2.8.15

The Windjammer

www.thewindjammerinn.com

Port Stanley is tiny and there are really only a few places to go. If you are not in a mood for a pub fare and looking for something classier – Windjammer Inn is definitely a viable option. We tried to get in for a late dinner, but were too late. No worries, we came back for a breakfast the very next morning.

APPEARANCE
A historic building from 1854 stood out because of its interesting veranda patio. We were a bit early; the restaurant opens at 9:30 am for clients not staying at the inn. It was a lazy morning - we had comfortable chairs to lounge on for a few minutes and made a friend with a terrier tied by the door.

NOSE & SWIRL
When we finally settled in and asked for some coffee and orange juice, we got a chance to venture inside for a sneak-peak of this vast historic building. There was plenty of indoor space in small scattered rooms with brightly coloured artwork. The interior felt homey, yet somehow trendy with a vintage twist to it. It could be interesting to stay in there, but it was somewhat more catered towards the older crowd.
Coming back, we ordered Fishers’ Breakfast with local Lake Erie Perch, with home fries substituted for slow roasted tomatoes. This was our second day in Port Stanley and by that time we heard so much about the fish that it was an absolute must for us to try it in one way or another. Our second choice was Fresh Baked Scones & Treats.

PALATE 

First of all, if there is ever an option to have slow roasted tomatoes as a side instead of home fries – do not pass on it. Juicy, chewy and fresh – these veggies tasted like sun-dried variety, but more flavorful. They were a delight on their own and were well accented by the plain omelet topped with fresh chives, on the side. The dish came very organized and sectioned off. The two small fillets of cornmeal crusted Perch were to the side. The meat was very tender, but a bit too oily after the grading and frying. It is always nice to try something local plus it was easily sharable coming in bite-sized slices. The last two sections of the dish were a pile of fruits and Ancient Grains toast. Overall this dish was a great breakfast option - wholesome and diverse. And yes…let’s not forget the basket of baked goodies. Very fresh in the morning, yummy and soft, we spent some time just going through the basket and pulling out new tasty treats - scones, muffins, crumpets.. Ma cherie loved the smell of baking soda. They came with a side of butter and homemade berry preserve, which made them quite filling.

FINISH
In conclusion, Windjammer is a nice local jewel to enhance your Port Stanley experience. It is authentic, friendly and a bit on the upscale side while not being snobbish.

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1.8.15

Urban Parisian

www.urbanparisian.com

When visiting the lovely Bonnieheath Winery and Lavender Farm, we heard about the Lavender Culinary Trail. The Urban Parisian in Port Dover was a part of that unique initiative and on our way so we decided to check it out

APPEARANCE
The cafe is inside a two-story historic corner house with the bottom floor cladding made of brick with messy cement joints - a memorable, chic look. We climbed the deck and entered under the small door awning. Their sign was not too prominent, but just enough to get noticed. Their neutral colours blended in nicely with the building's exterior and, unfortunately, lacked in being memorable.

NOSE
Inside, there was a café-like service - order at cashier and take a seat. Plenty of energy with their orange and red walls, as well as quite a few spaces to sit. We initially thought the fresh pastries on display are our only choices, but then we noticed a chalk board on the side wall with a decent selection. Their lunch special included two of the following : soup, salad, or sandwich. There were a couple of options from each to ensure just enough variety. Behind the counter seemed to be a pretty packed small area for the chef to operate. By the looks of it, there only seemed to be two people running the place. The chef was in no mood for a direct conversation with us as we inquired and he spoke to the cashier who simply relayed the basic facts about the food to us.

SWIRL
We were quite tempted to grab their Blue Cheese (baguette-like) bread, like the four ladies before us, decided to settle in for a fuller lunch meal. We also asked about the lavender taste trail initiative, which turned out was just ended in July. To our delight, there were still had some fresh lavender macaroons there. Different pastries were made each day for this lavender cross-promotion.
We found a free table outside and part-took in the outdoor ambiance. The tables and chairs were quite heavy to move around. They were made of metal, painted black and carved with elaborate floral patterns all around - very Victorian-looking. Their large veranda was quite spacious, as there weren't too many seats outside. Also, a large part of the seating was in the open sun. The two lucky tables close to the corner had a large tree over them and were high in demand. Throughout our experience, this little town main street got quite noisy with plenty of engines roaring.

