Spanning the decades of Niagara craft brewing

The craft brewing scene on the Niagara peninsula is, appropriately enough, fluid. Small breweries pop up in every town and their styles range from simple session ales to extreme brews. We stopped in to taste one of the newest and most experimental—Exchange in Niagara-on-the-Lake—as well as one of the pioneer craft brewers, now operating as Syndicate Restaurant and Brewery in a newly gentrifying neighborhood in Niagara Falls.

At the bar at Exchange Brewery

Exchange Brewery


Shiny black walls, shiny black bottles, and a marble bar immediately signal that Exchange Brewery (7 Queen St., Niagara-on-the-Lake; 905-468-9888; exchangebrewery.com) is not exactly a suds-soaked beer bar. The brewery and tasting room in the Old Town heritage district strike a sophisticated urban tone in striking contrast to Oast’s aw-shucks country brewery image. The building was the town’s first telephone exchange, which explains the name and the fixation on naming each the beers with a numeral or symbol found on the phone keypad or dial.

Exchange was founded in 2016 by Robin Ridesic, a management consultant with a passion for sour beers and hoppy IPAs. She brought on a team of professional brewers to execute a wide range of beers. (Exchange made more than 30 different beers in its first year.) Those bottled with a symbol have been aged in oak wine barrels, those with a number matured in stainless steel. Ridesic chose 750 ml. Prosecco bottles for all the beers because the glass is manufactured can withstand the pressure of carbonation.

beer and cheese tasting boardAs the brewery finds it niche, it has come to focus increasingly on barrel-aged beers. The # Witbier, for example, spends three months in Hungarian oak. Head brewer Sam Maxbauer combines malted and raw wheat with orange peel and coriander in the beer. The Exchange strain of house yeast contributes nice pepper and clove notes as well. The popular Belgian Golden Ale spends two to four months in used Chardonnay barrels.

The tasting room offers eight lines on tap drawn directly from the brewery in the back of the building. In addition, there’s usually a cask-aged ale of one sort or another (frequently a sour). Flights are available as well as a very nice cheese and beer pairing board. Shown above, it includes three cheeses with three complementary beers and crostini.

Brewery tours are available on the weekends.

Syndicate Restaurant and Brewery


beer tasting at Syndicate

There’s a tangled story behind Syndicate, but the most important thing for a beer-lover to know is that it descends directly from Taps Brewing Company. Founded in 2004, Taps was one of Niagara’s pioneer craft breweries. The building of the Niagara Falls flagship of Syndicate Restaurant and Brewery (6863 Lundy’s Lane, Niagara Falls; 289-477-1022; syndicaterestaurant.ca) also contains Niagara Falls Craft Distillers (289-681-0124). The salesroom on the ground level sells the beers and spirits, while the pubby restaurant upstairs serves some unusual grub for a drinking establishment. (Think duck gravy poutine, fresh pasta stuffed with truffles, or dry-aged beef steaks.) The beers tend toward food-friendly familiar styles—an IPA, a fullsome lager, a crisp rye pale ale, and a porter or two. The brewery makes several house beers for other restaurants as well.

In the spirit of things


Niagara Falls Craft Distillers spirits

The distillation business started up in early 2017. All the liquors are beer based. As assistant brewer and distiller Mike McCormack explained to us, he brews a high-alcohol beer (about 10%) from roughly equal parts rye and barley, and pumps it over to the distillery side for distillation in a fractional column still. The Barreling Annie rye whiskey aims to pull through most of the aroma and flavor of the grain while the clear spirits (Lucky Coin Motel Vodka and 1814 Lundy’s Lane Gin) are double-distilled to make the spirit as neutral as possible. McCormack and head distiller Chris Jeffries are experimenting like mad. They are aging whiskey in three-liter barrels to see if the small format can accelerate the marriage of spirit and wood. (Yes, it does.) And they are crafting a heady absinthe with a swirling world of botanicals in addition to the classic anise and wormwood. We tasted and felt it had just the right balance of aromatics and alcohol. Despite being clear, it had the characteristic cough medicine quality of historic versions of the green fairy. So far, no date is set for release.


