Saturday, April 13, 2024

Eating on the road: Evan's Fresh Seafoods in Dartmouth

 My visit to Halifax in December was planned as a culinary visit, and before I left I consulted friends who were or had been local residents to get their tips on where to get the best bites -- especially those that come from the sea. A clear recommendation was that I take the ferry across the harbour to Dartmouth to a spot you wouldn't find on most tourist guides: Evan's Fresh Seafoods. 

Located conveniently in the same building as the ferry terminal, at Alderney Landing, they also sell fresh and frozen fish and seafood and offer hot fare in what is basically a small mall food court. I liked the local feel, and I like transit boats (think an East Coast sea bus) so I actually went twice.

My first visit was for lunch on my first full day in Halifax. It was raising so I took an Uber to the Halifax side of the ferry terminal, and when I told him where I was going and why he offered a hearty endorsement. So that was a good sign.

Not to divert into a transit review, but while they had a ticket booth I couldn't buy a fare there. They made me download an app, link my credit card and buy my fare there to show the agent. Kind of a pain, though seamless for future transit this trip once done. And now I have the Halifax transit app on my phone. Guess that's better than my growing collecting of reloadable physical transit cards.

Anyways, after the crossing it was easy enough to find Evan's and I was able to quickly order because, of course I had pre-scouted the menu. Are you new here?

I was here for the lobster roll. Recommendations were sought and given on that basis, and I was told this is where locals go for a lobster roll. Not cheap at $26, but the lobster lobby has done a very good job at elevating this once overlooked sea creature to gourmand status. You could add a side fries but I'm not here for empty carbs. Caesar salad for me. They had a special to add some breaded side scallops at a discount, and I was all for that.

Definitely worth the boat cruise. The bun was fresh and buttery, and the lobster tasty, creamy and plentiful. The salad was a salad. The scallops fresh and delicious, and I really liked the lemon wedge for a splash of acid. Hearty and filling, and just the seafood fix I was looking for.

A few days later, on the last day of my visit, I would take the ferry over to Dartmouth again, suitcase in tow for one more seafood lunch before a taxi to the airport. This was a Sunday and, while it was quiet on my last Friday midday visit, today Alderney Landing was hopping with locals as their was some kind of bazar happening in the mall-like area and some sort of live music in the food court.

I was here for the fish, not the music, which wasn't really my vibe. But I managed to find a seat free at one of the shared tables. For today's lunch I went in a different direction, wanting to sample some of their other offerings.

First was a bowl of seafood chowder, with haddock, potatoes, scallops and lobster, to which I added some mussels for a small upcharge.

I would put the chowder as third of the three I had this trip. The broth was watery and flavour undeveloped. On the positive, it was packed with fish and lobster chunks quite generously and no potato filler. The mussels were a cheap add on.

I also ordered the two piece haddock, but with onion rings instead of the chips. It's not often I waste my carbs on fries.

The onion rings were ok. Onion rings are hard to screw up though, believe me, some places manage it. The haddock was good but I think I just don't care for their batter. I prefer a more wet batter while this seemed more like a meal. But it was still tasty and filling.

All in all, I enjoyed my first visit to Evan's more. The lobster roll was outstanding and the scallops were simple and enjoyable. Next visit I'll go elsewhere for my fish and chipless.

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Friday, April 05, 2024

Eating on the Road: The Bicycle Thief in Halifax

I did a great deal of research and sought advice from local experts before my visit to Halifax, intending to make the most of my time from a culinary perspective and lean heavily onto the seafood side of things. And after getting off the train, checking into my hotel and dropping my bags, it was a short but brisk walk to a cozy spot on the waterfront at Bishop's Landing: The Bicycle Thief.

Although it was dark both outside and inside, it seemed a trendy looking spot and was surprisingly hopping on a Thursday night. Luckily, I had snagged a reservation before leaving the hotel so I was quickly showed to my table on arrival. I ordered a glass of malbec and began to examine the menu -- which, of course, I had pre-scouted the week before.

