Archive for the ‘Canada’Category

Tawse and Redstone prove Niagara wine’s a natural

Tasting wine at Tawse Winery in Niagara
Toronto financier Moray Tawse is a lifelong lover of both red and white Burgundy. A happenstance tasting of a great Chardonnay from an obscure (and now defunct) Niagara winery changed his real estate shopping plans back in 2001. Rather than seeking out vineyards to buy in Burgundy, he turned his attention to the fledgling Twenty Valley, which comprises vineyards in Beamsville, Vineland, and Jordan in the town of Lincoln and extends eastward to the city of St. Catharines. A wine geek’s heaven, this region is a patchwork of different soils and subsoils. The Twenty Valley chicken clearly crossed the road because it preferred the terroir on the other side. Now Twenty Valley is home to more than 50 wineries. (For details, see Niagara’s Twenty Valley web site at www.20valley.ca or Visit Niagara at www.visitniagaracanada.com.)

In 2001, Moray Tawse bought his first 9-acre property, and in 2005 opened Tawse Winery (tawsewinery.ca). Tawse has expanded to five vineyards encompassing 200 acres and has been named Canadian Winery of the Year four times.

Tawse Winery in NiagaraTawse wines are organic and biodynamic. (The winery has both Ecocert and Demeter certification.) A regular farm menagerie assists in the vineyards. Sheep graze on the lower canopy of the vines, while horses crop the upper canopy. Chickens strut up and down the rows, eating bugs and picking out weeds around the trunks and between the vines. Architectural ingenuity helps make the winery (see below) all the more sustainable. Taking advantage of a hillside location, every operation is gravity-fed. Burgundy-based Pascal Marchand—a rock star among flying winemakers—advises Tawse Winery on every step of the process. Niagara College-trained Paul Pender makes the wines and oversees the vineyards.

Tastes of Tawse


All the certifications in the world mean nothing if the wines don’t live up to it. But they do. In fact, the Tawse wines as a group are outstanding. They vinify more than 90 wines each year, including 13-14 different Chardonnays from slightly different terroir.

We tasted the 2012 Estate Chardonnay—a barrel-fermented white made in the style of a Maconnais. The oak is well-balanced as a background note, letting the apple and melon notes come to the fore on the palate. It retails at $38. We also tried a 2015 Limestone Ridge Riesling ($24). It’s a perfect wine for light meats sauced with acidic marinades or rubs—roast pork with applesauce, for example, or chicken lemon pasta. The aromatic Riesling dominates but in this cold year, there’s a distinct green apple acidity in the mouth. The vineyard is planted over two types of soil. Grapes from the limestone northern half go to Tawse. Grapes from the red clay southern half go to Redstone (see below).

The 2011 Cherry Avenue Pinot Noir ($49) is the Tawse flagship red. The vineyards were 9 years old when the grapes were picked, and the wine shows great promise as the vines mature. The nose of violets and black cherries gives way to a rounded, fruity wine with a suggestion of pomegranate, menthol, eucalyptus, and warm spices on the palate. It is classic cold-climate Pinot Noir—lean and elegant as a greyhound.

Redstone Winery in Niagara, owned by Moray Tawse

Redstone, brawny sibling to Tawse


When Tawse began expanding his holdings in 2009, he bought some vineyards planted in the red clay soils of the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation (still part of the Twenty Valley region). The first vintage in 2010 was so radically different from the Tawse wines that Moray Tawse decided that the vineyards needed their own winery and own identity.

So Redstone Winery (redstonewines.ca) was born. Moray Tawse took the opportunity to build a new winery with a big tasting room and a fine restaurant, making Redstone especially visitor-friendly. The integrated operation raises its own lamb, chicken, and duck and buys beef, rabbit, and venison from nearby Ontario farms.

Wines show Canadian cheekiness


Redstone tasting bar in Niagara, owned by Moray TawseAs the red-clay soils of the property are ideal for late-maturing Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, the winery’s identity is tied to the Bordeaux reds. Redstone also produces a powerful Syrah, a Chablis-style Chardonnay, as well as some Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Like Tawse, all wines are certified organic and biodynamic.

sparkling rose at Redstone in Niagara, owned by Moray TawseWines here range from a frisky sparkling rosé available only at the winery to a robust Rhone-style Syrah ($40) that practically cries out for roast leg of lamb studded with garlic and rosemary sprigs. The Reserve Chardonnay ($30) hails from the south half of the Limestone Ridge vineyard shared by Tawse and Redstone. Winemaker Rene Van Ede is Australian, and his wines have that Down Under rowdiness. This Chardonnay tastes like a New World rambunctious cousin of Chablis. It has a fruit forward expression of lemon, sweet apple, and a notable toasty oak. The lush texture lingers a long, long time.

