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Apr 30, 2009

Ancient Champagne Part III

Continuing our unplanned theme of ancient champagnes...

This past March a 1928 Krug broke the world record for the most expensive bottle of Champagne ever sold. After several rounds of bidding at Acker Merrall & Condit in Hong Kong, Krug Collection 1928 went for US $21,200 (exceeding estimates).

According to Serena Sutcliffe MW, Champagne expert and head of auction house Sotheby's, the 1928 Krug is "one of the greatest Champagnes ever made." An absolute rarity, it's considered the ultimate expression of the legendary longevity of Krug champagnes.

What makes Krug 1928 so special? Four main reasons:
  • Krug's wine-making philosophy---involving a precise choice of grapes, fermentation in small oak casks, a blending process personally carried out by the Krug family, and very long cellar aging before release---was exactly the same in 1928 as today.
  • Second, 1928 was an extraordinary vintage. The climate was perfect in every sense, with just-right amounts of sun, heat, dryness and rain---each at the right moment. Grapes were beautiful and healthy. Picking took place at the end of September, with a perfection of balance between high sugar content and high acidity (important for long aging potential).
  • Third, perfection in aging. Krug 1928 has grown in ampleness, depth, and complexity. It's developed stunning notes of apricot and honey while retaining a fresh lively finish---described by one Krug-lover as "somewhat like Yquem with minute bubbles and no sugar."
  • Finally, not many bottles of Krug 1928 made it past the 1930s. The champagne would have been wildly popular anyway, but the dearth of good vintages during the 1930s madae Krug 1928 even more of a standout and a top choice).
See our earlier posts: Ancient Champagne Redux, about the recent discovery of an 1893 Veuve-Clicquot; and World's Oldest Champagne Opened (yep, an 1825 Perrier-Jouet was opened and tasted by a lucky few).

Apr 25, 2009

What's Your Cooking Personality?

A recent nationwide study by the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab focused on 440 cooks in the U. S. rated as “great cooks” by themselves and by at least one other adult family member. Personality tests indicated that 9 out of 10 could be categorized as being one of 5 personality types:
  • Giving Cooks (22%): Friendly, well-liked, enthusiastic cooks who specialize on comfort foods for family gatherings and large parties. Giving cooks seldom experiment with new dishes, instead relying on traditional favorites.
  • Healthy Cooks (20%): Optimistic, book-loving, nature enthusiasts who are most likely to experiment with fish and with fresh ingredients, including herbs.
  • Innovative Cooks (19%): The most creative, trend-setting of all cooks. Seldom using recipes, they experiment with ingredients, cuisine styles, and cooking methods.
  • Methodical Cooks (18%): Often weekend hobbyists who are talented, but who rely heavily on recipes. Although somewhat inefficient in the kitchen, their creations always look exactly like the picture in the cookbook. Highest success rate of all cooks.
  • Competitive Cooks (13%): The Iron Chef of the neighborhood. Competitive cooks are dominant personalities who cook in order to impress others. These are perfectionists who are intense in both their cooking and entertaining.
What cooking personality do you have? The original test used in the study was 12 pages long. But here’s a shorter version derived from the book “Mindless Eating” (Bantam) by the study’s author, Brian Wansink:

1) When I prepare a meal, I typically:
a) Rely on classic dishes my family has always enjoyed.
b) Follow a recipe step-by-step.
c) Substitute more healthful ingredients.
d) Go all out and try to impress my guests.
e) Rarely use recipes and like to experiment.

2) Some of my favorite ingredients are:
a) Lots of bread, starches and red meat.
b) Beef and chicken.
c) Fish and vegetables.
d) A trendy ingredient I saw on the Food Network.
e) Vegetables, spices and unusual ingredients.

3) In my free time I like to:
a) Visit with friends and family.
b) Organize the house.
c) Exercise or take a fitness class.
d) Be spontaneous and seek adventure.
e) Take part in creative or artistic pursuits.

4) My favorite things to cook are:
a) Home-baked goodies.
b) Casseroles.
c) Foods with fresh ingredients and herbs.
d) Anything that lets me fire up the grill.
e) Ethnic foods and wok dishes.

