Exploring Nova Scotia’s wine country… #explorenovascotia #summer2016 @NSWineTours

(Note to readers: No, I did not fall off the face of the earth, I was just planning a wedding. Basically the same thing, right? I can assure you, I continued to enjoy food, I just was not so hot about documenting it. Now that our wedding is done and dusted, I can get back to life. Except… we decided to buy & renovate another house! So yeah, I will probably not be posting here that often, and if I do, I can’t PROMISE it will all be food related. I do a lot of DIY projects these days, so I’ll probably write about that on here too. Hope you’re cool with that. If not, well… sorry!)

So, I took a bit of vacation time during the first week of August. I didn’t have anything planned, really… between work and ongoing renovations we have on the go right now, I had plenty of projects to fill my time. So I opted for a bit of a staycation: a mixture of ticking things off my to-do list and some fun stuff. I slept a lot, spent some time outside, read a couple of books, painted some brick:

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Scraped some wallpaper:

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Doesn’t look like a lot of fun… Don’t worry. I also went on a wine tour! 

Yay! I’ve been promising myself to make a trip to Nova Scotia’s wine country for a few years now. I had contemplated just venturing to the Valley myself, but where’s the fun in that? 1) I have a pretty bad sense of direction, so I would probably get a bit lost; and 2) I wouldn’t really get to taste much wine if I had to drive, right?

I roped my bestie in for the adventure, and after a bit of research, we decided to book in with an organized wine tour. We looked at hopping on Wolfville’s Magic Winery Bus (because who doesn’t want to travel on a magic bus?!), but since it only included transportation around Wolfville, it wasn’t going to help us get home to the city safely if we decided to enjoy more than a sampling of wines. (I still would really like to check this tour out some day, especially if I was going to stay in Wolfville overnight… that way, I could also roll in a visit to Privet House for dinner).

Anyways, we decided to book in with Grape Escapes Nova Scotia Wine Tours. They offer a variety of tours (some include lunch or dinner, or visits to specific vineyards), but we opted for the “Afternoon Escape.”

It cost $85 per person (plus tax), and included transportation to and from the city, and to three wineries (L’Acadie, Lucketts, and Gaspereau), as well as wine samples at each (normally, you pay to sample flights at each vineyard).

L’Acadie Vineyards is a very small, family-run and certified organic. In my opinion, it was also the most interesting stop on the tour. Their resident wine guy (not really sure what his official title was?!), Ian, was very knowledgeable about the history of the region & industry, and taught us a lot about the wines we were sampling, as well as the land they are grown on and what makes their wine organic. It’s also a pretty gorgeous spot to sip on a glass of wine:

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They’re apparently best known for their sparkling wines, but I didn’t end up bringing home a bottle of their sparkling. Instead, I selected their 2015 Rose.

We ventured to Luckett Vineyards next, where none other than Pete himself was on-hand to greet guests in the bustling storeroom. While our first stop at L’Acadie was a tranquil spot to start our adventure, Luckett’s was very busy, with plenty of other patrons visiting to enjoy lunch outside, while we tasted wines inside. We did, of course, venture outside to take a photo at the iconic phonebooth:

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I scooped up a bottle of bold & beautiful Black Cab and their lovely Tidal Bay.

Our third and final stop was at Gaspereau Vineyards. At this point, we were all starting to get a bit hungry, so it was a good thing that this final stop included a platter of local cheeses to sample. We sat out on the patio and enjoyed some nibbles in the sunshine, while a somewhat-bored-seeming young woman who worked there told us a bit about the wines we were sampling. To be honest, she didn’t seem all that interested in what she was doing (to give her the benefit of the doubt, I believe the staff had all been at an industry event the night before, and may have been feeling the after-effects of sampling the wares), but our Grape Escapes guide, Emma, had filled us in on the winery and backstory behind the winemaker, Gina Haverstock, en route, so we knew to expect big things from their Riesling. And BOY, was she right.

Now, if you’re making a face right now, thinking Riesling = sweet, you’re wrong. Their Riesling is more of a traditional German dry-style, and it is amazing. It also happened to be the 2015 Winner of the Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Excellence in Nova Scotia Wines. I obviously took home a bottle of that, as well.

