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Voyages: Field Guide HFX

Voyages: Field Guide HFX

In my search to find the newest and most exciting culinary destinations Halifax has to offer, I decided to get in touch with the most reliable source any city has – its locals. After many conversations with Haligonian foodies and industry folks, word on the street is that I should start by checking out a buzzing new establishment from Ceilidh Sutherland and Chef Dan Vorsterman called Field Guide HFX. A hidden gem located on the trendy culinary hotspot of Gottingen Street, Field Guide aims to broaden their diners’ horizons through an open concept kitchen and top-notch service. With a relentless focus on supporting Nova Scotian farmers, producers, and craft breweries, Field Guide sources only the best local ingredients this beautiful province has to offer.

After an in-depth analysis of the online menu, I feel I have a good idea of what to anticipate and set off towards downtown for my seating. As soon as I sit down, I start to get the feeling that this is going to be something entirely different from what I had expected. The rest of the night is marked by course after course of mouth-watering concoctions, complimented by the exquisite mixology of head bartender and cocktail master Shane Beehan (now at Lot Six).

The small and modest kitchen built straight into the back of the bar seems to be the key to one of the greatest, and probably most daring, restaurants in the entire city. While elaborate kitchens with small armies of line chefs allow eateries to pump out large quantities of food, it often means that dishes are not treated with the attention to detail that each and every plate receives at Field Guide HFX. The product of these establishments is all too familiar, food that is well executed, but lacking in the heart and soul needed to achieve true foodgasm status. That being said, at Field Guide, you can be sure that every morsel of food you put in your mouth will leave you in a state of food-induced climax, and I mean that literally (no joke).

I’m captivated as I take my first sip of the Mai Tai – a tropical-themed, aged rum cocktail made with curacao, lime, sugar, and orgeat, all served out of a ceramic tiki head with fresh mint, lime and orange wedges, and bright red cherry adorning the crown. To my surprise, the drink is not too sweet, and delivers a citrusy and refreshing blast. The hint of smokiness from the aged rum intermingling with the brighter notes of almond and lime essence merges to create a perfect juxtaposition of deep flavours and light-bodied subtlety.

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With the warm feeling of boozy bliss settling upon my cheeks, it is time to turn my attention to the main event and order some food. With an ever-changing blackboard menu of small sharing plates on selection, I feel confident handing over the reigns to sous chef Justin, leaving him to assemble a 3-course tasting menu of his preference. Most items on the menu go for between $12-16 so I feel comfortable splurging a little bit without totally breaking the bank.

I know I’ve made the right decision when he starts me off with a stunning fiddlehead appetizer topped with hearty chunks of feta cheese and thinly sliced rhubarb artfully arranged around a splash of fiddlehead and swiss chard purée. All accoutrements aside, the true star of this dish is the local Nova Scotian fiddleheads. The tangy, earthy crispness of the renowned forest fern draws out the salty creaminess of the feta cheese and finishes with a light hint of dill.

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Next in line is the rich and luxurious pork jowl chop topped with a sunny side up duck egg, shanghai bok choy, red bok choy, and pickled mushrooms. Considered a delicacy the world over, the melt-in-your-mouth cheeks of pork are comparable to pork belly, but more refined. While some might expect this dish to be overly indulgent, the presence of the pickled mushrooms provides some much needed acid to cut through the fattiness and results in a flawless balance of sour and salty.

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It’s difficult to fathom leaving a restaurant without dessert, so Justin makes sure to cap off my culinary adventure in true Field Guide style, with a dazzling elderflower tart filled with lemon curd, pastry cream and poached rhubarb, and sprinkled with a bright and colourful handful of local edible flowers and fresh mint. Pure bliss. The crust is buttery but crisp, and serves as the perfect vessel for the fluffy filling inside – a masterpiece that anyone can appreciate.

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Field Guide HFX isn’t extravagant or pretentious, and doesn’t come with any of the superfluities you would expect from a restaurant offering this calibre of cuisine. It is simply a rustic gathering place for people who like to eat and enjoy the beauty of food that is prepared with love and respect for the ingredient. As I finish off the last few crumbs of my tart, I see people savouring the bounties of Nova Scotia all around me, and I leave contented in the fact that something truly important is happening here.

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