5) Other people describe me as:
a) Really friendly.
b) Diligent and methodical.
c) Health conscious.
d) Intense.
e) Curious.

To determine your cooking personality, add up your chosen letters. If you tended to pick one letter more than others, you fall decidedly into that cooking personality group:

a = Giving
b = Methodical
c = Healthy
d = Competitive
e = Innovative

In case you're curious, I came in as an unequivocally Innovative cook.

Apr 17, 2009

England's Top 10 Foods?

Cream tea, anyone?

The Times of London Online had an article yesterday by writer Simon Majumdar, who has been traveling in the UK for research on an upcoming book about the food of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.

Yesterday’s article, though, tackled only England’s food---specifically, he listed the 10 foods he considers to be “quintessentially English.” Here they are:
  1. Melton Mowbray Pork Pie
  2. Fish And Chips
  3. Black Pudding
  4. Kippers
  5. Parkin
  6. Cornish Pasty
  7. Potted Shrimps
  8. Grouse
  9. Treacle Sponge Pudding
  10. Cheddar Cheese
Never heard of Parkin or Black Pudding? They’re all described in the article, which you can check out here (although I'm still in the dark about Parkin).

I sent the article to my English buddy, Monica, who has lived in San Francisco for many years. Her take on this subject puts everything into perspective:

“I'd go along with the pie, fish and chips, Cornish pasty… But I think a cream tea, taken in a country tea shop, preferably in the garden, is one of life's great pleasures.”

Who could argue with that?

To learn more about England's regional foods, visit my website.

Apr 14, 2009

Don't call them French Fries in Belgium!

Freedom fries, chips, or frites---whatever you choose to call them, they're Belgian in origin, not French! And, believe it, Belgians take their fries very seriously. Made with Belgian Bintje potatoes, cooked twice and served in a paper cone with a side of mayonnaise, these Belgian treats embody potato perfection. A favorite place to sample fries in Belgium is at frietkots or fritures (outdoor vendors who sell---you guessed it---Belgian fries). You'll find more than 4000 frietkots throughout Belgium and many carry a selection of over 50 dipping sauces to choose from. One of the most visited frietkots in Brussels is a local favorite, Antoine's, on the Place Jourdan. Whether enjoyed at a three star Michelin restaurant or right off the street, this Belgian specialty is not to be missed.

And why are they called "French" Fries? Apparently the name originated due to a linguistic misunderstanding, because in old English 'to French' meant to 'cut into sticks.' According to the Belgian historian Jo Gerard, chips appeared on the dining tables in Namur, French speaking Ardennes, and Dinant in the latter half of the 17th century. Poorer inhabitants in these towns used to fry tiny fish. When the river froze in the winter the fish were replaced by sticks of potatoes cut to the same small size of the fish, et voila! Belgian Fries were born.

Apr 11, 2009

Toronto's Culinary Scene, Part III

Toronto at NightToronto at Night*

Note: Parts I and II, which precede this post, cover Days 1-3 of my recent culinary trip to Toronto. Here's the final installment to this gustatory saga (in which I gained about 2 pounds!):

Day 4

On this last day we once again piled into a stretch limo because we had much to see, all of it located in various parts of the city.

Stop #1—Wychwood Barns Farmers’ Market: This popular Saturday-morning market is housed in one of four former city streetcar barns, all dating from around 1915. All the barns were 18 days from the wrecker’s ball a few years ago when a coalition of citizens managed to save them. Now they’ve been transformed into a center for sustainable food production and education, where people come to grow, learn about, celebrate, advocate for, and (at the Farmers’ Market) buy healthy local food. Located at Christie and St. Clair streets, the Wychwood Barns complex is an outstanding example of intelligent urban renewal.

Wychwood GreenhouseThe Greenhouse at Artscapes Wychwood Barn

Our visit occurred on a blustery early April day, but inside the barn all was warm, cozy, and friendly. Aside from local produce, you could purchase baked goods, coffee, honey, and even crafts. I was most impressed with the barn-cum-greenhouse---an immense, nearly full-windowed growing space where children learn to plant seeds and grow crops (which they also help harvest and later eat).

