Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts

Hurry before Niagara's Sip and Sizzle month is over (Niagara-on-the-Lake)

On weekends in May, Niagara-on-the-Lake is getting tastier as they host their annual Sip & Sizzle event. Twenty four wineries across the region offer a signature grilled dish with wine pairing. Purchase their wine pass ($54.24) or designated driver’s version that includes a non-alcoholic drink ($31.64) and you’re entitled to a taste of food and drink at each of the participating wineries.

With no one wanting to be a designated driver (why miss out on the fun?), my husband and I solicited the services of a local Niagara transportation company to drive us around for a day. We ended up at ten wineries and certainly got our fill of food and drinks.

Since Peller Estates was one of the first stops, we were spoiled by the full-sized wild boar sausage – you’re not leaving hungry. The gaminess of the wild boar was mellowed with grainy maple Dijon mustard and the salty crispy shallots were an excellent addition. With an equally generous pour of the 2015 Private Reserve Gamay Noir ($19.95), which pairs nicely with the meatiness of the dish, we could have stayed at the winery longer if they had tables to lounge in.

Two Sisters also featured a sizeable cod potato fritter with their 2016 Sauvignon Blanc ($34). Both the crisp citrusy wine and salty warm fritter were good on their own, but together the wine’s acidity was a tad sharp and caused an almost bitter fishiness to occur. To be fair, the wine did go better with the grilled zucchini, tomato and basil salad – so I’d suggest having the wine and salad first, leaving the cod fritter by itself to end.

On the other hand, Château des Charmes had the most optimal pairing, in my opinion. Their 2016 Sauvignon Blanc ($14.95) was not quite as tart and mellow in a refreshing way. The creaminess of the citrus aioli on the cold sweet grilled shrimp and the strong herbs in the shoot and sprout salad went nicely with the light wine.

The participating wineries are a diverse mix: from the massive well known Jackson-Triggs to the new Small Talk there’s vineyards to discover whether you’re a beginner to the region or visited in the past.

For larger groups, Jackson-Triggs is definitely a good choice as the brightly lit tasting room holds long communal tables where guests can sit and talk. Also, having three people at the station helped ensure you received a glass of their 2016 Grand Reserve Riesling ($18.95) and takeout container of the beef tataki with soba noodles in no time. It’s hard to describe, but I found their wine sweet without feeling sugary and matched the teriyaki soy used on the cold lightly seared beef. The soba was also a good choice and would have been even better if the noodle weren’t overcooked – luckily there were plenty of vegetables to keep it crunchy.  

Despite having been on a handful of professionally and self-led tours, there were still wineries I visited for the first time including Two Sisters, Rancourt, and Small Talk.

Although I don’t agree that the 2013 Small Talk “Goodnight” Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot ($14.95) would be a good Netflix and pizza drink – the tomato sauce would likely be too acidic for the oaky wine – the winery did nail their pairing. The charcuterie cup was small but mighty in terms of flavours – the crunchy cracker filled with sweet grape jelly, a gherkin, salami and cheese. Yum, I could have polished through at least four of these.

For children, Small Talk’s winery must look like storybook wonderland with the Dr. Seuss like tasting room, pink archway, and bright tram parked by the vineyard. For adults, the wine and cider makes all visits magical.

Rancourt’s friendliness is what won me over – that and their warm braised BBQ chicken wing really hit the spot. Normally, I wouldn’t have thought to pair saucy chicken wings with wine, but their 2013 Signature Cabernet Merlot Blend Noble Rouge ($14.80) really holds up against the stronger sauce – oh and make sure to take a whiff of it before sipping as it has such a lovely essence.

Pondview’s 2016 Carnet Franc Rosé ($16.95) also had an awesome aroma … the wine exudes a strawberry essence. Their Asian slaw dog, although nowhere near the size of Peller’s sausage, was still a sizeable bite, with half a chicken dog topped with a crunchy hoisin lime slaw. Don’t pick off the large pieces of cilantro, it goes really well with everything – who would have thought to use cilantro on hot dogs?

I even discovered something new while making return visits given the Sip and Sizzle tastings were often held in areas separated from the traditional tasting rooms. The best location goes to Ravine Vineyards: guests head downstairs to cellar’s private dining area where curing meats hang in a climate controlled room and barrels filled with aging wine line the walls.

Ravine’s 2015 Cabernet Rosé ($22) leans more towards the red front, but is light enough to still go well with the nutty grain salad. The nugget of harissa grilled chicken thigh could be spicier, but the hot chicken and cold salad was a nice combination. I overhead it’s a special menu item you can’t even get at their restaurant.

Similarly, a return visit led me to the upstairs tasting room of Pillitteri Estates, which overlooks their vineywards. Their 2015 Debbie Travis Pinot Grigio ($15.95) was a tad sweet for my taste, but was appropriately paired with a caramelized grilled peach and burrata crostini. The piece of candied prosciutto was an excellent addition adding a slight saltiness to the bite.

Of all the wineries, Stratus is the one I wish my home could resemble. Their sleek architectural design makes me want to turn into a minimalist and they even had a cool special addition bottle on display – sadly this wasn’t the wine being featured at the event.

