Treadwell in Niagara - review
We went with some friends on Saturday to Treadwell's and the dinner was very good, verging on outstanding. We didn't do the tasting menu (which typically is composed of smaller plated versions of items from the regular menu: $75, $110 with Ontario wine pairings), choosing instead to order off the main menu, which works in a prix fixe format: you can go with either three or four dishes: $48 or $56, with the four course option including a choice of either two starters, two desserts, or a cheese course.
The restaurant's "farm to table cuisine" slogan isn't just a marketing gimmic. The dishes we did have were almost uniformly great, in part due to Stephen Treadwell's deft hand in the kitchen, and in part due to the sourcing of beautiful foodstuffs. The menu reads like a greatest hits of ingredients products grown, raised and produced primarily in the surrounding regions. The backside of the menu card actually lists the restaurant's main suppliers (including Cumbrae Farm, La Ferme, Mario Pingue, Dave and Nancy Perkin's Wyndham farm, and others). And the quality of the meats, charcuterie, cheeses and fresh produce used in the various courses we ate was spectacular. One particular revelation was a cold-pressed Canola oil (served as an oil and Baco Noir vinegar dip to accompany the breads that were brought to the table) produced in Ontario by Persall Naturals. It was so completely unlike any Canola oil I've ever tasted: rich, nutty, grassy. I can almost imagine doing the 100 mile diet now; before trying this I couldn't see how I could live without olive oil in the pantry!
From the starters, the Cabernet flour gnocchi with "Ermite Bleu" wilted greens and shiitake mushrooms were very good, and the tempura of "dave irish's" zucchini blossoms with tomato basil oil and preserved lemon were terrific, especially in combo with the lemon aioli they came with. Less impressive was the seared Lake Huron trout with creamed mustard greens smoked cheddar foam, fried quail egg. It was a good dish, but it came off much more like a fully composed miniature version of a main course than an appetizer (in fact, it could fit in perfectly as a fish course within a tasting menu...). My friend had an inventive foie gras and duck confit terrine (plated with what I believe was a cold cherry jus, I can't remember for certain) that was good but perhaps a bit under-seasoned.
Out of the mains, the pork tenderloin wrapped in pancetta with maple glazed pork belly, morels and BNoir vinegar jus was the highlight of the night. It was amazing. I would come back just for this dish alone. Also very good was the lamb sirloin with summer ratatouille (more like an assortment of very delicate glazed baby vegetables) and rosti potato. The whitefish with smoked bacon dauphinoise, lobster knuckles and wilted greens was also good. However, don't get the whitefish if you're having the trout starter: the two dishes are practically identical, as my wife discovered.
For dessert, the white chocolate cheesecake with lavender cherry syrup and sour cherry ice cream and bittersweet chocolate molten cake with ginger ice cream were both excellent. I'm not a white chocolate or cheesecake fan, but this rendition was yummy (especially the lavender cherry syrup)! As for the chocolate molten cake, this dessert is so overdone (both in terms of the frequency with which it shows up on menus, and often the degree to which it's baked) in Toronto restaurants that I'm never a big fan of ordering it. However, my first choice (a raspberry tart that sounded great) I couldn't have because of a nut allergy, so I decided to go for it. It was totally delicious: a great, almost crunchy texture on the outside and a molten core of not-too-sweet (hence, bittersweet) chocolate. It was complimented by one of the most inventive "wine" pairings I've had in a very long time: Stephen Treadwell (see below) suggested a glass of the McAuslan Oatmeal Stout to match in lieu of a dessert wine. Awesome.
The only downsides to the evening were the room, and our table. The room has great potential (with really pretty views of the harbour), but is awkwardly laid out. What would be a nice lounge (with comfortable chairs and a decent bar) suffers from being a bit closed off from the rest of the space, which on a night like the one we were there (with only a couple of other people in the bar while were were there waiting for our table) leaves one feeling like you're completely out of the action. And having the washroom entrance located right within it isn't great either. In the dining room a group of tables in the front are separated from the rest of the space by a dividing wall (half-height), and stuck next to a triple-whammy of the main front entrance, the service cabinet for the stemware and the service door for the patio. Needless to say, if you're stuck in the front you're in for a very high-traffic experience, with waiters, sommeliers and guests traipsing back and forth in front of you the whole night. Also, the dining room in general is frankly somewhat tacky: it looks like golf club lounge-chic, with ugly blue-green carpeting and some on-the-cheap finishing and ceiling lighting. Likewise, the background music is pretty "elevator-esque." Some hardwood flooring (like the gorgeous wide-plank rustic flooring in the lounge), better lighting and music would do a lot to turn the place into one with a really warm, inviting atmosphere.
All this having been said, it's not an unpleasant experience to dine in the restaurant; it just could and should be better, and should reflect the very high quality of the food and service. (Note: I've heard that this space used to be a former Inn on the Twenty satellite restaurant that failed; if that's true then that would explain the decor.) Here's hoping that the continued success of the restaurant will spur a modest remodeling at some point.
A few other mentions to end on a positive note: the staff were uniformly friendly and service was very professional. And, in contrast to my comments about the room, the quality of the stemware, placeware and cutlery was high.
Last but not least, Stephen Treadwell's son and co-owner James is doing an absolutely bang-up job with the wine list and wine service. The list is very well-priced (with few bottles marked up more than 2 times retail, many less) and extremely well chosen, with wines from great Niagara and Prince Edward County producers such as Hidden Bench, Charles Baker, Norman Hardie, Malivoire and 13th Street. The quality of the stemware and wine service is very high: the night we were there there were two full-time sommeliers on the floor, and all aspects of the wine service (ordering, menu pairing suggestions, serving, etc.) were handled by them. We had the restaurant's last bottle bottle of 2005 Charles Baker Piccone Vineyard Riesling, which was outstanding. Jame's other sommelier was nice enough to pour me a complimentary glass of the 2006 (which had just been added to the list) to compare the two vintages. A bottle of Norman Hardie 2005 Prince Edward County was good but not remarkable. However, the low alcohol (11%!) and relatively light weight of the wine bridged a really disparate range of dishes. On the upside, it was very characterful, with lots of minerality and clean bright fruit, and was clearly very well made. It will be really interesting to see what Norman Hardie can do with PEC fruit once his vineyards begin to mature.
Overall, I'd highly recommend going to Treadwell. The restaurant's food and wine would stand up well to any establishment in Toronto, and set a new standard for the Niagara region.