Dinner on the Ocean Floor

About two weeks ago, we were loaded onto a tour bus that was heading to Burntcoat Head Park on the Bay of Fundy, site of the world’s highest tides. There, we were to be treated to a feast on the ocean floor, paired with the new line of Alexander Keith’s small-batch brews, which are being made at the original Lower Water Street location in Halifax.

The bus ride to Hants County, Nova Scotia, took about an hour and a half from Halifax. After arriving at the park we were separated into two smaller groups and taken on tours. The constant mist and generally grey skies didn’t take away from the spectacular topography and stunning formations along the ocean floor, where the world’s highest tides ebb and flow. Most of us were wearing the proper footwear, so we trudged close to the ocean, checking out tidal pools and tiny crabs along the way.

Once returning from the tour we were greeted with an East Coast-style shellfish boil, complete with live Maritime-inspired music and lots of cold beer. We were each given a huge bowl of boiled mussels, clams and lobster claws, topped with fried dulse, accompanied by a delicious homemade biscuit. Lounging in a circle of colourful Adirondack chairs, we took turns throwing our empty shells into galvanized steel buckets that were placed in the centre. We were supplied with a seemingly unlimited amount of Keith’s newest small batch creation, Fundy Lowtide WIPA, a white IPA made with sea lettuce and dulce from the Bay of Fundy.

Second course surf and turf, succotash.

Second course surf and turf, succotash.

We headed back to the ocean floor, where a long white tent was set up for dinner. Tables decorated with tartan and centrepieces made of sea greenery were set up in the sand, waiting for us. First course was a cheese and house-made charcuterie plate with crispy flat bread crackers and mustards, which was intended to pair with Keith’s best-known beer, their India Pale Ale. The main course was a generous surf and turf, featuring a super flavourful poached lobster tail with saffron mayo, toasted barley succotash, and hop-crusted beef tenderloin; this was paired with Keith’s Cornerstone EPA. Dessert was wonderful, a stack of layered airy cinnamon phyllo, chocolate mascarpone cream, and sautéed cherries, topped with crunchy, pure cocoa nibs, paired with Keith’s Lunenburg Coffee & Cocoa Stout. The brewmaster, Stefan Gagliardi, acted as a host of sorts, mingling with guests and introducing each beer before courses at dinner.

This event was catered by Flying Apron Cookery, and was put on by Seaboost and Labatt (who own Keith’s). I was invited complimentary as part of a media and industry group.

One-Night Oceanstone Getaway

Just prior to Nova Scotia’s busy tourist season starting to take off, we snuck away for one precious night in Indian Harbour, at the gorgeous Oceanstone Resort. Located only five minutes from Peggy’s Cove, a trip to Oceanstone from Halifax proves to be just far enough outside the city to let yourself relax, for real.

We stayed in Gray Owl cottage, which allowed us to walk directly onto the beach from the back entrance. A raised deck surrounded by trees and foliage offers privacy without blocking the dreamy, straight-on view of the ocean. Individual fire pits on the beach, along with cozy wood stoves inside, allow for the ultimate cottage experience. The layout of Gray Owl is perfect for a couple: a one room open-concept cottage with high ceilings, decorated with upscale rustic charm.

Although it was foggy when we first arrived, the sun soon burst through and we kicked off our shoes to set up shop in the sand and enjoy a beverage. The early evening sun was hot enough to fight off the cool ocean breeze; the backdrop and soundtrack were absolutely unbeatable. We stayed there until we were too cold, then retreated to enjoy the wood stove inside.

After an extended period of intense relaxing (virtually doing nothing) we got to work on dinner. We used the outdoor barbecue to grill beef tenderloins from Getaway Farms with bone marrow butter (my first time picking this up — delicious), along with grilled vegetables and creamy mash. A perfect evening. We fell asleep on the insanely comfortable bed (which you can see the ocean from, by the way) with the window slightly cracked, the sounds of crashing waves wandering in.

