Maritime Provinces and Atlantic Canada

September 19, 2005

Go to see vast forests, rough, craggy coastlines and wildlife including eagles and whales. Be prepared for long drives between places that you want to stay and then once at the inns, less luxury and more rustic accommodations. To save some driving there are ferries. We started with one from Bar Harbor to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia and also took one from Digby, NS to St. John, New Brunswick later in the trip.

Bar Harbor, Maine. Since the ferry leaves at 8, and passengers are required to be there by 7, we decided to stay in Bar Harbor, no longer anything but a tourist town. Opting to stay at a B&B, Ullikana (www.ullikana.com), we were pleased to find spacious rooms with seating areas, afternoon wine and cheese and a very helpful and pleasant staff. Not so the more prestigious Inn at Bar Harbor, next door. We thought it would be pleasant to eat there so walked over to make reservations. The dining room couldn’t handle that and directed us to the front desk where the young man seemed astonished that we would ask for a particular table, and then told us that they we were full anyway. Galyn’s, on the main street near the harbor, served a very nice salmon and a tomato based fish soup that was nicely flavored.

The ferry was quite impressive. Not only was there comfortable seating upstairs, but there was also a cafeteria, a bar, slot machine and two movie “theaters.” Three hours later we disembarked in Yarmouth. There is one road out of Yarmouth, not really a highway, but it does by-pass towns, such as they are. We exited and found a small fishing village to stretch our legs and have lunch. Seafood chowder and lobster wraps on a deck over the water at the Salty Dog in Shelburne were perfect.

Halifax, NS. This may be the capital city of Nova Scotia but it is a very small city or perhaps a large town. There are maybe two traffic lights and the whole time we were downtown we saw five cars. I am, of course, exaggerating, but you get the idea. Our hotel, The Halliburton (www.thehalliburton.com), billed as Halifax’s boutique hotel, was centrally located and had its faded charm. The rooms were comfortable, but certainly not plush.

Food, on the other hand was terrific. The first of two nights we ate at da Maurizo (902-423-0859) in a restored harbor complex. The menu may be Italian but the food is just good taste. Our starters—a romaine salad with lemon, capers, and a gorgonzola crouton; and salad caprese– were fresh and delicious, blending well with a Pinot Grigio. Next, a grilled Angus strip sirloin with a roasted pepper aioli and pork tenderloin with herbed Calvados and apple chutney fared well with a Primitivo A Mano 2002 from Puglia. No dessert. It is lively and there is a lot of noise, but the tables are far enough apart and the floor is carpeted so it becomes white noise and a soft conversation is possible.

The city itself is worth a day walking around—the harbor, the citadel, the maritime Museum with its display of the 1917 explosion, but we lucked out. The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, province’s main art museum, was hosting s how form Boston’s Museum of fine Arts that had just spent four years in Japan. The cultures of Egypt, Greece and Rome were presented in some of the best preserved and curated artworks and artifacts ever. St. Paul’s church opened in 1750is a beautiful Protestant church. A light lunch at Soho Bar and Grill, where we drank a nice Lindemans Cawarra from Australia with our fish cakes with garlic mayonnaise and salad, was enjoyed on the sidewalk in the sun.

As many town and cities throughout North America have done, Halifax has taken to having a representative animal of a certain size, painted by various artists, on display around every corner. We’ve all seen the cows, horses, etc, but it was charming to see the lobsters here.

Dinner may have been the high point of our food experiences our last night. Seven at 1579 Grafton St (902-444-4777) is a friendly, trendy restaurant with brick walls, lace curtains, but modern ones, and dark wood floors. On the walls hang giant wine related paintings. The wine list is 16 pages, single-spaced, many of which ran well into three figures. Gary’s bison carpaccio was tender and lean, finished off with shaved Grana Padano, olive oil, crisp capers and roast garlic aioli, while Varian’s proscuitto wrapped prawns with cucumber sesame salad and a ginger mint “gastique” were lovely. Lemon sorbet was served to clear out palate. Then Gary enjoyed a crisp breast of duck with a too salty wild rice risotto and sweet pepper chutney. Varian’s chicken with pear sage cornbread stuffing with a bacon Pommery mustard cream was good with the saly wild rice risotto. Our wine choices were the Anitnori Orvieto Classico Casasole to begin, followed by a 2001 Canaletto Primitivo from Puglia.

Cape Breton Island. This is a wild and wooly coastal area with sparsely scattered fishing communities.. And the magnificent Cabot Trail which winds in a circle at the north end of the island, hugging b0oth the east and west coast along the way. At the tip are various places for whale watching. We chose to drive the eastern part of the trail, reported the most magnificent, and it was gorgeous; whale watching quite successfully (pilot whales, minke whales, gray seals and harbor seals) in Pleasant Bay. Evidently the peat bog in the national Park there is carpeted with wild orchids in early summer, but since we were in mid-September we saw grasses.

Our base was the Normaway Inn in the Margaree Valley (www.normaway.com; 902-248-2987), on the interior part of the Cabot Trail, a short drive to the either coast. Its 250 acres were settled in 1829 by a Scot from the Isle of Skye. His grandson turned it into an Inn in 1928. The rooms are in pine-paneled cabins, much like camp. They do have running water and comfortable beds but not much in the way of style or luxury. Dinners are another story. They are served in the main building, and are quite ambitious and successful for so remote a place. One night we began with baked brie with blueberry chutney and scallops with citrus vinaigrette; corn chowder, salad; then seafood coquille—scallops, shrimp, lobster and halibut. Gary finished off with ice cream pie with chocolate sauce but Varian passed. The evening’s entertainment was a local pianist and his 10-year-old son on fiddle playing local folk music.

