NOTL- summer reviews (long)
Spent two separate weekends in NOTL this month, and wanted to share some notes before the season is completely over.
STREWN WINERY'S TERROIR LA CACHETTE (LUNCH)
Artichoke, Roasted Pepper, Tapenade & Chèvre Tart served w/ Greens
So delicious. Yes, the colour of the olive tapenade was a bit off-putting.. but it was a perfect combination of all of my favourite Mediteranean flavours.The salad, while simple, was perfectly dressed.
Tomato, Pancetta, Melted Gouda & Basil Mayonnaise on Housemade Foccaccia (w/ greens)
Didn't try it but it got rave reviews and was quickly devoured
Daily Pasta (simple rose penne with pancetta and herbs)
Nicely cooked pasta, in a flavourful fresh tasting sauce that while creamy, was not too heavy
Warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream
We all shared this, and while I'm normally not a chocolate lover, it was a very well balanced dessert. I love the slightly crunchy crisp exterior with the mousse-like soft centre (a lot more like a souffle than a cake).
Service was friendly, attentive, and very knowledgable. The room, while nothing extraordinary or unique, is bright and airy, and therefore very comfortable to me. I don't like when tables are placed too close to one another, so I like the set up at La Cachette. They also have a patio on the back, which was full when we got there, but would make for a nice summer experience as well. Can't wait to return (to try the foccacia!)
HILLEBRAND WINERY RESTAURANT (DINNER)
We did the tasting menus and as a result tried:
Chioggia Icewine Beets- Monteforte fresh lamb's milk feta, niagara raspberries, walnuts, beetroot sorbet
Gorgeous presentation of beets, almost too beautiful for it not to be dessert.
Chilled Gomes Farm Tomato Soup- Heirloom tomatoes, basil pesto, ontario buffalo mozzarella, goat's cheese ice cream
This was so delicious. The tomato soup, being gazpacho like, was really refreshing, and so the goat cheese ice cream added just the perfect amount of richness.
Green and Yellow Wax Beans- Egg and bacon, icewine foie gras, monteforte paradiso cheese, apple and raisin, verjus dressing
An interesting combinaiton of flavours. The beans were slightly bitter, but the raisins and apple balanced that. The foie was a really nice tender piece, and its richness was cut well by the bacon. It was a bit confusing, in general, but still delicious.
Wellington County Beef Rib Eye Carpaccio- compressed watermelon, organic watercress, niagara peaches, snow crab and corn slaw, picard's peanuts.
Apparently this chef enjoys making eggs. Ha. I didn't try so I cant comment.
Marc's foraged wild and tame mushrooms- Eversprings farm duck egg, Hillebrand herb ricotta, sour dough, and smoked beef cap pastram
This was so delicious. The pastrami just smelled like breakfast, and had a maple-aroma to it. A bit difficult to eat, but my favourite dish of the night.
Melon sorbet pop
A nice quick refresher.
Mulmar Vista Lamb- goat's cheese and truffle tart, icewine onion marmalade, joel's spinach, cheddar gratin and english peas
Another winner of a dish, though arguably, the portion was probably a bit much for a 5-courser. The lamb was perfectly cooked and I absolutely loved the potato cake with the sweet marmalade. I thought the little pot pie was absolutely delicious on its own, but its flavours didn't really match the sophistication of the rest of the dish. I didn't get the truffle flavour or the goats cheese either, which may have helped it pair well with the lamb. Actually, it tasted like pub food with an almost sweet like gravy and pastry which I didn't really see complimenting any of the other flavours on the dish. It was still very delicious, and I would love a full pot pie on its own, just probably not with the rest of the main.
Artisan and Farm House Cheese plate
A nice selection of cheeses, my favourite was definitely the Riopelle. The candied walnuts were also a really nice touch. But as always, I find there isn't enough accompaniments (walnut waffers, fruit jelly) for the cheese. I also would have prefered a more spreadable jelly.
Cantaloupe- Icewine compressed melon and basil yoghurt mousse, proscuitto sorbet
This was a very interesting take on one of our favourite Italian antipasto dishes. Despite featuring cured meat, it was a nice refreshing light dessert.
Michel Cluizel Chocolate- delicate brownie, caramel conception chocolate, raspberry cremeux, crystallized pistachios.
