The prospect of frequent trips to Quebec Province has encouraged me to work on improving my French. Listening to tapes, subjecting my husband to a little French (language attempts), speaking it in the car whenever I'm alone....I thought I was ready! When I returned to the Quebec province last month, I stayed at a small hotel in Drummondville, Le Dauphin. Accordingly to the locals, Le Dauphin has been recently renovated, but to me it appears to be a 1950's motel that underwent a renaissance sometime in the 1970's, and then another update sometime in the past ten years. I guess "recently renovated" is relative. But this blog is about wine and food, not hotels, so don't let me digress.
I was in Drummondville for a couple of days, so I had the opportunity to practice my French and try out several local establishments. So, for dinner one night, I tried the hotel restaurant, the GlobeTrotter, or "the Trot" as it's known locally. As a name for a restaurant, "The Trot" doesn't do much for me. It vaguely reminds of Mexico, if you know what I mean. So I was a little hesitant as I entered the mood-lit restaurant on a Wednesday night.
The Trot is generally regarded as a fine restaurant in the Drummondville area. I never really expect much from a hotel restaurant, so almost anything better than average is a plus. This night in late June, I entered the restaurant by myself and was greeted with a smiling "bon soir, hello". The hostess quickly smelled my fear of French in my "Franglais" request for a table for one. She seated me immediately and graciously slid a French/English menu into my hand.
The waitress appeared at my table a moment later, providing a French menu (bon soir, hello) and asking for my drink order. "Je voudrais une verre du vin rouge, s'il vous plait" I asked for a glass of red wine in a small, tentative voice. She nodded and left me with my French-language menu. (Whew, ok, first step...) I opened the menu and instantly recognized soup and salad (it's tough in French, so pay attention. It's "soupe et salade"). Lately I've been incorporating soups into my selections, especially French Onion. A good French Onion soup can be so fulfilling, and what better place in North America to try a French Onion soup than in a French Canadian province? So I thought to myself, "I'm ordering the French Onion soup", though since it was a French province why didn't I just order the Onion Soup?
When she arrived with the wine, I was ready to eat. But I was done with French for the day. I pointed to the "soupe" and smiled and murmurred "s'il vous plait" then I pointed at the veal and smiled and murmurred "s'il vous plait" like I knew what I was doing. She was so sweet and complimentary. Even if my accent was in the gutter, she acted as though I spoke French like a big-shot native. Merci!
The wine was an ordinary Italian red table wine. Nothing special to commend it. I suppose I could be generous and say it complemented the muzak. The background muzak was heavy on Liberace-style piano and violins. I was beginning to feel like I had stepped into my orthodontist's waiting room, circa 1976. But then the soup arrived.
I believe Julia Child was looking over the shoulder of the soup chef that evening. Beautifully presented in a white bowl on a white charger, the soupy aroma simmered upwards. The broth was richly herb-infused and onion-filled, and HOT, the way French Onion Soup is supposed to be served. The onions were sliced, sweet and soft. The cheese was lightly broiled and perfect. What made this soup outstanding? The diced yellow peppers on top of the cheese brought an entirely different nuance to a common old soup. The light pepper flavor lightened up the entire soup. It tasted fresh and summery and the delicate balance of rich oniony broth, bread crusts, oozy cheese and diced peppers was tres magnifique!
In the background old instrumental classics continued to play quietly on their in-house Muzak network. 2nd glass of wine arrives and so does a muzak version of ABBA's "Fernando".. I suppose 20 years from now we'll be listening to Lady Gaga on muzak.
Shortly after I spooned the last drop of oniony goodness from my bowl, the waitress reappeared with my "veal". I had ordered the veal foie au oignons. Sounded good to me! Turns out Veal Foie is Calve's liver. Yum. It came as a pleasant surprise actually. I haven't had veal since the Mad Cow Disease scare.
Deep breath. Mmmmmmm, certainly smells good! The Liver was lightly sauteed and plated on a bed of mashed potatoes, accompanied by one lonely brussel sprout, some beets and a sprig of rosemary. Though it was listed as liver and onions, no ordinary onions joined the liver this time around. The liver itself was absolutely perfect! Lightly crisped around the edges, with the solid liver consistency we know and love. A peppery cranberry chutney with caramelized onion was drizzled over the top. It was simply. Yum! Too much liver can make for a heavy meal, but this was perfectly plated and the portion size was just right. As I lifted the last morsel from my plate, I recall hearing "just when you needed me now" playing on the fringes of my hearing, heavy on the strings with a mild synthesizer beating along.
And then the lights went out!