For an overview of attractions, restaurants, and lodging on the Niagara Peninsula, see Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

20

09 2017

Lift a glass to toast Niagara’s fine craft beer

Oast bottles
As Niagara began to emerge as a major wine district, someone on the peninsula likely did a double take. “Wait a minute,” he might have said. “We’re Canadians. We drink beer!” Let’s face it, Labatt’s and Molson are more than holding their own against Canadian Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But craft brewing has also swept across the Niagara peninsula with salubrious results. Although we, too, were focused on Niagara’s remarkable wines, we squeezed in visits to three very different and very good breweries. Here’s one. Look for the other two in the next post.

Niagara Oast House Brewers


Oast House barn exterior

Route 55 outside Niagara-on-the-Lake cuts through some serious farm country with several vineyards and an aromatic lavender farm lining the highway. But the big red barn of Niagara Oast House Brewers (2017 Niagara Stone Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake; 289-868-9627; oasthousebrewers.com) might be the most prominent landmark of all. The barn has been a fixture in the landscape since 1895. It’s been a fruit basket factory, a fruit packing plant, a farmers’ coop, and even a John Deere dealership. Since late 2012, it’s been the home of Oast.

Oast owner Cian MacNeillA former sommelier and winemaker, Cian MacNeill was one of the three founders. While he sees Oast as a beer-lover’s extension of the Niagara gourmet experience, he is also careful to ensure that the brewery never loses its fun-loving roots. Oast launched with Barnraiser Country Ale in the American pale ale tradition. At 5% alcohol and lightly hopped, it has a sweet caramel malt flavor that drinks well through all three periods of a hockey match. It is literally the beer that built Oast, which continues to make the popular brew but focuses principally on farmhouse ales that have a Franco-Belgian pedigree.

Specialty ales


Bottled in thick 750 ml. bottles, these ales tend to be seasonal—Christmas, spring, a tart summer ale with verjus (tart juice from unripe grapes). Our favorite of the group, however, is the French style Biere de Garde. A robust and malty ale, it has overtones of cherry, burnt brown sugar, and cocoa. True to its name (“beer for keeping”), it ages nicely in the bottle, reaching its peak flavor at about two years.

In a nod to the fruit-growing tradition of Niagara, Oast also produces about a dozen beers with local fruit in its Rural Route series. They are sold in cans. Flavors range from a strawberry-rhubarb ale to a Russian imperial stout with dark plums. One of the big favorites for fall is the pumpkin and squash spiced ale. The brewery roasts its own pumpkins as well as acorn, hubbard, and butternut squash to caramelize the sugars and provide extra body and depth to the ale.

You can stop by the beer shed daily to taste and buy. Tours of the brewery are offered at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. on weekends.

16

09 2017

Cave Spring Cellars shines in Jordan, Ontario

Cave Spring Cellars barrels
Jordan Village compresses the Niagara Peninsula experience into a single stop. In just one kilometer along Nineteenth Street, the downtown packs in lodgings with character, a bakery, restaurants, a tavern, and just enough boutique shopping to stave off retail withdrawal. This being Niagara, there is, of course, also a winery.

Cave Spring Cellars (cavespring.ca), in fact, is the centerpiece of the community.

The Pennachetti family began buying land on the Beamsville Bench in the early 1970s and by the end of the decade, they had become visionary viticulturalists. Conventional wisdom held that only the area around Niagara-on-the-Lake was warm enough for European wine grapes to thrive, but the Pennachettis began growing Riesling and Chardonnay with considerable success.

In 1986, Len Pennachetti and family members joined forces with winemaker Angelo Pavan to found Cave Spring Cellars. Today they have about 164 acres of vineyards—about 135 acres on the Beamsville Bench and the remainder closer to Lake Ontario in the Lincoln Lakeshore viticultural subdistrict. The original plantings set Cave Spring on its course: the winery specializes in varietal white wines with a special emphasis on Riesling.

Tasting the wines


Pouring at Cave Spring Cellars Provincial liquor stores and some wine shops sell the wines, but about half the portfolio is only available in the Cave Spring Cellars tasting room in Jordan. The 1871 building was constructed as a vinegar works with thick limestone walls that keep the interior naturally cool both above and below ground.

All kinds of tasting options are available, but knowing that we’d be eating (and drinking) at the restaurant next door, we opted for a simple tasting of the “Dolomite” series. Only available at the winery, these limited-release wines are grown in the shadow of the Niagara escarpment in the transition between the Beamsville Bench and the Lincoln Lakeshore.

