Victoria and Luis Gaspar sought to introduce Atlantic Canada to new types of world cuisine by filling the menu at Pipa Restaurant + Bar with iconic Brazilian and Portuguese dishes. This distinctiveness helped earn it a spot on Where magazine's 2009 list of Canada's best new restaurants, as well as praise from Halifax Magazine, which has lauded the restaurant for being "something different on the downtown dining scene."
The menu items' names may seem unfamiliar at first, but the flavours evoke a certain homey quality. The mains include hearty Brazilian stews such as feijoada, a blend of smoked meats and black beans that bears the honor of being Brazil's national dish. Appetizers incorporate Portuguese staples such as chouriço sausage and salt cod. The wine list complements these robust flavors with its selection of Portuguese wines, including crisp vinho verdes and bold reds from the Douro region's subterranean reservoirs of grape juice.
Located within the historic Carleton building, which dates as far back as 1759, the restaurant combines modern and Old-World ambience, garnering the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia's award for Best Design & Decor in 2010. Fireplaces and floorboards from reclaimed timber add a rustic vibe to the two dining rooms, but the atrium gets a bright, airy feel from its glass pyramid ceiling. Throughout the week, Pipa Restaurant + Bar hosts live Latin jazz or bossa nova bands, and salsa-dancing events help attendees pick up the dance's basic steps and competition-level hair tosses.
Back in 2003, when Hurricane Juan left Nova Scotians stranded for a few days, Lil MacPherson grew concerned about food security. She noticed that there were few local options in their relative isolation, and that much of their food was shipped from far away with little environmental concern for how it was produced. This discovery inspired her to start supporting nearby farmers and purveyors in the hopes of strengthening Nova Scotia's foodscape. But she didn't want to stop there—she wanted the rest of her home province to embrace sustainability, too.
The Wooden Monkey, a restaurant devoted to the local culinary culture, was the next step in her journey. Under the guidance of partners Christine Bower and Matthew Gass, The Wooden Monkey in Halifax and Dartmouth shine a spotlight on the work of local food producers. The menu is MSG free, and the drink menu has no artificial ingredients. Getting to know the suppliers and the people who grow their food is very important to the folks at The Wooden Monkey. In fact, every meat in the kitchen has been sourced from Nova Scotia: lamb from Nothumberlamb is used for the lamb burger, and the rustic chicken dinner is made from Pasture Hills poultry.
The Monkey isn't just for meat-eaters, however. The staff also prepares an abundance of vegan and vegetarian options, including plates of gingered tofu served over organic quinoa-rice noodles. In fact, the menu is conscious of several dietary restrictions, including Celiac disease, lactose intolerance, and nut allergies.
The writing's on the wall at Seoul Korean Restaurant. Literally. Near the entrance, there's a container of colorful Sharpies that customers use to scribble their reviews right on the paint. It's a bold move, but the exquisite quality of Seoul's food lets them get away with it. The food is so good, in fact, that the restaurant has set the bar for others in the community—in fact, The Coast marked 2011 as the start of the "golden age of Asian food" in Halifax, thanks, in part, to the opening of Seoul. Read on to learn about a few of this eatery's revolutionary recipes:
Bulgogi Deopbap: Stir-fried Bulgogi on a bed of rice and served with soup.
Gamjatang hot pot: This is Korea's take on the Asian hot pot tradition. Portioned for two, three, or four people, the pork-neck-bone soup is served with cabbage leaves and a choice of toppings.
Kimchi jigae: Vegetarians adore this stew made with a soybean-paste base. It also showcases tofu and Seoul's very popular kimchi, beloved for its bright flavor and satisfying crunch.
Bibimbap: Is a Rice topped dish with various cooked vegetables, such as zucchini, mushrooms, radish and been sprouts. Served with beef and fried egg, red chili paste with the soup of the day."
Chef Abod Café & Catering's menu seems simple at first glance, brimming with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean comfort foods, but this familiarity belies the owner's ties to royalty. Armed with the experiences of training in Syria and running the kitchen of a four-star hotel in Bahrain, chef Abod Sadieh lent his culinary talents to Prince Moshal Bin Abdul Al-Azez of Saudi Arabia, serving as the prince's personal chef for more than two years.
Interestingly, though, this position didn't lead Chef Sadieh to devote the rest of his career to haute cuisine. Instead, he adopted an attitude as well as an unpretentious culinary style based on accommodation as opposed to ego.