We also sampled the 2013 Cabernet Franc ($40). An elegant expression of Cabernet that could use a few more years in the bottle, it is a little closed right now. Swirled in the glass, it gives up a distinct black pepper aroma on top of ripe blackcurrants and dark cherry. The nose suggests a jammy quality not present in the mouth. Slightly puckery, it has layer after layer of dark fruit still restrained by its tannins. Give it a year or two and it should drink like a bodyguard in a tuxedo.

25

07 2017

Niagara cheese assumes a local accent

Vivian Szebeny of Upper Canada Cheese Company in Niagara
Niagara College has played a big role in the Niagara peninsula blossoming as a foodie destination. The school is turning out talented graduates with a commitment to making the most of the region’s bounty. The college’s offerings run the gamut from culinary and hospitality programs to winemaking, viticulture, brewing, and distilling. The college even operates a teaching brewery as well as Canada’s only commercial teaching winery. As we traveled through the region, we met many of its talented graduates and interns who intend to make their careers in the region.

But in the pantheon of food and drink, one thing is missing. “There are no courses on cheesemaking offered in the area,” Vivian Szebeny of Upper Canada Cheese Company told us.

Szebeny is a partner in the operation that was founded in 2005 and calls itself “the first small, modern Niagara creamery in generations.” Upper Canada Cheese Company (uppercanadacheese.com) makes and sells its cheeses from a modern building with retro train station style in the town of Lincoln. They also stock other artisanal cheeses and local products such as honey, pickles, preserves, and maple syrup that offer an overview of the local food scene.

Guernesey cow in NiagaraSzebeny learned her craft in France and Quebec and now trains the company’s other cheesemakers. They are fortunate to start with an extraordinary ingredient—milk from a herd of Guernsey cows. The brown and white cattle graze contentedly at Comfort Family Farm, about a 20-minute drive from the facility. The protein- and cream-rich milk “is more flavorful,” said Szebeny, “and we can make more cheese per liter.” Upper Canada makes cheese every second day, starting with about 2,000 liters of milk.

Variations on a Guernsey theme


Upper Canada Cheese Company cheeses in NiagaraThe company first introduced Niagara Gold, a washed-rind semi-firm cheese that is aged four to five months. Modeled on Port Salut from the Loire Valley in Brittany, it has similar buttery flavors, a nutty nose, and earthy flavors in the mouth. Comfort Cream, a Camembert-style soft cheese, was “named after the farm,” Szebeny said. Intensely buttery, it has a long tangy finish with an air of fresh mushrooms.

The Guernsey cheeses have been very successful, but the cheesemakers wanted new challenges. “If you are a cheesemaker you like to experiment with different milks,” Szebeny explained. “So we got some goat milk.” And the result is Nosey Goat, a semi-firm washed-rind goat cheese and Nanny Noir, a Camembert-style cheese rolled in vegetable ash before aging.

Szebeny also developed a fresh cheese that the company calls Guernsey Girl. It’s a cheese style particularly popular in eastern Canada. With a nice salty flavor and a squeaky bite, it holds its shape when fried or grilled. “Grill it and it becomes caramelized and brown on the outside and gooey on the inside,” Szebeny said.

When we visited in May, Upper Canada was close to releasing its first cheddar, which had been aged for eight months. Clearly excited about the release, Szebeny noted that “it’s the only Guernsey cheddar that I am aware of.”

We look forward to what they’ll do next.

23

07 2017

Inniskillin icewines hit the sweet spot

Debi Pratt at Inniskillin in Niagara
Like many wine drinkers, we’ve always thought of icewine as an after-dinner treat. But if Inniskillin (www.inniskillin.com) has its way, we’ll be drinking it with dinner as well. As Debi Pratt told us when we toured the property, icewine makes an excellent, if somewhat extravagant, table wine.

Inniskillin is another pioneer in the Niagara wine region. It was founded in 1975 by Austrian-born Karl Kaiser and Canadian Donald Ziraldo. “Karl said, ‘If I’m going to live in a new country, I’m going to drink the wines of my new country,’” Pratt told us.

Ziraldo had actually planted Riesling, Chardonnay, and Gamay vines the year before at his commercial nursery. But when Inniskillin launched, the winery relied heavily on two winter-hardy French hybrid grapes, Vidal Blanc and Maréchal Foch. The early Vidal plantings survive for icewine, but nobler vines have displaced the old red hybrid as well as the original Gamay. Today’s Inniskillin Niagara table wines lean heavily on Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Riesling, and Pinot Noir. (Inniskillin also has a branch in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.)

When cold is cool


Inniskillin icewine vineyard in NiagaraBut Inniskillin electrified the wine world with its distinctive New World icewines. Winemaker Kaiser produced Niagara’s first icewines in 1984, using the thick-skinned Vidal grapes. Familiar with German and Austrian icewines, he suspected that the climate in Niagara should be perfect to produce icewines in most harvests. Subsequent years proved him right, and the consumer response to the once-exotic product was strong.