I like a good chowder and I was determined to have a lot of it while in Halifax. So while the scallops sounded interesting, for my starter I ordered the Lobster & Corn Chowder, new potatoes, vidalia onions, crisp double smoked bacon.

I think in my parade of chowder I peaked on the first night. This was truly excellent. Rich, flavourful, so tasty, chunks of lobster, not potato heavy, the bacon really elevated it and I love me some corn in a chowder. It hit all the notes. So good.

I stuck with the lobster theme for my main and also designed to eschew the heavier options, after having had breakfast and lunch on the train. An elevated pasta dish seemed like the right call, so I went with the Agnolotti all’Aragosta, handmade pasta filled with fresh NS Lobster, Lobster & sherry crema, lemon & herb gremolata.

It was a great complement to the chowder. Again, rich, creamy and flavourful. Really developed flavours in the sauce. Chunks of lobster. Perfectly cooked pasta.

No space for desert, so I walked back to the hotel uphill on a chilly Halifax night and not a great night's sleep. It wasn't a cheap meal, but was not the most expensive of my visit either -- that was a disappointing steak dinner I'll share later.

But if you're looking for a truly memorable fancy dinner with great Italian-inspired local seafood on the Halifax harbour, I would definitely recommend The Bicycle Thief.

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Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Eating off the Hill: April is Filipino Restaurant Month across Canada

I'll get back to my Halifax culinary adventures soon (think seafood) but I wanted to jump ahead because April is Filipino Restaurant Month in Canada and, last week, a friend at the Filipino Embassy in Ottawa invited me for the luncheon launch event.

The launch was held at Sanduk, which I'm told is Ottawa's newest Filipino restaurant and is located on Holland Avenue, a short walk from the Tunney's Pasture O-Train station. The other participating Ottawa restaurant is Tamis Cafe & Restaurant, at 374 Bank Street in Centretown. They mentioned another Ottawa restaurant with a Filipino chef that is preparing a dish, but I don't recall the name and the web site isn't updated for 2024 yet.

Filipino Restaurant Month is a national event, with participating restaurants across the country that offer a Prix Fixe menu designed to introduce Canadians to Filipino cuisine. And diners also get a contest entry to win prizes from the event sponsors, including a trip to the Philippines.

I'm not a stranger to Filipino cuisine -- besides Jollibee I've gone a few times with friends -- including for a traditional boodle fight, which was a lot of fun.

My friend Nestor and I enjoying a Filipino boodle fight in Toronto.

However, for our lunch at Sanduk, we didn't practice kamayan but instead used cutlery. And we started off with a selection of what I was told were traditional Filipino street foods.

I tried to have (at least) one of each, with selections including delicious grilled pork, fish balls, chicken balls and, interestingly, deep fried battered quail eggs -- known as Kwek Kwek. As I've mentioned in past dispatches I'm not a big egg guy (though I am broadening my egg horizons in my old age) but these weren't bad at all. My favorite, though, was definitely the grilled pork which had a very tasty sauce.

A selection of street food appies.

Interior quail egg.

The mains were served buffet-style so we could each make ourselves a plate (or two), and there were a number of dishes familiar to me from past Filipino dining experiences as well as some I haven't tried before.

The most familiar to me of course was pancit, which is basically a stir fried noodle dish with vegetables -- think a Filipino version of chow mein. There were more tasty BBQ pork skewers which I couldn't get enough of. There was also BBQ chicken, but I didn't want to commit to eating an entire leg when there were so many tasty dishes available. My favourite was a dish that was new to me was the kare kare, which was pork belly served in a delicious peanut sauce.

I remarked to my hostess that I always associated peanut sauce with Thai cuisine and I learned that, while they popularized it in the West, it's a staple of cuisine in the Malay region, which includes both Thailand and the Philippines.

I didn't get any photos but passed around were two versions of sisig, served on sizzling plates. The pork version was made from liver which I wasn't a fan of, but I did enjoy the milk fish version and it paired well with the garlic rice.