I'm not a chocolate lover, so I didn't sample, but it got great reviews, and looked beautiful on the plate.
Orchard Apricots- apricot curd, almond frangipane, pate d'amandes ice cream, thyme roasted apricots, cluizel milk chocolate glaze
Really delicious, creamy cake, almost of a cheesecake meets custard consistency. It was sweet, which is my preference, but definitely not cloying.
Some fruit jellies to finish
So once again Hillebrande didn't disappoint. I think its consistently one of the best options for fine dining in the NOTL region, as long as you don't mind spending a bit more. Service was attentive and professional, without being snobby, which I cannot appreciate enough. I hate being in a high end restaurant and feeling like you can't tell a joke (oh, and there were some really really bad jokes made at our table..). The restaurant interior is also really beautiful, but nothing beats sitting outside on the terrace overlooking the vines. Looking forward to next summers menu.
RIVERBEND INN (LUNCH)
The inn has a lovely terrace that was overlooking a beautiful little wedding ceremony in the yard. Service was very attentive, and we did a flight of wine tastings that we got complementary with our hotel stay. The wines were crap but the food was pretty good.
Shaved Chicken Sandwich with Grainy Mustard, Onion Crisps & Provolone and a side salad
Kind of skimpy on the chicken but cooked well. And nicely dressed simple greens.
Riverbend Burger with Grilled Pancetta and side salad
An abnormally large bun for the size of the burger, but the burger was pretty good. Juicy, cooked nicely, and not too big.
Charcuterie Board with Pingue Cured Meats, Cheeses, Chutney, Candied Nuts, Olives & Roasted Peppers, Italian Breads
I had two cheeses, one was a hard strong cheese like a reggiano, and the other was a softer goats type cheese. Very generous servings of everything. I especially loved the candied nuts paired with the goat cheese and chutney. I would have preferred that the bread had been toasted though because it was really hard to stack the cheese/meat/etc onto the bread with it being so flimsy.
Tuscan Beef: Sauteed Tenderloin Tips, Roasted Red Peppers, Green Beans, Reggiano Crusted Potato Puree, Cabernet Jus
Strange presentation.. everything was hidden under a blanket of potatoes.. but the flavours were nice. And a good serving for lunch.
STONE ROAD GRILLE (DINNER)
As usual, the place was packed on the Saturday night. Not a single table was open.
Service was really lacking though, which might have been because they were slammed, but I still was not impressed. After ordering, we waited a good 40 minutes for our apps and another 50 after that for our mains. Luckily, the food made up for it. One of the things I love at SRG is that you can order off their "mains" menu but in 1/2 orders, so that you can skip the appetizer menu, and just have two 1/2 orders of mains.
Having said that, we had:
Smoked Salmon and 3 Summer Salads with caraway potato salad, greens with preserved lemon, and summer beans with lemon thyme creme fraiche
A really nice light summer dish. The potato salad was a favourite and paired really nicely with the generous serving of salmon.
Soup of the Day- Local Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho
This was a pretty good gazpacho. It wasn't acidic, or watery, and while I typically dont like chunky gazpacho, I liked this because it was chunky with veggies, not tomato pulp.
Half order of the Charlie Baker "Brick" Chicken with Lemon thyme Monforte ricotta gratin, roasted beets, pickled wild leeks, sauteed greens and bubble sauce
Chicken was cooked well, though I think it kind of looks weird when they serve a half version and visibly cut the chicken in half, but whatever works. I liked the ricotta gratin, though I can see how the texture would be a little off-putting to some.
Half order of the Weekly Beast: Cumbrae Farms Lamb done three ways- Pan roasted chop with roasted brussels sprouts, Grilled Leg with sauteed chanterelles and corn, and Braised shank "Shepherds pie"
My sister and I both ordered this, me for my app, and her for her main. Of the three preparations, I liked the chop the most. It had some nice caramelization and was cooked well. The leg was also nicely cooked and I loved the buttery chanterelles. The braised lamb meat was absolutely delicious, but I didn't like the roasted tomatoes with the creamy mashed potatoes. That is a personal preference, as I just don't think tomatoes taste nice with potatoes. Anyone else agree??
