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Five and dine

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Five years ago, I had a most amazing opportunity—a chance to combine my love of writing with my passion for food. Five years later, I’m still visiting restaurants and sharing my experiences with Coast readers. One of the questions I'm most commonly asked is "What happens if you run out of restaurants?" Sadly, due to the fickle nature of the business, that hasn't been a concern. Our market will never be saturated with high quality dining rooms, and as one closes, there's always a new one waiting to roll the culinary dice.

I decided early on that my reviews would focus on the food; very little personal information, like the names and relationships of the people I eat with, and what they like and dislike (that works for some, but not for me). My goal was, and still is, to try and recreate my dining experience in words, so that anyone reading would feel as though they were there with me, and be able to judge for themselves whether or not they might like to try out a particular establishment. After all, food is very subjective and my experience on any given night might be completely different from yours.

For the most part, I’ve avoided using the column as a political forum. A light-hearted piece on take-out fried chicken incited a huge negative reaction about a fast-food chain’s treatment of chickens destined for the fryer. I’ve had messages from vegetarians demanding to know why I don’t try more vegan or vegetarian options. Someone contacted me to protest the east coast seal fishery. All of those things are debates that will rage on, each side with valid points, but that is not the focus of this column.

I’ve eaten in upwards of 200 restaurants, from Addis Ababa to Zorba the Greek, ranging from the very posh to the takeaway chip wagon; I’ve eaten at different restaurants in the same location, and the same restaurants on multiple occasions in trying to give them a fair shake. The one thing they have in common is that every eatery has a story, and I see it as my job to tell that story. And the stories have certainly become more exciting.

Five years ago, the sushi tsunami was just breaking in Halifax, and “ethnic” still largely meant Chinese or Greek. Now, we are practically spoiled for choice. Is there another North American city of our size with three thriving Thai restaurants? Five years ago, the interiors of our eating establishments ran the gamut from “family style” to, well, “family style with linen.” Now we have restaurants whose looks would rival anything found in Toronto or Vancouver; posh, urban and altogether “grown-up” dining rooms like Bish, Seven and Onyx capture a cosmopolitan feel that belies the small town atmosphere that is Halifax.

I think the most significant change in our culinary landscape in the past five years has been that chefs are looking more than ever toward local producers for everything from game to herbs. In the forefront are bistros like Fid and Chives, places that focus as much on where our food comes from as on where it’s going.

Let’s not forget the drink. Local wine is experiencing a renaissance—“Nova Scotia wine” is a phrase to be proud of. Sommeliers are popping up around Metro restaurants like kilts in a windstorm, laying bare the mysteries of wine, stripping it of snobbery.

The past five years have been exciting times in the evolution of our culinary scene. I’m a staunch supporter of this city’s restaurant industry, and proud of what it has to offer. I’ve watched it grow and expand and embrace all forms of cuisine and styles of dining, and I feel very lucky to have been a small part of it.

Relive some of Liz Feltham’s past five years on the web: www.foodcritic.ca

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