The 2015 Riesling “Dolomite” (retails for $18 Canadian) is the flagship of this group. It is a superb example of a Mosel clone of Riesling in cooler areas of Niagara. The floral nose leads into a nice fleshy mouthfeel followed by acid fruit notes of lime, lychee, and grapefruit. It is bright and vigorous—a terrific food wine.

Cave Springs wines at On the Twenty restaurant

Eating and drinking


Cave Spring was the first winery in the Niagara region to open a sibling restaurant. Located in the same building as the tasting room, On the Twenty (innonthetwenty.com/dining/dine-on-the-twenty) restaurant is perfect for exploring the food-friendliness of the Cave Spring wines. Chef Jason Williams is home grown. Niagara-born, he trained in the Niagara College Culinary program and worked under some of the region’s leading chefs.

heirloom beets at On the Twenty restaurant at Cave Spring Cellars Williams draws on the local bounty to build menus that complement and enhance the wines. This salad of roasted heirloom beets with a scoop of whipped goat cheese and a toasted hazelnut vinaigrette was a striking example of sweet early-season beets balanced by the light tang of the goat cheese and the dark, ashen quality of a smear of burnt honey. The house rosé (a light treatment of Cabernet Franc) tasted as if it had been conceived as a component of the dish.

venison carpaccio at On the Twenty at Cave Spring CellarsSimilarly, the venison carpaccio with dollops of egg yolk puree and parmesan emulsion is a very mild dish, even with the black pepper and crushed juniper berries on the edges. Trusting to the menu’s pairing suggestion, we had it with the Gamay. We’ve written before how this grape becomes very expressive in Niagara, and Cave Spring’s version is no exception. The fruitiness and soft tannins played very nicely with the spice on the edges and the unctuous meat.

Time for bed


Inn on the Twenty, sister to Cave Spring CellarsAfter dinner, it’s a short walk across the street from the restaurant to the Inn on the Twenty (innonthetwenty.com), another property in the Cave Spring family. A former sugar mill has found new life as a stylish lodging with 24 suites that blend traditional furnishings with a confident use of color. (There are also several rooms in adjacent buildings). All the suites have fireplaces and some have hidden private patios. Breakfast at the Inn on the Twenty is included in the rates. If you’d like a bottle of Cave Spring Cellars wine in your room when you check in, be sure to ask when you make your reservations.

We’d suggest the Blanc de Blancs Brut, which has a delicious yeastiness from spending three years on the lees.

For an overview of Niagara wineries, see the web site of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario (vqaontario.ca). For an overview of attractions, restaurants, and lodging in the area, see Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

10

09 2017

Zee’s complements adjacent Shaw Festival

eating on porch at Zee's

The Niagara peninsula isn’t all about vineyards and fine dining. Many visitors flock to Niagara on the Lake for the Shaw Festival (www.shawfest.com). The theater company occupies a good portion of the east end of the village. It launched in 1962 to celebrate acclaimed Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950). That year’s performances were Don Juan in Hell and Candida.

Just as wine grapes have flourished in the Niagara peninsula, so has drama. From those first four performances in a hall in the historic Court House, the Shaw Festival has grown into a major player in the theater world. This year’s April through mid-October season features 11 plays presented in four different venues. (A Christmas Carol is also scheduled for the holiday season.) Shaw, of course, is well-represented with productions of Saint Joan and Androcles and the Lion. But the season intersperses the Shaw among other classic, modern, and new plays.

Before and after the curtain


The theater facility is right across Wellington Street from the aptly named Shaw Club Hotel (www.niagarasfinest.com/shaw). Embodying a relaxed modern sensibility, the hostelry is an alternative to the plush traditionalism of the Prince of Wales. (See earlier post.) The covered front porch, where slowly rotating overhead fans stir the air, is a great spot for a pre- or post-performance bite. An extension of Zee’s Grill, it’s also an excellent perch to watch the comings and goings on Picton Street.

Executive chef Matt Tattrie grew up in the Niagara region and studied at Niagara College. He has a keen appreciation for local growers and producers. At lunch, he makes a mean burger with locally farmed beef and pork topped with pickled daikon, cucumber, carrot and sriracha aioli. He also offers salads and other options for those who prefer to eat lightly in warm weather. We found his chilled Smoked Red Pepper Gazpacho to be the perfect restorative on a warm afternoon. He kindly shared the recipe and it has already become a staple in our repertoire at home. He calls for a liter of roasted red peppers. You can certainly used canned roasted peppers, but we prefer to roast our own either on a charcoal grill or under the broiler. It takes about 10 red peppers to make the volume he suggests. If you roast them yourself, omit the Liquid Smoke.

