My Canada, 17/150: Saint Amour

Calling a restaurant catering to elegant dinners “St. Love” might seem the ultimate in kitsch. But then, everything sounds – and is – more romantic in French.

Le Saint Amour  is one of many fine restaurants in the “old town” of Quebec City, which is designated a  UNESCO World Heritage Centre. 

When you live in Canada, visiting Quebec City, the capital of the province of Quebec, is like going to Europe, without having to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Founded in the 17th century along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, the old town still has many of the buildings and structures, including the fortified city walls, of its early days. While shopkeepers and restaurateurs politely speak English with tourists, French is dominant.

Le Saint Amour, in operation now for nearly 40 years, is a popular spot that often tops reviews and visitors’ lists. Some such restaurants thrive by hype and aggressive marketing; this one thrives through quality.

Once, visiting Quebec on weekdays during an autumnal tourism lull, we were able to get into Le Saint Amour without a reservation. It’s located along the beautiful Rue St. Ursule, Haut-Ville (Upper Town.)

Once inside, you’re led to a main dining room that has the feel of a conservatory, with lush plants under a high arched glass roof.

The plate-by-plate details of each dish from that meal are now lost to me but I remember we ordered from a prix fixe menu with wine pairings suggested by the sommelier. Never in my life have I had such impeccable restaurant service: warm, helpful, efficient, unobtrusive. Each bite was delicious and swoon-inducing. At the time, I thought perhaps the extraordinary service was the result of being there on a less-busy day but a return visit – with reservation, this time – on a trip in prime tourism season was no less impressive. Things were a bit noisier, but the level of attention and pampering remained extraordinary, complementing the extraordinary food.

This Valentine’s week is a time when many people seek out a charming restaurant where they can share a meal with someone they love. There is something utterly at the core of our humanity, this desire to share food in celebration. Lucky are those of us who’ve had a chance to do just that at Saint Amour.

Photo: Courtesy Le Saint Amour

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