Saturday, 7 March 2015: The meetings conclude
Written 10 March 2015
Saturday morning, my last chance at the hotel's breakfast, I had long planned to go for the full buffet, and after skipping dinner the night before I was ready, but when I arrived at the door to the restaurant, two minutes after its opening time of 7 a.m., I found our friend John Hamilton and two other guests peering forlornly through its locked doors into the darkened interior. Rats. Did it open later on weekends? I walked back down the hallway to the desk and was informed that, yes, breakfast was open now but that on weekends it is served downstairs in the Place Dufferin, one of the two restaurants currently being renovated. Once we walked down and found it, I could see at a glance why. Clearly the improvised buffet space in the Champlain upstairs was not large enough for the weekend buffet, which was therefore being served in its normal venue.
Here's the cold-cut table, offering, besides the slices of turkey, raw ham, cooked ham, and cheese, a tray of little pieces of layer cake (to the right of the turkey) and a bowl of grapes. On the top shelf (below the big ornamental jugs of preserves), bowls of olives, tiny white pickled onions, sliced pickles, and two large cruets of dark liquid, presumably vinegar. On the bottom shelf, sliced tomatoes, four kinds of pâté and rillettes (in the little mason jars), and a bowl of cold, shelled hard-boiled eggs.
The photo to the right shows the cheese and fish station. On the board are four unlabeled cheeses ( I had some of the one with the stripe through the middle; it looked like Morbier but was probably something local). To the left, crackers, cherry tomatoes, and a bowl of single-serve butter packets. To the right of the cheese are plates of cooked and raw smoked salmon, accompanied by sliced white onions, capers, sour cream, and lemon wedges. Yum.
Here's the bread station: English muffins and assorted bagels in bins, sliced bread in a tray under the napkin, and a big basket of buns, rolls, baguettes, and whatnot. Just out of sight to the right is a whole row of toasters (the locals seem to be very big on toast; one of the à la carte breakfast choices is a basket of assorted toast, served with butter, honey, and jam).
Next was the "Viennoiseries," plain and chocolate croisants, raisin buns, cinnamon buns.
Before I even got to the spreads shown here, I had walked past self-service espresso machines; a long row of gleaming chafing dishes containing scrambled eggs, eggs "en cocotte" (eggs baked in little ramekins with some shreds of spinach, ham, etc.), crisp bacon (we never saw any "Canadian" bacon), sausages (British style, with a high ratio of starchy filler), oatmeal, hot crêpes in maple sauce, Belgian waffles, sautéed ham, and a couple of kinds of breakfast potato; a three-layer display (like the one with cold-cuts) presenting bowls of sliced pineapple, honeydew, watermelon, and mango, as well as applesauce, chopped fruit salad, little individual apple tarts, and bins of whole red apples, green apples, kiwi, and oranges; and an array of bowls of yogurts, cream cheese, lychees (!), and individual bottles of orange and tomato juices (not labeled for retail, but little reusable "milk bottles" with ceramic stoppers and wire bails).
The smoked salmon and the baked eggs were outstanding, and the pastries were just like the ones you get in France.
Saturday was another full day of meetings, so I just hung out in the meeting lobby, working on this diary, chatting with friends, bussing water pitchers, identifying Physalis berries for all comers and attesting that they were edible and good, watching the participants once again tear through 40 lb. of fresh fruit in 20 minutes, and in one case recommending a short film on public speaking to a couple of participants who were telling each other about their stage fright. (It's called Speaking Effectively, to One or One-Thousand, and I can't recommend it highly enough. It's ridiculously expensive to buy, but many libraries have it.)
During the lunch break, David, John Hamilton, and I walked down the hill to the Lapin Sautée. I had tried to reserve there for dinner, but it and all the other restaurants on my list were booked solid—apparently Québecois go out to dinner on Saturdays—so this was our only chance to try it. It's part of the same group as the Cochon Dingue.
David wanted something light, so he got a salad with grilled goat cheese (described as "d'Alexis de Portneuf") drizzled with honey (described as "d'Émilie de St-Sylvestre"). The salad was also sprinkled with chunks of maple-poached pear and toasted almonds.
