A night at Bar Kis­met

Call it greedy, but we’d re­ally pre­fer you don’t go to Bar Kis­met so there’s still room for us.

The Coast - - FOOD+DRINK - BY MELISSA BUOTE 2733 Agri­cola Street Tue-Sun 5pm-12am Bar Kis­met

One of the big­gest down­sides of writ­ing about a restau­rant that you re­ally love is the po­ten­tial to ruin your chance of ever get­ting a ta­ble at that restau­rant ever again. When there are only a few dozen seats, you kind of want to keep ev­ery sin­gle one of them a secret. Ev­ery­body loves a hid­den gem, right? So is it re­ally so bad to want to bury it a lit­tle deeper? Think of the sat­is­fac­tion peo­ple will feel when they fi­nally find it!

Un­re­lated: It is a real shame that Bar Kis­met is just a very ter­ri­ble restau­rant that you prob­a­bly shouldn’t go to.

Take it from me, a very hon­est per­son who is not at all about to spend 1,000 words dig­ging a deep, dark hole and bury­ing a trea­sure as far as she pos­si­bly can in or­der to try to keep it for her­self. Is Bar Kis­met one of the best restau­rants that has opened in Hal­i­fax in the past decade? Ab­so­lutely!... not.

Yes, read­ers, it is in­cred­i­bly sad that Bar Kis­met is def­i­nitely not an en­chant­ing space that hits a perfect bal­ance be­tween cool and warm—cool in the way that it has a very re­laxed am­biance and is staffed by a col­lec­tion of beau­ti­ful peo­ple, and warm in that it has an in­trin­sic grand­moth­erly qual­ity that makes it feel like it has ex­isted for­ever and will ex­ist for­ever in a way that will al­ways feel homey and wel­com­ing. I de­cid­edly don’t look for­ward to see­ing how age will com­fort­ably wear into the de­tails—the cran­nies in the white walls and the al­ready clas­sic wood barstools— how when the edges are worn off the new­ness of this space it will be likely some­how be even more charm­ing than it al­ready is. Be­cause it isn’t charm­ing. Nope. And that will ab­so­lutely not hap­pen at this ter­ri­ble, ter­ri­ble restau­rant.

You should cat­e­gor­i­cally not go to Bar Kis­met, but make an even more con­certed ef­fort not to go specif­i­cally on nights that I typ­i­cally en­joy eat­ing out, like, say a Satur­day or Sun­day evening. On those nights it is a par­tic­u­lar hor­ror I wish to save you from. This is a restau­rant that un­ques­tion­ably doesn’t man­age to have con­sis­tently at­ten­tive and con­vivial ser­vice even in the face of a line of peo­ple wait­ing for ta­bles that prac­ti­cally tum­bles out the door, some of them pa­tiently sit­ting on a shelf inside the door like a row of pink-

cheeked, cock­tail-sip­ping dolls. What are they even do­ing there, those poor souls? Go home, peo­ple! You don’t want a ta­ble!

If only in the face of all this grue­some­ness I could say that An­nie Brace-Lavoie is ful­fill­ing all of the prom­ise made in her years in the kitchens of restau­rants like Toronto’s Bar Is­abel and Buca. If only, I sigh heav­ily, I could say she is, as I ex­pected, run­ning a top tier kitchen, churn­ing out plate af­ter plate of re­fined creativ­ity that beau­ti­fully mar­ries the sweet, savoury and saline na­ture of lo­cal seafood. But I can’t. Or at least I won’t.

Trust that I mean it was off-key when I say that fresh, silky slices of raw al­ba­core ($14) sang with the bright sweet­ness of cle­men­tine and grape­fruit spark­ing against bit­ter and per­fumed bites of en­dive and fen­nel. And that the way the salt and heat danced in the airy bat­ter on fried smelts ($10), plated curled to­gether in the cen­tre of a swirl of creamy, tart, herby green sauce as if still swim­ming to­gether in a school—the once shim­mer­ing, sil­ver cloud turned crisp and gold as if by magic—was the way guilty feet dance, you know, the ones that got no rhythm.

...it has an in­trin­sic grand­moth­erly qual­ity that makes it feel like it has ex­isted for­ever and will ex­ist for­ever in a way that will al­ways feel homey and wel­com­ing.

And it was ob­vi­ously dis­gust­ing, the way the crisp outer shells of finger­ling po­ta­toes ($13) gave way to an earthy fluff that would grip to the rich tang of creme fraiche and dusk lush­ness of smoked arc­tic char. And the full­ness of flavour that the singe from a grill gives to green onions, splayed like ten­drils of seaweed in a sea of Sal­morejo sauce, un­der sup­ple, springy squid ($14) that popped with salt and the smok­i­ness of its own char? Ugh. Gross.

Don’t even get me started on a dish with lus­cious chunks of crab and car­rots on a béar­naise sauce ($16) that teeter-tot­tered be­tween sweet and black­ened, lus­cious and crisp, or the way the creami­ness of quick-fried sweet­breads ($14) plays off the en­tirely dif­fer­ent type of creami­ness of a tuna-tinged ton­nato sauce and toasted nut­ti­ness of scorched broc­coli. Be­cause, ew.

If only dessert was bet­ter. Who wants a creme caramel so light and airy that it’s prac­ti­cally gos­samer, its mild cus­tard off­set with glossy caramel sauce that dances on the pre­car­i­ous edge of burnt with­out ever top­pling into bit­ter­ness? Not you, I hope!

If you’re won­der­ing about the drinks, think­ing that there was at least one saving grace in this meal, I’m so very sorry to dis­ap­point you. I’d love to re­port that Jenner Cormier con­tin­ues to be the def­i­ni­tion of ex­cel­lence in bar­tend­ing in Hal­i­fax—tal­ented behind the bar in both craft and con­ge­nial­ity—and that the bev­er­age pro­gram is noth­ing but a small, thought­ful se­lec­tion of wines and well-crafted, in­ter­est­ing cock­tails. Again, I’d just love to but I can’t. (Won’t. What­ever. Se­man­tics!)

If any­thing, the Long Winded News of the Never ($13) was too bal­anced. And or­der­ing an off-menu cock­tail, like a Gib­son ($13), prob­a­bly doesn’t al­ways re­sult in a crisp, per­fectly stirred drink served in an adorable Nick and Nora glass with a lit­tle jar of pick­led onions in case the one speared in the glass wasn’t enough. That was prob­a­bly a fluke.

If only I could say that Bar Kis­met is the def­i­ni­tion of a great restau­rant. If only I could say their ob­vi­ously per­sonal ap­proach, re­fined sim­plic­ity, fo­cus on qual­ity and sin­cer­ity el­e­vates ev­ery sin­gle part of the restau­rant— from the aes­thetic of decor and plat­ing to the com­bi­na­tion of del­i­cate and bold flavours—ul­ti­mately cre­at­ing an im­mensely pleas­ant and un­for­get­table din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. But I won’t. I’d tell you to go and see for your­self, but you shouldn’t. You know what? I’ll go for you and re­port back. No need to thank me. You’re wel­come.

AN­NIE BRACE-LAVOIE

Silky raw al­ba­core, cle­men­tine, grape­fruit, en­dive and fen­nel.

ALEXA CUDE

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