Attempting, perhaps, to ward off humanity’s cultural extinction, Sutter Home, the venerable Californian winery that gave the world Blush Zinfandel (Thank you. Thank you so very very much), has launched a new initiative that matches wines, recipes and books. To do so, they have partnered with publishers Harper Collins. I have the greatest respect for the team at Harper Collins Canada. They treated me royally when they launched A Matter of Taste (co-written with Lucy Waverman, out in paperback next month), and I have nothing but ground-kissing gratitude to offer to their marketing corps. But maybe Sutter Home isn’t quite the authoritative food-wine matchmaker one would wish for. The suggested pairing for the first book I checked—Bread Alone by Judith R. Hendricks (a novel about the emotional devastation of an abandoned trophy wife)—is Sutter Home Cabernet Sauvignon and “Oma’s Sugar Cakes. I would venture to suggest that Cabernet Sauvignon and sugar cakes might be an unorthodox match—perhaps even disastrous—but then again I haven’t read the novel. Maybe it provides a dazzling sensory bridge between dark, tannic austerity and saccharine gateaux. Harper Collins owns Tolkien’s works and I’m not sure that Elrond, Saruman and the other lads wouldn’t have favoured something a tad more sophisticated than sweet pink strawberry Zin. The company also publishes the dazzlingly brilliant, probably immortal novels of Patrick O’Brian. The protagonists, Aubrey and Maturin, have decidedly grown-up palates, favouring good quality Burgundy (the bottles with the yellow capsules) and such delicious Regency treats as shrub (rum infused with Sicilian lemons). Which reminds me that Hart Melvin, the genius behind the Gelato Fresco ice cream company, recently took time out from a family holiday in Italy to dash down to Palermo to ensure that his shipment of the suckably pungent fruit would arrive in Toronto in time for the end of the summer. Keep a weather eye out for G F’s fabulously aromatic Sicilian lemon sorbet, available in individual-sized squeeze-tubes.
The bright spotlight that’s about to illuminate our new opera house casts a welcome glow across the street and onto Tundra, the restaurant in the lobby of the Hilton hotel. I’ve always liked the look of the place—its minimalist décor of wood, concrete and backlit canvas, the pebbles on the table and the lack of a ceiling in that soaring atrium suggesting the elemental colours and emptiness of the Canadian north. But Tundra is far from empty on Friday evenings when the kitchen sets out an elaborate and comprehensive seafood buffet. A reduced version of the à la carte is also available, but no one I saw used it for anything except dessert. Why would they? The buffet covers most conceivable bases from decent sashimi and sushi to steamed New Zealand mussels on the half shell and raw Malpeque oysters (the adductor muscle unsevered, presumably to stop the little beauties slipping onto the ice), to a yummy clam chowder to shrimp and scallops in a creamy red Thai curry sauce. Alaskan king crab legs are admirably fresh and juicy (not seeping brine) and the array of smoked salmon, gravad lax, rollmops and seafood salads is impressive. The cooked dishes are more mundane, but never mind that. One can eat to bursting for $38 (plus taxes and tip) while an extra $20 brings the pièce de resistance—a 1_ lb lobster, impeccably steamed, grilled or Thermidor. I had mine steamed—so simple, but the best lobster I’ve eaten in years and perfect with a glass of Rodney Strong Sonoma Chardonnay. The hotel is keen to establish this opulent buffet in the minds of Toronto’s seafood lovers and bargain hunters, so service is flawless. Most importantly for anyone with tickets to the opera, the timing of dinner is in one’s own hands.
Queen Street West is abuzz with a new Greg Couillard rumour. Apparently he is poised to open his next restaurant where Gabby’s used to be. Haven’t had time to check it out. We’ll see if it comes to pass.