Sunday, December 20, 2009

The EAT Coast - A Kitchen Party in Halifax, Nova Scotia

I'd convinced myself that the moment I left Vermont and crossed the border into Canada, I would be freed from the seemingly never-ending opportunities to indulge in tempting foods grown locally. Then I realized I'd be crossing the border into Quebec and spending a weekend in Montreal, where the French-Canadiens still 'souvien's that 'bonne nouriturre' is a key ingredient to a 'bonne vie'. Plus, heck let's face it, they're smart and they know that soveriegnty and food independence go hand in hand. So, with visions of cheeses wheels and maple sugar candies dancing in my head, I promised myself I'd reform my gluttonous ways after the weekend, all the while ignoring the fact that this would also mark the last turn of the calendar year.

Yes, that's right, somehow I thought December would be an opportune time to begin reparations to my body which, with the exception of my taste buds, had suffered noticeably from six weeks of life south of the border. ( To be fair, this wasn't a completely absurd thought given that I have *actually* lost weight over the holidays in years past.) I rationalized that there'd be few, if any, social occasions where I could be a 'locav-or-ganic' and that had been my only justification for all the eating I'd done in Vermont - really it was purely research-based eating.
Well, in any case, it turned out I was wrong. Very wrong. I had underestimated the burgeoning local food scene on the East Coast of Canada (now affectionally referred to as the 'Eat Coast'), where I would be spending the remaining days of 2009. And, as I discovered on a weekend trip to Halifax, Nova Scotia, I had also grossly underestimated my friend Tarek's affinity for all things edible and local. He might very well love food as much as me. And that is saying a lot.

Cook. Eat. Drink. Repeat. That basically sums up my weekend in Halifax with Tarek. We did throw in one random 'Jog' on Sunday afternoon, just to shake things up a bit. Even that, however, involved food, as Tarek pointed out restaurants worth visiting along our jogging route and we ended our run with a visit to Pete's Frootique, where organic and local foods were on offer. At the end of the weekend, we agreed we would have to co-author a blog post about Eating on the East Coast. And so, here is what we got up to and chowed down on in Nouvelle Ecosse, in a sort of 'She Said, He Said' manner:

At a Warehouse in Brooklyn

Shannon Said
I made the 3.5 hour drive from PEI to Halifax on a gusty Friday afternoon - the Confederation Bridge was shut to high-sided vehicles and the speed limit for cars was 40km. My Toyota Echo was like a tin can, being whipped around the road every time gust of wind blew up Why am I sharing these seemingly non-food related details of my trip? Because it meant that I couldn't eat. And so, by the time I'd arrived in Halifax I'd had only a blueberry-banana almond shake the entire day. And Tarek clearly had his priorities figured out by the time we arrived at his apartment - they were of the liquid variety. So my next nourishment of the day was also drinkable - this time it was Irish and stout (like a leprechaun!). Suffice to say, by the time we headed out for dinner at 9pm I was appetite, not in appearance.

I have to give Tarek great credit - he did his research on restaurants before I even showed up and then sent me links to a few of the websites, including one that featured a picture of a rather angry looking chef holding a big carving knife. The menu was more appealing than the chef's photo, and so we found ourselves walking the blustery (i.e. bloody cold) streets of Halifax in search of the very unobviously named 'Brooklyn Warehouse' (the building bore no resemblance to a warehouse and there was no bridge to Manhattan in sight...not even the one to Dartmouth was visible). We'd timed our arrival so we could take advantage of the Prix Fixe menu - a 3 course meal with options for each appetizer and the main. After very little contemplation we also decided we needed to consume more alcohol, this time in the form of a red wine. By the end of our meal I was stuffed, slightly inebriated and wholly impressed with the food, service and ambience provided by the Brooklyn Warehouse. I had a delicious warm mushroom salad served on a generous portion of greens, a terrine platter with pita and a variety of yummy dips, and for the main course chose the pork chop, which was even tastier once I learned that it had been sourced locally. So in the end, we each had an amazing 3 course meal, great service, and a shared a decent bottle of Pinot Noir for less than a hundred dollars. I'm not sure you'd be able to find a comparable meal for such a steal in the 'other' Brooklyn. Maybe, but I doubt it. Plus, chances of being mugged after dinner are probably lower in Halifax...

Tarek Said

When Shannon arrived we wasted no time getting right into one of our favourite pastimes - eating. We knew where we wanted to go - the Brooklyn Warehouse - and we knew what we wanted - the Prix Fixe menu. We had been planning this well before her arriva. So we braved the cold and windy night and walked over to the Brooklyn Warehouse. I went for the Mixed Greens, Red Curry Steamers and the Pork Chop and to go along with it all, we had a very nice Pinot Noir. I'm not going to give you a blow by blow of each course but I will say everything was fantastic. The mixed greens were delicious, the red curry mussels were amazing but the piece de resistance was the pork chop and risotto. I've made risotto many times, so needless to say I've had some really good risotto and occasionally some not-so-good risotto. I wasn't sure to expect, sure bacon in risotto makes sense, bacon does make everything taste better, but I would never have though of combining bacon and vanilla together but it worked! The pork chop was juicy and delicious! I didn't think Shannon and I were going to eat that good again all weekend long but thankfully I thought wrong!

