We’re all still dazed by the news reported in David Lawrason’s blog that the LCBO computer is delisting Tio Pepe fino sherry, one of the most versatile and delicious aperitifs known to man. Is nothing sacred?
I was reminded of it again last week when I went to Torito in Kensington Market for some of chef Carlos Hernandes’s excellent tapas. It’s an unpretentious place (and I don’t mean that in the usual restaurant critic’s way as a code for shabby). It’s just delightfully casual with patios front and back, bare wooden tables and benches, an open kitchen and a big black bull’s head on the wall. Nothing costs more than $11 and the 24 tapas are all big enough to split with someone else (unless you’re psychotically acquisitive). Hernandes was sous chef at Anne Yarymowich’s Agora in the Art Gallery of Ontario and his food is full of subtle nuances and impeccably balanced flavours. The size of the menu lets him slip minor arcana onto the list from time to time. Bull’s testicles was a big hit with other chefs dining there on their nights off but alas, it wasn’t on the card last week. Chilean tripe was, and it was a treat, lightweight and perfectly textured—soft but with that slight crunch between the teeth that tripe lovers long for. He braised it in a creamy sauce with smoked paprika, parsley and a sprinkling of grated parmesan. My favourite dish was an awesome gaspacho—a purée of yellow tomatoes and peppers crowded with fnely chopped vegetables, juicy morsels of shrimp, basil and exceptionally crunchy breadcrumbs. I’ve had gazpachos and even some gaspachos that tasted like rank vinaigrette; others that had all the wet brunchtime monotony of a Bloody Caesar. This one seemed to have a very well judged harmony of acid, sweetness and salt with a murmur of chili heat —and so much going on in terms of texture. “It’s almost a salad,” joked Hernandes. There are 19 sherries on the list at Torito, including Uncle Pepe’s own—and they are properly served, chilled, in elegant little fluted schooners. The red and white wines, however, are badly tripped up by cheap, clunky tumblers. I know stemware is expensive but it makes such a huge difference, gathering and delivering the aromas by which any wine lives or dies.
Got back late last night from our weekend tour of Niagara charged with new memories. I’m proud to say that our yacht won the race across the lake though it was pointed out that the crew of a different Hunter reached the rendezvous on the dock before we did. Friday night’s winemakers’ dinner at the Prince of Wales proved full of gustatory incident. Chef Andrew Dymond and his talentd sous chefs, Jeremy Lowen and Adam White, showed they knew exactly how to flatter the wines with perfectly chosen food, then boldly threw in some more challenging ingredients to really test the wines’ mettle. For example, Flat Rock’s 2004 “Gravity” Pinot Noir was an ideal partner for sweet, lean rack of lamb from Springdale Farm near Newmarket and a pavé of sweet potato and hazelnuts. But then Dymond added a smoked paprika gastrique to the plate—basically reduced caramel charged with rice wine vinegar, smoked paprika and dark rum. I thought it would kill the wine but there was just a drizzle of it on the plate, just enough to coat the tines of a fork, and it actually made the Pinot stand up and work a little harder. A similar episode occurred with an earlier course where chef slipped some slices of fiery red chili into a dish of lobster tamale, butter-poached lobster claw and avocado-lime aioli. We had two Chardonnays to compare: Peninsula Ridge’s Inox Cardonnay 2005 and Flat Rock’s oaked Chardonnay called The Rusty Shed, both gorgeous and elegant and delicious with the corn and the lobster. The chili, however, threw them into disarray, dragging the alcohol out of them and making the fruit shrink into the shadows. A fascinating demonstration of the way even the most accomplished wine can be quickly undone by food. (Incidentally, the chili was a brilliant component of the dish).
At breakfast on Saturday, held inside Stratus winery, Tony de Luca split open a whole wheel of Parmesan using the proper little blades—basically wedging it into two halves. The sweet-milk aroma of the new cheese (2 years old, summer milk) was breathtaking. Dave and Nancy Perkins were their usual delightful selves at our Sunday morning breakfast visit to Wyndym Farm. Dave held us spelbound with his eloquence about farming the natural way and had everyone in stitches with his wry wit. Then we tasted black crim tomatoes and other heirloom vegetables and amazingly pungent leaves straight from the field, and honey-glazed belly pork cooked over an open fire by Dave’s helper that morning, innkeeper-chef Bruce Worden of The Keefer Mansion Inn in Thorold. Scrumptious. On to a long long lunch at Treadwell, but I promised David Lawrason he could do the descriptive honours for that excellent meal on his blog.