Here’s my bounty from the trip:

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Besides sampling some lovely local wines, I really did learn quite a bit about Nova Scotia’s burgeoning wine industry: I learned about what makes the Valley region well-suited to growing grapes; what grapes thrive in our climate (and as a result, what types of wine are hardest/impossible to produce here); what Nova Scotia’s appellation wine is (Tidal Bay); and that there are NINETEEN vineyards in the province (with two more on the way)… so basically, there’s a lot more of Nova Scotia’s wine country to explore. As a plus, our guide and driver, Emma & Randy, were absolutely lovely and clearly knew loads about the industry and region.

If you’re interested in learning more about Nova Scotian wines, or just trying some different wines and spending some time with friends, I would definitely recommend going on a wine tour with Grape Escapes.

 

A sneak peek of @RightSomeGood, #Halifax edition

Something very special is happening in Halifax this weekend: the folks behind Cape Breton’s annual foodie festival, Right Some Good, are setting up shop smack-dab in the heart of downtown.

They’re shutting down Spring Garden Road this Sunday (June 29th), transforming the main drag into a pedestrian-only pop-up paradise of local products coupled with impressive culinary talent. An interesting side note: the last time Spring Garden Road was closed for an all-day event was 15 years ago, for the Word On The Street festival.

This gourmet street fair will feature 12 visiting “master chefs” competing alongside local chefs on the culinary stage. These teams will collaborate on street food creations, which will then be offered up to the visiting public (while supplies last, of course) between 9:30 a.m. and 9 p.m. (admission to Sunday’s street fair is free, but you can buy tickets to sample food and drink).

Today, I was treated to a sneak peek of the types of seasonal, local ingredients that may be included in this weekend’s events, and I have to say, it looked Right Some Good to me… 🙂

From HardyWares, which makes pickles, relishes, jams, jellies and preserves, I sampled an impressive Blueberry Grand Marnier Jam and a Whiskey Marmalade, which I was suspect of at first, but is actually really lovely. This small, home-based business based out of Necum Teuch, Nova Scotia (I had to GoogleMap it, I won’t lie), regularly sells their products at Alderney Landing Farmers Market, but you really should look for their booth this Sunday at Right Some Good.

And if you haven’t yet had the experience of trying the Haskap berry, you really should. Grown in Blockhouse, Nova Scotia, these berries are a member of the Honeysuckle family, and were first introduced to Canada around 1967. They are apparently pretty good for you, too: they’re high in anthocyanins, vitamin C, phenolic compounds and other antioxidants. They kind of look like elongated, bumpy blueberries, but most importantly, they’re absolutely delicious. The folks at Haskapa have created some very cool products from these berries: everything from juice and cereal bars to ice cream and jellies. I was really impressed with the jalapeno haskap jelly, and will do my best to visit the Haskapa table early on Sunday, before they run out of Haskap ice cream 🙂

Another berry will be making an appearance on Sunday: the tried and true blueberry. Bloo juice hit the shelves of grocery stores in November 2013, and was a finalist for the Retail Council of Canada’s Grand Prix Product Award. Each bottle contains juice from approximately 600 blueberries, grown right here in Nova Scotia. Not only is it good for drinking, but the company has collaborated with local chefs to develop some innovative recipes that use their juice as a key ingredient.

After sampling just a few of the ingredients and products that will be on offer at Sunday’s street fair, I definitely plan on making my way down to be a part of this pop-up experience…

And if fine dining/fancy is more your thing, two very impressive dinners are being held as part of the Right Some Good festival, as well! On Friday, Michelin-star chef Cristina Bowerman has created a five-course menu that will be served up to guests at the Stadacona Drill Shed (tickets are about $125 with taxes and fees), and on Saturday, guests will dig into New York chef Ed Cotton’s sumptuous-sounding four-course meal aboard the HMCS Preserver (tickets are about $164 with taxes and fees). While the price-point may seem a wee bit steep, it’s actually a very good value for what’s sure to be an incredible dining experience!

I’m really pleased to see an event that promotes local products and talent is coming to Halifax this year, and that it’s being showcased in the heart of downtown Halifax. I hope it’s successful, and becomes an annual affair. 🙂

2 words guaranteed to get just about anyone’s attention: LOBSTER DINNER (@HarbourCityGril) #hfxfb

Lobster is just one of those special things, you know? This crustacean is iconically East Coast, but even if you’re from Nova Scotia you probably don’t eat it all the time. You can bet, though, that if you’re entertaining out-of-town guests, you’ll be asked for it…

In my mind, there’s nothing that says “summer in Nova Scotia” more than an old school lobster boil: freshly cooked whole lobsters spread out on newspapers on the picnic table, served with bibs, an array of informal shell-cracking implements and dishes of drawn butter for dipping. Oh, and don’t forget the ice-cold beer.