Full Orders of Steak Frites- a grilled beef flat iron with garlic green beans and a bacon and egg sauce (frites served separately in a terra cotta pot and not pictured)
The frites here are really delicious, super crispy and perfectly seasoned. I liked the accompanying bacon and egg sauce, which was some type of bernaise sauce with bacon flavour (maybe subbed bacon fat for some butter?.. i didn't ask). Steak was cooked well too.
Half Order of Confit leg of Duck with summer bean "Cassoulet", fingerling potatoes, rosemary, pancetta, preserved lemon and foie gras sauce.
I loved the sauce, it was rich and sweet and savoury all at once. The duck was perfect too, incredibly tender inside and super crispy skin. Beans and potatoes were fine but nothing to get excited about.
Cloudberry Creme Brulee with Walnut Shortbread
Very yummy custard, though it just tasted of vanilla to me. Not sure what a cloudberry is, but I didn't really taste it. The shortbreads were really nice too, melt in your mouth tender.
Honey Roasted Peach Clafoutis with Basil Ice Cream
Even though it looked huge, it was so light I could have eaten two of them. The basil ice cream was surprisingly amazing, it wasn't too herbacious, and had the perfect amount of sweetness. While I absolutely loved the clafouti's texture, it didn't taste anything like other clafouti's I had. It was much more like a souffle, which I liked., but I probably would have called it a souffle. Also, it smelt a bit like curdled eggs, so while I didn't taste/feel anything offensive in the texture, it might have been slightly overcooked at some point.
So for 6 drinks, a bottle of sparkling, 4 apps, 4 mains, 3 desserts and 4 coffees, the bill came to about $335 including tax and tip, a bargain if you ask me. And while there were some hiccups in the service on Saturday, I will return again next summer for my SRG fix.
ZEE'S GRILL (BREAKFAST)
Service was super friendly and very attentive (lots of coffee refills and checks etc.)
Three of us did the continental, which was their yogurt, home made granola, berries, cinnamon bun, multigrain toast and home made berry preserves.
The preserves was more like a thick berry sauce (kind of reminded me of what happens when I defrost frozen berries), but it was totally delicious and I had to ask for extra to satisfy me. The granola was also really nice and crunchy. The cinnamon bun was a bit dry, but not inedible.
The traditional: 2 eggs (scrambled), bacon, potatoes, toast, and sliced tomatoes.
Nicely cooked bacon and really yummy home fries. The eggs were cooked through without being too dry and the bacon was the way I like it, crispy but not overly dried out. Good size portion too.
AUGUST RESTAURANT (LUNCH)
Service was excellent, even though we arrived just 25 minutes before their lunch was over.
Reuben with housemade corn beef and a side salad of greens and peaches with a roasted onion vinaigrette.
Delicious corn beef, thickly cut. The salad was really amazing too, with a deliciously sweet vinaigrette.
Whole roasted turkey sandwich with cherry jam, goats cheese, and lettuce on a sunflower seed baguette, served with a side of Pulled Pork Bean Soup.
One of the best sandwiches I've had in a long time. I love the goats cheese with the cherry jam and the perfectly juicy turkey. I wish I had more cherry jam though because I loved it so much. I also was really impressed with the bread, because it was soft inside (not too seedy or heavy) with a sweet smooth exterior.
The soup was okay, good for the windy chilly weather that day. I think the pork could have been seasoned a bit better, and maybe shredded a bit finer, but in general it was a nice comforting soup.
Burger Duo: one with bacon and aged cheddar, and one with hummus, goats cheese and roasted red peppers, served with the Pulled Pork and Bean soup.
I was a bit apprehensive about the hummus/goat cheese/burger combo, but it was actually surprisingly good. The burgers were a tad on the dry side, but thats unfortunately typical with sliders in my experience. Not that thats an excuse.
The prices here were amazing for the quality, so I would definitely return if in the Bench around lunch again.
Until next summer!
481 Church St, Toronto, ON M4Y, CA
915 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M6J, CA
6840 Lundy's Lane, Niagara Falls, ON L2G1V6, CA
224 St Paul St, St Catharines, ON L2R3M2, CA
1339 Lakeshore Rd, Niagara On the Lake, ON L0S1J0, CA
4 Brant County Rd, Caledonia, ON N3W, CA
Hoppin' onto my thread from last year with some reviews from 2012.
