Chives Canadian Bistro in Historic Halifax, Nova Scotia

With temperatures moderated by the ocean, Nova Scotia “is the warmest of the provinces in Canada,” and it comes as some surprise that with its population of nearly 1,000,000, “it is Canada’s second-most densely populated province” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nova_Scotia].  Historic Halifax, the site of the first permanent European settlement in 1604 in Canada and the capital of the province, has long been an artistic and cultural center.  The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia [www.artgalleryofnovascotia.ca] this summer is presenting a major retrospective of the hard-edged abstract, geometric and vivid paintings of Quebec painter, Jacques Hurtubise [www.artgalleryofnovascotia.ca/en/AGNS_Halifax/exhibitions/hurtubise/default.aspx], who currently lives and works on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia.

Halifax is also home to Chives Canadian Bistro, a first-rate farm to table restaurant with delicious food served beautifully in pleasant surroundings. In the heart of Halifax, this intimate, local-sourced eatery is just minutes from the harbour and the historic British fort and national historic site known as the Citadel.  The tastefulness of the bistro’s décor and the well-chosen display of contemporary art complemented the artistic presentation of delicious entrées and the restaurant’s hospitable service. We had decided long before our vacation in beautiful Nova Scotia to dine at Chives, and we were not disappointed.

On a field visit two days prior to our dining engagement, we were briefed by Craig Flinn, the friendly maitre d’, who is also the owner/chef as well as a successful cookbook writer, on how Chives sources its food.  The restaurant relies primarily on Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley producers, including naturally fed farm fish.  Only when necessary does the restaurant draw on neighboring New Brunswick and Ontario provinces for its produce.  The emphasis is on 100-mile-radius suppliers.

After being offered window seating in the more private second-level dining area, we perused the ample menu while enjoying the late workday bustle on Barrington Street, with views of the historic St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica.  Choosing to order from the menu rather than from the several specials offered for the evening, and skipping over the appealing appetizers, we had the chicken gnocchi a la king (C$24) and squash, lentil and chickpea strudel (C$23).  Before and during our meals, we enjoyed a house chardonnay (9 oz, C$15.50) and a “Blu” carbonated spring water (750Ml, C$5.50).  [The exchange rate reported in the Halifax daily newspaper, The Chronicle Herald, for June 21, 2011, reflecting a strong Canadian dollar, was US$0.9785 per C$1.00.)

The main courses were preceded by two buttermilk biscuits (served in a Chives souvenir paper bag) with molasses (from St. Johns, NB) and whipped butter.  According to Andrew, our efficient and attentive server, the biscuits were from the recipe collection of the chef’s grandmother- we both wished for more!

My dining companion, a longstanding and committed vegetarian, thoroughly enjoyed the strudel entrée, which made an attractive presentation with a flaky pastry, stuffed with squash, broccoli, and almonds and topped with apricot chutney garnish.  Adding color to the plate, it was surrounded by small pickled beet wedges, lemon grass curry sauce, and a cucumber raita salad. The flavorful chicken a la king featured chicken from Cold Spring Farms (a small family farm located in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, which is committed to organic practices and raises chickens which are free-range), homemade potato gnocchi, roasted carrots, sweet peas, and pea shoots in a very light Alfredo-style white wine sauce.  Our meal was memorable farm to table dining and a highpoint of a wonderful vacation to beautiful Nova Scotia.  A copy of owner/chef Criag Flinn’s Fresh and Frugal [www.chives.ca/shop], his third and most recent cookbook, which offers suggestions on “how to cook with market fresh local ingredients that you can easily put together without breaking the bank” will make for a pleasant reminder of a very special summer vacation and flavorful meal (Linda Worden, 6/30/11).
[Chives Canadian Bistro, 1537 Barrington Street, 902.420.9626, Dinner: Nightly 5:00PM-9:30PM, http://www.chives.ca/ ]

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