Restaurant Review: La Frasca on Spring Garden Road

La Frasca is the kind of the restaurant that ruins eating, because nothing else will ever taste good again by comparison. Each dish is so delicious and thoughtful that it makes you want to sell your house and rent an apartment across the street with nothing but a treadmill in it to work off all the food you’ll now eat, exclusively from there. It’s the kind of restaurant that your friends and family will stop calling you regularly over because “all Rebecca talks about is those damn risotto balls”, and good riddance am I right?

I’ve been to this restaurant a couple of times now and haven’t been able to review it because each time I finish eating I sit like Drake at the end of Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda video and have to contemplate my whole way of living because I just experienced something too rich for mortal consumption. Maybe it’s a compliment or a terrible attestation to the quality of food that I consume on the regular. I like to think I’m fairly sensible and eat healthy, I like straightforward foods and fresh vegetables and appreciate home-cooked goods. But I brought my brother to La Frasca over the weekend with a friend and after I ordered the vegetable fettuccine, I said, “Look here boy. You tell me what you see in this dish, taste it, get real intimate with it, learn how it works. What makes it tick. And learn how to recreate this dish at home for me. Because I’m a broke-ass student and can’t afford to spend my rent money here anymore.”

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We have yet to perfect anything like that fettuccine.

But the first time I went to La Frasca, I had just eaten a wedge of lasagna from Pete’s because I was waiting for my friend to get off work and didn’t expect to be eating any dinner anytime soon. So my stomach was pretty comfortably full and I was feeling satisfied with my Italian-adjacent experience. But he was starved and we walked past La Frasca – I didn’t actually know where we were until I was inside, the place is so dark and foreboding from the outside that I assumed it was a dark pub. But walking in the door, it was like we were suddenly in a cool european eatery, maybe something in London like that one restaurant in a cellar I saw on Pinterest. I was far too uncouth in my jeans and tank top to be hanging out here. This is the kind of restaurant where hot people eat. The kind of people that know a lot of cocktails off the top of the head and have opinions about wine pairings. The kind of people who go to the gym before work and have scheduled lunch dates with their friends that they keep organized on an Apple watch. I was already out of my depth.

Suddenly, one of these attractive people was coming up to talk to us. He asked where we wanted to sit, and we meekly indicated into the dining room. We were sat down, given waters, and left with a giant menu of delicacies that took a long, long time to decipher. I was looking for vegetarian options, my friend wanted seafood. But, remember, I ate that (now clearly mediocre) lasagna, so I picked the Arancini balls, thinking it was a lighter option. He had a seafood risotto. I can’t comment on how his risotto was, but the second time we went he ordered the same thing again without even contemplating the idea.

They were so majestic in person that this photo is almost embarrassing.
They were so majestic in person that this photo is almost embarrassing.

So, the arancini balls. The menu describes them as “smoked cherry tomato rice croquettes, fresh mozzarella centre, golden fried, tomato & basil sauce”. What I received was three balls of cheese-filled ambrosia in a sauce that I can only presume was made from a reduction of wine aged in the cellars of Dionysos himself. I took a bite and looked at my friend and said, “dear god, I will be back to this conversation when I am done eating. No words. Mmhmhmkmghfphh–” (That’s the sound of me eating like the Cookie Monster.)

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The second dish I’ve had there was the fettuccine. I wanted the arancini again but thought for the sake of diversity and a full stomach I ought to branch out a little more, plus I was planning on going to Cheers that night and still had a stop at the liquor store to make – my budget cried salty parmesan tears asking me to only pick one thing from the menu to eat. So the fettuccine it was. Here’s how it’s described: “olive oil, smoked tomatoes, fresh asparagus, artichokes, summer peas, parmigiano, basil pesto, fresh ricotta”. Can I get a hell yeah? HELL YEAH!

So this plate arrives and at first I was like, this is not enough food. I could eat two plates of this. But I underestimated how hearty it was. After taking enough photos (yes I am one of those people in restaurants, deal with it) I tucked in, ate the first mouthful, and decided I needed to spread the good word before finishing this meal. “This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten,” I told my dining partners. They nodded from where they were going through their own religious experiences. “No, you don’t understand,” I told them, urging them to look up from their plates. I wasn’t successful. “This food is god’s work,” I told the restaurant at large, and went back into the fray.

I'm not going to apologize for my bad camera again, but, uh, yeah.
I’m not going to apologize for my bad camera again, but, uh, yeah.