Stop #2---Buddha Dog: This place is so great. It was actually founded three years ago in a small Ontario agricultural community (Prince Edward County) where local farmers, butchers, chefs, bakers, dairies and others came together for a single purpose: to create an exceptional hotdog with absolutely no preservatives. They wanted the dog, in and of itself, to represent the very best of the region’s culinary tradition.

And did they ever succeed! I’ll admit to being a bit of a hotdog aficionado. I’m never in NYC without hitting Nathan’s Finest, and I always like to sample the best version of a regional hot dog wherever I travel. So when I say that the Buddha Dog was darn good...well, it was darn good. Absolutely delish, in fact.

Buddha Dog Menu, copyright Suzanne RodriguezThe Buddha Dog Menu

The Tornoto Buddha Dog was opened in 2007, and it’s very popular. Inside, the place is bright, with contemporary light-wood furniture and handsome decor, and quite casual. A few small tables and chairs at the back; counter seating up front. You place your order at the bar, and stipulate what kind of cheese (if any) and sauce you want on the dog (ranging from sweet to really hot---see photo). The dogs are tucked into fresh buns made from locally-grown grains. There’s an artsy, giant map of Ontario over the bar that shows where all the ingredients come from for the dog and its sauces---quite interesting, and another example of how seriously people in this town take local sourcing.

Stop #3---Cowbell Restaurant: In 2006, Cowbell’s chef and co-owner Mark Cutrara was vacationing in British Columbia with his family when, on a fishing jaunt with a local farmer, he exchanged three salmon for a leg of lamb and vegetables produced by the farmer. “I used these ingredients to cook one of the best meals of my career,” he said. “Up until that time, it was my only experience eating a meal created entirely by one farm.”

Cowbell's Chef and co-owner Mark Cutrara, copyright Suzanne RodriguezCowbell's Chef and Co-Owner Cutrara (how many restaurant kitchens can you think of that sport a food sourcing map?)

Now Chef Cutrara and his co-owner, Karin Culliton, celebrate Ontario's local farmers. You’ve probably gotten used to wine-grower evenings at your favorite restaurant, right? Well, at Cowbell Restaurant they have Farmer Nights. A typical such occasion occurred one night last summer when they celebrated Dennis and Denise Harrison of nearby Dingo Farms, who produce a renowned, naturally-raised beef. Also on that evening's menu were vegetables from local Cookstown Greens, and wines from Ontario’s Fielding Estate Winery.

But there’s more. Cowbell makes its own charcuterie, bakes its own bread, does its own smoking of meat and fish, whips its own butter, and butchers its own meat. They buy entire pigs, lambs, etc., butchering them in-house. Cows are purchased in portions, and one of the treats of this entire trip was to watch Chef de Cuisine Guy Rawlings tear an entire side of a cow into serving portions---it took about 15 minutes! Whatever’s left over is transformed into sauces, stock, etc. “We use every single ounce,” Chef Cutrara said proudly. “We do nose-to-tail cooking here.”

Stop #4--FRANK: That night, we journied off on the final stop of our trip. Dinner at fabulous FRANK, located in a new Frank Gehry-designed space inside the Art Gallery of Ontario. The restaurant is hung with Frank Stella paintings. In case you missed the inspiration for the restaurant's name: Frank Gehry + Frank Stella = FRANK.

The space, as you can imagine, is simply stunning---one entire backlit wall holds the wine in rows. Once a month wine at the top of the wall is moved to the bottom, and the empty spaces are filled in with new bottles. As the month progresses and bottles are removed to be served, spaces open up here and there on the wall...and, of course, each month it's a different set of spaces that empty, reflecting the wines ordered by diners. In a very real sense that wall of wine is a piece of kinetic art.

Dessert at FRANK RestaurantAn elegant dessert at FRANK Restaurant

Executive Chef Anne Yarymowich sat with us, providing lively commentary to the edible works of art presented to us one by one---and everything we ate that night celebrated local food and wines. A stunning meal, and a must on any visit to Toronto. Also sitting with us were one of Canada's top wine writers, Billy Munelly of Billy’s Best Bottles, and top designer Kato Wake.

