Friday, September 23, 2011

DiVino Wine Studio

Our friend Dino was in town this week (yes, the one we recently celebrated his going-away, my guess is he can't live without us for more than a month – awesome!). Not only were we excited to get together with him, it was also his birthday. So a grand celebration was in order.

His wife Keltie arranged an unforgettable evening by combining a reservation at probably one of the most fun places to host a table of 14, and ensuring we were started off with some prosecco and a plate of antipasti before they arrived. The set-up was absolutely perfect – a long island between the kitchen and the restaurant floor served as a perch for all the guests who anxiously awaited their arrival. It was like we were in someone's home kitchen, only much more grandiose. And we were literally in the kitchen, so the culinary entertainment was constant.

Here's the antipasti plate we nibbled at. Olives, eggplant, mushrooms, beets, cauliflower, red onion and carrots, all pickled in-house. Dollops of earthy pea purée decorated the plate. And savoury proscuitto, salami and tapenade just begged to be gobbled up with the thin, crisp baguette toasts. The prosecco this was paired with was one of the best I've ever had – 2010 Bisol Crede Valdobbiadene Brut.

We were all given the table d'hôte menu which we were able to modify slightly if needed. As we grabbed our seats at the island and waited to order, Dino ordered a couple of fresh mozzarella bricks stuffed with gooeyness. If you can picture melting cheese inside the cheese, well, this was pretty much it. So easy to spread on the crostini and oh-so-heavenly. You have to try it. Fresh tomato halves and Sicilian black salt were added bonuses to the dish.

My first table d'hôte plate was the beet and arugula salad with a cherry vinaigrette. Strawberry slices, blueberries and minted goat cheese truffles garnished the outskirt. But the most memorable part of the dish – ribbons of anise-pickled beets. Our apps were paired with a 2009 Castello di Verduno Basadone (100% Pelaverga), a delicious pre-main-course red.

The primi plate was homemade fettuccine pasta with tomato meat ragu and Parmigiano Reggiano. As good as it sounded, I opted for the second choice of the antipasti instead (to save room in my tummy). Fresh tomato basil soup with garlic cheese crostini. It could have used a bit more basil as the flavours were hidden by the intensity on the tomato, but very good nonetheless. The wine we sipped alongside was a 2004 Cantine Madonna Delle Grazie Aglianico del Vulture Bauccio. I'll say it now, one of the best things about going with a large group means getting through the wine bottles faster, thus tasting way more. Although they do offer many wines by the glass.

Our secondi was a choice between spring salmon and market vegetables (above). There was a slice of both pacific and atlantic. Those eating the fish drank a 2007 Valtellina Superiore Riserva Sassella which I believe is 100% Nebbiolo.

Or beef tenderloin with asparagus, roasted brussels sprouts and root veggies. The menu called for roasted fingerling potatoes as well but there were none. Ok though because at this point, I was pretty stuffed and very happy to have them omitted. The beef was a tiny bit overcooked for my liking, but the quality of the meat more than made up for it, melting away in my mouth with every bite. The wine paired with this dish was what I consider a perfect wine, deep ruby and full bodied. 2007 Nero di Troia Paolo Petrilli, Il Guerro from Puglia.

My dessert shot, that I thought was the best one of the night, actually didn't turn out at all. Sad. My husband and I split both of our choices, really, how could you pick one of these over the other!? Chocolate sponge cake with chocolate ganache and fresh mint, and lemon budino (creme brûlée).

I think for this type of atmosphere, I would have expected the service to be a little bit more polished. It was a bit awkward, although the height of the island could be the culprit. Not quite as easy as serving a table. It also took quite a while to get through our meal, which on the weekend I would embrace, but not so much during the week. They did acknowledge that. But the chefs, sommelier and server were all super friendly and extremely attentive to our every need. And really, what more could you ask for. I'd take heartwarming staff over a stiff perfectionist waiter without a personality any day.

225 Preston Street

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Emptying Out the Garden

Our garden is not very big. In fact, I think next year we should just do a tomato garden because they just take over anyway. And that's not a complaint. Tomatoes are awesome! Toasted tomato sandwiches, amazing gazpacho, and these yummy treats – fried green tomatoes.

My husband sliced up a ton of green tomatoes, dusted them with flour, followed by a buttermilk dunk and then finished them off in a bed of bread crumbs before frying them to perfection. A homemade basil mayo accompanied the dish. As did the sad little roasted parsnips and beets from our garden. As little as they were, they were still delicious.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Play Food & Wine

The original plan for my friend Zoya's birthday was a weekend of wine tasting in Niagara. When that got cancelled I took it upon myself to try and make something similar to that happen here. It would be the perfect gift! But between DiVino, Savvy and the LCBO, no one had any tastings going on this weekend. Totally bummed I went to Holly for help. Being the wine lover she is, I knew she would point me in the right direction. And that she did when she suggested I go to Play.

I checked in at Play to see if their sommelier would be there on Saturday afternoon and made a reservation for 3:30. I figured that going during a not-so-busy time would allow a more in-depth review of the wines we were going to try. Grayson was instrumental in the success of Zoya's birthday gift and I can't thank him enough. He brought us through a flight of some amazing wines and gave us the background for each. It truly was an afternoon to remember.

In the same order we drank them, here's what we had:

White, Tollgate, Stratus, Niagara, 2007
Assyrtiko, Wild Ferment, Gaia, Greece, 2010
Chardonnay, Dean's List, NCT, Niagara, 2008
GSM, Vidal-Fleury, Rhone, France, 2008 (this sparked a new love of French wine for Zoya)
Cabernet Franc, Stratus, Niagara, 2007 (probably my least favourite grape but this one was delicious)
Touriga Nacional, Valmonte, Portugal, 2005
Syrah, Waterstone, Napa, CA, 2008
Contra, Bonny Doon, Central Coast, CA, 2009

Almost all of these are available to taste but we lucked out on a couple because there had been a bottle already opened (yay!).

If you're ever looking for something fun to do on a Saturday afternoon, I highly recommend a little wine tasting at Play.

1 York Street, Ottawa

Play on Urbanspoon

Yummy Indian

Our friends Marc and Zoya were visiting for what we promised would be a weekend of pampering. Zoya's birthday is in a couple of days so we wanted to revolve everything around her. She loves Indian food so my husband made the most incredible spread. It still, after 12 years, blows my mind at how easy he makes cooking look.

Decadent palak paneer, spicy coconut curry tofu, delicious coconut curry peanut shrimp and baked eggplant from scratch. To that he added some samosas, pakoras and nan bread all from Nasa Foods. He also used some of the East India Company's spices which are available in a number of grocery stores around the city. Of those spices, what made me the most excited was the chai masala. The first time I tried this spice was at the East India Company restaurant in their chai brûlée and the entire time I ate it I thought of Zoya because of her love of chai tea. So for dessert, it was a must. Creamy, velvety yumminess. Like we had died and gone to heaven.

Massive thank you to my husband for a fantastic evening.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Whalesbone Brunch

Had the most awesome breakfast at the Whalesbone.

Pig tongue and apple sauce smeared over his own skull.

Lobster, poached eggs, hollandaise and double smoked bacon.

Ended this mouthwatering meal with an oyster garnished ceasar.