They say you never really leave the East Coast, your heart always stays behind. Any come-from-away will confirm that it doesn't matter how long ago you left, you inevitably feel a tug back towards those Atlantic Canadian roots.
It's been over six months since my last trip back to my hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia - that's a long time to go without the lobster, tartan plaid and Keith's beer that Bluenosers are never without (note: extreme stereotyping). So when I heard that Atlantic Canada House was setting up shop here in Whistler for just three days during the Paralympic Games, I jumped at the chance for a taste and glimpse of home.
Atlantic Canada House - the result of a partnership between the governments of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick - took over the Longhorn Saloon from Monday, March 15 to Wednesday, March 17, hosting a roster of East Coast musicians, traditional cuisine and much more. But on Tuesday, organizers hosted a special athletes' luncheon to recognize the accomplishments and efforts of Canada's Paralympic athletes.
Before tucking into an impressive East Coast spread, P.E.I.'s newly appointed Minister of Tourism, Robert Vessey, explained that the four provinces have teamed up for the first time to promote their region collectively to the world during the Olympics and Paralympics.
"This is something that came about about a year and a half ago when the council of Maritime Premiers decided that we wanted to support the Olympic movement and the Paralympic movement, and we came together with the four provinces in the Maritimes," Vessey explained.
"It's to create awareness and promote the beautiful product that we have to offer on the East Coast, which normally we don't have the opportunity to do on a stage such as the Olympics or the Paralympics," he added.
The luncheon certainly was a wonderful showcase of the bounty of the region.
I tell you, my heart gave a little flutter when I spied the bottles of Keith's and Moosehead beer on offer beside the ever-present West Coast staples of Kokanee and Molson Canadian.
Sipping a glass of Jost Vineyard's Seyval Blanc and discreetly slurping on delicious, freshly-shucked oysters from Malpeque Bay, P.E.I., I had a chance to chat with a few friendly musicians from Newfoundland who were among the many talented East Coast musicians brought to Vancouver and Whistler to perform for the Olympic and Paralympic crowds.
The first course was a simple green salad of organic mixed greens from Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley, toasted walnuts and cherry tomatoes served with a tart berry vinaigrette.
Next up, guests had a choice between fresh Atlantic salmon served with a braised fennel ragout with citrus butter sauce, beef tenderloin with a P.E.I. potato leek pave, fine beans and bacon, or a butternut squash and hand-foraged mushroom risotto. After much internal debate, I opted for the salmon. As it turns out, it was good to go with my gut instinct - the filet was perfectly prepared and seasoned, the flavour of the fish not hidden behind an overpowering marinade or sauce. Instead, the tart bed of citrus-infused fennel and potatoes provided that extra zip the dish really needed. It also paired very well with a chilled glass of Jost's sweet, crisp Seyval Blanc, a bottle I know I'll soon be searching for in our local liquor stores.
Last, but certainly not least, was the decadent chocolate mousse pyramid, a sinfully rich dessert served with a dollop of sweet icewine fruit puree to balance out the bitterness of the cocoa.
It might be time to plan a trip back home.
An extra scoop
Looking for a way to splurge without feeling guilty afterwards? Head out to eat on Thursday. March 25 to take part in Dining Out For Life, a fundraiser for two AIDS-related organizations: Friends For Life, a wellness centre that offers support to those living with the life-threatening illness, their families and caregivers; and A Loving Spoonful, a group that provides free meals to men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS in Vancouver.
Over 200 restaurants stretching from Whistler to down across the Fraser Valley are set to take part in the annual fundraiser, donating 25 per cent of revenues from that day to the cause.
Check out one (or more) of the establishments from Whistler and Squamish participating in the event: Christine's on Blackcomb, Ciao Thyme Bistro, Elements, Howe Sound Inn & Brewing Company, Hy's Steakhouse, Jordan's Crossing, Kypriaki Norte and Player's Chophouse.