Three summer’s ago, my wife and I found ourselves at loose ends for the July 4 holiday. We’d been meaning to visit Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, but upon cursory investigation, Google Maps informed us that the most accessible, southern tip of this region — where the mighty St. Lawrence River meets the North Atlantic — sits fully 12 hours north of south/central Maine. Um, Quebec City is nice, I pivoted, and a plan was hatched. We left after work, sped north, saw a moose outside Jackman, Maine, and were sipping drinks in the Hotel Frontenac bar well before last call.
After two lovely days in the Old Town, we headed further north, up the St. Lawrence to the Charlevoix Region, where we lodged at another Fairmont Hotel property, the estimable Manoir Richelieu. We gambled in the casino, played golf, and ogled a massive south Asian wedding where the bride floated in on a swing more or less supported, in flight, by hundreds of helium balloons. Honestly. That happened. We got lost in the hotel that morning and stumbled upon the ballroom where all these white balloons were being filled for the occasion.
In any case, someone at the Manoir suggested dinner at Les Faux Bergers (False Shepherds), a fromagerie, working sheep farm and locavore restaurant that serves up expensive but exquisite seven-course meals. There is but one seating each night.
Our group first assembled for drinks and mise en bouche outside, on a beautiful patio overlooking a sheep pasture. The crowd numbered a couple dozen and judging from the entirely French welcomes and introductions, we were the only English speakers there. Halfway through the meal, our outlier status became clear to our hosts. Thereafter, the chef, Maurice Dufour, kindly visited our table to personally explain each course, in great detail, en Anglais, after doing so for the rest of those assembled, en Francais.
It proved an extraordinary, if surprisingly lengthy, thoroughly Quebecois experience.
Unless we missed one — which is entirely possible, considering our deteriorative mental, physical and immunological states following nearly four hours of fine dining — our drinks and apps there on the patio constituted the opening course. The cocktail was pretty memorable: a simple-but-bracing concoction of fresh basil, cucumber, brown sugar and vodka. The appetizers: a small cut of whitefish sprinkled with sunflower seeds and cassis powder, followed by lamb mousse paté with mustard and gherkin — served on a stone. Naturellement.
After moving into the dining room and taking our places, Sharon and I were each presented a gorgeous salad of fresh cuke, tomato, crunchy puffed rice thingies and a purple flower we took to be nasturtium (which the French call pensee, we think; after a few days in France or Quebec, I’m good to comprehend about every fourth word). All of this was served on a bed of salty caviar that had been whipped into a mayonnaise-type consistency. Fabulous. Combined with the apps, two courses would have left us perfectly satisfied. We could have gone home right then.
Wine pairing: the first, an effectively dry Sancerre rosé