Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Best Meal I've Ever Had

No, I'm not joking. I've been to a lot of nice restaurants and have had some amazing meals, but while I was in Quebec City a few weeks ago, I had the PERFECT dinner. Where?

Restaurant Initiale

Rather unassuming from the outside, you might walk right by it. My husband had made a reservation there and we were surprised when they told us that 6:30 was the only seating available (this was a Wednesday evening, not at the height of tourist season). We soon found out why.

When we arrived at the restaurant, we were greeted graciously by the host, who was an elegant and classy woman whose responsibilities seemed like a cross between a host and a concierge. She showed us to our table and we soon understood that we were to be only one of four couples in the entire room for the rest of the evening. The room was dimly lit, but not so dark that we couldn't see our food, which would have been a tragedy given the presentation of each dish.

We started with lovely cocktails (I had the Kir Cassis) and then they brought out a series of amuses bouches from chef Yvan Lebrun, three for me, three for my spouse. Mine included the lightest mousse I've ever tasted, made with currants and pomegranates. H had white asparagus ice cream (yes, you read that right). WOW--you probably could not have sold me on the idea of asparagus ice cream if it had been on the menu. It was fantastic--delicate and fresh tasting.

Other eccentric but somehow amazing tidbits included asparagus flan and I had a little bit of almond paste topped with a dab of black garlic. I've been to plenty of nouvelle cuisine restaurants where I've had bizarre combinations of food that have tasted...bizarre. At Initiale, EVERYTHING worked.

We each ordered an entrée and a plat principal. We asked that the chef pair a glass of wine with each. H had canette (little duck) with herbs that are native to Québec. Included in his dish were tempura sardines which will change your mind about sardines forever if you think they are just those that come in the can. I had halibut with rhubarb, mushroom gratin, and wild mustard. H's dish was paired with a Laroche Chardonnay and I had a beautiful Sancerre from the Loire Valley.

Before dessert came the cheese plate with local and gourmet cheeses including kénogami, chevre, tomme, and gaulois. I was fairly certain I'd be ok if the earth decided to stop rotating right then and there. And then there was dessert: I had flan made with chocolate and pear, and H had brioche melba, with a poached apricot and chocolate ganache with Maldon sea salt. Included was a beignet with maple in a strawberry sauce and a ruby grapefruit mousse.

The portions were perfect--I didn't feel stuffed, just deliriously happy. The service was SUBLIME. Our server asked if I preferred French or English, and when told that I wished to practice my French, spoke to me in French the entire time unless it was really clear I didn't understand. My native-speaking husband sometimes wasn't familiar with some of the more esoteric foods on the menu, so she would explain in English. None of the servers hovered, yet always appeared at the perfect time. At one point I got up to use the restroom (which are beautiful), and out of nowhere one of the servers materialized at the top of the stairs to point the way to the restroom. When I returned, she materialized behind my chair to pull it out for me.

With all of this attention, there was no pretension. Yes, it is elegant and special, but no one was uptight or snobby. The servers were friendly yet never intrusive, and it truly was the most amazing dinner I've ever had. Is it cheap? No. But if you want to have a meal you will likely never forget, and want to experience exemplary service--try it. For me, this restaurant is worth a trip to Quebec City just to eat there. If you are there during the week, you may be able to secure a reservation the same day. If you are planning on a weekend reservation, you'll need to make it a few weeks in advance.

I don't write a lot of restaurant reviews on this blog, but this was too amazing not to share.