PALATE
Our food took some time to arrive, but was hot and fresh. Both dishes were neatly organized on the rounded square white plates.
Our first meal was Broccoli Orzo Salad with a side of their Soupe de Jour. The soup was thick, and creamy and came with a side of a fresh baguette. This tomato-based dish was rich in vegetable chunks, with a smell of Parmesan. Even Cheri (hardly ever eating soup) liked it, as it resembled a puree consistency, rather then broth. The Broccoli salad was also a great choice. The raw broccoli florets were mixed with soft orzo pasta and roasted rep peppers. The salads' accent came from the unique pine-nut, zesty pesto. The salad lay in a bed of spring leaves and was topped with small spouts. It was a refreshing choice for the warm day.
Our other dish was a French Onion Panani. It consisted of their herbed flatbread filled with rich caramelized onions, Gruyere cheese, hot pressed to golden. The panini  itself was sweet, heavy and filling. The small side of green salad was much needed to help freshen up this dish. Apart from that, it came with a mysterious side of dark sauce which Cheri promptly refused to touch. It turned out that it was flavorful, beef, onion broth, which made this dish really French Onion Soup inspired. We did think the broth was a bit too salty for our taste buds though, but we agreed this was an interesting choice.

FINISH
We were pleasantly surprised by the Urban Parisian. We had a very affordable gourmet meal in a great atmosphere. We thought the biggest disadvantage was the lack of beer or wine to be enjoyed. That would've been ideal.
We had the purple macaroons for dessert. They were great - soft and sweet with a lovely smell of lavender and some chocolate filling. We should've had more of them and perhaps tasted their coffee.
One more note, the corner patio is definitely one of the great attractions for Urban Parisian, we hope it can still generate enough business to stay afloat during the cold winter months.

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28.7.15

Mascot Brewery


www.mascotbrewery.com/

It seems like there are barely any buildings fewer than five stories left in the trendy King and John area. The ones still standing are already marked for a rebuild to become tall glass towers.
Nonetheless, Wayne Gretzky's is still around so is the obscure brick box a bit east of it. Mascot Beer Garden was our destination.

APPEARANCE
There was no exterior signage to speak of, just a stand up sign, occasionally popping up in front throughout the week. Oh yes…there were also large teal letters on one wall visible from all the way down on Mercer Street: Mascot Brewery. We walked into the building and were faced with a dark maze: black walls, silver graffiti tags, low lights, and tall stairs. At the top of the flight of stairs, there were empty rooms with an equally unpopulated bar and no windows - a perfect setup for a very creepy Beer Garden movie if someone was thinking of making such a thing. Our only hint was a small paper sign taped on the wall (seemed like an after-thought).
Everything changed all of a sudden when we stepped onto the second flight of stairs. It was bright and filled with sunlight. In addition, the walls were white adding to the contrast and a huge crystal chandelier was hanging on the side. To our disappointment, we looked down and saw plenty of garbage all the way down from the staircase.

NOSE
It was not difficult to get a seat at a communal table when we finally made it to the rooftop Beer Garden. Michelle, our waitress with two tattooed sleeves, greeted us with a friendly smile. We found out from her enthusiastic intro that Mascot is expanding soon and will actually put their brewery downstairs. For the time being, their beer is made at Parkdale's own Dugan Brewery. Mascot has little rabbit logo on its paper menu with a clamp. The food menu itself was small with only eight tapas-like choices to choose from and larger drinks menu behind. Choices on tap, tall boys, bottles, keg, ciders and even cocktails but not too creative - no beer cocktails unfortunately. We ended up ordering Sawdust Skinny Dipping Stout and Mascot Pilsner. We also asked for a Grilled Brat, Mascot Pretzel and Grilled Asparagus Salad. It looked like all of these goodies could be made on a small BBQ stand in the corner right next to us like a full functioning outdoor kitchen. That stand also covered us with smoke once in a while creating camping-like atmosphere if it wasn't for loud rap music, young hip vibe coming from all the blue jays fans around and an AstroTurf-like carpet. Yellow umbrellas, light wooden BBQ benches further enhanced the feeling of being somewhere in the wild.