But if you want to take a bit more of an upscale approach — and save yourself the effort — I suggest you visit Harbour City Bar & Grill (located in the Delta Halifax on Barrington Street).

Lobster's on at Harbour City Bar & Grill

I was recently invited there to the launch of their new lobster supper promotion, where we were treated to an array of seafood-inspired hors d’oeuvres (seared scallops, steamed salmon, mussels and more) along with samples of some beautiful Nova Scotian wines (my favourite was the 2012 Domaine de Grand Pre Tidal Bay, a fresh, crisp blend of five varietals that was sweet, but not tooooo sweet). There was also a demonstration of how to properly massacre a lobster (think minimal mess, and the most meat) by their recently-returned Executive Chef, Andy Camm.

See, that’s the thing about lobster: you’ve gotta work for it (I usually cut myself at least once on a shell in the process). But the way I see it, lobster is so amazing, you kind of have to earn it. Right? Right.

Harbour City Bar & Grill is offering a pretty sweet deal for a lobster dinner: for just $25, you can dig into 1 1/4 lb. lobster served with corn on the cob, coleslaw and a fresh roll. And, if you’re really hungry (or just want to feel like a bit of a high roller for the night), you can make it a four-course meal for $14 more, adding Acadian seafood chowder, Garrison steamed mussels and berry shortcake.

On top of that, they’re also offering to waive the corkage fee for those who bring in a bottle of Nova Scotia wine to enjoy with their lobster supper (um yeah, that’s amazing!), and offering diners a chance to win 20 pounds of fresh lobster (just imagine the kick-ass old school lobster boil you could hold with that much free, fresh lobster!)

Goodbyes & good times @chivestalkin last week!

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Scratch another one off the list! I *finally* made it to Chives! *waits for the crowd to stop cheering*

Okay, but seriously, I really was just waiting for an excuse to indulge in a nice meal there. I have heard only good things: local, seasonal, fresh fare. Simple dishes with a creative twist.

And according to their own website:

“We strive to offer an extraordinary casual dining experience for our guests, void only of pretense, and full of sincere Nova Scotian hospitality. We use seasonal ingredients and look to Nova Scotia first for our products, then to the Maritimes.”

I’m down with their food philosophy, and they’ve been in business in Halifax since December 2001 (I believe), which means they must be doing something right.

Nestled in a small, quirky space on Barrington Street (an old bank, evidenced by the remaining vault, that is now used as a wine cellar of sorts), the decor is warm and earthy, with driftwood sculpture, waterscape paintings, stained glass, salt crystal candle holders on each table, and low lighting. A lot of thought and care has gone into giving this dining room a rustic and elegant feel.

But to keep the atmosphere fun and lively, jazzy tunes were pumped into the dining room during our Friday night dinner, and people happily chattered away, while sipping cocktails and wine and savouring their meals.

While I was excited to finally visit Chives, I was also a bit sad about the occasion: my brother, Ben, was leaving for Alberta the next day. No, he’s not going off to work on the rigs. Rather, he’s chosen another ski town to call home for a season (I keep warning him that Banff is no Whistler…), and we wanted to celebrate his adventure by enjoying a nice meal as a fam.

I made reservations for 6:45 p.m., which seemed early enough that we wouldn’t be famished when we arrived, but also wouldn’t be borderline “early bird” diners. It’s a thin line to tread, my friends. 🙂

Our server was absolutely lovely: attentive, without being cloying, informed, and, most importantly, she had a sense of humour. There’s nothing worse than a fine dining restaurant with stuffy staff. Fer real. People wanna have fun when they eat out.

Brother Ben and I both ordered one of my favourite cocktails: the Dark ‘n Stormy (a highball cocktail concoction of ginger beer, cane sugar, dark or spiced rum and lime: sweet with a bit of zing). I love mine: simple, a wee bit sweet… But Ben commented that his tasted like iced tea. Meh. I noticed that he finished it, anyways! My one comment is rather finicky, but really, I’m not down with plastic swizzle sticks or swords for garnish. This place is pretty locavore-focused, and seems to use a lot of organic materials (cork menus, salt crystal candle holders, wood everything…). Why not use a more eco-friendly material, like sugar cane swizzle sticks? It would fit well with the decor and add a sophisticated, thoughtful touch to the cocktail menu, IMO. Just a suggestion!