Local pork chops, bacon-vanilla risotto
and seasonal vegetables.

Bacon Makes Everything Better

Tarek Said

The next day I tried and tried to convince Shannon to get up early with me to go to the Farmer's Market. The reason I wanted to go early was because I had to work, sadly some banks are opened on Saturdays, and the only way for me to do both, the market and work is to get to the market before anyone else. Personally, I love going to the market before the rush but if you know Shannon, you know she's not a morning person. She said she would go later and pick up whatever we were going to need. I felt safe letting Shannon pick the ingredients and she did not disappoint. She came back with 11 scallops in the shell @ $0.45 each (but he only charged her for 10 because he thought she was cute), a pound of nitrate free bacon, some locally made cheese (smoked Gouda I think) and some cauliflower. After work I picked up some traditional (raw) kibbie and mint from my father's restaurant. When my father makes kibbie he uses the nicest cut of beef from a local butcher. I picked up 2 pieces of cooked kibbie too. Our main course was going to be a piece of local grass fed beef but we quickly realized we had too much food so we left the steaks for another night. The guy at the market told Shannon how we should cook the scallops, steam them in a pan with some wine and garlic. Simple but delicious and with a small piece of bacon on top..... didn't I say bacon makes everything taste better! I always enjoy traditional kibbie, as it's not something my father makes very often. Kibbie and mint make an excellent combination and I was happy to see that Shannon was not turned off by eating raw beef. We polished off the scallops, cheese and kibbie with a bottle of wine, but sadly I can't think of what kind, or even if it was red or white. How much did we drink??

Shannon Said

OK, let's clarify something right now. I am neither a morning person, nor am I a non-morning person. I can get up early when need be, function at almost 100% and don't even growl at people (most of the time). But when Tarek suggested that we should get up at the ungodly early hour of 7.00 am just so we could get to the Farmer's Market before he went off to his bank job, I put up some resistance. Maybe a lot of resistance. I mean, really, I chose to become a studetn again expressly so I am not a slave to the alarm clock. I told him I'd go to the market on my own and get anything he wanted. He asked for bacon and scallops - I was also meant to pick up vegetables for him and his brother to eat throughout the week.

The Halifax Farmer's Market is AMAZING. I'd been once before, but had basically been dragged through it at high-speed in search of Belgian waffles. This time, I was on my own and had no schedule. The market is housed in a huge, old brick building on the waterfront. Inside, it's a labyrinth of hallways, stairwells and rooms filled with food and craft artisans selling their wares. There were two young guys at the entrance - one was playing a fiddle, the other a stand-up bass - yes, I was indeed back in the Maritimes. Just beyond them, I found chocolate and cheese purveyors. Clearly, this was going to be a fruitful market venture! I wandered around the market, ogling all sorts of goodies and plotting how I could make my purchases and still have a hand free to hold a crepe (I'd not had breakfast). I ended up with two bags full of groceries - bay scallops in the shellfrom a sustainable aquaculture outfit (loved that the guy was able to tell me how to cook them), nitrie-free bacon and sausages from Sweet Williams, apple cider, gouda cheese, and a tonne of vegetables including leeks, kale and organic potatoes. I am still curious as to what the guys did with the leeks and kale!

In the afternoon we stopped by Tarek's Cafe (Tarek's father is also named Tarek and has a restaurant in the North End of Halifax, where Tarek picked up some raw and cooked beef kibbie - this would be my second time eating raw meat. My mother, who works for the CFIA, might be cringing, but I trusted the source. We had been planning to cook up two local, grass fed steaks that Tarek already had in the fridge, but after looking at what we had planned for 'appetizers' I think we both realised we were being overly ambitious. So we saved the beef, and had a delicious sampling of cheeses, pita, raw/cooked meat, and scallops topped with bacon, all of which went well with the Pinot Grigio I'd picked up at the liquor store. I can't stop raving about the scallops and bacon - what an amazing combination. Maybe it's true, maybe bacon DOES make everything taste better, but I did have a few non-bacon adorned scallops and they held their own.

Bay scallops topped with bacon.


Shannon Said

Tarek told me his father was charming (a trait which, according to Tarek, has not been inherited by him...I've yet to make my own conclusion.), and he was spot on with this descriptor. Late Sunday afternoon we made our way to Tarek's Cafe with beef steaks in hand, hopeful Tarek's father could BBQ them up on his grill. Evidently we looked like we were starving because his father insisted we have a seat while he cooked us up a feast. And he wasn't exagerrating in the least. Plate after plate arrived before us. Well, actually we were first presented with a bowl of spicy peanut shrimp soup - apparently the spice Tarek's father put in the soup was supposed to have special effects, which I'll refrain from elaborating on. Next up was grilled calamari wrapped around asparagus sticks, then just in case we were still hungry after all that lovely seafood, a plate of dips and pita arrived at the table. Despite already being close to full I couldn't pass up the baba ganoush and hummus that were tempting me. delicious and so garlicky!

