Fresh Deliciousness in Small Plates.
Quebec City is full of restaurants and Le Cercle (The Circle), a combination bar-music venue-restaurant is decidedly one of the freshest, most exciting new dining choices to hit the city’s culinary scene.
The combined talents of owner and longtime restaurateur and wine expert, and veteran chef David Forbes, bring diners in-season, local ingredients cooked to highlight rather than mask their natural goodness and, judging from the tables packed with diners even on a weeknight, it’s a mission they’re accomplishing.
The restaurant has stepped away from the rich French style of cooking so prominent in the city. Instead they specialize in small plates in the Spanish tradition – delicious tastes you can share. Their extensive wine menu, including a large selection of by-the-glass options, allow diners to mix and match tastes. Perhaps you want a plate of delicately fried calamari with a crisp white wine. Or maybe a bit of lamb with a heartier red. At Le Cercle, you can have it all and in one meal if you’d like.
My dining companion and I had been eating lots of rich sauces and foie gras inspired dishes so we were craving fresh greens and vegetable and told Chef David as much. The restaurant offers a chef’s choice — $15-$45 per person small plates chef’s choice. We decided to let Chef David be our guide and we weren’t disappointed.
We started with three fresh plates – a big salad made with green leaf lettuce and chopped parsley with a light vinaigrette, lightly cooked snow peas and asparagus, and a beet salad that featured thinly sliced yellow beets dressed with roasted hazelnuts, feta cheese, and a drizzle of olive oil. All of it was incredibly fresh, simple, and delicious and a great start to our evening.
Next came a small bowl of lobster bisque with tiny black lentils. The thick orange-colored broth, studded with pieces of lobster and black lentils, was creamy with delicate briny tang. The black lentils not only offered a pretty contrast to the colorful soup, but added a nice chewiness that was quite satisfying.
Next came little squares of eggplant Parmesan topped with fresh arugula leaves. This was a rendition of this classic dish – very rich, but not overly tomatoey with satisfying cheesiness. The eggplant was so well executed that it had the texture of veal and the bits of cheese that had become crusty were wonderfully chewy. The addition of the fresh arugula, while it didn’t add much to the look of the dish, brought a freshness and a slight bitter contrast that offset the sweetness of the tomato.
We got two fish dishes – sturgeon with thinly sliced white turnips in a bright green parsley sauce and mackerel served with a fresh slice of orange, tiny black lentils, wild mushrooms, and tiny crunchy slivers of celery. The sturgeon has a slightly rubbery texture and the turnips, which looked like pasta, were a bit bitter so it was a dish that didn’t work for me or my dinner companion. However, the parsley sauce, which Chef David makes by blanching out the bitter flavor of the stems, is a fresh and lovely looking success (he might try the blanching technique on the turnips with similar results).
Mackerel is often a strong tasting, oily fish, but this one wasn’t. The little square of fish was delicate and tasty and the interesting combination of orange, lentils, mushrooms, and celery created a symphony of flavors and textures that really worked with the fish.
Our final entrée course was lamb neck cooked medium rare and served with a delicious ragout of lamb shreds, studded with flavorful pieces of tomato and green beans (shown at top). The lamb was served with a generous serving of lentil wild mushroom risotto that was wonderfully creamy and full of mushroom flavor. These two dishes, which were my favorite in an evening of successful plates, was incredibly satisfying and make the perfect hearty choice for a chilly fall evening.
As if the meal couldn’t get any better, the chef brought us a sampling of desserts made by his sous chef. First came a crème brulee, pillow soft, velvety inside with a thick, almost smokey sugar topping. It was followed by bites of three other desserts: goat cheesecake with passion fruit, an wonderfully tangy-citrus combination; a chocolate pie that was intensely chocolatey and smooth; and the hazelnut cake that was rich with the nutty flavor of hazelnut.
— by Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor