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According to a paragraph frosted into a well-polished mirror, the Carlu was a theater once considered to have the best acoustics in North America. Glenn Gould thought so, at least. The theater opened in 1931, up on the 7th floor of the building now known as College Park, the centerpiece of an Art Deco confection on a large scale. Sad to say, until I saw a model of it, I hadn't realized how nicely proportioned the building was.

Regardless, chamaeleoncat (CC) and double0hilly (DH) didn't come with me for the acoustics, nor the drab lighting, nor even the conceptually-spiffy little clips to hold small plates securely to the bottom of our wine glasses. They, like I, were there for the food and drink, the alcohol and appetizers. The event, part of the Bloor-Yorkville Wine Festival (underway through this coming weekend), was a competition among local chefs to create a novel appetizer which best complemented the theme wine-of-the-year. Fetzer, the sponsor, chose its Gewürztraminer as the wine to work with, although there was a healthy selection of other Fetzer wines to drink as well. (And water, both sparkling and non.)

We began with the "Pan-fried Blue Crab cakes with textures of spicy tomato and coconut curry and cilantro oil" from 17 Noir (Niagara Fallsview Casino). After abandoning all attempts to use the conceptually-spiffy little plate clips, we began to eat. CC thought the cakes too spicy, and none of us could particularly taste the crab in the wake of the flavorful sauces. Still, as DH commented, the dish was inoffensive. The dish also tied for second place in the judge's voting.

Next up was Tundra's "Jasmine smoked arctic char, seared scallop, and bison strudel". (Our ballot referred to this dish as including 'artic car'. Poor spelling pervaded.) The subtle barbecue flavoring in the char involved a taste - and texture - which lingered in my memory. DH and CC were particularly keen on the bison strudel. Actually, we were all rather keen on anything which didn't involve fish or, even more so, scallops. There were way too many scallops over the course of the evening. If the three of us were giving awards, this dish might have taken fourth place.

Unanimously, at least for the three of us, The Fifth's "Duck Confit with corn and avocado millefeuille, quacamole and piquillo rauigonte" was the most exciting dish of the evening. The duck confit was tasty, the millefeuille a small bit of heartiness, the yellow flower petals on top pretty (and, to my tastebuds, a pleasantly bitter contrast), the guacamole unified the dish, and the corn cracker/cookie, delicate and prettily leaf-shaped was both good and fun. We were all disappointed when the dish won none of the prizes. If I had had any more appetite left at the end of the evening, I would have joined the others in going back for seconds of this dish.

Our favorite for the virtual category of Ultimate Comfort Food was Savour Luxury Catering's "Coconut dusted shrimp on lime pickle risotto with apricot-lemongrass froth and coriander oil", served with baby bok choy. Lime pickle risotto doesn't sound like a feasible combination, but it worked beautifully. It was a dish to curl up with, a balanced meal-in-a-bowl with meat, rice, and vegetable. None of us could discern the taste of coconut in it, but had we been able to, the taste would have been right at home among everything else. The judges at least gave the dish third place.

None of us agreed on what we liked about Oscars' Assiette of salmon. CC favored the quail's egg aioli, roasted pine nuts, and organic salmon on a rye cracker, or perhaps the maple-roasted salmon. I much preferred the slice of foie gras and salmon paté on a blini, refreshing and smooth after all the intense richnesses of an evening of appetizers. All three left DH underwhelmed.

The second rice dish of the evening was also a hit with us. Olio (Toronto Renaissance Airport Hotel) offered up "Pan-fried pancetta wrapped monk fish, butter poached lobster and chorizo paella, foie gras emulsion, and pimento sauce." As CC observed, the pancetta-wrapped monkfish was a pleasant variation on the more typical bacon-wrapped scallop, with the delicate denseness of the monkfish filling in for the scallop in a much more interested way. (Particularly good given the evening's overdose of scallops.) The paella was rich, but I could easily have eaten more. None of us could detect the fois gras emulsion, and CC was frustrated by the presence of a decorative mussel shell on the place, when no mussels had been used in the making of the dish. Still, the consensus was that this was a very friendly dish - and the we gave the staff our virtual "Friendliest Staff" award.

Our virtual award for "Best Presentation" goes to Liv Restaurant, where a "Braised venison rib with spicy asian glaze" was presented on an iron plate tree, next to a beautiful mist fountain graced by a calla lilly. So pretty! The venison rib was awkward, sticking in our teeth, and we never did decide if it was easier to eat with fingers or fork. The glaze wasn't spicy, despite the press, but it was a pleasant balance between oriental and more southern styles of barbecue flavors. Still, for me, the accompaniaments were the highlight of the dish: crab apple sauce and fun little twirls of potato chips.

