Food in faraway places

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

For me, much of travel is about food: I love going to other places and eating whatever’s fresh and local, which is often tied up in the cultural aspects of the place.

This past week in Nova Scotia was no exception: on Wednesday, I ate a huge lobster that had been caught that day — best that I’ve ever eaten — then on Thursday, a kilo of mussels. Staying with Pat’s parents meant that this was all served in their comfort of their home; we only dined out once during the entire trip, which was to go to the Jubilee Cottage B&B in Wallace for dinner one night.

Jubilee serves a set menu (that is, no choice) that changes each night; Friday was the “Now and Zen” Asian spring menu. They use a lot of organic ingredients, and try to buy locally where possible, such as the organic salad greens from a local greenhouse that was almost within throwing distance.

Dinner started with an appetizer of sauteed shrimp flavoured with tomato, coriander and garlic, served with a salad of organic greens, cucumber, bean sprouts and grilled potatoes and carrots, dressed with a coconut/chili/peanut gado-gado dressing. This was an amazing dish, and I could have just had a few more plates of that and been perfectly satisfied. The potatoes were especially interesting: cut into long shapes like slightly oversized french fries, they were parboiled until still crunchy, then grilled. This course, like the main course, was served family style: a large platter on the centre of the table for the four of us to share.

Next up was a corn and egg drop soup, with water chestnuts and snipped chives and parsley. Delicious and smooth, a very delicate soup that was improved by a slight grinding of black pepper.

We had two main dishes following that: salmon marinated in garlic, ginger and hoisin sauce, grilled then simmered in rice wine, chili, soy and spices; and boneless chicken pieces marinated in lime and rum, stir friend, then served with a mango sauce. I found both of the dishes a bit too sweet — the salmon had sugar in the sauce, and the chicken had honey as well as the sweet mango — although the fish and chicken were well-prepared. I expect that this was catering in part to the widespread taste for North American “Chinese” food that includes much more sugar than anything that I’ve ever eaten in Toronto’s Chinatown. All of this was served with a variety of grilled vegetables and coconut rice, both of which were perfectly prepared.

The meal finished with completely non-Asian desserts, and we had to make a decision between two: tiramisu or “chocolate silk leaves”, a thick chocolate mousse between individually baked phyllo layers with raspberry sauce and whipped cream. We shared around so that we could try each of them, and both were good although nothing out of the ordinary.

Given that we were in small-town Nova Scotia, a couple of hours drive from a major centre in any direction, I’d have to give them pretty good marks for the dinner. The commitment to local and organic produce definitely makes a difference in the quality of the meals, and the couple who run the place seem to enjoy what they’re doing and interacting with their guests. We were the only people in the dining room that night, since it’s still in advance of the season and the weather was cold and damp, and they came out and chatted with us for quite a while after dinner.

The price was right as well: $35 per person for the four-course meal plus tea or coffee, and you won’t walk away hungry. They don’t sell alcohol, but you can bring your own wine (which we did) and they’ll serve it for a $4 per bottle corkage fee.

They have a couple of other set menus, depending on which night that you’re there: “Fire of the Caribbean”, featuring Caribbean curries and Creole dishes, and “Atlantica & Australis”, a marriage of Nova Scotia and Australian dishes served tapas style.

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