Red pepper gazpacho at Zee's

SMOKED RED PEPPER GAZPACHO

Ingredients


2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 white onion, roughly chopped
1 bulb of peeled raw garlic
half bunch of fresh thyme finely chopped
1 liter container of fire roasted red peppers (about 10)
1 teaspoon of Liquid Smoke
1 liter of chicken stock (or water to keep it vegetarian)
Salt and pepper

Directions


Heat up a saucepot with vegetable oil. Once oil is hot add your onions and garlic and sauté for 3-5 minutes at medium heat. Add fresh thyme to pot and sauté for 2 more minutes.
Add your fire roasted red peppers and Liquid Smoke to pot along with stock or water. Simmer for 1 hour.

Let soup cool and blend gazpacho all together. Season with salt and pepper to taste and refrigerate.

Serve cold or at room temperature, garnishing with a drizzle of reduced balsamic glaze and a sprinkling of microgreens.

Adapted from Matt Tattrie, Executive Chef, Zee’s Restaurant, Shaw Club, Niagara-on-the-Lake

For an overview of travel on the Niagara Peninsula, see the web site of Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

04

09 2017

Kensington afternoon tea shows sweet wit

Kensington hotel exterior
Years ago on a visit to London, David and I interviewed Benny Hill for a feature in an American magazine. We were surprised when his publicist suggested that we meet the comedian known for his bawdy humor for afternoon tea. It seemed a bit, shall I say, refined. But, in person, Hill turned out to be a gentle man, perhaps even a bit shy. And the ritual of the tea service made for a very relaxed couple of hours.

Tea service at KensingtonThe experience sold me on the afternoon tea tradition. Now I make a point of sampling tea in a different spot whenever I’m in London. On my last visit, I spent a lovely afternoon with a couple of friends in the Kensington (at top). It’s one of the three hotels in London owned by the Doyle Collection, a group of Irish family-owned luxury lodgings (doylecollection.com).

As the name suggests, the elegant white stucco building sits in a neighborhood associated with royalty. Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge are the latest in a line of royal family members to occupy Kensington Palace. The red brick palace is an easy walk from the hotel. Surrounded by wrought iron gates, it sits on the western edge of the sprawling Kensington Gardens. The Gardens are filled with statuary and beautiful plantings. On an afternoon stroll, I even encountered a 1932 Rolls Royce converted to an ice cream truck.

Chef’s treat at the Kensington


Chef Ste Gibbs of the KensingtonBut the best afternoon I spent was in the Drawing Room of the Kensington hotel. The weather was still chilly enough to enjoy the warmth of the fireplace as tea service began. The Kensington serves teas from the London-based Rare Tea Company, which sources its own white, green, and black teas. Kensington Executive Chef Steve Gibbs (right) oversees the Town House restaurant as well as afternoon tea.

Gibbs has been at the hotel since Town House opened about two years ago. In keeping with the Doyle Collection’s ethos of warm, relaxed service, and comforting menus, Gibbs likes to create what he calls “updated classic foods, with a bit of a twist.” He also enjoys the showmanship of an elegant presentation.

Gibbs is even particular about how the sandwiches—including potted Argyle smoked salmon with crème fraiche and roast Devon Red chicken with cranberry—are cut. Like all breads that I sampled at the Doyle hotels, the buttermilk scones were just right: neither too dry, nor too heavy.

Tea is the perfect setting for Gibbs to indulge his refined sense of presentation as well as his sly wit. For my friends and me—all from the U.S.—he inscribed “Have A Nice Day” in chocolate around the edge of a scrumptious plate of pastries (below). The coffee Opera cake, coconut rum macaron, and bitter chocolate and raspberry choux were, figuratively speaking, the icing on the cake.

tea plate at Kensington

A pastry lesson for home


I asked Gibbs to share a recipe so that I might get a sense of how his kitchen makes such delightful pastries. He kindly shared his recipe for four individual blueberry pies. Following Gibbs’ commitment to fresh, local product, I waited for the short but sweet season of wild Maine blueberries to try the recipe. Rather than making four individual pies, I cut the recipe in half to make a six-inch pie, which is more than adequate for four servings. You could also make a nine-inch pie with the full recipe. My adaptation of Gibbs’ recipe follows. I have kept his measurements in grams because following them exactly makes a far better pie than using the approximations of so-called “English” measure. Brushing egg white on the top crust makes it nicely crisp.