Oceanstone is definitely my new go-to for an easy, calm and quick getaway from Halifax. The perfect place to recharge.

 

Oyster Shucking & Road Tripping with Ford

On one of the first truly warm, sunny days in May, I was invited to attend another fantastic Ford Canada event. This time, we’d be headed to Oceanstone Seaside Resort near Peggys Cove, to hear author, TV host and travel columnist Robin Esrock speak about his new book The Great Atlantic Canadian Bucket List.

Our ride.

Our ride.

When I arrive at our meeting point, Steele Lincoln Ford, I see my co-writers at Local Connections Halifax Magazine, Lia Rinaldo and Tiffany Thornton. We manage to nab the white Ford Mustang and Lia gladly agrees to get behind the wheel for the 40-minute(ish) road trip to Oceanstone.

Upon arrival we’re immediately swept out to a deck overlooking the ocean, snacking on delicious canapés (smoked salmon crostini and bacon-wrapped scallops) while sipping on Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 sparkling wine.

Nova 7 on the patio.

Nova 7 on the patio.

It’s the kind of day in early spring where you finally feel everything has come back to life. The air smells pleasantly salty, the breeze is warm and the deck offers a quintessential Nova Scotia view: a white lighthouse across the bay and a stunning combination of rocky beach and blue ocean. Operator Lizzie Moore speaks to us briefly about the property and promises to show us around the cottages after lunch.

First course for our lunch is hands-on oyster shucking (and eating) with chef Bryan Corkery. After the demo, a few of us shuck our own, and Bryan makes oyster shooters with clamato juice and vodka. At this point I’m glad Lia has agreed to drive the Mustang. We sit down for lunch (lobster stuffed chicken, potato rosti and seasonal vegetables).

My delicious oyster shooter.

My delicious oyster shooter.

Sometime during dessert Robin takes over for a presentation about his travel experiences and books The Great Canadian Bucket List, and now, the Great Atlantic Canadian Bucket List. The storytelling  and photos are the type that immediately make you want to quit your day job and buy an around-the-world plane ticket. But if you can’t do that, for now, you should at least check out his book on Atlantic Canada and plan some adventures closer to home.

After lunch, as promised, we take a look through some of the seaside cottages (which are unbelievably charming) and soak in the sun, view and ocean air just a little bit longer. I manage to win the prize draw (one night in a Rhubarb suite), which means I’ll be back soon, to eat fresh seafood at the on-site restaurant Rhubarb, and drink Nova 7 by our fire pit on the beach, listening to the waves crash in front of our beautiful cottage. Because there’s no way I’m not upgrading!

Thanks again to Ford Canada for the invite to this event, Oceanstone for the food, drink and views and to Lia for being our road trip DD. Check out the cottages in the gallery below…

Travel Diary: Eating at the Night Market in Thailand

Since life in Halifax is forcing me to visit sunnier, warmer times in my mind, I’m going to write again about my recent experiences in Thailand. It was just in January that we made the trip to Southeast Asia, but man, it seems like a lifetime ago already. Their dry season boasts hot, sunny and humid days with a temperature around 30 degrees. The weather was practically flawless for the two weeks we were there. Take me back!

I found some wine!

I found some wine!

Some of our favourite places to eat were outdoor night markets that offered a mix of souvenirs, clothing, cocktail bars and food stalls, always with live entertainment. Especially during our time on Koh Samui the open-air bars with live music on Chaweng Walking Street would call to us on most evenings. Sitting in cheap white plastic chairs, sipping gin and tonics, listening to a live band cover Western hits, and ordering grilled satay or noodles from nearby food stalls was how we’d pass many relaxing night-time hours. Just thinking about it makes me smile. The host at our favourite bar, Save Water Drink Cocktails, knew our names by the end of the week.

Delicious noodles in Phuket.

Delicious noodles in Phuket.

