Monday, July 21, 2014

Comfort Food in Toronto – Matt Pettit Edition


For all my concerns about healthy living, there's still a part of me that has to give in to the occasional need for my favourite comfort foods. When that happens, my mind gravitates to Matt Dean Pettit, who of late has become the cause of many of my food cravings.
When Rock Lobster opened on Ossington Street in Toronto and I learned they were offering wine on tap from Vineland Estates, I knew I had to check the place out. While the wine was the original draw, it’s the lobster poutine, lobster rolls and lobster mac ‘n’ cheese that keep me coming back. I love the vibe, especially at the Ossington location, and the food is just so delicious. I often joke that I walk into Rock Lobster and then waddle out – happily full of Vineland’s fantastic Cabernet Franc and all the lobster-infused comfort food a girl could ask for.
One of Matt’s recent contributions to the Toronto restaurant scene (and my waistline) is Boots & Bourbon Saloon – a much-needed county music venue in the city and the home of even more decadent and fun food offerings.






Recently, I was going through a difficult time and my lovely husband, who typically preaches quinoa and lean chicken as the foods of choice, said those magic words to make me feel better – “Do you want to have dinner at Boots & Bourbon?” Um, yes.


And while nothing on either restaurant’s menu should be consumed on a regular basis (a caution that must be added when you are married to a personal trainer who reads your blog), this was a dinner I happily drowned my sorrows in.
Boots & Bourbon currently offers Ontario's Coyote’s Run wine on tap, but I suggest you also try the creative and fun cocktails on offer. I tried and liked both The Dessert Pete and Grandma’s Texas Lemonade.

On my first visit I had the killer mac ‘n’ cheese and on the second indulged in a happy hour, half-price appetizer, food-coma-inducing selection. Our favourite? The to-die-for deep fried spicy McClure’s pickles and the nacho platter. The wings were a little over-cooked that night, but that was a small complaint. Overall, we were thrilled with our evening.

Both Rock Lobster and Boots & Bourbon offer great atmosphere. Boots has a reputation for being one heck of a good time in the evenings and I can’t wait to have a girls’ night there soon. It’s been a long time since I worked in country music, but I don’t think you ever get it fully out of your blood. A night dancing up a storm at a rowdy country bar seems like a whole heck of a lot of fun!

Where’s your favouite guilty pleasure restaurant or comfort food?




For more information on Rock Lobster: http://rocklobsterfood.com/
For more information on Boots & Bourbon: www.bootsbourbon.com/

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

GLAS Wine Bar

Now this is a salad...
We are very lucky in Toronto to have so many great wine bars – that they offer fabulous food is an even more amazing thing.

One of my personal favourites is GLAS Wine Bar in Leslieville. I like their focus on Ontario wine and that they offer a plentiful and delicious selection of vegetarian options. As a pseudo-vegetarian, I love that on Tuesday nights I can indulge in their well-priced vegetarian tasting menu. And for those who prefer a more carnivorous wine and food pairing experience, there’s plenty for you too.

Chef Danny Pantano has a knack for developing great flavours and for knowing exactly what to pair them with. His staff is knowledgeable too – always ready with a wine suggestion when you’re stumped. Or you can simply choose the option of the tasting menu with the restaurant's pairings.

Below are some photos of my recent visit to check out their latest Tuesday vegetarian tasting menu. While I was a little sad that the lentil mac and cheese I’d fallen in love with from the winter menu isn’t on the current menu (it’s not really a summer dish), I wasn’t disappointed with a single bite I had that night.

For more information on GLAS Wine Bar, visit: http://glaswinebar.com/

GLAS is very small, so reservations are highly recommended.






Monday, June 23, 2014

Savour Stratford Festival

This past week I had the opportunity to attend an event to generate awareness for the Savour Stratford Perth County Culinary Festival. The fest, which takes place from July 19th – 20th in Stratford, ON has a wealth of exciting things lined up this year. I was surprised to learn just how much this event has to offer.

I was able to sample some of the amazing food that will be available there and try wines from two event sponsors – Reif Estate Winery and Rosewood Estate Winery. Both provide unique Ontario wine options, including Rosewood’s mead – made with honey from the winery’s apiary. Beer lovers will find lots to enjoy from Mill Street’s brews and for those who love spirits you can't go wrong with Niagara's Dillon's Distillers. I had a sample of their delicious strawberry lemonade cocktail at the event and it doesn't disappoint - a great summer sipper.

