A weekend I always look forward to is fast approaching—August 18,19 and 20— the annual tour of Niagara when David Lawrason and I squire our guests around some of the peninsula’s best restaurants and wineries, vineyards and farms. It’s very well organised and tremendous fun. We all meet at the Port Credit marina on the Friday morning, then spend an exhilarating four or five hours sailing across to Niagara-on-the-Lake in a flotilla of luxurious 46-foot Hunter yachts (an excellent opportunity for millionaire fantasies, pirate accents and semi-serious racing) courtesy of Angus Yachts. I always feel as if I’ve been on holiday for a week by the time we glide up the Niagara river to the private dock where a champagne reception helps us all get our land legs back. That night we host the winemakers’ dinner at the Prince of Wales hotel (everyone is staying there this year), where David introduces fascinating wines that are too rare and precious to make it onto LCBO shelves. The winemakers themselves are also there to discuss their offerings.
Saturday starts with breakfast in the vineyard beside Tony de Luca’s cheese store then it’s off to visit a winery (David has the connections to take us to places the public never sees), lunch at On the Twenty, more wine tasting and a more casual dinner (with theatre thrown in this year, they tell me). Some guests head off to the casino at this point but are back with us next morning for a breakfast visit to Dave Perkins’s Wyndym Farm (heirloom vegetables, strange species of tomato and wild watercress all seasoned with Dave and Nancy’s delightful lore), more winery visits and a slap-up lunch at the new hot spot, Treadwell, in Port Dalhousie. Then off we sail into the sunset, tired but happy and very well fed and watered. It’s basically one long three-day party with serious wines and gastronomy as a delicious continuo. The price is $985 per person—about half of what it would cost if you organized it yourself, I believe—and there are still a few places available. Contact Sandy Molnar at SLM Event Management & Sponsorship Sales: (p) 416-486-7774, (f) 416-486-4267, (e) email@example.com.
In other news, Yonge and Eglinton restaurant-goers who have fond memories of Stork on the Roof (1996-2005) will be delighted to hear that Stork’s owners and co-chefs, Jennifer Gittins and Michael Van den Winkel, are opening a new restaurant. It will be called Quince and can be found where Esco-Pazzo used to be, on Yonge south of Eglinton. Oddly enough, I was thinking about Stork on the Roof just the other day while ploughing through a trough of heavyweight, glutinous mushroom risotto, a dish almost free of the boasted “B.C. forest mushrooms” but so massively overburdened with melted cheese you could have used it to patch a hole in the road. I have no idea why the chef thought it appropriate for August but it’s always instructive to order an unexpected risotto: it’s a handy yardstick of a kitchen’s talent. While each forkful of the risotto hit my digestive tract like a shovelful of wet cement dropped down a well, the conversation wandered away to restaurants that offered the antithesis of such depressing weight—places where the cooking was admirably lucid and light, flavours clear and textures clean—precisely the qualities we used to admire at Stork on the Roof. I look forward to trying Quince’s food. And I wonder if quinces will be on the menu. Our neighbours on Corfu—a very elderly couple with no money at all—had a quince tree on their land and it was their custom to keep a bowl of the hard, furry, yellow fruits on their kitchen table. The wonderful aroma— somewhere between the scent of an apple and a pear but with an exotically floral note—filled their house until jam-making day. I’m told that the new North American cultivars of quince, created to have fewer seeds and a thinner skin, have almost no perfume at all. But that could be a wanton rumour started by militant traditionalists and spread by irresponsible blogfogies.