Friday, 8 June 2007

The Gastronomical Side of Business Trips

Posted by Andrew

Depending on the type of business trip you might take, your experience with meals abroad can vary. Time (or lack thereof) can be a factor, as well as the cultural/social variety and sophistication of the place you're visiting. Even what your business host might provide you can be a factor as well. My previous business trip in March took me to Morden, Manitoba, and not meaning to put down this pretty little town, but the dining selection was understandably a bit more limited and more "local" or franchise in nature. This week I got to go to Quebec City for the CIP conference, and here my experience was much richer (both in dishes offered and the prices one has to pay for them).

Again, with my being in the heart of Quebec's tourist area the fear of running into culinary tourist traps came back to me a bit. Furthermore, with it being a heavy tourist area I was anticipating that the cost of meals would also be higher here than in many other tourist areas across Canada.

Saturday, June 2
After landing in Quebec mid-afternoon I found myself trying Aux Anciens Canadiens for dinner within the old city walls, a restaurant that features traditional French Canadian cuisine. The lobster bisque was creamy and rich in flavour, while the game pate was neatly balanced by the carrot compote (preserve); however, I thought that the preserve might have been a bit on the sweet side. The main course was the "Coureur des Bois", which consisted to two feature items: traditional tourtiere (a Quebec-style meat pie) and stewed pheasant & buffalo. There was also a tomato and fruit salsa on the side which had a similar flavour to ketchup (then again, even the waitress called it a "tomato and fruit ketchup", only it was chunky so that I considered it as a "salsa"). The flavouring of the stew was a bit on the bland side, but the tourtiere was decent. For dessert I had a maple syrup tart, which, as much as I do love maple syrup, I thought unfortunately was too much on the sweet side.

Aux Anciens Canadiens definitely gives one a glimpse of traditional French-Canadian cuisine, something that one may not find as easily now in the big cities due to its historic and even rustic nature. Set meals are available, but portion sizes for especially the main course dishes are larger than average.

Sunday, June 3
For lunch I landed myself outseide the old city walls at Louis Hebert along a section of the Grande Allee lined with a whole slew of restaurants and eateries. The cream of onion soup was velvety and full-bodied, while the smoked salmon platter, with some baby greens and a light dose of capers, was a delight; this dish has got me inspired to try making a salad dish when my family visits me shortly. Set menus are available.

That night I went to the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) reception at Le manoir Montmorency, and there for dinner was a pleasant buffet for all. Some of the savoury dishes I can remember include a shrimp and scallop ceviche-style salad, smoked salmon pieces (yep, not just thin slices), pate with caramelized onions on crostini, smoked salmon sushi-inspired rolls (with nori, cream cheese, dill & pickles) on crostini, various terrines, including one sprinkled with apricots, and a whole bunch of cakes, tarts and cheeses. The reception certainly helped boost my first impression of Quebec hosting the CIP conference.

Monday, June 4
CIP provided a lunch of various sandwiches and wraps with potato salad. For dinner though, everyone was on their own, so a fellow UW classmate, a friend of hers and I finally found a sports bar west of central Quebec to watch Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals and have dinner as well. It was small and looked like a hole in the wall, definitely catered to the locals. Surprisingly though, their Sicilian pizza was quite good and was reasonably priced between the three of us. It was also nice for the bar to provide Polar Bear shots to everyone in the bar on the house whenever Ottawa scored.

Tuesday, June 5
Lunch was provided again by CIP, sandwiches and croissant sandwiches offered as well as an artichoke salad. That evening was the CIP Awards Gala, which meant dinner would be provided as well, and CIP certainly made sure we were well fed. For starters I was given a plate with baby greens and two slices of what looked like brie or camembert with something sandwiched within each slice. It turns out that somehow slices of smoked salmon were wedged into the camembert; I can definitely recall that I grinned from ear to ear and chuckled in delight. The main dish was duck breast in red wine sauce and cranberries with cauliflower and wild rice on the side. The dessert was disappointingly a bit weak, with the surface of the creme brulee a bit undertorched.

Wednesday, June 6
Once the CIP conference was over around lunchtime I found myself a place to grab a quick lunch at Paillard, a bakery, sandwich shop and ice cream shop all rolled into one with an interior decor that is reminiscent to Williams-Sonoma and sort of reminds me of some of the sandwich shops I've been in London, UK. Sandwich selection is a bit limited, but I'd prefer quality over quantity. I had myself a nice toasted chipotle chicken focaccia sandwich with a bottle of British ginger beer.

For dinner I went all out in my indulgence at Le Saint-Amour (needless to say, at ~$130 my wallet took the biggest hit here as well). Quebec is well-known as a major producer of foie gras (duck liver), and this restaurant apparently prides itself in specializing in foie gras. For starters I was provided with an amuse-bouche of a thick tomoto coulis with sundried tomatoes and a whipped parmesan topping, all put in a tall shooter glass. The flavouring was rich, and the acidity of the tomatoes definitely got my appetite going. My appetizer was bluefish carpaccio sprinkled with mandarin and tomato pieces, drizzled with lemon juice and dressed with layers of smoked Sockeye pieces, chopped avocado and snow crab on turnip (daikon) medallions). The bluefish was delicate and was not overpowered by the flavours of the ingredients, including the smoked Sockeye.

The main course was very lean caribou in Sarawak pepper on a bed of creamed potatoes flavoured with wild boar bacon. Half a roasted peach sat on the caribou and provided a pleasant twist in the medley of flavours. Of course, I had to try the foie gras here and so ordered a seared slice of it to accompany my main course. It was 80g of gastrononmic heaven melting in my mouth! I'm sure my arteries will never forgive me for this, but I just had to try it, and how often can you eat such a delicacy in Brandon?! Come to think of it, I don't remember the last time I had a foie gras product, be it a pate or the pure thing.

For dessert I ordered something called the Royal, which came in two parts. On one side was a cake-like feature with raspberry coulis and a chocolate wafer base with Italian Garanaja chocolate ganache and two shredded coconut crisps on top. The other part of the dessert was a mini coconut ice cream scoop resting in a dark chocolate ganache taking up the bottom third of the tall shooter glass, the remaining two thirds filled with raspberry coulis. The dessert had just the right touch of sweetness partly in thanks to the bitterness of the dark chocolate.

Le Saint-Amour has a very limited set menu selection, but if you really want to indulge on their speciality, foie gras, you'll have to order a la carte.

For more of my Quebec adventures beyond the food realm, please visit here.

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