Chef Sadieh adheres to this attitude in Halifax, where he creates hearty renditions of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean staples while incorporating locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. Dishes like chicken kebabs and moussaka demonstrate the menu's commitment to these regions' most iconic recipes, but lamb burgers and paninis filled with falafel incorporate those recipes' flavours into slightly more Westernized dishes.
The restaurant's dining area also fosters a comfortable ambiance, surrounding guests with homespun touches such as checkered tablecloths and portraits of moms. Burgundy curtains hang over the windows, contrasting with the room's pale green walls.
Comprising an upscale restaurant, several casual kitchens, and a catering team, Mezza wears a few different faces, but all of them are distinctly Lebanese. That is to say, they celebrate fresh seafood, vibrant veggies, and juicy meats, seasoned with olive oil, garlic, lemon, and herbs. At the Quinpool location, chefs craft hot and cold mezzet—small plates—such as baba ghanouj and Lebanese sausages, warming up appetites for lamb and beef kabobs served on plates piled with rice, potatoes, and seasonal produce. Servers help quell the spiciness of the accompanying chili sauce by pouring local beers, Lebanese wines, and colorfully potent cocktails directly into guests' mouths. On some nights, live music from the strings of a traditional oud wafts through the sleek but earthy space.
As for Mezza's other locations, chicken shawarma and all-beef donair can be savored as late as 4 a.m. at the Barrington Street location. It can be sure of drawing a crowd even into the wee hours—Mezza perennially tops The Coast’s readers’ poll for Best Middle Eastern/Persian restaurant. Explaining its streak of wins in 2012, The Coast wrote: “It’s simple—the food is fresh, high quality and tasty.”
The chefs at Caribbean Twist import near-meridian flavours all the way up the globe to Halifax with their spicy jerk chicken, stewed oxtail, and vegetarian curry potato roti wraps. The staff expects some confusion from those who are new to Caribbean food, but have taken measures to preemptively stave off any anxiety. They included a short FAQ section to the menu to answer such important basic questions as "What's ackee?," "Is everything hot and spicy?," and "What animal does oxtail come from?" Their insistence that every bite and sip be true to its Jamaican roots extends all the way to the dessert menu, which is drawn up by resident baker Fatima Adam. Fatima crafts all desserts in-house, including mango cheesecake, coconut cream pie, and basbousa, a sweet cornbread-like cake soaked in syrup.
This commitment to crafting exotic dishes and fresh jamaican patties has earned Caribbean Twist an army of avid fans and awards, including Best Desserts Category for Eastlink Magazine's "Nova Scotia's Best" and their jerk chicken winning the 2011 North-End Community Cook-Off. When a zoning issue threatened to permanently close the café in 2010, these loyal patrons rose up and helped save the modest eatery.
Siu mai: small pork dumplings. Each has a thin wrapper that needs to be delicately pleated by hand. Easily, they’re one of the most labor-intensive items at Phoenix Restaurant in Chicago, where each weekend this Chinese restaurant serves 80 different varieties of classic dim sum snacks.
This little fact about the siu mai is one of many surprising stories I learn from Eddy, the chef at Phoenix, where he also handles a million other tasks to keep the restaurant running smoothly. When I first came in, he was waving at a group of regulars while on the phone haggling with a seafood vendor.
“What we are serving in this restaurant is what we are eating in Hong Kong. ... It’s very typical,” Eddy says.
In 1996, Phoenix was one of the first restaurants to introduce dim sum to Chicago. Its customer base has grown over the years, and today, even with other dim sum restaurants up and down the block, you’ll find long lines winding out the door on any given Sunday.
Sound intimidating? It doesn't have to be.
Here's our guide to dim-sum dining, with a few tips from Eddy.
On the weekend: order dim sum off a cart
On weekends and special holidays, the wait staff winds traditional dim sum carts around tables, lifting lids off stacked steamer baskets to reveal the enticing contents. Should you see something you like, they leave the basket on your table and put a checkmark on your bill (it’s tallied at the end).
Phoenix is one of the only dim-sum restaurants in Chicago that still uses these carts. When I ask Eddy why they keep them, he says “tradition.” Not only to impress the tourists who come in, but also to let Chinese-American customers share this bit of culture with their kids.
Hot tip: if you want to experience the pushcarts without the crowds, head over on a Saturday, which tends to be less busy than Sundays, Eddy says.
