Thursday, March 26, 2009

Divine fish and dancing sky

I pause. Is this really the restaurant? I shyly open the door to this log building, which was built in the thirties as a store on the lakefront. A vivacious woman with abundant blond curly hair escaping from her baseball cap grins and yells out, "Look, our new waitress finally showed up."

"What's the pay for your waitress job?" I reply, immediately feeling at home. She, I find out later, is named Renata, and she is the chef, waitress, owner, dishwasher and entertainer of Bullock's Bistro in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

"Come on through, sit down," Renata invites, and leads me into a dining area about the size of my hotel room. All seven tables are full, so I take a stool at the tiny bar. "If you want a drink, help yourself from the cooler over there. Today we've got fresh whitefish, pike, trout, pickerel and arctic char, and all the meat on the menu." The meat on the menu is muskox, caribou, and buffalo. Fish can be battered, pan fried or grilled. All meals come with salad and freshly made fries. There are two choices of home made salad dressing: garlic or feta cheese.

I order pan fried arctic char. This delicate, pink fleshed fish looks like pale salmon, but has a flavour unlike any other fish I've tasted. It is only found in arctic and sub arctic waters. I try to get some every time I come north, but it is hard to find and rarely appears wild and fresh on menus.

For a single diner, there is no lack of reading material, on the walls, the ceiling, and even on the funky caribou's horns.

While watching Renata cook, which she does right behind the bar, I strike up conversation with my bar stool neighbours, both here on business like I am. One is a lab technician from Calgary, the other is a cable T.V. consultant from Florida, on his first trip to Canada. He is enchanted by the north. "They will never believe me at home when I tell them I drove on an ice road!" he says, shaking his head. He offers me a taste of his Great Slave Lake pickerel, which is sweet, firm, and a serious rival to my mouth watering arctic char.

Renata and her one helper keep the whole place laughing with her stories and banter. She serves my coffee with a warning: "Honey, be careful, this coffee will make your bra pop off." (Huh?)

Time to go. I zip up my parka, pull my hat down making sure it covers my ears, put my big mittens on over my gloves, and step out of Bullock's. After a moment I realize dogs are barking everywhere, all over town. Then in between barks I hear why; wolves are howling across the bay. The haunting sound of singing wolves brings sweet tears. When I was a girl my Grandpa Gordon taught me how to call to the wolves through a birch bark megaphone at our family cabin in Quebec. It took a lot of practice, but I got good enough to make them answer almost every time I called them.

As I walk back to my hotel, the northern lights dance and weave over my head. I have seen them several times on this trip, from my hotel balcony, but never so bright. The lights of the big city of Yellowknife (pop 17,000) had dimmed my view from the hotel. But here by the lake on the edge of town they are spectacular.*

What a wonderful place this is!

*(I do not have my good camera or a tripod with me, only a point & shoot, so I did not take the northern lights photo above. But it is very close in colour and pattern to the lights I saw that night.)


Jazz said...

I love Northern lights. And wolves singing. But I so couldn't live up there. Winter is bad enough down here, living through it 9 months a year? No way.

As a friend who lived up near James Bay said: There are two seasons up there: Winter and bugs.

Anonymous said...

Very cool.

But I'm flummoxed by the idea of coffee making my bra pop off.

Anonymous said...

Love that restaurant.

And - ah! - the Northern Lights. I live in Sweden so have seen them a few times. Magical!

Carver said...

What an interesting post and good shots. Sounds like a great place to eat. That's so cool that your grandpa taught you how to call to the wolves as a child.

Voyager said...

Jazz, I am amazed at how many people I've met who are originally from much warmer places. Just this week I have met people from Sudan, Eritrea, Turkey, Greece, Zimbabwe, and Viet Nam. These immigrants have found their Canadian dream here in the ice and snow. Who'd a thunk it?

Citizen, The coffee was strong, but but my bra stayed where it belonged.

Lady Fi, Welcome to my neighbourhood. Northern lights are magical indeed.

Carver, Your comment made me wonder if I can still call the wolves. It's been years since I tried. Maybe I should go down to Great Slave Lake tonight and howl. But I met get locked up for psychiatric assessment and miss my flight home to Vancouver tomorrow.


Jocelyn said...

The displays of Northern Lights I've seen have always restored my belief in magic.

Thank you for taking me on this trip with you--I love joints like that one.

Voyager said...

Jocelyn, Well if you are ever in Yellowknife, you have a tip on a great place to eat.


Rositta said...

Thanks for visiting my blog. Your post brought back a lot of memories for me. My offspring lived in Yellowknife for 10 years and my three grandsons were born there. I've been on the ice road a few times, seen the northern lights, gone dog sledding in -40, been on a caribou hunt and canoe tripped the Nahani in my better/younger days. To me it is one of the most beautiful parts of Canada, well except for the Rockies. I have many beautiful photos of the area...ciao

Ian Lidster said...

The northern lights are astonishing. What a wonderful photo. And thank you, lovely friend, for the visitation. I'd like to hang out with Renata, too.

Ian Lidster said...

The northern lights are astonishing. What a wonderful photo. And thank you, lovely friend, for the visitation. I'd like to hang out with Renata, too.