Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy
Autumn is so much the favourite season of most Canadians I know (and why not? Canada does it so well) that I feel disloyal when reluctantly admitting that I find the fall melancholy to the point of bitterness. I don’t like watching things die. As an avid gardener (and fan of shambling zombie flicks), I know most of them will come back to life—but it’s still traumatic. Gastronomy offers its own take on life after death. Tasting the delectable porcine products showcased by Mario Pingue at Hart House this week made me humbly grateful to the pigs that gave their all but returned to the world as irresistibly moist and tender prosciutto, divine porchetta (which I ate on its own, without the proffered bun, but with a crisp morsel of chestnut-coloured crackling) and a lean, herb-rubbed cured loin, sliced and wrapped like a pink silk ribbon around a grissini stick. I always thought Ontario prosciutto was necessarily inferior to Italy’s product, usually dry and clumsily salty. Pingue’s Niagara product, aged in a naturally humid cave gouged from the Escarpment, is simply fabulous—swine revenant but transformed. There were plenty of other peninsula treats in the room, but I was waylaid in front of Charles Baker’s table (he was pouring his eponymous Riesling and a Wildass red and white from Stratus’s cadet label) and missed everything else.
We also ran into another kind of Niagara pig this week—the delicious foot served at Niagara Street Café, Anton Potvin’s intimate and darkly delightful bistro on (you guessed it) Niagara Street. It appears as “pied de cochon” on the otherwise Anglophone menu, perhaps to spare the blushes of the easily shocked. Chef Michael Caballo cooks it expertly, slow braising it, stuffing it with shin meat then slicing it thickly and searing it in a pan. Pig foot is all about texture and this version gets it just right—glutinous, slightly gummy, just tenderly chewy and fatty enough to remind you what you are eating. As a contrasting element on the plate, he serves marinated cardoons (those rarely seen cousins of the artichoke and the thistle), which have a lovely bitter tang in his treatment, and a bunch of sautéed spring onions. The unpretentious restaurant scores high marks for the savvy expertise of its service, the small but serious wine list, a menu laden with ingredients and juxtapositions that must spark any foodie’s interest and the fact that it’s such good value. No wonder industry types flock there.
Leslieville has a new butcher in Lady & Son Butchery (1175 Queen St. E., 416-913-2598). The lady in question is owner Voula Mantis and her son is Bobby Kliori, age 17, a young man who loves to cook. Voula’s lamb is organically raised and comes from Dan the Man; her beef is half naturally raised, half certified organic and comes from a farm in western Ontario, as does the naturally raised pork in the store. Her own line of prepared dishes has drawn rave reviews in the two or three days since the place opened, especially her roast beef. Baker Simon Silander supplies organic breads, pastries are sourced from Célestin and patés and terrines are from Marc Thuet. Voula’s enthusiasm and passion for quality are shiningly obvious within about 10 seconds of conversation. I hope the business is a huge success.