Monday, December 14, 2015

Chef @Blaine_Wetzel tasting menu @willowinn is the perfect expression of time and place

I was bettered prepared for our second visit to Willows Inn.  Sometimes it's nice to know what to anticipate.  We started our evening at the cozy corner table in the bar, right next to the kitchen where I could keep my eye on the kitchen in all it's beautiful harmony.
The bar at Willows Inn
In the dining room we moved through 21 plates with 5 wine and 1 cider pairing.  

My top pick was the crab with pine nuts and pine nut milk.  This dish couldn't have tasted any fresher.  The crab was sweet and the nut milk a creamy compliment without being too rich.

Crab with pine nut milk 
David's favourite dish was the Black Cod doughnut.  
Black Cod Doughnuts
Roasted sunflower root with sweet onion puree really knocked it out of the park form me.  I think we'll try to reproduce this one at home.  The picture doesn't do it justice.  The exterior was crisp and a little bit sticky with a melt in your mouth interior.  I could put the sweet onion puree on just about anything and love it.
Sunflower root and sweet onion puree
Oysters pickled in sauerkraut was every bit as good as it looks.  Firm and briny.

Pickled Oysters
A turnip broth took me by surprise.  I didn't love it but it reminded me of childhood and was an excellent pallet cleanser.

Turnip Broth

Salt-cured beets with gin flavoured yogurt was another of my top picks.  Shaved thin slices with a toasted grain topping.  Mine was bright red and David's bright yellow.

Salt-Cured Beet

One of my favourite plates last year was the halibut skins stuffed with clams.  It was the only real duplicaton this year and it fell a little flat.  Check the difference in presentation.  

Crispy Halibut Skins 2014

Crispy Halibut Skins 2015
I also loved the grilled salmon in caraflex cabbage.  The cabbage was cooked just enough to yield nicely but not enough to become bitter, the salmon was rich and both were especially great with a Walter Scott "Curee Ruth" Pinot Noir.
Grilled Salmon in Caraflex Cabbage
The savory dishes ended with fresh bread from heirloom wheat and local butter and salt.  A loaf wrapped in brown paper is given to each guest at the end of dinner.  It made great toast for breakfast.

I was surprised by a birch tea.  The flavour and aroma was refreshing and set the stage for dessert, a delicious piece of sweet and salted pumpkin with pumpkin seed praline and raw pumpkin seeds.  A little bit sweet and savory.  My favourite kind of dessert.

Cinderella Pumpkin
I know the food preparation isn't simple but it tastes that way.  Simply delicious.  We booked for October next year.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

I've been converted to a river cruise fan by a week in Bordeaux with Uniworld on the Vineyards and Chateaux tour

We spent a week in Bordeaux in November on the Uniworld River Royale and I'm now a river cruising fan. The food, wine and experiences on shore were beyond my expectations.  I really liked docking in the little towns and being able to get off the ship in the mornings and evenings for some exploring.

We boarded in the pretty city of Bordeaux and settled in for a week of adventures in gastronomy.  The next day we headed north on the Garonne River to the Gironde Estuary and our port of Pauillac and the Medoc peninsula, home of some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon dominated, red wine blends in the world.  Our 1st winery of the trip was to be a surprise destination.  The excitement was building as we pulled up to Chateau Rauzan-Segla in the Margaux region.

A tour of the winery showed an attention to detail in the way they painted the middle of the barrels with wine so there was never any drip marks. 
Barrels at Chateau Rauzan-Segla
The elegant tasting room was on the second floor, up a circular staircase.
Tasting room at Chateau Rauzan-Segla
We were treated to their Grand Cru Classe, Rauzan-Segla, from the exceptional 2005 vintage and Segla, the 2nd tier wine from 2009, another good vintage.  Both wines were delicious but the difference was reflected in the 100EUR price discrepancy.

Chateua Rauzan-Segla Grand Cru Classe Margaux 2005

The atmosphere on board that night was electric.  It had been an excellent start to the trip.
Hard not to imagine Steve Martin as Cyrano

Our 2nd day we were docked in Bourg and drove to Bergerac for the weekly market and a tasting of delicious duck confit and fois gras and a delightful lunch at L'Imparfait, a lovely little restaurant in the centre of town.  Charming service and good value. We had the daily menu.   I'd never had fish and chips for a starter.  The picture doesn't do justice to the delicious piece of cod fish.

Fish n Chips appetizer at L'Imparfait
The cod fish in the Bay of Biscay is fantastic, probably comes from Newfoundland ;-) so I didn't hesitate to have the cod entree as well.
Cod at L'Imparfait
The manager was quite particular choosing a red wine for us to have with fish.  The Chateau de la Jaubertie was a good choice.
Chateau de la Jaubertie from Bergerac
In Saint-Emilion we enjoyed a tour and tasting at Chateua de Ferrand.  I have a couple of bottles aging in my cellar now.
Chateau de Ferrand all in wooden boxes
Beautiful barrel storage at Chateau de Ferrand

One of the highlights of our trip was an optional tour to Remy Martin

The highlight was the barrel room where the light was blocked from the windows by spider webs.   They will never kill one or destroy their webs.  Some barrels are over 100 years old with wooden hoops.  No photos allowed in the storage room.  

