The Gist: http://www.mariposa-duck.on.ca/
The Why: Located in Plantagenet, Ontario – a small town approximately an hour east of Ottawa (when accounting for single lane roads – some ‘paved’ with only loose gravel) Mariposa Farm likely doesn’t register a blip on most ‘foodie’ radars, but to fans of duck, goose, and particularly foie gras it is a name that should be synonymous with a Homer Simpson-esque drooling sound. Set in the rolling countryside where the quacks and honks of Barbarie ducks and Embden geese (plus the occasional moo or oink from organically raised livestock) are the only sounds punctuating the serenity of hundreds of acres Mariposa is a functional farm for168 hours a week – but for two hours each Sunday it is also a $38 three-course prix fixe brunch for ~40-50 diners lucky enough to experience Chef Mark Currier’s handling of the farm’s bounty.
The Reservation: Taken by phone and highly recommended – as the second party to arrive largely because I wanted to walk the property and see the birds the space started out a little empty, but with name placards on each table the small barn would fill to capacity within thirty minutes of opening and two ‘walk-ins’ were turned away (though both took home some foie and preserves from the small market at the restaurant’s entrance.)
The Space: Getting past the bucolic setting – happy geese honking and running free on myriad acres of land (so much for all the foie activists claiming these creatures are abused) – we approached Mariposa Farm in a light snow and after parking the car approached the old barn-come restaurant where a rickety wooden porch complete with swings awaited. Entering the doors where former stables had been converted to makeshift restrooms a turn to the right takes the visitor to a large and open space with a market up front and wide open kitchen just past where Chef Currier prepares the daily menu using a large wood-roasting oven/grill and equipment much like that you’d find in your own kitchen.
With the kitchen the divided from the guest by a small bar it is quickly on entering that you meet one of the farm’s two owners, Suzanne Lavoie, who next shows and thoroughly explains the three options for each of the three courses and after selections are made the diner is introduced to the dining room – a wide and airy space befitting a former barn where white tablecloths, kitschy salt and pepper shakers, and old glass milk bottles are bathed in light from the floor to ceiling windows. With serve yourself coffee and tea up front and an invite to wander the room where chess sets, board games, and a multitude of cookbooks await the feel of Mariposa is homey and warm – an atmosphere furthered by the soundtrack ranging from folk to Neil Young playing quietly on an old stereo.
The Service: Having already met one half of the ownership team, Ian Walker serves as the dining room’s host, captain, and maître d’. A pleasant man more than happy to share a story (or offer to trade you a T-shirt and the cost of your family’s meal for a vintage Kings sweater) the rest of the service falls in line – each dish delivered hot from the kitchen with both the servers and Ian stopping by frequently to check in and make sure you haven’t any wants or needs aside from, perhaps, a little more history about the farm or their many travels to farms across North America.
The Food: 3 Course Prix Fixe with three choices for each course. Coffee, Tea, Bread Service included.
House Bread with Butter and Maple Butter: Present on the table when we arrived this rustic whole wheat bread was lovely and made in the wood oven earlier that day each bite contained smoky notes and a great chew that went well with the locally sourced salted butter but even better with the house made maple butter. To say the least we went through the first loaf quickly and more was delivered on request, this round still warm, along with more maple butter.
Coffee and Tea: Locally roasted and freely refillable with fresh milk, organic sugar, and warm cream all available for garnish – the coffee was a bit thin and the beans a bit over-roasted for my palate while the ‘ice wine’ tea featured a subtle bitterness that went nicely with my three courses.
Sunchoke Soup with Creme Fraiche and Maple Vinegar, Foraged Greens: The first course choice for both my mother and my aunt this rich and earthy veloute was a “lesser of evils” choice for people who don’t fancy foie gras or beef tartare that turned out to be quite lovely. Aromatic and smooth with a nice tang imparted by the Crème Fraiche I was also impressed by the choice to use bitter uncooked clover stems to add a touch of crunch while the vinegar’s maple was not really present – just a slight sweetness that lingered on the finish.
