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Richard Frisbie: L'Auberge des 3 Canards, Charlevoix, Quebec
Modern Charlevoix Dinner Reminiscent of Historic
Battle for Quebec

Story & Photographs by Richard Frisbie

dining set at the L'Auberge des 3 Canards, Charlevoix, Quebec

he 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 !

grilling bread at the L'Auberge des 3 Canards, Charlevoix

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.

bread spreads at a sideboard, L'Auberge des 3 Canards, Charlevoix

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 undefeated since.

writer's grilled bread

The L'Auberge 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.

the amuse-bouche at the L'Auberge des 3 Canards

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.

quail breast in wild mushroom sauce with toasted cracker, L'Auberge des 3 Canards, Charlevoix

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.

New England chowder with mussels, corn and potatoes, L'Auberge des 3 Canards

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!

chopped and roasted lamb with veal stock, spaghetti squash, asparagus and fingerling potatoes

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.

the Fairmont Le Manoir Richelieu, Charlevoix

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.

local cheeses at the L'Auberge des 3 Canards

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 of Canada.

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!

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.

Hélène Marchand
115, côté Bellevue, La Malbaie (Québec) G5A 1Y2
418-665-3761 / 1-800-461-3761

Related Articles:
The 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

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Let Richard know what you think about his traveling adventure.

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Hey Richard - another winning series of words, all put together in your usual brilliant, and very creative format. And hey, love those glorious photos - Wow, what scenery - looks like some sort of paradise. What a super life you lead!!!

--- John Clayton, Palos Verdes CA

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I want to go there!!!!!!! Mmmmm! Yes! Love the photos and your article, Richard! Have read the book, seen the play several times and now dream of seeing these historic places. I've been wanting to go to Spain for some time. Now at 12:30 a.m. I'm heading off to bed with songs from Man of La Mancha ringing in my mind. Thanks!

--- Betsy Tuel, Rosendale, NY

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You are fortunate to have Richard on your staff. Richard is a fantastic writer and a wonderful person. Congratulations to Richard and to you.

--- Denise Dubé, New England

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