Friday, May 22, 2009

Animal spirits

Québec City was our destination of choice for the Victoria Day long weekend--absolutely magnificent place, like Paris with the haughty edge dulled by Canadian politesse.

On Sunday, my wife and I headed out sans-enfants to Restaurant Aux Anciens Canadiens for an afternoon appetizer and cocktail. They're not kidding about the "anciens" part (the building dates to 1675) and their repertoire includes wild game that we'd never seen on a menu before, such as wapati.

We ordered a pair of La Fin Du Monde ("end of the world") beers, and meanwhile tried to crack the French code of the menu. Foie gras seemed like a suitably French thing to order, and caribou sounded like fun. "Would you like the caribou before the foie gras?" the waitress asked in broken-but-passable English, and we said "Oui," or more likely "Por favor," which is a hard habit for me to break.

Five minutes or so later, the waitress dropped off the two beers and a small cocktail glass containing a light amber liquid and a lemon twist. My wife and I looked at each other, and were certain something had been lost in translation. When the waitress returned, I smiled and pointed at the glass and said, "Um, I'm sorry, but what is this?"

A puzzled look crossed her face and she said, "It is caribou. Did you not want?" The 12-watt lightbulb goes on in my head that I had misread aperitif as appetizer, which it most assuredly was not, and thus we had not ordered the meat from a large horned animal at all, but rather some sort of identically named cocktail. The waitress started to apologize and say that she'd take it back, but we started laughing and insisted that we wanted to try it.

After returning home, we confirmed that Caribou is indeed an authentically Québécois drink--something like a sherry, and notorious as the drink of choice for winter Carnival revelers. It also confirmed the old saying that experience is what you get when you don't get what you want. Particularly when you're traveling, there's nothing better than that.


  1. Ah, Caribou is what you drink--poured hot out of a makeshift coffee warmer--during Carnivale in February when it's -30. No where else in the world do you see drunken adults in snow suits tilting back a big plastic cane filled with heated wine and stumbling through the streets!

    (I've yet to eat at Anciens Canadians--you always need reservations well in advance. Glad you liked it! What else did you see???)

  2. I could see how Caribou could be useful for that purpose! Anciens Canadiens was quiet when we entered (4 pm or so) and packed by the time we left.

    We stayed at Chateau Frontenac, which is impressive in its own right, and walked, saw, drank and ate as much of Vieux-Québec as we could in 2.5 days. Walked around the Citidel and promenade...took a silly horse tour, which turned out to be great fun and surprisingly educational...watched street performers juggle fire on unicycles and play the sax (not both at the same time). We're already planning our next trip.

  3. It's so addictive! We go every year, just about, and still never get bored. Stayed at the Chateau last time round, but found it was way too expensive for what you get. There are a lot of great B&Bs close to the heart of Old Quebec--let me know if you'd ever like some pointers.