“Donald and Karl are pioneers of Ontario icewine,” Pratt said. Today, Inniskillin reserves 5 percent of its grapes for icewines. They hang on the vines until at least early December and sometimes aren’t harvested until early March. The optimal temperature for harvesting is -10°C (14°F). VQA regulations state that the harvest must be carried out at -8°C (17/6°F) or lower.

Thick-skinned Vidal grapes last longer on the vine than other varietals. As a result, the grape accounts for about 85 percent of Canada’s icewine production. But Inniskillin and some other Niagara wineries have also had good luck with Riesling and Cabernet Franc. They also have thick enough skins to become desiccated on the vine without rotting.

Icewine with food


icewine glass at Inniskillin in NiagaraYou can taste icewine flights at the dedicated Icewine Tasting Bar. We headed instead to the Riedel Room, which is named for the premium maker of wine glasses. After Kaiser’s prompting, Riedel developed a specific glass for tasting icewine. “It evolved from an aromatic glass, a port glass, and a Sauterne glass,” said Pratt. “The shape maximizes the layers of aromas in icewines.”

Food, we were to quickly learn, also brings out the nuances of the wine. We sampled three dishes prepared by chef Tim MacKiddie to pair with Riesling, Vidal, and Cabernet Franc icewines.

icewine and food pairing at Inniskillin in Niagara

Riesling pairing

In the Riedel icewine glasses, the Riesling icewine showed a lot of flowery notes and citrus that ranged from Meyer lemon to bergamot. MacKiddie served a goat cheese croquette with a fennel salad lightly dressed with a cumin-lime vinaigrette. The citrus notes balanced the ashen cheese nicely, while the bright anise of the fennel echoed the aromatics of the wine.

Vidal pairing

The Vidal icewine was rounder and more luscious, tasting of apricots and gooseberries. MacKiddie explained that baking spices pair nicely with Vidal, which tends to preserve its fruitiness even as an icewine. He then proved his point by serving a rhubarb tart with cinnamon butter pastry and a crumble topping.

Cabernet Franc pairing

The “dessert” course among the icewines was reserved for the Cabernet Franc, which displayed a luscious concentrate of blackberries and elderberries spiked with black pepper. MacKiddie offered a “Canadian s’more.” It consisted of a block of chocolate ganache with a few toasted homemade marshmallows, all sitting in a small pool of Cabernet Franc syrup. “A match made in heaven,” he called it—and we agreed

We were convinced: Icewine can pair nicely with food. Pratt pointed out that Inniskillin’s sparkling icewines—either Sparkling Vidal or Sparkling Cabernet Franc—might be even more food friendly. “The bubbles cut the sweetness,” she said.

Nonetheless, it’s hard to give up the sheer indulgence of simply sipping and enjoying icewine as a special pleasure all its own.

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).

20

07 2017

Niagara Peninsula: the next great foodie destination

Red rose and white on the Niagara Peninsula
We went for the wine, but we stayed for the food. Serious winemaking with vinifera grapes began in the Niagara Peninsula in 1975. When we last visited about 15 years ago, Niagara icewines were world class and table wines were making tremendous strides. An Ontario wine dinner in Toronto last fall (hungrytravelers.com/ontario-wine-country-becomes-world-player) convinced us that Niagara has matured as an important producer of good wines. So in late May we packed up the car and drove across Massachusetts and upstate New York. We spent a week exploring this bucolic peninsula that sits about an hour’s drive east of Toronto.

Niagara wine region map
Most of the wineries lie in a band of soils and climatic conditions between the limestone ridge of the Niagara escarpment and the south shore of Lake Ontario. As the map above shows, the main communities in this region are (from west to east) Lincoln, Beamsville, Vineland, St. Catherine’s, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and St. David’s. (You can download a full version at mtc.gov.on.ca/images/regions_maps/Region02.pdf.) The fertile wine country barely extends more than a dozen miles south of the lake. The great tourist destination of Niagara Falls lies a few miles farther south.

wine route sign in NiagaraBlue roadside markers with a stylized cluster of grapes seem to beckon: “This way to the wine!” If there were any doubt, they’re labeled “Wine Route.” Come to a crossroads in wine country, and the signs may not tell you the name of the road. But they will tell you which wineries are somewhere along the route. According to the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario (vqaontario.ca), more than 90 wineries fall within the Niagara Peninsula appellation. Most of them encourage visitors.

