Last evening the food creators and food lovers gathered at Uptown 21 for the second in their 21 Takeover dinner series (hashtag: #21takeover). This time the host was Scott Vivian from Beast in Toronto, and his wife/partner/pastry chef Rachelle.
The lovely Paula and I were invited to join in the festivities, and so we arrived with bells on, tummies empty, and smartphones at the ready. (Many thanks to her for most of the photos, which were quite superior with her camera vs. my iPhone.)
So, what were we in for? A sneak peak…
And what is a lovely dinner without wine?
After some intros and welcomes and such, we were off to the races, beginning with the Tawse Riesling Spark paired with a tangy and crunchy morsel of scrumptiousness that was the amuse.
The amuse bouche was pickled onions and Brussels sprouts with crema on Taco Farm tortilla tostadas. It was a snap, crackle and pop of a starter, and the plate (we were served family style) was quickly bare.
Next up were some of Rachelle’s breads, and I could have eaten either of them alone… or just the butter, too. So soft, so rich.
In his opening remarks, amid less important business, Nick addressed the elephant in the room: all of the terrible moustaches. (His, of course, was very manly and could only increase his chefly powers.)
After the breads, Krystina introduced the evenings wineries: Rosewood Estates, Tawse, and Lailey, and the wines we’d be enjoying (for those who chose pairings). For the first of the courses on the menu, we’d be enjoying 2010 Rosewood Pinot Noir.
First up of the courses was the cauliflower and croutons with a gorgeously bright salsa verde. The warm “brown” roasty flavours and all the bright green flavours were good friends, and the Pinot was just the right weight and complexity.
Next up was one of my favourite salad ingredients: smoked trout, with Greek yogurt, beetroot, and quail egg. I could have eaten the whole plate by myself, easily.
Whew, one course under our belts, and our appetites thoroughly whet for what was to come. To prepare us for the next round, the Tawse 2011 Chardonnay arrived. Might I note, I’m not a big Chardonnay fan, but this was lovely, subtle stuff.
Then things got serious as the “poutine” arrived: fried gnocchi with wild boar and cheese curds. Epic. (The gnocchi was described as tasting like “the best Tater Tots ever”.) The Chardonnay had just enough body and brightness for the richness of the poutine. An oakier variety would have been “funny”, as my Dad would say.
After pillaging that plate with vigor, things got a bit more ethnically inspired. (Is something Quebecois-inspired ethnic for us? I guess…) It was time for the battered and fried squid with fish sauce vinaigrette, Thai basil, and pomelo. And might I note here that I am not generally a big squid eater, but this was fantastic, and I happily ate tentacles — even for the camera. The Chardonnay was lovely with the tangy, Thai-inspired flavours at work.
Next up was the special wine, the Lailey 2011 Syrah. Glad I got to try it, because Krystina finagled the last of it from Derek. Amazing stuff. Rich, well rounded, and not a hint of that overbearing “green pepper” I worry about with big Ontario reds.
So naturally the next course got its meat on in a big way. Venison with mushrooms on a bed of pine nut grits. And again, not a venison fan, but this was perfectly cooked and so flavourful. I ate my share and some of Amela’s this time. Yum! Even more crazy was that I happily wrapped each bite in mushroom, and anyone who knows me knows my utter abhorrence of the things. I don’t even know who I am anymore, and I don’t care.
Next up we went back to the veggies and sweetened things up a bit with squash, pepitas, and feta with a wonderfully complex maple glaze. The smell of it was intoxicating. So perfectly “fall”. (We argued over what was all in the glaze. It was almost… Moroccan.)
And with that, my friends, we’d completed the main menu. What remained was the announced sticky toffee pudding (I have not words for how much I love that stuff) and a mystery dessert made with chocolate that had been delivered by Ambrosia Pastry that afternoon. (If you have not tried their many varieties of bean to bar chocolate, you are SO missing out.)
Another first arrived next: mead! Not that I’ve never had it, just that I’ve never liked it, typically because I find it cloyingly sweet. (Same issue with ice wine.) But this was a dry mead (yes, it exists!) and was a whole ‘nother ballgame. This was a 2011 Rosewood Estates Harvest Gold Mead. And the honey it’s made from is from Krystina’s family’s own bees.
And lo, with coffee and tea and such served if mead wasn’t enough, the desserts arrived. The announced sticky toffee pudding positively SWIMMING in toffee sauce, and a beautifully simple chocolate tart. People… it was a miracle that every table did not come to fisticuffs over these desserts. Rachelle is made of magic.
The tart let the chocolate shine. It was rich and complex and just sweet enough. Even the pears garnishing it could have been their own dessert. I hurt me to my core to cut it in half for Paula to have her share.
And the pudding… moist and festive and the sauce… well, people did shooters of the sauce. ‘Nuf said. (Seriously, I ate sticky toffee puddings across the UK and could have stayed right here for the finest.)
And with that, the meal came to an end. But not a belly was left unstuffed nor a taste bud untantalized. Huge thanks to Nick and Nat for the invitation, and to Scott and Rachelle for the meal, as well as all the kitchen and front of house staff who made the evening run flawlessly.
Next up in the 21 Takeover series is the gents from The Bauer Butcher. It’s gonna be a meat-tastic (and magnificent!) menu. Take a look. (And Nick wasn’t even kidding about the bacon fat baklava…) That one’s December 11th and it’s selling out FAST.