The deal was you’d walk around to check out what each food stall offered or had fresh that evening. Most offered traditional Thai food, along with some kind of specialty. There was the fresh seafood stall with huge live prawns on ice and charcoal rotisseries for fish, the banana pancake stall, the noodle soup lady, and a few options for barbecue or grilled food. Often you’d see steaming hot, heaping piles of noodles, that would last the night. Our favourite was simply a dish of these noodles, they were sautéed in oil and soy sauce with bright pieces of cabbage, carrots, or peppers.

Ribs, chicken and salad.

Ribs, chicken and salad.

At the barbecue stalls you had the option of choosing pre-grilled satays that the cook would throw back on the grill for a few minutes, or choosing a raw protein and waiting for it to be prepared. For side dishes there was an array of deep-fried favourites, dumplings, noodles, or any kind of Thai dish. The fish ball soup was definitely one of the best we tried, and once I splurged on delicious fresh squid with grilled corn, but most nights, we craved noodles and the barbecued pork ribs or good ol’ chicken satay with sweet chile sauce. Perfect with those gin and tonics, or in Geir’s case, many cold Chang beers. After ordering from a stall, you could make your way to the open-air bar or seating area, and when your food was ready they’d find you in the crowd and drop it off at your table on styrofoam plates. Always with a smile.

We stumbled across street food everywhere in Thailand, of course, from tiny stands lining the most popular beaches to the crunchy bug snacks in Bangkok. Here’s a look…

Travel Diary: Thai Cooking Class

During our first week of the trip, which was spent in Phuket, we attended a cooking class at the next town over, Kata Beach.  I had signed us up nice and early with it being high season, and the class having stellar reviews on Trip Advisor. Much to our surprise, when the driver showed up we were the only two attending class that day. Nice. Our instructor, Mimi, and driver transported us from our resort to The Kitchen, a Thai restaurant and cooking class venue, with one stop at a market along the way.

Many types of prawns.

Many types of prawns.

It was the type of day in Phuket that edged on unbearably hot, for a canuck like me… well over 30 degrees and disgustingly humid (and this was dry season). Mimi took us to a large nearby open-air market (thankfully with shade), to give us an example of how fresh produce and meat are sourced for the plethora of Thai restaurants in that area. We sauntered around while she gave us explanations on mostly vegetables, and meat, and we asked some questions. We could have easily walked around for an hour, just looking, but we were eager to get to the class, where the ingredients had already been purchased and prepped for us. We were treated to as much bottled water as we wanted, and after we arrived, had a few minutes to rest in the wind of a two large fans; I started to cool off.

Mimi.

Mimi.

Our setup was a humble folding table with a plastic tablecloth, single gas burners, plastic cutting boards and the necessary knives, utensils and pots and pans. We were learning four Thai dishes, which we picked in advance on the website: vegetable spring rolls, gang keaw waan tai (green chicken curry), traditional pad thai with prawns and tom yum goong (pictured at the very top). So, very recognizable Thai dishes that we thought would be fun to cook while in Thailand! The methods were a little less complicated than we were hoping for (especially for Geir), as in, we used some short cuts like pre-made green curry paste. But overall it was a great experience and Mimi was super fun and friendly.

Finished pad thai, served with crushed peanuts, chiles and sugar as is customary here.

Finished pad thai, served with crushed peanuts, chiles and sugar as is customary here.

All of the dishes turned out flavourful and tasty, with the curry and the pad thai having a very healthy amount of heat! We found the recipes used a surprising amount of sugar, and that a lot of Thai dishes include either white or brown sugar to balance out the spicy chiles. We got to take a copy of the recipes home. Check out the photo gallery for the market tour and cooking class, and below that — a recipe for green curry chicken!

Below is the green curry chicken recipe we were sent home with, which is very fast and easy to make. The measurements are a bit different, and the yield is not listed, but I’d guess two servings. You can’t get the type of small eggplant that we used here, usually, so substitute for any vegetable you enjoy in your curries. Carrots, green beans and potatoes all work nicely (cook the potatoes a bit in advance).

Our curry, it was quite spicy.

Our curry, it was quite spicy.