Our menu:
Stoddart Family Farms Duck Egg en Cocotte
With duck graisserons, and rye flour biscuits
Paired with 2006 Village Reserve Pinot Noir
Le Clos Jordanne, Niagara

Soiled Reputation Salad**
With watercress, pickled baby beets and Ewenity Dairy Feta cheese
Paired with 2007 Narcissist Riesling
Megalomaniac, Edra's Vineyard, Niagara

Roasted Ontario Lamb Leg
With potato squash perogies
Lavender lamb jus and lavender gremolata
Paired with 2006 Meritage, Tawse, Niagara

Milles Crepes Cakes with Stoddart spelt flour crepes
Caramelized Ontario russet apples and Woolwich dairy chèvre – honey ice cream.
Paired with 2006 "Indian Summer" Late Harvest Riesling
Cave Spring, Niagara

The next morning, incredibly early, I left for the airport and, eventually Sonoma---and a week of nothing but salads and fruit to make up for my Toronto gluttony. Ah, but it was worth it!
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* This photo of the Toronto skyline, by Jason N. Lunas, is published courtesy of Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.5 license. Thank you.

** So many people have asked me about Soiled Reputation that I've added this note. Soiled Reputation is an 80-acre organic farm in southwestern Ontario. It's owned and operated by Antony John and Tina Vandenheuvel, who sell their high-quality produce to restaurants and the public.

Apr 8, 2009

Toronto Culinary Scene, Part II

Art Gallery of Ontario
The Art Gallery of Ontario*

Note: Part I, which precedes this post, covers Days 1 and 2 of my recent culinary trip to Toronto.

Day 3

As we set out around 9 a.m. on our third day of investigating Toronto's culinary scene, it was cold, rainy, and windy enough to violently turn umbrellas inside out. Undampened---in spirit, at least---we arrived at our first destination of the day, the St. Lawrence Market. Named one of the world’s 25 best markets by Food & Wine Magazine, the market is housed in an 1844 building (Toronto’s first city hall) and brims with the best in local and imported food and wine. We were lucky enough to have the Market's official tour guide---local historian, author, and generally delightful character Bruce Bell---to show us around.

First stop: The Carousel Bakery, where we breakfasted on Toronto’s wildly popular Peameal Bacon Sandwich. This invention dates back to the 19th century, when Back Bacon---or, as we Americans like to say, “Canadian Bacon”---was brined in a mixture that included crushed peas (don’t ask). Just type “Peameal Bacon Sandwich” into Google, and you’ll get an idea of how well-known this delicacy is (not to mention how rabid adherents can be about the various varieties).

Peameal Bacon on a Bun copyright Suzanne RodriguezPeameal Bacon Sandwich at the Carousel Bakery

To me it simply looked like lots and lots of Canadian Bacon on a bun. I was able to choose from a variety of mustards and/or sweet sauces, but that was about it. Puzzled, I turned to Bruce Bell and said, “I don’t get it. This doesn’t have any lettuce or a tomato or anything. It’s just Canadian Bacon.” Bruce smiled knowingly. “That’s the beauty of it!” he replied. Once I took a bite I understood what he meant.

An array of Kozlik's Mustards, copyright Suzanne RodriguezA few of Kozlik's Mustards at the St. Lawrence Market

We spent a couple of hours walking around the market, sampling food and chatting with vendors. One of my favorite places was triangular-shaped Kozlik’s Canadian Mustard where you could buy any variety of mustard you’ve ever heard of and some you haven’t. There were stores with fish so fresh you wouldn’t have been surprised to see them leap about. There were bakeries, a caviar shop, gourmet coffees, delicatessens to die for, produce, cheese shops, meat vendors selling Ontario-raised venison and Hugarian lamb sausage. One shop specialized in local honey; another in salt from around the world; and yet another in maple syrup.

