely to the mix.  The biggest surprise was that the waitstaff and sommelier were not only very well informed, they were very friendly…casual, but not to the point of making you uncomfortable.  In fact, they made sure you were very comfortable.

My dinner started with Quintessence:  foie gras served five ways ranging from a terrine (but not a typical one) with ham, vegetables and a wonderful sauce, to a lollipop of foie gras coated with dried blueberries (delicious!) to a more standard foie gras and a crème brulee of foie gras (which was not my favorite).  Paired with this course was a Quebecois Vidal Ice Wine 2009 L’Orpailleur Danhum.  It was rich, lush and was a great match…actually with a bit more fullness, but not same sweetness of the more typical Sauterne pairing.

My second course was Squab (pigeon) served with diced boar bacon.  It was truly outstanding, being both rich and meaty, without being overbearing.  Because we were sharing a bottle of wine among us I did not have the wine I really should have had with this dish, I drank a Quebecois Les Pervenches 2010 Chardonnay.  As wine by itself, it was decent, but not something I would run out to purchase.  With the squab it almost held its own, but was most certainly overshadowed.

As we are saving ourselves (OK, not really) for the Seabourn Sojourn, we skipped dessert.
I awoke to a gloomy day in Quebec City.  Not the pouring rain kind of day, but the one with a fairly constant drizzle.  As the city is not really filled with indoor activities, we chose to spend our morning at the Quebec Aquarium.  It was a very nice treat.  While not a world class venue, it is very well done and was…clean and neat.  After a few hours it was back to the hotel for some work and then a walk.

As the drizzle stopped and it was just the right temperature, but with an overcast sky, it was great for walking…and walking we did.  We walked for miles away from the old town and found our way to the old battery, then the train station (which was so clean that the floors literally shined and you could spot the only two pieces of litter on the floor) and then past the bus station, past the marina, past the maritime museum and naval training center, past the Seabourn Sojourn (she will be overnighting in Quebec City), past the Eurodam, past the Aida ship and into the Old City.

Once there we decided it was time for a glass of wine, as we obviously had earned it.  We finally settled on a small restaurant near the funicular called le Marie Carisse, named after an old ship (which I will find out the history of).  Having found very nice people-watching seats elevated above the crowds we decided on a bottle of another Quebecois wine…this time the red we should have drunk last night:  Phenix.  As we were enjoying it with some crusty bread (the proprietor making sure we understood the bread was included with the wine…and I said that is because we know he overcharged us and we all laughed), a small plate of cheese just seemed like the right thing to do.  So, of course, that is what we did.



After that we were very glad the funicular was right there and we decided that $2 was a small price to pay not to have to walk up the hill the Chateaux Frontenac.  I then did a bit of shopping for the Food and Wine Tasting that we will have on the Seabourn Sojourn.

Tonight we are going to try the restaurant at the Chateau Frontenac.  As an amenity, I was able to give each room a $100 food credit, so it would be a shame to have it wasted.  Actually, we hear the food is quite good.  I will let you know.

Tomorrow is the Walking Food Tour of Quebec City before we board the Seabourn Sojourn.