My understanding of the festival had always been that it was about promoting local Stratford food and events, but that's actually far from the whole story. While Stratford’s best is on full display, the theme this year is Coast to Coast to Coast and that’s evident in the wide range of activities and vendors attending.

Being that it’s also the 30th anniversary of the Stratford Chefs School, there will be a great deal of culinary talent on display. More than 40 of the top young chefs from across Canada, many trained in Startford, will be participating.

A few of the chefs, business people and personalities appearing
Some of the chefs of note:

Rich Francis – Top Chef Canada competitor and chef/owner of Aboriginal Culinary Concepts.
Carl Heinrich – Top Chef Canada Winner and co-owner of Richmond Station.
Todd Perrin – Top Chef Canada contestant and the chef at Mallard Cottage.
Dale MacKay – A protégé of Gordon Ramnsay and the chef/owner of Ayden Kitchen.
Doug McNish – Award-winning vegan cookbook author of Eat Raw, Eat Well.


One of the many culinary events that caught my attention is the GE Café Series Lunch, which provides a five-course demonstration-style class with chefs Dale MacKay and Derek Dammann. The event, which features the best of Ontario, Saskatchewan and Quebec, combined with Perth County ingredients, will have Rosehall Run wines to pair with the dishes. I’m always happy to see a little bit of Prince Edward County slip into these events!

There is really so much for foodies and wine-lovers alike to enjoy at this event – there will be tutored talks and tastings, a Taste of Ontario Artisan Alley featuring Ontario craft beers, wine and cheese, a Women in Food breakfast and so much more. There are also activities for children, which is always a plus at these events. We recently spent some time touring the County with our friends and their five-year-old, so we learned how important kid-friendly activities are even when you’re doing wine and foodie things.

And the Sunday Sunset Party sounds like it will be a blast – featuring musical group Trent Severn. I’ll be heading back from the Wine Bloggers Conference in California when this event takes place, so I’m so glad I was able to attend this advance event and learn more about it. I definitely plan to add it to our schedule for next year.

For more information or to book tickets visit: http://www.visitstratford.ca/culinaryfestival/

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Fabulous Food - Niagara Edition

Curried Chicken Sandwich from Tide & Vine
As all wine lovers know, it's not just about what you're drinking - what you're eating makes a huge difference in how you enjoy your wine. Food is such a pleasure and I've definitely indulged in some amazing meals recently. I thought it would be fun to share some of my fabulous foodie experiences on the blog - I hope you'll enjoy this new (semi) regular feature!

I stopped at Silversmith Brewery on a recent visit to Niagara. I was thrilled to discover that Tide & Vine Oyster Company had set up shop there for the weekend and was serving up  delicious and very, very fresh oysters. If you haven't had Tide & Vine's incredible oysters you are missing out. As an entree, I had the chicken curry sandwich, which was nice and saucy and bursting with flavour - it was also the perfect size to hold me over until dinner that evening.


And, while I'm not a huge beer drinker, I have to say that what I tried at Silversmith was very tasty. I brought home some Black Lager for Shawn and he is eager to visit to try more. For the non-beer drinkers, Silversmith doesn't offer any other libations (that I noticed), but if Tide & Vine is serving food this is a must-visit. The gorgeous former-church setting alone is worth the drive.
For my birthday, Shawn treated me to a day in Niagara with dinner at one of my favourite places - Vineland Estates Winery. This is definitely a special occasion place for us, as it's a little more high-end, but it's absolutely worth the splurge. The estate is gorgeous and Chef Justin Downes has designed a menu that's simply divine. We still talk about the salmon appetizer we had there a few years ago the way you talk about a brilliant bottle of wine.

This meal was just as memorable. I started with the gnocci, which was plump and melt-in-your mouth good. I am a huge gnocci fan, but have found that a lot of restaurants over cook or over sauce it - this was just right and paired with their incredible house-made bread, I devoured it.

