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Jul 16, 2013 10:39 AM

St. John's NL short food tour

My business was going to either send me to Calgary or St. John's for a client meeting and I was hoping for Calgary originally. When I found out it was St.John's, I was quickly heading to review sites to find places to eat. I was first expecting everything rustic, battered, and bar food but boy! I was wrong. I will say that St.John's was a great place to visit... it is rustic but it's a majestic rustic beauty and the people are ridiculously friendly and helpful. It's almost disarming how pleasant most (if not all) wait staff were interacting with you. As for the food, there are some seriously good food here... hidden gems I would say! I didn't get to try as much as I wanted but I do want to say thanks to previous CHers for posting suggestions on this board.

My first day arriving I really want to experience the 'true Newfoundland' cuisine. I knew fish and chips is a must on the trip but I wanted to try other local specialties. I was told of Bacalao and after making reservations, I'm so glad I went here.

Bacalao is a restaurant within a house that is just slightly north of the downtown core area. It's a bit unassuming from the outside but this restaurant is a true gem. Everything from the friendly and highly informed service to the presentation and food quality is top. It was so hard to choose from the appetizers but the staff guided me to their 'almost famous' seafood chowder or the cod tongue salad. Ultimately I chose the cod tongue salad as I doubt I'd find this anywhere else. The mains were also hard to choose as most of them sounded great. They had moose meat (local game) in addition to lots of great fresh local seafood. I was highly recommended the pan seared halibut with grilled polenta, garlic scapes pesto, and seasonal vegetables.

The food was amazing... the cod tongue was succulent (not chewy) and it has a wonderful crisp coating. It wasn't heavy or oily. It had the texture of steamed fish cheeks of a white fish. It was also perfectly seasoned. The salad underneath was nicely dressed and had some fresh local vegetables. The halibut was a large perfectly seared piece that had a moist interior and a crispy exterior. I now understand what 'fresh' really means! The polenta was a nice compliment and so was the pesto. The fish really didn't need anything as it was so flavourful but the pesto just gilded the lily.

Throughout this dining experience, I thought the service was phenomenal. It was friendly without being overbearing and it was personable without being intrusive. They were so well informed on every dish. I really wish I had the stomach space for the desserts as they looked incredible. Next time perhaps!

Another great option in the downtown area is Rocket Bakery. I stumbled into here one early morning and I was so glad I did. Fresh coffee that is specifically roasted for this quaint bakery. There's lots of seating and I highly recommend you spend the time to look around as well. It's not just a bean and grain place... there is a wonderful lunch area that has possibly the best cod cakes I've ever had in my entire life. The size of them are 2 hockey pucks!! The salads here are so tasty... freshly made, well seasoned, and filled with real vegetables (no bland iceberg lettuce here). The lemon tart is to die for... it's the perfect balance of tart and sweet. The crust is just a wonderful buttery experience. I should have eaten far more times here but my schedule often derailed a trip here. I saw they had walnut date bread, large scones, croissants, and other wonderful chocolatey treats.

I would say stay away from Yellow Belly. Our experience here was subpar because the service was laughably bad. In addition to being ridiculously slow, the wait staff was constantly confused on who ordered which food... so we were constantly pointing to the right person or switching large plates after it was given to the wrong person. On top of this, much of the food arrived cold... not luke warm but really cold. Room temperature mussel is not a pleasant thing. Also, when we asked about desserts, we were handed the cheque and told they rant out of dessert... WELL THEN! Just poor overall.

We did end on a fairly happy note though in our dining excursion. We went to the Gypsy tea room and it's a great atmosphere. It's a bit on the pricey side for gastro pub food and not a lot of it is creative considering the price but the service and food quality was fairly good. I will say this is possibly a great place for after work drinks... environment is very nice.

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  1. Nice! I went back home in May and was very pleased with Bacalao. Completely agree with your comments on the food, decor and service. It was our first time for dinner, having gone for lunch on a previous visit. It's a must-eat place for me whenever I go back now.

    I also enjoyed Chinched Bistro (last visit) and Raymonds (previous visit 3 years ago). St. John's is really coming around with outstanding food choices. Still, sometimes a simple fish & chips will do!

    4 Replies
    1. re: cellophane_star

      I was debating what my next choices should be when I return. I was thinking Chinched, Aqua, or Basho. I'm glad to hear that Chinched might be a good choice for me next!

