• Welcome

    Karl is an award winning food writer and restaurant critic for the St. John's daily, The Telegram. His Dining Out column is one of The Weekend Telegram's most popular features. Karl Wells is also host/producer of the very popular Rogers TV show, One Chef One Critic and a restaurant panelist with enRoute magazine. Karl has written for Harry Magazine, enRoute, Newfoundland Quarterly and other publications. He is a senior judge with Gold Medal Plates and a Canadian Culinary Championship judge.

Top 10 restaurants of 2014

Top Ten Logo
Editor’s Note
Since this list was first published it was announced that Legros and Motti will close as of January 31, 2015. However, it will re-open in a smaller Water Street venue later in 2015.

Click the Video Channel icon to the right of this screen to watch the video reviews of Chinched, Adelaide Oyster House, Mallard Cottage, Magic Wok and Magnum and Steins.

Top 10 restaurants of 2014

The year 2014 has been a remarkable one for the local restaurant industry. We’ve seen many new restaurants open (some made this list), and I’m pleased to say that the food and service in numerous restaurants exceeded my expectations. In a few cases, dramatically, as with my number one pick, Bacalao. It, along with my top four choices, was awarded four out of four stars by me in 2014. A bumper year! What follows is not an “all-time best” list. It is solely a list of restaurants I consider to be the best of those I reviewed over the past 12 months.

No. 1. Bacalao
Although Bacalao has been around since 2007, when I dined there in 2014 (after many previous visits) it was like I was in a different restaurant. Why? Because of an astounding improvement in Bacalao’s food. In every way, presentation, taste, technique, Bacalao’s cuisine was more sophisticated, and better than that of many St. John’s restaurants.

Chef Ivan Kyutukchiev, Bacalao

Chef Ivan Kyutukchiev, Bacalao

This is mainly because of the vision, talent and artistry of Bacalao’s Executive Chef, Ivan Kyutukchiev. His treatment of seafood, in particular, is most impressive. I recall a brilliant entrée of monkfish and salmon, a study in contrasts. Each fish had its own entourage of accompaniments. Yet, Kyutukchiev achieved well-tuned harmony on the plate. Bacalao, 65 Le Marchant Rd. 709-579-6565. www.bacalaocuisine.ca

No. 2. Chinched Bistro
The always relaxing, enjoyable Chinched Bistro provided me with another delightful surprise this year. A massive improvement in cuisine. Chef Shaun Hussey and team are producing food that is more interesting and better tasting than ever.

Coconut octopus curry, Chinched Bistro

Coconut octopus curry, Chinched Bistro

I tried, for example, an octopus curry that turned a difficult ingredient (octopus) into a tender textured and fragrant dish with perfectly balanced seasoning. Chinched also earned its reputation this year as the “go to” spot for excellent house-made charcuterie. Chinched Bistro, 7 Queen St. 709-722-3100. www.chinchedbistro.com

No. 3. Adelaide Oyster House
Chef Steve Vardy’s Adelaide Oyster House opened with a bang. You could say the same thing about Vardy’s re-ignition of his career as a chef. He loves feeding people; and the joy he takes from that is what, I think, makes his food so incredibly satisfying.

Beef short ribs, Adelaide Oyster House

Beef short ribs, Adelaide Oyster House

When I visited nothing impressed me more than Adelaide’s braised beef short ribs, served with jus, carrots, wheat berries and pickled mustard seeds. And kudos to Vardy for providing oyster lovers with a place to sample an impressive variety of the bivalves. Adelaide Oyster House, 334 Water St. 709-722-7222.

No. 4. Bianca’s
As restaurants go, Bianca’s is a timeless classic. Since it opened there has not been a minute when it was not seen, by St. John’s diners, as one of our top eateries. The reason is obvious. A combination of excellent food, wine, service and atmosphere. Owner, Bianca Tszanov, is always front-of-house. Her daily involvement matters.

Grilled halibut with mussels, Bianca's

Grilled halibut with mussels, Bianca’s

Nobody does fresh roast chicken or grilled halibut like Bianca’s. Soups are also brilliant. Bianca’s, 171 Water St. 709-726-9016. www.biancas.net

No. 5. Mallard Cottage
Chef Todd Perrin, Kim Doyle and Stephen Lee have done something very special. Special for several reasons, not the least of which is the rescue of Mallard Cottage, part of the built heritage of Newfoundland. They’ve also helped place a spotlight on historic Quidi Vidi Village and what it has to offer. Tasteful rustic décor, friendly service, and excellent farm-to-table or ocean-to-table fare will always make Mallard Cottage a popular choice for local restaurant goers.

Skin-on cod with fondant potatoes, Mallard Cottage

Skin-on cod with fondant potatoes, Mallard Cottage

I enjoyed Perrin’s skin on cod entrée, with local accompaniments of bacon, turnip greens, fondant potato and carrot purée. I called it “Newfoundland on a plate”. Mallard Cottage, 8 Barrow’s Rd. 709-237-7314. www.mallardcottage.ca

No. 6. Magic Wok
Magic Wok is one of the brightest and busiest restaurants in St. John’s. Chef/patron Rennies So likes to operate a happy eatery with smiling staff and contented customers. No doubt serving consistently delicious Chinese food is what puts everybody in the right mood.