The Fairmount Royal York's Epic restaurant offered a problematic dish; our thoughts about it were complicated further by the judges giving the dish first place. Certainly the dish was a contrast to what the other restaurants were offering: "Kafir lime crusted ahi tuna, exotic fruit wrap, and chilli-ginger vinaigrette" with a taro chip, and served on an inedible green circle cut from a leaf a circle of banana leaf. The flavors were overpoweringly intense, especially the lime crust on the tuna which hid the taste, if not the (beautifully tender) texture of the tuna. CC and DH were immediately repelled by a bite of the fruit wrap ("an assault on my senses"), while I appreciated the concept of a crêpe-wrapped chopping of papaya. Papaya is a tricky fruit to work with, as I learned at my Knife Skills class, easily bruised and, when bruised, it acquires a taste particularly unpleasant to some. (See the comment below for an explanation of the wrap's actual contents; there was no papaya in it.) We agreed that the dish was trying too hard, was too aggressive in its flavors, and probably our least favorite. And then it won first place among the judges.

By now, our appetites were waning and we had two scallop dishes left. DH, never a scallop fan, excused herself from the last two scallop-laden dishes. From Brasserie Frisco, CC and I tried the "Seared sea scallops and elderflower", served with warm and tender Portugese bacon, elderflower foam, a salad of julienned greens with marinated onion slivers, and what we thought at the time was a slice of lemony potato, but turned out to be sun choke. Elderflower always makes me happy (having only ever had it in moderation), so I liked this dish more than the others did. CC thought it unmemorable, while I thought it quite pleasant overall. It was another of the few dishes which succeeded in being an all-in-one balanced meal.

If the final dish had been more exciting, CC would have had some too, but it wasn't, despite tying for second-place. The BB33 restaurant at the Delta Chelsea was serving "Smoked scallop and oyster with apple and pineapple salsa". The scallop was indeed smoky but, strangely, the otherwise nicely fruit salsa was, if anything, far more smoky than the scallop was. The best part of the dish was a fun little cheddar crisp.

By this point in our evening of small dish feasting, I was entirely full, and thus missed out on the fun of going back for seconds of the best dishes. CC and I followed the example of a woman at our (standing-space only) table, and stole a few lychees from one stand's table decoration for contast, much needed after quite so many main courses. The servers were out of the theme wine but still had plenty left of other Fetzer variants, so I moved on to a lightly-oaked Chardonnay after a bottle of sparkling water. I liked seeing the parade of chefs at the end, largely in uniform, and all the variants of uniforms they wore - white, black, berets, tall hats. On our way out, we noticed a pile of booklets, a collection of recipes of what we'd tasted, and what other people at the Vancouver, Winnipeg, and Calgary editions of this event had also tasted. Browsing the book filled in some of the ingredient details we missed at first taste.

Of all the events in the Bloor-Yorkville weekend, this seemed - both in advance and in practice - like one of the best to do, for the sheer variety it offered, the fun of competition, and the assurance of being able to stick to white wines all evening. It would have been even better if there hadn't been quite so many scallops... and better too if we had had appetite for dessert afterwards, something to balance out the persistent intensity of eating quite so many showy appetizers in lieu of dinner. Still, I'm quite glad I went and, though I'm unlikely to be in town for this particular event again, I'd quite willingly try similar occasions elsewhere.


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 12th, 2005 07:28 am (UTC)
Scallops: the new kiwi-fruit
May. 12th, 2005 04:39 pm (UTC)
Finally, I understand your kiwi-engendered ennui.
May. 12th, 2005 04:51 pm (UTC)
A further thought
I know absolutely nothing about scallop genders. "induced" would have been a better choice of word.
Jan. 21st, 2007 01:22 pm (UTC)
May. 12th, 2005 08:05 pm (UTC)
elderflower foam?

i'm curious-- was it a whipped froth? a more mousse-like texture? i've yet to taste elderflower, despite its ready availability (as elderflower concentrate/juice) in our upscale groceries.

speaking of swanky food emporia, i went to central market to buy fruit yesterday and saw quinces for sale... which made me think of you. have you had a chance to taste quince in its non-prepared form yet?
May. 12th, 2005 08:15 pm (UTC)
Quince! You found whole, raw quince! No, not yet. I gave up looking for a while there, but you give me hope.