Finally, we were served a traditional halo halo for desert. It wasn't the fanciest version of this Filipino desert staple I have ever had. It was shaved ice, condensed milk and some fruit, but it was tasty and rich and am enjoyable end to an excellent lunch.

Salamat to the Ambassador and the Embassy of the Philippines for inviting me, and I hope it's a great month. Be sure to get out and enjoy a meal at a Filipino Restaurant this month -- a peach and mango pie at Jollibee doesn't count. Mabuhay!

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Friday, March 29, 2024

Eating on the rails: My meals aboard VIA Rail's The Ocean

As part of my pre-Christmas travels last year, I used my VIA Preference points to knock another iconic sleeper train off my list: The Ocean.

While not a bucket-list item like The Canadian, the Ocean was still a trip I wanted to try. It's an overnight sleeper train from Montreal to Halifax. In this case, it was a little more about the destination as I was looking forward to my first non-convention trip to Halifax. But I could have flown -- I was excited for the train.

It's only natural to make comparisons between The Ocean and The Canadian, as both are VIA's flagship sleeper trains. I loved the food on The Canadian. But I knew going in The Ocean had one major difference. While on The Canadian the meals were scratch prepared onboard, on The Ocean everything is loaded and simply heated up onboard. 

The Ocean departs from Montreal, so my journey began with a corridor trip from Ottawa in business class on one of their new coaches. I got to enjoy a very tasty and substantial "snack" of a tasty cheese plate with my favourite fancy crackers, as well as some chips, a bread roll and desert. A little carb heavy, but a tasty train treat.

After hanging out in the Montreal lounge for a bit, it was time to board The Ocean. My trip was in December and it was an evening departure, so I would not get to enjoy much of the scenery until the morning. I found my cabin for two (which I had to myself, of course), met the traina attendant and for settled in. 

This is a food review and not a train review, but I'll briefly discuss the cabin. My car was one of the ones that was originally built in England for a planned sleeper service through the Chunnel to mainland Europe. The service never launched and VIA later bought the cars on the cheap. So they're a fair bit newer than the antiques on The Canadian.

There's a lower bench that folds down into a pre-made bed, and one on top that folks out of the wall for an upper bunk. I slept on the lower. My cabin also included an ensuite bathroom with a shower, which was nice to have. You also get a keycard to lock your room when leaving, which I could not do with my cabin for one on the Canadian.

Much like The Canadian, you can do the early dinner or the late dinner. Still stuffed from my cheese plate I opted for the later sitting and was seated with an young Anglo couple from Montreal who were taking the train to visit the underwear factory and museum in Stanfield. Didn't know this was a popular tourist destination but I wished them safe travels.

Here were my dinner options:

I'm very particular about my soups so I decided to start with the Caprese salad. It was fine. I mean, it's a very basic dish. Was a good starter for my meal. The picked onions were nice but they really went crazy on the dressing.

For my main I went with the (clearly farmed) salmon, with brussel sprouts and rice. It was tasty but didn't wow me. It was a good portion, and was heated properly. I was worried the beef would be overcooked; I did consider the ravioli and I would have gotten it were it served with a cream sauce instead of a tomato sauce. But Grandpa always said fish is brain food, so it was a safe choice.

One of the highlights on The Canadian was definitely the deserts. There was desert on The Ocean too. It was --- OK. It didn't wow me like the deserts on the Canadian did. In fact, if I had to summarize the food on The Ocean overall I would say it was just OK. It did the job, but wasn't an experience in the way the Canadian was.

After watching the homes of rural Quebec pass us by in the dark and noting the lack of Christmas lights, I returned to my cabin to get ready for the night's sleep. It was easy to convert into bed mode -- the attendant offered to do it but it literally took seconds to do it myself. It was a thin single, but I had more room to stretch out my arm sleeping on the one side than I did on the Canadian. I would say I'm not the best train sleeper but I did get some sleep, and napped some more during the next day.

Breakfast is come whenever, and it was fairly quiet in the morning when I wandered down to the dining car. There was more to see in the light, and the scenery was getting interesting as, having checked my GPS, we were in the far East of Quebec in the Gaspesie about to enter New Brunswick. And already running a bit behind, which wasn't surprising and wasn't really a worry.

