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Rhonda Herrington Bulmer
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February 18th, 2013
Eating the art at L’Idylle
by Rhonda Herrington Bulmer

Here in Canada, we are not used to lingering over our food. Even though afternoon talk shows and news items about healthy eating emphasize the importance of enjoying homemade meals round the family dinner table, people rarely partake that way.

Have a look at the dizzying array of convenience foods in our grocery store freezers and you’ll see how little time we spend in the kitchen preparing real food, at least during the work week.

Image of The Bourque House, courtesy restaurantidylle.com

The social aspects of eating together—savouring, not stuffing—are not practiced either.

No, instead we buy fast and filling. We chug large-size hamburgers, fries and soda pop in our cars between school, work and extra-curricular activities. High school and college students are hyped up on energy drinks that make up for their lack of sleep. On busy days, a pot of Kraft dinner is a quick fix. The term “social eating” refers to stuffing pizza and wings into our mouths as a group in front of the Stanley Cup final.

My evening meal with my husband at L’Idylle on February 14, Valentine’s Day, offered a glimpse at a different paradigm. Located in Dieppe, New Brunswick at the Bourque House, the oldest known Acadian home in the area, L’Idylle is a charming little French restaurant established in 2006 by husband and wife team Emmanuel Charretier and Hélène Legras. This French-born couple found their way to Dieppe after meeting and marrying in New York.

Looking around us, I estimated that the rooms of the house, whose inner walls had been knocked down and replaced by pillars would accommodate about 30 people. These same pillars created some intimate nooks and provided some sense of privacy for patrons in the wide, open space. We arrived at six, and by seven, the place was full.

My husband had done some technical work for L’Idylle a couple of years ago and was acquainted with the chef/owner, but yesterday was our first visit. It was an expensive evening…$230 for two people to enjoy L’Idylle’s nine-course tasting menu, but the experience was well-worth it and something I’ll remember for a long time.

Our fall/winter menu began with a piece of fresh baguette and whipped butter. It was crunchy on the outside, and soft on the inside, with a nice chew and stretch.  I apologize for not including any awe-inspiring pictures of the evening’s food. The dimly-lit interior provided a cozy atmosphere, but not great photos.

Mise en bouche was first, a teaser. This was my husband’s favourite thing of the evening…a spoon sat in the middle of a huge plate containing a mixture of smoked salmon and nori. The flavours were mild but distinct and left us wanting more—a tease, indeed!

Second was cream of butternut squash with walnut oil. This was delicious, one of my favourite soups. I’ve never paired walnut with my own squash soup before, but it was really yummy. A quenelle of whipped mousse in the middle was artfully cool and rich.

Shellfish velouté was the third course, a delicate combination of shrimp, scallop, clam and I think, calamari.

The fourth course was probably my favourite: lamb with risotto, so much so that I’m planning to make risotto this week. I could taste the cheese, but it was slightly sweet, too, and the lamb was super-tender.

Hélène brought in another piece of baguette for our plates, and then the fifth course, poutine gastronomic of lamb. Listen: nobody can be neutral about traditional Acadian boiled poutine râpée. You either love it or hate it. And no offense to my Acadian friends, but I am in the hate category. That purplish/gray-goo of boiled potato balls with pork in the middle is just awful. No amount of sugar or molasses sprinkled on top will make it any better. But L’Idylle’s version is different. The thin layer of crunchy potato on the outside appeared to be shredded in the traditional way, but then fried, not boiled. It was soft on the inside with tender bits of lamb confit from Champ Doré Farm, Grande-Digue in the centre. The ball was served with a cranberry-orange compote and it was delicious!

Course six was rabbit stew mediterranean style—the rabbit was stewed in red wine for a day, and sat atop a small pile of whipped potato in the middle of the plate. It was surrounded by carrot puree with ginger and a Brussels sprout, squash puree with beet, and a fried cake of chick pea flour. This was the dish I cared for the least, but it was still good. There was cocoa in the sauce, which gave it a bitter edge. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t like it as much. The rabbit was very tender–also unusual because I find rabbit tends to be dry and stringy.

Course seven was a fruit dessert of warm apples on a crunchy biscuit with butterscotch sauce and homemade vanilla ice cream on top. Not too sweet, it combined well with the richness of the homemade ice cream.

Course eight was a chocolate dessert and it speaks for itself: rum raisin ice cream in the center wrapped in a crunchy coconut layer and surrounded by chocolate mousse. The layered mound was dressed with a thin wafer and finished with a clear, sticky, fruit syrup.

We finished off our dinner with fresh-pressed coffee that sported a thick crema and was neither too strong nor too mild. Hélène served it with chunks of natural brown sugar and a pot of cream.

What I noticed about our evening was that the courses were tiny by North American standards and at such a high price, we expect more.  When we go to a traditional restaurant, even a fancier one, we’re looking for a big plate piled with food. Nevertheless, by the time we left I was comfortably full, not stuffed.

I realized that the point of a tasting menu is to taste. Detect flavours and appreciate them, let the chef’s choices surprise you and look forward to what you’ll see in the next course. In our everyday lives food is a practical necessity, but there are also times when it can be art.

And come with a list of things to discuss, by the way, because the several minutes that lapsed between courses added up to about four and a half hours. We didn’t leave the restaurant until 10:30 pm. So if you don’t have anything interesting to say to your restaurant partner, you’d better stay home with your box of egg rolls and bag of French fries and plunk yourself in front of the television.

I highly recommend this experience for your next special occasion. To make reservations check out L’Idylle’s website, http://restaurantidylle.com/.

3 Responses to “Eating the art at L’Idylle”

  1. Kathy Mercure says:

    Oh my, you did a great job of bringing back the memories of my own experience! I’ve had very good meals before, but I am the type that likes to try everything, so the tasting menu is the perfect solution for me.

    And, because I love food that is gorgeously prepared, it was worth every penny of the cost.

    Well done!

  2. Deborah says:

    One of my favourite writing assignments was to review a tasting menu at Little Louis’ Oyster Bar. I was allowed to take my husband (no good eating alone!) and we dressed for the occasion. (Although there were others in the restaurant dressed in jeans and tees. I must be old-fashioned).

    I’ve never experienced such a beautiful meal before or since. And much of it I hated to eat because it looked so lovely. Congratulations for for treating yourselves. As parents of three children, who work side-by-side at home, you both deserved it!

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