A fresh Fiasco

Five years after her first visit, Liz Feltham is left with a very different impression of Fiasco.

Don’t be shellfish Melt-in-your-mouth scallops, so good you might not want to share.
photo Rob Fournier

I first reviewed Fiasco in September of 2001, not long after it opened. Until I reread the article (“Something of a Fiasco”), I couldn’t really remember much about it, other than I wouldn’t go out of my way to revisit—until now. Since Fiasco is one of a few local chef-owned (chef Martin Keyzlar) restaurants providing high-end dining, I was interested to see what had changed in five years.

The interior is still lovely, with a rich red on the walls, black ironwork and bright art. It’s not large, but manages not to feel crowded even when the dining room begins to fill up. Low lighting and Michael Buble on the sound system round out the intimate surroundings.

A martini menu hangs from the ceiling near the bar and there’s a small but varied wine list. Ask what’s available by the glass, since only full-bottle prices are listed and the by-the-glass availability changes often, we’re told.

The menu is pretty scattershot, with no real theme but plenty of choice. We start with seafood soup ($11.95), smoked salmon ($10.95) and a warm spinach salad ($9.95). The salad is riddled with bacon and dressed in balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Our server refers to the soup as “bouillabaisse,” but it is wisely called seafood soup on the menu. The broth has none of the complexity of a real bouillabaisse. It does, however, have a well-seasoned, smooth tomato base. The soup sports one shrimp, one scallop, two small pieces of salmon and plenty of mussels—fewer mussels and more of the other shellfish would be nice. All three starters are very good, but the best is the smoked salmon. It’s stuffed with mascarpone and topped with caramelized onions, an unusual combination that works magic.

On to the main courses of pheasant ($28.95), beef tenderloin ($28.95) and scallops ($24.95). The scallops come with foie gras, but the piece of foie gras is so tiny that I wonder why they bother. There’s a side of forgettable bland rice, but happily, the scallops are seared to melt-in-your-mouth perfection.

The pheasant does not disappoint. Too often, game birds are overcooked, dry and tough. Not here: Even the very tip of the breast is moist and tasty. The beef tenderloin is excellent, fork-tender and loaded with wild mushrooms. Both come with fabulous sauces.

For desserts we opt for the cheesecake of the day, a warm bread pudding and something called Chocolate Ecstasy. At $9.50 each, they’re steep for dessert. In fact, much of the menu is expensive by Halifax standards, but I guess being located under the swish Charter House condos, Fiasco has a built-in clientele.

Chocolate Ecstasy is white chocolate mousse atop dark-chocolate ganache in a graham-crumb crust. The crust is overbaked and the dark-chocolate layer a little too dense, but it is still very good. The chocolate amaretto cheesecake is amazingly good, with an indescribably delicious taste and great texture. The bread pudding is simple comfort food, with sweet brioche, raisins and a warm rum sauce—perfect for this chilly night.

A glaring oversight is the bread. We’re brought one small slice each, and not given any more. Too bad, since the bread is wonderful and would have been great for mopping up the fantastic sauces.

The service is stellar and Fiasco certainly seems to have come into its own. The cooking has matured and is refined, the flavours are more complex. “Something of a Fiasco” has turned into “Nothing like a Fiasco.”

Fiasco1463 Brenton Street429-3499Hours:Sun: ClosedMon-Thu: 5pm-10pmSat-Sun: 5pm-11pm

More stellar service from Liz Feltham on the web: www.foodcritic.ca

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