For many, the term “fine dining” can elicit feelings of anxiety or trigger nervous twitches from early childhood. There’s nothing “fine” about unknown etiquette, or mistaking the centerpiece for an appetizer.
Simply put, if your dining experience is more strenuous than your actual job, I can’t help but question your methods.
At Q Haute Cuisine, located just south of Calgary’s beautiful Prince’s Island Park, the only feeling you should have before dining is anticipation.
Since Q Haute’s 2005 inception, restaurant manager Marcello Belvedere and head chef Michele Aurigemma have provided an atmosphere free of pretention and full of life; the perfect environment to showcase their uniquely stylized French cuisine.
Q opens up to a chalet-style dining area filled with natural light by a window-laden feature wall. Calgary’s Peace Bridge, the greenery of Prince’s Island and – before the trees have fully bloomed – the Bow River, are viewable from almost every seat in the house. The contrast between the ivory-white interior, darkened hardwood floors and the colour palette of the park creates an environment like no other.
In June of 2013, Q transitioned from their á la carte service to specialize in a set seven-course tasting menu. And from that first drink order to the last bite of dessert, it’s quite apparent that the team at Q know more about food and wine than I’ve known about anything in my entire life.
“We’d been doing tastings with our á la carte menus since the beginning, but there was an evolution,” Belvedere says. “Last year, we found 95 per cent of customers were doing tastings with wine pairings, so to maintain freshness, the vibrancy of the food and consistency, we decided to just offer the tasting menu.”
Understanding that a set menu might not be everyone’s cup of tea, Q offers an opportunity to expand the idea of “fine dining.”
“People want a dining event and we introduce them to it. We’ll cater and modify for people, but generally, as soon as they try the food, their whole perception changes,” Belvedere says. “They end up wanting to experience Michele’s creations from beginning to end.”
The knowledge and effort that go into the expertly paired wines is awe-inspiring. The combination of a French rosé with Arctic char, or a Canadian merlot with pork tenderloin, make salt and pepper look like mortal enemies.
For me, amongst all the amazing food and wine, the human element stood out. The clichéd image of the French waiter – while entertainingly unable to pronounce “chowder” on The Simpsons – couldn’t be further from the staff at Q. Genuine conversation coupled with artfully presented dishes and an in-depth knowledge of every ingredient gave each course a new tone.
There’s something to be said when a waiter shares in your excited disbelief that what he’s serving is coated in liquid nitrogen. Or – in the case of waiter Joshua Linvers – pouring my lovely date Carly a German Riesling before describing the Dragonstone vineyard, and reminiscing about his encounter with winemaker, Johannes Leitz.
One of the most unique aspects of an evening at Q is the kitchen tour. In less classy circumstances, and if YouTube has taught me anything, it’s that seeing how one’s food is actually made is risky business. But once guests at Q have reached the dessert portion of their meal, Q provides an opportunity to visit the bustling kitchen, meet the faces behind the vibrant presentations and if he’s not too busy, hear from Aurigemma about what goes into his ever-evolving menu.
“I’m constantly inspired by the environment around me. Each season brings new colours, fresh flavours and natural stimulants for my senses,” Aurigemma says.
Striving to use local ingredients and suppliers that produce quality and consistency, the head chef is a strong farm-to-table believer who tries to embody the movement in every one of the dishes.
“The confidence I have in our positive relationships with local growers and their product translates in every dish we create and ultimately into the confidence of our repeat customers.”
Given what I’d known about Q Haute, I went into the evening with slightly higher expectations. And honestly, they were surpassed with every new course.
As our evening came to an end, I asked Carly – who’d been presented with a post-dessert rose – what would bring her back. Her reasons lasted the entire drive home.
— Justin M. Wilson