BLUEBERRY PIE


Makes 4 individual 4-inch pies

blueberry pie

Ingredients

For the pastry

125g unsalted butter
180g superfine sugar
1 large egg, beaten
250g all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting surface

For the filling

600g blueberries, fresh or frozen (fresh better)
120g superfine sugar
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 egg white
1 tablespoon superfine sugar

Crème fraîche for serving.

Directions


Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth and creamy. Add the beaten egg, scraping the sides of the bowl every so often if you are using a mixer. Fold in the flour. (For greatest ease, this can be done in a food processor. Just don’t overmix the flour at the end.)

Put the blueberries into a saucepan with the superfine sugar and tablespoon of water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes.

Dilute the cornstarch with a little water, add to the blueberries and simmer for 2-3 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and scrape into a bowl to chill in the refrigerator.

Roll the pastry to 5mm (about 1/4 inch) thick and cut discs big enough to slightly overlap a 10cm (4 inch) non-stick pie dish. Fill to the top with blueberry filling, Cut another 10cm disc then cut a quarter- size hole in the middle. Place on top and crimp together. Brush with slightly whipped egg white and sprinkle with superfine sugar.

Repeat for other three pies.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown for 4-inch pies. The 6-inch pie takes about 25 minutes and the 9-inch pie will take 35-40 minutes.

Serve with dollops of crème fraiche.

29

08 2017

Boston Globe taps advice of ‘Street Food’ editors

Street Food book coverBruce Kraig and Colleen Taylor Sen are the editors of Street Food: Everything You Need to Know About Open-Air Stands, Carts & Food Trucks Around the Globe (Surrey Books, $24.95). Kraig and Taylor Sen drew on their own experiences and those of other food experts around the world to compile a book originally intended for an academic audience. But with the growing interest in local foods, the editors recently released a new volume aimed at travelers who want to savor local culture one bite at a time. We spoke with them for the Boston Globe, which published an edited interview in Wednesday’s Food section.

We were, of course, curious about the advisability of eating on the street around the world. Sen suggested that maybe we were worrying too much.

“In 2014, Angela C. Erikson of the Institute of Justice in Washington, D.C., did a study comparing restaurant food and street food in seven cities around the U.S.,” She said. “She found that street food was marginally safer than restaurant food. Think about it. Street food is made in front of you. You see it. You know how long it has been there. As long as you see the food made in front of you and it is hot and it is not sitting there, and there are no flies, I think you are pretty safe.”

Read the complete remarks at “Global street food experts share worldview.”

25

08 2017

Sweetest season calls for wines to match

Prosecco with insalata caprese
North Americans used to love sweet wines. We used to love them so much that we became ashamed of our preference for residual sugar. For the last few decades, every casual wine drinker on the continent would insist, “Oh, I only drink dry wines”—as if that preference made them more sophisticated. Leaving aside the fact that residual sugar in a wine can be a highly subjective experience, anyone who always insists on bone-dry wines is really missing the boat.

So it’s a pleasure to see that Piemonte-based Italian wine giant Zonin (www.zoninusa.com) is bringing the full line of its Castello del Poggio wines to North America as part of its “Hello Sweet Life” campaign. Since Zonin took over the estate based in Asti in 1985, Castello del Poggio has maintained the high quality of its Barbera d’Asti and Dolcetto Monferrato while also developing a full line of red, white, and rosé sweet wines.

We gave a couple of the “Sweet Life” wines a try with dishes that take advantage of the fullness of summer. As you can see in the top photo, we have a delightful glut of ripe tomatoes. (Those with green shoulders are ripe—they’re just green-ripe tomatoes of a variety we grew from Spanish seed.) So we are in the midst of Caprese salad season. Since most of our tomatoes also have strong acid profiles, we wondered how they would fare with a Prosecco DOC demi-sec. Beautifully, as it turns out. The pronounced flavor of the Glera grapes in Castello del Poggio’s version really accentuates the milkiness of the fresh mozzarella. Retail is $10-$12.

Moscato a real peach of a dessert wine


Moscato with peach tartThe Asti region has been known for Moscato Bianco wines since at least the 14th century. And hip-hop clubgoers, we’re told, have made sparkling Moscato their drink of choice ever since Jay-Z launched a boycott of Cristal a few years back. Of course, Martini & Rossi long ago ensconced its Asti Spumante as a Christmas season sparkler.

