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.)