My business was going to either send me to Calgary or St. John's for a client meeting and I was hoping for Calgary originally. When I found out it was St.John's, I was quickly heading to review sites to find places to eat. I was first expecting everything rustic, battered, and bar food but boy! I was wrong. I will say that St.John's was a great place to visit... it is rustic but it's a majestic rustic beauty and the people are ridiculously friendly and helpful. It's almost disarming how pleasant most (if not all) wait staff were interacting with you. As for the food, there are some seriously good food here... hidden gems I would say! I didn't get to try as much as I wanted but I do want to say thanks to previous CHers for posting suggestions on this board.
My first day arriving I really want to experience the 'true Newfoundland' cuisine. I knew fish and chips is a must on the trip but I wanted to try other local specialties. I was told of Bacalao and after making reservations, I'm so glad I went here.
Bacalao is a restaurant within a house that is just slightly north of the downtown core area. It's a bit unassuming from the outside but this restaurant is a true gem. Everything from the friendly and highly informed service to the presentation and food quality is top. It was so hard to choose from the appetizers but the staff guided me to their 'almost famous' seafood chowder or the cod tongue salad. Ultimately I chose the cod tongue salad as I doubt I'd find this anywhere else. The mains were also hard to choose as most of them sounded great. They had moose meat (local game) in addition to lots of great fresh local seafood. I was highly recommended the pan seared halibut with grilled polenta, garlic scapes pesto, and seasonal vegetables.
The food was amazing... the cod tongue was succulent (not chewy) and it has a wonderful crisp coating. It wasn't heavy or oily. It had the texture of steamed fish cheeks of a white fish. It was also perfectly seasoned. The salad underneath was nicely dressed and had some fresh local vegetables. The halibut was a large perfectly seared piece that had a moist interior and a crispy exterior. I now understand what 'fresh' really means! The polenta was a nice compliment and so was the pesto. The fish really didn't need anything as it was so flavourful but the pesto just gilded the lily.
Throughout this dining experience, I thought the service was phenomenal. It was friendly without being overbearing and it was personable without being intrusive. They were so well informed on every dish. I really wish I had the stomach space for the desserts as they looked incredible. Next time perhaps!
Another great option in the downtown area is Rocket Bakery. I stumbled into here one early morning and I was so glad I did. Fresh coffee that is specifically roasted for this quaint bakery. There's lots of seating and I highly recommend you spend the time to look around as well. It's not just a bean and grain place... there is a wonderful lunch area that has possibly the best cod cakes I've ever had in my entire life. The size of them are 2 hockey pucks!! The salads here are so tasty... freshly made, well seasoned, and filled with real vegetables (no bland iceberg lettuce here). The lemon tart is to die for... it's the perfect balance of tart and sweet. The crust is just a wonderful buttery experience. I should have eaten far more times here but my schedule often derailed a trip here. I saw they had walnut date bread, large scones, croissants, and other wonderful chocolatey treats.
I would say stay away from Yellow Belly. Our experience here was subpar because the service was laughably bad. In addition to being ridiculously slow, the wait staff was constantly confused on who ordered which food... so we were constantly pointing to the right person or switching large plates after it was given to the wrong person. On top of this, much of the food arrived cold... not luke warm but really cold. Room temperature mussel is not a pleasant thing. Also, when we asked about desserts, we were handed the cheque and told they rant out of dessert... WELL THEN! Just poor overall.
We did end on a fairly happy note though in our dining excursion. We went to the Gypsy tea room and it's a great atmosphere. It's a bit on the pricey side for gastro pub food and not a lot of it is creative considering the price but the service and food quality was fairly good. I will say this is possibly a great place for after work drinks... environment is very nice.
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