Gaang Keaw Waan Gai (Chicken in Green Curry), from The Kitchen, Kata Beach

180 grams Sliced chicken breast

10 grams Crispy eggplant

10 grams Small eggplant

1 tbsp Green curry paste (I like Mae Ploy)

10 grams Thai (sweet) basil leaves (tear them up before throwing in)

2 pieces Sliced red chiles (or to taste)

2 cups Coconut milk

2 pieces Kaffir lime leaves (tear them up before throwing in)

1 tbsp Fish sauce

2 tbsp Palm sugar

1. Add the vegetable oil in the pan then heat to medium heat. Add the green curry paste and heat until it brings out a good aroma.

2. Add the sliced chicken (note: let it get a good sear before moving on), and add the coconut milk a little at a time. Add crispy eggplant and small eggplant.

3. Add the kaffir lime leaves, sweet basil leaves and sliced red chiles at the end. (Note: it’s ready when it’s reduced a bit to a thicker consistency, and smells amazing.)

4. Serve with steamed rice.

Travel Diary: My birthday in Thailand

A few days ago I returned from an unbelievable, dreamy two-week trip to Thailand, where I celebrated my 30th birthday. We booked this adventure last August, giving ourselves lots of time to plan fun excursions (Thai cooking class, speedboat tour, etc) and make suitable birthday plans.

Here, I will chronicle my out-of-the-ordinary birthday in Phuket, Thailand (usually I’m snowed in somewhere in Halifax drinking copious amounts of wine and enjoying a cheese-heavy meal with loved ones), focusing mainly on the food.

Fresh mango on our terrace.

Fresh mango on our terrace.

The day began with freshly cut mango, which we had purchased from one of the nearby fresh fruit stores in Kata Beach. We were staying at the charming Metadee Resort, in a deluxe pool access room, so I enjoyed my cup of mango and yogurt on our terrace by the pool, then jumped in for a dip. The temperature by this time, in the early morning (the cooler part of the daytime), was about 27º or 28º C.

A big part of the day involved a spur-of-the-moment bus trip to Phuket Town from the area we were staying in, Kata Beach. After splurging on a European breakfast at The Viking Restaurant (owned by Danes), we hailed the bus. There seemed to be a few types of public buses in Phuket, the long blue bus being more touristy, making less stops, and going from each major town to the next (although they’ll stop any time you bang on the window), for only 35 Thai baht each, which is currently $1.35 CAD. With the hilly terrain, weak engine and semi-frequent stops of the open-air bus, it took us about an hour to travel to Phuket Town, which is actually only 10km away if you take a direct route. But, we got to see a lot of the island this way.

A little sweaty and a little tired, in Old Phuket Town.

A little sweaty and a little tired, in Old Phuket Town.

Once arriving in Phuket Town, which is the largest town on the island of Phuket (which is the busiest tourist destination in Thailand), we didn’t really know where we were going or what we were looking for. Phuket Town has a population of over 91,000 people and I have to say it was bigger than I had anticipated. I had heard tell of an “Old Town” section being charming and historic and whatnot. After walking aimlessly (in the wrong direction) for about 25 minutes, we stopped at Kaffe, an air-conditioned, hipster-looking coffee shop, where I refuelled with a creamy egg sandwich on beautiful bahn mi style bread and an iced coffee. We connected to the wifi and made some more solid plans. We got the direction to Old Phuket Town down, partly on our own and partly from advice of one of the many taxi drivers trying to sell us a tour. He told us the beautiful buildings that the tourists like to see were on two specific streets, so we headed in that direction on foot. (Ah, traveling.) This was all on a sweltering (to us) 32º C full-sun, 90% humidity kind of day, (that’s pretty much every day there) so we were drinking LOTS of water and reapplying sunscreen like crazy.

