Sip ‘n’ Shuck by Taste of Nova Scotia

Despite the pending storm on Friday, January 29, Sip ‘n’ Shuck went ahead that evening, in the panoramic Baronet Ballroom at the Delta Halifax. I arrived with frozen hair and a soaked jacket, having travelled a horizontal route through downtown from Grafton Street, in the very wet snow (which was blowing sideways).

The first half hour provided those on media passes (me!) with exclusive access before the crowd arrived. I took this opportunity to taste every oyster that was there, including Pristine Bay, ShanDaph, Malagash and Eel Lake.

Oysters and cider.

Oysters and cider.

When the doors opened for the masses, I was happy to see that the turnout was still quite high. Despite the forecast, ticket holders were not going to miss this delicious event. Partnering with The Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia and the Delta Halifax, this is a fantastic annual event put on by Taste of Nova Scotia that offers a massive amount of local seafood in one room, and the opportunity to pair them with an array of Nova Scotia beers, wines and ciders (a perfect match). In short, if you love seafood, this is heaven.

I sampled a diverse selection of items that night, from beer steamed mussels with Oulton’s double smoked bacon, to maple-glazed Atlantic salmon on potato latkes to cold smoked halibut. My favourite thing that night was ShanDaph oysters.  These were huge, meaty, beautiful briney things with such incredible flavour. They didn’t need any accoutrements. I enjoyed these with both a Bulwark Gold (an award-winning cider that’s finished with local honey) and Benjamin Bridge Tidal Bay.

Browse through the gallery for more photos!

Beverage participants included:

Garrison Brewing Co., Propeller Brewing Co., Ironworks DistilleryBulwark CiderL’Acadie VineyardsAvondale Sky WineryBenjamin BridgeBlomidon Estate WineryDevonian CoastGrand Pré WinesLuckett Vineyards and Planters Ridge.

Pizza, Wine and Jazz

There’s something so nice about strolling into the main stage area at TD Halifax Jazz Festival during the day. Especially when it’s sunny. There’s a mix of locals and tourists, everyone is eating or drinking, enjoying some chill, free jazz music, and it’s all right on the waterfront. There’s lots of places to sit. So yesterday I grabbed a slice of pizza from Bramoso, a glass of wine from the bar and took it all in for a little while.

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If you’re not familiar with Bramoso Pizza, their eat-in restaurant and takeout counter is located on Quinpool Road, in the same strip mall as the NSLC. When you walk in, though, it’s quite charming and there’s a real brick pizza oven, churning out creative pizzas that feature local ingredients

SORRY. This post is just a teaser. For the full post and photos, head on over to the TD Halifax Jazz Fest blog.

Zuppa Theatre: Pop-up Love Party at Lion & Bright

On opening night for Zuppa Theatre‘s Pop-up Love Party we snuck in just a few minutes before the scheduled start time, grabbing two seats at the bar in a packed Lion & Bright. The vibe was energetic and exciting; luckily we had enough time to order a couple fantastic negronis and settle in before the show began.

Pop-up Love Party is an interactive theatre and food event. Inspired by Plato’s Symposium, the show consists of three actors (Ben Stone, Stewart Legere and and Susan Leblanc) giving monologues about love. A paired seven-course snack menu, designed by executive chef Daniel Burns yet executed by local chef Dennis Johnston, accompanies the production. The menu claims to “heighten moments of the production,” with its flavours and textures. 

E.T. sandwich

E.T. sandwich

We’re not regular theatre folk, so I’m not going to review the performance in that way, but let’s just say we really enjoyed ourselves; there was comedy, music, aerobics… and just lots of fun. The snack menu was thought-provoking, at times delicious, and at time perplexing. I’d like to think I caught on to the performance-paired moments of the menu, for example, while Stone gave a rather heart-wrenching speech about how everyone we love will eventually die, the ginger sorbet with lemon we were served had so much zing… it was just, well, a little hard to swallow.

The wine was flowing and the venue was full of enthralled people, enjoying every moment of the show. In the end, the food left you with a lot to contemplate, just like the performance. Congratulations to Zuppa on the sold out run (they wrapped up on March 29), and thank-you to their marketing gal Jennifer for the complimentary tickets!