Tasting and grazing through Niagara


The rural area is so compact that you can pick a base anywhere and drive everywhere else. We spent our time partly based at Inn on the Twenty (innonthetwenty.com) (right). room at Inn on the Twenty in NIagara
It’s in Jordan Station, a village of Lincoln. We spent another segment at the swanky Prince of Wales Hotel (vintage-hotels.com/princeofwales) in Niagara-on-the-Lake. And, we must admit, we also visited Niagara Falls because, well, it is one of the seven wonders of the world. And the Canadian side is one fabulous linear park on the high embankment. For full details on lodging and information on other attractions, see visitniagaracanada.com.

Sculpture at Good Earth in NiagaraThe eating is usually good in wine country throughout the world. It’s better than good in Niagara. This region is so rooted in agriculture that we wondered if some locals possess the DNA for chlorophyll production. From farmers to chefs to servers, Niagara folk have a profound appreciation for the gifts of the earth. Chefs fully embrace the trend toward local sourcing, and some of them go a step or more beyond. At the best restaurants, dining is so purely local that it’s almost like eating on the farm. A few places, in fact, are surrounded by fields, fruit trees, and grapevines—as this whimsical 2011 Fork in the Road by Floyd Elzinga attests. It sits at the edge of a vineyard at the Good Earth Food & Wine Company (goodearthfoodandwine.com) as you enter the wine shop and bistro.

Just as Niagara vineyards have perfected the art of making cold-climate wines (citrusy Chardonnay, berry-licious Gamay, red-pepper ripe Cabernet Franc, and honeyed Riesling), the chefs welcome the challenges of indigenous cold-climate cuisine. Despite global warming, periodic visits by the polar vortex keep Niagara honest. The food speaks of the lower Rhone valley in summer, but it shares more with Copenhagen and Dublin the rest of the year.

Watch this space for details.

15

07 2017

Top Toronto restaurants reflect city’s many faces

Note Bene in Toronto
During our brief stay in Toronto, we managed to dine at three of the city’s leading restaurants not run by Susur Lee. (For a look at his Luckee, see our earlier post.) The Top Chef Canada cooking competition (2011-2014) helped drive the dining culture here, placing an emphasis on restaurants that are personal expressions of the chef. So each of the three had the firm stamp of a strong personality in the kitchen.

Nota Bene


Crsipy duck salad at Nota Bene in Toronto Chef David Lee was a partner when he opened Nota Bene to great acclaim in 2008. After becoming full owner, he overhauled and redesigned the restaurant last February. More than ever, this is a classy yet casual fine dining room expressing the latest fascinations of a very talented, classically trained chef. Born in England and trained in France, Lee also draws on his Asian heritage for inspiration.

His crispy duck salad is a perfect East-West hybrid. In concept, it’s a lot like the duck confit salads ubiquitous in Parisian cafés. But Lee spins it as northern Cambodian by adding green papaya, fish sauce, and Asian chiles and herbs. Instead of bitter melon, he uses cool local cucumber. The dining room (shown above) has a little more decorum than many Toronto foodie haunts. In the face of many new upstarts with exciting and locally focused menus, Lee has shown real staying power. His command of multiple cuisines—from French to Chinese to Peruvian to Scandinavian—is his strong suit. It’s hard to pick a Toronto spot that can appeal better to diners with divergent tastes.
Nota Bene, 180 Queen Street West, 416-977-6400, notabenerestaurant.com

The Good Son


Chef Vittorio Colacitti competed on Top Chef Canada before opening The Good Son in spring 2015. An Italian-Canadian Toronto native, he eschews red sauce and pasta, but he is wed to his wood-burning oven and grill. Most dishes are kissed by fire, whether it’s roasted black cod or the pizzas that appear on almost every table. Decor is self-consciously shabby-chic with mismatched wooden tables and chairs augmented by button-tufted banquettes and booths. But the food is bold and most plates are meant to be shared. The chef’s stint at Thai & International Food Academy in Bangkok gives his food an Asian accent. He even makes a kimchee fried rice to accompany the unctuous bolgogi braised short ribs. Colacitti treats seasonal local products on the eclectic menu to a touch of smoke and bold seasonings.
The Good Son, 1096 Queen Street West, 416-551-0589, thegoodsontoronto.com

Richmond Station


charcuterie at Richmond Station in Toronto
Chef Carl Heinrich launched this Financial District farm-to-table gem in 2012, the same year he won season two of Top Chef Canada. Still an ingredient-focused restaurant, Richmond Station has a strong charcuterie component. Pickled vegetables appear across the menu, and the charcuterie plate (above) even includes a house-made head cheese. Our experience was atypical, of course, since we were sequestered in a small dining room with an extended wine tasting (see previous post).