The Castello del Poggio Moscato we tried was a still wine—rich with the Moscato flavor, about 7% alcohol, and markedly sweet. The Bianco version of the Moscato grape tends to maintain a pleasant acidity, even when fully ripe. The acidity gives the Castello del Poggio Moscato some presence; it’s not just a sweet and simple sipper. The wine also shows notes of nectarine, muskmelon, and dried apricots.

While we know from experience that a wine with that profile can be excellent with wintry roast meat dishes (sort of like a liquid chutney), we decided to try it with the other fruit in abundance right now: peaches. We made the simple peach tart shown here. The crust is about one-quarter almond flour and it has an almond-scented frangipane in the bottom. The topping is simply sliced fresh peaches with a light glaze. Almond and Moscato (or Muscat) are a classic pairing, and the juiciness and slight bitterness of the peaches only amplified the harmonies. Retail is $10-$12.

22

08 2017

Afternoon tea gets royal treatment at Prince of Wales

Prince of Wales exterior
We got a quick refresher in British royal protocol when we stayed at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Niagara on the Lake (www.vintage-hotels.com/princeofwales). The stately brick property had been entertaining guests under a couple of different names for more than 30 years before the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George V and Queen Mary) paid a visit in 1901. Thrilled with the royal presence, the property changed its name to the Prince of Wales. We finally figured out that the Duke assumed that title when he became heir apparent to the throne. His father was King Edward VII, the monarch best known from PBS as an unrepentant playboy who took socialite actress Lily Langtry as his mistress.

This time the name stuck and the grande dame of lodgings in genteel Niagara on the Lake remains the Prince of Wales. Located where the Niagara River meets Lake Ontario, the town was originally a British military stronghold and haven for Loyalists fleeing north during the American Revolution. But it was virtually destroyed by U.S. troops during the War of 1812. Quickly rebuilt, by 1830 it had developed a thriving steamboat business.

Drawing room at Prince of Wales Hotel

The Arcade Hotel, as the Prince of Wales was originally called, was built in 1864 in the prime location at the corner of Picton and King streets. It’s been carefully restored to its Victorian elegance. Yet in keeping with modern, more casual times, the hotel strikes a nice balance between decorum and comfort. That’s especially true in the drawing room (above) where afternoon tea is served daily. The gorgeous space features ornate woodwork, big mirrors, and a glittering crystal chandelier. The overstuffed chairs and sofas encourage a persistent indolence.

Pomp and circumstance of afternoon tea


server at tea at Prince of Wales HotelThe Prince of Wales serves teas from Sloane Fine Tea Merchants in Toronto. The company produces its own blends from teas sourced directly from the point of origin. The first step in the Prince of Wales tea service is to open small containers and sniff the various offerings. Once the tea is properly steeped and poured, a serving tray arrives with a variety of dainty sandwiches along with sweet small cream puffs and macarons.

Of all the goodies, the scones are the star of the show. Their subtle flavor derives from golden raisins that have been steeped in jasmine tea. The scones come to the table hot from the oven. Tea drinkers slather on jam, butter, and house-made crème fraiche to taste. (Chefs at the Prince of Wales found it impossible to get an adequate supply of true British clotted cream, so they devised this more than acceptable substitute.) For those who can’t get enough of the scones, they are also served at breakfast. One morning the couple at the next table ordered a half dozen to split between them. For those who still can’t get enough, the hotel graciously agreed to share the recipe.

scone at tea in Prince of Wales Hotel

JASMINE TEA SCONES


Makes 12 large scones

Ingredients


1 cup golden raisins
2 cups hot jasmine tea
4 1/2 cups (500g) cake flour
1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
7 teaspoons (30g) baking powder
1 stick (115g) cold butter (cut into cubes )
2 (1/2 cup) whole eggs
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon (250ml) heavy cream

For egg wash
1 egg
1 teaspoon cream

Directions


Soak the raisins in hot jasmine tea mixture. Cover and let cool overnight in fridge. Strain and squeeze out most of the water before weighing. Use 175g, or 6 1/4 oz.

Combine the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Cut the butter in until mealy texture (slightly smaller than a pea).

In a separate bowl, mix together the cream and eggs. Add to the dough slowly while mixer runs. Add in the raisins and mix until combined. Rest the dough in a well floured pan for approximately 1 hour, preferably in refrigerator.

