7 Queen Street St. John's, NL A1C 4K2
Tastiness Factor: 4.5/5
Locavore approved?: ENTHUSIASTICALLY YES (much of the produce and the seafood is locally sourced and our server was able to tell me where everything came from- very impressed!)
Since I would only be in St. Johns for two nights, I spent quite a bit of time looking into where to go to experience the best of what the city's food scene had to offer. Pi was a no brainer since I enjoyed my pizza so much on my last visit. I had also been to Atlantica and, while we did have a good experience, I wanted to try something different on this go around and preferably somewhere in the downtown core (Atlantica is located out if town).
Admittedly, Raymond's, voted Canada's Best New Restaurant 2011, was my clear first choice but, ironically, the Executive Chef at Raymond's was actually in Vancouver as a guest chef at a restaurant in my very own neighborhood that evening. Come on, how cruel is that???
After learning that Raymond's was a no go, I went back to the drawing board. A google search for "best St. Johns restaurants" led me to several hits for Chinched, a relatively new Bistro in downtown St. Johns. After two amazing experiences recently in Whistler (Bearfoot and Alta) I was intrigued. I was perused through several of my favorite review sources, and was encouraged by very positive cudos for their food and also for their use of local produce. I also liked their use of local media (a dedicated blog, active Twitter and Facebook). This place came out the front runner and I made a reso using their website.
Chinched is a cozy little space, with a bar downtown with its own menu, and an intimate dining room upstairs serving a menu with apps, split/full plates (the split plate is a tapas-sized portion) and generous-sized entrees (the bar menu is not available upstairs). Their wine menu is small (a few local options might help to round it out a bit) but quite reasonably priced.The atmosphere is very "bistroesque"- small and friendly, yet sophisticated. It would be suitable for either a casual Friday night dinner, or a special occasion. Service was good overall. I was a little disappointed that they had ran out of one of their entrees (there are only 5 on the menu after all) and also my dad's choice of beer. They did ended up giving him his beer for free though, which certainly helped to make up for it! Although there was a bit of a wait (about 10 minutes) between being seated and seeing our server, service was excellent after that. Our server was very friendly and extremely knowledgeable about the dishes ingredients and their origin. I was quite impressed that he was able to tell me the name of their local fishmonger and the names of the local farms where each vegetable was grown. I really appreciated his enthusiasm about their extensive use of local ingredients.
So that I could try a greater variety of dishes, I opted to get 2 appies and a split plate. My choices included:
Salt cod with corn chowder with bacon and parsley- Although bacon is certainly not a staple of my pescatarian diet, I just had to have this very "Newfoundlandish" dish. And let me tell you, it was well worth it. The big chunks of salt cod (caught locally and bought from a fishmonger right down the road) was floating in creamy yet light broth and balanced by delicate locally-grown corn nibs. The small slivers of bacon added a wonderful salty bite. If you are not super-hungry, this could easily be a meal on its own (or you could just order two bowls like I considered doing!!!). This was hands down the best chowder I have ever eaten.
“Seed to Spoon” Salad Mix, Poached Cherry Tomatoes, Sheep’s Feta, Toasted Sunflower Seeds- "Seed to Spoon" is the local farm that grew the greens for this salad and many of the other veggies used at Chinched. The salad was piled high on the plate and contained a nice variety of greens including mustard greens which added a nice contrasting sharpness to an otherwise delicate dish. The poached cherry tomatoes, baked for hours at a low temperature to bring out their sweetness, could easily have been mistaken for candy. Yum. The locally-made sheep's feta was mild and there was just enough to give the salad some added richness without taking away from the vegetables.
Squid Ink Cavatelli Pasta, Artichokes, Sun Dried Tomatoes, Kale, Crispy Calamari- By the time I got to this dish, I was getting a bit full but I could not bear to leave a morsel of this on the plate. The cavatelli is reminiscent of gnocchi and was light and fluffy. The lightly fried calamari nestled on top gave a nice contrasting "crunch". I appreciated the addition of kale (local of course!), which added another texture and looked beautiful against the black cavatelli.
My father's dish:
Pan Seared Skirt Steak with Roasted Bone Marrow, Olive Oil Potato Puree, and Parsley Salad- My father enjoys his meat and potatoes so this was a good choice for him. For those diners who have never tasted or seen bone marrow (like my dad!), do not be intimidated! The towering marrow looks stately on the plate and you are provided with a little fork to pry out the few bites of marrow from the middle. The skirt steak was thinly sliced and, while it could have been a little more tender, it was cooked nicely. My dad was not a huge fan of the parsley salad that sat atop the steak as it was packed quite a punch of parsley flavor, but it did add a nice freshness to an otherwise heavy dish, as well as some color to the plate.
My mother's dish:
BBQ Braised Pork Shoulder with Black Eyed Pea & Roasted Corn Succotash and Avocado Relish- The braised pork shoulder, done "pulled pork" style was tender enough to melt in your mouth and was covered in a perfectly sweet BBQ sauce. On top was a little pile of diced avocado for freshness and creaminess. The large bed succotash underneath was perfect, both for texture and color.
So, well I still have Raymond's on the top of my St. John's restaurant wish list for my next visit, I am extremely glad that I had the chance to eat at Chinched this go-around. The bistro fare at Chinched could easily stand up to any comparable meal I have eaten in Vancouver. The chef's insistence on using local ingredients whenever possible is outstanding and certainly contributes to the quality of his dishes. He obviously knows flavors and textures very well, and presentation was simple yet pleasing as it should be at a bistro.
There are many "thank you's" in order for this dining experience- first and foremost to my wonderful parents for their company, to the local farmers for their fresh ingredients grown with love and for the staff at Chinched who should be applauded for their knowledgeable service and thoughtful food. Thank you, thank you and thank you!