Four people, 400 square feet and nothing to hide. The most magical meal of the year plays out in a white-tiled shoebox-size space that used to be a casse-croûte called Chez Ruth. A couple dozen lucky locals sip Soave in seats they booked more than a month ago. Charlevoix-pork lonza is coming off the slicer in paper-thin curls in this dressed-up Italian diner.
Laser-focused, Guillaume St-Pierre zests orange over a dish of endive and octopus. Since winning Les Chefs! and leading the kitchen at La Planque, he’s become even more talented. Sous chef Paul Croteau braces against the kickback of a comically large blowtorch as he crisps the skin of a softball-size stuffed quail. Sommelier Pascal Bussières pours a frappato so funky and fragrant, he calls it “malade.” Their one and only employee, Amélie Pruneau, dims the lights just as Roy Orbison pops up on her playlist. This tiny team is all in, and so are we.
St-Pierre spoons delicate quenelles of Lillet-laced chicken-liver parfait onto squares of pan-fried focaccia that Croteau baked earlier this afternoon. The crostini are topped with sweet figs and drizzled with a balsamic-lambrusco reduction. A pour of that same lambrusco, nose-ticklingly frizzante, delivers a kick of ’70s kitsch. A spark of energy runs through the albacore crudo, concealed beneath rounds of raw zucchini and laced with pistachios and green-apple vinegar. Our blowtorched quail arrives stuffed with a Marsala-veal duxelles of cremini mushrooms, atop a bundle of wilted spinach. The moat of silky lobster bisque that surrounds it captures that elusive tasting term, “minerality.”
In my five years of eating my way across Canada, I’ve fallen hardest for Quebec City. And Battuto is the purest expression yet of the scene’s humanist, slightly kooky approach to hospitality. Peek through the windows between seatings and you’ll see St-Pierre and his posse hustling downstairs to wash dishes. The formula doesn’t scale, and it’s not supposed to: You’ve got to be in this room to truly feel how the small open kitchen becomes a bigger conversation about dining in 2017. Ever eat one of those meals that just make you want to hug the chef? Go ahead, he’s right there.