Friday, May 10, 2024

Eating on the road: The Barrington Steakhouse in Halifax

 My first trip to Halifax was in 2018 for a Liberal Party convention and after a day of conventioneering I enjoyed a great steak dinner at The Barrington Steakhouse and Oyster Bar. So a return trip was definitely in order for my trip to Canada's second best coast in late 2023.

I made a reservation for a Saturday night and did some walking to ensure I was hungry for a great steakhouse experience. While the service was great and most of the food did not disappoint unfortunately what should have been the centrepiece -- the steak -- wasn't great.

 The ambience was nice as befits a fancy steakhouse but it was dark, so apologies for the photos. I began with the house salad which was good. It was also huge, I took half of it back to my hotel for later so I didn't completely spoil myself for the main event. And I may not have completely worked off the chowder from lunch.

You don't win friends with salad; on to the main event. With a glass of a nice malbec, it was tasty. So was the lobster risotto. Tasty, creamy, and big chunks of lobster. An excellent, decedent side. And the chimichurri sauce was a delicious complement to the steak.

But the steak, I'm sad to say, disappointed. It was lukewarm at best, and cold by the time I finished. I don't know if they rested it too long or what. It seemed to be a systemic problem, at least that night, as I overheard similar complaints in the dining room.

When they came to check on me I had eaten almost half already. They offered to make me a fresh one but I knew I didn't have the stomach space. They also offered a free desert but again I had nowhere to put it. If I was in my hometown I would have taken them up on it, but I was in a hotel and flying out the next day so it didn't really work.

I appreciated that they offered some fixes, but sadly they just didn't work for me and it left a sour note it what was supposed to be one of the highlights of my visit -- and what was certainly my priciest meal of the trip.

Speaking of which, fine if you want to charge me for still water but maybe tell me before you bring it.

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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Eating on the road: Sea Smoke Restaurant and Bar in Halifax

For lunch I walked over to another spot on my recommended list, on the Halifax waterfront at Bishop's Landing a stone's throw from The Bicycle Thief: Sea Smoke Restaurant and Bar.

Unlike my late night dinner at The Bicycle Thief, it was daylight and I was shown to a cozy table with a view out onto the boardwalk and of the harbour. This place felt slightly more touristy but it was quiet at this time of day. There's a patio that I bet would be a lot of fun in the summer, but not so much in December.

I had pre-scouted the menu of course and this place was on my seafood chowder list. But hearing the specials and it being a cool December day on the waterfront (though not inside, thankfully) when hearing the specials I called an audible and also ordered a boozy hot chocolate.

Flavour was there but it failed to live up to its name: this hot chocolate was not hot. Lukewarm at best, trending cool. In retrospect I should have sent it back but I'm loathe to be that person. Taste was there, but needless to say it did not warm my insides like I had anticipated.

They had some interesting appies that were all Asian-inspired. I opted for the crispy wontons, described as Cremini Mushrooms, buttercup squash, ponzu glaze, gochugaru aioli. 

They were plated beautifully and were a tasty nosh. Not much to say, they were as described and I liked them.

As I said though, chowder was the reason for my visit. So for my main, and intending to have dinner later so not wanting something heavy, I ordered the seafood and corn chowder. Described on the menu as: Fresh lobster, haddock, cod, salmon, sweet corn.


Bougie fancy bowl, grilled bread on the side. I would rank this as my second favourite chowder of my Halifax trip, just behind their neighbour Bicycle Thief and significantly ahead of Evan's. Rich, creamy and flavourful, meaty and chunky. Very tasty and, thankfully, served properly hot.

Left me fortified to go back out and face the chill.

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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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