SWIRL
Mascot Pilsner was very hoppy and bitter, quite intense actually. The stout, on the other hand, was not as strong as we expected it to be – a good way to get introduced to stouts if you are looking for it. Our food came in shortly after, in a very casual way: cardboard take out boxes, checkered paper. We found plastic cutlery in the middle of the table. Overall, the food looked like it came from a good food truck menu - all items were portable and easy to serve.

PALATE
The Grilled Brat smelled delicious. The taste was a bit underwhelming; it had dry meat yet there were plenty of chunks of lard inside. It was served with much needed sweet mustard coleslaw and small pickles. The Mascot Pretzel - baby pretzel they should have said - was fluffy, and not the usual pretzel bread texture. A side of spicy yet sweet mustard was a great match and a few crystals of salt on top reminded us of the traditional pretzel. Our dishes continued rolling out – their Grilled Asparagus Salad came with baby kale, crispy shallots and, once again, Dijon mustard (spicy this time). The smoky taste of the grill was that other secret ingredient making this dish very memorable. A heavy beer would have been an amazing match for that. Then we felt that we should eat something else…Root Beer Pulled Pork was our choice. Once again the pork was a bit dry for our taste, but plenty of sweet BBQ sauce made it more interesting with a Southern hint to it. It came on a curious choice of biscuit bread, with small chunks of cheddar. Some mustard seeds and slightly sweet pickled carrots completed the dish for us. It also came with a side of homemade salty potato chips. We both wanted to try the only other Mascot branded beer - Hefeweizen. Unfortunately they were out of their wheat fruity beer. Perhaps next time.

FINISH
Our table neighbor was eagerly sketching something in his notepad for twenty minutes or so. After finishing his masterpiece and beer, he packed up and left freeing his space for three Blue Jays girl fans. This community table was very energetic! Mascot is all about fun actually, it is truly a Beer Garden experience right in the middle of downtown. Do not come here for sophisticated culinary delights, but the beer is plentiful, dishes are filling and staff is friendly.

22.7.15

La Select Bistro

www.leselect.com

This place was always recommended to people visiting from our U.S. Offices. I was curious why everyone speaks so highly of this busy bistro so it was on our list to visit.

APPEARANCE
From the outside, Le Select Bistro advertises itself with a hard-to-miss patio tucked away in the shade, surrounded by greens and flowers - it speaks of serenity on Wellington. Their signage is simple, clean and conservative, yet the kerned out serif font has a sense of class.

NOSE
We didn't spend long in their interior but from what we gleaned, it was definitely a worthwhile atmosphere with plenty of rooms. As I made my exploration trip to their facilities, I got a full show of their elaborate cellar downstairs. Fortunately I got lost on the way there and discovered their solarium - in the back of the restaurant - an ideal place to get a feel of the outside without over-doing it.
Our waitress was in no mood for a chat, nor introduction when we inquired more about the place and their famous dishes. It was definitely quite bistro-like in the rushness of service but looking at their prices, I we expected a bit more.
Either way, during our quick Google search, we found out that La Select has been around for almost thirty years (since 1977) previously located at Queen St West and only recently made it to this Wellington location.

