Saturday, February 27, 2010
When the weather is -9 Fahrenheit there is nothing like getting cozy in a restaurant where the building dates back to 1647 and the food is designed for mountain men. I'm speaking of the weather in Quebec City and the restaurant is Restaurant Aux Anciens Canadiens. Originally I booked dinner at L'Echaude, one of the best restaurants in Quebec City, or so I was told. However, our plans had to be changed rapidly when we were wandering around the Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac Hotel. It was 5pm and our reservation wasn't until 8:30pm. Without shelter shielding us from the -25 degree wind chills, we needed to come up with an alternate plan of attack. A quick jaunt down Saint-Louis Street and it was clear there was an another restaurant in Quebec worthy of our attention.
It was quickly apparent that this restaurant was different. The servers were dressed in old fashioned, Baroque outfits and they spoke in perfect English. We were taken to the upstairs dining room which opens after 5:45pm. In fact, here's a little piece of advice, if you ever eat at Restaurant Aux Anciens Canadiens, do so before 5:45pm. They have a 3 course special which includes an appetizer, entree and dessert for $19.95. To give you an idea of the savings, a normal entree after 5:45pm is about $32. Once seated our server brought out our menus very quickly, then began to tell us the specials. And although he was speaking English it may as well have been French because the items he was rattling off were very exotic and rare. He was saying words like Pheasant and Bison Meat Pie and my saliva glands started sweating profusely. Once my wife wiped the drool from my mouth I ordered my drink, a red beer from a local brewery. The drinks were brought to us in lightning time and we ordered our dinner.
Up first was a fine example of one of the dishes our 17th century waiter told us about, Homemade Game Pate with Carrot Preserve. I asked what the Game in the "Game Pate" was and he said it was Boar, Pork and Pheasant. There's really only one way to tell if the table likes a dish and that's to see how quickly it gets devoured. I counted 30 seconds, for 3 people to take down the entire appetizer. Yes, it was good. It wasn't gamey like Deer, no, instead it was smooth, rich and delicate. The Carrot Preserve went along beautifully. Next up was our entrees.
My dish was named after a beautiful Canadian lake, Lac Saint Jean. It consisted of a Meat Pie with Caribou, Pheasant, Boar, Pork, Elk and Beef. In all my dining life, this dish sticks out among the top 10 I have ever had. Simply because it was pure wilderness food to me. I felt like Robinson Crusoe, or Jack London or any number of people who have survived the wilds alone, with nothing but their trusty pocket knife and brave dog to keep them company. A magical meal indeed. The flavors were wonderfully paired. It was extremely rich and satisfying.
There were more treats to be had at this table. A large forkful of my wife's Caribou cooked with Creamy Blueberry Wine Sauce revealed a Gastronomic Elegance to this rugged restaurant. Her dish was of course rich and a carnivores delight, but it was also dainty, the Blueberries and Creamy Wine Sauce danced delicately on my palate. There was one more dish to try, my mothers Vegetables with Wild Rice au Gratin. Being the slender, health conscious one in the bunch (I'm going to get murdered for that, my wife is actually very thin) she ordered the only Vegetarian thing on the menu. This too was actually very tasty. But I was too consumed by my own main course to be bothered with her tree-hugger version of wilderness food.
Bellies fully sated, we decided to split a dessert. Our friendly waiter suggested their famous Maple Syrup Pie with Fresh Cream. Truth be told, I could only enjoy one bite of this sugary little dish. I was full from my starter and main yes, but this was also one of those sickly desserts that I always regret eating long after the fact.
Restaurant Aux Anciens Canadiens is one of those little restaurant gems that you're thankful you discovered, but glad they are not more abundant. I would probably eat food like that everyday of my life and I would find myself without a wife and without a home soon after. My money would be spent on rare and exotic animal flesh instead of electric and heating. For those of you who like meat and are in Quebec City for a little fun in the sun (yeah right!), Restaurant Aux Anciens Canadiens cannot be missed.
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