We chose Restaurant Initiale for our second big meal in Quebec City. Like le Saint-Amour, which I wrote about in a previous post, Initiale was at or near the top of every Quebec dining guide I looked at.
Located in a former bank, the forty-seat dining room is decorated in sedate earth tones, with plenty of space between tables. The website describes it as “sobre [sic] and classical.” In New York, Per Se is perhaps the closest thing to it, but here there is no panoramic view of Central Park (or of anything).
A couple of weeks ago, New York Times critic Sam Sifton featured a letter from a clueless twit named Brian who criticized restaurants like Eleven Madison Park and Momofuku Ko because, “when a restaurant is too focused on food you lose passion and soul.”
Brian is full of crap, starting with his false dichotomy that a focus on food is inconsistent with “passion and soul.” I lost him at “foodies,” as in: “by catering to ‘foodies’ these restaurants have become boring. Foodies as diners are way too concerned with the food.”
I don’t want to spend any more time on Brian’s limitations, except to say: Initiale isn’t Brian’s kind of restaurant. But it sure was ours. We didn’t spend our whole meal reverently “studying” the food. But each course in our long tasting menu commanded attention, as exceptional food should.
At dinner, there is a choice among three “thematic menus” (three courses plus amuses for CA$69): Le Maratime, Produit Volaillé, or Le Goût du Chef; or, a long tasting menu at $125.
The cooking here was more precise, technical, and elaborate, than at le Saint-Amour. The chef, Yvan Lebrun, has a particular knack for integrating fruits and vegetables into a dish, rather than just serving them on the side, or as a garnish. As in the earlier review, I’m going to quote from the menu and, for the most part, let the photos speak for themselves.
1. Amuses bouches (above left)
2. Princess scallops three ways: red pepper-gremolata and nougatine (above right)
3. Turnip and armillaires mushrooms; char et broth aux pousse de sapin et garlic flower (both above)
4. Lobster and veal escalopinette bolognaise; pasta, tuile of coral, and lobster vinaigrette à la diable (both above). We were especially struck by the pairing of lobster and veal, which is one of those “you wouldn’t think it would work, but it does” kind of dishes.
5. Warm escalope of duck liver; beet crumble, apples, touch of buckthorn berry and leaves of tetragone (above left)
6. Roasted lamb from le Bas du Fleuve; grilled pepper and spinach, épigramme with mustard and yellow haricot beignet and haricots coco (above right). The cigar-shaped packet above the lamb chop itself is the chef’s take on a spring roll with lamb confit inside of it.
7. Cheese from Quebec: a) Rutabega velouté, pieces of Blue Elisabeth and leaves of sage (above left); b) Green bread-onion and Cap-Rond, wild ginger parfait glace and buckwheat (above right)
8) Dans les pommes (above left); 9) Mignardise (above right)
The service was just about flawless. After the 12,000-bottle wine cellar at le Saint-Amour, the wine list here seemed more pedestrian—certainly more than adequate for the surroundings, but not notable in itself.
Were it in New York, Initiale would be one of the city’s top handful of restaurants. It is remarkable that a much smaller city can keep such a place in business. Gastro-tourism alone can’t explain it, given that the city’s peak season is rather short. One must assume that the locals know fine food and aren’t shy about paying for it. Good for them!
Restaurant Initiale (54, rue St-Pierre, Quebec City)