It used to be that one had to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars in a restaurant that required several months’ prior reservations to enjoy the creative, hand-selected local fare that Chinched Bistro in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada serves.This two-story bistro is casual — come as you are — but popular, so do make reservations! I was happy to be hosted to experience it as part of the Terroir Symposium, a fascinating gathering to examine the sources and quality of the food we eat.
Newfoundland is a wild, wonderful place far north, far east on the North American continent. With harsh winter weather, a history of island isolation but a wealth of seafood, Newfoundland cuisine is frugal and inventive. They’re also eating animals and parts of animals that folks in more temperate climes have shrugged off. That means they’re stewards of recipes and flavors you won’t find elsewhere.
In Chinched Bistro’s endeavors to “preserve the old ways”, they make their own pickles, ice cream, crackers and charcuterie. Their charcuterie program uses local seal and wild game. Sometimes, they make moose charcuterie.
So, on to dinner!
“Chips & Dip”: House Made Crème Fresh, Potato Chips, Acadian Sturgeon Caviar from New Brunswick. The regional caviar isn’t as salty as one may have tasted elsewhere, but it’s rich and flavorful.
Buffalo Pig’s Ears: These were “Buffalo” seasoned pig’s ears fries from Point Leamington. They get a whole hog in twice a week and butcher it in-house. The fries were rich, slightly fatty, chewy. The buffalo sauce treatment made them quite addictive, with the spice complimenting the fat flavors.
House Made Quidi Vidi IPA Sourdough Bread, Fat Back and Molasses: Quidi Vidi is a part of Newfoundland and a craft brewery.
House Made Charcuterie served with Traditional Condiments and Crackers: They incorporate lots of herb flavors in their charcuterie recipes. The various meats included pig head pastrami, Coppa, fully cured Guanciale, fermented Chinese sausage, curried port sausage. It was a difficult task not to gobble up all the meats, knowing it was the tip of the iceberg! Incidentally, I learned that “tip of the iceberg” refers to the fact that only 1/8 of an iceberg peeps above water. It’s very exciting in a culinary sense to know that a smaller port town can make its own meats with global influences. After all, there’s a time for home cookin’, but then there’s a time to explore!
Duo of Seal Offal, Confit Tongue, Smoked Heart, Caramelized Parsnips, Chimichurri: This was a more “challenging” course to my palate. It’s reminiscent of cured Faroese Pilot whale. It’s meaty and fish-like in one, strong. Chimichurri was an appropriate strong accompaniment . . .this is no simple butter sauce protein. Seal is an important food source for Newfoundlanders; it’s not some obscure game that only the grandmas eat.
Molasses & Chipotle Glazed Roasted Pig Head Taco Platter; Housemade Tortilla, Pickled Carrot Salsa, Charred Limes, Crema Nero served with Local Spring Sunchoke Salad, Roasted Garlic Mojo, Fresh Herbs: This was very rich meat, with crispy skin. Who wouldn’t be shocked at seeing the teeth still in the pig’s head? Spring sunchokes are a clever pairing, as they add some crunch to the tender fare. Raw apples, jicama and other crispy things would go equally well, if you’ve never had pig’s head before.
Zeppoli, Vanilla Pastry Cream, Partridgeberry and Black Currant Jam: Partridgeberry is a type of lingonberry. It seems like all places closer to the Arctic Circle have some form of this tart little round berry, sour but loaded with Vitamin C.