The cognac tasting was matched with exquisite small bites.  We tried a VSOP straight up and on ice as well as an XO Excellence.  
Chocolate and XO Excellence won my heart
A bottle of VSOP made it into my suitcase.  I'm resisting opening it because I know it will become a regular night cap until I finish it.  I'll have to start sometime.  Today seems good.

I had mixed feelings about the Sauternes visit.  I don't like sweet wines but it turned out to be a great day.  On the way to Chateau d'Arche for lunch we stopped to taste some grapes with noble rot.  I never thought I'd volunteer to eat moldy grapes but they were delicious.

Grapes with Botrytis Cinerea
At Chateau d'Arche we had lunch paired with the sweet white wines. Startimg with smoked salmon.

Smoked salmon, creamy centre, horseradish and Yuzu vinaigrette

Chateau La Bouade 2010 - Cuvee Coccinelle
The menu was designed with Cilantro carmelized hen as an entree but they accommodated us with fish and mushroom pastry.
Fish entree with mushroom pastry and asparagus

Chateau Filhot 2003
Peach melba with crunchy praline, roasted peaches, vanilla whipped cream and chocolate drizzle definitely paired with it's match.
Peach Melba

Chateau Lamourette 2002
Lunch was thoughtfully prepared and presented and we were all ready for some fresh air afterward.  A walk around the estate surrounding the beautiful Chateau Filhot was just the ticket.  
Chateau Filhot
The vineyards were planted from 1630 to 1650 and the chateau built in 1709.  Still family owned, the proprietor guided us around the estate.  When you have this much potential vineyards devoted to parkland, it's obvious how grand the estate really is.
Park at Chateau Filhot

On our final day in Bordeaux we did a walking, eating and drinking tour.  
The Way of Saint James takes you through the heard of Bordeaux
We visited the 100 year old La Maison Darricau for some exceptional chocolate.  Same family proudly producing chocolate all these years.  You can count on it being fantastic.
Chocolate La Maison Darricau
Next stop was Caneles Baillardran to try the Caneles de Bordeaux, a little fluted cake with a thin caramelized exterior and rich rum and vanilla interior.
Caneles de Bordeaux
Finally we stopped at David's in the Place des Grand Hommes to try the famous Dunes, cream puff extraordinaire.
The famous Dunes by David
By now we needed a drink so our last stop was Maximitas Bordeaux, where you buy a prepaid card and can merrily taste wines from the enoteca dispensers.
Look up at Max Bordeaux

With prices ranging from 2 to 30 EUR per tasting , we spent an hour trying wine after wine ending with a Mouton Rothschild at 30EUR a taste.  Drinking can make you extravagant.  

These are just the highlights of our fabulous trip to Bordeaux.  The lovely dinners on board our ship created by Chef Frank and his team were outstanding.  Chef Frank is a deft hand with mussels and I'll crave his mussels in tomato and cognac forever.  The wine selection changed daily and was always regional and interesting.

I can now enthusiastically recommend Uniworld River Cruises and the city of Bordeaux.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

London stopover makes for a great date night of art, dinner, theatre and a good walk about.

I love to stop over in London.  One of my favourite evenings starts at Trafalgar Square.  It  never gets old for me, I love the embassies,  tourists, busy Londoners and the protesters.  There’s a feeling of immediacy that appeals to me.  We headed there as soon as we dumped our luggage.  Overlooking the square, The National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery both offer free admission.   I especially like the Photographs Collection at The Portrait Gallery with iconic photos of the most interesting people.  Dinner on top at the Portrait Restaurant is good value for a great table with an amazing view overlooking the city with Big Ben front and centre.  We booked a table for 5:30 but went up early and scored a table at the window and relaxed over a bottle of Tempranillo from Quinta Milu Ribera del Duero.  They have an excellent wine list with a large selection of wines by the glass in 125ml and 250ml pours.  The cured salmon starter was an exceptional part of the Pre Theatre 2 course dinner at £19.5.  We still had lots of time to find our theatre after dinner.  Kenneth Branagh jumping on tables in tights was fun enough to keep me awake after a long, long day.  Check Branagh’s theatre company at The Garrick for some of the best theatre ever.
Grain Store, King's Cross, London

We were lucky enough to have a few days in London and started our next day with The British Library.  I loved the Beatles stuff.  Afterward we walked north past St. Pancras and King’s Cross Station to the newly developed King’s Cross area to find Grain Store, named The UK’s Most Sustainable Restaurant and awarded menu of the year.  The mushroom and cheddar croquettes were beautifully presented and so good we were tempted to order them for dessert but were swayed by the pumpkin and chestnut tart with whiskey sauce. I'm a real sucker for a good whiskey sauce.  The restaurant has a great atmosphere with business people, families and mom’s and tots at tables. 
Cheddar and Mushroom Croquettes with Truffle Salt
Pumpkin and Chestnut Tart with Maple Syrup Whiskey Sauce
What would a trip to London be without a bowl of noodles at Wagamama.  With locations all over London, dinner at Wagamama helps bring your average cost per meal down a bit.  Cheap and cheerful it’s always a good option.  We went to the Covent Garden location before seeing Photograph 51 with starring Nicole Kidman.  Incredible story, great acting.

