SEARCHING FOR CANADIAN CUISINE: EATING AT THE BEAVER CLUB

Montreal is a fantastic food city, and I’ve had great French, Syrian, Vietnamese and Italian meals since I’ve been here. But what about great Canadian food? What is Canadian food, anyway? Before I visited, I had no idea. Poutine? Bagels? Smoked meat sandwiches? Sure, but what about upscale food? Or, more pertinent to my style, what about the obscure dishes that the fur trappers and hunters feasted on 100 years ago?

The closest experience I’ve had yet was at the terrific Beaver Club, located deep in the upscale Fairmount Hotel. The romantic dining room resembles a super conservative, darkly lit Old World hunting lodge. Wood-beamed ceilings. Shale paneled walls. Gigantic booths. Art deco chandeliers. It’s truly one of a kind. Though unmistakably upscale, the food channels a faint country lodge vibe — weird cuts of meat, liberal use of truffles, welcome bits of offal, and super strong, pungent woodsy meat and fish flavors.

We went there for dinner during the city’s ‘Mushroom Festival’, and the tasting menu we tried incorporated different mushrooms into each dish. It was phenomenal. The Canadian wines left a bit to be desired. And to think that escaped bad wine when I left the Finger Lakes region! Fortunately, we started our meal with my (first ever!) Kir Royal. Perfection.

Charlotte de homard aux pommes Granny Smith et trompettes de la nuit, emulsion a l’estragon [Lobster charlotte with Granny Smith apples and black trumpet mushrooms, tarragon emulsion]. For my first course, I picked this cold lobster dish. The mushrooms’ muskiness and the lobster’s richness were a fantastic pair, the cold apples and tarragon refreshing and autumnal. The dehydrated apple chip is such a cute touch.

Rosace de St-Jacques et truffe sur une mousseline de celeri rave et petite salade de champignons. [Scallops and truffle rosette on a celery root mousseline and small mushroom salad] For Adam’s cold course, he picked this small scallop salad. We both went crazy over the subtle flavors and delicate greens.

Escalope de foie gras poelee et sa raviole de champignons au confit de canard, emulsion d’un bouillon aux champignons blancs et au Chardonnay. [Pan-fried foie gras scaloppini and mushrooms ravioli with candied duckline, white mushrooms and Chardonnay broth] For my les entrees chaudes, I picked the seared foie gras. The size of the foie gras was a bit intimidating — about the size of a thick deck of cards — and I completely lost the earthy flavors of the mushooms and pasta in its fatty wake. Still, I loved the super-savoury components, including the wine-infused broth and the crispy foie gras exterior.

Saint-Jacques poelees sur une puree de panais et duxelles de champignns sauvages, reduction de crustaces. [Pan-fried scallops on a puree of parsnip and wild mushrooms duxelle, shellfish reduction]. Adam picked yet another scallop dish for our warm course (that parsnip puree had his name all over it). The scallop, just like the foie gras, was terrifyingly large. This wasn’t torched as thoroughly as I would have liked, and we ate conservative amounts of this course because we knew what was coming next, and I was already dangerously full. Still, it’s a classic dish with clean, rounded flavors.

Filet de bar sauvage a la nage de coquillages de la cote nord et meli-melo de champignons forestiers. [Fillet of wild bass with shellfish nage and meli-melo of forest mushrooms]. While I had my heart set on a venison dish for my main course, Adam was craving seafood. He went with this delicately-flavored wild bass and shellfish stew. I was so focused on my main dish that I didn’t adequately try his, but the bite of fish I had was succulent, tender, and faintly sweet and honeyed.

Longe de cerf de boileau poelee aux baies de genevrier, spaetzels aux champignons, reduction au grue de chocolat epice. [Pan-fried loin of Boileau deer with juniper berries, mushroom spaetzels, and spiced chocolate reduction]. This is what I came to the Beaver Club for. The medium-rare medallions of venison were rich, lean, and deeply robust. The huge, wintery flavors like juniper berries and dark chocolate immediately make me think of the desolate, barren, Old World-era Canada.

Our server wheeled around a gigantic dessert cart that was stuffed with various treasures. Not only did we pick out two desserts — the staggering quantity of the food I ate is almost laughable to me now — we also custom-designed a cheese platter of Quebec cheeses (they were especially proud of the goat cheese they made from the restaurant’s goat. I think her name is Annie?).

Scary looking flourless black cake that looks like a black hole on my plate. At the end of our marathon meal (we were there over four hours!), I was practically asleep. We finished the meal with some port, and Adam wheelbarrowed me home.

Lights out! One of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had. Can’t wait to continue to explore the terrain of Canadian cuisine.

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