We returned to the Westin around noon to freshen up, leaving once again at 2:00 for a well-planned dine-around. Up to now we’d been getting around Toronto on foot, in taxis, or via the city’s excellent subway system. Now, however, due to the distances we would be traveling across town, we all piled into a stretch limo. Over the next 8 hours we would visit 5 chefs in their restaurants, enjoying a knockout dish at each stop:

Octopus Salad and Scallop at Vertical Restaurant in Toronto, copyright Suzanne RodriguezVertical Restaurant: Octopus Salad and Scallop

#1 Stop---Vertical Restaurant: Presided over by Chef Tawfik Shehata (our amiable guide through Kensington Market on the previous day), Vertical is one of Toronto’s most acclaimed restaurants. The freshest ingredients, mostly local, are used in the primarily Mediterranean cuisine. What we devoured: Pickled Octopus Salad with Green Olives, Fennel & Arugula on a Grilled Organiz Basil Toast; and Scallop with Tuscan Kale, Chorizo, and Piquillo Pepper (see photo, above). Wine: Alticelli Blano 2007 (an Italian wine from Puglia).

#2 Stop---Jamie Kennedy at the Gardiner: This lovely café on the third floor of the Gardiner Museum offers a panoramic view of downtown Toronto. Chef Scott Vivian explained the menu’s local sourcing and emphasis on seasonality, and then dished up two of the most popular dishes at Jamie Kennedy's: Organic Ontario Fries with Mayonnaise and Artisan Cider Vinegar; and Sliders made with short ribs that had been braised for about 18 hours. Those fries were the best I’ve ever had anywhere, the short ribs the most tender. Accompanying this hands-on feast was a 2007 Wildass Riesling (produced by Stratus Winery).

#3 Stop---Senses Restaurant: Chef Patrick Lin combines his ethnic Chinese heritage and classical French culinary training to create East/West dishes with a major “wow” factor. And wow is a word that characterizes Senses Restaurant. Chef Lin believes each dish should entice and thrill the 5 taste senses (which he defines as sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and peppery). Our stunning sampler reflected these 5 senses: Small crabcakes (sweet); Hamachi (salty); Tuna with mango and ginger (sour); Oriental Meatball (bitter); and the amazing Fois Gras Crème Brulee (peppery). Wine served: Cave Spring Riesling 2007.

Epic Restaurant, TorontoEpic in the Fairmont Royal York

#4 Stop---Epic at the Fairmont Royal York: Chef Ryan Gustafson is highly active in Toronto’s sustainable food movement and is particularly devoted to avoiding endangered species on his menus. Epic’s cuisine is created with ingredients that are first and foremost sourced locally, then secondly throughout Canada. Last, when necessary, ingredients are brought from elsewhere in the world. The restaurant is grandly beautiful, with sweeping banquettes along the side---but nonetheless it’s cozy and comfy. We settled into the private dining room, where we were handed menus.

At home I have a heavy vegetable and fruit habit which was feeling a bit deprived, so I opted to substitute two veg-heavy appetizers for a main course. I chose the Cauliflower Cream & Winter Leek Soup graced with a delectable slice of locally-made Lamb Merguez Sausage; and the Winter Salad of Organic Greens, Roasted Winter Vegetables, Pickled Onions, Almonds, and Lemon Vinaigrette. Wine: 2007 Megalomaniac Savagnin, reminiscent of Chardonnay.

#5 Stop---Scaramouche: Our last stop was at the beautifully charming Scaramouche, which has been around since 1983. The restaurant offers an amazing view of the city at night, and has long been acclaimed for its menu. We were there for dessert, and I must state upfront that I’m not really a dessert fan. I’ll eat them and enjoy them, but I don’t lust after them. It never crosses my mind to treat myself to an ice cream cone. I could sit beside a chocolate cake for a week without sampling it.

Scaramouche Restaurant, TorontoScaramouche

However, the Coconut Cream Pie with White Chocolate Shavings and Dark Chocolate Sauce at Scaramouche was absolutely fab. The creation of the extraordinary pastry chef, Joanne Yolles, it’s famous throughout Toronto and has received critical acclaim for years and years. It was light as a feather and sort of melted away to nothing in your mouth. Divine, I tell you, divine!

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* Photo of the Art Gallery of Ontario (AG), by Glogger, is published under the GNU Free Documentation License. Thanks, Glogger.

