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Tastes of the 49th parallel

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Verses Restaurant had previously done an “around the world in 20 plates” dinner; this time they offered a mere 13 dishes—one per Canadian province and territory. The event was conveniently timed around Jean’s birthday.

We arrived around 6:00 and were greeted with a cocktail built around maple-infused rye liqueur, nicely balanced by less-sweet ingredients. After about a half hour, we were seated. We were only three people at the last multi-course extravaganza; this time, we were a group of eight:

Group at Verses

This is the menu we were working our way through. It’s definitely the cod tongue that caused the most chatter; Jean and I were the only who’d ever had it before. But more on that later…

Menu of Canada

The wine was handled the same way as at the 20-course dinner; no wine matching per se, just as much of the selected red or white as we wanted. The wines selected were Canadian (natch), from a winery called Sprucewood Shores. The unoaked Chardonnay was very crisp and citrusy; I wouldn’t have guessed it was Chardonnay at all. The red was a blend of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, and was pretty easy drinking. Both were suitably food-friendly.

Wines with dinner

First course was a crispy oyster from PEI, in a chow-chow sauce. We all had the same thought: “That was delicious. Sure could use some more.”

PEI oysters, chow chow

We weren’t moving through the country geographically, though, so our next stop was Saskatchewan. It consisted of squab on saskatoon berry sauce, with greens and wild rice. Despite being informed (by me) that squab was just a foodie word for pigeon, everybody dug in and enjoyed it.

Squab with greens and berry sauce

The Nova Scotia item was listed ambiguously on the menu as “street food”. We tried to figure out what that might be, with some opinion that it must be some sort of sausage. I can’t remember who guessed “lobster” (wasn’t me), but that person was spot on. We got a lobster roll on coleslaw, served in a paper container! Quite tasty.

Lobster roll

Jumping west again, the Manitoba offering of duck prosciutto, bison jerky, blueberries, and hemp chips proved to the favorite of many, albeit with some debate over whether the duck or the bison was the best part. (I’d go duck, myself, but would probably be outvoted on the whole.)

Bison, prosciutto, hemp, bluberries

From the North now, Nunavut (misspelled on the menu, the many writers at the table noted), was a hearty caribou stew with bannock.

Caribou with bannock

The home-grown offering (Ontario) was trout with corn and Jerusalem artichokes (solving the mystery of what j chokes meant on the menu). As typical with Verses, the fish was properly cooked, meaning not too much, so it wasn’t dried out. But at the end of this course, I started to realize I had a problem: We weren’t even halfway through the meal yet, and I was starting to get full.

Trout, corn, and Jerusalem artichokes

The next item might as well have been designed exactly for Jean: A poutine of foie gras and Sauvagine, a Québec cheese that may be his favorite. The foie gras was really the jus for the dish, which I also found quite nice (unlike typical poutine), and blessedly pretty small (despite the picture making it look pretty big).

Poutine with foie gras and Sauvagine

Moving to New Brunswick, we were offered rabbit dumplings with wildflower honey. It’s getting boring to say, but this was really good, too! Though I had to start leaving some on my plate by this point, knowing more was on the way.

Rabbit dumplings

The Yukon offering included two of my favorite things, crab and wild mushrooms.

Crab and mushrooms

And now, the infamous cod tongues! These ones were larger and a little chewier than the ones I’d recalled having in Newfoundland, though one might guess they were a bit fresher there. I still didn’t mind them; I think they basically taste like cod. This remained the most controversial dish of the evening, though.

Cod tongues

And we don’t seem to have a photo of the Northwest Territories item! Elk and beans, that was.

Then, from Alberta, lamb chops with a side of barley. At this point, quite a few people, including us, requested a doggie bag. They were delicious the next day, too.

Lamb and barley

Dessert was from BC, featuring a gourmet Nainaimo bar and “hay” ice cream. Somehow, that dish managed to “slide down between the crevices”.

Nainaimo bar and hay ice cream

Deb from Verses then spoke to everyone, explaining the challenge of finding ingredients from across Canada at this time of year! The kitchen all joined us as well, for a well-deserved round of applause.

The final item was familiar to those of from the “more North” of Canada: Tire on snow, complete with log. That was great fun.

Maple syrup on snow

All that was left after was decaf coffees and teas, along with settling the bill, which was $150 a person all in, including tip.

Of course, with that much wine, nobody was taking a chance on driving home. (Well, except one, who took her “no alcohol with cold medication” advice very seriously indeed, and just drank water all evening!) Another group took a cab, but we decided to try the Over the Limit service, where two people come out to where you are, and one drives your car home while the other follows, counting kilometres. That worked out quite well, despite some glitches with their website booking. It costs slightly more than taking a cab, but nice not to have to go back for your car the next day.

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