As I mentioned in the previous post, I had the opportunity to lunch with my friend Craig at the Saint John Ale House when I was in New Brunswick last. Chef Jesse Vergen prepared us a Chef’s Choice lunch which was overflowing with local ingredients, great flavours and playfulness.
Heirloom Beet & Sheep Milk Cheese w/ Horseradish Vinaigrette
Chef Jesse started us off with a Heirloom beets fresh from his own farm, roasted & quartered dressed with a horseradish vinaigrette and served with a local raw sheep milk cheese. I have to admit that I wasn’t all that chuffed about the beets. Beets of many varieties have been in my life for years and I think they are beautiful, but, well, we all know works-of-art aren’t for eating. But I am a convert! Though in all fairness the golden beets I had at the Coupe Space Tasting Club really started the conversion, but Jesse completed it. Give the man a toaster oven.
Braised BBQ Short Rib
The slaw was thin, crisp, and perfectly dressed. I would have been happy with a big bowl of this and nothing else. Well, at that point I would have been, but in retrospect not so much.
The honey may seem a little out of place if you are imagining this… and you should be. But it was added, as Jesse said, because BBQ should always be a little sticky and sweet. The honey married beautifully with the barbeque sauce without losing the fragrance of the lavender.
Kennebecasis River Unagi w/ Smoked Rice
The next course really the high point of the meal in terms of a local, fresh and intimate dish. Inspired in part by the conversation we were having about Craig’s recent trip to Spain, Jesse whipped up a smoked rice a la moment which he topped with Kennebecasis River “Unagi”, picked radish, jalapeno and crisp ginger.
The “Unagi” was fresh eel which Jesse had fished out of the Kennebecasis River just days before. Possibly while I was still lying in bed in the middle of that river complaining about the wind and rain. Even though the Kennebecasis is semi-salt, the eels are fresh water eels and sold as delicacies around the world. Jesse described the preparation of the basting sauce which he did in a tradition Japanese fashion using the eel bones to prepare the broth which is then reduced with soya sauce, sugar and rice wine. Boned, skinned, grilled and then served on the crispy skin over smoked rice, this dish was stellar. The nod to Japanese pickled ginger with the pink picked radish gave me a giggle. And I loved the crisp ginger. Must learn to do that.
And it’s a good thing too, because the next thing to come out was a dish they call “Angry Fish”. A complete ocean perch delicately seasoned & floured and then deep fried. Yes, the whole thing! Served on a bed made of the last of the summer tomatoes and fresh fragrance basil, I’m not surprised we finished this off too. Well, I’m a little surprised since at this point I was getting a little scared about how many courses were still to come.
White Chocolate Bread Pudding w/ Whisky Caramel
So, we finished our lunch with a White Chocolate Bread Pudding with whisky Caramel, toasted pine nuts and raspberry paint. I still find myself delighted that they actually painted the raspberry onto the plate. It was light and a lovely finish to the meal.
If you are in Saint John and looking for a spot to eat, the Saint John Ale House is worth a visit. They have an interesting wine list, a solid selection of beers, and an inspired list of cocktails. And while I haven’t yet eaten off the menu, the Angry Fish and Bread Pudding are both on it, and another dish Duck Confit includes both the lavender honey & beets.
I’m definitely going back to the Saint John Ale House next time I’m home.