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Halifax, days 1-6

2009-04-26 , ,

I’m here for work but I’ve been exploring the city on foot when I have time and the weather permits. Speaking of the local weather, it’s been glorious, unseasonably warm and only a little rain. I take a few snapshots with my “monkey box” one-button digital camera when I remember to bring it, see my Halifax pics.

The best free street map is from the Metro-Transit authority. Links to the pdf of the front and back. Google maps does a serviceable job with its beta of walking directions too. I haven’t bothered to take the bus and find the city fairly walkable.

The food. I don’t have contacts or colleagues here, so I’ve been making the rounds of the nearby restaurants and dining with my dead-tree companions. Very little surprise but other than the pubs, many restaurants are closed on Sunday, at least during the off-season. Here’s what I’ve sampled:

  • Star Anise, Vietnamese. Very good, especially considering the reasonable prices. Seems to cater to a lunch crowd, it was nearly empty when I went in. The interior of formica tables and a mix of wooden dining chairs and metal outdoor chairs looks like the owners acquired the place as a fast-food joint. The shrimp soup dumplings in savory broth were very good. The vermicelli with pork and a spring roll was good, the spring roll was very good, the pork cooked a little too dry and the bright fresh flavors I expected a little dim. I’ll go back this week.
  • Minato, Korean Japanese. Okay, good food, inexpensive, poor service. I was over by Spring Garden Road considering options and reading the menu for Sushi Nami when two collegiate-looking types also trying to make up their minds about dinner walked by. One remarked that he’s been there a few times and the food was okay but expensive and there is better. I interrupted them and asked for a recommendation and he sent me to Minato. It was busy and while I counted three wait staff, they could barely keep up with the two small floors of tables. The sushi and sashimi was delicious, the miso soup and salad just fair. The service was awful, so bad I’m reluctant to go back and try the Korean dishes.
  • Foggy Goggle. Hey, it’s a pub. The name is fun to say and they have some kind of minimal attempt at an aviator theme that’s sort of layered over by the usual pub bric-a-brac. I chose it because they hadn’t cleared out the bar stools and chairs to make room for a mid-week college-age standing room only drinking crowd (like Pogue Fado did, I was also put off by the presence of three imposing bouncers outside and another inside and didn’t stay to have a drink. I’m too old for that) and there was enough light to read my magazine. They have a limited draft beer selection but the pub burger is a treat and the wait staff is attentive.
  • Just Us Coffee. Just okay. I ducked in for a snack and a cup of joe in lieu of a late lunch on Saturday. The “dark” coffee was a weak brew, not as good as Second Cup, better than Tim Hortons. The carrot cake was adequate, not too sweet but a little dry. The place was a carnival of employees and their friends and the table by the window has a good view of the passers-by on Barrington St. I’m guessing they make it on their location and politics.
  • Stone Street Cafe. Very good, expensive. It was raining so I tried dinner in the restaurant underneath the hotel. It was completely empty other than myself and the waitstaff. The chef came out during my meal to chat, which was a bit of a surprise when I looked up from my magazine and saw him smiling and leaning over toward the table. The local bread and cardamon butter was a treat. The grilled chicken and mushroom soup I began with was very good. The entree of pappardelle was perfectly al dente, the local seafood and salmon, just done, the tomato cream sauce, good but there was a bit too much of it for my taste and hid the flavors of the seafood. I enjoyed the pistachio creme brulee but it was, really, unexceptional.
  • Opa. Upscale Greek place at Argyle and Blowers. Very busy, several large parties were already seated when I came in before 7pm. It had a good vibe. The bar staff was very attentive. The wait staff, just so-so. I was slightly annoyed that they were reserving the nearly empty patio for groups of three or more and left me at the bar to eat. The food was okay, a little above a New Jersey Greek diner (not much) but more attractively plated. It’s a big cut above the donair (gyro) joints but unless you’re with a sizable group sharing plates or impressed with the wine list and chewing up the atmosphere, it’s really just okay.
  • Farmer’s Market on Lower Water Street, Saturday until mid-day. It’s what you expect, an indoor farmer’s market with tasty local foods and regional products. I wish I had a kitchen, so I could have tried the meats and veggies. It all looked good, reminded me of the one we had in Brooklyn. Because I’m travelling internationally with just carry-on bags, I also didn’t buy any of the non- or less-perishable foodstuffs to bring home besides some sweets.

The citadel is the old colonial barracks and fortification. It’s on the highest point in the area then dug in (or built up, I’m not sure) about thirty feet deep. The museum wasn’t open, but I walked around it then through the open grounds and along the pallisade wall. Great view of the city in every direction and at 12 noon each day they fire off a signal cannon.

I strolled the boardwalk on my way to the farmer’s market and Maritime Museum. The docks have a mix of tourist and working ships. In the shallowest parts of the murky green water you can see sea urchins, mussels and (I wish Nate was here) orangish and pink-tinged starfish. There’s no way to get closer, short of falling in, and I couldn’t get any pictures. The Maritime Museum is compact and I spent a couple of hours there. Merlin, a parrot, greets you when you enter (thank Robert Louis Stevenson for that association of bird with pirate) and delighted the kids by talking and whistling. The collection has an astounding number of models, some 520 according to their literature, and present short films on the Halifax explosion (in 1917 a French munitions ship collided with a merchant ship, burned and exploded, devastating the city) and the wreck of the Titanic. Aside from that famous one, the museum has an interesting exhibit on shipwrecks and salvage and notes that there are anywhere from 10,000 to 25,000 ship wrecks around Halifax and the Maritimes since its colonial founding.

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