Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Our Wedding Anniversary

A magical evening at Knowlton's storied Lakeview Inn

Just us....

Drazen Tomic "Tomi" and owner Van Voutsinas

Chef Tomo Kovacek

By Manfried H. Starhemberg
A month ago we made a reservation at Knowlton's storied Lakeview Inn for our wedding anniversary dinner. Not knowing that the day after Easter Monday, the inn would be closed, we were surprised by a courteous telephone call asking  "if it would bother us to be the only guests in the dining room ?"
Of course not", I answered, feeling bad that this was obviously a slow night for this fabled restaurant. Well, when we got there, we discovered that owner Van Voutsinas had rounded up Tomo and Tomi to give us the best possible anniversary dinner they could provide. For the first time in a long time (believe me when I say that this is rare !), I was speechless.
"Tomo" is Tomo Kovacec the brillant chef, "Tomi" is Drazen Tomic, maitre d' extraordinaire. Both gentlemen as well as Mr. Voutsinas who has owned the inn since 2002 exemplefied for us the highest degree of  the lost art of hospitality. Over the 40 years of married life, we have had many opportunities to dine in much celebrated restaurants, meet many "starred" celebrity chefs and pedigreed owners. This evening made all of our prior dining experiences fade into memory.
After chatting with Van who is a displaced Floridian with a passion for Knowlton and his 1874 Loyalist mansion, Tomo disappeared into the kitchen and Tomi escorted us into the lovely dining room where a table had been prepared for us, flickering candle included.
The Honorable Arthur Meighen, Sir Wilfrid Laurier and the Right Honorable Robert Borden, former Prime Ministers of Canada, have all dined there, possibly at about the same spot where we were seated, but I doubt they had the same lovely background music or ate as well as we did.
"Forget the menu" grinned the two conspirators Tomo and Tomi. "We are ready for you and you just have to eat what you get".
What we got to start with was a velety smooth seafood bisque and we both decided that if there was nothing else to eat, we would both drive home happy. But not so. A sublime hot Foi Gras, beautifully arranged with croutons and a sauce which was delicate but not intrusive graced the table and was gobbled up rapidly. Next arrived a plate of lamb shank slow cooked over some 18 hours and so tender that Tomi suggested that I should not need a knife. He was right. The morsels separated by the merest touch of my fork, yet had not been overcooked. A fine sauce accompanied this dish. Nancy received a superb fillet of salmon and we kept swapping dishes so that be both could enjoy the delicacies.
And then dessert. I stop right here, because as I am writing this, I wish I had some more of Tomo's wife's luscious cheese cake, the velvety slice of pie and other lovely things we were allowed to sample. Tomo and Tomi were both born and raised in the former Yugoslavia and Tomo had four years of schooling in traditional mediterranean cuisine but has had no trouble waving his magic wand over a whole array of varietions on the theme "Brome Lake Duck", which is a standard fare on the menu.
For you regular people out there who do not get the whole house for yourselves for an evening, you may be consoled: The inn offers a Pub Platter for two for only $ 50.- which includes a good bottle of wine. The Pub is a lovely friendly place full of ambience.On Fridays it is roast beef special night ,which starts at 6pm, and every day you may avail yourselves of a delicately seasoned 11 oz pork chop served with grilled roasted potatoes,  vegetables and apple strudel for a mere $ 11.95.
I shall quote from the Inn's website as I could not put it better myself:
Upon setting foot in Lakeview Inn, you can immediately feel all the grandeur and enchantment of a glorious past. You can also read the history of the Inn and see nostalgic pictures on the walls. 
Throughout the establishment you will notice the concern for authenticity in each detail and in the superb collection of antiques.
Lakeview Inn distinguishes itself by the quality of its hospitality and customer service, as evidenced by the honours won during the 2000 Quebec Grand Prix du Tourisme contest for the Eastern Townships in lodging category and the 2003 Quebec Grand prix du Tourisme held in the Eastern Townships in Gastronomy category.
In my part of Europe where I was raised, it was a tradition, probably long now forgotten, that, when one was extremely pleased with a chef or a kitchen, the head of the houshold would gather up the empty plates and return them to the kitchen to thank the chef or staff in person. This I did and with this small gesture ended a memorable wedding anniversary dinner in a place I am certain to get "frequent flier" miles at. I just hope that the to be wed Royal couple in London will eat as good as we did...
Thanks, Van, Tomo and Tomi!

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