I first experienced molecular gastronomy a couple years ago at a restaurant called L’atelier in Ottawa. There, I had a 12 course meal with wine pairing which was amazing. So, when I heard of a restaurant called La Tanière near Québec City, I was anxious to try the molecular experience again. My boyfriend surprised me for my birthday by offering me the best they had to offer, a 20 course meal… with wine pairing!
So, brace yourselves, as I describe the 20 fabulous and inventive courses we had the pleasure of partaking in!
We arrived at 7:15pm, the latest they suggested you arrive for the meal, since 20 courses can take a while. The restaurant is in the middle of nowhere, on a country road, in a very unassuming converted house. The interior, however, was much nicer, quite modern, and highlighted local art.
The first course was called herbal trilogy, and included three offerings:
The first was a fried ball of boar head pâté, that is deboned boar head, that is made into a country style bread, served with a branch of rosemary. We were told by the server that the idea was to breathe in the smell of the fresh rosemary as you bit into the fried pâté. The pâté was surprisingly creamy and not gamey at all, with a smooth texture. And, the rosemary smell lent a nice and inventive addition to the bite.
Next, our waiter suggested we have the fresh scallop. The scallop had just been shucked, so it was served with it’s roe. I had never had scallop roe before and it was delicious. It had a taste reminiscent of lobster roe or mussels, but with a smooth buttery texture, which was delicious. It had that granular sea taste while still being very fresh. Served with the smooth raw scallop with it’s more delicate perfume, the crunchiness of the mango salsa and the tang of fleur de sel, it was perfection!
Finally, the trio finished with a warm cumin and mint tea. The particularity of this tea, however, was that it was served with a smooth sphere inside, which when you bit into it, released some cold ginger tea. The combination of the warm and cold was surprising and delicious. We were off to a great start, these three amuse-bouches were amazing!
The second course called illusion was an inventive take on caviar. The idea was to reproduce the look, feel and taste of the experience of eating caviar, without it. So, small gellified balls with the same texture as caviar were created out of different ingredients, namely squid ink. They were served with small chips of dried parsnip, and a creamy sauce made of goat cheese and champagne. The result was delicious, especially the creamy sauce, however, the taste of the caviar was not really reminiscent of real caviar. The briny ocean taste so present in caviar was much more discreet here. However, this course reflected the theme of the meal somewhat, where creativity and humour were mixed to create a food experience that is not meant to be taken so seriously.
The third course called marine cloud, was halibut served with asparagus, sea buckthorn and squash purée. The crunchiness of the asparagus was a nice contrast with the tender halibut that was cooked to perfection. Likewise, the sweetness of the squash was a nice combination with the tartness of the buckthorn berry. This was also a larger portion, much more filling than the previous two, and I was starting to have some doubts about my ability to eat twenty courses!
Luckily, the fourth and next course, called on the banks, was much smaller. It was a very fresh malpec oyster, served with grapefruit and a pansy (which are edible). Again, teh flower was more decorative, and did not lend much to the taste of the oyster. However, the presentation was pretty and the grapefruit was a nice comination to the fresh ocean taste of the oyster.
The fifth course called scratchy yet delicate, was a combination of nautilus, mussel and sea urchin served within a sea urchin’s shell. I had never had sea urchin or nautilus before, so I was very intrigued. I found the nautilus bland and chewy, it was definitely more interesting than tasty. The mussel and sea urchin, however, were grainy yet creamy, with a definite briny taste. It was served with some jerusalem artichoke. This was one of the less inventive courses. While the ingredients were original and unexpected, the presentation was very simple, with very little variances in taste and texture, and not much done to alter the taste of the ingredients. While that can be a good thing, in this case, it left me a little under-whelmed.
The sixth course was called a royal bite, it was lobster cooked under vaccuum, served with tortellini filled with a lobster purée, and served with dill, over a lobster-like bisque. This was a delicious plate, with the lobster taste omni-present and saturating the whole dish with it’s rich, creamy taste.
The seventh course called apple snow, was a trou normand of green apple sorbet and white caramel, served with a cube of gellified green apple. This was a nice break from all that food to help us digest and revive our appetite. The green apple taste was very present, and the gellified cube lent an interesting texture to the dish. The white caramel taste however was too discreet for me to clearly identify. I was also impressed by the restaurant’s attention to detail. We had mentioned to them that my boyfriend was intolerant to cow’s milk, so they offered him a soy-based ice-cream instead – that was much appreciated and showwed that they put considerable effort in accomodating our particularities.
The eighth course called still life, was an ode to older art portraying inanimate objects, such as fruit bowls or other. It had some grapes, stuffed with some partridge liver pâté or else a grape paste, served with some dehydrated quinoa, dehydrated black garlic powder and sweet vanilla flavoured rolls. I particularly liked the attention to the presentation in this plate, with the older wine glasses, the slate plate and even the carafe used to serve the wine was reminiscent of a renaissance banquet. This was one of my favourite courses as well. The creamy taste of the pâté, with the tang of the grapes and the sweetness of the vanilla flavoured roll was delectable.
The ninth course called coureur des bois, was some guinea fowl, served with some squash purée, asparagus, balsamic glaze, shiitake mushrooms and some fiddleheads. I felt that the squash purée and asparagus were a little overused, having been in several of the courses at this point, at the same time, with this many courses, I guess that’s to be expected… The guinea fowl was a little bland, but there was a nice mix of textures to the plate, and the fiddleheads were perfectly cooked and were different and surprising.
The tenth course called Catherine de Medicis, was an artichoke salad served with diced chorizo sausage and served with sweetbreads. The course was named after Catherine de Medici since she is the French queen who is purported responsible for the introduction of the artichoke in France. This course was excellent, a little lighter than the previous course, with a nice artichoke emulsion, crispy and creamy fried sweetbreads and crunchy, spicy chorizo sausage.
So, that was it for the first ten courses, be sure to read the rest of my review of La Tanière. My review of the next ten courses will follow shortly….
Bon apétit, Enjoy!