Big feast of small plates at Field Guide

If you haven’t been to Field Guide, at the corner of Gottingen and Falkland in Halifax’s north end, make plans to go this weekend. Whether you’re in the mood to sip and savour what are, in my opinion, the most expertly made cocktails in Halifax, indulge in local craft beer, wine, or experiment with small plates, Field Guide has achieved the hipster neighbourhood vibe without any pretension. No cold shoulders here; it seems we’re always greeted by the server named Josh, whose mannerisms and friendliness seem to suggest he’s an owner, although he’s not. (Best kind of server to have.) I’ve been to Field Guide a few times, to sit at the bar for drinks, to eat small plates at a low top table, and once even to interview head bartender Shane Beehan for a magazine article.

Classic gin sour.

Classic gin sour.

Just under two weeks ago, we met a couple friends there who like to eat like us (lots of different things in one meal) to fill up on small plates, before heading to the Matt Andersen (with the Mellotones) show at Olympic Community Centre. With Shane at the helm and Jeff Van Horne as a bar consultant, there’s no wonder the cocktail list is ever-changing and exciting, mastering, as Field Guide puts it, both “the classic and the contemporary”.

Hands down this place has the best negroni in the city, a favourite of both Geir’s and mine. As is encouraged, I ordered “off-menu” and asked for a classic gin sour. It did not disappoint. Next, we tried to please my friend’s tastes by requesting a gin cocktail that also had elderflower liqueur in it. Nailed it. Once over the summer I enjoyed a blackberry gin fizz here that I’m still thinking about. (I have a thing for gin.)

Trouts and beets.

Trouts and beets.

Food-wise, the chef and co-owner Dan was present in the kitchen, so you know there’s a lot of care being put into the preparation. The open kitchen is just behind the far end of the bar, not a very elaborate setup, but they make it work.

We perused the chalkboard menu and chose a few priorities; starting with a small charcuterie board and also the cheese selection, accompanied by house-made sour dough. Next, the trout and beets, such a delight, and what a pretty plate; crispy skinned trout, delicately roasted purple and golden beets, pickled onion and fresh dill. Next up the pork carnitas.  This was the second time I’ve enjoyed these. The beer-braise on the pork really amps up the depth of flavour and makes this dish; sour cream and a crunchy slaw seal the deal. We then tried the halibut with kimchi and sunchoke purée (this worked) and finished off with their famous donair steam buns. Josh deliberately served these last, as he says, if you’re enjoying a series of small plates, they obliterate your taste buds. Thanks, Josh. The texture of the steam bun is incredible, housing all the flavours (in one or two bites) of the ultimate guilty pleasure food… the Halifax donair; as one Instagram follower commented on my photo of them “these are crack”. Yup.

Mothers has garlic fingers!

Imagine my surprise and delight when last week we sat down at Mothers Pizza for a good old cheesy carb feed, and I saw garlic fingers on the menu! My guilty junk food weakness. My shameful delivery order after a late night out. Garlic fingers.

I hadn’t been to Mothers in a while, but typically I’ve had good experiences there. I like their hearty pizzas with lots of toppings (Canadian style) and the fact that they use so many local suppliers. Their pizzas are very cheesy, and the service is always super friendly. Also, I like the small wine list.

At Mothers, they’re calling them “garlies,” and of course we had to try them. We ordered the small (9-inch) to start, which was served with house-made marinara sauce for dipping. The garlies were insanely cheesy, to the point of greasy, in the best possible way (they’re supposed to be, in my opinion). I’ve never met a garlic finger I didn’t like. If you’re looking for a critique though, I’d say pump up the garlic a notch, and also experiment with donair sauce. The marinara was nice, but I love the sweetness of the traditional donair sauce with my garlic fingers. (Call me old-fashioned!)

Garlies and marinara.

Garlies and marinara.

After devouring the garlies, I could barely put a dent in my vegetarian pizza. It was absolutely loaded with various seasonal veggies, plus I added anchovies. The pile of spinach on top was a little hard to navigate. The leftovers were awesome, though.

On other trips to Mothers, I’ve very much enjoyed both the White Pizza, and The Agricola. Check out their menu here.

Did you know in other parts of Canada, garlic fingers and donair sauce aren’t a thing? Tell me: What are your favourite garlic fingers in HRM?

Diner en Blanc hits Halifax

Diner en Blanc, a large-scale outdoor picnic/spectacle/party, is coming to  Halifax for the first time on August 23rd. I was lucky enough to be included in a small group of food writers for a menu tasting of the picnic baskets that chefs Dave Smart (Front & Central) and Frederic Tandy (Ratinaud French Cuisine) have created for the event.

