It's 7pm when I head out to meet a couple of friends at French country fare resto Bistro le Coq. I'm late, and my friends are already seated and snuggled up to some fancy drinks---the champagne cocktail of the day, with grapefruit juice ($8), and a glass of Bouvet champagne ($6).
I order a glass of bubbly for myself. As we chat, I take in the decor---sunny yellow and cream walls surround us and the rough-hewn tables evoke a rustic country charm. The china cabinet, with its pretty decorative plates reminds me of my mother's, and the amber lighting creates a similar warmth and comfort.
My champagne arrives in a beautiful, old school coupe. When our server stops by for the umpteenth time, we quit gabbing and get down to business. We order several appetizers to start, followed by some lighter mains. We choose the mussels and fries ($10), tuna tartare ($12) and duck rillettes ($9). One friend raves about the duck confit salad ($9)---which we both order, while our other friend is set on the salad niçoise ($10). Even with the knowledge that it will be far too much food, we can't ignore the side orders of brussels sprouts with bacon and the cauliflower gratin ($5 each).
Once the food orders are in, we review the wine list---it's confusing. The wines are listed by region as opposed to a more recognizable---and user-friendly---varietal list. All three of us are in the beverage industry and agree that without prior knowledge, we would be intimidated. In the end, though, we're quite happy with our champagne, so we order a bottle of Bouvet ($40).
The duck rillettes has a pâté-like consistency: smooth and creamy. Accompanied by baguette and vegetable crudités, its buttery texture is decadent. The tuna tartare is equally indulgent. Mixed with cherry tomatoes, the succulent fish is tossed in a creamy Dijon dressing and topped with peppery arugula. Deep-fried capers garnish the plate and their crisp, salty bite creates an intriguing juxtaposition with the tender fish.
The mussels and fries are fantastic and presented on a lovely platter, the shellfish surrounding the fries. The PEI mussels, steamed in white wine and cream, are tender without being chewy. The thin-cut "duck fat" fries---though not my favourite, I like mine crisp---have great flavour and are served with a truffled aioli. A few mussels in, we discover the veggie mix underneath, consisting of carrots, leeks and bacon lardons---every mouthful is luscious.
When we toss the last mussel shell, we're ready for the entrees. The duck confit salad is one of the best salads I've had in Halifax. The rich duck meat tops a bed of mixed greens, roasted hazelnuts, tangy yellow beets, sweet dried cranberries and grape tomatoes, all tossed in a blue cheese dressing. My friend's salad niçoise is equally moan-able, with the tuna served atop leafy greens, black olives and olive tapenade, tomatoes and new potatoes. The tuna's sesame seed crust is mouthwatering and oddly (yet pleasantly) reminds me of buttery popcorn.
Somehow, we manage to try the sides---although my waistline is expanding by the forkful. The brussel sprouts are delicious, but the cauliflower is disappointing; the cream sauce on top lacks seasoning and results in a pretty bland, white dish.
Though dessert menus are offered, we're all far too full to consider the options. As we pay our bills we realize that the other diners around us have come and gone, and we're happy that we took our time. Bistro le Coq has a comfortable atmosphere that encourages leisurely dining---and when the food is so good, we savour every bite.