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Game on! 

Game for wild game? Cheer for beer? Stories at the Halliburton has you covered.

"Game and ale go great together, especially this time of year."

The Halliburton's longtime chef, Scott Vail, is talking about the latest menu concept for Stories, the inn's dining room, and he's clearly pumped. The idea is a game and ale-tasting menu, a collaborative effort between Vail and innkeeper Robert Pretty.

"We've been toying with the idea for some time. We've had a tasting menu for a while, although it hasn't been advertised. It's been sort of an underground thing that regular clients ask for," says Vail. It was a natural extension to combine game with ale for a new experience. "It's a good way to showcase some of the different beers out there." Perhaps more importantly, in this competitive market, "It's keeping with our niche market of game and it's different than what other places offer. It generates a lot of excitement for guests, the kitchen brigade and the dining-room staff."

At $75 for five courses with ale pairings, the tasting menu does offer excellent value—it's a lot of food and beer. Vail has gathered an interesting assortment of beers for this menu, wanting to "show off some wonderfully made craft beers." The line-up includes Scotland's Belhaven Fruit beer, an amber ale with a sweet citrus finish, and England's Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale, brewed only with malt, hops, yeast and water. La Fin du Monde is here, the Belgian-style triple-fermented potent brew from Quebec (boasting nine percent alcohol) and local representation comes in the form of the excellent dark-brown Propeller Porter, a heavier beer with a roasted-malt flavour.

Vail describes the food as "blind tasting for the adventurous diner." There's no menu with specific items listed and while Vail plays it coy about the dishes on the menu, he does hint at what might come across diners' plates. "Caribou, red deer, bison, duck...perhaps boar...we may have game birds."

He doesn't like to be too specific since the menu will be determined by availability, especially of local products. "I'm inspired by what's brought to me by my suppliers," he says. "If the mushroom guy calls and says he has some hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and would I like some? Then that's what's on the menu that night."

And diners are more willing to try different things. A decade ago, customers might have screamed and ran from more unusual dining fare, says Vail. "But not anymore."

Even cautious diners shouldn't be too fearful of game. With most "wild game" actually being farmed (including boar, bison, rabbit and pheasant), their strong and occasionally overwhelming tastes are gone. Because of dietary differences, most farmed animals have a milder taste than their truly wild cousins.

Guests can expect the food to be presented in Vail's signature style: no radical plates or molecular gastronomy here. Presentation is clean and simple, with a focus on fresh, local ingredients, prepared well. "I go with what works for me," he says. "We have our own bag of tricks. I don't pay too much attention to what the guy up the road is doing."

The game and ale-tasting menu is scheduled to run only through November, although that may be extended into December, depending on guest response.

And if you're looking for a place to sleep off all that game and ale, the Halliburton is offering hotel packages that include the dinner and a room.

Stories at the Halliburton5184 Morris Street 444-440Nightly 5pm-10pmHotel info: 420-0658

Visit Liz Feltham’s corner of the web at foodcritic.ca.

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