The foam was whipped froth, not moussey at all. After a while on the plate, it started to become slightly more liquid and less bubbly.
May. 13th, 2005 06:23 am (UTC)
well, if i could ship you raw quince, i would, but i don't think customs would let it through. 8( you should have better luck finding it now, though, as this seems to be the correct season.
Nov. 21st, 2007 09:22 pm (UTC)
We have several Quince trees and sell it to markets in san Francisco.

May. 17th, 2005 12:32 am (UTC)
Correction of 1st place winner's dish
Epic's dish may have been a overpowering burst of fresh juicy flavors and spiciness, but it is intended to be eaten with the wine. How come there is no mention to the food in regards to the featured wine. That was the whole purpose to the evening!

The leaf you speak of is a banana leaf, used for decoration purposes. When you dine out at other restaurant you may have witnessed the same garnish. I know RAIN puts them under almost every side dish and ramekin.

The "exotic fruit wrap" did not contain papaya at all. Inside was lychee, mangosteen, and ramatun, pineapple. It was not a crepe. It was a mango shaved paper thin in order to roll exotic fruit ingredients. I'm sure you can appreciate the imagination put into that.

The ahi tuna loin was seared perfectly, then dusted with ground kafir lime leaves. The tuna was sliced and presented perfectly rare, The only proper way to eat such a beautiful piece of fish. To heighten the flavor even more the chef sprinkled the tuna's flesh with citrus infused fleur del sel last minute. How can the tuna's texture be comprimised by this?

You compliment on LIV's restaurant's presentation, I agree very attractive, but not the food. The event's purpose was all about food and wine, and if you had to pay for the $75 tickets yourself then I'm sad to say you wasted your money.

May. 17th, 2005 02:01 am (UTC)
Re: Correction of 1st place winner's dish
Thank you for all of the helpful details and corrections. I very much appreciate it.

I did stick to the themed wine for most of the evening, and you're right, I should have discussed the dishes with regard to it. I would have drunk the Fetzer gewürztraminer for the entirety of the event, but it ran out before I'd tried the last two appetizers, unfortunately. The wine was one of the sweeter gewürtztraminers I've tried and was a bit too strong for most of the fish and seafood dishes in particular. Intellectually, I can see why EPIC's dish won the competition with regard to the wine, even if the dish wasn't to my taste: the flavors had plenty of backbone and could stand up to such a well-rounded, fairly complex wine. Perversely, it was partially because my companions were sampling the Fetzer range rather than sticking to the theme wine that I repeatedly failed to take notes on it.

I'm very impressed with the concept of mango shavings used as a wrap! That's impressive - but it was so pale, unlike the mangos I've tried before in color. Any idea what kind of mango it was? Clearly I need to expand my fruit education - and this is a fine city to do it in. I've never knowingly tried mangosteen or rambutan. Nor dragon fruit or ugli fruit, while I'm on the subject.

I have no criticism of the ahi tuna loin's texture, although I can see from rereading what I wrote why you thought otherwise. The texture was indeed perfect. But the flavors didn't work well for me.
May. 17th, 2005 02:02 am (UTC)
Re: Correction of 1st place winner's dish
Also, I did indeed pay for the ticket myself. Based purely on the advertising descriptions of the various wine festival events, it looked like it would be the best balance between price, value, and variety, with the added assurance that I could stick with white wines for the evening.
May. 17th, 2005 08:03 am (UTC)
Re: Correction of 1st place winner's dish
what an odd comment, normally one introduces oneself before commenting one someone's journal. Not really polite to do otherwise.
May. 17th, 2005 01:07 pm (UTC)
Re: Correction of 1st place winner's dish
It is polite, yes, but easily forgotten (unfortunately) since LJ doesn't provide prompts for self-introduction the way most other services do. I think I've become used to it since my parents forget all the time when leaving comments, and I don't always recognize that they were the ones who left me notes.
May. 17th, 2005 01:30 pm (UTC)
Re: Correction of 1st place winner's dish
yeah, I set mine only to accept comments from Registered users. I just like knowing who leaves what.
May. 17th, 2005 03:17 pm (UTC)
Re: Correction of 1st place winner's dish
Whereas I've had some wonderful exchanges in comment with people who couldn't have otherwise posted. Even anonymity is useful sometimes, if not abused. But I can certainly understand your caution - and desire to know with whom you are corresponding!
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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