A recent article in Bon Appétit magazine referenced several restaurants in the country, where bread was moved off the traditional bread plate to reappear as an entrée, or at least as its own course.
It appears that dishes with bread as the primary ingredient are gaining a following – and respect. The latest issue even has a recipe for bread salad. As a baker, this is a trend I like.
When I heard that the restaurant had a ‘bread bar’ I was confused. I know mixologists have been coming up with some weird new drinks using all manner of exotic ingredients, but bread? I couldn’t imagine it, and rightly so, as it turned out.
At L’Auberge des 3 Canards the chef offers several types of bread and spreads at a large DIY sideboard called, for lack of a better term, a bread bar. Once there, I cut off a few thick slices from homespun-looking loaves and heaped some plain butter and a yummy-looking garlic spread on my plate. On my way back to my table I saw why this bread bar was so popular. Passing the huge fireplace, I noticed my companions seated in front of the fire, grilling bread over the open flames. When you travel, it pays to hang out with locals! The aroma of toasting bread and sizzling garlic butter literally dragged me into a seat next to them. As the heat chased the chills of a damp evening from my bones, my bread was transformed into a first course of seared, yeasty goodness, replete with grill marks!
This was the beginning of a remarkable meal. The L’Auberge des 3 Canards is located in Charlevoix, on the heights above the expansive St. Lawrence River, a few hours downstream from Quebec. The restaurant is a cross between the trendiest ‘Farm-to-Table” eatery and an old-fashioned Sunday dinner at grandma’s house. It was warm and comfortable, the food was sourced from within a 15 mile radius, and the quality of the ingredients and service were impeccable. I was in heaven!
After our bread course we were served a medallion of quail breast floating in a sea of wild mushroom sauce that, with the toasted cracker “sail” on top, looked like a bateau ready to cruise into my mouth. The earthy, local mushrooms were the perfect foil for the delicate bird. The crunchy, silken savoriness of each mouthful was only improved by the 2010 Macon-Villages Chardonnay. It was a great presentation and pairing!
The soup course was a pleasant surprise. If you are a fan of the thick creaminess of American restaurant chowders foisted on diners over the years, you would not recognize this traditional NE chowder, all mussels and corn and potatoes in a thin milky broth. Its honest peasant roots were honored perfectly, and the sheen of melted butter floating on the surface promised no floury thickeners adulterated its integrity. I went back to the bread bar for something to soak up all that flavorful goodness.
I think of palate cleansers as a way to freshen taste buds without leaving a distinctive flavor as replacement, so the shooter of Calvados apple brandy decorated with a slice of apple was more like a misplaced aprè dinner digestive than a cleanser. But, it did the job admirably. I was no more thinking of chowder, or even dessert, when my lamb arrived. In fact, I was thinking of ordering another one!
If you like lamb as much as I do, you would have been delighted with the entrée. Usually there is only one lamb course on a menu – take it or leave it. But at L’Auberge des 3 Canards the lamb was offered two ways – as a chop and as a roast – on one plate. I didn’t have to choose! Both were cooked perfectly (rare to medium rare) and served in a bath of rich peppery veal stock with a mound of spaghetti squash, asparagus and fingerling potatoes to support the erect chops. A tiny beet and an unpeeled roasted clove of garlic completed the impressive presentation.
Emboldened by the Calvados as much as the wine, a smooth and fruity 2009 Ripassa Valpolicella, I wantonly attacked the bounteous plate, until there remained just the sated satisfaction of the conqueror, seated before an empty dish, contemplating dessert.
I will take a cheese course over dessert any day. The tangy textured shapes and colors of good artisanal cheeses always win out over gooey sweetness – in my book, anyway. This was no exception. The local cheeses of Charlevoix are as good as any you can find, especially when they compliment a meal such as I enjoyed at L’Auberge des 3 Canards. The blue cheese, which was from just outside the region in nearby Quebec, was equally as good, and, with the exception of the wines, was the only element of the meal not sourced locally.
The lack of local wines will soon change now that the esteemed Charlevoix cheese maker, Maurice Dufour of Maison d’affinage Maurice Dufour, is planting grapes. Soon the region of Charlevoix will be a fully self-contained foodie’s paradise.
Where to stay: When in the city of Quebec, the first choice is the castle on the hill, the newly refurbished Hotel Frontenac. In Charlevoix you’ll find its equally imposing sister hotel, the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu,where I stayed that night, just down the drive from the restaurant.
You can also stay at L’Auberge des 3 Canards.
With several Grands Prix du tourisme québécois awards to its credit, for the past 29 years four-star inn L’Auberge des 3 canards has specialized in premium lodging and refined cuisine.
It is a vast domain with 49 rooms and one chalet. Most rooms have private balcony with unparalleled riverside views of the St. Lawrence. L’Auberge des 3 canards is also synonymous with distinguished dining, while its highly skilled employees provide everything from quality welcome services, to coordinating group activities.
Quebec is very French. When you visit Charlevoix you’ll find a country-side steeped in a French sensibility, a place where immigrants from France can settle and feel ‘at home’. There is an old world charm, a style of living and dining, that these hard-working souls bring with them. This less-expensive-than-a-European-vacation-experience is all there, just across our Northern border, in the Quebec province of Canada. Book your trip now!