After looking through the windows of Toast, Le St. Amour and Laurie Raphael, we decided to cancel our reservation at Le St. Amour and try to get a table at Laurie Raphael for New Year’s Eve dinner. Luckily, they were able to squeeze us in.
We arrived a little before 8pm and were quickly seated at a two-top table along the wall that separates the bar from the long side of the dining room. Each table was decorated with festive balloons and the place was packed with a mix of well-dressed diners decked out for the Opera as well as casually attired locals hungry for a good meal.
We reviewed the regular menu but it did not particularly stand out so we decided to try the 10-course degustation. Given the diverse nature of the 10 courses, we opted for the wine pairings and hoped for the best.
Before our course began, the waiter offered us caviar with a shot of Chopin Vodka. I declined but my husband said, “Oui.” I need to be in the mood for caviar and at that moment, I was not.
The caviar soon arrived, enthroned on a bed of airy potato foam. My husband took a spoonful and then offered me a taste. The rich saltiness of the caviar provided the neutral potato foam a nice flavor. I thought it was interesting to match the potato vodka with the potato foam but it wasn’t anything spectacular. I wondered what else could have gone nicely with it.
As my husband enjoyed his caviar, I examined the wooden place mats that reminded me of Tokyo and the many splendid meals that we had enjoyed there. I hope that this place would not disappoint.
1st course: Fresh “Raspberry Point” oyster with grapefruit juice, Labneh cheese and salmon trout roe.
My husband is not an oyster fan but he actually liked this dish. It was a safe way to introduce him to fresh oysters without going full-blown on the naked half-shell. The waiter explained that the grapefruit juice was made with nitrogen. I assumed that he meant liquid Nitrogen was used to freeze the grapefruit and then pulverize it but with his limited English and my minimal French, I didn’t question him too much.
The wine pairing for the oyster was a 2005 Lis Netis, Pinot Grigio. It accompanied the oyster well without overstepping its boundaries. It was a nice starter wine; not too heavy, not too distinct, just mild.
2nd course: Lobster inclination with ox-eye daisy capers and lemon vinegar.
The delicious lobster was served in a cylindrical shot class, inclined to about 45 degrees from the table surface by a wooden base. Little bits of succulent lobster sat on top of a lobster bisque jelly. It was only a few spoonfuls but I enjoyed each bite of this dish. It was simply sublime.
3rd course: Foie gras tartare, ice cream and meringue, figs and vanilla oil
This sweet dish had little bits of foie gras swimming in a creamy lane of fig and vanilla ice cream, with pecan floaters here and there. A decadent dream for the taste buds.
There was no wine pairing for this course so I ordered a glass of 2005 Tokaji and my husband ordered a glass of Sauterne. Although my Tokaji had a beautiful floral scent like Sauterne, when I tasted it, it was sweeter than the Sauterne and accented with hints of apricot. Yummy! My husband reminded me that I had enjoyed Tokaji when we were last in Hungary, but to be honest, I couldn’t remember. It was so many meals and so so many wines ago. I hoped that we could find some in the local SAG shop to take back with us.
4th Course: Poultry broth and scallops Yet Ca Mein
When the waiter brought out this dish, she was carrying a gigantic syringe. After placing each of the small ceramic and earthen bowls in front of us, she opened the lids and squeezed out the syringe substance into each of our bowls. Then she quickly replaced the lids and told us to wait 30 seconds, remove the covers, mix and eat.
My husband and I just looked at each other and I said, “It’s like the ramen they serve on United: add water, put the lid back on and wait for the dried noodles to expand into a bloated mess.” Let’s hope it tastes better than ramen from a paper cup.” After what seemed like 30 seconds, we both opened the lids and peered inside.
Indeed the scallop, which is what was in the syringe, looked like curly waves of noodles and tasted good. The earthy broth was bold and even more delicious. It was too rich to be chicken. My husband thought it tasted like ox; I thought it smelled and tasted a bit like duck. We asked the waiter what the broth was made from and he replied that he needed to go and check with the chef because he didn’t know. When he came back, he announced, “It’s duck.” I was pleasantly surprised that I had guessed right because usually my husband detects flavors better than me. The duck broth provided a nice base for the floating radishes, zucchini and baby bok choy. I patiently scooped spoonfuls of broth into my eager mouth and relished the wonderful flavors that something so simple as a broth could deliver. If we had been in Asia, I wouldn’t have thought twice about putting the ceramic bowl to my lips to tilt back the last few drops of soup into my mouth. However, in that setting and environment, I just couldn’t’ bring myself to do it, no matter how much I wanted to.
Second wine pairing was a true surprise and interesting wine. The waiter poured us Les bruyerres, Chardonnay, Arbois 2005 Stephan Tissot. It was an intriguing and funky wine, very different from the norm. Its strong scent of alcohol was seasoned with something provincial, earthy and alive; went well with the duck broth and scallop. It was a wine that definitely stood out for us that evening because it was so different.
