The Press Gang

Even in a city like Halifax, where there’s a more relaxed approach to dining, a fine dining experience can be a daunting proposition. The Press Gang, one of Halifax’s finest dining experiences, ignores that premise, and creates a comfortable environment where patrons can focus on their food and their enjoyment.

My meeting with executive chef Beth Muise confirmed this idea immediately. Her enthusiasm and relaxed demeanour was infectious and immediately put me at ease. It also built my excitement for the exquisite meal I saw in my future.

The goal is good food, excellently prepared. The Press Gang’s menu features a lot of local food products, and adds some exotic complements – like kangaroo or ostrich. In our conversation, Chef Beth talked about how she liked to challenge herself, and the menu certainly proves that.

After getting situated at my table and taking in the swirl of activity that kicked off the evening dinner service, my friendly and attentive server, Jamie, showed up with bread from Boulangerie de la Vendeene and a some fun suggestions for a cocktail to kick things off.

The Press Gang has a terrific selection of wines and cocktails, and I couldn’t resist the idea of dessert before dinner with a blueberry martini. A sweet treat with a kick, Nova Scotia’s official berry is delicious in this fine, muddled form.

Ordering dinner took a matter of seconds. I checked out the menu online in advance, then peppered Chef Beth with questions about her favourite dishes. Her suggestions were absolutely perfect.

For a starter, I had the seared sea scallops in a green apple-wasabi purée with nori flakes. The scallops were cooked to tender perfection. The apple-wasabi purée was tangy and sweet, with a little kick of heat that follows each bite. Delicious.

During each course, and even between courses, my server stopped by to check in on my meal, to make sure it met my expectations, and to provide me with an estimated time of arrive for my next course.

I also took Chef Beth’s suggestion for my main, and had the Brome Lake Duck Breast served with a Dragon’s Breath blue cheese bread pudding and roasted parsnips and a Yukon potato purée.

The duck was rich and tender, with sweetness from the brandy and red currant glaze. I worked my way through it slowly and deliberately, it was simply too good. The bread pudding was sweet and sharp; the flavour of the blue cheese was certainly present, but not overwhelming. With a hearty serving of roasted vegetables, the meal was well-balanced and met every expectation set by Chef Beth’s enthusiastic recommendation.

For the next course, I was presented with two menus, a dessert menu and a Scotch menu. With over 100 single malt whiskies, plus blends, one thing I knew for sure is that I have a lot to learn about single malts.

Returning to my comfort zone with the dessert menu, I decided on the spiced apple cake to complement the savoury duck I had just finished. The cake was served with a variety of berries, warm apple compote, and a spiced rum caramel sauce. It was light and spicy, the perfect capper to my leisurely dinner.

Chef Beth wants guests to have a complete, relaxing meal experience – taking as much time as they want to relax and have a fun evening. I didn’t quite manage to put in the four hours it was suggested I could stay, but I gave it a great try. A meal this delicious could not have been rushed. My experience was enhanced by the cozy atmosphere, with exposed stone, wooden beams, and dark corners, being conducive to a great meal, as well as serious business, leisurely chats with friends, or even a secret rendezvous.

If you’re looking for a special treat for Mother’s Day, the Press Gang will have a unique brunch opening from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, May 13, 2012. Chef Beth is putting together a special menu for the day and will also have special desserts. Contact the restaurant for a reservation or book through Opentable.

The Press Gang is a great place to treat yourself whether you’re up for a three-course meal or just want to unwind with some oysters and a cocktail after a crushing week at work.

The simple pleasures of a gorgeously-prepared meal cannot be overstated. It is fine, fun dining – for special occasions or a simple evening out.

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