Eating Kingston

Published August, 2006

I have a deep affection for Chez Piggy. Its first year of business was my first year at Queen’s. I was “froshed” (humiliated, in toga and diaper) in the restaurant’s narrow courtyard. I applied for a waitress job in 1980 and was turned down flat. At the time I thought it was because I wasn’t weird (or cool) enough. But whenever my dad and his credit card came for a visit, it was at the Pig we shared a meal. The imaginative variation on classic themes and the odd Asian inflections didn’t really appeal to him, but he always found at least one thing on the Chez Piggy menu recognizable enough to order.

When Chez Piggy turned 20, in 1999, I shared a long lunch with its owners – the wild and woolly rock-‘n-roller-turned-restaurateur Zal Yanovsky, and his gentle wife Rose Richardson – and wrote a story for this paper about those first two decades. Three years after that great lunch, Zal died of heart failure. In 2005, the Kingston community lost Rose to cancer. But still, in its 28th year, Chez Piggy soldiers on, and probably remains the best-known restaurant on the Kingston dining scene. For me there’s more to Piggy’s longevity than tradition, marketing and good food. The place just has spirit. You can blame Zal and Rose for that.

Earlier this summer I managed only a beer on the Chez Piggy patio, long enough for a sentimental pause on my way to other eateries. That was the goal – good eating beyond the Pig.

And indeed good eating was to be found – in Luigina’s pasta, Le Chien Noir’s parsnip soup, Tango’s scallops and Pan Chancho’s spinach tortellini with roasted garlic and chillies.

Herewith the details:

354 King St. E., (613) 530-3474
Price: starters, $7.50 to $8.50; pasta and main dishes $14 to $28
Open: Tuesday to Saturday for dinner only

Long and narrow, on two levels, with tile floors and limestone walls, Luigina’s is a romantic restaurant of formal appointments and good smells. It is not a restaurant, however, where I would stray far from the pasta dishes. Happily, there are a good number of these, and the quality of the homemade product is impressive. Whether paired with a porcini mushroom sauce, greened with parsley and pungent with garlic, or stuffed with spinach and ricotta in a sage butter sauce, the noodles here are perfect. The simple insalata mista is a plate of sparkling leaves, of considerable flavour. Other dishes disappoint: the carpaccio is happily covered with arugula leaves and sharp parmigiano, but the thin slices of raw tenderloin have “cooked” in their marinade of oil and lemon and arrive at the table almost grey. The swordfish is dry and fishy tasting and the veal may come with superior vegetables, but the meat and its mushroom sauce are so over salted, they are inedible. Back to form with tiramisu.

Tango Restaurant and Tapas Bar
331 King St. E., (613) 531-0800
Price: tapas $4 to $11, main dishes, $10 to $18
Open: daily 11 am till 2 am

“The experience is to talk with friends and share the gossip of the day over a glass of wine or 2,” explains Tango’s Tapas menu. So we do that – a group of four friends – in this stylishly contemporary spot of glowing wood with black and blue accents, settling on all the “s” dishes – satay, scallops, shrimp, and sweet potato fries – along with a fruity entry of pears and goat cheese. The shrimp are dubbed “firecracker.” They arrive appropriately cooked in a spicy butter sambal flecked with coconut and black sesame. Scallops are even better, very fresh tasting, perfectly cooked and served on greens. The sweet potato fries are dandy, the pears with chevre come wrapped in phyllo and the package is tasty. The only let-down is the dry chicken sate and an insipid peanut sauce.

There is food other than tapas – salads, sandwiches, burgers, pasta and perhaps a half-dozen main dishes (grilled salmon, lamb shank, filet mignon…) – none of which I can comment on other than to suggest the prices are reasonable. We were there to graze and groove. For that, Tango fit the bill.

And if you’ve ever thought, mid-manicure, say, that a martini might be called for, Tango can deliver. It devotes Wednesday evenings to a package deal: a manicure and a martini for $13. Ladies only.

Le Chien Noir
69 Brock St., (613) 549-5635
Prices (lunch menu): sandwiches/burgers and main dishes $11 to $23
Open daily, for lunch/brunch and dinner

The setting is casual and pleasurable. A zinc bar dominates the long, tall room, interesting art visits the brick walls and we spend some time discussing whether the gleaming pressed tin ceiling is original. Tables are bare at lunch, white linen with brown paper toppers come out for dinner. The large front windows flood the space with midday light.

Lunch at Le Chien Noir is mostly very pleasant, but its beginnings (a superior roasted corn and parsnip soup) and endings (lemon tart with blueberry sorbet) are perhaps more memorable than its middle bits. Though a beet salad with a lemon tarragon crème fraiche is a winner, and the spinach and chevre salad with its spiced pecans and cubes of triple smoked bacon also hits the spot. But soggy fries and dry duck confit mar the house poutine, and the mussels are nasty: thoroughly fishy tasting and steamed to oblivion. The Chien Noir wine list is a strength. The selections are well thought out and kindly priced, and there is considerable choice by the glass or half litre.

Pan Chancho
44 Princess St., (613) 544-0459
Open daily

To call Pan Chancho a bakery would be misleading. It is a bakery and its breads (try the anise and organic fig) and desserts are marvellous, but it’s also a cheese shop (over 70 on offer), a prepared-foods-to-go shop (highlights include pork and arugula dumplings, duck brioche, incredible potato salad with pepita seeds and curried cauliflower, fragrant lamb shanks, moist salmon with salsa verde and perfect ratatouille) and a dandy place to pick up superior products for the pantry shelves.

Freebies are always on offer – a couple of raw milk cheeses, a hunk of stinking Stilton and slices of fresh bread, with no surly sign attached “One sample only please.” When the cheese runs out, the house pate arrives on chunks of pain de campagne. Servers move about with breezy grace and on a Sunday morning the place is wildly busy. At the rear, the Pan Chancho café serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily.

We go wild at the take away counter and at the cheese shop, and have a fine picnic by the lake. Zal and Rose, I suspect, would have been impressed.






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