One of my favourite, most memorable meals occurred at the Steamship Grill in the second week of its operation. Sadly, the two dishes that made that meal so spectacular were no longer available on my latest visit.
It is an unfortunate fact that some memorable meals are not meant to be repeated. At least this time I think I know why.
Imagine my surprise when I found those same two dishes on another restaurant’s menu, just a block away. The appetizer had been Calamari. It was tossed with jalapeño slices and thinly sliced rounds of lemon with the rind still intact. Calamari, jalapeño and lemon were lightly breaded and seasoned together and then fried crisp. It was one of the best calamari dishes I’ve ever eaten, but it was the lemon that astounded me. Those wafer thin rounds were hot and crispy and juicy and so intensely flavourful that I would happily order a plate of lemon rounds all by themselves.
My entrée had been Cioppino, an Italian seafood stew, classically comprised of fresh clams and muscles still in their shells, as well as fresh scallops, prawns and a local whitefish served in a broth and nothing else. It is very unlike heavy North American stews. It is delicate but satisfying.
This Cioppino, however, was not served in the classic style, though it was still unmistakably Italian. It had all the right seafood, and they were fresh and of high quality, but they were served over Pappardelle noodles that were soaking in a buttery rich, intensely herbaceous and moderately spicy tomato broth. In fact I found the broth too intense to eat on its own, but it was a spectacular coating on the wide strips of noodle and seafood.
Of course, I asked if the chef at the Bellville had come from the Steamship. Indeed he had. My memorable meal is back and I am very excited. So why did I not chose to repeat that meal right away? Frankly, I wanted vegetables. There are not many in Calamari or Cioppino. So instead I ordered the Almond Crusted Local Sockeye Salmon. It is served with sticky rice and seasonal vegetables, but I opted for additional vegetables in place of typically bland sticky rice, and I am glad I did. The plate was simply beautiful. Imagine orange salmon shining through a lightly toasted almond crust and laid across a bed of deep purple and candy-apple red beets. Hidden beneath was gently wilted spinach. The salmon was perfectly cooked: still moist and flaky and the sweetness of the beets was the perfect complement to the savory nuttiness of the almond salmon. This is a chef who understands how to mix and set off flavours.
Of course a “Watering Hole” does not boast the same ambiance that the historic refurbished steamship terminal has. I visited on a cool evening, and chose to eat inside, where the decor is modest, even dated.
If I have a choice between mediocre food in a fanciful setting or exceptional food in a modest setting, I’ll take the latter every time.
Belleville’s Watering Hole and Diner
In the Day’s Inn, across from the Coho Dock
427 Belleville St.
250 388 0889