SWIRL
As we settled in, we got a closer look at their well-illustrated menu, which had an aged feel to it. The Brunch menu is what we had available at this time of the day. Seeing their large downstairs cellar, we were surprised and disappointed to notice that their menu had a "Champagne" section which included Cava and Cremant. If you are looking to work on your French dish pronunciation, Le Select is definitely the place to visit for your practice. Our waitress didn't leave a dish we pronounced un-corrected. We assumed she was French.
We asked her to recommend a couple of glasses of wine to go with our dishes which were their Confit de Canard and Braised Brisket Brioche Sandwich. The recommended wines, based on our preference of white or red, were a Rhone Blend Boger Sabon '13 and a Chablis Domain Laroche '13. We also asked for a side of their croissant to try.
As we waited, we noticed the almost solid shade on the patio - the large stripped awning and square umbrellas tightly fit together only letting through a few slits of sunlight. We sat on wooven chairs with metal tables, which didn't feel cheap but instead fit well this bistro feel. Our attention was stolen by their dark wooden service station cupboard outside, under the glass periphery of the building. It had so much charm to it, felt like an object from Beauty and the Beast.
We sipped on our glasses of wine. The Rhone wine was strong and plain, which Cheri mentioned might be covering up for something. The Chablis, however, had a mineral nose, and a pleasant aftertaste. It was also light on the palate.
A waiter came around with a basket of breads and took out two small buns for us using his thongs. They had the bread quality of a fresh baguette, not warm or crusty but soft and thick in texture. A side of butter followed. Local sparrows were definitely aware of the bread quality here - a swarm of these folks were always around to pick up the crumbs from the floor...or from your plate if you happen to leave your chair for a minute.

PALATE
Not long after, our dishes made their way. The Confit de Canard was served in a deeper round plate, it consisted of a crispy duck leg with a side of green veggies under which was a lovely swirl of thick, dark brine. In the middle was a small square of potato gratin.
As we dug in, we were surprised to find out that the duck meat did not fall off the bone as we imagined and craved. As a matter of fact, the meat was a bit on the dry side. The crispy skin made up for this short-coming. Also, we thought we picked up on a unique sweet hint of thyme. The side of steamed veggies was a great addition - some bok choy, peas and radish. The potato gratin was a small, but flavorful part of the dish which added the bready thickness and slight cheese to make this dish a true masterpiece. Chablis was indeed a good match to balance out this heavier dish, loaded with flavor.
The Braised Brisket Brioche was served on a rectangular flat plate, consisted of a sandwich on one side and plenty of house-made, colourful vegetable crisps on the other as well as a small side of red kimchi. The presentation was right on for this gourmet dish with a sense of everyday. The brioche had the texture of a tea-biscuit, it felt quite buttery. The fatty brisket meat was very tender. It came with some sweet-spicy BBQ sauce a few thin slices of a Granny Smith apple, adding a subtle citrus kick to this dish. The small side of spicy kimchi, delivered a slight sour intrigue to our palates - balancing out the heavy meat. Lastly, the scattered chips of roots were fun to nibble on. The fried crisps were warm, salty and a bit oily. Unfortunately we did not feel that the glass of Rhone added to the dish. It was in search of something with a backbone. Sauternes could be an interesting choice here or maybe a fat, red Italian.
Lastly, the side croissant dish - we were expecting more from the croissant - we didn't think it was freshly baked that day, perhaps not even made at Le Select. It was lacking tradition and enthusiasm.

FINISH
This lovely French spot is an ideal place for exploring adventures via your palate. The options are innovative and flavorful, the wine list is long and the ambiance is quite right. We would love to come back in a crisp fall day, soak up the sun and enjoy the colors in their solarium room.

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13.7.15

A Taste of China

http://www.wineportfolio.com
http://tasteofchinarestaurant.ca

Ellen Douglas, a producer of Wine Portfolio CNBC's hit show got in touch and invited us for a soirée of Vino Verde wine matching with Asian food. A very interesting premise, we thought and agreed on the spot.

APPEARANCE
This lovely event was hosted in the heart of Chinatown - A Taste of China restaurant. From the outside, this spot did not stand out from the hoard of similar-looking places lining Spadina and adjacent streets. It did have a bright red banner with the name in Chinese characters, a translation as well as a phone number. The facade also had grey granite tiles, but what made it’s appearance lose in class and authenticity was all the window clutter - long folded out menu pages, plenty of stickers of recognition, some news articles and the neon sign.

