Dineout Recaps: Christmas week in Halifax

I’m back in Halifax for a record third time in a year (I don’t think I’ve done that since ’08) and this Christmas trip is the duration of the other two trips combined. Except, it’s Christmas which means besides obligation and tradition to eat family dinner at home, restaurants on this sleepy coast aren’t open on Christmas and Boxing Days for us to try out. Further, mum’s so excited to have us home she makes our favourite dishes for dinner so despite being back for 8 days, there aren’t so many opportunities to go out and eat! Therefore, I was quite particular about my list, trying to round up some must-tries that if I don’t get this round, it could be another five years before I get to it!

John’s Lunch

john's lunch dartmouthJohn’s Lunch came up in conversation when Lil Sis and I were brainstorming and trying to figure out what was missing from my list of places to try. How have I not known about this place, a dive hole-in-the-wall diner near Shearwater? Because I was superficial and would only in Halifax, that’s why.

But when I left Halifax, I discovered my love for deep-fried seafood and while I sometimes can’t tell my good seafood inland from good seafood “back home”, I’ll follow suit and hanker and seek out seafood when back in Halifax.

Lil Sis and Mum know about John’s and are surprised it eluded me (I was only a nascent “foodie” when I left Halifax) so although it was not a fancy or special meal of any sort, I kind of insisted we make a visit.

Even for a late lunch on a weekday approaching Christmas holidays, the restaurant was busy and full but the turnover is fast and we were seated in a booth within ten minutes. We ordered off the abridged menu posted over the grill: one “just clams” and one seafood platter to survey the offerings from the place. They also serve pizza, burgers and sandwiches but obviously we weren’t interested.

First off, the coleslaw is good. It’s moist and a little sweet but sour and refreshing from all the fried accompanying seafood. The seafood platter consisted of scallop, shrimp, fish and clams. The scallops were pretty good but not prize scallops, a little small and economy. The shrimp was a little worst, crunchy so it was cooked to the right degree but really meaty and dense. The fish was good but more dense than I would have liked. We surmise it was haddock and I might have wanted fattier haddock tips instead.

The clams, which mum informed me is a rarity to find whole ones, were just perfect. There is a good amount of clams on each of the platters (thank goodness the seafood platter was loaded with clams and not equally distributed amongst the four varieties of seafood) and we were happily squeezing on lemon juice and dipping the whole and hot clams in tartar sauce. I think the perfect combination for me would have been the haddock tips & clams (and coleslaw). Nix the fries, they were not very good at all.

Habaneros Modern Taco Bar

The taco place I had turned up in my “research” was Mexicana Cantina in Halifax which probably draws the university crowd. On our way to John’s Lunch, I noticed we were in the vicinity of Cheese Curds (below) and Habaneros, the latter of which Lil Sis had read about. Further reading on her part revealed that Habaneros and Cheese curds, just a few doors apart in the same plaza, are sister restaurants where Habaneros (we believe) is the younger sibling. Knowing this, we couldn’t quite justify two separate trips to the area (after the first one to John’s) nor could we patronize the owners too much …

Lil Sis thinks I fell for the “trick” wherein I saw the single taco pricing and the three-taco pricing and forgot that there is an option to buy two tacos. We were thus able to try one each of chicken fajita, pork and beef. We tried the medium salsa (red) and hot salsa (green) and their chipotle sour cream in addition to regular. It was a regular mess and our conclusions were that neither salsa was very spicy, the pork was a fatty cut and the tortillas were not great (just checked the website and indeed it was flour, not corn). Otherwise, it’s a fun spot, priced right and a good start for the city.

habaneros modern taco bar

Cheese Curds Gourmet Burgers + Poutinerie

After three tacos (which should have been just two), we walked next door to Cheese Curds. Gourmet burgers are so hot right now in Toronto and I hope it catches on in Halifax and Lil Sis is always down for a burger (except after 1.5 tacos). Still, the place is nice and chic and you can’t help getting drawn in.

I didn’t order anything too fancy, a 6 oz. Black Angus burger with cheese curds that I thought I might share with the fries and gravy I also ordered, since it is a poutinerie, too. Lil Sis ordered the toppings since I had content control with the tacos and we got special sauce, arugula, red onions and tomato slices. The cheese curds had melted to the patty so no poutine for us. The bun was nothing very unique but was good as was the thick patty that was juicy and fresh. The fries were also hand-cut and fresh with a savoury and rich gravy.

angus burger cheese curds gourmet burgers + poutinerie dartmouth

fries and gravy cheese curds gourmet burgers + poutinerie dartmouth

Henry House

It might just have been through Lil Sis that I know about Henry House and I’ve never made it there in all these years. Based on their website (currently under construction), the upstairs looks nice and bright and it is my kind of place for a meal while Lil Sis thought I was losing some of the essence not dining downstairs. Pretending to head for the washroom, I did check out the lower level and found it claustrophobic with low ceilings, practically dank and smelling of man. It’s a sad place on a Saturday afternoon for a meal but potentially better in the evening with more alcohol and some music flowing.

Upstairs was a proper and clean Canadian version of an English pub. We wake up not the least bit hungry these days so we just ordered a chowder and a pie to share. We couldn’t see the number of patrons downstairs but we had no company until later during our visit in our dining room and waited quite a bit for our food (about 25 minutes). Would you believe that my mum was the first one to pull out her phone and play with it because we had been waiting so long?!

Besides having to wait for downstairs patrons’ orders to be prepared first, our order was prepared at separate times as attested by the slightly congealing chowder, cold fries and hot pie. The chowder was rich and a good creamy consistency. It had a white fish and also salmon alongside the mussels you can see. I had my first steak and kidney pie which was well seasoned and cooked in a flaky, hand-made pastry shell.

seafood chowder henry house halifax

steak & kidney pie henry house halifax


Zen Chinese Cuisine

It seems that the only meal that our busy father can make it out to is a dim sum one and I wonder if that’s what he actually prefers. Although there’s a handful of restaurants in the Metro Halifax area that serve dim sum, mum presents me with a choice between two. A third option is not answering their phone today, potentially closed this weekend so close to Christmas. Last time, we went to one so this time, we went to the other and I was immediately just a touch disappointed. Although mum thinks Zen has more “Chinese” food, all of the patrons at the time we were there were not Chinese. That is compared to the vibrant atmosphere at the other option most of the patrons were Chinese, albeit annoying loud Chinese students it seemed.

So we feasted anyhow on twelve dishes for the four of us. One dish came extra because we accidentally accepted (and ate) a dish meant for another table and mum doubled the orders of egg tarts and rice rolls. Mum and Lil Sis really love their rice rolls! We found the beef congee was really plain but then it accompanied all of the other flavours very nicely, like the salty rice noodles and the rice rolls that had soaked up soya sauce. I liked the egg tarts that were a touch sweet but the buttery and flakey crust was what I was after.

fried seaweed wrapped shrimp zen chinese cuisine clayton park

fried rice noodle with beef zen chinese cuisine clayton park

beef congee zen chinese cuisine clayton park

rice rolls and sticky rice zen chinese cuisine clayton park

fried taro nest

egg tarts zen chinese cuisine clayton park