Story by Mary Alice Downie
Vacay.ca Senior Writer
QUEBEC CITY — When you’re named the best hotel in the country, you’re likely to get whatever you want. For Auberge Saint-Antoine, it desired a chef and embarked on a worldwide search to find the right one.
The winner was 32-year-old Julien Dumas, who trained with Alain Ducasse in Paris. In tune with the philosophy of the owners of Auberge Saint-Antoine, Dumas has a passion for local and seasonal food. He likes to use the whole ingredient, “including carrot tops,” said Ingrid Lemm, sales director for the hotel.
Panache, the boutique hotel’s flagship restaurant, has a farm on Ile d’Orleans, which is five kilometres from Quebec City and supplies fruits and vegetables. The restaurant’s menu changes every two weeks, depending on what’s in season. “They don’t even have a freezer,” Lemm said. “Just a small drawer for ice creams and so on.”
Service is friendly, the sommelier is enthusiastic, the food exquisite, but there’s no denying that it’s expensive, with dinner entrees in the $40-plus range. However, the farm grows more food than can be used in the restaurant. First, the restaurant thought of selling the leftover produce at a stall, but then said, “Why not a gourmet food truck?” So the pop-up Panache Mobile was founded two years ago, on a terrace beside Ste-Petronille Vineyard on Ile d’Orleans. The menu, under the supervision of Dumas, offers simpler fare than the restaurant: Charlevoix organic charcuteries ($6), French fries and truffle mayonnaise ($5), guédilleau homard (lobster roll) with avocado ($18). What we first thought was plastic cutlery is made from bamboo, as were the fetching little tubs of ketchup and mayonnaise beside pots of herbs from the farm.
It’s hard to beat sitting on a sunny terrace, eating bargain gourmet food, sipping wine, with a view of vineyards and Montmorency Falls sparkling in the distance. Panache Mobile 2, “more for takeout,” opened last summer on Bassin Brown with counter service for picnickers and hikers.
Auberge Saint-Antoine’s Historical Significance
Is it a hotel or is it a museum? That’s a question guests will likely ask when they visit the hotel. The answer is it’s an exhilarating blend of both. Developed by the visionary Price family, Auberge Saint-Antoine was converted from three 18th- and 19th-century warehouses on the waterfront.
Archeologists from the city and Laval University conducted 14 digs over 15 years. (Several masters’ theses have been written about the site.) Workmen dug up more than 5,000 artifacts from three centuries, some dating to the 1600s. Instead of being relegated to museums, over 700 objects, restored by conservators, are elegantly displayed in cases in the lobby and guest rooms. Each floor is dedicated to one of the site’s owners and his period, beginning on the first floor with Charles Aubert de la Chesnaye, who flourished here during the 17th-century. There are bits of china, mangled scissors, candle snuffers, a corkscrew, even a harpoon. Materials retrieved from the earth are also used. The counters at the reception desks are made of oak from 19th-century wharves. An 18th-century cannon is preserved in the Café-Bar Artefact.
The great stone warehouse built by master cooper John Chillas in 1822 now houses Panache (the word means elegance, style — and in Canada, antlers, which seems suitable too). is one of the finest in a city known for its delectable food. Recently L’Auberge did a worldwide search for a new chef.
Auberge Saint-Antoine recently topped Travel + Leisure‘s most recent ranking of Canadian accommodations and Panache is a strong contender to make it onto the 2013 Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide and Panache Mobiles are among the favourites to be named Canada’s Best Food Truck by Vacay.ca judges in April.
More About Auberge Saint-Antoine and Panache
Location: 8, rue Saint-Antoine, Quebec city, which is steps away from the Musee de la civilisation and Place Royale. (see map below)
Telephone: 1-888-692-2211 (toll free)
Nightly Rates: Rates start at $188 and increase during peak season in summer.
Panache mobile 1: 1A, Chemin au bout de l’Ile, Sainte-Petronille
Panache mobile 2: 615 boulevard Champlain, Bassin Brown
Hours: Panache Mobiles are open from 11 am to 5 pm from June to early October.
Tip: Not just your standard guidebook. How I wish I’d had Quebec, Birthplace of New France (Mendel Guides 2) before, not after my trip. Architectural historian David Mendel provides lucid, detailed descriptions of the buildings and streetscapes of Lower Town. Luc-Antoine Couturier’s dazzling photos are juxtaposed with earlier photos and paintings.
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