I followed up with the scallops, which were perfectly cooked and full of flavour. While I was surprised by the house-made chorizo that came as part of the dish (I don't eat pork and didn't see it on the menu), Shawn said it was some of the best he'd ever eaten. I have no doubt it was.
Dessert was a delicious cheesecake served with house-made brittle and sorbet. The presentation was almost too pretty to eat (almost) and I wasn't too full to enjoy this perfect end to the meal.
My birthday weekend also included a stop at The Good Earth for lunch. We've eaten here a number of times, but it's always worth a mention. A winery, cooking school and restaurant, The Good Earth has much to offer - their food is local and always tastes like it was made with a lot of heart.

Even a stop just for soup and a salad to tide you over on a long day of wine tasting is well worth it.  

There were other Niagara stops that I'll include in future posts - the amazing Treadwell Restaurant being just one of them. Do you have any Niagara favourites we should try? Share them in the comments or on Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, June 9, 2014

WineWire

I’ve been meaning to write about WineWire for a while now. I met co-founder Adam Bekhor at an event a few months ago and have since watched several episodes of his always-informative WineWire TV show. His business premise, offering customers a convenient online ordering option to purchase cases of wines from independent wine agents, is also pretty great.

Adam, along with partner Nelson Abreu, is making wines that were previously difficult to get available in one place. Love a wine in a restaurant, but can’t find it at the provincial liquor store? Check WineWire, where there are hundreds of wines available from around the world.

To kick off the new business, they held a successful pop-up wine shop in Toronto a few months ago. Prospective buyers could drop in, sample some of the wines available and place orders on the spot. The wine would then be delivered to their door. The event was such a popular one that they’re now hosting a pop-up shop in Ottawa from Tuesday, June 17th to Friday, June 20th. The pop-up will be located at 107 Murray Street in the Byward Market and will be open from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily. There's no cost to taste from the more than 100 restaurant-only wines they will be serving.

I asked Adam a few more questions about WineWire below:

Adam and Nelson at the Toronto pop-up shop
WineWire is such a fantastic way for people to get access to wine - how have you found the response so far?
Since we went live with WineWire.ca in September 2012 the response has been extremely positive! Consumers love the fact that they can shop for 650+ wines they only find in restaurants and have them delivered to their door. Despite our successes, it's also been an incredible learning experience. No one has ever tried to sell wine the way we do at WineWire.ca. This has forced us to think outside the box and take measured risks in the way we market our wines and represent the brand. This has resulted in us coming up with innovative brand building concepts like our pop-up wine shops and the strategy we have used in developing our social media presence on Facebook (fb.com/winewire) and Twitter (@WineWireCA).

Do people have to purchase a full case through WineWire? Are there smaller purchase options or any mix and match possibilities?
Excellent question! In Ontario, the only entity that can sell a single bottle of wine for home consumption is the LCBO or at a winery. This means that all the wine found on WineWire.ca is sold by the case, generally 6 or 12 bottles depending on the wine. Unfortunately, we also cannot sell mixed cases. Not being able to sell mixed cases has been a real pain. All of our analytics and direct customer feedback indicate that that consumer are begging for this option.

I love WineWire TV - what made you decide to start a video program to go along with the site? We love WineWire TV too! Nelson and I started WineWire TV for a number of reasons, the most important of which was that it's a ton of fun! In what other job do you get to hang out with the who's who of the wine world and just talk? We have had a lot of fun pushing the definition of what passes for a wine video and our customers seem to love it. Case in point, one of most watched episodes was a show we did with a high-end dry cleaner all about getting red wine stains out of your clothes. Not your traditional wine video, but people loved it!

We also started WineWire TV as a way to share a podium with people who were passionate about wine. This had been huge in cementing WineWire as an online meeting place between the wine industry and consumers. We have been able to create an organic community by taking a more inclusive view of the world. Finally, WineWire TV has been central in establishing our brand online. As you can tell from our videos, neither Nelson nor I take ourselves too seriously. We don't dumb down the wine information and we don't make (in our opinion) the fatal mistake of talking down to our customers.  Despite our "Wayne's World" production values, we are very proud of what we have created. With 157 episode under our belt and counting we have no intentions of slowing down!

You have done pop up stores in Toronto and now Ottawa - are there plans to do more? What has the response been?
100%! We are planning on opening a WineWire pop-up wine shop in Muskoka in July and a second pop-up wine shop in Toronto this November.

