A Night on the Tug; Port Alberni's Swept Away Inn

Port Alberni's authentic, Moroccan, floating resort.

Creeping close to my 2 year Port Alberni-versary, I was beginning to find it near inexcusable that I had yet to experience an evening on the Iconic Swept Away Inn. The charming tug boat, owned and operated by the delightful Dan & Bouchra Savard, features a number of rooms and authentic Moroccan cuisine. The boat is docked at the Harbour Quay, right next to the Starboard Grill.

I had heard talk of the unique and exquisite dining experience from friends and family alike & had socialized with Dan and Bouchra on multiple occasions at community events. I did have the pleasure of enjoying their cooking at the 2016 Alberni Valley Chamber Excellence Awards Ceremony; wherein the Swept Away Inn teamed up with Long Beach Lodges Chef, Ian Riddick. The power team produced a delicious 4 course meal, featuring Bouchra's Moroccan Lamb and chicken dish to a corporate event crowd of 300 or more guests. Upon tasting the beautifully spiced and tender dish, I knew it was only a matter of time before a Pressed Event Services cameo was absolutely, point blank, necessary.

Though i knew that the value would be outstanding, and well worth the expense, as a new business owner and entrepreneur, I knew that this would have to be saved for a special occasion.....or, I'd have to be invited by someone I was fairly certain would pick up the bill. The latter worked out quite nicely in this particular situation. 

Meet Bill and Jen Collette; happily married, parents of 3, believers in the simpler things in life. Like Campbell's soup. 

Meet Bill and Jen Collette; happily married, parents of 3, believers in the simpler things in life. Like Campbell's soup. 

An invitation to enjoy dinner on the tug was extended to *Dan and I by my parents.

**Side note; you will notice there is an uncanny number of Dan's in the town of Port Alberni. I will try my darnedest to separate them for you, but I apologize in advance if you find yourself confused. From henceforth, please note the addition of an asterix indicating my Dan *

The evening began at my moms BFF's house. The gracious hosts Gayle and Rick offered *Dan a beer, and I, a yummy lemon martini.

After a cocktail and some h'ors d'oeuvres, we made our way over the Harbour Quay to board the ship.

tugboat.jpg
“Set your course by the stars, not by the lights of every passing ship.”

— Omar N. Bradley
The boat was lovely; an Edison bulb lit canapé covered  what I imagine would be a magical summer time patio. The sharp October rain however, didn't allow me much time to further ponder. As we walked inside the ship, I immediately felt as though we'd been transported to some sort of miniature Moroccan castle. The table was set for 10, 8 of us were in attendance, the remaining 2 seats were reserved for Dan and Bouchra, who would enjoy the main course with us when the time came.
dinner setup Swept Away Inn

We were graciously greeted by our hosts Dan and Bouchra. Dan, who had a very clear understanding of high end hospitality ensured that everyone; beginning with the women, was well taken care of, while Bouchra carefully monitored and finalized the details of her dishes.

I was offered a 20 year aged Chianti with dominant Sangiovese notes. The wine was lovely. Medium bodied with notes of roasted tomatoes & thyme, rounded by a slight tannic grip, reminiscent of clay pot {this likely sounds ridiculous, but humour me here and visualize-it's more of a textural thing with hints of roasted red vegetables. This flavour is quite common in Spanish red wine, next time you have Sangiovese see if you can pick it out!}.  The wine was nice and subtle. a versatile wine that paired quite nicely with the courses to follow.

tuge setup.jpg
Whatever you do, pour your heart into it
— Robert Mondavi

The lovely thing about an evening on the tug, is that Dan and Bouchra just take care of you from start to finish. We are not provided a menu, or asked what we'd like to eat, we are invited to try what they are serving; an extension of themselves. it's a look in at the Moroccan culture and we are guests visiting friends in their floating home. 

soup tug.jpg

The first course arrived around 10 minutes after we were seated. Dan, starting with the women, reached his right arm over her right shoulder to avoid interruption or accident, gently, he placed a bowl of soup in front of each guest. Before anyone started, Bouchra made an appearance. She stood at the head of the table and explained the dish to us. the soup was called "Harira", it is an authentic Moroccan soup made from tomatoes, lentils chickpeas and a number of Moroccan spices.

I hate to admit it, but I am, rather unfortunately, one of those odd souls that just cannot get behind cilantro. I do, however, understand and appreciate the flavour. I recognize where it fits and where it rounds a dish. From a foodie perspective, the dish was wonderful. nicely balanced, with a thin texture. a little bit of heat added a nice cultural component to the soup and the texture of the chickpeas brought the dish together. I didn't finish mine, only because the cilantro was getting to be a bit much for me, so I passed my bowl onto *Dan who, with great chivalry, assisted me.

tug salad.jpg

Upon completion of the first course, Dan cleared all of our plates, and within minutes presented the second course; again, very hospitably beginning with the women, and following European serving techniques. It is so refreshing to see this calibre of service in the town of Port Alberni. As a former Vancouverite, I've found myself missing the exquisite atmosphere of high end or even moderately high end hospitality.

The second course was a light and crisp salad served over arugula, baby spinach and red cabbage. The light dressing was complimented by the acidity of the granny smith apples which artfully rimmed the plate. Resting on top of the salad was a disk of panfried cheese; the name of which escapes me. 

When the main course arrived, conversations came to an immediate halt. Dan and Bouchra presented the meal together. Roasted balsamic tomatoes, spiced couscous with raisins, fried cauliflower with roasted pumpkin seeds and cheese sauce were set on the table. The couple left an open space in the centre, were they then presented a "Tajine".

[Tajine or tagine (Arabic: الطاجين) is a Maghrebi dish which is named after the earthenware pot in which it is cooked. It is also called a Maraq/marqa in North Africa and the Middle East.]-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tajine

Bouchra opened the Tajine to reveal a beautiful plate of beef short ribs with charred onion and jalapeño.

 

Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food
— Hippocrates
main course tug.jpg

The main course is served the traditional "A la Famalia" style. large dishes of mains and sides are placed on the table, and the guests take what they want and pass the dishes around. This is a wonderful style of dining that encourages interaction and conversation. "A la Familia Style" translates to "family style". it brings us closer and offers an inherently casual ambiance, reminiscent of a family dinner at your parents dining room table.

The short ribs were the star of the show. Wonderfully tender, I don't think I even used my knife to cut through the velvety, perfectly seasoned dish. The raisins in the couscous was a great touch, adding a little bit of sweetness and texture. 

tea and dessert tug.jpg

Before I realized what had happened, my plate was completely empty. As I sat, contemplating how I was going to stand up and walk after eating so much food, a beautiful piece of homemade pomegranate cheesecake was placed in front of me. A gorgeous tray of Moroccan tea cups was brought out and Bouchra poured from what looked like a foot and half above the teacups 10 glasses of steaming hot, mildly sweetened Moroccan mint tea. 

The cheesecake was to die for. dense and sweet with vanilla notes which were complimented by the tannic pomegranate on top. The cheesecake and tea paired perfectly. 

By the time everyone had finished, it was a little after 10:00PM. the group chatted for a little while longer, and, eventually *Dan and I said our thank-you's and goodbyes, bundled up in our coats, stepped out of Morocco and back into rainy Port Alberni.

It was a wonderful evening with family and friends, an opportunity to sample food from a culture I had yet to explore and a chance to experience service and food far above the current standard in the rising gem of Port Alberni.

XX

-R

QC Event School