Roll dough to about 1 1/2 inches thick. Cut to desired width. Brush tops of scones with egg wash. Let rest for another 20 minutes.

Bake at 340°F (170°C) for approximately 8–15 minutes for a convection oven or 15–22 minutes for a conventional oven. Tops should be just turning golden brown and toothpick inserted in one should come out with no dough slick. (A moist crumb is acceptable.) Be sure to open up at least one to ensure the middle is baked enough.

tea at Prince of Wales Hotel


For an overview of travel on the Niagara Peninsula, see the web site of Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

17

08 2017

Realizing a 150-year dream: Ravine Vineyard Estate

bottles at Ravine Vineyard restaurant
Norma Jean Lowery Harber’s family has farmed the 34 acres of Ravine Vineyard Estate (ravinevineyard.com) in St. Davids since 1867. Indeed, her great-grandfather planted the Niagara region’s first commercial vineyard here in 1869 and the land was in orchards for many decades. Norma Jean and her husband Blair Harber bought the farm from the rest of the family in 2004. They set about creating organic vineyards and an organic winery. Norma Jean’s father had grown wine grapes, and the couple replanted vineyards to focus on the three classic Bordeaux reds (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc) along with Chardonnay, Riesling, and small amounts of Gewürtztraminer.

Ravine Vineyard Estate restaurantThe wines are reason enough reason to visit Ravine. As luck had it, we missed the tasting room hours. But we had dinner in the farm restaurant looking out on the kitchen garden and down to some of the vineyards. And, naturally, we drank Ravine wines with dinner. The Harbers practice biodynamic principles in their restaurant gardens as well as in their vineyards. The restaurant focuses on highly local products—including the Berkshire hogs raised on the farm. A smokehouse on the property allows executive chef Ross Midgley to feature dishes with cured pork. The chef also preserves local bounty to extend locavore dining into the less fecund seasons.

Charcuterie and Merlot


Ravine charcuterie plate

In fact, we started dinner with the chef’s charcuterie platter. The meaty anchors were honey ham, sliced coppa, and sausage—all cured downstairs in the charcuterie closet. A pot of heavenly chicken liver parfait was great for spreading on the country French baguette, and the pork country pâté en croute was just unctuous enough to benefit from the tangy pickled fennel and shallots and homemade coarse mustard.

On our server’s recommendation, we drank Ravine Merlot with the dish. Merlot is the most round-heeled of the Bordeaux grapes, ripening to voluptuous fullness even in Niagara’s short season. Ravine’s version is soft and round, but it’s not sloppy. Nine months in French barrique disciplines the fruit.

Carrot soup and Riesling


Carrot ginger soup at Ravine Vineyard Estate restaurantRavine’s restaurant has a nice touch with its soup of the day. It serves each bowl with a savory sour cream and chive muffin. That was especially nice with a bowl of carrot-ginger soup topped with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. The accompanying wine was the house Riesling. Like the Merlot, it is a fruit-forward wine with a good acidity that brings out the brightness of the grape. Characteristic of the Mosel clones, the aromatics are lightly floral.

Scallop and pasta with Sauvignon Blanc


Scallop and pasta at Ravine Vineyard Estate restaurantChef Midgley’s sense of food balance paired especially well with winemaker Martin Werner’s rendering of Sauvignon Blanc. The pasta of the day was a delightful tangle of homemade spaghetti with lovage and arugula, a butter sauce, and asparagus. Perched on top was a perfectly seared scallop. The range of textures and flavors in a small dish was striking.

The Sauvignon Blanc was even more striking. Werner treats it like Sancerre, fermenting with both wild yeast and a controlled inoculation, then barrel-aging on the lees. It has pronounced white grapefruit and lemon notes with a surprising creaminess. The crisp acidity cut through the butter sauce and highlighted the herbal notes of the vegetables in the dish.

Chardonnay for the main dishes


entrees at Ravine Vineyard restaurant
Ravine ages its standard Chardonnay in small barrels of an assertive French oak. That produces a French-inflected wine with distinctively New World fruit. It is creamy and lightly oaky, lush with the apple and pear notes characteristic of cold-climate Chard. Those properties make it a good all-purpose white to pair with food—much as the Ravine Merlot is a good all-purpose red. We had a brined and smoked heritage half-chicken and a mixed-grains “risotto” made with shiitake mushrooms and an Ontario gouda-style cheese. The Chardonnay’s oakiness was a nice complement to the smoke in the chicken, and its broad acidity counterbalanced the richness of the cheese in the “risotto,” which had intense cereal flavors of its own from the wheat berries and barley.

