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Home and the range 

If 2005 was the Year of Bad Service then 2006 might very well be the Year of Eating In. Continuing poor service will be just one of several factors leading to a decline in restaurant attendance this year; television chefs and food and equipment availability are also encouraging kitchen divas to be more adventurous and eager to flex their cooking muscles for their friends.

The proliferation of tube chefs are offering insight into how to cook for impact in both flavour and presentation. Now that you know the techniques, you can find the ingredients—there’sno need for special orders from urban suppliers, the local supermarkets have wide range of exotic, previously hard-to-find foodstuffs. You can even recreate the look without haunting restaurant supply stores for the dramatic dinnerware and clean white plates that are so favoured in top restaurants; now you can pick up resto-style dishes everywhere from Winners to Bowring to Sears, along with elegant flatware and table linen.

When SuperCitizens do go out, they’ll be heading to neighbourhood bistros like Milano’s and Vivo (if Vivo improves the food quality); we’ll be less likely to stray far from our nests as we return to “cocooning,” with home theatre systems, home cooking and entertaining at home enjoying a resurgence of popularity. If you’re considering opening a restaurant in 2006, give yourself a competitive edge in a cutthroat business by planting your eatery in a neighbourhood with the means to eat out; design a menu of comfort food with a twist (see the splendid jane’s on the common menu and you’ll know exactly what I mean), throw in a consistent, top-notch kitchen, great service and make it a bring-your-own-bottle. You’ll routinely fill every seat and be around to toast 2007, too.

And why make it a bring-your-own-bottle restaurant? Because just as with food, good and interesting wines are becoming easier to find. Our wine awareness is growing, and we know you don’t have to spend a fortune on a snooty French vintage to have a good bottle. We’re becoming more confident in making our own choices and not relying on clever marketing (Wolf Blass, anyone?) or just the NSLC listings for our wine. With any luck, “splits” (half-bottles) will become more prevalent, and we can enjoy a glass with supper without feeling as though the whole bottle will go to waste. The local wines that deserve respect will finally get it this year, as we help vintners celebrate their successes.

Thankfully, our somewhat small-town mentality when it comes to food means that trends such as the ridiculous raw-food craze come and go without really catching a fork-hold; unfortunately, this means that some great ways of eating don’t catch on as quickly as they should (tapas).

And what about fish, a restaurant staple in a port city? Dwindling natural reserves will cause popular choices like halibut to go the way of cod (almost unheard of) or salmon (almost completely farmed), and chefs will look to other fish to fill our seafood-loving bellies. Lesser-known catches like monkfish and skate may take the forefront, although the hot topic of fisheries conservation means that depending on which report you read and which ecology group you put your faith in, all species are in some danger. In any case, we will see declining fish stocks continue to make an impact on local restaurants, whether through increasing prices or decreasing availability.

Here’s to a year of hoping I’m right about the wine, wrong about the fish and that 2006 will bring a return of good service.

Let’s hope 2006 brings good service in all aspects of life. find Liz Feltham online at www.foodcritic.ca

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