I was the last one to finish eating. I presume it was because I kept being grateful after every bite. Thorough gratitude like that takes time. We eventually settled up and left, returning to the mean streets of Halifax. My stomach told me I wanted a nap. My brain told me I needed to take up jogging for my health.

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So what did we learn from this adventure in fine dining? I sit here on a Monday night in sweatpants watching Voyage of the Unicorn with a cup of tea. This no longer seems acceptable. Eating at La Frasca has reminded me of the dream life I live via Pinterest boards and study abroad programs. It’s a little taste of luxury that reminds me why I work hard and have spent all these years in grad school. I see you rolling your eyes from across the internet – yes, this is a pretty dorky sentiment after a plate of noodles and some fried rice balls. I don’t care. Go there and order something and you’ll see. YOU’LL ALL SEE!!!

To join my legion of forever-food-ruined patrons of this most excellent establishment, go visit La Frasca at 5650 Spring Garden Road in Halifax. Closed Sundays, don’t let yourself be disappointed. Go forth and feast, friends.

June’s Food Truck Rally

Here I was, thinking I had already shared my photos and tales from the Halifax Food Truck Party. I supposed I had only tweeted about it on the day of the event. Well, let me tell you, I discovered something about myself, something perhaps I would be better off not knowing.

It’s that I really, really like the food that comes out of food trucks.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the fact is that I’m a picky eater and vegetarian so I presumed there wouldn’t be a lot to entice me. But a mysterious thing happened…after standing in line for half an hour in the blistering sun, fighting the hoards to get my share, I was no longer a picky eater. I ate things I never would have chosen in other circumstances. This, my friends, is a rare event.

There’s actually another food truck event I’m participating in next weekend, so I wasn’t in a rush to try every vendor. I got a vegetarian taco from The Edible Sideshow, which featured refried beans, some sort of avocado sauce, red cabbage, onions, feta, and a few other things mixed in. Not a food I normally would pick as I’m a very messy eater, but I saw them in the crowd being devoured and knew I had to have one.

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Then I had half of two grilled cheeses from the Halifax Press – one was a traditional with three kinds of cheese, very smokey, excellent garlic bread from Julien’s bakery. The second was cheese with sliced red onions and shaved asparagus, served with a balsamic dip. The vinegar took it to unreal proportions, and I had never thought of shaving asparagus before. That’s one I will definitely try and replicate on my own.

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Rounding this out, I had a cup of Mac and cheese from the Kitchen Door Catering Company, which halfway through I regretted purchasing only because it was so rich and I was getting very full. Bro had the same but with pulled pork on his, which he seemed to enjoy.

We finished the day with fresh squeezed lemonades, mine flavoured with cucumber and orange blossoms. It tasted like a spa and made me feel better about the amount of cheese I ate over the course of the event.

There was admission by donation at the natural history museum, outside of which the event was being held, so we took a stroll through. The whole thing was well put together, great energy, and a really friendly crowd. There’s another day organized by The Coast again next month which we may attend – I think it’s during pride week, so I’ll be in the city quite a lot as is. Now I can only count the days until the rally next weekend! Can’t wait to try out the new vendors.

Unreasonably Good Pizza

I seem to have a backlog of restaurant reviews I’ve been wanting to share with you all. The problem might be that I go out to eat too often, but I digress. I was out with my brother in Halifax the other day, and after he had a job interview we went to Salvatore’s Pizzaiolo Trattoria in the Hydrostone area for some pizza. He had been there before, but i hadn’t since the space was occupied by Little Italy, which was our favourite place for pasta.

Since sharing my glee over what I ate at Salvatore’s over social media I’ve quickly come to find that it’s no secret how amazing their pizzas are. I had friends from other provinces sharing their excitement at my visit to this place, telling me what they had eaten when they made trips into Hali. But enough about that, you want to see some food photos, right? In true my-fashion I only had my phone’s camera, but I think the results are pretty illustrative.