Basket #1 - Fish terrine (smoked salmon wrapped, cold smoked scallop in the middle, salmon rilette), grainy mustard potato salad

Basket #1 – Fish terrine (smoked salmon wrapped, cold smoked scallop in the middle, salmon rilette), grainy mustard potato salad

Drawing from the French background of Diner en Blanc (read more about the history here), the chefs (and preferred catering partners) put together four heavily French-influenced picnic menus, that will be available for pre-purchase online. These menus will be paired nicely with French and Nova Scotian wines by beverage sponsor Bishop’s Cellar. So, not to worry, we are in good hands. I won’t go too much into detail about the glamorous, secretive and exciting nature of the event; I’d rather show off the delicious French cuisine we tasted at the Kitchen Table in Ratinaud a couple days ago.

Which basket would I choose? It has to be Basket #3, dubbed “Le Big Deal”.  Sous vide lamb, foie gras and chutney, a cheese plate… and those pickled mushrooms! Incredible. Ideally, though, I’d like to be seated with friends so we could sample from all four baskets. Pricing is yet to be released and more details on the menu items will be available online when registration begins next week.

Scroll through the gallery below and read the captions for food descriptions.

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.

Tasty Bites from the 11th Annual Savour Food & Wine Show

My fave... no bias I swear! The salmon tartare with avocado and creme fraiche at Saege Bistro's booth.

My fave… no bias I swear! The salmon tartare with avocado and creme fraiche at Saege Bistro’s booth.

Last week I attended Savour Food & Wine on a media pass. This year the event was bigger than ever before and seemed to really gel. The layout was slightly adjusted and the crowd seemed to flow nicely. The noise level never became uncomfortable, and the group was relatively tame, which seem to lend well to everyone experiencing the food and drink in a more involved way. It was a great night.

I still (as usual) was not able to visit every single booth. There were over seventy this year with a close to fifty-fifty split on food and alcoholic beverages. A couple of wines I really enjoyed were Zalze Bush Wines Chenin Blanc (South Africa) which was poured by Franklin Imports, and Real de Aragon Cava poured by Bishop’s Cellar (which won best of show).

Pig trotter from Ratinaud French Cuisine

Stuffed pig trotter from Ratinaud French Cuisine

One of the most delicious bites at the show, for me, coincidentally was the salmon tartare with avocado and creme fraiche on a crostini from Saege Bistro (I could have eaten these all night but limited myself to two). I also seriously enjoyed the stuffed pig trotter with green onion sauce from Ratinaud French Cuisine, 2 Doors Down haddock taco, the smoked meatloaf from The Stubborn Goat. I thought the scallop hotdog was a great idea from Le Caveau, plus I just love their team, so friendly and professional. It was also a pleasure to see the kids from Hope Blooms give the media tour a run-through on their salad dressing line.

Dinner Club, Round Two

We hosted dinner club just over a week ago. This was our second turn to host (see round one here) and it was another great night with delicious (mostly) local food and copious amounts of good wine.

I’m not going to pretend that I made the food, because Geir took the lead on that. But I did set the table, got the house ready, and worked with my sommelier friend Jonathan Wilson at Harvest Wines to pair the courses.

We started with a cheese and preserves board (which included some awesome bacon jam from our friend Lisa Wood at Fusion Catering), as well as a mango bellini welcome cocktail. After our guests were seated, here is how it all went down…

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First Course:

Jerusalem artichoke soup, toasted pumpkin seeds.
Parsley, garlic and lemon gremolata on freshly whipped cream to stir in.

Wine:

The Nk’Mip Pinot Blanc (BC)

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Second Course:

Rustic white bean salad with fresh basil, balsamic drizzle. Served with mesclun greens tossed in a truffle oil vinaigrette

Wine:

Concilio Arjent Sauvignon Blanc (Italy)

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Third Course:

Seared prawns with tomatillo salsa fresca, avocado cream, chili threads

Wine:

Gaspereau New York Muscat (Nova Scotia)

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Fourth Course:

Braised short rib on celeriac puree with double smoked bacon and sweet peas, pea shoots

Wine:

Vega Sindoa Cabernet Sauvignon (Spain)

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Fifth Course:

Apple tarte tatin with housemade Calvados ice cream and apple chip

Wine:

Your choice of Grand Pre Pomme d’Or or Jost Framboise (both Nova Scotia)

Check out more photos in the gallery…