Moms ordered a Long Island Iced Tea, and my darling, predictable Kevin ordered some domestic beer. *sigh* 

Since their focus is on seasonal and local fare, the menu isn’t huge, which I actually really like. Those of us who suffer from the dreaded Order Anxiety don’t have to agonize over our decisions, and there really is ample selection for any palate.

We whet our appetites with their airy buttermilk biscuits, served in a stamped paper bag and smeared with whipped butter and molasses. They are phenomenal: Not greasy, like many biscuits, but flavourful and almost flaky.

My mom doesn’t have a very large appetite, so she quickly decides to try their daily special appetizer as her meal (gotta hand it to her, she’s strategic: saving room for dessert). The special is a Snow Crab Bisque ($12.99), a rich and creamy soup punctuated with a crispy crab cake in the centre. She seemed to really enjoy it, confirming that it was, in fact, as sumptuous as it sounded.

Ben struggled with deciding, but ultimately settled on the Butter-Roasted Sea Trout and Grilled Scallops ($29.99). This dish features a smoked haddock potato cake, wilted greens, pickled beets and a roasted Valley corn sauce. Ben, normally a quick eater, savoured every bite, and carefully examined their plating before digging in (he has one year of culinary school under his belt, and a serious passion for anything edible).

(Note: I’m going to apologize at this point for the terrible photo quality. The lighting is dim, and I still have an iPhone 3GS, which doesn’t have a flash. Yep, you read that correctly. It is clearly time for an upgrade.)

I opted for the Lobster Crusted Haddock, because, well, it’s LOBSTER. CRUSTED. HADDOCK. *drool* The menu describes it as being served with a new garden vegetable hodge podge and lemon fennel salad, which kind of led me to believe that it would come with salad. Makes sense, no? Well, I was a wee bit sad when this arrived, sans salad/side:

It was a pretty small portion, and nary a crunchy bit of lemon fennel salad to be found, though perhaps it was buried beneath? Still, I didn’t detect any fennel or lemon in this dish… And though it was a small dish, they say that good things come in small packages (and they’re right: this had a  silky-smooth texture, loads of lobster bits, and smooth, sweet flavours). I cheerfully cleaned my plate:


Kevin, my domestic-beer-meat-and-potatoes fella, ordered just that. Meat & Potatoes (seriously, it’s a main course). A generous portion of PEI beef striploin, prepared medium-rare and nestled atop a  dijon potato puree, and served with mushroom & onion ketchup, candied field tomato, french onion gravy, and crispy potato frites, this dish was the star of the show, in my humble opinion (I even managed to sneak a piece of meat, when he wasn’t paying attention):

He was a happy man.

Somehow, when the dessert menus arrived, we just couldn’t say no. 🙂

Kevin and moms both ordered the Sugar Moon Maple Creme Brulee (I can’t believe I forgot to take a photo of that dish; it was so pretty…) I did, however, snag a bite. There were a definite maple flavour, but it wasn’t overpowering, and the top had been torched to thin-and-crunchy perfection. That ultimately combination of creamy-smooth-crunchy; you can’t beat it.

Ben isn’t really a sweet-eater, which is somewhat shocking, because I’m fairly certain that our mother’s bloodstream is at least 50% sugar. Anyways, even he was persuaded into trying a dessert. He selected the BumbleBerry Brioche Pudding, served with white chocolate & berry sauces, a chantilly whip and honey vanilla ice cream:

I, on the other hand, am a chocolate lover, through-and-through. So it wasn’t really a contest: Flourless chocolate torte with whip and cinnamon ice cream:

All said it was a lovely dining experience: good company and service, a special occasion, and a decadent assortment of dishes. Definitely not an every-day dinner, but a perfect spot for a bit of a splurge.

Chives Canadian Bistro on Urbanspoon

Chez Tess dishes up homey atmosphere & fabulous crepes with a side of addictive potato wedges (@cheztess)

After months of repeating “I *must* go and finally try Chez Tess,” I finally made the trip!

I love crepes (if you want to try making them at home, you may want to try your hand at my easy apple pie crepes or start with this basic recipe). So a creperie is right up my alley.

Unfortunately, because of my work schedule (I work almost every Saturday and Sunday morning), going to breakfast/brunch with my boyfriend or friends isn’t usually possible, so I miss out on a lot of the prime breakfast/brunching opportunities.

But the other week, I was invited to check out Chez Tess with my mom, a group of my lovely aunties, and a cousin. An all-lady brunch with the Fraughton clan. Hold onto your hats, fellas. 😛

I sped up to the north-end eatery, which is tucked away on Charles Street, as soon as my shift ended, so I could partake in Tess’ brunch offering (which are only available until 2:30 p.m. on weekends).

