| Modern Charlevoix
Dinner Reminiscent of Historic
Battle for Quebec
Story & Photographs by Richard Frisbie
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 you
can envision 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 !
No, I was in Canada, and everywhere I went, and everything
I saw, reminded me of the rich military history associated with the
region. New York's largest lake, Lake Champlain, is so big it once was
considered one of the Great Lakes. It was discovered by and named after
Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer who first settled Quebec in
1620. Here I was, an upstate New Yorker, aware of the history both countries
shared, about to be reminded by the innocent machinations of a chef,
how the course of history changed, and didn't, on the Plains of Abraham.
Quebec was perfectly situated for defense, high on the
hills above a natural harbor, commanding control of the first narrow
section of the St Lawrence River. Had its defensive walls been completed
in time, it is doubtful it would have ever fallen to the British in
1759. But it did. The British finished the walls and the city has remained
des 3 Canards was a noisy dinning room. The chatter of conversation
and clink of glassware and cutlery betrayed a full house the weekday
evening I was there. It seems everyone congregates where the food and
company are great. Most met at the self-serve bread bar, rubbing elbows
and accents in the progression from slicing chunks of bread off great
loaves, to choosing herbal spreads for their prize, to toasting them
on an open fireplace grill. We were warmed, heady with the aromas and
enervated by the prospect of the meal to come before we were properly
seated at the table.
For our first course we were served a medallion of quail
breast floating in a wild mushroom sauce that, with the toasted cracker
"sail" on top, looked like a bateau ready to cruise into my
mouth. Or, it could have been part of the British Fleet sailing up the
Saint Lawrence River to lay siege to French Quebec before the Battle
of the Plains of Abraham. The region is so rich in history that it is
easy to see the connections of everything that happened in the past
reflected in today's light. 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 an excellent opening salvo across the bow.
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
the integrity of the soup. I went back to the bread bar for something
to soak up all that flavorful goodness thinking that even though the
British may have won the battle, they lost the culinary war.
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 après 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/med
rare) and served with a moat of rich peppery veal stock surrounding
a castle of spaghetti squash, asparagus and fingerling potatoes to support
the parapets of lamb. A tiny beet and an unpeeled roasted clove of garlic
completed the picture. They were as opposite as Wolfe & Montcalm
on that fateful day centuries before. I was reminded of Quebec's
castle on the hill, the newly refurbished Hotel Frontenac, or its equally
impressive sister, the Fairmont
Le Manoir Richelieu, where I was staying that night, just down the
drive from the restaurant.
What flights of fancy good food and companions can bring!
Perhaps emboldened by the wine, a mild and fruity 2009 Ripassa Valpolicella,
I breached the lamb's fortifications as Wolfe did Montcalm's almost
353 years before when Quebec fell to the British. I wantonly plundered
the bounty on my plate. There were no lives lost, (if one does not count
the lamb) and therefore no monument erected, as there was for both generals
killed in the bloody battle for Quebec. There remained just the sated
satisfaction of the conqueror contemplating dessert.
I will take a cheese course over dessert any day. The
tangy textured shapes and colors of good
artisanal cheeses will always win out over gooey sweetness - in
my book, anyway. This was no exception. The local cheeses in 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 nearby Quebec, was equally as good, and, with the exception
of the wines, was the only element of the meal not sourced locally.
ADDENDUM #1: Playing with my food, and by that I mean
comparing the British capture of French Quebec and the end of France's
rule in Canada to my meal, offers a deeper, underlying message to the
historic one. Today, Quebec is still very much French, regardless of
who defeated whom all those centuries ago. 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
ADDENDUM #2: Local Wines the esteemed Charlevoix
cheese maker, Maurice Dufour of Maison
d'affinage Maurice Dufour, is planting grapes to remedy the lack
of good local wine. Soon the region of Charlevoix will be a fully self-contained
foodie's paradise. Book
your trip now!
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.
115, côté Bellevue, La Malbaie (Québec) G5A 1Y2
418-665-3761 / 1-800-461-3761
Flavor Road of Charlevoix; Traveling
the Canadian Rockies; New
Brunswick Autumn; St.
Lawrence River Cruise; Nova
Scotia in 4 Days; Canada's
Queen Charlotte Islands; Towns
on the St. Lawrence River