Richmond Station duck pate in TorontoNonetheless, some of the menu classics were featured on the pairing menu concocted by chef de cuisine Hayden Johnston. There’s a hint of Jewish comfort food with this menu, including the delicious duck liver pâté on a toasted brioche. Johnston topped it with a small scoop of tart cherry mostarda and a sprinkle of Maldon finishing salt. Paired with an intense Charles Baker Riesling, it set up all the rich and deep flavors to follow.

The seasonal focus of Toronto restaurants meant that brassicas were big on most of the October menus. Richmond Station normally serves a cauliflower agnolotti with baby greens, pickled shiitake mushrooms, and fried sourdough. To accompany a Tawse Gamay Noir, Johnston adapted the dish to create the quintessence of Toronto fall cuisine. Shown below, the pasta was served with toothy cauliflower, brussels sprouts leaves, and juicy thin slices of dry-aged beef tenderloin.
Richmond Station, 1 Richmond Street West, 647-748-1444, richmondstation.ca

Richmond Station in Toronto - cauliflower agnolotti

11

11 2016

Ontario wine country becomes a world player

Magdalena Kaiser pours tasting of VQA Ontario wines in Toronto.
Meeting Magdalena Kaiser of Wine Country Ontario during our recent visit to Toronto was a real treat. She hails from Ontario wine royalty. Her father, Karl Kaiser, was a co-founder in 1975 of Inniskillin Wines, Inc. The first winery licensed in Ontario since 1929, Inniskillin was a pioneer in making world-class wines on the Niagara Peninsula east of Toronto. The area quickly became known for exceptional ice wines but has broadened out to a huge variety of table wines as well.

We started visiting the Niagara Peninsula in the late 1980s. At the time, winemakers were shifting into European vinifera grapes from hardier French-American hybrids. They also launched Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA), which oversees quality standards and certifies the origins of the wines in Ontario and British Columbia.

From that base on the Niagara Peninsula, wine-growing has expanded in several choice areas in Ontario. As Kaiser led us through a broad tasting of wines from three main wine regions over dinner at Richmond Station (richmondstation.ca), she seemed to know every pour as if it were one of her own.

Ontario terroir


bottles-1 We were struck by the sudden maturity of the youngest region, Prince Edward County. Located northeast of the other wine regions, it occupies a limestone peninsula on the north shore of Lake Ontario. Lake effect temperatures and stony soils give the wines a profound minerality. We tasted the Norman Hardie Chardonnay Unfiltered 2014 from Wellington. The wine displayed pronounced fruit and a supple elegance in the Burgundian style. The fresh acidity made it a perfect accompaniment to a charcuterie tray. This is cold-climate winemaking at its best. Hardie says his vines and barrels come from France, his terroir from Ontario, and the taste and nose from him. Have a look at www.normanhardie.com.

Many Prince Edward County wineries focus on sparkling wines. We sampled several, including Whitecap from Hinterland (www.hinterlandwine.com). Made with the Charmat method, it’s a crisp and inexpensive sparkler that could be Canada’s answer to Prosecco. Hinterland also makes some sparkling wines in the traditional method of secondary fermentation in the bottle. Its best is Ancestral Method Rosé made with the Gamay grape.

The Gamay surprise


Ontario wines have matured to a level that many are ready to compete in the world market—especially if they play up the perfect match of the terroir to the Gamay noir grape. Gamay has been sullied in popular imagination by sour and fizzy Beaujolais Nouveau that typically appears on shelves in the U.S. just in time to spoil Thanksgiving. But real Beaujolais—the French wines sold as Beaujolais-Villages or Beaujolais Cru—is a wonderful wine with bright raspberry or wild cherry notes.

Some Ontario winemakers bleed their grapes for rosés or use early-picked Gamay for sparkling wine. But the best of the Ontario Gamay wines—like the Tawse Gamay Noir Unfiltered (www.tawsewinery.ca) and the range of Malivoire wines (www.malivoire.com) built on Gamay—resemble the Beaujolais Cru wines from Fleurie in France. These wines have depth, utterly delicious fruit, and a rounded acidity. They are great with cheeses and lighter meats such as chicken, turkey, or rabbit. Tawse, by the way, was named Winery of the Year in Canada in 2016.

Exploring the world of Ontario wines


vineyards in Ontario This tasting piqued our interest in Ontario wines, especially since so many wineries have figured out how to ripen Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc to produce wines that promise a future for superb reds. We expect to be heading up to Ontario wine country to explore in greater depth. If you’d like to do the same, start your planning with the Wine Country Ontario web site at winecountryontario.ca. The wineries have put together a comprehensive guide to visits that is one of the best marketing examples we’ve seen for a North American wine region. The vineyard photo above and the map below are courtesy of the Wine Marketing Association of Ontario.

