December 2nd, 2004

Fishy Circumstances

Gourmet Food and Wine Show: Food, Glorious Food

The best part of the Gourmet Food and Wine show was the food. Numerous Toronto restaurants had booths at the fair with premade or cooked to order dishes, presented as miniature works of culinary art. Some of the more enterprising venues presented entire main dishes in miniature, complete with sides. The only thing lacking in the presentation were dishes more elegant than the small styrofoam plates they all resorted to. In that respect, the wine drinkers had the advantage, for they all had a real glass to drink their potables out of.

Most beautiful dish: An Italian plum poached in Riesling, with winter melon salsa and Quebec duck prosciutto

The deep purple of the plum contrasted beautifully with the golds and yellows of the winter melons, and the whole thing was garnished with long threads of sprouts. The plum itself, however, was a bit too raw to be particularly tasty, and the proscuitto, although tasty, was too cohesive to be bitten off easily into the four or so bites which the miniature dish consisted of. The dish was an advertisement for a new cookbook, Resort to Cooking, put together by 44 Ontario restorts. The lavishly illustrated book was approximately $40 and bound by a transparent three-ring binder.

Most delicious dish: Warm chickpea-potato fusion salad in a crisp cup with tamarind sauce and raita.

The "salad"'s richness was the product of a delectably complicated blend of Indian spices. The tamarind and raita sauces added smoothness and coherency, while the smoothness of the cup was the perfect textural contrast to salad. I loved the dish, and rather wish I'd gone back to try some of the other dishlet on offer from that booth, cilantro chicken skewers or stuffed dates. My other regret is that the booth wasn't advertising a restaurant I could easily go patronize, but rather a private chef. If you have the money spare ($400 for a week's meals; $250 for a romantic dinner for two at home), I highly recommend Sonia's Spicy Secrets.

Most impressive miniature meal: Aged prime steak with garlic sauce on yuca root with soft cheese and sprouts.

The intensive garlicky sauce was deceptively a transparently thin oil topping, spooned on at the very end of cooking - because, you see, the dish was cooked to order. The yuca root was soft, gently sweet, and buttery. The steak was well-flavored, but a little tough to make it easy to eat with a plastic fork. The host and chef on duty to take orders and cook them represented a latin dance club and restaurant called Babalúu. They had an array of six different miniature dishes to choose from, nearly all of which came complete with side dishes. Other options included a mini empanada, lemon chicken, and root vegetable chips with salsa.
Fishy Circumstances

The New World

Until yesterday morning, I knew exactly what the "New World" was with a deep-seated certainty born from a lifetime of usage of the term. It means North and South America, perhaps the whole Western Hemisphere if you want to generalize a bit. Then I read Chocolate & Zucchini's entry in this week's Wine Blogging Wednesday, and I no longer knew what it meant. The charming and generally insightful Clothilde had gone out and, requesting a New World Riesling from a specialty wine shop, proceeded to buy a wine from South Africa.

Those of you who know your wines might find my bewilderment amusing, but the thought that South Africa might be a New World nation had never once crossed my mind: indeed, it quite went against the definition with which I was familiar.

But consider: Vasco da Gama and his crew were the first Europeans to sail around Africa. The northward currents near Benin meant no southerly sailing route was feasible near the coast. Da Gama etc. used a new sailing technique, sailing far enough out into the Atlantic to catch southerly currents again, an indirect triangular route which made possible sailing around the Cape. When Cabral, Portugese commander, set out in 1500 to follow Vasco da Gama's newly discovered sailing route around the African continent to India, he took a volta which led him so far out into the Atlantic that he made port in Brazil en route, and is thus famed for officially discovering Brazil, at least as far as the Europeans are concerned. As far as European commerce at the turn of the sixteenth century, South Africa was just as much of a newly discovered land as Brazil was. Over the course of the next century or two, Australia and New Zealand joined the list of places about which Europeans had known nothing before.

These days, Wikipedia tells me that the phrase "New World" generally only includes South Africa when speaking of wines. The OED only includes the definition of "Western Hemisphere", and most of you agreed with me on that definition. Talking to C. and seeing the feedback from all of you, however, it looks as if a fair many Brits in particular think of "the New World" as encompassing Australia and New Zealand. North Americans who voted for more encompassing definitions include a junior chef of French descent, a historian who knows her wines, and a Medieval historian specializing in aspects of Great Britain. Is it the influence of historical sensibility, British sources, or wines which guided their votes or their understandings of what the "New World" is? I don't know.