Grazing: The Maple Menu at Québec's Le Relais | Bite Club
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Friday, March 29, 2013

Grazing: The Maple Menu at Québec's Le Relais

Posted By on Fri, Mar 29, 2013 at 7:24 PM

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Sunny days and cold, freezing nights. 'Tis the season of the drip-drip-drip of sap into buckets, of pancakes with fresh syrup and of sugar-on-snow.

Yet relegating maple syrup to breakfast and dessert is doing it a great disservice, as the sugar-mad Québécois know. There, the stuff makes its way into every course, savory or otherwise.

While reporting last week's story on "black market maple," I hit up Québec's Eastern Townships — specifically, Knowlton, a sleepy village on Lac Brome about a 20-minute drive north of the Vermont border. Right in the center of town is Auberge Knowlton, which has been an inn in some form or another for over a century. Its bottom floor is given over to Le Relais Restaurant Bistro, a comfy, unpretentious restaurant with high-backed colonial chairs, packets of mayonnaise on the tables and a dinner menu devoted to maple — at least on Saturday nights during sugaring season.

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Unlike the cooks at Québec sugar shacks where plates of bacon and eggs are slathered in maple syrup, Le Relais chef Paul Lalande has a light hand with the stuff. He barely drizzles it into a peppery split-pea soup, so that it adds weight and sweetness but doesn't dominate; he laces the broth for his mussels with syrup, then spikes it with chipotle for a spicy-sugary taste.

Maple syrup makes another appearance in the marinade for flank steak, where its vanilla-like sweetness becomes a background note to the charred but juicy meat. And, since Lac Brome is famous for its duck, the kitchen presents a succulent, rosy-pink duck breast that's seared, sliced and fanned over maple-caramelized onions.

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When we asked our server where the syrup for the meal came from, she said, "Oh, from a local bush" and waved her hand in the direction of a family homestead in the neighborhood. Even when it's not maple season, most of the food at Le Relais is local, anyway; layering in seasonal ingredients is a reflex in this kitchen.

Le Relais' three-course, all-maple dinner menu runs for two more weeks: tomorrow night and next Saturday, April 6. During the week, you'll find maple specials sprinkled throughout the menu. It's worth the drive.

Le Relais, 286 Chemin Knowlton, Knowlton, Qc. 450-242-2232.

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About The Author

Corin Hirsch

Corin Hirsch

Corin Hirsch was a Seven Days food writer from 2011 through 2016. She is the author of Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England, published by History Press in 2014.

More by Corin Hirsch


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