Ontario wine regions

09

11 2016

Local color lights up Toronto neighborhoods

Kensington Market street scene in Toronto
Toronto’s playful side is literally written on its walls. The city is full of murals created with a high degree of artistry and a witty sense of humor. The one above with the car-turned-planter in the foreground embodies the spirit of the Kensington Market neighborhood. Just west of Chinatown, most of its shops and eateries are found along Augusta Avenue and adjacent Nassau Street, Baldwin Street, and Kensington Avenue.

The eastern boundary stretches to Spadina Avenue in Chinatown, making a continuous colorful neighborhood of eateries and shops. Once the center of hippie culture in Canada, Kensington Market was where many young American men moved to avoid the military draft during the Vietnam war. The area retains its psychedelic patchouli vibe in the street art and even the graffiti.

burrito stand in Toronto Kensington Market The Kensington Market eateries also lean toward the inventive—be they Hungarian-Thai, Remixed Filipino, or Jamaican-Italian. The preponderance of small restaurants, however, have a Latin flair. NAFTA has opened the borders to Mexican immigrants, and they seem to arrive hungry for such Mexican street food standards as churros, tacos, and chorizo. The Latin presence makes Kensington Market a great area for a quick bite.

But one of the city’s best murals—and perhaps the best Mexican food—is at El Catrin Destilería (18 Tank House Lane, 416-203-2121, www.elcatrin.ca). We stopped for a meal after touring the Distillery District shopping, dining, and entertainment area with Will Ennis of Go Tours (www.gotourscanada.com).

Exploring whisky village


Main square of Distillery District in Toronto “This is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city,” Will told us. Gooderham & Worts was founded as a grain processor in 1831 and expanded into making whisky in 1837. About half of the roughly 80,000 imperial gallons produced each year was exported, by the way. The rest stayed in the city of 10,000 residents. The story goes that workers’ wages were actually based on levels of drunkenness that ranged from “morning drunk” (or hung over) to “drunk as a pig.”

The brick distillery as it now stands was built in 1859. By 1862, it was producing a quarter of the distilled spirits in all of Canada. By the end of the 19th century, it was among the largest distilleries in the world. Prohibition in Ontario (1916-1927) put a crimp in the business. (The firm adjusted by canning denatured alcohol and antifreeze during World War I.) Whisky production ceased in 1990 and developers transformed the red brick industrial buildings into a shopping and nightlife district. It is crazy popular among wedding photographers, who love the atmospherics.

One good pour deserves another


Pouring sake at Ontario Spring Water Sake Two small establishments in the development carry on the tradition of making alcoholic beverages. Ontario Spring Water Sake Company (51 Gristmill Lane, 416-365-7253, www.ontariosake.com) brews sake in the “pure rice” style. The brewers use only cooked milled rice, water, yeast, and koji. (Koji is rice inoculated with the aspergillus oryzae mold, which imparts a distinct flavor.) You can watch the process through a large window. Better yet, for $10 you can enjoy a tasting flight of three styles.

In addition, Mill Street Brewpub (21 Tank House Lane, 416-681-0338, millstreetbrewery.com) opened in 2002. It was Canada’s first brewer of certified organic beer. The storefront brews small batch seasonal beers on site. The flagship beer is a Pilsener with a nice bit of hops. If it’s available when you visit, try the West Coast Style IPA. Made with 50 percent malted wheat and a nice dose of Cascade hops, it gives a less bitter impression than most IPAs. The nose has strong, pleasing mango notes. Mill Street also makes beer schnapps, a liqueur triple-distilled from beer and redolent of malt and hops. Mill Street is the only maker in Canada and the schnapps is only sold on site. “It lights a bit of a fire in your stomach,” a server told us as he poured small tastes.

A taste of Mexico


Mural in El Catrin in Toronto Distillery District
After that snort, we were ready for El Catrin Destileria (18 Tank House Lane, 416-203-2121, elcatrin.ca). This cavernous space with 22-foot ceilings opened in 2013. The tequilas and the food are authentically Mexican. Street artist Oscar Flores painted the two-story mural that dominates one wall. (The other consists of cubbyholes filled with tequilas.) Flores went wild with bright colors, decorative skulls, coyotes, sunflower, eagles, and armadillos.

Chef Olivier Le Calvez hails from Mexico City. His father is French, his mother Mexican. He spent his teens living in France and did his culinary studies there. As a result, he prepares Mexican food—even street food—with French technique.

Cuisine in the sun


Making guacamole at El Catrin During warm weather, diners and drinkers flock to the tables in the 5,000 square-foot outdoor patio at El Catrin. With a bright October sun shining, we did the same. A server brought all the ingredients for guacamole to the table and mashed it in a mortar as we watched. Several tortilla chip scoops later, we moved on to an excellent tortilla soup. Le Calvez’s version is rich with ripe tomatoes and pureed to make it as thick as a gazpacho. The tacos al pastor were delicious—filled with smoky pork, tiny blocks of sweet pineapple, and chopped red onion.