Once we made it to Old Phuket Town, it was indeed special, showcasing historic Sino-colonial mansions and preserved shophouses. This part of the town was “built on the riches reaped from Phuket’s tin boom of last century,” (phuket.com). The buildings are grandiose and ornate, colourful and charming. Many of them house cafes, restaurants and printing shops. We stopped at one particularly high-end looking cafe once we noticed some bottles of craft beer and cider in the cooler case out front (hard to find in  Thailand), for a beverage break. After strolling through the area we headed back to where to catch the bus back to Kata Beach. (How we got on the wrong bus, had to get off, walk back into town, find an air conditioned cab to make it back to Kata for our dinner reservation is another story — ah, traveling.)

Once returning to our resort, we of course had a well-deserved dip in the pool, showered and got ready for dinner. I had made a reservation a month prior at a picturesque and popular Thai restaurant called On the Rock, housed at the Marina Phuket Resort, directly on the water.

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The service at On the Rock was unmatched by anything else we experienced in Phuket, the price point, for Thailand, was high and it was clear they catered to many tourists. We started with some prosecco, to celebrate, then I picked out my very own fresh red snapper, which was on display with the other fresh seafood for the day as you enter the restaurant (this is customary here). For first course, I had my first tom sum, a spicy green papaya salad with green beans, almost the style of a slaw, with a very flavourful dressing of chiles and garlic, fish sauce, and some sweetness. This was delicious, and not to be my last on the trip. Geir had tom kha gai which is a mild coconut-based chicken soup with great flavours of kaffir lime leaves and ginger, a very common Thai soup.

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The red snapper was prepared nicely on the barbecue and was served with thinly sliced peppers, ginger and chiles on top. I enjoyed this super fresh fish with some classic steamed rice. Geir had a duck with mango sauce. They played happy birthday for me, and presented me with a fresh cut fruit plate with candles to blow out. The sun had set over the ocean during first course, and we went for a walk on the beach after dinner. My second birthday ever to be spent in a hot climate, with beach time (my 24th birthday was in Bondi Beach, Australia). On the walk home, we saw an elephant! The only elephant of the trip, as I’m not into exploitative animal-based tourism. I’m not sure whose elephant it was, or how they treated it. I didn’t give them any money but snapped a photo. This was a very small elephant.

A very different, but very fun 30th birthday. And the next day was birthday number two… as it was my birthday on Halifax time…

Devour! Opening Gala Food (and Anthony Bourdain)

The largest food film festival in the world, Devour! The Food Film Fest has, seemingly in the stab of a fork, come and gone. Luckily I made to Wolfville to kick things off Wednesday evening at the sold-out opening gala reception and movie screening. Not coincidentally, this was the much-talked about celebrity chef studded event, featuring the one and only  Anthony Bourdain. Also spotted in the crowd at the gala were recognizable faces like Chuck Hughes (The Food Network), Connie DeSousa (Charcut, Top Chef Canada Season 1), Jesse Vergen (Saint John Ale House, Top Chef Canada Season 2), Todd Perrin (Mallard Cottage, Top Chef Canada Season 1) and Halifax’s own Lauren Marshall (Envie, Top Chef Canada Season 2).

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Bourdain speaking to the crowd before the screening of Eat Drink Man Woman.

Bourdain did not disappoint. Hearing him speak was like reading his books: engaging, raw, genuine and funny as hell. Same voice. A real pleasure.

But enough name dropping. Here’s what I ATE.

I’ll go through a few highlights. If I can just point out that all the food at the gala was incredibly well-done, and that the Nova Scotia chefs pulled out all the stops to impress Bourdain create a wonderful event. There wasn’t one thing there not to be proud of.

Let’s start with the duck liver-venison pate with maple cranberry chutney by Mark Gabrieau of Gabrieau’s Bistro (Antigonish). This humble-looking bite absolutely blew me away. An hors d’oeuvre like this proves how not too much is needed to create the perfect taste balance. Three harmonious textural elements, and the sweet-tart chutney matched with rich, fatty yet gamey pâté. I could have eaten these all night.

Mark Gabrieau - Venison pate with maple cranberry chutney - SO DELICIOUS!

Mark Gabrieau – Duck liver-venison pate with maple cranberry chutney – SO DELICIOUS!