The pop up shops are a great way for people to sample and then purchase wines - how important is that to the business model? The concept is very important to our business model. It allows us to take our online experience offline. I often quote one of our agents when it comes to selling wine, "You can't beat getting sips to lips". We are 100% on board with this, but wanted to approach the "selling" concept from a different angle. The concept of our WineWire pop-up shops is to provide our customers the feel of a "real" boutique NYC/San Fran wine shop by setting up in a traditional retail space. Customers would be able to come into our pop-up shop and taste for free from over 100 of the 650+ wines offered on WineWire.ca. Once tasted, the customer can order the wine using iPads set up around the shop. The wine would then be delivered to the customer's home/office a few days later.

If you're in the Ottawa area, be sure to stop by the pop-up shop in Byward Market from Tuesday, June 17th to Friday, June 20th. (107 Murray Street 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily).

Learn more about WineWire here: http://winewire.ca/

And here is one of my favourite episodes of WineWire TV featuring my good friend MJ from The Cellar Sisters talking about many of my favourite things - you can watch all the episodes at: http://winewire.ca/winewiretv






Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Summer Sipping Suggestions

After such a long, hard Ontario winter, I'm thrilled to finally pull off some layers and start to enjoy the lighter wines that are a hallmark of summer. This is when I start to pull out crisp Rosés, refreshing Rieslings and a lot of red and white blends. Summer wines are to drink on the patio or savour at the cottage, to down with greasy barbeque or simple salads. 

Below are a few wines I've tried recently and think make good summer sippers. These reflect a few different quality and price points, so I hope there's something for all your summer needs - from elegant wines for a romantic evening to well-priced crowd pleasers for your big backyard bash.

When I tried this 2011 White Cabernet Rosé during a recent visit to Daniel Lenko's winery I was blown away by how nuanced it is. The nose leaps out of the glass with pear, strawberry and fresh fruit notes, but when you sip, it's not as sweet as the nose would lead you to believe - it's very dry and refreshing. This is the perfect summer wine for the wine aficionado in your life - elegant, well-crafted and unique. Lenko's wines are something special and well worth the splurge. This one is available at the winery or can be ordered online.

Creekside Estate Winery always has a pretty fabulous selection of relaxed, summer-friendly wines. This year, my pick for the season is their 2012 Pinot Grigio. Admittedly, Shawn and I visited the weekend before their new releases, so I wasn't able to sample their always reliable Rosé, but the Pinot Grigio was a hit with us. With its lovely gold with hints of silver-pink colour, lemon and strawberry on the nose and citrus, peach and apple on the palate, this is a very good option for patio weather.  If you happen to be visiting Jordan, Ontario I'd advise dropping by the winery for a glass on their beautiful patio.

When it comes to sparkling wines, you know my heart belongs to Lighthall Vineyard's Progression and, well, Champagne, but sometimes you need bubbles at an under-$20 price-point. Cavas Hill Brut 1887 Cava is a good option at around $13. I had this one at an event recently and it was a easy, refreshing sparkler that fit the relaxed vibe of the evening. This is a very appealing choice for brunch mimosas or sparkling cocktails where you want a solid sparkling that won't break the bank.  One of the pairings that evening was an excellent creme brulee from Sliced Gourmet and I was surprised at just how well the pairing worked - something to keep in mind, as I rarely pair sparkling with dessert. My photos from the event are a little dark, so I've borrowed this bottle shot from the site - I hope they don't mind!


Inception Deep Layered Red is a Shiraz-dominant blend from South Africa that's bursting with sweet and spicy flavour. This isn't a subtle wine - it's a life of the party wine that's easy drinking, on the sweet side and a lot fun. This is my new guilty pleasure pick - one to pull out for that raucous summer barbeque or a night with friends around the cottage fire. Inception is new to Ontario and launching in Canada before it hits shelves around the rest of the world, expect to see lots of it at the LCBO soon. 


One of my favourite summer wines is Vinho Verde - it's a refreshing white from Portugal that is perfect for a relaxing lunch on the patio. Alianca's 2012 Vinho Verde is a nice example of the grape. Shawn and I tried this one on a recent movie night and enjoyed the peach and citrus notes on the nose and the refreshing apple on the palate. While this particular Vinho Verde was a little too acidic for my tastes, I highly recommend you check out the varietal over the summer months. I'd like to try this one again with a Mediterranean lunch - I think it would be a much better pairing.