Esquítes at El Catrin We especially enjoyed the shot glasses full of roasted corn. Called esquítes, they are a table adaptation of Mexican street corn. Le Calvez roasts the corn whole in the husks over charcoal. It steams the kernels and imparts a smoky flavor. Then he cuts the kernels off the cob and sautées them with a little butter and chopped epazote. He mixes in a little chipotle mayonnaise, some crumbled cortijo cheese, and a squeeze of lime.

distillery-chef Le Calvez sees himself as something of an ambassador, introducing authentic Mexican food to Canadians. He makes recipes “that I enjoyed when I was young,” he says. As with the esquítes, he often brings street food to the table. He hopes Torontonians will adopt the Mexican attitude about a meal. “We love to sit down at the table and enjoy the food,” says Le Calvez. “That’s very important to us in Mexico. A meal lasts up to two hours.”

27

10 2016

Toronto Chinatown awash with flavors

Exterior of King's Noodle in Toronto Chinatown
“Growing up in Chinatown,” said chef and culinary educator John Lee, “was a Duddy Kravitz kind of experience.” He was making a very Canadian reference to Mordecai Richler’s nostalgic novel of the Canadian Jewish immigrant experience. John was showing us around his childhood haunts in Toronto’s Old Chinatown. (It’s not to be confused with at least five other Chinatowns east of Toronto proper.)

Toronto Chinatown street scene The Toronto neighborhood radiating from the corner of Spadina Avenue and West Dundas Street was a Jewish immigrant neighborhood for the first half of the 20th century. As the Jewish population moved north after World War II, Chinese immigrants flooded into the area. Of Korean descent, Lee waxed nostalgic about his Chinese and Jewish friends as well as the old-time Jewish shopkeepers and deli owners.

Fruit stand in Toronto Chinatown Although new money from Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland has poured into Chinatown over the last few decades, the neighborhood retains that bustling edge of striving newcomers. Shoppers crowd the streets. Merchandise seems to spill out of stores packed to the rafters. Street merchants are always ready to haggle. It’s hard to tell whether the neighborhood has more fruit stands selling mangosteens and sweet sops, or more restaurants promising congee and crispy duck.

Taste of Chinatown


John Lee pours tea In such a restaurant-packed neighborhood, it’s useful to have a guide who is in the trade. John’s stories continued over a raft of dishes at the colorful, well-established King’s Noodle Restaurant (396 Spadina Ave., 416-598-1817, www.kingsnoodle.ca). We started with excellent shrimp dumplings—one of the ways to judge the quality of a Chinese kitchen. Side dishes of Chinese broccoli (kai lan) in oyster sauce and a Yeung Chow fried rice (made with barbecued pork bits) set up the main focus of our meal. John took the lead, ordering a barbecue plate with barbecued pork ribs, soya chicken, and crispy pork belly (below). As we left, John confessed that King’s Noodle is one of his reliable fall-backs for great barbecue. Duly noted—we’ll be back.

Barbecue plate at King's Noodle in Toronto Chinatown

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10 2016

Little Italy simmers with many new tastes

Different food approaches in Little Italy in Toronto
There are certainly fancier coffee shops than Café Diplomatico (594 College St., 416-534-4637, cafediplomatico.ca), but few that so consistently screen European soccer matches on the TVs. Since 1968, it’s been one of the principal landmarks of Toronto’s Little Italy. Ironically, that’s just about the time that the neighborhood was beginning to lose its accent.

We met Kevin Dupree, owner of the Culinary Adventure Co. (647-955-8357, www.culinaryadventureco.com), in front of “The Dip” for a walk around the neighborhood along College Street between Euclid Avenue and Shaw Street. Dupree’s company offers a full menu of neighborhood sampling tours and a number of other gastronomic activities—including a summertime canoe trip to the Toronto islands with a master chef who prepares a picnic.

But this particular evening, we concentrated on Little Italy. He explained that Italian immigration to Toronto began around 1880 and slowed to a trickle after 1930. The residential part of the neighborhood remained Italian into the 1960s, and it’s still full of Italian bars, coffee shops, and restaurants.