      I was told the best St.John's fish and chips is not in St.John's but in Petty Harbour!

      1. re: Nevy

        I also considered Aqua but didn't make it there last time. The service at Chinched was really great. The mussels we ordered were the biggest and tastiest ever!

        Everyone in Newfoundland has their own "best place" for fish & chips. My personal favourite is Dicks' on Bell Island (10 min drive + 25 min ferry from St. John's). I don't really have a favourite in St. John's - the place I always went to as a kid shut down years ago - but Ches' is the most popular. The Big R is also great and the fries at the ZIggy Peelgoods trucks are really great (no fish though).

        Just make sure you get "fries, dressing & gravy". My Calgarian husband loves it. We call it "Newfie poutine", with dressing (stuffing) in place of cheese.

        If you're thinking of Chafe's Landing in Petty Harbour, I can confirm it's not the best I've ever had. While the panfried cod I had was nice, I probably wouldn't make the drive out there again. They were also out of moose sausages :( Still, the bakeapple cheesecake was nice and it's always good to explore smaller communities outside of St. John's.

        1. re: cellophane_star

          My last meal here was at Raymond's. Though it was very good and I had one of the best tuna dishes I ever had, my final bill did give me pause. Compared to Toronto restaurants of the same calibre, Bacalao, and Chinched, I found Raymond's very good but not as good value. If I had to come here on my own, I may stick to the other two and try Black Sea, Saltwater, and Reluctant Chef instead.

          I did have the tasting menu and everything was beautifully plated. My first offering was a foursome of delicious morsels on a stunning cross section of a tree trunk! It had a rich smoked Arctic char, translucent meltingly tender beef tartare, a perfectly crisp tempura zucchini flower stuffed with a great pork rilette, and a charcuterie with fresh peach.

          The second dish was the best seared tuna I ever had. With tart citrus segments and sweet lemon 'pearl gels', the tuna slices taste and texture were phenomenal. It wasn't a fatty piece or ruby red in colour but I could have sworn it was a toro belly section because of tender texture. The taste was like the freshly caught tuna I've had in Japan and the sear did not take away from the flavour. The addition of the crunchy and bitter radicchio was a nice contrast.

          My next plate was a refreshing salad of local heirloom tomato, cherry tomato, green beans, radishes, and a great condiment called gentlemen relish. I could have scooped that onto a hunk of bread and be happy for the rest of the evening.

          Arctic char was presented next and

      2. re: cellophane_star

        I returned to St Johns and with your glowing response, I had the pleasure of going to Chinched Bistro and Raymond's this time. Both of these restaurants are worthy of the compliments.

        I wasn't sure what to expect at Chinched Bistro but I had one if the best cod dishes I ever tasted. I started with their cherry tomato mussels. It was a generous appetizer and well seasoned. The mussels were plump and perfectly cooked. We also so got the charcuterie plate and the in house accrument nearly stole the show. The maple candied almonds, apricot jam, wine braised figs, and savoury olives complimented the 3 cheeses and 3 salumi selection.

        The mains were very artistic and creative. The table ordered the steak, cod, and the special braised beef cheek with crab fritters and wild mushrooms. I ordered their cod and it was amazing. A generous thick piece of moist tender cod was wrapped in crispy potato threads and sat on top of the most vibrant tomato sauce I've had in a long time. My colleagues all said their meals were one of the best tasting plates theyve had in a long time. The beef cheek could be cut with a spoon and was really flavourful. The crab fritters had a fantastic crispy crust that surrounded a soft crab filled centre. The steak was very generous and perfectly seared.

        The dessert was one of my trip highlights. I ordered the poached meringue on top of a blueberry compote and lemon curd. I was blown away by how the berry flavour was showcased. It was one of the most intense berry flavour I ever had and we were told the berries were picked off the south shore. It wasnt sugary sweet... Just intensely fruity and the bold citrus curd was a great partner to the natural berry sweetness. The meringue was a lovely creamy texture.

        As a parting gift, we were given generous dark chocolate bark pieces with natural Newfoundland sea salt to send us off. The service was a perfect blend of professional service and St John's friendly demeanour. I will come back here... Between Bacalao and Clinched, traditional local plates are creatively updated and interpreted.