There were three choices for breakfast, and as I was on my way to Halifax it seemed appropriate to order the Donair Frittata.

I did not have a pleasant experience at breakfast. They took my order, and I waited. And waited. And waited. I don't like to be a complainer. I'm loathe to do so. But they kept walking by me with no food. I saw people that just sat down order and be given the same dish I was waiting for. After nearly 30 minutes, I was like can I get mine please? They were like ok, sorry, thought you had yours already. I didn't say it, but you kept walking by me sitting there without food, how the heck could you think that? Wouldn't you at least be trying to clear me from the table if that's what you thought?

Anyway, finally I got my breakfast from the microwave or however they reheat it.

Again, I would describe it as OK. Fine. I liked that the donair sauce was on the side and they didn't drown it like they did the caprese salad last night. But I had a sour taste in my mouth from the poor service.

There's no observation car on this train which is sad, as there was some enjoyable riverfront scenery through this portion of Quebec. There was a lounge car which had WiFi that I hung out in for a bit, but there wasn't a bar or snacks like on The Canadian. And there was data for most of the route.

Back to the dining car a few hours later for lunch whilst in New Brunswick, and these were my options.

I like to try local dishes or dishes using local ingredients when I can, so I was immediately drawn to the Bacon and Oka Tartiflette. But first, an unmemorable soup. I think it was mushroom. I don't remember. It was soup.

This was my favourite meal of The Ocean. I would call it scalloped potatoes. Cheesy, flavourful, tasty, can't go wrong with bacon. Served with a fresh salad, Italian dressing on the side. A truly excellent lunch.

There was also a desert. It again was not overly memorable. I think it was a berry cheesecake of some sort.

And thus ended my meals on The Ocean. We got into Halifax a few hours late, after dark. I had messaged my hotel so they wouldn't give away my room. I booked the Westin Nova Scotian, which it turned out was literally connected to the train station. So that was handy. I checked in and went out for an excellent late dinner, but that's for another blog.

Overall, my thoughts on The Ocean are as follows. The Canadian is a tourist train, designed for bucket listers wanting to experience the majesty of Canada. The Ocean is more a commuter train, for people travelling to see family, students going home for the holidays, etc. So they aren't directly comparable experiences. It was fine. Like The Canadian, I did this trip on points. While I'm glad to have had the experience, next time I'll just fly. I did love Halifax.

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Monday, February 19, 2024

Eating on the road: Food with a history at Ben's Chili Bowl

 When researching places I had to eat in Washington, DC, one that kept coming up was Ben's Chili Bowl. A DC staple since 1958, Ben's holds a special place in the city's African American community and the civil rights movement.

The original location is on U street, in a traditionally African American community that is changing with gentrification. Ben's donated food to MLK's March on Washington in 1963 and stayed open during the DC riots of 1969 serving food to everyone. It's been visited by many famous faces -- I sat at the Obama table.

They have a few locations now, but I went to the original on U Street which is thankfully Metro-adjacent. It certainly has that old, historic diner feel. You order at the counter and then they bring it to your table.

In addition to chili, Ben's is also known for the half smoke. According to Wikipedia, it's a DC regional hot dog (I love regional hot dog specialties) that is "Larger, spicier, and with more coarsely-ground meat than a regular hot dog, the sausage is often half-pork and half-beef, smoked." 

Definitely sounded better to me than a Seattle dog...

I ordered a small bowl of chili con carne, with sour cream, onion and cheddar cheese, as well as a half smoke chili dog and a soda. This came, to my surprise when they brought it to me, with a bag of chips -- I dipped them in the chili which was probably the idea.

The chili was excellent and I could easily see why it's renowned. Rich, flavourful, complex, meaty -- I could easily have eaten a large. But I wanted to save space for my chili half smoke. It was good, but it was hard to judge the uniqueness of the hot dog when it's smothered in chili.

Glad I got to try this DC landmark and would definitely go back. Chili to warm the soul.

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