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Power of 10 

Chives celebrates 10 delicious years following its three basic tenets: local, seasonal and made by scratch

Fleur de sel hickory sticks top the succulent roast PEI beef. - MELISSA BUOTE
  • Fleur de sel hickory sticks top the succulent roast PEI beef.
  • Melissa Buote

Yay!" The word spills out of my mouth as soon as our server drops off Chives' unique take on a bread basket at our table. The crinkle of the brown paper bag and the sweet, bready breath of biscuits when the bag is opened is one of my favourite sensory experiences in a Halifax restaurant. The unctuous butter and bitter, burnt caramel taste of molasses with the flaky biscuits is a singularly cheery way to start a meal.

Those biscuits also define Chives. Impeccably prepared and thoughtfully presented, they are also, by nature, comforting and homey. "If I go back 10 years," says Craig Flinn, chef and proprietor, "what I saw in the dining community at that time was a big separation between fine dining and the lower-end casual, fun restaurants that Haligonians were frequenting. People were eating at two levels, and I wanted to be smack dab in the middle of it, where people might look at it as fine dining, but it would be casual and approachable, and not intimidating."

On December 4, Chives celebrates its 10th anniversary. If I go back not even 10 days, to when I last ate at the restaurant, I'd have to say that Flinn not only succeeded in 2001 when the restaurant opened---he continues to succeed today.

A sea of bright colours and gleaming wood, Chives has the easy charm of an everyday dining room, expanded to the nth degree. Our server performs his job as if he's a party host, friendly and relaxed, never obsequious or overly attentive, leaving us to our own devices to ensure we have a good time, but quick to notice when he's needed.

He is especially effusive when we order the Cajun oysters ($12), what he calls his favourite dish on the menu. A trio of fluffy gold nuggets, the fried oysters sit atop a colourful bed of milky-white coleslaw, rusty- orange sweet potato puree, and smoky-red barbecue sauce. Each bite is a balance of earthiness, creaminess and snappy tang.

Lobster crusted haddock ($28) and the striploin roast ($34) are wonderful counterpoint entrees. The haddock is beautifully cooked, succulent with the rich beurre blanc and delicately sweet, crumbly lobster breading. The roast PEI beef, cooked just shy of medium-rare, is a huge nine-ounce portion with a French onion veal jus that is a deep, sweet complement to the meat, divine with the brown-butter mashed potatoes that accompany. An uncontrived nest of fleur de sel hickory sticks adds a salty bite to the dish.

We finish our meal with the caramel creme brulee ($9), which falls a little on the too-sweet side, with the caramel combo of custard and burnt sugar. The subtle acid of a fanned pear thankfully brings a pert bit of freshness to the plate.

The food today, and every day since the restaurant opened, follows three basic tenets---it's made from scratch, it's local and it's seasonal. Flinn doesn't necessarily believe Chives to be a trail-blazing restaurant, but has noticed a shift in the restaurant community toward more approachable food and more casual settings. "Keep it light and don't take yourself too seriously," is his advice to chefs who are looking for the same kind of longevity. "It should just be about having fun, getting friends and family together and having a lovely meal.

"You always hope and assume that you'll do well---you have to have a positive frame of mind when you open a business---but the restaurant business is very challenging and a lot of ventures don't work," he says. "I'm thankful that the dining community and public have bought into the business and that they support it.

"I'm happy to still be in business," he says. I'm happy, too. In a word: "Yay!"

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