According to their website, Chez Tess was dreamed up by owner Liz Cunningham, who moved to Halifax from New York City 12 years ago. She opened the cozy, cherished neighbourhood restaurant in September 2009.

The menu is pretty extensive, with lots of choice, and a focus on local & seasonal products, as well as “tried and true recipes handed down from family and friends.” I dig.

On my visit, I opted for the Huevos Rancheros (it’s a go-to breakfast fave for me, what can I say!?!) I love the Coastal Cafe’s version of this dish, but everyone seems to do it differently.

At Chez Tess, poached eggs are nestled inside a savoury crepe and topped with pulled pork and salsa fresca, and served with a side of sour cream, a few bites of green salad, and a delicious, savoury baked potato wedge:

The pork was a *little* lacking in heat for my liking (but I’m a total spice fiend, let’s face it), but the flavour was well-balanced, and I didn’t find the dish heavy, which is always a danger with Huevos Rancheros (it can venture into greasy territory pretty easily…) I also LOVED the little baked potato wedge (could have eaten three), and was a big fan of the presentation, with the eggs and pork artfully bundled up in the thin, savoury crepe.

A few of the ladies at my table were a bit disappointed with a lack of Hollandaise sauce on their eggs Benedicts, but our server cheerfully remedied the situation, and everyone was still smiling. Especially when the desserts arrived.

I was too full to try one myself on this visit, but I will DEFINITELY be back for their espresso creme brulee. How amazing does that sound!?

Chez Tess Creperie on Urbanspoon

Lunch at Brooklyn Warehouse (@BrooklynHalifax): Round II

I’ve lunched at Brooklyn Warehouse once before (lunched: that sounds a bit posh, doesn’t it?!) Anyways… my first meal at this Halifax hotspot was freakin’ fab. I went with Kevin,  and it was easy to see what all the fuss was about.

I went back two weeks ago with my moms, who isn’t a big eater. By that, I mean that she doesn’t share the same affinity for food that my father, brother and I do… Rather, she’s more of a mocha-and-chocolate-croissant-for-lunch kinda gal.

Nevertheless, she was easily talked into lunch at the Brooklyn Warehouse, and I was quite keen to see how their new addition was shaping up. She had been once or twice before, but was in a bit of a rush both times, so this time around, we took a while to fully assess the menu situation.

After some contemplation, we were ready to pull the trigger: she selected the Smoked Chicken BLT (smoked chicken, Oulton’s smoked bacon, arugula, sliced tomato and Sriracha mayo served on a grilled Stone Hearth ciabatta bun; $9). There was a whole lotta smokiness going on with this dish (which was a good thing), plus a hint of heat from the Sriracha mayo. Since I know moms isn’t wild about spicy stuff, I was a wee bit worried that the spicy mayo might not wow her, but she was very pleased with her sandwich, and ate the whole damn thing! That’s sayin’ something… 🙂

I was inspired by her bravery to venture a bit outside of my own comfort zone and try the Dragon’s Breath Salad (a halved heart of romaine lettuce topped with Oulton’s bacon crisps, shaved parmesan, capers, and a homemade dressing, made of That Dutchman’s Dragon’s Breath blue cheese; $9) with a cup of their soup of the day (rabbit stew; $3).

How pretty is that?!

Now, I only say that this is slightly outside my comfort zone because I’m not normally keen on blue cheese. I just find the flavour can be slightly overwhelming. But I had heard good things about this salad, and am super pleased that I decided to try it. First off, be warned, it is MASSIVE. I couldn’t finish it, even though I was seriously diggin’ it. There are oodles of fresh parmesan shavings, plenty of thick dressing, and if you squeeze the lemon on top, just enough zip to cut through the earthy strength of the blue cheese. *swoon*

The rabbit stew offered a perfect contrast to the creamy salad: a tart broth filled with chunks of rich meat and root veg. Lovely.

We were so enamoured of our lunches that we splurged and decided to try their decadent Chocolate Nemesis dessert (a Boston Cream cube of white chocolate custard, milk chocolate mousse, devil’s food cake, dark chocolate ganache and pistachio Creme Anglais; $7). I can’t BELIEVE I forgot to take a pic, but I did (must have been in a sugar-induced stupor; my bad).

Now, I can’t wait for spring/summer, so I can sidle up to a sunny window-side seat on the new patio and dig in again!

The Brooklyn Warehouse on Urbanspoon