Tuesday, May 29, 2012

New Brunswick’s Acadia — A veritable feast

I recently toured New Brunswick’s Acadia. Coming from the west coast it was fabulous to visit this pocket of Canada that has preserved — very proudly! — its French heritage.

The Village Historique Acadien was an excellent introduction. We wandered through houses, barns, a hotel, a blacksmith’s shop and much more that dated back to the 17th century. A volunteer in period costume demonstrated how she spun and wove wool. I was envious of her nimble fingers and ability to switch effortlessly between French and English.

That evening we lodged at the historic Hotel Paulin, a delightful small inn in Caraquet and discovered the Acadien’s love of food and wine. Chef Karen Mersereau enthusiastically served an outstanding six-course dinner featuring salad with crab claws and shrimp and a main of duck and lobster. The mushrooms for the wild mushroom soup were picked by the restaurant’s own mycologist.

Next day we toured the dramatic New Brunswick north coast passing fishing boats, villages with Acadian flags flapping and the world’s largest lobster. We visited the large white Sainte-Cecile Church, aka the Bubble-Gum Church, on Lamèque Island whose interior is painted in garish, childlike pastels as though the priest/painter was on a psychedelic trip.

Lunch was at Déjà Bu in Caraquet, probably the best wine bar experience east of Montreal, where the host, Robert Noel, demonstrated the Acadien joie de vivre and love of good food. We worked our way through French onion soup, fresh oysters, steak frite, mussels, lobster truffle macaroni and cheese and a house special, clam poutine, all chased down with superb wine pairings. Our tummies distended, we motored on.

With the sun low in the western sky, we stopped at Maison Tait in Shediac. What a gorgeous, historic inn! And dinner was, of course, another treasured Acadian ritual.

Next morning we strolled a long boardwalk to Le Pays de la Sagouine, an island, which is an attractive rendition of early Acadia with two stages for performances. This cultural centre is based on Antonine Maillet’s novel, La Sagouine, which depicts the hard-scrabble life of an Acadian woman.

Racing to the airport, we only had time to stop for a small four-course lunch and wine before I waddled onto the plane and, very sadly, departed.

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