As soon as we're under their roof, it's like we've entered a world where smiles are infectious and every mundane movement becomes a graceful gesture. The staff have better manners than your boyfriend meeting your parents for the first time--helping us take off/put on our coats, pulling out our chairs, and making quality checks every time there's a new dish in front of us.
The restaurant is built inside two woodcutter's cottages from the 1860's, which seems to lend to the cosy vibe--a crackling fireplace, stone walls, and warm decor transport diners to rustic Quebec City. The menus are always changing to reflect the season's best.
To drink, we ordered the Mint Almond Spritz ($7) and Maple Walnut Soda ($7), two drinks that couldn't have been more different from each other. Although they were both carbonated, what the soda lacked in flavour the spritz excelled in. In a blind taste test, a glass of this soda and sparkling water would be indistinguishable from each other. On the other hand, we want the spritz to be mass produced. Can it replace water? Can we bathe in it? Can it make up 75% of our bodies? It managed to be tart and sweet and refreshing and and warming, all at once.
|Left to right: Mint Almond Spritz ($7), Maple Walnut Housemade Soda ($7)|
We're sure there's an unspoken rule somewhere that the complimentary bread foreshadows the quality of the rest of the meal. In this case, the bread was soft, but was neither warm nor cold. Paired with the rather tasteless artichoke spread, the future wasn't looking too good.
|Complimentary Bread Basket with Artichoke Spread|
To start, we ordered the Gnocchi à la Parisienne and the Smoked Salmon Rillette. The salmon was served with cornichon, capers, dill crème fraîche, and O&B Artisan pretzel bread. The salmon was fresh, flavourful, and worked well with the classic flavours of the dill, capers, and cornichon but overall, the dish lacked excitement.
|Smoked Salmon Rillette|
The gnocchi was served with bacon and escargot haché, spinach, and garlic butter. The actual pasta was soft and chewy but the haché was the real star of the show. It combined textures and flavours beautiful, with a slight rustic spice.
|Gnocchi à la Parisienne|
For our mains, we tried the Oxtail Bourguignon and the Duck Confit. Although the portions look small, Auberge used rich, winter game so the dishes were satisfyingly filling.
The oxtail was made with cipollini onions, roasted mushrooms, celeriac purée, red wine jus and resembled a fairly upscale stew. Unfortunately, the dish lacked any recognizable texture so it quickly crossed the line from 'fairly upscale stew' to 'fairly sure this is baby food'. Despite that, both the purée and the bourguignon were so opposite each other on the flavour wheel that they complimented each other well: the richness of the ox and the freshness of the celeriac. With this dish, as well as most of Auberge's dishes, it was important that each bite combined all the flavours and textures on the plate.
The duck was well seasoned, although we would have preferred a crispier skin. It was served with toasted barley, dried cherries, root vegetables, and spiced duck jus. The combination of meat and winter vegetables was hearty to the point where it became overwhelming. Halfway through this dish, the vegetables and barley were entirely forgotten.
Dessert is always the most exciting part of a meal and at this point, we were hoping for a little redemption. We ordered the Chocolate Pavé and the Cardamon Crème Brûlée. The Chocolate Pavé was rather disappointing--it was drier than day-old pastries in the supermarket, with its only redeeming quality being the passion fruit marshmallow and sauce it was served with.
The Crème Brûlée may have saved the rather uninspiring night. It was made with vanilla streusel, citrus salad (note the two tiny slices of fruit), and grapefruit gastrique. This was the perfect end to the meal--light and refreshing, with the aromatic flavour of the cardamom in balance.
|Cardamom Crème Brûlée|
Depending on your opinion of Winterlicious, this may or may not have been an accurate representation of the Auberge experience ... and we really hope it wasn't. The service may have been the lone saviour of the night. Even at the $45 fixe prix level, the food doesn't quite match the price point you'd expect. Unfortunately, the dishes were more a feast for the eyes than a feast for the mouth. Oh O&B, why have you forsaken us once again?