A White Christmas in Yellowknife

Mack and I spent a week in Yellowknife in December, ensuring we did, in fact, get a white Christmas. It was a low-key holiday, however, which is exactly what we both needed.

Thom, Mack, Sharon

With Mack’s brother Thom

Two years ago (my first time up north), we checked off many of the “touristy” items off our list, so this time around, we spent most of the time with Mack’s family indoors.

Sharon & KotahSharon & Traz

The family includes a multitude of pets (miss you, Kotah and Traz!)

Noteworthy was the hospitality provided to us on the flights. In spite of the journey only taking an hour and forty-five minutes, we were provided with full meals both ways! On the return leg, this meant a full turkey or roast beef dinner. Mack wants me to mention that it was typical airplane food, but I was so floored that we were served anything above pretzels that I didn’t mind.

First Air

Thanks, First Air

We did do some wandering, on one of the warmer days while we were there (-16 or so). We took a walk around downtown, exploring some of the paths around City Hall.

Yellowknife 2011

It’s snowing!

Yellowknife 2011

Serving up Yellowknife’s hollow, artificial Christmas tree

I couldn’t help but stop in Le Stock Pot a few times over that week, the most adorable bakery/deli I’ve ever seen (the owners used to have a larger kitchen supply store, then a market, but they downsized earlier this year). Their pricing might have been inconsistent (a croissant cost $2.50, a pain au chocolat $0.60), but I loved what they were able to cram into the little storefront. The bakery even supplies fresh bread to the local Shoppers Drug Mart.

Le Stock Pot

Le Stock Pot

We did our best to bring back something home with us, and stumbling into Javaroma, we found a coffee shop that roasts its own beans.

Javaroma

We especially liked the “Made in NWT” sticker

We didn’t bring back this, erm, unique chicken in a can that we found at the grocery store, however.

A 3 pound can!

Although many restaurants were closed during the break, we found that Le Frolic, a local French bistro, was open for brunch on Christmas Eve. Mack’s Dad had good things to say about their lunch and dinner, but hadn’t yet tried their brunch – so we thought it might be a nice meal to have together.

Le Frolic

Interior

It was empty save for two other tables, but it was festive enough, nicely decorated with garland and Christmas lights. It turned out their brunch menu consisted of six different eggs benedicts. Needless to say, we were disappointed – the eggs were inconsistently poached, leaning towards hard yolks instead of soft ones. The skillet potatoes had also been cooked with hot sauce – something that wasn’t mentioned on the menu (when we asked our server about this, even she seemed surprised).

Le Frolic

Eggs “Benny” with back bacon ($13)

Le Frolic

Eggs “Arctic” with smoked arctic char

Although the brunch didn’t meet our expectations, it was enjoyed in good company, which is all that really mattered.

Thanks again to Martin and Patti for their hospitality, and for making our holiday so relaxing!

Yellowknife Wanderings

While I can’t say I was thrilled when Mack and I decided that we would be spending a part of the holiday north of Edmonton, in the end, I was glad we went. Not only we were able to spend some quality time with his family, but I am also now able to appreciate Edmonton’s relatively milder temperatures (really, anything above –30 feels like a blessing) and generous amount of daylight.

We were able to explore the city somewhat – on dogsled, in a vehicle, and on foot. Because Martin and Patti live in the downtown core, we were able to walk to the nearby shopping centres and restaurants.

The street where Martin and Patti live

Ravens (even larger than the birds we encountered in Banff)

Thom helped orient us to the area

Centre Square Mall, one of the two shopping centres

In YK Centre, the other shopping centre, we found The Chocolatier, a specialty shop that makes all their own chocolate in-house. Though truffles are their specialty, I picked up a package of their Carnutzel (caramel covered pretzel then dipped in chocolate), while Mack decided on their chocolate-covered Rice Krispie squares. Mack’s squares ended up being the winner – the pretzel base needed to be thicker to stand up to all of the caramel used.

Inside The Chocolatier

We also encountered a store in YK Centre that was dedicated entirely to Ragged Ass Road, a cheekily named street. Martin and Patti eventually took us to the small unmarked residential roadway, but it was a bit anti-climactic (and hence, no photos).

To Ragged Ass Road

We also window shopped at the Gallery of the Midnight Sun, a lovely local boutique filled with handmade treasures. I had to take a photo of the furs for Amanda.

Furs and pelts

Of course, something I was also interested in was the grocery shops. While I knew most produce and items would be available in Yellowknife, the question was – how much would they cost? Luckily, I came across this post at YK Online, which saved me from taking pictures of basic goods myself. While groceries are not surprisingly more expensive, some things still left me with sticker shock, like a bag of grapefruit that was nearly $8.

