Pull up an antique chair and sample some traditional Quebecois cuisine, including a tourtière with strong claims to authenticity
Walk into Cuisine Là Là and you’re stepping back in time, to when loggers worked the rivers of the Quebec wilderness. The restaurant’s wood-covered walls are decorated with antiques and other nods to history; a fox pelt hangs alongside leather-woven snowshoes and family photos from the turn of the 20th century.
“That’s my great-grandmother,” says restaurant co-owner Alexandre Gagnon, pointing to a portrait on the wall. He grew up living between Quebec City and Péribonka in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, the region of Quebec that is the inspiration for the new restaurant. Two of the other owners (four total) are also from that part of the province, as is most of the staff, with places including Jonquière, Roberval, Dolbeau-Mistassini and Saint-Félicien all represented.
“We are in Quebec City and we wanted to bring our small villages to the big village,” says Gagnon. While there is no shortage of dining options near their Old Quebec location, he points to the fact tourists and locals likely don’t know much about the different regions of Quebec, and their respective histories.
The drive to Quebec City to Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean takes between two and 3½ hours, depending where you are heading. It’s an area that covers more than 1,100 square kilometres of territory, the scale and grandeur of which is reflected in the local tourist board’s slogan, C’est géant (“It’s huge”). The landscape is marked by lakes and rivers, notably the mighty Saguenay River and Lac Saint Jean. Blueberries are seasonably in abundance, and residents (who are nicknamed bleuets, blueberries) have earned a reputation for being jovial and welcoming, as well as for speaking in a distinct manner.
It’s from that distinct way of speaking that Cuisine Là Là gets its name. When translated from French to English, the word là means “there,” but that’s not necessarily the meaning in this case. “You can put Là Là anywhere to accentuate the end of a word or sentence. What are you doing today, Là Là? I’m go to my friend’s place, Là Là,” Gagnon offers as examples, adding Là Là can show up many times in the same breath. “It’s typical of the region,” he says.
Also typical of the region is pride in family traditions, especially with food. Homemade comfort foods fill the Cuisine Là Là menu, from soupe aux gourganes (broad bean soup) to blueberry pie and, of course, tourtière (meat pie) – which is prepared in its authentic form with pork, beef and chicken, although every family has its own variation. “I knew putting tourtière on the menu would cause fights,” says Gagnon. “Mine’s amazing, it’s my grandmother’s, but everybody’s grandmother’s is good.”
Red Champagne is also on offer, making Cuisine Là Là the only restaurant in Quebec City to serve the fizzy drink. Created in the 1930s by Elzéar Plourde, this blend of cream soda and cola with cherry and apple flavouring continues to be bottled in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean. Other local producers are also represented, especially on the beverage side, with beers from microbreweries like La Chouape, La Tour à Bières and Le Naufrageur, to name a few.
Is this tourtiÃ¨re? Let’s eat it just in case
In the coming months, Gagnon hopes to keep promoting the region’s current exports and longstanding traditions by adding cultural programming to the Cuisine Là Là calendar. One idea is to invite older Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean residents to the restaurant for evenings of storytelling and family-style meals – with healthy debate about who makes the best tourtière, of course.
Cuisine Là Là
303 Rue Saint-Paul, Quebec City, 418-704-5252