Sunday, February 14, 2016

Food for Thought with Alex Bielak -A Taste of Spring

A Taste of Spring

It’s February, and decidedly wintery. But it’s getting lighter out, and a sure sign of spring being around the corner, the winter edition of Taste of Burlington is set to run at a couple of dozen Burlington restaurants, February 21 – March 13, 2016. Based on dishes I sampled at the launch event, held at the Performing Arts Centre earlier this month, diners are in for a treat. And, nice to see, several participants are new to the promotion this year.

Before I dived in, sipping on an intense Bodhi Bar organic cold-pressed beet juice with cinnamon, ginger carrot and apple, I enjoyed visiting with Kim Hartley, the nice lady at the Visit Myrtle Beach booth, particularly as I’m planning on a visit to South Carolina next year. You can win a trip for two to this upcoming culinary destination when you eat at a participating “Taste” establishment.

About half the participating restaurants were present at the launch, with the Holiday Inn’s Alloro, a welcome newcomer. They pulled out the stops with a mushroom-stuffed, herb-crusted veal tenderloin, red roasted garlic mash, served in a mini Yorkshire pudding with brandy demi-glace. In thanking the organizers for the invitation I predicted they would be in the running for top honors along with dishes from a couple of past winners.

Two offerings, in particular, stood out from the pack. The Queen’s Head produced a steak and wild mushroom Wellington, with a splendid gorgonzola and double smoked bacon cream sauce. Big props to them: they’re clearly not missing Chef Will Edsall who helmed the pub to serial victories in the past. Parenthetically, I gather Edsall is now in Toronto, having scored a gig as Sous-Chef in the new Susur Lee restaurant, Fring’s, in Toronto. It’s a collaboration between Lee and Drake, and you don’t get many higher profile placements than that!

Chef Mitchell Lamb (Stonehouse) played to his strengths again, countering with a compactly and prettily-layered apple-braised pork shank, with a chorizo and smoked cheddar cornbread and a beautiful morel mushroom foam. It was the dish of the evening for me, the first I finished every last morsel of. But that was because the pastry on the Wellie was a bit soggy, otherwise it would have been a tie. (My wife disagreed, ranking Queen’s Head first and Alloro second, so there you go.)

There was much else to enjoy (see photos) and the winners were ultimately deemed to be as follows: The Judges’ top honours went to the Queen’s Head, with Stonehouse and West Plains Bistro 2nd and 3rd respectively. I gather the result was close, with less than a 1/3rd of a per cent separating first and second. I hope there was a recount!

West Plains was one of my stronger contenders: I liked their potato-crusted salmon with a lemon aioli, but, not being a fan of olives I was less keen on the sundried tomato and green olive tapenade that came with the dish along with a potato chip and lemon-dressed arugula.

The coveted People’s Choice Award also went to Queen’s Head, with Alloro in the runner up spot. Third was a tie between Stone House and West Plains. A special mention (by me) for the key lime, ancho chili-spiked crème fraiche by Ivy Bar and Kitchen: it was right up there with the sauces by Queen’s Head and Stonehouse.

A final note. Tourism Burlington organizes the launch event and has done since 2008. With approaching a decade of experience, the affair goes from strength to strength under the watchful eye of Linda Cvetanovic, who deserves huge kudos for sweating the details. A fun evening that usually sells out, it draws guests from Oakville to Stoney Creek; the organization really is spectacular and seamless, at least from the perspective of someone invited to partake of and report on the goings on.

No detail is overlooked. There are clear descriptions of the food in the program, and all the pertinent social media information is readily to hand, a wonderful green crew provide efficient cleanup and re-cycling (I still want to write about Burlington Green, you guys!), loyal local beer (Cameron’s) and Coffee (Lakeshore Coffee House) sponsors, great communication, and manageable queues.

One small thing for the organizers to consider. How about putting the dessert folk together in one area, perhaps alongside Lakeshore Coffee? I began my evening by inadvertently sampling Pepperwood Bistro’s sticky toffee bread pudding. Though it was declared by my wife as, and I quote, “mmmmm,” I could have done without it being my first bite of the evening. But that’s a small quibble, and I know many, whose mantra is “Life is uncertain, eat dessert first,” would vigorously disagree.

For more pictures, click here
To see all past columns please see (and “like”) the Food for Thought Archives
Alex (Alex can be reached at fft@thehamiltonian.info or on twitter @AlexBielak)

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