Nonetheless, the 2013 Kabang Red ($24.75) was really good, enough for us to get two bottles, and has a surprising twist. Despite being sweet and fruity to the nose, it tastes rich and oaky without being overpowering. Just watch out, the nut and spice mixture on top of their grilled caponata and salsa verde crostini is messy. I made the mistake of trying to bite through the bread … Kabang, the nuts flew everywhere.

Don’t worry, with so many to choose from, you have the entire month to visit. So, break it up into a weekend or even a handful each week … although wouldn’t it be fun to try to fit in 24 tastings all in one day?

Disclaimer: The Sip and Sizzle passes were provided on a complimentary basis.Rest assured, as noted in my mission statement, I will always provide an honest opinion.
How To Find Them
 Location: Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada

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Drake Devonshire (Prince Edward County)

In Prince Edward County, the opinions about the Drake Devonshire are mixed – it’s a nice place to hangout (in an area where there’s not a lot of bars or places close early) but it feels too “Toronto”. In fact, locals are baffled by why Torontonians want to escape to the county just to hang out in the city again. To be fair, the venue is nothing like the multi-floor Drake Hotel downtown or the retro Drake 150 in the financial core. To start, the sprawling building overlooks the lake and the décor is lighter and whimsical. For another, the food is much better than the Drake Hotel.

The asparagus almondine ($14) is a simple starter, the spears of asparagus lightly roasted and topped with slivers of toasted almond in brown butter. A squeeze of lemon adds a hit of acidity, but otherwise the nut and vegetable are the prominent flavours. It’s a little plain as a starter, and works better as a side.

Their warm dandelion Caesar ($14) is on the other side of the spectrum - packed with flavours: the slight bitterness of the dandelion, garlicky dressing, a faint umami essence from the bonito flakes, sweetness from the dry crispy pork floss pieces (in lieu of bacon) and salty pecorino sprinkles. It’s tasty, but best shared as an entire dish of the Caesar would be fairly overpowering.

Perhaps, the sole starter, I tried, that could stand on its own is the salt cod pierogies ($12). The chewy soft dough was a tad thick, but there was plenty of salt cod mashed potatoes inside. I’ll admit, the slightly fishy filling requires getting used to, but once you add some of the tangy crème fraiche or thick apple sauce, it gets tastier.

Overall, the Devonshire prepares fish pretty well. The trout’s ($28) skin could be crispier, but the meat was moist and flakey. Being an oilier fish, it was properly paired with a refreshing vegetable medley consisting of roasted red peppers, zucchini, and green onions. Once in a while, you’ll also get a sour crunch from the fermented green beans.

For me, the lamb rigatoni ($24) incorporated too many frou-frou items - hen of the woods mushrooms, pine nuts, and spruce? Sure, I guess the spruce and the mint will help alleviate any of the lamb’s gaminess, but all together the elements detracts from having the rigatoni become that rich homey dish that’s notorious with pasta.

Although I found the Prinzen chicken ($27) dry (it could have been the piece of breast I cut from the side), my friend found it was cooked well. For me, it was the saffron spaetzle that stole the show: soft and chewy with a well toasted crust – exactly what I crave with this German pasta side dish.

You won’t leave hungry with an order of the pork schnitzel ($26) – I lost count of how many pieces were actually included with the dish. To be fair, I wouldn’t classify it as schnitzel as the slices were way too thick. If they’re named breaded pork cutlets with honey mustard, it would be more accurately described.

The truffle and cheese fries ($11) were okay – it’s hard for fries to be terrible, but the Devonshire could ensure they arrive hotter and there’s more truffle oil if you’d classify these as “fancy fries”. Meanwhile, the hakuri turnips ($9) were surprisingly good – the mini root vegetables remained crunchy having been lightly poached and then sweetened with burnt honey.

Drake did not save the best for last … the tiramisu ($10) and lemon meringue tart ($10) were merely passable. Although they were plated nicely, the desserts taste like something found in a buffet – and we’re not talking the one at the Bellagio here. The lemon meringue had a nice toasted top, but the lemon custard was thick and almost plastic-like, while the tiramisu so heavily orange flavoured in lieu of espresso.

For being in a location where guests may be visiting to celebrate occasions, the Drake Devonshire certainly doesn’t treat these events with much care. In town for a bachelorette, my friend informed the host about the celebration and asked for a bottle of wine to be brought to the table as a surprise (a present from a friend who couldn’t attend) and to do something festive for the dessert. Neither worked out as planned: our waiter came by to tell us the wine requested wasn’t available (in front of the bride, so any surprise element was ruined) and her dessert came without fanfare. Note 1 to Drake’s management: please set-up some sort of communication system between staff members (hosts, waiters, and the kitchen are a team).

They tried to make up for this by comping her dessert and giving us tickets to use at the photo booth. Only when we went to take the pictures, another staff member came by to hush us as there is a guest room located right beside the booth. Really, why would a manager appease disappointed diners by giving them something that they can’t use freely and could potentially make another guest’s stay worse? Note 2 to Drake’s management: make sure your “make it right” solutions actually serve their purpose.

Maybe the County natives have it right – sure the Drake Devonshire has a ping pong table and funky artwork – but can’t you get that back in the city? If you’re looking for a place to hang out and have a drink after dinner, the restaurant is an ideal place. But, if you really want the County charm of laid-back hospitality, you may need to head elsewhere.

Overall mark - 6.5 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Wellington, Canada
 Address: 24 Wharf Street

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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Drake Devonshire Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato