Out for the County

Out for the County

When the good folks at Myriad Restaurant Group in New York telephoned certain top seafood suppliers in Toronto, this week, checking on the quality and availability of fish up here, rumours swiftly circulated that a branch of Nobu might soon be coming to town. An intriguing notion but quickly squelched, alas, by a call to the States. No plans exist for a Nobu Toronto. So were those enquiries purely hypothetical? Just idle curiosity on the part of a New York restaurant company? How peculiar.

Talking of odd fish, Michael Potters of Harvest in Picton, Prince Edward County, has been toying with the idea of developing a 100-mile menu at his restaurant. For anyone who hasn’t heard the term, it means restricting ingredients to things grown, raised, caught, hunted or gathered within 100 miles of the kitchen. Fish has always been a problem for Ontarians thinking about such things—how much pickerel and perch can you really expect your customers to eat? Not to Potters. He went out with a commercial fisherman one day and helped check the guy’s nets around the Bay of Quinte. There was quite the cornucopia, including some splendid pike, whitefish and even some freshwater herring. I had no idea such a creature existed and neither did Potters until he saw them, got them back to Harvest and started pickling them up as rollmops.

I had dinner at Harvest on Friday—my first time there. It’s a large room (60 seats with a bar and a patio for 30 more in the summer time), at least when compared to Potters’s last place, the Milford Bistro, which was no bigger than a charming old village store. This room is much more suave, with chocolate brown suede banquettes and walls and ceiling the colour of cinnamon fudge—a smart but cozy feel on a cold night with tea lights flickering on the polished wooden tables.

Dinner was excellent. Three tiny perfect little potato blinis topped with different Canadian caviars—the delicate, sweet Acadian Gold I blogged about two weeks ago, a Lake Huron sturgeon black caviar that offered a bigger, saltier hit, and some primo salmon roe. Wild mushroom consommé was lightweight but deeply flavourful, hiding a brunoise of ginger, carrot and celery in its pellucid depths, not to mention slices of a pinky-sized quail confit sausage, little ravioli full of rich creamed leek and floating dumplings of shrimp and coriander leaf. My third course was something Potters puts on his brunch menu and calls “Breakfast of Champions” —three tiny rashers of bacon, a perfectly fried quail’s egg, a fine brunoise of potato, onion and herbs to play the hash browns role, and a slice of pan-seared foie gras draped decorously over a miniature piece of vanilla brioche french toast. After that came rare, pan-seared scallops paired with a delectably bittersweet confit of caramelized endive flavoured with orange and vanilla. Potters told me it was a small homage to the masterful Claude Bouillet who was his chef long ago at Les Copains. The scallops were followed by a paupiette of truffled Irish organic cod with melted leeks, then a pear and riesling sorbet, the eye of a venison chop served with turnip and pomme Dauphine, and then some soft crottin de chavignol cheese which Potters surrounded with beets and a spoonful of walnut pesto. A chocolate soufflé finished the meal. By then I was wishing I hadn’t had quite such a large lunch.

Liquid treats included some fine County bottlings—the perfumed, palate-cleansingly acidic 2005 Pinot Gris from The Grange of Prince Edward; a fresh tangy 2005 Closson Chase Chardonnay with a smoothly oaked finish; that lovely, intense County Cider Co. iced cider.

As a way of coping with quiet winters, Potters is planning to create a cooking school at the restaurant, modelled after the Stratford Chefs School. Sounds like a very good idea. If he can pass on his meticulous, French-based, impeccably balanced cuisine to the next generation we will all be as happy as freshwater herrings.