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On the left you see my pizza, a slice already missing. I ordered the Bianco in Stephano, a white pizza with mozzarella, ricotta, parmesan, romano, onions, fresh tomato (I mean really, really fresh) and herbs with lemon. On the right is my brother’s, The Pomodoro, with sundried tomatoes, black olives, garlic, and feta. I didn’t happen to sample his but it got great reviews. I’m rather fussy when it comes to pizza crusts and mine was very good, apparently this was the thin crust though I can’t imagine wanting anything thicker – apparently the regular crust is even higher and I’m not sure I would love it. As it was, the toppings were fantastic and I didn’t really realize how many cheeses there were until now. Great flavours, ingredient quality was excellent. Some of the freshest tasting tomatoes I’ve ever had on a pizza or in any restaurant dish, for that matter. They had basil plants growing in the front window of the restaurant so I can only wonder if there were tomatoes growing somewhere too. But I digress, this was a most excellent pie. I saved some of it to take home and ended up eating it for dinner, wishing there was more.

I’d be quite happy to go back for another option on their menu sometime, as most of the combinations are vegetarian (!!!) and the restaurant space is so much brighter since they combined the two shop spaces into one (Little Italy was quite dark, I recall, there was also a big curtain wall? Can’t quite remember). The staff were all so nice and seemed genuinely happy to be there. They mustered more pleasant enthusiasm than I ever have in my years of customer service. Not a high bar, I realize, but I truly mean this as a compliment. All involved in this restaurant should be proud of the business they’ve created, it’s really something special.

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Baked Vegetable Spring Rolls Recipe

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I love spring rolls, but I’m not ashamed to admit I am picky about them – I’m picky about most foods, so that shouldn’t come as a surprise. This recipe had to meet three criteria for me: all vegetables I liked, baked and not fried, and flavourful enough that I didn’t have to use a dipping sauce. You certainly could still use a sauce, but I prefer to add it to the filling. Clearly this is not a particularly traditional recipe.

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As for the filling, I used primarily what I had on hand. Bok choy, diced asparagus, grated carrot, and lentil sprouts made up my filling of choice. I didn’t have mung bean sprouts as might be more traditional. My lentil sprouts were ready this morning so I tossed them in…and they are crunchy and nice in a spring roll!

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Ingredients

Makes enough to fill about 8 or 9 spring rolls

1/2 onion
ginger
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup sprouts (or more, depending on size of your sprouts)
1 bok choy
1 carrot, peeled
2 stalks asparagus
spring roll sheets (premade, if you make your own then congrats!)
little corn starch

Sauce

3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1/2 tbsp sake
1 tsp brown sugar
dash paprika
dash sesame oil

1.  Dice all the veggies into small pieces. Grate the carrot, set these aside.

2. Dice the onion, garlic, and ginger. Sauté the onion (I used coconut oil, but olive or other would be fine). When the onion is soft and starting to brown throw in the garlic and ginger. Let soften up then dump in all the other veggies. If they are all roughly even sizes they can all cook together.

3. When the veggies are almost cooked (about 4-5 minutes), mix together the ingredients for the sauce. If you want to include the sauce in the filling then pour it on now. Alternatively you could save it for dipping, or make about half as much sauce for the filling and use a different dipping sauce of your choice.

4. Let the filling simmer with the sauce on until it reduces. You don’t want the filling to be very wet, so let it sit on a low heat until it mostly absorbs. Then transfer the filling to a bowl or plate and let it cool, as long as you can be patient.

5. Separate your spring roll sheets and mix together a little bowl of water and corn starch. Spoon about two spoonfuls into the wrapper – don’t overfill it! If you’re not sure how to then fold the wrapper, check the back of the package for instructions. You need to fold the bottom up, then the two sides in, then roll up the top. Seal the top flap with the cornstarch/water combo.

6. To bake, set the oven on 375. Put parchment paper on a baking tray, then use a spray cooking oil on the parchment. Lay the spring rolls evenly on the tray, and spray the top with cooking oil (if you don’t trust whatever spray you’re using to be tasty then just brush with some oil). Cook for 10 minutes, flip, then another 7-10 minutes until browned to your liking.

That’s it! Hope you give this a try. I ate a few of these and put the rest in the fridge for leftovers. I’m happy with the result!

Heartwood Restaurant with my brother! (Vegetarian, Halifax NS)

Last week I accompanied my brother on his job hunt in the city and when we had had enough of that, I suggested we go to this restaurant that was not too far from his apartment. I had read about it on another blog and since I no longer live nearby St John’s Sprout restaurant, I was keen to get another veggie catering locale under my belt. IMG_2643

Heartwood is located in the middle of Quinpool, so we parked behind the grocery store across the street and walked over (thankful for this nice weather finally!) Bro had never heard of this place but that’s not surprising. He’s happy to go along with vegetarian restaurants but is the furthest from a vegetarian you could be. Anyhow, we found the place easily and it wasn’t particularly busy, which was nice – I think we were there mid-afternoon on a Thursday. We weren’t super hungry but needed a snack so we took a very long time looking over the menu, as one does when you’re allowed to eat everything as opposed to 1 or 2 veggie options.

