My apologies yet again for not posting last night, loyal reader. My darling wife and I were babysitting for the evening and so access to the computer was quite scarce. I must also warn you in advance that I won’t be posting tomorrow night either, for I’m going on an overnight trip around the bay with the b’ys!
As a little end-of-week treat, my wife and I had reservations tonight to try another one of our fair city’s restaurants, The Pepper Mill on Water Street . I had heard great things about it for years, but had never been. It was a golden opportunity to check it out and I can tell you that the place absolutely lives up to its reputation.
When you step into the restaurant, one thing is clear: objectively speaking, there isn’t much square footage to be had. after all, it is downtown. But that doesn’t matter because The Pepper Mill makes excellent use of its available space to give you a spacious feel. For starters, the left-hand wall is a large mirror, making the dining room seem bigger than it is. The dozen tables are also perfectly arranged to have a decent amount of space around them. Unlike other places, it really doesn’t feel cramped. Other downtown restaurants could learn a lot about table placement by checking out The Pepper Mill.
The decor is also pleasant. It’s contemporary and well thought out. The colour scheme is dark blue contrasting with some warm browns and earth tones. I appreciate the colour coordination: the dark blue tablecloths matched the colour of the pillars and the trim of the walls. The light level is low, but not too dim. Likewise, soft music plays in the background but not loud enough to be intrusive. The restaurant designers really know their stuff!
One thing I must note about The Pepper Mill is that given its great reputation and the fact that seating is limited, reservations are pretty much a must for diners. During our meals, no less than 4 groups and one caller were politely and regretfully turned away as everything was booked.
We were led to our table by a friendly and black dress-clad waitress who gave us the wine list and menus. Despite the busy evening, our server was attentive and friendly, taking time to ask where my accent was from, which led to a bit of chit-chat about the fact her boyfriend was also French, all the while we were going over the menu. It was a nice to have that personal touch. All the staff was smiling, courteous and professional, without being stiff. Another great night of service from a downtown restaurant!
The Pepper Mill‘s main menu consists of a few appetizer and about a dozen entrees. Chicken, seafood, duck and lamb are the meats of choice. I almost went for a delicious-sounding Duck with Newfoundland Partridgeberries main course, but at the end of the day I was in the more for seafood and opted for a Mussel and Prawns Carbonara Linguine. My wife, who had a hankering for pasta, ordered the same. On top of the menu choices, we were also informed of some of the specials. One was a very tempting steak accompanied by shelled lobster. Yum! Still, we had our hearts set on the carbonara.
In lieu of an appetizer, we each ordered a soup. I went with the classic, a creamy seafood chowder, while my wife succumbed to the temptation of a cream of cauliflower curry and pear soup. Erica chose a white wine, but I wasn’t in the mood for alcohol and stuck with water.
Our soups arrived in short order. My chowder was succulent: rich, creamy and with good chunks of potatoes, salmon, scallops, celery and other veggies. It was well put together. at my wife’s urging, I sampled her soup and good as the chowder was, it made me wish I had ordered the same soup she did!
The cream of cauliflower curry and pear soup was an absolute winner! Ever since we started sampling various restaurants, and at the risk of sounding like a food snob, I kind of get now what haute cuisine people are talking about when they mention things like layering flavours. The soup hit you first with a taste of curried cauliflower, then you noticed the edge was taken off, more than likely through the sweetening effect of the pear. Once you had swallowed it, you were then treated to a bit of heat from the curry. It was quite an experience, being hit with one flavour, then another, then another.
After we finished our soups (and I actually had to help my wife with hers as the bowls were of a good size), we waited about 15 minutes for our carbonaras. They arrived in really elegant and large bowls, the kinds I wish I could get my hands on. They smelled incredible. On a bed of linguine were, of course, the carbonara sauce with red onions, mushrooms and best of all, lots of pieces of bacon! Mixed in were 4 or 5 shrimp, and about half a dozen scallops.
I can’t sing the praises of those carbonaras enough, loyal reader. The abundance of bacon was a welcome pleasure, as was the richness of the sauce. But my favourite part were the scallops. I have never, ever tastes scallops cooked so perfectly. Eating scallops is often a crapshoot: they can easily be rubbery, or burnt with a crust, and unfortunately as you bite through even a well-cooked one, it’s not uncommon to feel something akin to a few grains of sand. Tonight’s, however, I tasted the best scallops of my life.
Seriously, they were moist, juicy, tender and there wasn’t any crispiness or graininess. They almost melted in the mouth. When our server came to see if we were enjoying our meals, I asked her to relay my praises to the chef for those amazing scallops!
I must mention once again that the portions, both of soup and carbonara, were very generous. In a way it sort of worked against the restaurant in this instance. We were originally planning on tasting the desserts, but after the soup and meal we were just stuffed! It’s a shame, as the dessert selection had us in sweets heaven: chocolate cheesecakes, strawberry-rhubard crisp with homemade ice cream, and other delights were tempting us. Ah, next time!
When came the time to get the bill, I was hit with another surprise: the price. For the quality of food, ambience and overall experience, we got a bargain indeed: 73.00$ before tip. I noticed, though, that the server had not counted Erica’s wine glass. When I pointed this out, she immediately apologized and told us she wouldn’t charge it. I insisted to pay for it, but she was adamant that the wine would be on the house. I appreciated that, it’s the mark of an establishment that is not afraid to absorb the cost of a mistake, even an innocuous one.
To compare the price, we paid almost exactly the same amount at Piatto for pizza, beer and tiramisus. Granted, we did not have dessert at The Pepper Mill, but I still think it was outstanding value for the money.
If I were to nitpick on two very small things, I would mention that the tables and chairs take a little getting used to. The seats seem a tad too low for my tastes compared to the tables. The dining surface was almost level with my chest. I would have liked the chair to have been a bit higher (or the table a bit lower), so that it would have been closer to my waist.
Another little hiccup was that, after we were given our menus, we spent a few minutes trying to decide what we wanted. Then our server came down to take our orders and let us know of the evening specials. Ideally, it would have been better to be given the specials at the same time as the menus. As it was, we had already chosen the carbonaras, but being told the specials we had to at least take a couple more minutes to see if we would rather have one of them.
Still, those are minor quibbles. I got used to the table, and I’m more than willing to chalk up the timing of the specials to a busy night. The quality of service we received more than made up for this little timing error.
Overall, if you’re looking for a fine dining experience that still gives you good value for your money, The Pepper Mill is a most excellent destination for you. I give it a good 9.75 out of 10!