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European delight 

A taste of the old country finds its way to the Hydrostone at Little Europe.

Tucked into Halifax's own little Europe, the Hydrostone Market, the restaurant Little Europe does its best to give you a continental experience. It's a small space, warm and dusky with a faux-finish cobblestone floor that gives the dining room the air of a sidewalk cafe in Portofino or Madrid. A large chandelier looms above with heavy wooden rafters and a fake roof that slopes into a wall full of windows where we can peer out into the hallway canal and its Venetian mural.

The menu focuses on southern European food, with dishes that the decor hints at---dishes that take their inspiration from France, Spain and the Italian and Balkan peninsulas. Our server is gregarious and funny, quick to attend to all of our needs without being a nuisance.

We start with the antipasto ($12.95). I then opt for the grilled halibut steak ($18.95) and a glass of Caposaldo Pinot Grigio ($7), the sole Italian white on the beverage menu. (A menu that has a surprising lack of old world wines, considering the theme.) My friend chooses the Roma pasta ($13.95) as an entree.

A pretty plate with crostini, ham, salami, grilled vegetables, olives, hummus and cheeses arrives soon after we order. The blackened emerald green of two grilled asparagus stalks perched on top is the first thing to catch our eyes. They are wrapped in crispy, melting prosciutto. The hummus hums with spice, playing beautifully off mild, creamy feta and salty meats. The vegetables are tender and delicious. It's a great plate for sharing.

The halibut has a rich char to it, ashy flavours dominating the clean, mild fish. It's well-seasoned and quite tasty, but overcooked, and there is still a pesky handful of bones hidden in the steak, making it a little precarious to pick through.

The risotto is gently tart, with only the slightest hint of dill. It tastes quite good with the creamy pepper sauce. A few chunks of red and yellow pepper, perfectly cooked---tender, but still crispy---bring a fresh pop of sweetness that cuts through the creaminess. Two spears of asparagus also brighten up the plate, but they are just a touch undercooked for my taste.

The Caposaldo has been a really nice pairing. Bright and citrusy, it pairs very nicely with the halibut and sweet peppers, and its crispness also made for a lovely counterpoint to the feta on the antipasto plate, making it the highlight of my meal.

The Roma pasta is a generous serving of orecchiette, tossed in a velvety, mellow pesto. Eggplant, artichokes and tomatoes round out the dish. The pasta is cooked just a little past al dente, neither too hard nor too soft. The pesto was added with a gentle touch, subtle enough to let the mild vegetables really shine.

For dessert we decide to share tiramisu and ekmek kataifi. A Turkish and Greek dessert, ekmek kataifi is a dish of syrupy shredded phyllo dough topped with a rich, satiny custard, lemon curd and fresh whipped cream. Almonds dot the top of the sweet, frothy square. It's pillowy and creamy, decadent and delicious.

Ladyfingers soaked in a mixture of espresso and liqueurs are tucked into a small ramekin, circling a little mound of whipped mascarpone custard, topped with cocoa. The ladyfingers are moist, and increasingly boozy as you get to the bottom of the bowl. The custard is light and sweetly frothy. It's a nice way to end the meal.

Walking back into the chilly Halifax air feels like ending a little European vacation. I just might have to book another trip.

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