Apr 3, 2009

Toronto Culinary Scene, Part I

Spring Pea Soup with Lobster Risotto, copyright Suzanne RodriguezRegatta Restaurant, Westin Harbour Palace Hotel: Spring Pea Soup with Lobster Risotto

I'm in Toronto on a food & wine press trip, along with a lively crew of culinary, wine, and travel journalists---six of us all told.

I arrived a day early to explore on my own, taking in two amazing museums: the Bata Shoe Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario. More details about Toronto soon on my travel website and travel blog. For now, though, a few culinary highlights:

DAY 1

Chef's Table, Regatta Restaurant (Westin Harbour Castle Hotel): From the 20'-long galvanized metal table of Regatta's Restaurant, tucked neatly into a corner of the kitchen, we were able to observe Chef Duff Lampard and his crew create one exciting dish after another while providing commentary and answering questions.

After breaking the ice with a glass of 2000 Dom Perignon, we watched the assembly of our amuse bouche, a tiny section of quail. Next up: Spring Pea Soup with Lobster Risotto, garnished with Snow Pea Shoot (one of the writers called this "spring in a bowl," and I thought of it as the ultimate essence of pea). By the way, the Dom was one of only two non-Ontario wines poured on the trip; Ontarians are extremely proud of their burgeoning wine industry---and they have every right to be.

Chef Lampard, Regatta Restaurant, Toronto - copyright Suzanne RodriguezChef Lampard arranging the main course

The main course was a triple presentation on a single plate: Ontario Royce Family Turkey Wrapped in its own Skin on a Bed of Squash Puree with Root Vegetables; Ontario Lamb with a Mustard Sauce and Braised Shallots; and Alberta Beef with Truffle-Spun Potato, Buttermilk Onion Rings, and Local Mushroom Sautee. It was lovely to have turkey out of its usual season (Thanksgiving), and it provided a wonderful contrast to the richer-toned beef and aromatic lamb.

The triple-threat continued with dessert: two creme brulees served together (caramel, mango); Mini Spy Apple Crumble; and Chocolate Silk.

Trius Chardonnay and Trius Merlot---grown in Ontario's Niagara area, 32 miles across the Lake---provided an excellent intro to the region's wines.

Day 2

Chinatown & the Kensington Market. We were warned not to eat breakfast before setting out for a tasting tour of Chinatown and the Kensington Market. Good thing, because the "tasting" was non-stop. Our guide was one of Toronto's hottests chefs, Tawlik Shehata of the acclaimed Vertical.

Toronto actually has 5 separate Chinatowns, each hosting a large number of restaurants and stores devoted to other Asian cuisines. As evidence of this, we started our Chinatown walk by munching on the best Vietnamese pork buns I've ever had---simply sensational spicing, with a distinct peppery overtone.

Then the quick turn of a corner, et voila! We're in the Kensington Market---actually a few short blocks lined with small, mostly ethnic/specialty food stores, all wrapped up with a decidedly bohemian flair. One of my favorite stops was St. Andrew's Poulters, which sells a solid truckload of chickens each and every day. A specialty here is chicken blackened with a blowtorch and chopped into pieces. It's still raw when purchased; the blackening imparts an unusual twist with flavor and rids the chicken of tiny feather bits. Blackened chicken is particularly popular with Toronto's West Indian population.

Cecilia Espinosa of Emporium Latino

My other favorite stop was the marvelous Emporium Latino, a tiny little space presided over by the outgoing Cecilia Espinosa. All sorts of Central American ingredients can be obtained here, but the real reason to come is to buy the delish takeout foods produced in the nearly-microscopic kitchen---tamales, flautas, chile renellos, and the inimitable pupusas. We had ample samples of each, along with a variety of salsas.

We finished up here and had an hour to play around before regrouping at Vineyard Estate Wines for what was billed as a "cheese tasting." In reality it turned out to be one of the best and most extensive wine/food pairings I've experienced. Located on the harbor in Toronto's Queen's Quay West, the store stocks the finest of Ontario wines and wine accessories. There are, I believe, more than 100 Vineyard Estate shops. The flagship store, where our tasting was held, is large and elegantly designed.