For an overview of Niagara wineries, see the web site of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario (vqaontario.ca) or Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

Summer love: Chinon and ratatouille

our ratatouille
August brings a near-embarrassment of riches. After a wet summer with good heat, our garden is in overdrive. What we don’t grow we can buy in abundance at the farmers markets held daily here in Cambridge. We have to remind ourselves that one does not live on insalata caprese alone. In August, there is also ratatouille.

Such elemental foods deserve a special kind of reverence. British health and fitness guru Nick Barnard runs Rude Health (rudehealth.com). It is a food and drinks company that goes way beyond all the wholesome foodie fashions to get back to basics. His new book of food philosophy with 130 recipes, Eat Right, is published by Kyle Books (kylebooks.com). You can buy it here on Amazon. It’s our favorite kind of “cookbook.” It deals less in rote directions than in ways to treat ingredients.

So with our tables and counters overflowing with tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, and peppers, we turned to Barnard’s recipe for Quick Ratatouille. It’s an oven technique that takes five minutes to prepare and about 45 minutes to cook. On the first cool day, we started chopping. The recipe is at the end of this post. The results are above. By the way, we substituted three slender Japanese eggplants for the one large eggplant the recipe specifies. Barnard also offers an alternative version with a tomato-onion sauce (directions included). We’ll try that next time.

Chinon, the Loire summer red


Chinon bottle and glass for HungryTravelersRatatouille is a powerful dish—the summer equivalent of a hearty winter stew. While a number of soft reds complement it well, probably the ideal wine for a ratatouille dinner is Chinon. This Loire Valley red is Cabernet Franc on its home turf. The AOC regulations permit as much as 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, but the Saget la Perrière Marie de Beauregard Chinon 2015 that we uncorked is pure Cab Franc.

Purple reflections grace the otherwise garnet-red pour. Blackcurrant and blackberry dominate the nose with just a trace of menthol and vanilla from the nine months the wine spends in the barrel. In the mouth, the wine is full and rounded with good fruit slightly restrained by soft tannins. The classic sharp spice of the grape shows mostly in the smoky aftertaste, which reminded us of toasted coriander seed. It held up to the gorgeous ripeness of the ratatouille vegetables. As a sipping wine, it would benefit from another year in the cellar or opening a few hours before dinner. Retail varies $17-$20.

QUICK RATATOUILLE


Serves 4 either as a side or with some crusty bread and butter

Ingredients


1 large eggplant, purple or freckled, trimmed and chopped medium–coarse
5 large, firm, and ripe tomatoes (heirloom ones are a good choice), cored and chopped medium– coarse
3 medium zucchini, trimmed and chopped medium–coarse
2 red or orange bell peppers, trimmed, seeded, and chopped (more coarsely than the other vegetables)
4 garlic cloves, smashed and finely diced
2 bay leaves
Thyme sprigs
1/2 to 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
A small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves coarsely chopped, to serve
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions


Preheat the oven to 400°F.

One-dish method

Put the prepared eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, and red or orange bell peppers into a roasting pan or baking dish.

Throw in the garlic and herbs, pour over about 1/2 cup of olive oil, and sprinkle with lots of salt and some grindings of black pepper. Jumble it up to coat everything thoroughly with the oil, adding more oil if need be to keep it moist. Roast for 35 to 45 minutes, turning over the vegetables from time to time.

Remove the thyme sprigs and the bay leaves and serve sprinkled with the freshly chopped parsley.

With a tomato and onion sauce

If you like onions in your ratatouille, in addition to the above, peel and dice 2 medium onions medium-coarse. Smash, peel, and finely dice 3 of the 4 garlic cloves. Peel the tomatoes if you wish or just core and chop them coarsely without peeling.

Warm 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over low–medium heat and add the onions. Allow them to sweat a little and soften but not color, then add the chopped garlic and continue to cook for a minute, no more. Add the tomatoes and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes.

Assemble the rest of the vegetables in the baking dish as above, and tuck in the remaining clove of garlic. Pour over the tomato sauce and stir, adding as much olive oil as necessary to moisten everything generously.

Roast.

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08 2017