Dana learns a lesson

December 5, 2008

img_2269I hate to be labeled as an arrogant Torontonian but since the moniker applies, I can’t help but own it.  I expected St. John’s, Newfoundland to be a quaint city. I expected the people of St. John’s to be friendly. I expected the seafood to be fresh and abundant.  All of these expectations were confirmed within an hour of landing at their international airport. Now for what I didn’t expect to find:

  •  a stylish shopping district that made my credit cards itch,
  •  a horde of investment bankers clogging up a  restaurant I wanted to walk into on a Wednesday night,
  •  a stylish eatery that served food on par with the best restaurants operating in bigger Canadian cities.

But that is exactly what I did find at Water Street eatery The Vault. Although they were closed for a private party (hence the bankers), they found me a spot to eat at the bar. Hostess Lisa Downey, pictured  here in the converted bank vault now used as a wine cellar that inspired the restaurant’s name, was incredibly gracious.  I think hearing that I’d walked from the Fairmont in the cold and dark to try their cuisine won me her favour!

The food at The Vault is inventive, fresh and well-executed (the scallop napoleon is particularly good), the selection of wines by the glass are well matched to the menu, and the service is friendly, polished and attentive. Truly a great experience!  In fact, if I were a citizen of lovely St. John’s I’d likely be a regular customer.

While The Vault is definitely a gem, other St. John’s food destinations deserve to be explored when you’re in town, too. So, if you get to this small Atlantic city do check out:

Have you had a restaurant meal that exceeded your expectations lately? Since the opposite type of experiences get so much more discussion time, please take a minute to tell us about your last great restaurant meal. It doesn’t matter if it was a fabulously fresh bagel at a breakfast joint or a gourmet tasting menu at a grand hotel. Let’s sing out in praise today!


Newfoundland scallop harvesting

July 2, 2008

Recently my man with pan took a week off to go cold water diving in Newfoundland. This is hardcore scuba diving, folks. My intrepid hubby and his friends will go to no end of trouble and discomfort to explore the seabed.

The water temperature off the coasts of Bell Island, NFLD in early summer is usually around 5ºC (40ºF). Good temperature for storing chip dip but not for a skinny dip if you know what I mean.

Although this temperature may not be comfortable for mammals like me, it’s ideal for sea scallops. The picture above shows Martin holding one of the scallops he and his dive party harvested in Conception Bay. They ate some raw on the boat but took the rest back to their hotel where Martin pan-fried them to create a feast for his party.

Although readers in most parts of Canada are unlikely to be able to get scallops this fresh, you can find scallops this size and quality at many fishmongers. Here are a few tips for choosing and cooking scallops.

• Ask for untreated scallops. They will cost more but the taste will be sweeter and cleaner than other scallops, which have been coated in preservatives.
• Look for scallops that are evenly sized so that they cook uniformly. The choicest size (pictured above) is U10.

• Remove the knob shaped muscle on the side of each scallop before cooking. This is the connective muscle that fastened the meat to the shell. Once cooked it will be very rubbery and tasteless.
• Rinse the scallops under very cold water before preparing. Drain well and then pat completely dry on paper towel before seasoning and cooking. Adding wet scallops to a hot pan will not only cause spattering but will prevent scallops from browning.
• Don’t crowd the pan. The scallops shouldn’t touch one another while they cook if you want a golden crust to develop.
• Use a combination of oil and butter to sauté scallops so that you get maximum browning but still develop great flavour.

Have you ever caught fresh scallops? If so, how did you prepare them?