Co-op

My favourite store in Yellowknife, and one that I could see myself shopping in if I ever lived there, was Le Stock Pot (how could you not love the name?). The owner of the kitchen supply store and deli also owns two restaurants in the city – Le Frolic and L’Heritage. Even though they were in the process of moving their kitchen supplies to a separate location, I still fell in love with their pantry, stocked with pretty bottles of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and the like. And, never one to resist good bread, I picked up a baguette which I later consumed with butter. It was perfection.

Inside Le Stock Pot

The one restaurant I had some intention to visit was Bullocks, which some say serve the best fish in Canada. Much like other establishments in Yellowknife during the holidays, however, it was closed, and we ended up at the Vietnamese Noodle House instead. Who knew I would end up having pho in Yellowknife? It was all right, and did the job of warming me through, though the rare beef was a little tough.

Combination Beef Noodle Soup

As we were also in Yellowknife for the New Year, Patti took us to the fireworks show at Frame Lake. It was amusing to me that the show took place at 9:30 instead of midnight, but given how cold it was then, I was thankful for the early kick-off to 2010. Unlike in Edmonton, where the people setting off the fireworks are shielded by office towers, we were able to see the trio of men on the lake lighting off the rockets. The show almost felt intimate with a crowd of around 200, and the  fireworks themselves seemed larger, without any buildings in the way.

Fireworks

More fireworks

It ended with a bang!

On our last full day in Yellowknife, we checked some other things off of our tourist to-do list. First, it was up to Pilot Hill for some shots of the magnificent sunset, and the view from the top. Boy was it cold, but it was worth it.

Gorgeous sunset

Great Slave Lake

Looking toward the town

With Patti

Lastly, Martin took us to the ice road across Great Slave Lake which provide drivers with a shortcut to a small community across the Lake. We didn’t drive across, but it was pretty cool to see the ploughed snow roadway.

On the ice road

While we didn’t get to see any Northern Lights, we still got to experience many of the sights that make Yellowknife unique. Thanks again to Martin and Patti for their hospitality, and for making our stay special!

No Caribou, No Problem: The Black Knight Pub

Mack and I ventured out into the Yellowknife cold (-42 with windchill) in the hopes of having lunch at Yummy Cafe. From the post on the lovely Life in the Knife blog, Yummy looked like my kind of place – family-run, cozy, offering fresh baked goods. Unfortunately, like many restaurants and businesses in Yellowknife, Yummy was closed not only during our visit, but for an entire month. We returned home, disappointed, and vowed to do some more research.

After consulting with Mack’s parents, we decided to visit The Black Knight Pub (and called to make sure it would actually be open on New Year’s Eve). The website revealed the promise of caribou burgers, and Mack was eager to have me try some “northern” type food.

It was actually pretty busy inside, though we had our choice of a handful of vacant tables. The Black Knight had the standard pub decor – a haphazard collection of flags, license plates, badges and the like dressing the walls.

Mack at The Black Knight

It took a few minutes for the waitress to acknowledge our existence, but given the number of patrons inside, we didn’t mind the wait. After perusing the menu of pub favourites, we asked about the seasonal caribou burger – unfortunately, the waitress told us that because of low caribou populations, a supply of meat was difficult to obtain, and a menu change was imminent. We accepted the bison burger ($15.50) alternative.

Mack’s only real complaint about The Black Knight was the beer – his pint of draft Kokanee was inexcusably thin – he compared it to beer-flavoured water. Had he known, he would have ordered a bottle instead.

Our orders arrived in good time, looking as good as they would ultimately taste. The edges of the patty were a tad charred, but it didn’t ruin an otherwise solid burger.

Bison Burger

As we were leaving, we heard the sound checks of a DJ upstairs, where Top Knight would be hosting a New Year’s Eve party later on – I’m sure it was quite the event. If you’re in town, The Black Knight Pub is a good, casual lunch option.

The Black Knight Pub
4910 49 Street, Yellowknife
(867) 920-4041

Not a Diamond in the Rough: Fuego

To celebrate Mack’s birthday, Martin and Patti took the lot of us out for dinner at Fuego. Martin had been there for lunch one day, and enjoyed his visit.

Fuego is part of a larger company that includes a lounge, champagne bar, and catering service, under the umbrella of Dining on 50th. I was a little weary of their “international cuisine” tagline, but was willing to see what this Yellowknife restaurant had to offer.

Walking downstairs into the space, I was immediately struck by how busy it was. Though we knew many restaurants in the city are closed for the holiday season, I somehow still didn’t expect a nearly full house. Dimly lit, the decor was simple – red walls, sleek leather chairs, and pictures of a lake sunset encased in false windows.

Mack and me

The dining room was bracketed by a small bar and a stage – Fuego hosts local musicians on a nightly basis. The talented Shea Alain was our entertainer that night, performing acoustic, low-tempo covers of everything from “My Girl” to Fort Minor’s “Where’d You Go”.