On a weekday: order dim sum off the menu
Cartless weekdays offer a quiet, more peaceful atmosphere for ordering off the paper menu, which you can find near the hostess stand. Don't be intimidated—the menu has pictures; it has numbers; it has names written in both Chinese and English. And best of all, you need only point to what you want to have it brought out from the kitchen.
So what should you get?
“Everyone has their favorites,” Eddy says. The most popular dishes with Westerners are ha gao (shrimp dumplings) and siu mai (pork dumplings mentioned above). Kids gravitate toward the crunchy, easy-to-grip shrimp rolls and sweeter fare, from mango pudding (pictured above) to custard rolls.
Foreign travelers, especially those from Latin America, and adventurous eaters alike seem to love the chicken feet (pictured at bottom-right of top photo), a more exotic dish consisting of skin and tendons. While all these dishes are traditional, the chefs can tweak the recipes to accommodate for special diets or food allergies.
When diners are new to dim sum, Eddy encourages them to experiment. He’ll point out a few of the more popular dishes; if there’s something they don’t end up liking, it can easily be swapped out for something else. This way, by the second or third visit, diners will have a better idea of what they like.
And don't forget the tea
At dim sum, the tea is equally important to the food. Phoenix serves three different types: green tea, white tea, and brown tea. “Each one has its own usage,” Eddy says. While we talk, we drink jasmine tea, which is good for getting rid of toxins.
You can show your dim sum know-how by obeying proper tea etiquette. When your teapot is out of water, prop the lid off to the side. This signals to the wait staff that you need more hot water.
Eddy pours more tea and tells me to tap my fingers lightly against the table when the cup is nearly full. “When your friend or host fills your tea, this means ‘thank you’,” he says. “It’s part of the custom.”
Photos by Andrew Nawrocki, Groupon
I had no idea what to expect upon arriving at Elizabeth, the Michelin Star winner from Chef Iliana Regan. But an unmarked, unremarkable storefront between a tire shop and a sporting-goods store certainly wasn’t it. With few exceptions (Schwa, most notably), Chicago’s upper-echelon restaurants boast exteriors that match their illustrious River North and Restaurant Row addresses.
But as it turns out, Regan has no taste for that sort of superficial flash. She dons no chef’s whites. She displays no awards. She does not raise her voice to the Gordon Ramsay–level roar or even the Rachael Ray-ish rollick that TV cameras eat up.
Instead, this northwest Indiana native quietly built her reputation as someone who hunts for frogs and spears them herself. Someone who has suffered tick bites and poison-ivy rashes foraging for wild flora. Someone who has penned an essay on intensity for Lucky Peach and once themed an Elizabeth tasting menu after those violent and visceral A Song of Ice and Fire novels.
So yeah, I was kinda terrified to eat her food.
I’d never done a tasting menu before. And I wouldn’t necessarily classify myself as a picky eater, but I’m not a particularly adventurous one either, particularly when it comes to meat. (I can barely look at plated octopus without shivering.) I’d heard that Regan once served edible ants. Which are, like, bugs.
My nerves were calmed upon walking into Elizabeth, though. Austere yet charming, the whitewashed space was accented by light fixtures made from bare tree branches; dining chairs draped with faux-fur slipcovers; a chef’s counter armed with Elder Scrolls and Vikings Funko Pop! dolls. It was all in support of the season’s menu theme: vikings.
There were two options: land or sea. Or, as the first in a delightful succession of servers explained it, “Imagine a viking ship has reached the shore. One group goes on land to look for food, the other into the sea.” My friend Erin and I opted to order one of each to share and, despite my trepidation of certain meats, placed no restrictions on what we would eat. (You can arrange for some allergies and dietary needs in advance.) We wanted to go all in.
After the amuse-bouche—a surprisingly complex roasted whey carrot dressed with goat’s-milk cheese and edible flowers—came our first courses. The land dish was … a bowl of rocks. The server assured me the top “rock” was actually a baked potato coated in edible clay. But it was very convincing as a rock, so I bit in with trepidation. As Erin ate the rest, dipping it into the cheese and butter puddings it was served with, I forked into her langoustine with lingonberries. (Pro tip: don’t try to tear off the claw without looking. You will stab your finger on a spine.) So far, so very good.
As the servers continued to weave their culinary narrative, I realized there was an unmentioned character in their tale—Elizabeth itself. The restaurant is small, seating about 16 or so, and the kitchen is wide open. It was impossible not to get caught up in what was happening back there, particularly when sous chefs were wielding brûlée torches and “plating” on gorgeous pieces of handmade pottery. And the line between front and back of house was practically nonexistent. One moment, you’d see someone in the kitchen stirring and slicing; the next they’d be presenting your next course or clearing your table. (Chef Regan included.)