P.G. Clucks in Little Italy in Toronto That preponderance of eating and drinking establishments made this stretch of College Street a nightlife destination, and other cuisines have moved in to create a dynamic multicultural mix. We ducked into a streetfront stall—P.G. Clucks—selling “Nashville-style” fried chicken sandwiches. (They’re fiery hot with spices.) And we spent a while at Hapa Izakaya (602 College St., 647-748-4272, hapaizakaya.com), a Toronto offshoot of the Vancouver-based chain of hip Japanese bar-restaurants. Dark and loud, our area was bathed in the blue glow of UV lamps—which made the white menus glow in the dark. The sake sampler was eye-opening, and the whole mackerel warmed up with blowtorch blast (see top image) was delicate and delicious.

entrance to Sotto Voce in Little Italy in Toronto But we really felt the soul of Little Italy in the spot across the street from the Dip. Sotto Voce Wine and Pasta Bar (595 College St., 416-536-4564, sottovoce.ca) has been around for about 20 years, and it’s still serving the recipes of the Sicilian grandmother of one of the owners. The wine list is strongest on southern Italian wines, and the pasta plates feature red sauce without shame. We enjoyed some superb Sicilian meatballs made with pine nuts and currants and a bowl of gnocchi with wild boar ragu. The “fanciest” dish of the night was Gamberoni a la Puttanesca—spaghetti with tiger shrimp in a tomato sauce redolent of anchovies, garlic, black olives, and capers. It’s actually a modern Neapolitan dish that’s taken hold on both sides of the Atlantic.

The recipe below is not from Sotto Voce. It’s our own adaptation of many different approaches to puttanesca, but it has the same kind of umami punch as the one we enjoyed in Toronto.

SHRIMP PUTTANESCA


Serves 4 Shrimp puttanesca at Sotto Voce in Toronto's Little Italy

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
pinch of salt
can of anchovies (2 ounces)
1 head of garlic, cloves separated, peeled, and minced
6 ounce can of tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
26-ounce can or box of crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup capers (drained)
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
12 ounces spaghetti
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
8 ounces tiger shrimp tails with shells

In large pot, heat olive oil. Add chopped onions and pinch of salt. Cook at medium heat until onion begins to soften (about 5 minutes). Add anchovies and garlic, mashing up the anchovies with a spatula. Continue cooking about 3 minutes until garlic has softened. Add tomato paste, wine, and pepper flakes and stir well to mix. Add tomatoes, capers, and olives. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook gently with occasional stirring for about a half hour. It will become thick and saucy.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil to cook spaghetti. When pasta goes into the water, add the lemon zest and juice to the slowly bubbling sauce. Add the shrimp and raise heat until the pot just barely bubbles.

When spaghetti is al dente (7-8 minutes), drain it, reserving some cooking liquid. Add drained spaghetti to shrimp puttanesca sauce and mix well. Add reserved cooking liquid as needed to thin.

Serve hot in bowls.

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10 2016

Indulge at Rashers with all bacon, all the time

Rashers in Toronto's Leslieville neighborhood
There’s something to be said for doing one thing and doing it well. Rashers opened in Toronto’s Leslieville neighborhood in 2012 with a laser focus on the bacon sandwich. Owners John Clark and Richard Mulley firmly believe that bacon is more than a trendy garnish or a handy meat for foodie experimentation. In the Rashers universe, bacon is a culinary building block. Not just for BLTs anymore, bacon is the foundation for a whole range of sandwiches. It is a new standard under which hand-held cuisine can march forward into a gastronomic future.

Assembling bacon sandwiches at Rashers in Toronto The Leslieville storefront (948 Queen St. East, 416-710-8220, www.rashers.ca) is as minimal as the menu. Hardly more than 20 feet wide at the street, it consists of a few high stools lined up along a window counter. The grill dominates the back of the room, and when you walk in, it smells like heaven. Or breakfast. Actually, it smells like bacon, and it’s not uncommon for a certain amount of smoke to be rising from the sizzling grill. (There’s a second location in Little Portugal at 182 Ossington Ave., 647-346-8230.)

This being Toronto, peameal bacon appears in several of the sandwich choices. Perth Pork Products, a Slow Food farm a few hours west of Toronto that specializes in heritage breeds, brines the bacon for Rashers. The Hogtown grilled cheese, for example, features peameal bacon with cheddar cheese and ale mustard on multigrain bread. For a buck more, you can add a fried egg. In fact, Rashers encourages clients to mix up the offerings to build their own bacon sandwiches.

A world of bacon


Beer BLT at Rashers in Toronto Rashers actually embraces bacon in all its forms. In addition to peameal, the shop also builds sandwiches with strip bacon (“streaky bacon” to the Irish and Brits) and English bacon. That last is cured in a similar fashion to peameal bacon but is cut from the back of the loin so that the medallion of meat is surrounded by a nice ring of fat.

When we stopped in for an afternoon snack (so to speak), many of the folks ordering takeout seemed to be partial to the brie and bacon sandwich. It contains a heap of bacon strips, a generous slice of brie, and a topping of caramelized onions. The cooks slather the warm bun with garlic aioli. That all seemed a bit much for 4 p.m., so we went with the Rashers version of a classic BLT. The shop’s twist on tradition is to serve it on a ciabatta bun spread with beer mayo.

We were in Hogtown heaven.

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10 2016