In a time when restaurants are more and more into the stripped-down look — linens off tables, fabric off walls, carpet off floors — and are delivering a din to dining that can range from jolly to deafening, Arôme feels something like spa eating. It’s no great looker. Arome is a hotel-issue dining room, generic-enough that it could be found anywhere. Still, its old-fashioned quiet comforts feel welcome. I could hear husband’s every quiet moan as he ploughed his way through his ‘Cowboy Ribeye’.
I’ve returned to Arôme in the Hilton Lac-Leamy after some years away, keen to sample the product of its dry-ageing chamber. It’s a cabinet that’s front and centre as you enter the restaurant, glass-fronted to allow prime viewing of the labelled slabs of meat resting, darkening, and drying beneath dim lights. Once you’ve tasted the steaks, you’ll find the view a mighty pretty thing.
There were other pleasures beyond the beef. The French onion soup was a fine and wintery starter, the dark, sweet broth capped with beer-marbled cheese. Gratinéed, the chocolate-brown veins of the cheese oozed a rich porter flavour. Scallops were perfectly seared, plated on black slate whitened with dobs of a parsnip purée, and paired with luscious boudin noir. A well-seasoned, spiced-up salmon tartare was served with a pile of squid ink crisps and one big, beautiful shrimp, wrapped in tempura and judiciously fried.
We were less taken with the beef tartare, which was correct enough, but a ways from memorable. And then one true disappointment in a crab cake burger: it was a pressed puck of no pleasure, with an iodine finish.
From the November game menu, an osso bucco of elk was soft, tender meat moistened with a sweet, beer-splashed jus, sided with herbed spaetzle and roasted fall vegetables. It was perfectly fine, but it was the 70-day aged steaks of my dining mates that really stood out — in particular the bone-in ribeye. With dry-ageing, moisture is drawn out of the meat, microbes take over, flavours concentrate and become more complex. You might taste a nuttiness, a cheesiness, and, if cooked properly (not too much, lightly seasoned, served without sauce masking those flavours) there should still be some juiciness. If you request it cooked beyond medium rare don’t come crying to me. Beneath the steak was a melange of sautéed peppers and green beans glued down with a creamy, rich sweet potato purée. And just because we could, we ordered the mashed potatoes streaked with cheese curds. The serving was massive. And somehow we finished it.
Arôme’s steaks are well-grilled, perfectly-seasoned, beefy treats. You’ll want to save up for them: they come with a beefy price tag.
If you’ve still a bit of space, or a bit of money, spend ten bucks on a comfort trio of crème brulée – its more pudding than custard, but delicious nonetheless.
Hilton Lac-Leamy, 3 boulevard du Casino, Gatineau, QC, 819-790-6410, casinos.lotoquebec.com. Mains, including dry-aged beef, $28 to $79. Open daily.