I recently ate supper at both Chives and Cheelin. (scroll down to read about Cheelin)
Chives has a great atmosphere, and we were seated in the vault, so it was private and romantic. The only thing we didn't like about sitting in the vault was the high chairs and high table, rather like sitting at a bar. The servers were happy to please and they came across in a very casual way. I ordered the Chives Caesar to start, because it was supposed to come with house-pickled asparagus. After the drink was delivered without the asparagus (which they later admitted they were out of), they graciously agreed to bring me a different cocktail, so I tried the mojito with fresh mint.
For an appetizer, my boyfriend ordered the shrimp and scallop "fish 'n' chips" skewer and it was terrific. The matchstick potatoes, aioli and coleslaw were delicious and the scallops were perfectly cooked.
I ordered the balsamic braised bacon and beans, and was not impressed. The chunk of bacon was neither salty nor smoked, and the beans and sauce had almost no flavour. However, a strong taste of cloves overpowered the bacon and was not enjoyable.
For the main course, my boyfriend had the beef special, smoked and served with mashed potatoes and veggies. He ordered it "blue" but it came rare to medium-rare. It was topped with non-smoked pieces of beef, which the server guessed was beef cheek. The staff didn't seem to know if the beef special was prime rib or striploin, but it was delicious nonetheless.
I enjoyed the lamb shepherd's pie topped with truffled yukon gold potatoes. I noticed much later while touring the kitchen that the cooks drizzle truffle oil on top as well as mash it into the potatoes. The heavily reduced gravy came in a tiny pitcher so I accidentally overpowered the truffle flavour by pouring it all over the top of the pie. The side salad (greens, tomatoes, cucumber) that decorated half of the plate lacked any type of dressing and it could have used some.
For dessert, we tried the pumpkin creme brulee, which was quite decent (and much better than Bish), though a bit thinner in texture than regular creme, and the sugar was also a thinner than usual layer on top. I prefer creme brulee this way, so I was happy. The toasted pumpkin seeds on the whipped cream were savoury, and could have been improved with a little caramelization. The sugar cookie was ordinary and lacked a nice buttery flavour. We also had the fresh ginger gingerbread cake, which was pretty good, but a little dry.
We paid $120 plus tip for two including one glass of sangiovese wine and two cocktails. We asked for a tour of the kitchen and we met Darren, and we were amazed by the kitchen's tiny interior. Overall, Chives is worth a visit!
Cheelin is touted as Halifax's best Chinese restaurant, and that might be true, but that's not saying much. My boyfriend's family is from Hong Kong, and he recently ate at Chinatown in Bedford and liked it a little better than Cheelin. We ordered the spring roll with plum sauce and the seafood soup to start. The plum sauce was very mild and too subtle and thin for my liking, but he liked it. The seafood soup had a very basic broth with almost no flavour and the fish and veggies in it were okay, not spectacular.
The stuffed eggplant and Hunan haddock dishes were extremely salty. The eggplant was covered in a too-dark soya-based sauce, but the meat stuffing and chinese eggplant itself were tasty. The haddock dish reminded me of Italian food as it is served in a fresh tomato-based sauce. The fish was tender and quite good. We also had the crispy ginger beef, which wasn't too crispy but still decent, despite the sesame seeds sprinkled liberally on top. The prices are higher than usual for main dishes here, but on the positive side, the dishes are not full of fillers like chunks of onion or veggies. What you order is what you get.
For dessert, we tried the sesame ball, which is filled with red bean paste (the waitress thought it was black bean) and is similar to what you get in dim sum. It was of average taste.
Cheelin is an above-average Chinese restaurant for Nova Scotia with quite a few unique dishes on the menu, but that doesn't mean it's wonderful Chinese food. You could try Chinatown and compare the taste. Fanny didn't visit our table, but she was sitting at the table beside us and apparently overheard our private conversation about the food at Chinatown being better, because that table started talking about Chinatown immediately after!