The best food at Dine by Design East Gala

Overwhelming to the senses. In the best way. That’s my interpretation of the Dine by Design East gala this past Thursday night. My first experience of the event, at its second annual edition, served as a full body experience. What I would describe as a mishmash of food, drink, design and art, the gala is really just a whole lot of fun.

Stepping through the doors of the Olympic Community Centre to see it completely transformed into a gallery of beautiful spaces is impressive enough. With a large cash bar near the entrance, a champagne bar in the back, dimmed lighting and the DJ spinning ambient music, it had the vibe of “upscale night club turned art gallery”. While I was lucky enough to make a round on the media tour, before it got too crowded, the general admission to the event has a lot to offer. On top of being a fundraiser for the Amber Harkins Scholarship Memorial Fund at NSCAD (a cause to feel good about), the evening goes something like this:  stroll through the venue while tasting hors d’oeuvres dreamt up by some of Halifax’s most talented chefs, chat with local designers and architects who are excited to explain the inspirations behind their spaces, and sip on local beer and wine samples, all while surrounded by extremely well-dressed people.

There is so much to report on for an event like this, but I’m going to stick to what I do (and what I know): the food. Here are the best three things I tasted at Dine by Design East gala. For photos of almost all the food at the event, peruse the gallery at the bottom of the post.

My top three:

#3 – From Chef Luis Clavel, Atlantica Hotel Halifax: Ash organic chicken, smoked olive oil powder, tiny basil. Served on a stick (who doesn’t love that), topped with the thinnest piece of crostini, drizzled with truffle oil; the juicy, tender texture of this chicken (done sous vide) was mind-blowing.  Luis isn’t known for doing simple food, but this is an example of how he changes your relationship with simple flavours: chicken, olive oil, basil, bread… elevated to the next level.

Ash organic chicken, smoked olive oil powder, tiny basil.

Ash organic chicken, smoked olive oil powder, tiny basil.

 

#2 – Pictou Lodge Beach Resort’s chef Thomas Carey handed me this: cured smoked Atlantic salmon belly, lemon emulsion, buttermilk gel, radish, pickled sea asparagus on stone fruit cracker. The rich, smoky, melt in your mouth salmon belly sang when combined with tangy flavours like lemon, radish and pickled sea asparagus. Put it all on a crunchy, hearty cracker, and this is my kind of eating.

Pictou Lodge: Cured smoked Atlantic salmon belly with lemon emulsion, buttermilk gel, radish, pickled sea asparagus on stone fruit cracker. ***In my top three!

Pictou Lodge: Cured smoked Atlantic salmon belly with lemon emulsion, buttermilk gel, radish, pickled sea asparagus on stone fruit cracker.

 

#1 – Robert Reynolds of EDNA never seems to disappoint. His Garden Party inspired menu was spot-on, and my favourite taste of the night was his marinated shrimp cocktail, tequila, citrus, shallots and avocado mousse. I’m a huge shellfish lover to start, but it was really the usage of harmonious flavours like tequila, citrus and avocado that made every well-balanced bite of this adorable little shrimp cocktail work.

By EDNA chef Robert Reynolds: marinated shrimp cocktail, tequila, citrus, shallots and avocado mousse.

By EDNA chef Robert Reynolds: marinated shrimp cocktail, tequila, citrus, shallots and avocado mousse.

 

Lunch at EDNA, compliments of Ford

EDNA, located in the north end

EDNA, located in the north end

Last week I was invited to attend a Ford media event, at EDNA, where we would hear about the company’s sustainability efforts and the technologies that are making their vehicles “fuel-economy leaders,” including the all-electric Focus. The event started with a presentation by Dr. Ellen Lee, the lead in plastics research for Ford, with some quick slides near the front of the restaurant. One thing that did impress me during the talk by Dr. Lee was the amount of post-consumer material (recycled plastic bottles, scrap cotton from jeans) that Ford is now using to design the interiors of their vehicles.

We then settled into one large communal table for an impressive four-course lunch, inspired by some of the sustainable materials that the automotive giant is now using inside their vehicles (think corn, soy, rice, etc).

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tortilla salad – roasted sweet potato, edamame, black beans, tomato, sweet corn, greens, cilantro, house made corn chips, citrus vinaigrette

First course was a lovely tortilla salad; small enough, light enough and playful enough with textures to serve as the perfect amuse bouche.

We had choice for the next three courses, and I opted for the seafood on both second and third offerings. A meaty grilled octopus dish with a soy Szechuan glaze was up next. Again, the chef had fun with the mouth feel of the dish, throwing in some popcorn. I enjoyed the octopus itself very much, as I love the dense texture and flavour, and it was grilled nicely, but wished the glaze lived up to its Szechuan title a bit more and offered real heat.

grilled octopus, soy Szechuan glaze, coconut rice, pineapple, scallion, Speerville popcorn

grilled octopus, soy Szechuan glaze, coconut rice, pineapple, scallion, Speerville popcorn

I was very excited to see seared tuna on the menu, because it’s just not that common in Halifax. My third course was a hook-and-line caught albacore tuna, nicely presented in a shallow pool of soy and dashi broth with soba noodles, enoki mushrooms, and a luscious parsnip puree. The puree was exceptionally creamy and offered sweetness, which was contrasted by the umami flavours of the noodles and broth. The tuna could have been more rare, for my taste, but to be fair, I wasn’t asked and didn’t put in a request.

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seared hook-and-line caught albacore tuna

Did I mention during this entire lunch, the Blomidon Tidal Bay was free-flowing? Also, we were greeted at the door with Benjamin Bridge Nova 7 upon our arrival. Ford really knows how to spoil the media (a nod to the amazing PR and marketing professionals they work with at the local branch of agency NATIONAL on these events).

coconut cream tart

coconut cream tart

At this point I was reaching my limit, as I normally eat one course for lunch, not four.  Still, I somehow found room for coffee and a couple bites of my dessert, a coconut cream tart. Although the sweet course is not usually my thing, this tart blew my mind, as it arrived on a perfectly executed melt-in-your-mouth, buttery shortbread crust. A really nice finish to a fantastic lunch, and all in great company, may I add (thanks Kate Watson and Jody Euloth for making our end of the table fun). Thank you to Ford and NATIONAL! I’m definitely heading back to EDNA soon for a long and leisurely dinner.