We got the Heartwood bowl to split, which is much like what you’d expect from a veggie bowl. Rice, greens, veggies and tofu, with a choice of sauces. Bro picked the spicy peanut sauce which I never would have chosen, but it was pretty tasty. I have a slight aversion to peanut sauces after eating way too much African Peanut Soup one time, but that’s no comment on the quality. I think the tomato sauce would have been really good as well.

I had a Propeller root beer also, which was awesome. Not new for me to try but it had been ages. When the drinks were brought out the water came in mason jars, to which my brother gave me a very pointed look – “See?? It’s that kind of place!!” But we both had a nice time nonetheless. He cleaned his plate which is a pretty high compliment for a non-vegetarian who wasn’t even that hungry.

And as a sad addendum which speaks to the quality of produce I was enduring while living in Newfoundland, the broccoli that came with our bowl was so beautiful. It was literally the most lovely green I had seen as long as I could remember. I felt almost bad eating it because it looked so healthy and fresh. Almost.

I’m looking forward to going back and trying some more things from the menu when I have a bigger appetite. The location was really convenient to the places I usually go when in the city, so I can see myself dragging friends and family there on future occasions. In case you’re interested, check out their website here: http://www.iloveheartwood.ca

(And a note to self: bring your damn camera with you, iPhone photos are terrible!)

Mail-Order Groats

As it is really hard to find unique food items here in St John’s, I recently ordered a bag of buckwheat groats (also known as Sarrasin, I discovered, which is a much prettier name). They came in the mail yesterday and I am really pleased with them so far! I’ve used buckwheat flour many, many times, particularly for pancakes and soba noodles, but I had only seen the unprocessed kernels of the plant online.

First I have to tell you that they are adorable. As a “pseudocereal” the buckwheat plant is not actually related to wheat, and is safe for gluten free Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 4.36.48 PMdiets. The groats are really popular in Eastern Europe and Asia, but not so much here in Canada outside of specialty diets. The kernels are little triangular pyramid-shapes, and are crunchy and nice to eat on their own.

I haven’t tried incorporating the groats into any recipes yet so I am looking forward to doing that this weekend. I hear they make a nice addition in granola, in baking, and as a sort of cereal. I’ll have to report back my findings!

This particular bag, from Eden Organic, cost a little over $5 Canadian, and shipped free from Amazon. It took about a week to get here. As the kernels are quite small I think this sized bag is a pretty good deal for the price.

Vegan Tomato Rice Bowl (also gluten free!)

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Today I’m sharing a recipe that I created after eating something similar at a museum restaurant one time. My version is vegan incidentally, so you could certainly add cheese or something if you thought that would suit your tastes better. It’s gluten free as it uses rice instead of a grain, what a nice bonus!

Ingredients

1 cup cooked rice (depending on how many servings you want to make. I use a cup per serving)
1 clove garlic
1/3 cup diced onion
olive oil for sautéing
1/2 cup tomato sauce (I like a more savoury and thicker sauce for this)
1/2 cup broccoli
1/2 cup sugar snap peas
handful of sprouts (optional)
handful of spinach
balsamic vinegar
avocado

1. Cook the rice if not done already. I throw the veggies in on top when it’s almost cooked to steam. Otherwise just steam the broccoli and peas on the stove or in the microwave, whatever’s easier.

2. Sauté the onions in olive oil. Add the garlic. When both are pleasantly soft add in the rice and the steamed veggies. Pour the tomato sauce on overtop and let it sit on a low heat.

3. Line the bottom of your serving bowl with spinach. Scoop the rice onto the leaves (this lets them get soft without becoming soggy). Top with sprouts and sliced avocado, if you want. Drizzle a little balsamic over the whole thing.

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And that’s it! This is a meal I eat a lot when I’m craving pasta but know that I’d just have noodles and tomato sauce with a ton of cheese. This is much tastier, and I don’t find it needs any additional salt but you can modify it to your own tastes. If you aren’t going to make it vegan, I’d substitute parmesan cheese for the avocado and try a rosé sauce.

Let me know if you give this a try! I think it’s open to lots of variations depending on what vegetables or kinds of rice you use!