GABRIEAU'S BISTRO - What a disappointment! After reading the review in "Where to Eat in Canada", I had hoped for a true fine-dining experience for my first stop on the journey. The service was unprofessional, and a couple - he in jaunty beret, she in wide-legged batik pants - left after the server wouldn't seat them at their requested table (set for four) in an otherwise almost-empty dining room. She left the room to check with the other server, who presumably was in charge of the empty table for four - but what happened to the hostess? The owner is a sommelier and a well-admired chef, but he hires the wrong staff who don't know how to behave in a fine dining establishment. The server's first words to me were, "Are you ready to order?" I was taken aback, as I expected that her first question would be about my choice of beverage or something more introductory. I asked what the chef recommended on the extensive menu, so she gave me her opinion instead. Bread arrived in a hand-carried basket, and using tongs, she placed two small slices of colder-than-room-temperature bread on my side plate. She also served me a small ramekin containing one ball of butter, positioned in such a way as to indicate it had once been part of a trio. The evidence of the other two balls was stuck to the bottom of the empty space. When I suggested perhaps I had received the wrong butter dish (since it looked used), she replied that they only serve one ball per customer, and then added that she would bring me more. When she arrived bearing the same ramekin now containing TWO balls (the original plus a new addition), I thought I would prove I wasn't fussy by complimenting the onion bread (crispy crust, soft inside, truly terrific). She replied that she would bring me more with my soup (i.e. not immediately). There were two servers in the dining room and only 4 tables in use, and this was a Friday night (Feb. 4).
The French onion soup was good - although I'm not sure how authentic FOS is made. This one was covered in molten gruyere and mozzarella over a bread layer, and the broth was mild and subtle in flavour, perhaps too subtle. The mango spritzer drink was one of many house-made fruit spritzers not advertised on the menu. (Why don't restaurants ever publish drink lists with non-wine and non-alcoholic options?) The "Tunisian vegetable cassoulet" contained green and yellow peppers, zucchini, snow peas, carrots, onion, lentils, chickpeas, black beans, raisins, dried apricots, celery, cauliflower, and mild INDIAN spices. It was served with a puff pastry "leaf" which I enjoyed. It was the cheapest main course at $12 and was pretty good for a vegetarian meal.
The server was slow to remove my empty plate and never showed up with the bill, so I paid at the cash when I went over to look at the dessert showcase. The hostess and other server discussed cleaning washrooms and the server's new loft apartment the whole time I was paying and choosing desserts. The desserts were surprisingly good and innovative, and I selected a tiny white chocolate lime truffle ($1.50) and a huge chocolate-dipped oatcake ($1.70) for take-out. Food 7.5/10; Service 5/10; Decor 8/10. I'd go back to try the cedar plank salmon, crab cakes and chocolate grand marnier souffle. The showcase included choc-covered Quebec sugar pie, vanilla panna cotta (which the hostess said was a gingerbread cake stuffed with Cool Whip and cream cheese - I sincerely hope Mark Gabrieau is not actually cooking with Cool Whip), biscotti, hazelnut-choc bomb, and other more common desserts.
SUNFLOWER NATURAL FOODS: A great selection of dry goods and bulk products, but no produce and only one very small freezer. They also sell beauty products. I've tried their dried fruits, seeds and nuts. Big selection of cereals, teas and nut butters. Fridge section includes organic yogourt, Dutch cheeses and oils. The next closest health hut is in Inverness, on the island.
AULD'S COVE LOBSTER SUPPERS (near the Causeway): This restaurant is closed in winter, but hyper John Pettipas keeps Pettipas Market open, unheated and dimly lit. I went in because the sign out front advertised rabbits and blue potatoes and I wanted to buy just one to see if it was really blue. I left after 45 minutes of hyper John talking non-stop and asking loads of questions about where I buy my groceries on the island. I managed to escape with only a Cape Breton baseball cap for $5, 4 blue potatoes and blue lips from the temperature inside. I managed to avoid taking the free "lively 4 month old rooster", a t-shirt, other cheesy souvenirs, and a 10 pound bag of blue potatoes. John insists that he has 4 Acadian chefs in the summer, and wonderful food like chowder, BBQ chicken, meat pie, fricot, baked beans, fish cakes and a 4-course lobster supper. I would go back just because he's crazy. By the way, the blue potatoes weren't blue inside, and only had a faint thin streak of purple. He's definitely a good salesman.
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