Foie Gras Mousse Crepe with Apple Blue Cheese Salad and Parsnip Mustard: While the ladies were welcome to skip on the very reason we traveled to Mariposa Farm, I most certainly was not – I came for foie gras and with the rich liver in this case pureed into a smooth mousse and stuffed into a buckwheat crepe I can say without a doubt it was worth the drive. Starting first with the pancake, delicate yet toothsome and moving on to its ample filling the wooden board was further dressed with thin slices of sour Granny Smith apples tossed with bitter greens, black pepper, and funky blue cheese while a light layer of smashed parsnip tinged with mustard added a subtle heat. An excellent composition served in ample portion and touching on nearly every part of the palate it would not be hyperbole to say this was the best savory crepe I’ve ever tasted.
Chicken Supreme Breast on Risotto of Cheese and Carrot with Leek/Curry Aioli: With another loaf of bread delivered our main courses started out with my mother’s chicken dish and although this was the weakest dish of the trio it was still quite delicious as the smoky and aromatic breast was nicely paired with toothsome Quebec Sharp Cheddar infused risotto, wood roasted carrots, and subtly sweet aioli. Tender and moist with a bit of crackling skin on the side my only issue with this dish would be the fact that I tend to prefer risotto closer to creamy but all things being equal I get the feeling this was an intentional choice by the chef meant to make the dish more rustic, an effect achieved and appreciated by my mother who rarely finishes a plate with such gusto.
Bison Flank Grilled and BBQ with Pulled Pork Mashed Potatoes, Black Pepper Aioli, Duck Reduction, Carrots: The shocker of the afternoon was not that this dish was outstanding, but rather that my aunt would order such a rare cut of meat…and rave about it for days afterward. Served ‘pink’ but so lean that it was as dry as my aunt generally prefers in her well-done steaks the overall flavor of this particular cut was not dissimilar to prime rib and with the rich aioli and duck jus serving to add both fat and flavor the richness of the dish was bumped up another notch by the locally grown smashed potatoes mixed nearly 50/50 with savory BBQ pork. An overhand smash of flavors with both my mother and I fancying the potatoes over our respective carbohydrates my aunt ate nearly all of the flank on her own – another testament to the quality of the proteins coming from Mariposa’s wood grill.
Duck Confit Leg glazed with Maple Mustard with Sunchoke Spaetzel, Carrots and Rhubarb Reduction: Again noting that our trip to Mariposa was predicated on their signature birds I overlooked the fact that mustard was included in both my appetizer and my main course and simply smiled and savored the subtlety of it as enjoyed one of the best duck confit dishes I’ve had in recent memory. Reportedly rendered in duck fat for 8 hours prior to a brief visit to the wood oven the phrase “falling off the bone” came to mind with each bite and with a sweet lacquered exterior that literally crunched on mastication before the succulent interior melted in the mouth the accoutrements hardly even mattered aside from adding a touch of fibrous vegetal undertone to help balance the otherwise intense richness of the fowl.
Maple Panna Cotta, Rhubarb Jello, Candied Cedar: With two desserts and a cheese plate available for the final course I lobbied the ladies to order different desserts but in the end they both settled on this one – a rich maple composition that, from my standpoint, contained far too much gelatin but otherwise tasted fine. Told that the cedar was edible I’ll only note that I’m sure Ian was not lying – it just was not edible by anyone at our table as it literally tasted like cedar chips smell.
Quebec Cheese Plate with Apple Cranberry Puree – Tomme de Joyeux Raw Goat, Bleu D’Elizabeth, Alfred Le Fermier Raw Cow: Unable to buy many of Quebec’s raw and unpasteurized options in The United States I just couldn’t justify passing this up for a mere brownie and with each cheese impressive while the Tomme de Joyeux was a sort of revelation in its floral sweetness I don’t regret my choice one bit – particularly as some of the better restaurants in Montreal focused their collection on non-domestic options.
The Verdict: If one were to rank restaurants as Michelin does with the concept of “excellent cuisine, worth a detour” constituting two-stars then by simple default of location Mariposa would garner deux etoiles even though the setting, service, and concept certainly are not targeting such lofty goals. Focused on rustic cuisine made on a hearth by a passionate team of people hosting weekly brunch in their home Mariposa Farm remains to this day the meal my mother remembers most fondly from our trip to Canada and while I cannot quite share that degree of enthusiasm considering some of the other meals we had I would not hesitate even a second to return or to give it my strongest recommendation for others in the area – it is definitely a special place committed to doing things not only well, but more importantly doing things the right.