Needs to up its game – review of Aux Anciens Canadiens

Aux Anciens CanadiensNestled in the heart of Vieux Quebec, less than a block from the Chateau Frontenac, is the familiar red roof of Aux Anciens Canadiens, an unassuming looking restaurant that specializes in game meats. My recent visit was something of a home-coming for me, as I had crossed its threshold 15 years ago and had been amazed by the food and service.

A meat lover’s paradise, the restaurant has made its reputation on its multitude of dishes involving game ranging from elk and caribou to bison and duck, as well as various seafood offerings. On my latest visit, my friend and I had lunch, which was a $20 table d’hôte. But $20 was really just the starting point, as almost everything we ordered added a few to several dollars to our dining tab.

The menu itself was a single long page, but it was chock full of dishes, many of which were not particularly informative about the content of the meal and required questions of our pleasant but harried server.

As it was the Canada Day long weekend, the restaurant was packed and without reservations, it took about half an hour before they could seat us. That being said, the restaurant did its best to get our orders in and food out very quickly. Reservations are recommended.

I started with the escargot. The flesh was pleasantly cooked, offering resistance without being chewy or rubbery. Unfortunately, the flavour of the dish was largely overwhelmed by the cheese, which although not heavily applied was strong and distracting. I wanted garlic butter and instead was met with salt.


Sloppy presentation and the cheese overpowered the garlic butter

My main course was the Trapper’s Treat, comprising Lac St.-Jean tourtiere and bison stew. This was why I had returned and it did not disappoint. The tourtiere was insanely flavourful, the tastes and textures of the different meats mingling beautifully with the spices and vegetables to create an unforgettable experience.

And the stew reminded me of the amazing stews my grandmother made; the vegetables firm, the bison chunks tender. Interestingly, the bison tasted distinctly like beef in this dish, which surprised me a little as I expected something a bit more distinct.

Trapper's Treat

Lac St.-Jean tourtiere and bison stew with homemade ketchup (like a salsa)

My friend let me sample her main course, which was bison cooked Bourguignon style with a creamy blueberry wine sauce. The blueberries intrigued me, and did not disappoint, not being initially apparent but making a sudden appearance at the finish.

For dessert, both of us had the chocolate pie with white chocolate cream, a very sweet combination that definitely needed the long espresso as a change-up. I admit that I was expecting the pie filling to be more of a mousse and so was surprised when it ended up being more fudge-like in consistency, making it a very heavy dessert. The best part was actually the cream that nicely contrasted with the tartness of the few garnishing strawberry slices.

Chocolate Pie

Heavy (fudge-like) chocolate pie with white chocolate cream

Aux Anciens Canadiens is not a beer-lover’s paradise, however, as the selection was limited to a blanche and an amber. And although the wine menu appeared extensive, only two wines were sold by the glass: a Chardonnay and a Pinot that my friend suggested was not particularly good. All other wines were sold only by the bottle.

As mentioned earlier, service was pleasant and accommodating, but the crush of patrons seemed to have caught the restaurant by surprise, putting the servers on a constant run that made it sometimes difficult to get questions answered.

Sadly, this experience didn’t quite live up to my memories of my earlier one. Perhaps it was the crush of the long weekend. Perhaps it was simply that lunch service doesn’t match up to dinner service. Either way, it feels like the restaurant needs to up its game to compete with other game restaurants in the area, such as Le Hobbit Bistro just outside of Vieux Quebec’s walls.

Game face

Visit any professional sports locker room before a competition and you will see all kinds of rituals being performed. In some cases, music blares and bodies rock side-to-side as the players psych up for combat. Or the room will be deafeningly quiet as players turn inward to find a source of personal strength. Some pray. Some pound each other on their gear. Some attempt speeches that would make Henry V blush.

It’s about getting your head into the game. Putting on your game face.

I do the same thing with my writing. Well, perhaps not the same thing, but similar things. For me, writing is about being in the moment and being ready to accept what comes.

Writing takes training. Writing takes practice. But most of all, writing takes preparation.

If I know I want to explore a certain mood in my writing, I may listen to music that stimulates that mood in me. Right now, as I write this, I am listening to Division Bell by Pink Floyd.

Or I may watch a movie or two (perhaps just scenes) from which to take emotive and cosmic inspiration.

Other times, I may simply require quiet. Time to channel my energies completely to the task, without distraction.

Unfortunately, as much as I can do to control external distractions, I can only do so much about internal distractions. One way I accomplish this, however, is through practices that I describe as mental Etch-a-Sketch, activities that allow me to shake my mental landscape enough to erase the noise.

My predominant method is the card game Solitaire. The game does not tax me mentally, but requires just enough synaptic pattern-matching activity that it clears the slate of the noise. (I also like Mah-jongg, but find this takes too much focus to clear my head for anything else, so it remains a hobby.)

Using solitaire was something I learned as a child when I wanted to avoid thinking about things that were going on around me—a way to disappear physically and mentally from my world. But where it was a crutch for several decades of my life, it has now become a useful tool to help me prepare for my artistic efforts.

Once my mind is clear, the energy flows and ideas arrive like so many lightning bugs in the dwindling light. Fleeting inspirations ready to be tapped.

So, now that I have shared my secrets, how do you prepare to write? What is your pre-game ritual?

Let’s talk.

PS These are my stats essentially since the start of 2013…and yes, I live alone.