My first time eating sea urchin. This breezy little number was light and airy with an unmistakable taste of the salty ocean. The sea urchin was presented with cold-smoked scallop, citrus emulsion and pickled sea asparagus, by Frederic Tandy of Ratinaud French Cuisine. Everything about this bite felt elegant, delicate and well-done. I loved how representative of the sea it was in both look and taste. (Earlier in the night they were served on sea urchin shells.)

Sea urchin

Sea urchin

When you hear the description of Mark Gray’s dish, you’ll understand why there was no possible way it couldn’t be ridiculously delicious. Mark (of Brooklyn Warehouse) gave us “Rabbit in a Pig Blanket”, that is, confit leg of rabbit, braised livers and foie gras wrapped in prosciutto, with spiced carrot jam, celeriac and squash, mustard greens and rabbit bone vinaigrette. Yeah. You can see mine has shoots though and not mustard greens. This was a sweet, rich, indulgent bite of tender meat, prepared with a lot of skill. And a gorgeous plate.

Mark Gray - Rabbit in a pig blanket: confit leg, braised livers and foie gras wrapped in prosciutto, spiced carrot jam, celeriac and squash, mustard greens, rabbit bone vinaigrette

Congratulations to the organizers of Devour! on an impressive and well-executed festival!

Full gallery below:

Seven steps to making the perfect camp burger

What is a “camp burger,” you ask? It’s simply a delicious, juicy, smoky, amazing burger that you create while on a camping trip. Cooked in the great outdoors, eaten by the fire. Could it get any better than that? Here are my seven steps to making that perfect camp burger. Keep in mind I learned the best way to cook the beef from my camping partner and chef (Geir).  It starts at your local farmers’ market.

1. Buy local, humane, sustainable, grass-fed beef from a butcher you know and trust. We got ours from Getaway Farms at the Seaport Farmers’ Market in Halifax. We made our patties from a mix of medium-ground beef and lean-ground beef. Don’t add any fillers (this is one of the most important points). Just salt and pepper is all quality ground beef needs. Leave the eggs, bread crumbs or other craziness out of it. When you’re using local beef, it’s safe to cook your burger medium, as long as it reaches the proper internal temperature. We always make ours medium.

2. Smoke up. Use a charcoal barbecue, or, if you don’t have access, get a nice, even cooking grate to put over the wood-burning campfire. Your burger deserves to be infused with that smoky flavour. Luckily, we have a small portable Weber Grills “smokey joe.” And we love him.

3. Add some cheese.  I’m a bit more lax on this point… you definitely need melted cheese, but I believe your favourite cheese should work just fine. As long as it’s real cheese, not too mild, and it’s not smoked. We used That Dutchman’s medium Gouda.

4. Have crispy bacon prepared. Grab some local bacon, regular or double-smoked, from a local meat shop (we prefer Rose Lane Farm double-smoked for just about any occasion). Have it cooked crispy and pressed in paper towel for the perfect burger-topping texture.

5. Get your crunch on. This thing needs some crunchy acidity. Sometimes I do caramelize my onions, but I find thinly sliced, raw, much better (or maybe a mix of the two). Also, add a sliced crunchy pickle.

6. Find the mustard. This is important… your burger needs mustard. I don’t care if you add ketchup, but mustard is key. And a nice mustard, too. We went for traditional hot Dijon on this, by Maille. There are tons of amazing mustard options, so don’t slack off and reach for the French’s.

7. Grill the bun, but not too much. I believe the bun should be warm and toasty, but still have some softness to it, especially the outside parts.

So, to review, the equation for juicy camp burger goodness is = local beef + no filler + cooked medium + cheese + bacon + smoke + crunchy acidity + mustard + toasty bun.

Now let me ask you, what’s your favourite burger side dish? We’ve been experimenting with seawater-boiled new potatoes, tossed in fresh dill, green onions and BUTTER. But I’ll save that for another post…

Travel Review: MTL’s historic Dominion Square Tavern

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Inside the scotch egg, with “Swedish” sauce.