For our final day we spent our morning at the Soane museum with a guided tour including viewing Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress.  If you've never been, add this little museum on Lincoln’s Inn Fields to your list. A short walk north and we spent some time in the British Museum, also free admission.  I hadn't been since the inner courtyard was transformed into the largest covered public square in Europe.  It's impressive.  We ate lunch at the Great Court Restaurant under the beautiful glass dome.  I had the Fig and Burrata salad, a real winner that I’ll be trying to duplicate at home.  Fine coffee too.  It's very popular, reservations recommended.
Great Court Dome
Finally with a day of travel ahead to Bordeaux, we  had breakfast at The Ivy Market Grill in Covent Garden.  We had to try the full English Vegetarian Breakfast.    Haloumi and avocados took the place of the bacon and sausage.  It’s more than I could eat though so next time I’ll order something simple.  It’s a super comfortable restaurant.  Nice spot all in all.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The oyster cage match in Tofino demanded sub categories @wolfinthefog vs @sobo

Wolf in the Fog Fried Oysters

We decided that we needed 2 categories; fried oysters and baked oysters.

Wolf in the Fog wins for the fried oysters.  They are incredible; a smoked oyster wrapped in Kennebec string potatoes and deep fried.  They get better every time I have them and are addictive. My love to Chef Nicholas Nutting.
Sobo Baked Oysters

We've been eating at Sobo for about a dozen years and they make the best baked oysters I've ever had.  Baked in a miso mayo with salmon bacon, I love them even more than Tojo's.

Choosing the best oysters meant eating quite a few, thankfully there are great beaches and hiking to help work up an appetite.  I can't wait to go back and test the results again.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Advance planning turned 6th annual wine tour into a wine experience in the Okanagan. Painted Rock is my top pick in a tough competition for experience.

On our 6th annual Okanagan wine tour we booked several tastings in advance, using either our wine club memberships or the Visa Infinite card program.  Wineries are going all out with these pre-booked special event tastings and it's well worth the planning involved.

Black Hills offers it's wine club members a guided cabana tasting that is one of the best available.  Seated around the pool under the cabana we were treated to wine stories and some of the best wines made in the Okanagan.  A barrel taste of Carmenere was an unexpected pleasure.

Laughing Stock Vineyards is one of the wineries that only do tastings by appointment and again the planning pays off.  They have a beautiful seating area, under cover and a guided tasting of their outstanding portfolio of wines is fun and informative.  They offer Visa Infinite members a private vineyard tour but they called us the morning to let us know it would have to be an abbreviated tour because harvest had begun.  Being possible the most important day in the wine business we were grateful they still let us in. 
Pinot Gris Harvest
Laughing Stock has one of the nicest wine bottles I've ever seen with ticker tape information about the wine and vintage including the date of harvest and some fun facts. We tried the fresh pinot gris grapes being harvested 3 weeks earlier then 2014 vintage we started our tasting with.
Laughing Stock Patio Tasting
Painted Rock offers Visa Infinite members the opportunity to do a barrel tasting of the components of their flagship Red Icon.  Pretty awesome.  We drank a bottle of the 2007 Red Icon the night before so we were pumped to do the component tasting.  This was such a unique experience that it is my top pick for wine visits this year.
The Wine Thief at Painted Rock
We had lunch and did a tasting at Liquidity Wines.  A good addition to the limited food scene in the area it is worth a visit on many levels.  The art both inside the winery and in the gardens is interesting and the views from the patio bistro are pretty fine.  The flatbread, mussels and soup were all very good.  We'll go back.  
Bistro Patio at Liquidity
We also had lunch at The Patio at Lake Breeze, my favourite lunch place in Naramata.  The portobello carpaccio with dungeness crab and arugula was delicious.  The mushroom bruschetta was equally good and both were a delicious match for the Lake Breeze Pinotage.  One of the great things about eating at winery restaurants is getting to order wines from their library.  The Pinotage was sold out but we were able to get it in the restaurant.  It's a rare varietal that I have a love for.
Lake Breeze Winery

2011 Pinotage a rare and delicious varietal

Portobello Carpaccio
We had dinner at The Vanilla Pod at Poplar Grove.  We'd heard mixed reviews and perhaps our order was particularly easy because 5 out of 7 of us ordered the halibut but we enjoyed our evening there and the food was good.
Halibut with tomato fennel ragu and pomme frites
Fall is a good time to visit wine country but keep in mind that the wineries can be extremely busy with harvest and may not have much time for you.  Go with the flow and there may be some pleasant surprises.  
No stealing the grapes