Lot 30 is an uber-modern space in one of the original buildings in historic downtown Charlottetown. In fact, the restaurant’s name comes from the lot assigned to the plot of land in 1771 where the restaurant sits. However, the decor is anything, but old. It’s modern cool with blond floors, dark wood and steel tables, chairs, and booths, a long, sleek bar, and big graphic paintings on the walls.
The restaurant is owned by Chef Gordon Bailey and his wife, who manages front-of-house. I first met Chef Gordon as a fellow judge at the PEI International Shellfish Festival chowder competition. He’s a young, beefy guy who wears a baseball cap and sleeveless shirts that show off the colorful tattoo art decorating his arms. When one of the other judges from the Island’s Culinary Institute of Canada heard I was dining at Lot 30, he leaned over and said, “This is the best restaurant on the Island.”
He may just be right. Dining at Lot 30 was one of those meals-of-a-lifetime that I won’t soon forget.
I was greeted by Chef Gordon’s wife and seated at a banquette table for two. The menu, which features meats, fruits, vegetables, and other products from the Island’s legendary bounty, is hefty, though not overwhelming. There were starters (which Gordon calls “Before”) that included local Colville Bay oysters (raw or baked), panko fish cake, greens with apple and cashew or pear and brie, cheddar stuffed perogies, wild mushroom and lobster fricassee, lobster ravioli, and seared scallop gratin ($10-18).
The entree menu for September featured meat and seafood offerings (and one vegetarian dish) that included rib eye, pork belly and seared scallops, short ribs, butter poached lobster, Atlantic salmon, halibut, haddock, and seafood cippino ($22-32).
Chef’s Menu, Chef’s Best
There was also a five-course chef’s tasting menu ($65) where you turn yourself over to the chef’s whim and trust something wonderful will happen. That’s exactly what I did and it was absolutely the right decision.
When I placed my order for the tasting menu, my server beamed. “When I first came to PEI, I ordered this tasting menu,” he told me. “I applied for a job here before I finished my meal.”
The waiter brought me three warm buns infused with roasted garlic and rosemary and served with soft, whipped butter. They were pillow-soft in the center, slightly crunchy on the outside with the sweet lilt of herb and garlic adding interest.
My first course was the scallop gratin, three perfectly seared scallops served piping hot in a baking dish in a bubbling pool of rich carrot butter and topped with chopped curried pistachios. This dish was super rich. They serve it with a soup spoon because you’re going to want to scoop up every dribble of that golden carrot butter. The curry flavoring of the pistachios was delicate and added a subtle contrast to this incredible dish.
As I waited for my second course, my eyes were drawn to the flat screen television over the bar that live broadcasts the action at the plating table in the kitchen. Diners and waiters alike can see the chefs carefully plating each dish. One chef dishes up from hot pans; another ladles and swishes sauces and purees; still another tops dishes with freshly chopped herbs. It’s a fascinating dance and it’s lovely to see the care that goes into the placement and presentation of the food.
My friendly, knowledgeable waiter next brought a fish course—pan roasted halibut cheek with citrus glaze and served with yellow butternut puree and tiny roast beets. The fish, which had a little crispness outside, was topped with salty olives and shreds of green onion. It tasted moist and had that chewy texture characteristic of this special part of the halibut. While I didn’t think the olives really added to the dish, the squash puree was ultra-silky and delicately sweet and the beets were perfectly roasted.
I’d eaten just two courses, part of a roll, and drank a glass of ice tea and I was already feeling full. Knowing I had three courses to go, I left half of my halibut and beets and forced myself to resist another roll.
The third dish to arrive was equally rich—a trio of pork belly, cheese perogie, and chanterelle mushrooms and spinach. The big square of pork belly, which wasn’t overly fatty, was nicely seared on the outside, juicy inside, and exceptionally rich. I couldn’t stop eating this dish.
The perogie, with its soft, tender dough filled with melty cheddar and bacon, sat on a pool of crème fraiche that added just the right counterpoint to the rich cheese. The chanterelle tasted of fresh earth with a nice chewy texture, and the spinach offered a welcome lightness in contrast to all the richness in this trio.
As I contemplated the last course I’d just eaten, I wondered if it was possible for the chef to top the previous over-the-moon dish. I also couldn’t help but notice a table of five young chefs gathered around a window table. They were discussing recipes and cooking techniques and they chose Lot 30 as the place to eat. It spoke volumes about the restaurant and Chef Gordon.
All of the dishes I was served came out of the kitchen fresh and incredibly hot, as if there was almost no time between stove or oven, plating, and serving. My waiter told me, “All the dishes for a table have to come out at the same time. The plating video really helps because I can see what’s being plated and, even if it’s not mine, I know when to come back and help serve.”
My final entrée arrived: a beautiful strip of Island rib eye, nicely marbled and cooked medium rare. It was topped with pieces of sautéed lobster and a thick, succulent lobster sauce, and it rested on local yellow string beans. The beef was amazingly juicy; the lobster sweet and buttery; and the lobster sauce, through which I keep dragging that beautiful beef, was so delicious I wanted to lick the plate. The yellow beans, though fresh and cooked al dente, largely got ignored. When the waiter came to take my plate, there were just a few lonely yellow beans and wisps of lobster sauce left.
And dessert? Could it possibly stand up to this meal? In fact it did. The waiter brought a large plate with a trio: a berry sorbet, a chocolate torte, and house-made hazelnut ice cream, drizzled with caramel sauce. The sorbet, made from Island strawberries, blueberries, and black currants, was studded with pieces of frozen berry and tasted chillingly refreshing. The dark chocolate torte, with its moist nut crust pillow of Chantilly cream, was decadent with a deep, satisfying chocolate flavor and a silky texture. The creamy hazelnut ice cream was speckled with finely chopped hazelnuts and the caramel sauce had just the right satiny mouth feel and rich, buttery flavor.
I sat back with a cup of coffee, my belly stretching my waistband, and sighed deeply. This was one of those times I didn’t mind the calories; I didn’t care how what the meal cost. It was utterly, entirely satisfying. And I will be coming back to PEI and Lot 30 soon. In the meantime, this is a meal I’ll remember and even dream about for some time to come. – Review and photos by Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor