Bacalao St. John's
Just got back from a wonderful meal at Bacalao's. I am a very critical eater...I will eat anything as long as it is prepared well. I blame this fact on my wife.
This is a relative new comer to the ST Johns' scene having been opened I understand about a year and a half ago by the Barskys (Mike and, oh geez, Amanda ...god I hope my memory did not file me on that one). Mike is the chef de cuisine and his wife is the desert chef and I think is also the front of house manager. Mind you in small family places, does it really matter what title each person has?
My brother in law and I took a chance on the place based on two recommendations (a cabbie and a doorman at the Fairmont). What a find! I am rarely so impressed. These guys bring local cuisine (I think their tagline is Nouvelle Newfoundland Cuisine) to unseen heights. We challenged chef to impress us, off menu. We had wonderful on and off menu presentations. Other than the gnocchi (I am not partial to pototo gnocchi, but instead prefer the ricotta or french flour variety) which was well prepared and had the normal sort of sticky feel to them...the food was magnificent. There was some real thought put into highlighting what might otherwise be very boring fare. Touches like including some of the broth in which the fish was cooked as a "shot" seemed odd until I tried it. It was yummy (no more erudute term seem to fit). I have had a lot of caribou in my time (check out my moniker), but this was some of the best. It was accompanied by a partridge berry sauce. Perfect.
I am always impressed with a kitchen prepared to make everything from scratch AND use primarily local products...even the rum in the creme brulee was local. About that brulee...I have never (ever) had better. It was light and creamy with none of that liquid that seems to surround lesser creations. The rum and coconut were perfectly balanced, even the crust was bang on.
My bro in law's seafood risotto was the best he had ever had (which means something from a New Brunswicker). The use of the saffron (which of course is an art form) was perfect. Fresh local seafood...wow!
The staff were so accomodating. Not having been to St John's in 15 years, I had no clue they now have some local made wines. I asked to try a shot of each and they were only too happy to comply. They even thought to bring each bottle without being asked. Some of the desert wine was decent (I am now partial to the cloudberry/bakeapple wine), but, uhm, the rest was shall we say - not to my liking (don't want to discourage an industry in its infancy).
The staff made the night perfect. I hope they stay..friendly, knowledgeable, not too formal (this is Newfoundland after all) and, around me, unflappable - not an easy thing I assure you. What I loved about the staff is that they were so evidently proud of their product.
I would love to write more and upload pictures, but it is late. I wanted to get something in writing while the memory is fresh. All this, even with my $50 tip, was well below $200 for two people and three courses each, coffee, beer and wine. I just hope St. John's supports them.
Well done guys...local food, from scratch cooking, family owned, creative, great staff. Can't wait to bring my wife next time!
Great review...I am an ex-St. J's-er (as much as one ever gets past St. John's...sigh) with a great number of friends left behind...I am cutting and pasting your review for their comments and to pass along.
Unfortunately this was a quick two night trip. We ate at the Fairmont Bona Vista restaurant the first night for a business meeting (the main four diamond restaruant was closed that night - a Monday - the name escapes me). It was an awful seafood buffet with a small, well prepared filet with no flavour and a decent lobster tail. Nothing I would seek out. The main restaurant sounded good, but I trust the kitchen staff is different as the buffet was really poor. For breakfast they served canned fruit in the buffet....that really tells me much about their kitchen (for that restaurant) in any event). There was a small place across from the Fairmont that my brother in law said did a god breakfast. Sorry I cannot be more helpful.
I recently at at Bacalao as well and it was wonderful. Had the caribou salad as an app. and it was cooked to perfection (very rare, so it wasn't too tough or gamey). My dining partner had cod tongues to start, and they were very good as well. I love how they bring the traditional dishes to a whole new level.
I had the special of the day, which was lobster with a sauce made from a local ice wine, and it was fabulous. Too often in the maritimes lobster is not prepared well and served with cold potato salad. This was a great meal, and I will definitely go back next time I am in St. John's.