Café Du Lac, a taste of Quebec

Café du Lac

It was our third anniversary the other night so we decided to go somewhere a little special, a little fancy. Since there aren’t too many restaurants on the Shore that provide “special”—much less “fancy”—we finally got out to the relatively fancy Quebecois eatery, Café Du Lac, which Mandi has been curious about for some time.

Our experience was special right off the bat.

When we arrived a smidge after 5:30, the doors were still locked and we met another couple who were also waiting for the place to open. Also waiting on the doorstep was a twitching and writhing pigeon with its head and wings twisted at unnatural angles. Its feathers were filthy and ruffled and its beak opened and closed in palsied silence. I thought it might have had distemper—or whatever disease avian scavengers are susceptible to—or maybe had its neck broken by flying into the building. It was hard to tell, but it was certainly dying.

The man of the other couple was probably in his late forties and wore a dark sports coat with a white shirt that had the top two buttons undone in that calculated, casual manner. His brow was knotted under his neatly cropped dark hair and he said, a little stiffly, “It should be put out of its misery.”

I had a few skeptical thoughts at this point. The first was that bird was in some kind of misery at all. I suspected it was so far into a state of shock that it was beyond suffering. I did think the creature needed to be removed from the doorstep and left somewhere to quietly expire which, by my estimation, was bound to happen very shortly. My other skeptical thought was that this man wasn’t reacting out of empathy for the bird’s supposed suffering but was merely reciting the correct rote response he thought applied to the situation.

I was less skeptical he was a robot or, perhaps, a slightly sociopathic doctor. When the waitress unlocked the doors and he asked her for a towel (supposedly to lay over it while he stomped on its head), he seemed oblivious to his wife’s horrified reaction.

While the hostess-server went back to the kitchen to ask the chef for a towel, and a few neighbourhood boys stopped to gawk, we took the opportunity to squeeze past the wife and get away from the dying pigeon. Something the man seemed determined to stick by. After seating ourselves, the chef walked past with a towel and the server said to us, with a raucous, semi-hysterical laugh, “I can’t believe this is happening! There’s always something crazy on The Lakeshore! Everyday it’s something else. My husband doesn’t believe the stories I tell him every night. He doesn’t believe it’s possible.”

Living a few minutes west of the restaurant, we knew it was entirely possible. The increasingly, though subtly, distraught wife was standing just inside the doorway, distancing herself from her husband’s single-minded determination to extinguish the bird. Mandi called over, “He’s going to kill it with a towel? Hardcore!”

The server laughed at that. The wife gestured she was unsure of what was going to happen next and muttered something to the effect of, “He needs to put things out of their misery.” Whatever was about to transpire, she didn’t seem to be terribly okay with it.

Soon the chef returned with a small bundle and the server said, “No! No no. What are you doing? No. Don’t bring it in here! NO. Couldn’t you walk around?”

The chef continued with the bundle out the back door followed by a troop of wide-eyed neighbourhood children. Moments later a woman came in and said, “Where’s my son?”

The server said, “He’s out back. There was a dead pigeon.”

The mom said, “Oh. Okay then,” with the resigned shrug of a mother used to her child’s ghoulish fascinations and left.

Watching her exit, we noticed the other couple had also vacated the scene. Dealing with the removal of the bird must have affected their appetites. I’m not sure if they were concerned the cook had been in close contact with possibly diseased sky-vermin or if, as Mandi conjectured, the woman was just too embarrassed by her husband to eat in front of us an the staff. That was okay with us, we had the room to ourselves.

With the business of the bird out of the way, we got down to the business of food. We were slightly disappointed to find the only selections on tap were Great Lakes Brewery‘s bland dad lager, Golden Horseshoe, and their decently hoppy but fairly standard pale ale, Crazy Canuck. Great Lakes makes far more interesting varieties but they sadly don’t seem to make it to the taps very often. The only other beer choice was St. Ambroise, which suited us fine.

Since it was a Tuesday, we took advantage of the prix fixe menu. Which isn’t exactly “fixed” since, contrary to the website, the steak frites entree is five dollars more than the mussels or the poutine. Also contrary to the website, the steak frites doesn’t come with caramelized onions but with an apple confit. A slight disappointment since I’m not a fan of cooked, spiced apples and was really looking forward to the caramelized onions. Also disappointing to me—though probably not to any one else—the housemade ketchup was flavoured with nutmeg or some other disgusting mulling spice. Mandi seemed to enjoy it as most people probably would. I gave it to her to go with the absolute mountain of frites that came with her absolute mountain of mussels.

Interestingly, the steak frites was also relatively short on the frites. Though by “short on” I mean there were plenty, it was just interesting how many more came with the mussels. Which was also proportionately a much larger serving than the steak itself. Again, the steak was a decent portion, just noticeably smaller than the largest bowl of mussels we’d ever seen. The steak was also a tad on the salty side (though not as shockingly so as the salt-lick known as  Queen West’s  Parts & Labour). The mussels were reportedly good, by the way.

If you’re the type who wants value-for-dollar with the prix fixe menu, I’d suggest getting the soup of the day, whatever it may be. That night it was glazed carrot. We didn’t order it for various reasons. The salad option was a standard tossed greens that wasn’t bad, but not thrilling. Go with the soup, I’m sure it’s good.

The third entree option, poutine, which also neither of us ordered has an opportunity to have seared foie gras added for an additional cost which, in retrospect, probably would have been worth trying.

In case you’re wondering, the server confirmed for us—after we inquired—the bird was in fact not put out of its misery but was merely left to die in the alley. She prefaced this information with, “I don’t even want to talk about it…”  in a delighted manner that suggested she really did want to talk about it. When we left we drew a dead pigeon on our bill which caused her to cackle from the back, “I love it! I’m going to keep this forever.”

Food: 4 gourmets out of 5
Decor: 4 modern furnishing out of 5
Location: 5 scuzzy ghettos out of 5

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