Culinary gold in Nova Scotia

Fleur de Sel Restaurant, Lunenburg, NS

First published, February 2, 2008

Two months ago there was big news in the Maritime food scene. Chef Martin Ruiz Salvador and his team from Fleur de Sel, a tiny, perfect restaurant in little Lunenburg, beat out the big city boys of Halifax to take the top prize at the Nova Scotia Gold Medal Plates culinary competition, part of a national competition aimed at drawing attention to Canada’s best chefs, while raising money for our Olympic and Paralympics athletes.

Salvador’s win means he’ll join six other gold medalists from major Canadian cities (including Ottawa’s own Mike Moffatt from Beckta Dining and Wine) at the Canadian Culinary Championships this February in Toronto – three days of intense gastronomic mêlées with some of Canada’s finest cookers vying for the honour of being named Canada’s Culinary Champion.

Sure, lovely Lunenburg – real old and awful pretty – is already on the map, a major tourist attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage site too (only the second urban community in Continental North America to make the list, along with Quebec City).

But this, well this (for the foodies of the world) would really be something, eh?

Shortly after Chef Martin won gold, a freshman son of mine at Dalhousie University seemed suddenly in urgent need of a visit from his mother and a good shot of non-cafeteria food. After noshing around Halifax a bit, we took the longer drive, the snaky-slow one, along the byways of Nova Scotia’s south shore to old, pretty Lunenburg, to soak in the scenery, walk the history and taste that gold.

Fleur de Sel is an elegant restaurant that makes the most of the graceful bones of the old Arts and Crafts clapboard-covered house it occupies. Inside is all creamy yellow and starched white, softened with rounded arches, sunny daisies and thoughtful service.

Our opening dish was the one that convinced the judges in Halifax to give Salvador the edge. My son declared it the best thing he had ever tasted. (I was not offended, comforted by the notion that three months of residence food had no doubt obliterated from his memory eighteen years of his mother’s exquisite cooking.) And it was hard to disagree with him. A stuffed shank bone, the beef slow braised and stripped off, the tender meat then mixed with the marrow, a little foie gras (why ever not?) and some cep (porcini) mushrooms. This concoction was then spooned into the hollow shank, and served with a smooth purée of celery root, dotted with a vibrant chive oil and swirled with reduced beef jus. A foam fashioned with foie gras and more cep was then spooned over the top of the beef-marrow-foie gras-cep potion, which oozed down the sides of the bone and into the waiting puddles and squiggles of green and brown and beige on the shiny white plate.

I could feel my arteries hardening just looking at the thing. My son ate his slowly, moaning a bit, then finished mine. He next looked beseechingly around the room at neighbouring tables with theirs. A kinder mother would have ordered another round.

We moved on. My mewings were more for the risotto — fragrant and flecked with saffron, the yellowed rice of text book texture, dotted with peas, soft onion and roasted red pepper — and for the sea treats imbedded in this lusciously soupy bed, perfectly seared Digby scallops, grilled shrimp, poached mussels and soft chunks of fish.

Everything was perfect. The only drawback is that, as you read this, Fleur de Sel is closed until April. File it away. It is a gem.

Fleur de Sel

52 Montague Street, Lunenburg

902-640-2121 or 1-877-723-7258

Access: many steps to negotiate

Price: starters, $10 to $18; main dishes, $26 to $32. Packages are available starting at $179 for two, which includes an overnight stay in one of the local Bed and Breakfasts and a three course meal for two at Fleur de Sel. Details are on the web site

Open: Fleur de Sel is open for dinner Thursday through Sunday, and for Sunday brunch, from April to December, and for special occasions only, from January to March.






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