SATURDAY, JUNE 20, 2015 | SECTION E
MONCTON'S CULINARY TREASURE HUNT
From delicate five-star dining to hearty pub grub, this walking tour takes a healthy bite out of the downtown’s epicurious offerings
Heaping bowls of romaine, sticky rice and stir-fried beef are set amid halffull glasses of pale ale on dimly lit café tables.
A group of executive types cautiously eye the dish that’s punctuated by a soft, sunny yolk. Bibimbap, like many Korean dishes, is topped with a fried egg.
None among the party of nine has been to Café C’est la Vie before, a hip Main Street coffee house specializing in international fare and curious beverages, like macchiato brulée and Moroccan mint lattés. It’s not the kind of eatery most among them would consider for a meal, but at around 6 p.m. on a sweaty after-work Thursday, they’ve loosened their ties and they’re ready to taste. They’ve all come to eat outside the box tonight.
Ingredients are tossed and portions are plated. After a few bites, everyone goes back for seconds. Paired with ice cold Picaroons Dooryard Summer Ale, the dish is near-perfect for this muggy mid-June eve.
The tasters, who mostly work in the financial sector, are on the second stop of a downtown food tour that will lead them on a culinary treasure hunt over the next three hours. From delicate five-star dining to hearty pub grub, this walking tour takes a healthy bite out of the downtown’s epicurious offerings.
Founders of local startup Taste This! have been leading tours since last spring
The walking tours, offered by the local startup Goûter Ça/Taste This!, are a relatively new sight on the sidewalks of the inner city. Friends and foodies Julie Fournier and Tammy Brideau launched the business last spring and have been leading groups on tasty expeditions to the more notable and lesser discovered Main Street and Saint George Street restaurants and shops since. Both share decades in fine food and drink, and wanted to challenge locals to expand their palates. Tasting tours aren’t new in the foodie world, but Taste This! is the first of its kind in the Moncton region. Two experiences, the Best of Downtown Moncton and Hidden Gems of Foodies, are offered in afternoon and evening sessions, hitting places including artisan restaurant Manuka, Italian bistro Gusto, local grocer Dolma Foods and bustling boutique pub St. James Gate. Each session lasts about three hours and costs about $50 per person. Tonight’s tour starts at Les Gourmandes, a specialty cheese and chocolate shop in the Crowne Plaza block.
The delicate deli offers more than 200 types of cheese and specialty foods such as fois gras and truffle oil. A few cheeses, like the firm Duplessis and mild Geai Bleu that are offered to the Taste This! group, are house-made with local sheep’s milk. They’re followed by a not-too-sweet dark maple truffle, made by local chocolatier Emmanuelle Chocolates. Though the group travels on foot, the tour is broken into shorter segments with stops at a few historic structures along the route. Brideau pauses under the crumbling CN train bridge and notes its now-drab exterior, which at one time, was awash in bright hues. Newspaper hawkers would shout the headlines of the day from the balcony of the 1900-era Transcript Building, and the Capitol Theatre is reportedly haunted by a firefighter who died battling a blaze in the building, she continues as the tour plods down Main. Tying in local history is an important aspect of the experience; it gives participants some new insight into the areas they live and work in Brideau says.
Stops on this particular tour include the Tide and Boar Gastropub; Pastalli, birthplace of the bread bar; the Pump House Brewery, Moncton’s only brewpub; and next, the Windjammer, one of the finer dining rooms in the downtown. Bow tie-clad hosts welcome the group into the rich mahogany room, which is intimate by design. It’s at 23-year running winner of the AAA Four Diamond Award, and it’s been named by various publications as one of the top hotel restaurants in Canada. It’s reputed for fine, local fare, including tableside preparation of Châteaubriand, Dover sole amandine and filet mignon. The majority of the ingredients used in the Windjammer’s kitchen are produced within the region. Some organics and all the kitchen’s honey are hyper-local, grown on the hotel’s rooftop garden and apiary. Executive chef Stefan Müller has been tending the garden and crafting homegrown delicacies from the harvest since 2008.
Decadent white chocolate and lobster canapés are served in the lobby, paired with a cold glass of Jost Tidal Bay, a crisp, fruity white wine produced in Cumberland County, N.S. Midway through the evening, a few diners agree they’ve been inspired to pick different places to dine. A silver- haired man in a brave magenta dress shirt, whose usual lunch haunts include chains such as the Keg, says a few places along the way, like C’est la Vie, hide in plain sight.
is a Moncton-based freelance journalist.
Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org