By the time our main meal was placed in front of us, served with a generous portion of linguine accented by garlic, of course, and steamed vegetables, I was *almost* convinced that one could, indeed, overdose on deliciousness. Still, there was steak to be eaten and I didn't want to appear ungrateful to our wonderful host/chef so I tentatively ate the steak, certain w that my stomach was plotting its vengence with every passing bite. And then they, the two Tareks, poured the last of the SECOND bottle of red wine and it was suggested that we might like to try Arak, a Syrian liquor with a 51.5% proof. Shot glasses were procurred and I drew on the last of my reserves to down two shots of the good stuff. It tasted a lot like zambuca (sp?) or licorice.

Tarek's father, who has been living in Halifax for over thirty years, was a great conversationalist ( a trait his son definitely inherited) and over the course of dinner I learned lots about the restaurant scene in the city (evidently it's changed a lot over the years) and about Tarek's Cafe. The restaurant has been in operation for 12 years, and has expanded in size over time. It is an order-at-the-counter and take a seat or take away type of place (i.e. there's no table service). The menu is mostly Middle Eastern fare, with many pitas, platters and kebab options on the menu. Notably, there's also a juice bar. I asked Tarek (the chef) why he advertised 'gluten free' options and he told me that he had customers who started telling him they couldn't eat wheat because they had celiac disease. So he decided to read up about the disease and now offfers a menu that is about 90% (this may not be correct percentage) gluten free. He also offers many vegetarian menu items.

We also had a bit a conversation about garlic - I noted that while he was catering to celiacs, he seemed to be opposed to having any vampires come withing a 50 foot radius of his restaurant. To say that Tarek appreciates what garlic can do for a dish would be an understatement. Apparently the restaurant goes through 20 to 25 lbs of the stuff a week!!! Tarek (the younger one) told me when he worked at Tarek's 2 (a sister restauarnt owned by his more of a brother restaurant reall) that he would bring bulbs of garlic home and mince/shave them while watching tv. Hehe. The walls at Tarek's Cafe were adorned with bouquets of garlic bulbs just in case any diner was unclear on the love affair the restauranteur had with this plant. Oh my. We talked about many other things, I am sure, but by then the Arak had hit me and I was distracted by worries about whether I'd be able to walk at all given the amount of food and alcohol in me.

Somehow we made it back to Tarek's apartment and managed to find room for some amazing maple ice wine and fudge, which we enjoyed while talking to our friend who lives in Alberta via Skype (the one whose wedding Tarek and I met at this past summer). Monday we went back to Tarek's Cafe for lunch - from the menu this time. I had the Chicken Souvlaki pita with tabouli salad and it was, unsurprisingly, extremely tasty. As I was trying to finish my pita, it occurred to me that I was very lucky neither of my parents had decided to go into the restaurant business. I can only imagine what impact such a decision would have had on me over the years, given my affinity for eating. I am quite certain my waistline would be in even dire straits than it is currently.

I left Halifax fully satiated and with intetions of returning sometime in the new year to enjoy the farmer's market, more of Tarek's hospitality (but shhh...he doesn't know I'm going to drop in on him again!) and some of the restaurants I didn't get around to eating at this time.

Tarek said

For Sunday night's meal we were going to have the grass fed beef. My brother and I had bought an 1/8th (or some fraction) of a cow and even before we received the meat, Shannon and I had agreed we were going to have a steak when she came to visit! We weren't sure what to cook with it, not that we were tired of cooking or out of ideas, I think we were tired from our 10k run that afternoon. We brought over the steak, and a bottle of Don David Malbec (red wine) to my father's restaurant for him to cook on the BBQ. Of course, he made us a few delicious appetizers. I rarely eat that well when I go there alone! Our first appetizer was a molokia soup with shrimp and roasted pine nuts. At some point, the 3 of us, Shannon, my father and myself, finished the bottle of wine we brought over so opened up another bottle of Don David my father just happened to have in the back kitchen. Finally, we had the steak with some asparagus on the side. The steak was perfectly cooked, nice and tender and delicious. Shannon and my father got along, she picked his brain about food and the restaurant business. Afterward, we went back to my apartment and had some fudge we bought that afternoon from Pete's Frootique and a bottle of Jost Maple Ice Wine that had been sitting around the apartment waiting for just the right occasion, and when two 'foodies' get together, they will make the right occasion happen.


Anonymous said...

Wasn't that food good!! :o) I'll be back at the market early Saturday morning to get some scallops!


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