Good wine pairings at 'Utopie- Quebec City
Because I wanted to have lunch at utopie, we trudge through the snow from our hotel on Grande Allee to rue St. Joseph Est in the St. Roch area of Quebec. Rue St. Joseph’s is a cozy street lined on both sides with cafes, shops and restaurants. Unfortunately, many places, including Café du Clocher, were closed for the holidays. Fortunately, Utopia was one of the few restaurants open. We were the first patrons to arrive, but after we were seated, a table of four followed us in. It was nice not to have the entire spacious restaurant to ourselves. Others followed soon thereafter.
For lunch, utopie offered a set menu of appetizer, main and dessert for $22. It seemed like a reasonable deal so we ordered couple glasses of Champagne (Louis Coucardi) to wet our palette as we reviewed the menu offerings and looked over their wine list.
Their wine list is long and impressive. It starts with local Quebec wines from $36 and runs all the way up to the thousands of dollars for bottles of Pomerol, Bordeaux and even a Chateau Petrus. If only I were the CEO of a bankrupt company so I could afford such extravagances.
After reviewing the menu and realizing that my husband would choose the deer and I would choose the skate, we could not decide on a bottle of wine so we opted for wine pairings and left our wine decisions up to the knowledgeable waiter.
For starters, they offered two options. Luckily, I chose 2 and my husband 1 (see below). I say luckily because I hate it when my husband chooses the same thing as me. And even when I try to convince him to select the other choice, so that I can try them both, he’ll opt for exactly what he wants. He’s rather stubborn that way but I love him just the same.
1.Rillette de lapin aux noisettes (rabbit)
Pulled rabbit hazelnut, Apple chutney, currants, onion puree,
2. creme de courge butternut, cumin dusts, seeds
Butternut squash soup with seeds, dusts of cumin
My soup tasted like pure butternut, without any added embellishments. It was rich, simple and quite delicious, served with a few toasted seeds on top and a single strip of cumin dust across the plate’s side. I probably could have eaten another serving of that soup but thankfully the cooks knew better than to fill my stomach with soup. My husband wasted no time devouring his plate of delectable offerings. Halfway through my soup, I looked up and saw that his plate was cleaned perfectly, not a drop of anything for me to taste. His only respond to my accusing eyes: “but…you don’t like hazelnut.”
For our first wine pairing, the waiter started us on the same wine: a Rhone Valley white from a mix of Rhine and Rhone valley grapes. I think it was from Legouge-Copin. I’m familiar with reds from the Rhone Valley but not the whites. It was a nice, subtle wine that went well with the simplicity of my soup. I can only surmise that it also went well with my husband’s starter because he didn’t complain.
For the mains, utopie offered a choice from four selections: Morue poele (codfish), Bavette de cerf (deer), aile de raie (skate) and filet de porc (pork). I chose the skate and my husband, carnivore that he is, chose the deer.
To complement my skate, the waiter chose a Chardonnay and Seyvall blend from Farmham, Quebec. I was not aware that Quebec was a wine-producing region. Our waiter explained that it was not common knowledge but that some producers did indeed make good wines in that cold climate. I had never heard of Seyvalls but the blend was surprisingly tasty. I usually don’t like Chardonnays, especially the ones that are yeasty. This blend was clean, a bit buttery and went well with my skate. My skate dish contained a rather generous portion of skate sitting on top of a zucchini puree, flanked on both sides by popped rice filled rolls of aubergine. I wasn’t too crazy about the way that the popped rice looked nor about its taste but the aubergine was surprisingly good. I am usually not an aubergine fan but when the waiter came to clear my plate, all that remained was the last few bites of skate, which I could not finish because I was getting so very full.
My husband’s deer was also generous served with potatoes and mashed turnips: definitely a manly man’s meal. My husband noted that the deer was cooked perfectly. He washed his deer down with a glass of full-bodied red wine from Cahors. He was delighted with the choice. Many years ago, we toured the Cahors region of France, visiting vineyards, enjoying the wines from that region and lugging home cases of wine. It’s rare to find Cahors wines offered in restaurants and the fact that our waiter had chosen one to accompany the rich flavor of game meat boded well for his tip. My husband was more than pleased with how the gorgeous wine suited the heady richness of the deer. He was in heaven.
Sadly for me, the rest of our three-course meal was a letdown. The dessert was a green tea, lemon and black-sesame cake, served with a scoop of black cherry sorbet. I’ve never been a fan of sorbet or fruit ice creams, with the exception of banana gelato in Italy (yummy!). I prefer my ice cream fatty, creamy and fatty, not tart and slimy. As for the cake, it reminded me of so many cakes you see in the window of so many generic cafes in Tokyo. And the taste was as bland and uninspiring as if it were one of a million generics. It lacked pizzazz, punch or pep. I want my dessert to be a crescendo and a cap to a wonderful meal. Is that so hard to achieve? It just such a letdown. I only took one scoop of the ice cream and one reluctant scoop of the cake before I quickly grabbed my over-foamed cappuccino to try and rid myself of the lingering dessert tastes. My husband, the lover of all things sweet, did not seem to mind the dessert and finished off his plate before I even took my first bite of cake.
In conclusion, the smart wine pairings that our waiter put together for our meal were the highlight. Although I enjoyed the butternut soup and the skate, the disappointment from the dessert was hard to let go. I’ve heard such raving reviews of this restaurant from other chowhounds that I can only surmise that their offerings for dinner or for their tasting menu is on a different tier than what we experienced at lunch. If that is the case, I am definitely open to giving that a go the next time we’re in Quebec City. I've included a few photos below.
Thanks for the detailed report. My experience with lunches in fancy restos is that, while they can be quite good, they seldom reach the level of dinner fare.
I think you may have confused your first two wines. Jean-Marc Legouge-Copin is a Champagne producer, some of whose wines are distributed in Quebec on a private import basis. Your Rhône white was probably the Costières de Nîmes from Lou Coucardié. See www.michelgassier.com/eng/Cuvee-Lou_C... for details of the 2002 vintage.
And your Chardonnay-Seyval blend was probably from Les Pervenches, certainly one of Quebec's best wineries and one of the few to work with vinifera grapes. www.lespervenches.com/lesproduits.html
Carswell, you're right, I screwed up and switched the champagne and the first wine pairing. Sorry about that! Thanks for catching it! the memo option on my iphone is not the best format to take notes during my meals. I need to do a better job of taking photos and asking the sommelier to leave the wine bottles so that I can write down the names without having to resort to pure memory. I wish we had bought a few bottles of Quebec wine to bring back home with us but it didn't work out this time. Perhaps the next visit we'll have a better opportunity.