Chefs of hotel restaurants are sometimes more hired hands than creators, and chef Seadon (pronounced Seed’n) Shouse has been both. Now 34, the Nova Scotia native has worked at different levels in restaurants, some in hotels, from Nantucket to Manhattan, Virginia, Kentucky and Florida.
A big part of the reason Halifax, the restaurant in the W Hotel in Hoboken, is so good is that Shouse was brought in to convert the existing restaurant, Zylo, into something more appealing. The space was brightened and refreshed as well.
“The seafood-based menu and Nova Scotia influence was my idea,” Shouse says. Halifax is the capital of Nova Scotia, but he doesn’t take credit for the name. “That was suggested by a consultant based on her research. The name isn’t about me,” he adds. “It’s about what we do here, which is showcase the fresh seafood and farm fare of the Atlantic coast, from Delaware up to Newfoundland.”
In my visits, I tasted nearly every seafood dish on the menu and found each to be superbly fresh, prepared with finesse and given just-right seasonings, sauces and sides.
The Atlantic sourcing has two exceptions. One is Gulf shrimp, which are terrific in novel salt cod and shrimp fritters served with saffron aioli and an herb salad. The other is wild Alaskan king salmon, pan-seared and delicious with house-made bacon, cipollini onions, potatoes and red wine sauce.
Seasonal updates are frequent. Jersey scallops with spring asparagus and a mixed-nut romesco gave way to an equally fine summer treatment with Jersey corn, barley, summer squash and smoked tomato aioli.
“I’m very at home with fish,” Shouse says, perhaps stating the obvious. “From the time I was four or five, I was picking mussels from the rocks and catching pollock, mackerel and scorpion fish. My family wasn’t chefs. We were cooks. We fished, foraged, ground our own flour, kept goats. I was raised on goat’s milk.”
Shouse thought he wanted to become a pilot and enrolled in the aeronautics program at Virginia Tech. In high school, he had worked in restaurants, and continued that in college. “Eventually I realized I loved cooking,” he says, so he transferred to the Culinary Institute of Canada on Prince Edward Island and earned a degree there in 2004.
He hopped around a lot. But in 2006, he opened Proof on Main, a notable hotel restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky, and stayed there five years, learning a lot about smoking meats. You’ll see the fruit of that knowledge on Halifax’s menu. It includes five house-cured meats and patés, five house-cured or smoked fish, and five cheeses. Shouse’s maple-smoked salmon, cold-smoked mussels and smoked pollock rillettes are subtle and delicious. He hadn’t experimented with smoking seafood until he began developing Halifax. The one problem, easily fixed, is that these apps are routinely served too cold, seemingly right out of the fridge.
The irony of Shouse’s itinerant career is that Halifax isn’t his first tour of duty at the W. He spent a year at Zylo when it was a steak house before taking a job in upstate New York in 2012. He returned to Zylo in 2015, after its lackluster transition to a Mediterranean menu, in order to devise a new approach. Halifax opened in the spring of 2016.
As Shouse himself admits, its food and service were, for a time, uneven. “Just last month,” he said in July, “I told the staff we’ve finally hit the sweet spot. The challenge is to keep that up.”
The sweet spot is not limited to seafood. Smoked Amish chicken (from an Amish farm in Pennsylvania) was crispy, juicy and delicious, with currants, pine nuts and local greens. The words “NJ lamb” on the menu raise an eyebrow, but it’s no misprint. Joe Barry, father of Halifax owners Michael and David Barry, raises lamb on his farm in Gladstone. Shouse puts the meat to good use in a starter of lamb meatballs with smoked gorgonzola fondue and rye crostini, and in an entrée of ricotta cavatelli with lamb, local wild mushrooms, tomato and Parmesan.
As for beef, an herb-marinated Angus strip steak, at $38 Halifax’s priciest item, which I had on my first visit early last spring, was tender but not especially deep in flavor.
Seafood remains the main attraction. Halifax’s best-selling entrée is lobster rigatoni. The pasta, made in-house daily, is lavished with lots of poached meat, trumpet mushrooms and a “coral” sauce made from butter simmered with lobster shells, strained, and mixed with lobster roe, called coral.
I heartily recommend the clam chowder, an $11 starter. Our server suggested dividing it into four bowls. “It’s so good,” she said, “everyone will want some.” She was right. Shouse uses smoked ham rather than bacon, which he says “overpowers the clams.” He also shuns heavy cream. Borrowing a method from his mother, he makes a clam juice velouté and adds a dash of half-and-half at the end, “mostly for color.” Result: a chowder with clam flavor forward.
One dish notably improved since my first visit is the generous seafood stew, which now has a more engaging and sophisticated tomato-based sauce.
Another Halifax asset is pastry chef Stuart Marx, who had that role at the Fromagerie in Rumson under chef David Burke. His terrific chocolate truffle torte amounts to a tour of chocolate’s many textures, hues and flavors.
The journey from Zylo to Halifax has been eventful. So, too, has Shouse’s career. “I’m tired of moving,” he says. “I’m staying put for quite awhile now.”Click here to leave a comment
Cuisine Type:American - Fusion/Eclectic - Modern - Seafood
Price Details:Appetizers, $12-$25; entrées, $17-$38; sides, $9; desserts, $8-$10.
Ambience:Breezy and casual.
Service:Helpful and friendly, if not always attentive.
Wine list:Full bar, specialty cocktails, 15 wines by the glass, about 350 by the bottle.