Oh Canada

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I'm on the train from Montreal to Quebec. It's winter and I feel like Dr. Zhivago. The train is cozy and has coffee and wi-fi. In fact everything is cozy here in winter. I have seen more snow than this, but it is nonetheless very cold. The trip takes about three hours, much of it through Christmas card countryside. I got into Montreal at midday yesterday. New security concerns required me to be at the airport at four in the morning for a six o'clock flight. I get off work around midnight so I decide to just stay up. The result was a sort of jet lag without leaving one's own time zone. It's good to get back to my old haunts. Last night I was back at Le Conciergerie, a bed and breakfast on St-Hubert in what may have been the best bed on earth. No time for breakfast though since I'm taking the earliest train. As is often the case in places with a French tradition, in both Montreal and Quebec one can expect to find good food. When I come here, I come with the intention of deliberate excess. Last night I tried a new place called DSens on the rue Ste-Catherine. I was drawn in by one of the plats du jour which promised both veal kidneys and sweetbreads in a fricassee. It was delicious as were the dozen raw oysters from Prince Edward Island that preceded them.

I've been coming to Quebec for a long time and I have a lot of history here. I wrote the first draft of my cookbook in the breakfast room of Le Conciergerie and in the basement apartment of the Hotel Cap Diamant in Quebec City where I'll be staying tonight. This is a great place to quickly get over a broken heart or to wallow in one, depending on your mood. It is old fashioned as well as modern at the same time, a pairing that I like very much. People can be surprisingly chic, given how they have to dress to go outside in winter. I remember being startled one January in the village of Baie St-Paul by the tiny black cocktail dresses in a shop window. Everyone on the street was wearing parkas and mukluks. I was once told that designers try out new ideas in Montreal because it's sensibility is halfway between New York and Paris. As for the winter, people go about their business just as they do the rest of the year. Systems are in place to help you get on with things. Still, I have to think that the first winter must have been something of a shock to the first settlers. Right now, it's ten degrees Fahrenheit.

I come to Quebec in winter to eat big French meals as I watch it snow outside. This never fails to be a pleasant past time. Without fail at least one of those meals will be at the Cafe St-Malo, in the lower city on the rue St-Paul. Chances are they will have veal brains in beurre noisette. They also make that breton style of soupe de poisson than has no tomatoes and therefore is a dark grey color. I love this. Enough chatter. The city awaits.

posted by Bill Smith at 6:01 AM


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