1st NOSE
On one side, the interior had white boards and chalkboards with plenty of Chinese characters - perhaps daily specials, we thought. The other side was full of mirrors, helping the space feel larger. There were blue metal chairs and basic tables both rectangular and circular with numerous layers of plastic table cloths probably to make the cleaning easier. The walls were light green and beige with dark wooden elements and an authentic floral patterned carpet. The ribbed wooden-planked ceiling had circular metal decorative plates with writing on them. Overall, the interior had a sense of authenticity to it.

SWIRL
We met everyone, and begun our journey talking about the origins of Vinho Verde - an up and coming area in North West Portugal. Kevin Fox, a producer of Wine Porfolio as well as Ellen were entertaining and very knowledgeable. We touched on many points about the Vinho - naming, terroir, processes, varieties, current consumption... We also set the premise that restaurants with Asian food, do not tend to specialize in wine pairing or even have decent wine choices. That was the point everyone agreed on. Cheri and I have stopped ordering wine in Asian venues due to being burned in terms of quality on multiple occasions. Throughout this evening, our opinion changed.

2nd NOSE
In the next couple of hours, our palette was introduced to three white wines and four dishes - rating, sharing and discussing.
The ambiance of the restaurant was busy with cutlery clicking, phone ringing and no music. The owner, Ling was great at addressing all our needs. She also gave a full description for each dish as she presented it.

PALATE
We started off with their Fried Shrimp Balls with a side of sweet sauce. The balls were large, breaded and fried. We had this dish with a light and crisp Quinta da Aveleda 2014. The vinho appeared very clean, almost water-like in its appearance. This white wine blend was dry and citrusy. We thought it was an easy and light match for our shrimp appetizers. The sweet sauce did create some conflict with the light-bodied wine, we agreed that the shrimp balls with a bit vinegar instead would be a better option.
Next we had their Vegetarian Glass Noodles dish. It was a light dish served warm. There were mushrooms, peppers, onion, and soy bean sprouts. This simple dish added interesting nuances to our taste buds. we enjoyed it with Muralhas de Moncao. This vinho verde was also bright, with a light sparkle feel. There were hints of peach and apricot on the nose as well as a clean finish. I thought it enhanced this dish quite well as both the food and the wine were in the same light weight category. We agreed that the mushroom, especially, created an intrigue with Muralhas de Moncao.
Next, we had their Cod with Green Beans - an item off the restaurant's chalk board. It was creatively served in the fried fish's skin as a shell, filled with green beans, sweet peas and carrots, then topped with bite-sized pieces of the white cod. This plate was a real treat. The fish was tender and juicy. It had hints of garlic and ginger in the sauce. We enjoyed this dish with the Muralhas de Moncao wine, once again. This wine was now a bit different with the cod - a pleasant surprise, we though.
Lastly, we had their Spicy Filet Mignon with Broccoli. This was a heavier dish, yet the way the thinly sliced beef was prepared made it very tender. The steamed broccoli made a bed where the beef lied, mixed in with a bean sauce, spicy red peppers and some green ones. As we are not used to spicy food, this was quite hot for us, while Kevin ate it and assured us this dish is very mild. The suggested match for this one was CDV Brazao, Arinto 2013. This wine was medium-bodied, definitely smoother than the previous two. We talked out the subtle tasting areas in our palettes - as the wine started off crisp and then sweetened up near the end and the sides of our mouths. It was a unique wine, however for this meaty, hot dish my palette would have preferred a buttery Chardonnay.

FINISH
We were surprised to find much complexity and intrigue in these Portuguese "green wines”.
This soirée left us all feeling surprising content, it was definitely a contribution to the slow food movement. Time and dimension warp when in good company and conversation one shares food and a few bottles of wine.
As for A Taste of China, if you ever feel intimidated to try a Chinese restaurant, this is just the place for you. Ling, the owner, is known to help people find out what they like and guide them in making decisions through the overwhelming choices and culture surrounding one as soon as they step through the front door. We should note, that we were happy to see all these wines were served in fresh glasses every time. We will definitely be back for more, hopefully when the menu gets some unique wine selections.

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