For a restaurant to earn a five (out of five) Sun rating for food in this column is no easy feat.
Everything must be perfect. Every dish must be attractive, delicious, inspiring, even challenging.
Over five years, The Weekly Dish has only given out five Suns seven times – to Zinc, North 53 when Ben Staley was chef, Corso 32 (twice), RGE RD, Black Pearl Seafood and one fine evening at Hart’s.
So congratulations to the new French-Canadian Chartier restaurant, a down-to-earth, whimsical and inviting eatery in the Franco-Albertan community of Beaumont, less than a 30 minute drive from south Edmonton. Every food item served was so absolutely superb as to warrant that five Sun rating. It is the eighth time and seventh restaurant to be so rewarded.
The charming Chartier oozes small-town friendliness and on first glance seems a happy throw-together of rustic design elements. But under the surface is a sophisticated restaurant operation run by three highly experienced hospitality professionals. Darren Cheverie was GM of the West Edmonton Mall Cactus Club. His spouse Sylvie Cheverie worked with Edmonton’s top advertising agency, Calder-Bateman. Chef Steve Brochu worked at the now-defunct River House in St. Albert and was an Edmonton Gold Medal Plates culinary competition finalist.
The concept is adventurous: To serve French-Canadian home-style dishes in a Franco-Albertan town with its own strong personality. The creative theme could easily have tripped up. What if Francophone Beaumont did not take kindly to a restaurant purporting to be of the local culture? And besides, what restaurant could make a tourtiere any better than grande mama?
Chartier moved into a three story development on Beaumont’s main street that looks old-world with its shutters and balconies and soft yellow colours, but is actually brand new. Chartier has an old-country/rural feel – all wood, dark metals, antique farm implements and cement floors – but it too is spanking new, and, fortunately, isn’t chintzy. None of the table chairs and plates actually match, but they form a harmonious whole.
The restaurant is fun without trying too hard. Its logo is a French fleur-de-lis with a fork replacing the stylized lily at the top.
The staff combine small-town friendliness with big-city knowledge of that which they serve. And all are fluent enough to at least pronounce the French names with good Canadien accents.
We caught the tail end of the winter menu, so the dishes exuded hot ovens, stews, roasted chickens, the already famous Beaumont Smoked Meat Sandwich which we did not experience, and, of course tourtiere – the signature meat pie of French Canadians across Canada.
Our party started with a charcuterie (cold cuts and cheeses plate), porc torchon (minced pork cooked in a crab cake style), moved on to the spiced crispy duck morsels, salmon rillet (cold salmon in a pate-like jelly), the seafood of the day (fish ‘n’ chips) and tourtiere. When in a Franco-Alberta restaurant, do as the Franco-Albertans do.
As befits the five-star rating, all was magnifique. The weekly Wednesday seafood special was a gluten-free fish ‘n’ chips to die for. Years have passed since I’ve tasted such real, meaty, steamy-hot halibut within a billowy batter. The salmon rillet was something new, bits of cured and baked salmon and other bits in a creamy pate.
The charcuterie plate offers guests samplings of three things Chartier does so well: Lovely home-made bread, home-made sauces and jams, and kitchen-cured smoked meats.
I was reluctant to share the tourtiere, each bite a savoury mix of a smooth pie pastry, minced bison, pork and duck. The crispy duck came chopped up and crunchy like sports-bar dry ribs, but were so much more interesting being duck niblets with dark soy Asian tartness bouncing off a candied marinate. The pork torchon was an excellent opener, the minced pork patties quickly fried and flavoured by dollops of black pepper jam and apple puree.
Dessert was sublime, a sweet preserved whole pear presented with a tea-infused meringue sail, all flavoured with a caramelized white chocolate sauce. Wow!
Chartier represents all that is good and right about regional cuisine and culture. Its friendliness has made it a Beaumont favourite, especially with a Bread Window where Chartier’s fresh-baked goods (including, I am told, gluten-free bread that actually tastes like bread!) are dispensed in the afternoons when the restaurant is closed. The food is simply fantastic and presented with love. May it inspire imitation!