Galiano Island, BC | 2806 Montague Rd. | 250-539-5392 | pilgrimme.ca
Even without our auspicious sighting of killer whales off the starboard side of the ferry, a pilgrimage to Galiano Island with my brother was destined for a happy ending. From the road near Montague Harbour, we spot a timber-clad house set back in the woods, with paper lanterns glowing in the windows. Tales of a chef who recently trained at Noma draw us toward it like a couple of gourmand siblings: Hansel und Hansel.
The 25-seat dining room is intimate and calm, with a big twist of driftwood mounted on one wall. Leanne Lalonde greets us with a gentle voice and an offering of a supernaturally soft pocket of fermented potato bread that steams when we tear it open. She met her partner, Winnipeg-born chef Jesse McCleery, at an eco-tourist lodge in B.C.’s Great Bear Rainforest. They eventually decamped to Galiano, a Gulf Island halfway between Vancouver and Victoria, and moved into a house that for three decades had been home to French restaurant La Berengerie.
McCleery is a wizard of textures. Celeriac is macerated and sliced paper-thin, reproducing the delicate snap of sushi ginger when it’s served alongside a springy chopped-egg gribiche. Ling cod nuggets, pan-roasted to just flaking and opalescent, link sea to forest when presented atop an emerald-green smear of fir-tip emulsion, a few young needles dotting the sauce. The world slows down and we’re transfixed, following the trail of each new flavour.
Dessert tonight is from the mainland: a pudding of organic rice grown in the Fraser Valley by Masa Shiroki, Canada’s first sake maker. The funkified caramel drizzle on top is made from roasted kasu, the spent lees from Shiroki’s sake production. Van Morrison strums a lazy guitar on the stereo while frogs croak melodies beyond the open side door. After sampling almost everything on the entire enchanted menu, we might never leave.