Crispy duck, Magic Wok

Crispy duck, Magic Wok

I always enjoy my visits, starting with Magic Wok’s steamed dim sum dumplings, usually followed by crispy duck or flambéed beef. Magic Wok, 402-408 Water St. 709-753-6907. www.magicwok.ca

No. 7. Fish Bowl
The St. John’s Courtyard Marriott pulled a game changer this year, by saying goodbye to a chain restaurant (Smitty’s) and embracing a one-of-a-kind called, Fish Bowl. Chef Chris Hounsell is new to hotels but, more important, he can cook. Really cook. Fish Bowl’s menu is 75 percent seafood. Shellfish is plentiful and you can’t go wrong with the daily fish special.

Tuna entrée, Fish Bowl Restaurant

Tuna entrée, Fish Bowl Restaurant

I tried some bliss inducing tuna, accompanied by perfect risotto. Fish Bowl, Courtyard Marriott, 131 Duckworth St. 709-722-6636.

No. 8. Legros and Motti
Rob Moore devoted years of research and toil developing an original restaurant for St. John’s. He even gave it his family names, Legros and Motti. The project involved trips across the United States and to Italy (where Moore found an olive oil producer for the restaurant). In my review I called it one of the “best looking restaurants in Eastern Canada”. It simply is. But more than that Legros and Motti (after some start-up problems) serves excellent food, by Chef Maurizio Modica, and is a fun place to dine, whether you’re with a group or alone. Legros and Motti, 127 Harbour Dr. 709-726-6884. www.legrosmotti.com

No. 9. Magnum and Steins
It’s taken me a while to get used to the current location of Magnum and Steins but changes made this year (adding a wine bar) have me liking it more. Since the tenure of Chef Christopher Mercer they’ve been changing up the menu at Magnum and Steins as well. The fried cod tacos are well worth a try. I liked the textures and spicing.

Poached lobster with veal cheek, Magnum & Steins

Poached lobster with veal cheek, Magnum & Steins

Even more impressive was Mercer’s surf and turf invention featuring veal cheek with butter poached lobster. Need I say more? Magnum and Steins, 329 Duckworth St. 709-576-6500. www.magnumandsteins.ca

No. 10. One 11 Chophouse
One 11 Chophouse owner, Amir Mahic, had dibs (for a few years) on space formerly occupied by Hungry Fisherman in the Murray Premises. His idea was to install a high-end steak house there. That goal was accomplished in 2014. If you’re hungry for properly cooked, expensive beef this is the place to find it. The priciest cut is wagyu from Australia, going for $12 an ounce (10 ounces minimum). Most of One 11 Chophouse’s beef is top grade stuff from Prince Edward Island.

Pork loin, One 11 Chophouse

Pork loin, One 11 Chophouse

Equally enjoyable for me was the marbled pork loin. Supremely tender and rich. One 11 Chophouse, Murray Premises, 709-738-1011. www.one11chophouse.ca

Congratulations to all of my top 10 restaurants for 2014. It’s exciting to see the St. John’s restaurant industry continue its development at a brisk pace.

Karl Wells is an accredited personal chef, author of “Cooking with One Chef One Critic” and recipient of awards from the national body of the Canadian Culinary Federation and the Restaurant Association of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Contact him through his website,
www.karlwells.com
Follow him on Twitter: @karl_wells

New Video Restaurant Reviews

Restaurant Reviews for Magic Wok and Adelaide Oyster House have been added to the Video Channel.

Click here to watch the reviews.

KRUG Champers visits Raymonds

Eric Lebel, Krug Chef de Caves

Eric Lebel, Krug Chef de Caves

I wear a tuxedo once a year. I used to rent a tux but several years ago I bought one. It made sense. My tux has paid for itself in saved rental fees. Still, when you own one, it’s nice to be able to take it out more than once a year to be with others of its kind.

That’s why I was pleased to learn a dinner I’d agreed to attend would be a “black tie” affair. I was invited by Krug Champagne to attend a champagne dinner (the first ever held in St. John’s) at Raymonds. Krug champers, by the way, is not sold in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The fact that its bubbly is not sold in this province has not gone unnoticed by the House of Krug, one of Champagne’s luxury houses. The dinner, and making the rounds to visit players in the industry, was part of Krug’s campaign to encourage our liquor commission to sell Krug products.

Lebel
The dinner was hosted by Monsieur Eric Lebel, Chef de Caves of the House of Krug. It’s an important sounding title because Lebel has the most important job at Krug. He’s the guy who actually makes the champagne, which is, after all, one of the finest champagnes in the world.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESThe first thing I noticed at the dinner was that the champagne was not being served in champagne flutes. That’s the tall thin glass with the narrow rim, thought for years to be the perfect champagne glass because it concentrates the bubbles so they last longer.