Fuego has quite a large menu, and though there was some Latin American influence, it seemed to be put together with a purpose to please – the grilled ostrich seemed out of place. More focus might do it some good. Regardless, everyone was able to find one dish that appealed to them. Most of us also ordered appetizers.

The baked caramelized onion soup ($9) was rich, and packed an unexpected heat. Underneath the melted cheese and bread was a dense web of onions that I struggled to finish. Mack’s jumbo bacon scallop skewer ($15) was beautifully garnished with greens and a star, but was a touch overcooked. He gobbled it up, and said it was still pretty good.

Caramelized Onion Soup

Jumbo Bacon Scallops

My herb chipotle crusted whitefish filet ($26) was a bit disappointing – though the fish was nicely cooked, where I was expecting a hard shell, I was met with more of a pesto-like robe on the fish. Moreover, the beurre blanc was unappetizingly sour, to the point where I could have done without the sauce all together. I loved the balsamic glaze on the sweet potato fries though – the sauce made it more like a treat than a side.

Herb Chipotle Crusted Whitefish

Mack’s grilled arctic char ($34) was more of a success – the caper aioli was the perfect accompaniment. Mack also loved the crispy potato chips on his plate.

Grilled Arctic Char

Everyone else around the table seemed to enjoy their dishes (dishes were definitely over-sauced though), and despite the fact that the entire restaurant was serviced by just a single waitress, the kitchen was speedy and we weren’t left waiting long for our food. It is also worth noting that the restaurant was quite accommodating towards a gluten allergy in our party.

Bison Ribeye with Chimichurri Sauce

Beef Striploin with Brandy Madagascar Sauce

Grilled Seafood Stuffed Salmon Filet with Pesto Sour Cream

It was a nice night overall at Fuego, with wonderful ambiance provided by the live entertainment, and good company. Decent food, but I can’t say I would recommend it as a destination.

Fuego
4915 50th Street, Yellowknife
(867) 873-3750
Lunch: Monday-Friday 11:30am-2:30pm; Dinner: Monday-Saturday 5-10pm

Dog Sledding in Yellowknife!

Part of the Christmas present from Mack’s parents was a dog sledding tour with local company Beck’s Kennels. It was a very thoughtful gift, and one they knew we would enjoy because it would provide us with a uniquely “northern” experience.

Out of the possible tours, Martin and Patti chose the Northern Outdoor option. Two hours in length, we would all have the opportunity to drive the sled, either to the cabin where we would warm up around a wood-burning stove, or back to the home base. Beck’s also offers different types of tours, including aurora viewing, ice fishing and snow shoeing. In addition, proprietor Grant Beck is an avid dog racer – it was neat that the kennel was not only in the business of offering dog sledding recreationally, but participated in the competitive sport as well.

Some of the many kennels

Martin dropped the four of us off at Beck’s yesterday afternoon for our adventure. We were directed to dress warmly, particularly because of the length of our tour, and were surprised to find a collection of parkas, snow pants, boots, hats and mitts for us to use. We geared up and got ready to go.

Kim and Shane

Mack and me

Mack and Shane elected to direct the two sleds on the way to the cabin, and were given a quick lesson from our guide on what to do. We were told to stand with our knees slightly bent, and at the turns, to lean into the turn in order to avoid tipping the sled.

Practicing my stance

Kim and I settled comfortably into our passenger seats, and off we went! Our tour guide followed close by on a skidoo, checking to make sure both Shane and Kim’s sled and ours were on track. Though the dogs were playful and would occasionally fall out of the harness-and-rope-imposed lines, they were focused on getting to our destination, and knew the trails well. I felt safe the entire time – in case Mack fell of the sled, or the dogs made a wrong turn – we knew the guide would find us to help if we had needed it.

The view

Mack directing the sled (he loved his pink gloves)

The ride to the cabin took just over half an hour. It was a peaceful and serene journey, with the trails through the trees being my particular favourite, branches and boughs beautifully draped in snow.

Trail

At the cabin, while the dogs rested, we warmed up around the wood burning stove and had hot chocolate and snacks.

Kim warms up

Shane and Mack

We asked our guide about the dogs, because I had expected them to be long-haired Siberian Huskies. She said that because Siberian Huskies had been bred more and more for their appearance instead of racing traits, that Alaskan Huskies were actually a better breed for running. We also asked if she knew the names of the dogs, and she said it was difficult, with 135 dogs at the kennel!

Kim and I directed the sleds on the way back, and boy was it ever cold. We rode against the bitter wind chill pretty much the entire time, along a slightly different route than before. Though I was afraid I would fall off of the sled, between the grip of the sled runners and the fairly flat landscape, it was an easy ride. We had to help the dogs a little by pushing the sled up the hill, but other than that, the dogs took care of us.

On the way back

Thanks again to Martin and Patti for the experience!

You can read Mack’s post here and see some of the photos here.