This year started off at the PIE PLATE for lunch, a quaint little bakery/restaurant with really delicious and simple fair. Service was cheery and efficient. We sat inside, despite the beautiful weather, as the only table larger than a 2-top was already occupied. Regardless, the room was comfortable, naturally lit by the window and much more spacious than what you would assume from the outside. We had:
The Hip Pizza (housemade tankhouse BBQ sauce, pulled pork, mozzarella, pickled red cabbage) - A delicious thin crust with a perfect amount of chew. As much as I appreciated the generosity on the pork, it did sog up the crust a bit, so maybe a bit of restraint would have been good in this case. The pork had a nice texture without any chunks of fat, but I found it could have been seasoned a little more generously.
The Boot Queen Pizza (fresh basil, mozzarella, fresh tomato, boccocini and proscuitto)- A really great basic pizza. Again, loved the crust, and the ingredients had a chance to shine.
The Peach Arugula Pizza (goat cheese, hot peppers, peaches, arugula, maple balsamic reduction and proscuitto)- In my opinion, this was the best pizza. All of the ingredients played a very different and balancing role. The peaches were juicy and succulent, without sogging up the crust, the arugula offered a bit of peppery bite, the goat cheese a nice briny tang, the proscuitto a good hit of salt and chew, the hot peppers were bright and spicy, and the maple balsamic drizzle was pleasantly sweet. I would come back for this pizza alone.
Pear and Brie Sandwich (with baby greens and honey balsamic vinaigrette on multigrain baguette)- A nice sandwich with a generous amount of brie, but we all agreed that the bun to filling ratio was a bit off, and the sandwich could have benefited from a little less bread. I also felt that it could have used a little more of the vinaigrette, or something else with acidity.
Raisin Butter Tart x 2-The pastry was flaky and tender, with a good chewy filling. My complaint would be that there wasn't enough filling in the tart shell, as it was just a moderately thin layer of caramelized buttery sugar on the bottom. I prefer my butter tarts to have a good thick filling (like at Flaky Tart in Toronto).
Banana Cream Tart- Really delicious. I liked that they had fresh slices of bananas in the custard, and the whipped cream was suprisingly light.
Peach Berry Crumble Tart- Also delicious. I prefer a crumble topping to more pie crust because I like the crunchy textural contrast against the sweet and tender fruit. I am glad we got to try the crumble topping as I ended up buying a whole blackberry peach crumble pie to take home for Sunday's BBQ with my folks (which turned out to also be great).
Dinner was at PELLER ESTATES. I asked if we could wait for a table on the patio, and the hosts were nice enough to send us to the tasting bar with some complementary tasting cards while we waited. After being seated (about 1/2 hour after our reservation), we decided to go with the 5- course tasting menu, remembering from last summer's 7-courser at Hillebrand was just too much food. We also decided to just buy bottles rather than wine pairings as we were really just sick of tasting wine. We were ready to commit (though, to be honest, over the course of the evening we ended up having 4 different wines).
Service was excellent. Our server was friendly, personable and professional. I like when service is casual enough to accomodate jokes and a little drunken cheekiness, but you not have to worry that they will forget your order or not bring appropriate cutlery.
As for food, we had:
PEI oyster with ice wine jelly amuse- A nice start to the meal. I liked this oyster as it was very meaty and paired nicely with the sweet and almost chewy texture of the jelly (and what I say jelly, I mean gelatin- not jam)
Bread: Wild rice, pistachio and sourdough with ice wine butter- A nice selection of breads, my favourite was definitely the pistachio, but I was hoping for a bigger ice wine flavour in the butter. I have been more impressed in the past with some of their red wine butters.
Golden beet root tartar with beet sorbet, chevre noire, beet powder- I think it's funny that you turn basic chopped up raw beets into something elegant by calling it tartar, but regardless of the pretense, it was delicious. The beet sorbet was not too sweet, as sometimes beet dishes can be, and the chevre offered a nice tangy briny contrast.
Chilled smoked tomato gazpacho with goat cheese and sturgeon caviar- I will never turn down gazpacho, but this one wasn't a stand out for me. I found it grainier then necessary, and I wasn't crazy about the caviar with the tomatoes as I found the fishy flavour to overpower the sweetness of the tomatoes.
