When you arrive in a marina town, one of the tough decisions is where to dine. Keeping a crew happy with the right selection is an art. Should you prepare an outstanding meal on the boat after visiting a farmers market, or sample some of the local flavor through their restaurants? In Ganges, it is worth staying a couple of nights to do both. 

But now narrow it down to a neighborhood, or across the street in Centennial Square, down from Mouat’s, and there are two tough choices.

Auntie Pesto’s has been in this neighborhood for a couple of years with fine Italian food, and on a busy summer evening, a line running out the door. There is dining outside on the deck overlooking Centennial Harbour.

In the past, a several restaurants have rotated through the space next to the gallery. Finally, there is one to challenge Auntie Pestos. Or, do what we did: go to both!

The Gathering restaurant’s decor opens up to the square. It is white bright with the decor featuring different artists work on the walls. When you enter, there are shelves of board games and large open tables for playing and dining. While you wait to order, or for your dinner to be prepared, you can have fun with your family or friends over a board game like Scrabble or one of the darker contemporary games on the market today. It’s fun and interesting. After dinner and over dessert, you can pick up your game and play some more as you linger over your wine or coffee. Order another bottle of wine and the entire evening can slip by in this fun environment.

The Gathering

Chef Jonathan Duquett at work.

The Gathering

The Gathering

The Gathering

Bryan Dubien does a great job managing the restaurant.

But this is really about food, and The Gathering is special. Just look over the menu and you can tell that Chef Jonathan Duquette is passionate about preparing good food for his customers at reasonable prices. Front man, and one of the friendliest people you will know, Bryan Dubien keeps the games going and makes sure the dining room/game room is very happy.

A dinner starts with the Tapas plates, all priced at just $6. They can be enjoyed as a selection of dishes, or as an appetizer course. Try the scallop with jicama apple slaw. This is not on one plate, but a 3 part plate with a different sauce for each, easily shared. Or, try the refreshing watermelon and cucumber salad with pickled red onion. The list continues with Greek style quinoa salad with oregano vinaigrette and a few other very good selections.

For the entree, the favorite at our table seemed to be a coconut crust snapper in a red curry banana sauce, or chickpea gnocchi with seared cherry tomatoes, asparagus, mushrooms in a cumin honey glaze. Can you resist the pan-seared lingcod with truffle oil, warm potato salad, wilted spinach with a perfectly prepared onion ring on top? The coconut crust snapper disappeared from my plate. One of the others in our party had the pan-seared scallops with parsnip vanilla bean ravioli in a vanilla vinaigrette, which also disappeared from her plate. The entrees are priced between $12-$17, more than reasonable.

The Gathering

Scallops and games

If you still have room for dessert you could order the lemon pot au creme with a meringue top, vanilla and lemon ice, or mascarpone cheesecake with chocolate ganache and salted caramel sauce, or cornmeal clafoutis with seasonal berries and clotted cream. All are priced at $5 or $7.

The wine list is adequate, but has room for improvement. A Chilean Tempranillo was very good. Watch for a stronger list in the future that will feature some of the best local Salt Spring and B.C. wines. 

The Gathering was a find.

Next, Auntie Pesto’s across the street. Yes, we did save this for another night instead of gorging our way around the square. With a reservation we were promptly seated. Good thing, as the wait list was 30 minutes or more.

The menu was enticing with many Italian favorites. I started with calamari with cucumber & tzatziki for $12. As you can see from the picture, the portions are huge and easily shared.

For dinner, I ordered the Bolognese – beef, smoked pork belly, mushrooms, herbs & cream for $18. My dinner companion had the fresh house made Ravioli with roasted yam and Salt Spring Island chevre on a mushroom duxelle for $18. Both entrees were large portions, half of which went home to the boat for scrumptious lunch the next day.

Auntie Pestos

Bolognese at Auntie Pesto’s.

Auntie Pestos

Calimari at Aunti Pesto’s

For the sake of this review, we ordered the Mayan chocolate pate with chili, sea-salt and cafe caramel for $9. I am glad we shared and it was quite an unusual explosion of flavors.

So there is the restaurant throw-down. Which corner of the street do you take? Well, it turns out they are both quite different and quite good. The Gathering is a bit more innovative, but Auntie Pestos takes Italian food to the next level. Prices are higher, but the portions are huge and easily become part of the next days lunch.

The solution to this dilemma? Stay in Ganges for two nights or more!

-Mark

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