Summer 2014: Working on my new cookbook La cuisine de mon enfance as associate editor and copywriter, I visited Québec City to chat up three of the featured chefs. On the programme, scheduled interviews with leading chefs Jean-Luc Boulay (Saint-Amour), and Louis Trudeau and Thania Goyette (Pied bleu). On the menu, some fine dining Québécois-style, to get a taste of the booming restaurant scene.
Long in the shadow of trendier multicultural Montreal, Québec City had little to offer local gourmets beyond the obligatory bistros and tourist traps. I remember a trip in the 80s when the only fine dining game in town were Serge Bruyère (where I ate my first duck à l’orange), Château Frontenac and the Saint-Amour. Today’s Québec City sparkles much brighter with top level Bistro B, L’Affaire est ketchup, Quai 19, Laurie Raphael, La Tanière etc. The only cloud on the horizon remains the lack of ethnic restaurants, few, far between and rarely convincing.
Since my social media network is pretty extensive, I threw the question to Facebook and Twitter friends before leaving: Where would you eat in Québec City if you were me, I asked. Suggestions came pouring in. With two picky eaters joining me, both of them addicted to room service, I settled on restaurants that could accommodate last-minute reservations like Bistro SSS, Panache Mobile and Patente et Machin.
From the same team as always-crowded L’Affaire est Ketchup, Patente et Machin chose to open in the effervescent Saint-Sauveur neighbourhood. From the odds and ends décor to the laid-back staff and loud background music, the house has clearly embraced the hipster vibe: wobbly tables rest on matchboks, beer trophies adorn the walls, and a supersize chalk board displays the daily carte, with items erased as they run out.
I’ll admit I’ve laughed my head off at YouTube parody videos of hipsters with their tuques, unkempt beards, tattoos (of course!), generic grey t-shirts and lumberjack boots. Here I was, greeted by the Québec City hot summer version of homo hipsterus incarnate, in duplicates too. No single woman on the staff, at least on that night, only men’s men in front and back of the kitchen.
A waiter slouched over to explain the menu: The “machins” are starters, the “patentes” are mains, while dishes to be shared are, hail to consistency, “grosses patentes.” (In French, “machin” and “patente” are used when discussing nameless objects, as in “c’est quoi cette patente?/what is that thing?”). From the top of his head, the waiter good-naturedly described the 15 or so dishes in great detail until we were too bemused to remember much. So we shrugged back and made our selection in the happy-go-lucky spirit of the place.
So how was it, you ask. Very very good if uneven. The wild mushrooms flirted with perfection but were a bit too salty. If the white of the sous-vide egg turned into “gu” (my Trashpack obsessed son’s word for it), the silky yolk tasted surprised and the homemade baloney elicited envy around our table and at the neigbouring one too. As for the “grosse patente” of braised pork with vegetables, tender and fatty, it led to leisurely negotiations. The highlight of the evening though was provided by the warm pouding chômeur, or poor men’s pudding, a white cake with maple syrup on the bottom, that the house serves with aged cheddar gratin on top. The first thrilling bite of fat, sugar and salt had me moaning. Actually moaning. I never conceived I would ever want to share. Then after a few more bites, the sheer gluttony of it reminded me I don’t have a sweet tooth, nor the stomach for over-the-top, reputation-making and -earned desserts.
Several foodies recommended the wine list, or rather wine chalk board, but after a day spent sipping cocktails by the pool at Château Bonne-Entente Hotel, we had no desire to dive into a bottle, however good it may be. If you plan on eating here or are not an almost teetotaler like me, you’re bound to enjoy, I’m told.
A top local blogger told me after the fact that she never sends advice-seekers to Patente et Machin, however much she likes it, because of the uneven cooking. However “when it’s good, it’s very good,” she wrote me. Given the fact our family goes out to restaurants on a weekly basis, we tend to be both very demanding or quite indulgent, depending on the honest feeling we get from the kitchen. Here, despite the occasional technical difficulties, the generous food, laid-back atmosphere and warm service combined into a successful, relaxed evening. I would go back anytime, provided I can borrow Monsieur’s Timberland.
82 Saint-Joseph St. West, Québec City, G1K 1W8