In the Outaouais region, we come upon the world’s grandest, most dramatic log cabin, standing like a beacon of hospitality in the rolling countryside. Fairmont Le Château Montebello, more than 80 years old, still invites us to enjoy a hot drink in front of a huge circular fireplace in the family-friendly grand room. If these walls could talk, they might tell us about the G7 meeting in 1981, the NATO meeting in 1984, The North American Leader’s Summit in 2006, as well as the countless guests who have enjoyed weekends of boating, golfing and snowshoeing. “We love to eat, we love wine,” says Alsatian Executive Chef Serge Jost, who presides over the care and feeding of guests. Herbs from the garden, fish from nearby lakes and local meats meet his challenging standards. The kitchen is all windows and the view often catches his attention. “What are you doing?” someone will ask, and he will answer, “I am looking at the sunset.” Capturing the moments at Montebello.
Down the road, there is an old train station that has been converted into a chocolate kitchen by artisanal chocolatier Gaétan Tessier. Chocomotive has become a landmark, and a delicious pit stop. His raw materials are all organic/fair trade and his dark chocolate (my favourite) is 70 percent and not a pinch of cocoa powder in sight. Sharing his knowledge, he teaches a class to graduate culinary students. Sated by the dizzying flavours of good chocolate, we are on our way.
As the crow flies, we are about an hour from Sterling Restaurant Steakhouse, a solid, well built wood structure whose focus is the very best Alberta beef served in white tablecloth elegance. We catch the aroma of the maple wood fired grill the moment we enter. We choose our steaks and see them sizzling on the barbecue that, amazingly, is not in the kitchen, but in the dining room. Proximity to our nation’s capital brings the bold face names to dine here—Gatineau is just over the bridge from Ottawa. Prime Ministers, ambassadors and politicos of all parties turn up at Sterling. Five minutes from Ottawa is the Hilton Hotel and Casino du Lac Leamy. In winter, rooms afford grand views of the snowy, wooded countryside. From the luxurious bathrooms to the exceptionally comfortable furnishings, the hotel is deservedly five star. There are more Dale Chihuly glass sculptures here than I have ever seen in one place. Opulence reigns supreme and carries over into the five-diamond rated Le Baccara gourmet restaurant. Lovingly balanced plates of fine local ingredients filtered through classic French haute cuisine are paired with wines from a 13,000-bottle cellar. I cannot resist the foie gras, or morel stuffed partridge, or a taste of roasted Quebec lamb with fleur de sel and sautéed lamb sweetbreads. The dining room is the apex of sophistication in the middle of nowhere. To complete the evening, a short visit to the splendid Casino is in order. Lady luck is with me—I do not lose.
A Special Place
With a clutch of chocolate lollipops to go, we drive through the snow-covered countryside, and come to the peaceful town of Chelsea, which drew Charles Part and Jennifer Warren-Part from Toronto. A renovated old gas station became Les Fougères, an idyllic restaurant, store, gardens and wine cellar. How wonderful is the quiet here. We lunch on this month’s made-with-love menu: Brandade soup with white truffle oil, confit of Quebec duck with roesti potato. Their book, A Year at Les Fougères, has won numerous book awards.
Soaking It Up
After days of over-indulgent dining, an afternoon at Le Nordik Nature Spa is in order. I recall the exhilaration as I walked outside in below-zero weather clad only in a swimsuit and robe and climbed carefully into a steaming hot outdoor pool. A few seconds under an icy waterfall, followed by Finnish sauna, a massage and I am rejuvenated.
Un Bière, s’Il Vous PlaÎt
Our last stop before returning home, Les Brasseurs du Temps, is a popular, 200-seat microbrewery. We can taste a selection of beer as we watch it being brewed, and eat really good burgers. And what a lot of fun that is.
It’s a unique experience, savouring the province of Quebec, and enjoying its natural gifts and hospitality.
Sara Waxman is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.