Lebel told us that several years ago the House of Krug smashed all of its champagne flutes, abandoning forever the notion that champagne should be served in such a glass. With the help of the Riedel Glass Company they created what they believe is the “perfect” wine glass. It’s called, the Joseph, after the founder of the House of Krug, Joseph Krug.

Essentially it’s a white Burgundy glass, fat with a wide rim. So, why such a departure? Lebel said real champagne holds its bubbles anyway, and the important aspect of enjoying champagne is to be able to get your nose down in the glass to appreciate the beautiful aromas coming off this premium wine.

Bonia
Jeremy Bonia, Raymonds sommelier, agrees.

“All the wineries in Champagne are pouring in wider glasses now,” he said. “The champagne really shows its full flavour profile, and the aromas are much more prevalent in the wider glass versus the flute, which tends to mute the flavour of the wine. Raymonds has already switched its glasses.”

Eric Lebel told us that of the cuvées (types of champagne) he makes for Krug, the Krug Grande Cuvée is most important because “it is the reason for the House of Krug.” Joseph Krug felt that great tasting champagne should be available every year, not just in years of perfect weather and exceptional harvests.

To accomplish this he decided that he would, on an ongoing basis,

Bonia serves guest Krug Champagne

Bonia serves guest Krug Champagne

stockpile wines from truly great years and then, annually, blend these reserved wines with the best quality wines available on any given year. This way he could maintain a constant supply of a top quality champagne, and he called it, Krug Grande Cuvée.

Enhancers
Our first course was an arrangement of small appetite enhancers: St. Simon oyster with cucumber pearls, foie gras and rhubarb (sensational) Iberico chorizo, and scallop tartare with beef suet fried potato chip and Acadian sturgeon caviar. The bites were served with Krug Grande Cuvée. It was a lesson in how beautifully Grande Cuvée can pair with many textures and tastes: salt, sweet, tangy, umami, crisp, dense, soft, and gelatinous.

Jeremy Bonia says champagne is “very versatile in regards to matching with different flavours of food,” adding, “I’ve had champagne pair well with everything from sushi to curries.”

Next came a plate featuring a Trinity Bay diver scallop with its roe (which had been roasted) parsnip purée, roasted parsnip, grilled mushroom, charred green onion and mushroom sauce. You’ll often see scallop served with roe in Europe, but not here. I was happy that Raymonds chose to include the delicacy for us. Pan roasted scallop and parsnip purée make great partners.

The scallop dish was paired with my favourite champagne of the night, Krug Clos du Mesnil 2000. Clos du Mesnil has an aging capacity of, according to Lebel, “at least two to three decades.” It is a blanc de blancs, meaning it is made from only the white grape, Chardonnay. This was an extraordinary wine with exciting, dynamic aromas: fresh citrus, herbs, honey and a touch of smoke, all rushing up out of the glass at once.

Krug Grande Cuvee

Krug Grande Cuvee

Piglet
The parade of courses continued with halibut with lobster, crispy veal sweetbreads, golden mille-feuille potato and creamed spinach; and then it was Point Leamington Farm piglet, roasted Jerusalem artichoke, Jerusalem artichoke purée, savoy cabbage, roasted onion and pork jus. Both courses were outstanding.

Krug Vintage 2000 and 2003 were served with these plates and made good pairings. Both wines were similar in that they were made from a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.

Eric Lebel told a fascinating story about the 2003 vintage. There had been a mild winter in 2003 but a hard frost in April of that year.

“After this frost we had tremendous heat,” he said. “Throughout Europe it was very, very hot. Harvest started on the 23rrd of August for Krug. Usually it lasts until mid-September. We thought we would find grapes that were over mature, very bold, very powerful because of the heat. While some of them were over ripe and quite bold, a lot of them were actually under ripe because, to protect themselves from the heat, they had stopped the photosynthesis process.”

Intuition
Despite the unusual weather, and the fact that the harvest had to happen in two different stages, because of the under ripe fruit, Lebel found qualities in those grapes that made him think the 2003 vintage had the potential to produce a champagne worthy of being sold. A perfect example of the role intuition plays in the art of wine making. Eric Lebel could only imagine what that champagne would taste like 10 years on. He made the right decision.

Our evening finished with a light and creamy rhubarb and strawberry dessert paired with Krug Rosé. This was my second favourite champagne of the event. Despite one of the Krug elders saying, “rosé is for ladies’ bars and birthday parties; we are not going to make rosé,” eventually Henri Krug, a man of vision, decided to make the blend. It’s a delicate, very pale pink champagne with peppery notes and the fresh aromas of ripe red fruit and pink grapefruit. I loved it, as well as the previously mentioned fine blanc de blancs, Krug Clos du Mesnil 2000.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that one day we’ll be able to buy Krug Champagne locally. Meanwhile, my memories of that wonderful champagne dinner at Raymonds will have to keep me going.