Recently, however, rue Principale in Vieux Aylmer has had something of a gastro-renaissance. New cafés, bakeries, boulangeries, and restaurants have been cropping up, including L’Aubergiste housed in the old Maison Ephram Guimond. It’s named in honour of its early (circa 1870) auberge-keeping past, when it was known as Hotel Symmes. The age of the building is apparent: walk through the door to find an interior cleverly uncovered to expose the thick pine logs and wide plank floors, and modernized with coats of gleam and smart black details.
The food is almost exclusively small plates, though there is a daily featured main dish — and over a couple of visits I’d say about half have shown promise. The duo of sliders was tasty, particularly the pulled duck confit with brie, caramelized onion, curried mayo and cranberry relish, though good too was the moist meatloaf. (I just saw a need to fix the cold, over-fried tempura onions and rework the boring slaw.)
From the shamefully more-ish category I would recommend the daily poutine (topped with more of that duck confit and candied prosciutto). The scallops arrived seared and wobbly, with arugula, fried prosciutto and corn, as well as the pickled beets salad with goat cheese, sunflower seeds and arugula — tasty enough, pretty on the plate.
In the less successful camp I slot the octopus, grill marked but missing grill flavour — or any flavour really — served with orange and grapefruit sections, on undressed arugula with a nest of deep fried vermicelli that delivered nothing but eye-drama. We also found the shrimp under-seasoned, on an avocado purée that was a bit off. And though the grilled vegetables came in a handsome stack, they were too-crunchy, hard to eat, and largely flavourless.
We also wish the kitchen weren’t so darn speedy. Everything we ordered came out in one great rush, and watching the server attempt to fit eight plates on one small table was painful. It also reinforced the overuse of arugula, a feature on pretty much everything, and one that got dreary quickly.
Both desserts (cheesecake and a chocolate molten lava cake) suffered from texture troubles — one grainy, the other dry.
Review first published in DesBrisay Dines, Ottawa Magazine.