Urban potential | Restaurant Reviews | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Urban potential

The donut seals the deal: Moda may indeed be on its way to greatness

Before the noon cannon has had a chance to greet the day with its booming yawn, I walk up the stairs to meet a friend for an early lunch at Halifax's latest bistronomique, Moda Urban Dining. Chic but casual, it's a very pretty space. The sun is shining through a bank of windows that overlook the traffic on Dresden Row, gleaming on polished hardwood floors. Colourful modern art pops on creamy walls that scale to high, airy ceilings.

The dining room is empty. I am given my choice of table---I sit in the beaming windows---and offered some ice water and a chance to peruse the menu while I wait for my friend. The world fusion menu is ambitious, with prices to match. What's missing, however, are sourcing notes that highlight the restaurant's purported attachment to the "think global, eat local" ethos, which has become trendy with food lovers willing to put their money where their mouths are, geographically speaking.

My server stops by while I'm whiling away time, to see if I'd like anything to drink or have any questions while I wait. I do: I want to know if the fish is hook-and-line caught. It turns out that the halibut is line caught and, to my surprise, the chef isn't sure about the haddock.

My friend arrives and we decide on the halibut ($18) and gourmet burger ($15). We are given quick refills of our water, and I also order the Terregaie prosecco ($8). Vibrant and fruity, it makes for a great aperitif.

The halibut is good, but not great. A tad overcooked, the mild, lean fillet is slightly dry, a sparing amount of delicate white wine, lemon and cream sauce fails to add much moistness and a lack of acidity leaves the dish flat. Firm, crispy green beans, julienned red pepper and rice with delicious South Asian spice round out the plate, making for a nice lunch that lacks wow factor.

The burger is also good, but also misses the mark in some respects. The tenderloin is finely ground---so much so the mouth feel is a little off---and the burger incredibly moist, a little bit too wet. A kicky spiciness and the combination of the sweet caramelized onions, roasted peppers and a tasty red curry aioli almost make up for the texture. A deft hand with spices also makes for a great ketchup mix, served with the salty hand-cut fries. Sweet and smoky, the secret house-recipe ketchup is great.

After clearing our table, our server gives us a once-over of the dessert menu. Our ears perk up at the mention of a gourmet coffee and doughnut ($9). Since the coffee in this case is actually cappuccino semifreddo, we decide to split it.

Through our lunch, we have both been waiting for that wide-eyed moment of giddy oh-my-godding when you eat something great, something that you know you'll want to go back for the next day, think about for the rest of the week and spend just a little bit too much time describing to people who don't really care what you ate five days ago. With this dessert, we found it.

The plate is adorable, with a warm, sugary doughnut cut in half, sitting in a skewed pile next to some deep red dots of jelly and tiny porcelain cups. Dipping our spoons through the cloudy puff of frothy milk on top, we find the ice-creamy coffee. The cold, velvety coffee richness of the semifreddo is a perfect counterpoint to crispy cinnamon sugar crunch of the warm, airy doughnut.

There is a lot of potential in both the culture and cuisine at Moda. Faults and faltering aside, there are definite hints that with a little more follow-through, this could be not just a good restaurant, but a great one.

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