Eating on the bottom of the tidal bay
Dining on the ocean floor an unforgettable experience
Our footprints add yet another layer of texture to the bottom of the ocean floor. Countless gentle curves flow in the red mud, blue swirls of iron oxidize in flat sandstone and water ripples in small pools left behind by the tide at Burntcoat Head Park on the Nova Scotia side of the Bay of Fundy.
We’re walking along the ocean floor — avoiding the slippery seaweed, marvelling at mini rivers that look like bike tracks and examining tiny white barnacles on the rocks — all while trying to work up an appetite for one of Canada’s most unique outdoor dinners. We will be literally dining at a table placed on the ocean floor once the tide goes out.
“There’s only about six days a year we can do this,” says Jennifer Nicholls of the Flying Apron Inn and Cookery. “We have to get out the tide tables and pore over them. Every two weeks, there’s only about two days that will work.”
Our experience started with a “shore boil” lunch on the lawn in the park just above us. We sat in a circle of colourful chairs with a few silver buckets in the middle and feasted on a giant bowl of mussels, clams and lobster tails cooked in white wine from a nearby winery. We licked our fingers and threw our shells at the buckets.
Now, we’re exploring down below finding endless black shells the size of your little fingernail lying on the mud. But look in a tide pool and the black periwinkles, a mollusk, are all in motion, moving along with hermit crabs and swaying sea lettuce. The more you watch, the more you see.
Others in our group are looking for bigger game. A couple of men from the other side of Nova Scotia are carefully turning over rocks, hoping to see a crab.
“There’s a trick to moving the rock,” one man confides. I believe him because he’s already found four crabs.
“I used to do it as a kid, for bait,” he explains. A minute later, he picks up a crab that’s been hollowed out by some other creature.
“Dead as a gnat,” his buddy declares.
About 160 billion tons of water move in and out of the Bay of Fundy every day, causing the highest tides in the world. In 1975, the tide at Burntcoat Head reached 53.6 feet, a record that still holds in the Guinness Book of Records.
Our guide points to thick lines of green algae about five storeys up the red cliffs.
“The water reaches just underneath that line,” says Kelsey White. She also points out strange rocks on the ocean floor dropped by ships from all over the world and explains how mussels carve out fingertipped sized holes in tiny cliffs of sandstone and why the retreating ocean is brown. “It’s the sand and the mud. The water is always moving. It goes about an inch a minute.”
After exploring for a couple of hours, it’s time for dinner. We happily head over to a long table facing the ocean, set with pretty little jars of wild flowers, our names written on a shell and small rocks holding down the placemats so they don’t blow away.
Servers from the Flying Apron Inn and Cookery bring out dinner — charcuterie and local cheese followed by steak and lobster — while our glasses are kept filled by servers with Avondale Sky Winery and Meander River Farm and Brewery.
For dessert, Flying Apron chef Chris Velden usually stacks layers of local berries, Grand Marnier mascarpone in lavender phyllo pastry horizontally, like a hamburger. But with the ocean breeze, he layers everything more like a caprese salad.
“It’s a little more wind resistant that way,” he jokes. Even still, a piece of pastry flies off my plate, which I take as a sign to eat the rest quickly.
As we get up from our meal, we discover the colourful chairs have been set up around PoPULaR a campfire behind us. Over coffee and tea, we pinch ourselves a little to have secured a spot at such a rare dinner.
Depending on the tides, the meal may be at midday or end after dark. On this day in August, low tide was late afternoon — 3:12 p.m. — and several hours later, as we climb the sandstone cliffs and stairs that take us to the park, the sun is getting lower in the sky. When you look back over your shoulder, you’ll see waves crashing over the millions of creatures you spent the afternoon getting to know and wonder how long until the ocean reclaims the spot of an unforgettable dinner.
there are six dinners between July and September. this year’s meals have already sold out but you can join the wait list. it’s $350 for one or $675 for two. flyingaproncookery.ca
jennifer Allford was hosted by tourism nova scotia and its partners, which didn’t review or approve this story.
the meal on the seafloor of the Bay of Fundy takes place during the day or night depending on the tides.