Quebec:  Fairmont Chateau Montebello

I’ve been deliriously happy with the number of restaurants in which I’ve been able to eat gluten-free safely and successfully.  Generally, restaurants that belong to big hotel chains have been my friends, as they’re totally used to the special dietary needs of their clients.

The Fairmont Chateau Montebello is a grand, massive log cabin in Montebello, Quebec perched prettily on the bank of the Ottawa River. A popular upscale resort hotel with a golf course and spa, the Chateau is a desirable wedding, meeting, and event locale, with a dark wood, traditional aesthetic.  It enjoys a rich history…and a reputation for an amazing Sunday brunch, which I happened to be attending on this instance. I have stayed and eaten at other Fairmont properties before without any issues.

Of course, we Celiacs know that a buffet brunch can be a Petrie dish of cross-contamination. Sure,  there may be quite a few items that would be classified as gluten-free, but no one knows if the spoons or forks in which other diners dug into them previously were from a glutinous item. No, better to order off the menu.

I was delighted when the server announced to me that gluten-free was not a problem, and went to the chef to check my meat-free, gluten-free options.  Would I like the spaghetti with vegetables, the gluten-free pasta item of the day?  Well of course I would!  I imagined a plate of Schar (a WONDERFUL European Brand of highly evolved gluten- free pasta, generally only sold to commercial food facilities using Sysco Canada Foodservices up here) with a beautiful assortment of sautéed veggies. Yum.

And would I like some rolls?  I was over the moon. I had no expectation of anything resembling a bread basket. Bread baskets for Celiacs are the stuff of Italy, where we are presented with warm, soft, puck-shaped swirly rolls with in a linen-napkin covered basket, just like we’re normal people. My friends at the table laughed at my wide-eyed, enthusiastic “yes”.

For the record, I had two bites out of this dish before I photographed it. But it looked the same upon presentation.

The spaghetti was brought first. I was sure there had been a mistake:  this bowl of broken spaghetti could not possible be my $19 entreé. It wasn’t horribly badtasting or anything, but consisted of over-cooked, broken gluten-free spaghetti and a few veggies.  Not what I was expecting. I couldn’t conceal my disappointment. I asked the server to check with the kitchen…had my meal been an the result of an error in the pasta’s cooking time?

The pleasant and courteous server returned:  apparently not. This was the pasta special. And yes, it was supposed to be broken…this was “today’s presentation”…um….ok.  And my rolls would be up shortly.  I was disappointed. The rolls soon appeared, and as I broke them to butter them, they crumbled in my hands.

They were inedible.  By far, the worst gluten-free bread product that I’d ever experienced. My friends looked on in amusement and pity, taking turns feeling the bizarre and fragile texture of the rolls. My photograph doesn’t even come close to capturing these brittle, dry little chunks of porous sandstone.

At this point I don’t really know what to say. I like that the Fairmount Château Montelbello attempted to offer meals that were gluten-free. I really do. On the other had, the entreé could have been passable, but the over cooked spaghetti ruined it. How hard would it have been to stick to the old gluten-free pasta standard of penne? It’s almost impossible to ruin a thick noodle like penne.

Was it just a bad day in the kitchen?  As an ex-waitress, I know that anything’s possible. But if you’re in Montebello, Quebec and you’re looking for a gluten-free meal vegetarian meal…this wouldn’t be my recommendation.

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