Seared catfish with frizzled potatoes, housemade tartar sauce, garlic onion dressing, green onions and cabbage- I think this was the best overall dish of the night. The catfish was perfectly seared with a perfectly light crispy skin, the potatoes reminded me of little hickory sticks, and when smeared through all the creamy tangy sauces on the plate, it was a deliciously satisfying bite.
Rose, strawberry and mint soda palate cleanser- Nice and refreshing. It wasn't overly sweet or perfumey as sometimes rose water type dishes can be.
Beef ribeye with smoked grilled polenta, creamed corn crumble, green beans and watermelon radish- The beef was perfectly cooked and seasoned nicely. However, I found both the polenta the beans and watermelon radish components to be very lackluster- they were a little bit cold and could have used a good sprinkle of salt. All of that didn't really matter, though, because the creamed corn crumble was divine. I loved the creamy sweet sauce and the supple bits of corn, all topped with a super crunchy tempura crust. We all agreed that we would have been happy to just make a meal of this one dish.
Yogurt panna cotta and berries- While I don't always love panna cotta (as I tend to avoid gelatin based desserts), this one was superb. I liked the mild tangy element of the yogurt, and the silky smooth texture of the custard.
Semi sweet chocolate ganache, chocolate cake, apricot, coffee ice cream and white chocolate Chantilly cream- This was the standard tasting dessert, but I had requested that I didn't want chocolate (hence, my offering below). Regardless, I had a few bites of this and thought it was pretty good. The cake was a little grainy, but the lusciously smooth ganache made up for it, and I appreciated the sweet apricot and white chocolate chantilly to cut the richness.
Strawberry sorbet with balsamic reduction, fresh strawberries and mini meringues- A very lovely light dish. The sorbet's inherent sweetness was brightened by the balsamic, the meringues were still marshmallowy inside, and the strawberries were incredibly ripe. A great end to a lovely meal.
So for 4 (5 course) tasting menus, 2 bottles of white, 2 glasses of red, 2 glasses of sparkling and 4 ice wines, the bill was about $300 per couple- yes, it is a huge splurge (especially in light of some of the incredibly priced meals I had recently in Israel), but I kind of find they will gouge you everywhere in NOTL, and it was an all around good meal.
I really like the wineries in the bench, so we took the long, boozy route as we made our way back to Toronto. Lunch was at ABOUT THYME BISTRO in Lincoln where we grabbed a nice spot on the back patio. Service was friendly and sweet. The way it works is that you grab your table, and order at the counter, and then they bring you your food. We had:
Grilled Veggie Salad, with zucchini, peppers, tomato and eggplant in balsamic served with goat cheese crostini- My friend got the large size and I went with a small so that I could also try the soup of the day. All of the vegetables were grilled perfectly and seasoned exactly how I like it. They had a nice balance of sweetness and acidity, which balanced nicely with the goat cheese.
Gazpacho with Grapefruit Sorbet- Even though I still found it a bit grainy, the nice balance of sweet and tart flavours in this version was far superior to the one I had had at Peller.
Grilled Pork sandwich on 9-grain ciabatta with green salad and friesl I found the pork a little drab, and the sandwich probably could have used a tangy or sweet element. The fries, however, were amazing. Crispy outside and fluffy inside, and delicious with their house made aioli.
Bistro Hamburger (7 oz mixture of pork and beef) with cheddar, tomato, smoked bacon, lettuce, mayo and dijon with salad- We all agreed that this was a superior burger. It was incredibly juicy, and perfectly seasoned with lots of smokey pork flavour. Delicious.
So for all of the above, plus a pitcher of lemonade ($5 for fresh squeezed) and a pop, the total was about $75 including tax and tip- excellent meal for an excellent price.
Pictures are on my blog.
The service at Stone Road Grille was so atrociously slow when I went last summer, I felt like walking out. We timed it, and it took 35 minutes for our table of 6 to get a bottle of 13th Street bubbly. My SO was so angry, I had to sit on him so he wouldn't rip the head off the clueless server.
Stone Road Grille
238 Mary St, Niagara-ON-the-Lake, ON L0S, CA