The Hotel Cap Diamant
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
I've been coming to Quebec for almost thirty years and for probably half that time I've stayed at the Hotel Cap Diamant on the Boulevard Ste-Genevieve, just behind the Chateau Frontenac and an easy walk to anywhere in the old city. I can't remember, but think I just picked it out of a guide book. Over the years, little by little, Mme. Guillot has made constant improvements to the hotel. She is always very proud of each new addition. One year I arrived to find a newly remodeled reception hall. Another time, she had added a breakfast room that overlooks the tiny back garden. Once on a summer trip I was given a wonderful room in the newly acquired annex next door. It had big windows that could be opened to let in the breezes and looked out over the city.
The first time I came, it was in a particularly cold January. The radio was warning even Quebecois to only go out side when necessary. My room had a zinc framed bed and in such cold weather it could deliver quite a shock if you slid in or out wrong. That room has become part of the breakfast parlor now, and I have never encountered that bed again, but it is an example of the quirky way that Madame has furnished the hotel. Every possible type of antique filigreed chest, table or whatnot stand can be found there. All wood, be it floor or furniture is polished to within an inch of its life. There are doilies everywhere. The walls are covered with pictures and mirrors.
Walls in Quebec are built thick to keep out the cold. This provides wide window sills for elbows or plants. Madame has hung both gauzy sheers and thick drapes at each one. The hotel is heated still with large ornate radiators. I think that this is common in the old city. I've always liked this kind of heating. I had it when I lived in New York. All the piping within the walls assures that you are never ever cold, and like as not the same system provides the hot water for the building, so you are never out. I've often remarked to myself on the splendid showers, tubs and water pressure at the Cap Diamant. When you come indoors in winter you must leave your shoes in the red cupboard by the front door so a not to track salt and mud through the house. She provides a basket slippers to wear by the door.
I did a lot of the initial work on my cook book at the Cap Diamant, and the year I brought Madame a copy, she refused to let me pay for my room. In early January there are rarely many guests. Things will pick up again at Carnival, which is Quebec's Mardi Gras. Since it follows the holidays by only a month, the Christmas lights are generally left up. Each morning, Madame puts out breakfast- cakes and rolls, butter and jams, fruit and yogurt, coffee of course. This year she added something that is typical of Quebec, but new to the hotel- graisse.
It is sort of like rillet, but with almost no meat. I was introduced to this in a youth hostel (indicating how long ago this was) in the Gaspe. It was brought out with the bread at dinner. Everyone was eating it, but I couldn't tell what it was. When I asked, I thought to myself "I'm sure that means grease, but that can't be true." Even back then I would eat anything. So I did. And it was.
posted by Bill Smith at 5:15 AM