After a short 13-hour drive (with only one stop for gas, and the best road trip snacks ever) we arrived in Montreal from Halifax, for an IKEA run. We had left before the sun came up and made very good time. The first nice spring weather we’d seen (having come from Halifax, in early May) got us excited; so immediately after checking into the Sheraton Centre-ville, we walked a couple blocks to Crescent Street for beverages on a patio.

Cocktails - Tom Collins, Basil & Rye

Cocktails – Tom Collins, Basil & Rye

The highlight meal of our very short Quebec adventure was dinner at the Dominion Square Tavern later than night. Having been a restaurant or lounge in one way or another since 1927, this historic establishment in the heart of downtown was on our list for a while. Favouring the sharing plates format, we opted to order a silly amount of appetizers between the two of us and asked that they come out staggered. We tried a lot of different dishes, some fantastic wine, and left very happy. Also, the cocktails we started with were expertly prepared and super refreshing.

Pate de campagne (rustic pork terrine)

Pate de campagne (rustic pork terrine)

A couple favourites during dinner were the country pȃté (made with pork), served with dressed greens and homemade crostini, as well as their impeccably executed scotch egg. The smoked trout salad with curry oil was the perfect spring dish, and a great way to start off our meal.

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smoked trout

homemade nutmeg donuts with sour cream

homemade nutmeg donuts with sour cream

We even pushed ourselves to order dessert, and I genuinely enjoyed the freshly made nutmeg donuts (and donut holes) with sour cream. The tartness of the sour cream made this dish for me — a dessert I would actually come back for!

Classified as a gastropub, the Dominion Square Tavern has a lot to offer. The interior pays homage to their lengthy history, achieving a classy, not hipster, vibe, the service was more than personable, and the high-level English-inspired comfort food menu  brings it all together. On top of that, with the wine list and cocktails…  I like everything about this place. Thank you MTL for another fantastic visit — even if it was too short.

Pop-up chef series finale at Front & Central

Fourth course - piggy (sous vide pork tenderloin)  in a mushroom blanket, roasted shallots, bread pudding and parsley sauce.

Fourth course – piggy (sous vide pork tenderloin) in a mushroom blanket, roasted shallots, bread pudding and parsley sauce.

What better way to avoid a Nova Scotia winter rut (food and morale) than design a series of delicious tasting menus with your friends?

Tasting menus are the way I like to eat. I enjoy running the restaurant that way,” says Dave Smart, chef and owner of Front & Central in Wolfville. “This was the second year for the series. I start them in January when the dust settles from New Year’s.”

The “pop-up chef series” for 2014 ended on April 25, and I was lucky enough to be invited, as Dave’s guest (his treat), to cover the last of the event via social media. The guest chef on this particular date was Peter Dewar – and man, do these guys’ styles work together well (not to mention Peter is a member of Culinary Team Canada). They presented a five-course tasting menu at an unbelievable price of $50 per person, along with an optional wine pairing at only an additional $25. Tickets were sold in advance.

Of course I brought Geir along (nothing like chefs cooking for other chefs) and we made a night out of it in Wolfville, taking advantage of the special rate for this event at Victoria’s Historic Inn. To make it even more convenient, the inn is within walking distance from Front & Central.

Second course (my favourite) - "bread and butter", which was chive hollandaise and rye bread pudding.

Second course (my favourite) – “bread and butter”, which was chive hollandaise and rye bread pudding.

From the pop-up series Dave says he’s “had lots of great feedback from guests, and many repeat diners.” It’s no wonder. The service is fantastic — it’s easy to tell the staff genuinely enjoy the tasting menu format — and the restaurant is beautiful. The food absolutely went beyond our expectation in creativity, taste and plating.

A highlight for me was second course, called “bread and butter”. This was chive hollandaise paired with a rye bread pudding, meant to be eaten together… each spoonful was better than the last. Check out our dinner, starting with some fantastic gin cocktails, course-by-course in the gallery below.