Night two we enjoyed cold poached shrimp and red pepper sauce, cream of tomato basil soup, grilled salmon with citrus salsa which surprisingly in the salmon capital of the world wasn’t local and wasn’t great, and herb crusted pork with brandied apple cranberry chutney. Gary polished off a superb blueberry crisp pie with ice cream. Starting at 8 was a “band” in the barn. When we arrived there must have been 150 people there, crawling in from every nook and cranny of this very remote region to see, hear and dance to come incredible local-grown fiddlers. Great stuff but you have to be a fan. We lasted one song, but our waitress the next morning said it went on until 1 or 2 with dancing.

Digby, NS: Ophelia was expected roar through so we decided to save Prince Edward Island for another time and headed to Digby on the Nova Scotia side of the Bay of Fundy, the scallop capital of the world. From the enclosed porch of the Pines Resort 902-245-6133), a former Canadian Pacific grand hotel, we were able to chart the 40-foot tidal effect by various landmarks. Gary had envisioned a wall of water from memories of tales from his younger days, but it is just gradual, if you can call something ebbing and flowing at about 7, 8 miles an hour gradual. Dinner there, amidst the bus tours, was what you would expect. We started with mixed greens with a warm goat cheese crouton, Dijon vinaigrette and toasted wild rice and followed it with sautéed Digby scallops with charred red pepper and tomato coulis, Basmati rice and 3 Chinese greens. No dessert. Drank an organic Fetzer Viognier Bonterra.

St Andrews by the Sea, New Brunswick. Taking the ferry from Digby saved about 500 k’s of driving so is well worth it, especially in the rain when there isn’t much to see anyway. Crossing the Bay of Fundy at high tide didn’t seem challenging enough but I am sure there are times when it is. Our destination in St Andrews was the Kingsbae Arms (www.kingsbrae.com, 877-529-1897), a Relais and Chateaux property eagerly anticipated after the rather basic accommodations so far. Were we thrilled! This is a jewel. An old house, lovingly renovated, beautifully furnished with antiques, etc and staffed by the friendliest people ever. Nothing was a problem.

The town was settled by loyalists from New England who dismantled their homes and had them shipped over here and reassembled. Walking through the wide streets, and along the main street, among these old houses, old churches, etc is a lovely way to pass a morning. We then went whale watching in the Bay of Fundy and saw a mother and calf finback whale, second largest in the world. They were swimming around us for quite a while so we got up close and personal with them. There were also bald eagles and seals.

All the guests (6 or so one night, 4 the next) gather for cocktails at 7:00. Dinner is served at 7:30 on tables scattered around the first floor, two in the main living room, one in the library and two in the dining room. A printed menu is on your plate as you sit down, with wines recommended for each course. In fact, all but the one with the main course is included in the price of the stay.

Our first night began with an amuse bouche of duck wrap with corn salsa, goat cheese fritters with basil crostini, both served with a passable champagne. We drank the bottle of Mommessin Savigny Les Beaune 19996 with the foie gras stuffed pintade, crispy polenta cake and seasonal vegetables with mushroom au jus over all (barbeque haddock with baby greens and crispy yams was the other choice). Dessert was a choice of three, with a Kittling Ridge Ice Wine. Dinner the last night began with seared local scallops with warm Israeli Couscous salad with Charles Ellner Cuvee Reserve Brut NV Champagne. Then a chilled heirloom tomato consommé with le Sieur de Duuplessis cheese. WE drank the suggested Laboure-Roi Chateauneuf-du-Pape 200 with the oven-roasted rack of Lamb in a calamata olive butter with vegetable puree and roasted new potatoes. Dessert, apple crème brulee, was paired with a sauterne, 1995 Chateau Suduirat 1er Cru.

There was an unexpected bonus next door—the Kingsbae Gardens. The 27 acre property was donated a few years ago to a not for profit foundation who maintains the gardens in fabulous shape. In the middle of September we didn’t expect to see much colr and were blown away by the profusion of color that we did see. The perennial garden was especially interesting, but we also enjoyed the knot gardens, the rose gardens, edible gardens and children’s gardens. We also enjoyed a nice light lunch at the café on the grounds.

Kennebunkport, Maine. Our last stop was this quintessential New England town. Great old homes grace the streets, surrounded by well tended gardens. The beach is wide, long and windy. The town charming; the Relais & Chateaux, White Barn Inn (207-967-2321; http://www.relaischateaux.com), disappointing. Pretentious staff, pretentious service and modest accommodations for all that. We figured it started as a restaurant and made its name. Then added some rooms but didn’t really care about running an inn. The dining room is the old barn and is beautifully transformed. The menu—either a five course tasting menu or a four course traditional one was tempting. We could barely eat through the four courses so were glad we hadn’t chosen the tasting menu. The amuse bouche was a very nice fish terrine, Gary followed with scallops with fried tomato risotto and Varian with a goat cheese and vegetable terrine. The intermezzo as they called it was a small goat cheese dish melted with herbs or a delicious red pepper soup. Veal chop and Salmon figured for our main course, drunk with a South African Pinot Noir, practically the only two-figured bottle on the list. A little gift dessert and then the main dessert was served -banana soufflé for Gary and cheese for Varian.

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