This created an unexpected intimacy, one that removed any hesitation when asking about a particular dish. It’s clear the teammates take a deep yet quiet pride in their collective work. They spoke warmly about where ingredients came from, excitedly about the preparation techniques used. They always used “we” or “our,” never “me” or “Chef Regan.” (Again, Chef Regan included.)
Over the next few courses, there were so many charms. An herb-rolled, soft-boiled quail egg served in an actual nest; impossibly chewy seaweed bread darkened by squid ink; a cauliflower-mushroom soup that Erin about died over. I was particularly fond of a course called Barnyard: headcheese dusted with beet powder, paired with a collage of root vegetables and flavored puddings reminiscent of something out of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Modern Wing.
And that’s the thing. Never in my life would I have thought that I’d be fond of headcheese. I would have probably never eaten it if it weren’t for this meal. But it was fun to break out of my culinary comfort zone.
The other surprising thing? How full we were, considering it was a tasting menu. By the time we were served the entree courses—rare lamb medallions wrapped in swiss chard and pickled fish in a sauce of its own bones—we were taking deep breaths between bites. I’m pretty sure they were the only two plates we didn’t completely clean.
We managed to buck up for our “one-and-a-half” dessert courses, as the server put it. (The “half” was a palate-cleansing sorbet.) Our favorite was Under the Sea, a spongy coral-seaweed cake so realistic looking it prompted me to ask the server just how much of it we could eat. “All of it,” she said. We complied.
Maybe, as a writer, I’m just a sucker for a good story. But I was enchanted by Elizabeth, both in backstory and in not knowing what was coming next throughout the culinary adventure. And while I probably won’t be buying headcheese any time soon, I’m excited to see what Chef Regan has up her non-chef’s-whites sleeves next season.
Shop Chef Iliana Regan's tasting-menu experience at Elizabeth Restaurant:
Watch her explain her approach to fine dining:
As useful as WD40 and much more edible, coconut oil is a powerhouse. In fact, just one jar of the stuff can replace several household staples, from kitchen ingredients to baby wipes. Here’s how to substitute it for 16 total items in 3 rooms of the home:
1. Coffee: Coconut oil is a reputed energy booster. Swallowing a spoonful or two in the afternoon can be a healthful alternative to a cuppa.2. Coffee creamer: Emulsified and poured into coffee, it’s much tastier than (and probably just as nutritious as) that bulletproof stuff.3. Butter or oil (when sautéing): Coconut oil’s high smoke point makes it great for cooking on the stovetop, especially at high heat. Try swapping it in when making stir-fries, scrambled eggs, or pancakes, especially if you like a very mild coconut flavor.4. Oil (when baking): The oil imparts a delicious je ne sais quoi to baked goods—even boxed ones. Use it to give from-the-box brownies an upgrade, and you’ll dream about them for days.5. Condiments: Drop it into quinoa or oatmeal for added nutrients and healthy fats. You can also put it on top of sweet potatoes instead of butter!
6. Moisturizer: It works on your body and your face. It’s naturally SPF 4, so it offers a bit of protection from UV rays, too.7. Leave-in conditioner and anti-static agent: Rub a small amount between your hands and smooth them over your hair to control flyaways.8. Lip balm: It soothes sore, chapped lips, and other skin irritations.9. Eye-makeup remover: Rub it between your fingers until it liquefies, smear it on your lids, and wipe it off with a cotton pad.10. Face wash: Add a little water and rub it in your hands until it foams.11. Hand and foot cream: Massage it into cracked knuckles, or slather it onto your soles and stick them into socks for an overnight soak.12. Shaving cream: It’ll give you a smooth shave, plus additional moisture for your skin.
13. Ouchie ointment: Dab it on cuts and scrapes, which will benefit from its antimicrobial properties.14. Anti-itch cream: Coconut oil reduces itching from bug bites, and helps to calm sunburn, eczema, and cradle cap.15. Diaper cream: A layer on baby’s bottom guards against (and soothes) diaper rash flare-ups.16. Baby wipes: Simply mix it with hot water and pour it over a stack of paper towels that you’ve cut in half. Keep the towels in an airtight container so they stay moist.
Check out more coconut-oil coverage:
Oil Pulling Whitens Your Teeth and (Maybe) Makes You Invincible
The Five Best Uses for Coconut Oil You’ve Never Heard Of