John order the rabbit with two mustards, shown at the right. It proved to be three chunks of rabbit loin drizzled with one mustard sauce and with another mustard sauce on the side.
Unfortunately, the rabbit and mushroom pie from the dinner menu is not available at lunch. I was sorely tempted by the warm salad of rabbit liver and kidneys, but in the end I could not resist the cassoulet with a leg of confit rabbit and a duck sausage, and I was glad I couldn't—it was outstanding. The rabbit was great, but the duck sausage was even better!The portion was also moderate; it may be the only time I've ever finished a restaurant portion of cassoulet!
For dessert, we had "pouding aux framboises," raspberry "pudding," which turned out to be a rectangle of coarse-textured cake topped with a thick layer of well-drained mashed fresh raspberries and drizzled with cream. Excellent!
Just inside the restaurant's door was a hand-chalked sign recommending that patrons relax on their heated terrace. Here, at the left, is a photo of that terrace, with most of the snow shoveled off, but with icicles hanging from the outdoor heaters. Nobody took them up on it the day we were there.
At the right, David and John pose in front of the place as we were leaving. The magenta "bells" hanging over the door are painted inverted flower pots. Note the rabbit-crossing sign to the left, near the ice sculpture, and the various little wooden rabbits lurking in and around the planters.
Here's a better view of the ice sculpture that appears at the left edge of the previous photo.
And the inevitable view back down the track of the funicular as we rode back up to the level of the hotel. The restaurant is about a block from the foot of the funicular, to the right along the little street to you can a short stretch of. At the top, as we crossed the plaza back to the hotel, walking on packed snow, I noticed that the surface we were walking on was at the level of the seats of the row of park benches!
I spent a good deal of time in the afternoon phoning around trying to make dinner reservations. David always finds the meeting banquet too noisy, he didn't want to go back to the Champlain, and we really didn't want to spend an hour trudging around the streets in the dark at 0°F looking for someplace that had space for us. I finally found Artefact, the bar-café in the Auberge Saint-Antoine, a Relais&Château hotel down on the edge of the river. Their fancier place was booked up.Then, back down in the meeting lobby, I got to watch the bartenders set up for the banquet, to be held in the nearby ballroom after the society's business meeting. For an amazingly long time, the benthic meetings were simply passed from hand to hand around the community of participants, without the backing of a formal society, but those days are apparently over, so a business meeting now ends the last day of talks.
David walked out of the business meeting before it ended, to allow time to get to our restaurant on time, so he didn't hear where the next meetings will be held.
Then it was back down the hill again for dinner. After studying the rather short menu, we decided on the three-course "table d'hôte."
The first course was a little tart of stewed carrots, both diced and sliced, on a thin disk of pastry. On the edge of the plate, on a stripe of the same sweet-sour sauce that flavored the carrots, were little dabs of "gremolata"—minced garlic, lemon zest, and parsley. Excellent.
The second course was a puréed cream soup that the maître d' said was parsnip but the waiter said was cauliflower. It could have been either, or a mixture of the two. Very good at any rate, garnished with bits of pecan in drops of truffle oil. It was also sprinkled with tiny green shreds that we never identified. Very tasty and of the chewy texture of very finely shredded coconut.
The main course was a choice between salmon and bison. David took the salmon, which was grilled but not overcooked, and was accompanied by chunks of roasted beet of various colors.
I chose the bison, which was a "bavette," hanger steak, with a tangy vinegar-tinged sauce. On the side were three small canneloni filled with something cheese-like (perhaps in fact cheese). The lightly roasted scallion scattered on top was excellent with the canneloni.
For dessert, we ordered (à la carte) the salted caramel ice cream, which was served in a little canning jar and topped with a little chocolate sauce and a handful of caramel popcorn. Surprising, but a very good combination.
At the right is a photo of the very interesting end-cut wooden floor. It looked way older than the rest of the decor and was therefore probably part of the restaurant's namesake. Set into the walls were a number of lighted cases displaying artefacts—presumably things dug up during construction or renovation of the building.
Then one more ride up the funicular. At the left is one of the little viewing pavillions along the hotel's portion of the terrace overlooking the river, photographed earlier in the day when it was still light. At the right is the view over the river from that pavillion at the end of the evening.
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