“My dinner is in the woods” goes an old hunting saying. The nobility and natural truth of obtaining one’s own food from the wild is paired with the fact that not only is it as fresh and organic as it will get, but it simply tastes better on all levels. One tastes nature, not the industrial “McWorld” of hormones and plastic.
Of course, we don’t all have the time (or means) to go hunting or visit an organic farm where game meat is available. And many of us in our busy lives sadly don’t even have the time to cook the myriad of wonderful game recipes that are out there. So what to do if you don’t have an uncle who hermits in his cabin in the woods to go visit when its deer season? Where to go if you want a truly Canadian food experience? The answer lies in Old Montreal – where the ghosts of Canada’s frontier past still have a thing or two to offer. The place? Restaurant L’Orignal.
For those like myself who enjoy a chalet type atmosphere, warm ambiance, fantastic gourmet game dining, and good drink, L’Orignal is a small piece of woodsman heaven perfectly nestled away from the mad vagaries of a busy metropolis. Right down to the canoe on the wall above the bar, this place has all it takes to make you feel like you have arrived at some remote inn or fancy pourvoirie far off in the woods somewhere.
After being warmly received by the more than friendly staff, we decided to sit at the bar with our host Michael (one of the guys who started L’Orignal). If you are not on a date and its your first time there, I would strongly recommend this as it gives one the opportunity to talk with him and discover more about what this hidden gem has to offer.
We started with one of their signature cocktails, the “Maple Old Fashioned” – a delicious blend of maple whiskey liqueur, bourbon, and angostura bitters. While the drink menu has many other great signature cocktails to offer (such as the “Out of Fashion” or the “Pepper Stretch”), the old fashioned was our favourite: very Canadian with a kick! On a side note, the restaurant is also known for its great selection of signature Caesars for enthusiasts of these clamato-based cocktails, with Mike’s own pickled beans.
Our initial dinner ideas were dashed as we excitedly accepted Michael’s offer to bombard us with a whole flurry of delicious foods from the great outdoors. He started us off with fresh oysters from Canada’s Atlantic region that he shucked himself in front of us. Paired with a wonderful Muscadet and we were in heaven.
Next we were treated to three of their main dishes: The Bison burger, the Venison, and the Hunter’s rabbit.
The Bison burger was cooked perfectly, and had a delicious home made sauce that, in my experience, rivals all the best burger joints in town. If you are a burger lover you cannot miss this one!
I next tried the Venison. Now, I am a huge fan of venison and a very harsh critic when it comes to this “Xanadu” of game meats. Too often I have been disappointed by those who overcook this tender meat, or by the bland (and sometimes over complicated) attempts at sauces or vegetable pairings that go with it. But when it came to what I tried that night, all I can say is that when it comes to venison, L’Orignal’s was simply perfection. Nothing more, nothing less.
Rabbit can also be a tricky dish to prepare, prone to being overcooked and tough. The secret is to do something like braising it in a stew or carefully roasting it to keep the meat nice and moist. This my hosts understood implicitly as the Hunter’s rabbit was a game meat explosion of flavour and textures. Down to its delicious rich sauce, tasty vegetables, and wonderfully subtle German-inspired mini Schupfnudeln, this dish will leave any rabbit enthusiast in heaven.
All these dishes were excellently paired with a variety of appropriate pallet watering red wines (recommended by our host) that raised our culinary experience to new heights. I must say that I was impressed by the wide selection of wines that L’Orignal can offer its clients – very appropriate for a restaurant that specializes in different kinds of game meat and seafood.
We ended with a sticky toffee dessert, one of many ‘sweet tooth’ delights that they have to offer. What gives L’Orginal an extra home made feel is the fact that their desserts often rotate and are prepared by family members of the owners. It is these kinds of little details that really give this restaurant the feel of being in someone’s lakeside cottage or forest getaway hideout.
Overall, L’Orignal is an amazing restaurant for anyone looking for a gourmet taste of what the hunter or woodsman works so hard to get and prepare. It is a truly Quebecois outdoor culinary experience that I VERY strongly recommend – especially for the person who has never tried game meat. À table!
– L’Orignal is located at 479 rue St-Alexis, Montreal, QC. Tel. 514-303-0479