5th Course: Braised veal cheek and homemade blood pudding and caramelized shallots, deep fried potato ring and Redcort apple puree.
Third wine pairing was a Domaine Ostertag- a pinot noir from Alsace. It was a good choice for the veal cheeks. I’ve never been a big fan of blood pudding and this experience did not convert me. However, I loved the veal cheeks, which were perfectly cooked to reveal tender morsels in each bite. The tart apple puree provided a nice contrast to the rich veal cheeks.
6th Course: Piglet from Gaspor Farm, flavored with mountain cranberry compote, beet gnocchi, roasted fingerling potato, petite corn and mushroom.
Unlike the previous five courses, this dish was substantial and perhaps a bit too generous for my stomach. My husband enjoyed his piglet and commented that it was his favorite dish thus far. I found it average and reminiscent of piglet dishes with vegetables that I’d enjoyed before. I usually like the sweet taste of beets and well-made gnocchi, but I wasn’t really sold on the beet gnocchi. They were a tad dry and flavorless to me.
Fourth wine pairing was a Rioja, Tempranillo, Marquis de Cervais- 1985. Okay, I have to be honest, by then I was feeling a nice buzz and could not really appreciate the Rioja as I would have had it been my first glass of wine that day.
7th Course: Blue cheese espuma from Quebec , smoked duck, gingerbread tile, pear purée.
Unique interpretation of the cheese course was original, tasty without being too indulgent. I found the smoked duck too salty but my husband did not seem to mind. By now, I realized that the diversity of the wine pairings was too much.
The fifth wine pairing was a surprisingly sweet Pinot Gris Sonnenglanz von Alsace. It worked fine with the seventh course:
8th course: Smoky Ivory and avocado truffle
This dish came out smoking. Once the smoke started to clear, a small lollipop emerged, sitting on top of a tall cylindrical shot glass. White chocolate lollipops filled with avocado crème. I’m not a fan of white chocolate but I have to admit it was pretty darn tasty. I appreciated the explosion of avocado crème inside even better. The waiter told us to drink the liquid on the bottom of the glass after the smoke cleared from the glass. Expectantly, I looked forward to drinking the clear liquid, wondering what it could be, but alas when I tasted it, it just tasted like tepid water.
The sixth white wine pairing offered was sweet. That’s all I remember of the wine. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what it was. As I washed down the wine, I filled my mouth with:
The 9th course: New Year’s Eve mountain ash cake
This dish included a ball of delicious maple syrup cotton candy, a small piece of cake and a sorbet. Of the three items, the maple syrup cotton candy was the most memorable and the only one that I finished. I’m not a fan of sorbet and the cake was nothing outstanding. By this time, after three and a half hours of eating, I felt well fed and ready to bear the cold to walk back to our hotel, stopping along the way on Grand Alle to watch the fireworks at midnight. However, the meal wasn’t quite over. The waiter brought out two classes of Champagne and the final dessert:
the 10th course: Snowball with wild strawberries and barley water jelly.
Everything was white: the plate, the round meringue snowball and even the two smaller rectangular-shaped jelly; not a very interesting or appetizing presentation. As my spoon broke into the meringue, red strawberries oozed out. I enjoyed the taste of the sweet berries but in combination with the sweetness of the meringue, it was too much sugar and sweetness for even my sweet tooth. I tried one of the rectangular barley water jellies but it didn’t thrill me or delight me so I stopped eating it. I felt a bit let down. After so many wonderful course in the beginning and middle of our meal, I expected the finality to be an explosive climax. Unfortunately, the last three courses were not as grand as I had hoped.
Firstly, three sweet desserts were two too many for my taste buds. Even my husband, who has the most incredible sweet tooth of anyone I know, thought the three sweets were too much. If the chef wanted to offer all the dessert options, he could have combined it into one course, executed smaller portions and presented a cornucopia of dessert tidbits on one plate, freeing up two other courses to do something more magical and experimental. Instead, the three separate presentations of very sugary and not too exciting offerings only made me wish that the dinner would end sooner than later. When the waiter asked for feedback on our meal, we shared our concern with him.
I would have preferred to see more of the interesting offerings that the chef presented at the beginning of the course, also be presented at the end. That would have been a better end to an otherwise good evening. Additionally, the next time we do a 10-course meal, instead of wine pairings, we would order our own wines. Although the allure of trying different wines with each course is tempting, by the middle of the meal, it’s hard to keep track of all the competing tastes and truly appreciate the different wines. Therefore, we would probably start with a bottle of Champagne, and then order a bottle (or two) of wine to complement the bulk of the courses. And then finally end with some dessert wines or after dinner drinks.
I apologize if I have bastardized the spelling of the wines. I should have taken better notes or at least asked to see the wine bottles more closely to get the names and spellings correct. Instead, I relied on memory and recall. There are a few photos attached below.
Restaurant Laurie Raphael
117 rue Dalhousie, Quebec, QC G1K 9C8, CA