The last time I ate at 100 Laurier, it was still called the Canadian Museum of Civilization — I was 13; it was a cafeteria, nothing “spectacle,” as they say across the river.
Now, with Bistro Boreal, there are more varied and sophisticated food offerings. Located on the Laurier side of the building, the restaurant is a calm space that mirrors the museum’s graceful curves. (Though it’s a shame it doesn’t take in the waterfront view.)
The menu offers plenty of meat and cheese dishes, as well as creative sandwiches and salads. The salmon rillettes, for example, is presented as a tower of diced salmon atop stone-milled toast, adorned with a caper aioli and pickled red onion. Salmon can be light, but this is different, and the richness is welcome on a chilly day. The wilted micro-greens tossed haphazardly on top, however, signal an issue with the ingredients, the service, or some combination of the two.
Those same greens appear on my open-faced chicken sandwich. The meat portion is huge and surprisingly moist. We are excited to see mention of “local” regarding the brie; however, when asked about the source, the server replies “somewhere in Quebec.” In the end, the chicken overwhelms the brie.
On another lunch visit, the soup of the day is a creamy, subtle purée of carrot and squash with maple notes. The braised-beef poutine is good, though it would benefit from a tangy element. The bison burger is cooked to perfection, and the grilled naan wrap — with juicy chunks of chicken breast in an aioli sauce — is a hit. And the fries are excellent.
Desserts include a bread pudding that is more like fruitcake, but that’s fine — it is warm and comforting and much better than the typical museum café treats. Servers are friendly, but not well informed about the menu. The drinks list offers Canadian and international choices in beer and wine, and a display of Quebec gin hints at an effort to connect with its suppliers.
Overall, there is a sense that Boreal is a cafeteria growing up into the kind of modern eatery people are coming to expect. There are hits and misses at Boreal, but it is heading in the right direction.
Canadian Museum of History. 100, rue Laurier, Gatineau
Mains $13–$15. Open Friday to Wednesday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Thursday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.