Inside Vineyard Estate Wines, copyright Suzanne Rodriguez
Vineyard Estate Wines, Queen Quay West

Once in the store we became acquainted with our hosts, Daniel Chan and Glen Siegel, over a crisp Andrew Peller Signature Series Ice Cuvee accompanied by fois gras mousse on a delicate toast. Then we moved to a private room for the pairing. Here's how it played out:
  • Aperitif Wine: Hillebrand Estates Late Harvest Vidal 2006, accompanied by Pate de Fois Gras with a Kumquat Gelee.
  • White Wines: Peller Estates Private Reserve Dry Riesling 2007; Hillebrand Estates Trius Barrel-Fermented Chardonnay 2007; Andrew Peller Signature Series "sur lie" Chardonnay 2006. The wines were accompanied by (1) Gravlax with Dilled Honey Mustard; and (2) Butter Poached Salmon served with (a) lemongrass and (b) buerre noir.
  • Red Wines: Hillebrand Estates Trius Red 2006 (blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon); Andrew Peller Signature Series Cabernet Franc 2004; Hillebrand Estates Showcase Merlot 2004. The wines were accompanied by (1) Wine-braised Beef Short Ribs with Chocolate Demiglace; (2) Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese; (3) Local Cheddar.
  • Icewines: Hillebrand Estates Showcase Riesling 2007; Andrew peller Signature Series Riesling 2006; Hillebrand Estates Trius Vidal; Andrew Peller Signature Series Oak-Aged Vidal 2006; Andrew Peller Signature Series Cabernet Franc 2006. The wines were paired with (1) Caramelized Ontario Apple Galette; (2) Ginger Creme Brulee; and (3) Dark Chocolate Ice Wine Truffle.
A pretty amazing experience. The food had been days in preparation; the short ribs, for example, were marinated for a day in merlot, and then prepared with the utmost simplicity---no salt or spicing whatsoever; a dice of carrots, celery, and onion; all braised slow and low until the sauce thickened.

A quick dash to the hotel to change clothes, and then we were off again!

Exterior of Mengrai Thai Restaurant, copyright Suzanne RodriguezMengrai Thai

Our Night 2 dinner was at Mengrai Thai, beautifully ensconced in a solid brick 19th century building with gorgeous wooden floors. This long-ago brewery, with its exposed brick walls, working freight elevator and other industrial parts, is lightly decorated with a few large pieces of golden Thai statuary and large canvases of the Buddha's head. Long before it became a Thai restaurant, the building was used in movie backdrops---it's said that Sophia Loren was filmed here, as was John Travolta. The restaurant is in a part of town that's home to the local film industry, so it's not unusual to see home-grown stars and visiting Hollywood types enjoying dinner. Jessica Alba, for one, is a frequent guest.

Chef Sasi in a rare moment of relaxation

The chef, Sasi, dubbed Canada's most famous chef by Maclean's magazine (2008), is known in culinary circles as one of the premier Thai chefs in the world. Born in Thailand, Sasi is serious about re-interpreting traditional Thai cuisine; she doesn't want to change it so much as enhance it by adding layers of flavor and texture. She prefers working in the kitchen, while her outgoing husband is the perfect front-of-the-room host.

After a half-hour cooking class with Sasi, we retreated to one of the gorgeous brick-and-wood rooms and the celebration of Thai food began. My favorites included the mango salad, the 22-flavor beef salad, and the Ontario lamb and fresh peach curry. The coconut rice was a real treat, but the famed kumquat martini was way too sweet for my taste buds.

Somehow we staggered out, into a taxi, and onto the next and final stop: the Fifth Grill & Terrace, where we were expected for dessert and drinks. What a great place, housed in yet another beautiful old industrial building. We walked past a formally-clad doorman, across a wood-floored room that housed a disco, and into an ancient freight elevator that could only take 4 people at a time. Run by a friendly young guy, the elevator creaked slowly up to the top of the building, and when the old wooden doors were drawn open we were whisked off to the bar while the elevator returned downstairs to fetch the rest of our party. We stayed a while, listening to the hottest jazz/blues group in Toronto while enjoying dessert.

Eventually it was back down the freight elevator, into taxis, home to the hotel, and finally---blissfully---to bed. As I fell asleep I was certain of one thing: I wasn't hungry.