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Eat & Drink: Discovering Bistro St-Malo
Bistro St-Malo, when a Quebec chef interprets French gastronomy with the generosity of Mediterranean cuisine in the Old Port of Quebec. Partner of this institution for years, it was natural that it occupies a place of choice in our “Nomad Gourmet” packages. Olivier – Owner Hotel Nomad Quebec.
To present this address to you as well as possible, we asked Pam MacNaughtan to spend an evening there. Pamela is a travel and food writer based in Quebec City. She writes freelance stories, has updated guidebooks for Michelin Green Guides and DK Eyewitness, and runs a website on Quebec called Urban Guide Quebec. Pamela is a self-acclaimed croissant snob and devours all things lobster whenever possible.
” I remember the first time I walked passed Bistro St-Malo. It was not long after moving to Québec City, and early enough in the morning that there were freshly baked baguettes hanging from the door. “How French!”, I thought at the time. Back then, however, it was known as Café St-Malo.
Opening in the early 1980s, Café St-Malo was known for its exposed stone walls and wooden beams, views of rue Saint-Paul, and a menu filled with traditional French cuisine. A neighbourhood institution. When the restaurant was sold in 2018, after staffing struggles, the new owners – Philippe Racine (chef), and Philippe Fournier (sous-chef) – decided to keep the spirit of Café St-Malo alive.
Renamed Bistro St-Malo, the new owners spruced up the décor; a bar has been added, as well as a dining room upstairs which converts to a private lounge space. The menu was also refreshed, and a handful of Mediterranean dishes were added to the traditional French menu.
I dined at Bistro St-Malo on a Wednesday evening, sitting on the outdoor patio as the sun set in the distance. When I arrived, I was greeted by Yannick, a tall waiter with a twinkle in his eye, and an animated presence, who promised to take care of me for the evening. Promise kept.
Although the steamed mussels appear to be the dish of choice on my visit, in fact Wednesday was renamed Moulecredi at St-Malo, I decided to order tuna tartare, which I savoured along with the house cocktail. Fruity and bright green, this cocktail is made with vodka, white rum, curacao, orange juice and seven-up. One thing is for sure, I’ll return another time to try the steamed mussels and French Onion soup.
The tuna tartare arrives with a small side salad. It’s buttery, with little bursts of grapefruit, and I eat it as slowly as I can. A light and refreshing way to start my supper. I’ve tried several tuna, and salmon, tartares in Québec City over the years, and many places, I find, overdress. Thankfully, Bistro St-Malo does not do this, and it is now among my favourites.
Choosing a main course was more challenging, as there were so many interesting dishes to choose from. I’m curious about the cassoulet, as well as the sweetbreads. Duck confit, and Steak frites are tempting classics as well. On the suggestion of Yannick, I order the lobster cannelloni, which he tells me is not done the Italian way. I’m not entirely sure what that means. Perhaps he’s referring to the stuffing, which is lobster, lobster, and more lobster.
The cannelloni arrives, bathing in a creaming asparagus and mint sauce, topped with a pickled fennel and grapefruit salad, as well as a row of grilled asparagus spears. The pasta is filled with so much lobster that it barely holds together once it has been cut. Perhaps that is on purpose, as it gives me an excuse to scoop up sauce with eat bite. The mint elevates the sauce to a point where I would probably drink it, if that was an option.
The wine list has a wide selection of red wines, with a few whites and rosées. Of course, there are bubbles as well. Many of the wines are from France, however you will find wines from Spain, Italy, New Zealand, and Canada as well. I chose a sauvignon from France, which paired nicely with the cannelloni.
The cannelloni portion is generous, without feeling overly heavy or rich. Something I appreciate, as this allows me to order dessert.
As much as I adore crème brûlée, I order the tarte tatin, which has been recommended by Yannick, as well as a handful of friends. A classic French dessert, tarte tatin is generally apples carmelized in butter and sugar pilled on buttery pastry, just before it’s baked.
When the tarte tatin arrives at my table, the warm buttery pasty is resting in a pool of caramel and topped with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream. It’s decadent, comforting, and worthy every extra calorie.
Bistro St-Malo is one of those restaurants where friends and neighbours speak its name in awed reverance. In fact, some still call it Café St-Malo. I may have taken a couple of years to dine at Bistro St-Malo, but I can guarantee I will be dining there again before summer ends this year. Possibly more than once.” Pamela MacNaughtan
Photo credit: Le Soleil