I've mentioned Three Dog Winery a number of times on the blog, so you know I'm a fan. Their Doghouse White is a great summer wine. It's a white blend made from Ontario Vidal and Riesling. It's crisp and refreshing with balanced acid and nice minerality. This one is great with seafood or spicy foods - two things that make up a big portion of my warm weather menu.


Place in the Sun is a herbaceous red blend from South Africa with, blackberry, currant, anise, green pepper and an earth on the nose.

There's much more fruit on the palate than I expected, fresh red fruit with some earthiness/smoke to it. Medium-long finish, medium tannin. Very drinkable. This would be a nice pairing with red meat and it was really nice with the 80% Camino dark chocolate I tried it with. The rich, creaminess of the chocolate matches well with the flavour and tannin in the wine.






So those are some of my summer wine choices. What are yours? Feel free to leave them in the comments or share them on my Facebook or Twitter feeds!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Winemaker Interview – Antonio Fattori

The night before harvest, winemaker Antonio Fattori confesses, he’s always a little bit nervous. Even though his family has been making wine for generations and he knows that all the pieces are in place, every year he has the same feeling. “The night before, I feel like a beginner. I feel my stomach is strange, I can’t sleep. Then when you start, everything goes well and you know what to do, but the night before is always like the night before your exams in university.”

That Fattori, a seasoned winemaker, still feels this way even just one day of the year is comforting for this wine student. Having the chance to interview him and taste through his wines together during a recent visit to the iYellow Wine Cave is an extraordinary opportunity, though I feel a bit out of place. I am learning about wine as fast as I can, but there are very few instances when I truly feel confident in my knowledge or sure in what I’m saying. I still feel most at home talking about Ontario wine, so to have the chance to interview this wonderful Italian winemaker is a challenge for me. Hearing him tell this story of his harvest nerves is a comfort and, I think, a good analogy for wine – no matter how well you know it, you’re never completely sure of what you’ll get.

 Fattori wines are well worth seeking out.

The Runcaris 2012 Soave has peach and lemon notes on the nose and is a crisp and refreshing white with good minerality. It would make a nice aperitif for the summer.

The white blend, Roncha, a blend of 50% Garganega, 20% Pinot Grigio and 20% Trebbiano of Soave is a nice blend of sweet with a little spicy. Fattori wanted to create a wine with its own characteristics, which he has, and the label, which features a 15th century map of the area where the grapes were grown, speaks to that. There is a connection between the history of the land and the wine.

Fatorri explains that the location of the vineyards is perfect for the white grapes he grows. They are at the foot of the Alps, with a fresh stream nearby. There is a very low temperature in the morning, even in the summer, and then the heat increases quickly before dropping again at night.  The volcanic soil is essential to the minerality, freshness and aroma of the wines.

The red grapes are also well-placed for the qualities Fatorri hopes for in his wines. The Col de la Bastia 2011 Valpolicella, which is rich and very drinkable at this age, has sweet and delicate tannin and a nice mouthfeel. This is one that I would pick up to enjoy with dinner right now – it could age a bit longer, but it's drinking just fine today.

The Amarone, a 2009, should age well, it’s a bit young right now, but the potential is clear.
 
Fattori and I chat about aging wine, and I learn quite a bit from him. He explains the difficulty in predicting if a wine will age well. There are characteristics that can help you understand that a wine is one to be cellared, but you can’t know for certain how long. He explains that he recently had an Amarone from 1964 that tasted very nice and an 85 or 86 that did not. You can age a wine for 40 years, he explains, but sometimes it’s gone. “Sometimes wine is suffering in the bottle,” he says. “A wine that we think won’t be might be beautiful, but another we think will be and it isn't.  You can be really surprised.”

As a wine student, these conversations are fascinating. I think it’s a great lesson, though, as we all learn the elements that make for good aging in wine – acidity, fruit, tannin – but the magic of wine is that unknowable quality. It’s that maddening mystery that sucks us down the wine rabbit hole.

My favourite wine of the tasting? I fell in love with the Col de la Bastia Valpolicella Ripasso with its rich, layered flavours. I look forward to having the chance to drink it again soon.

Fattori also has a new sparkling available in Ontario – Ca D’or – I haven’t had a chance to sample it, but after discussing it with Antonio, I’m intrigued. I’ll be looking for it at the LCBO soon.

For more information on Fattori wines: http://www.fattoriwines.com/en/company/