In order to secure a table at this ‘super desirable‘ culinary destination on a weekend, one would require a three months advance booking and abiding to a time slot assigned by the restaurant. The last time I was confronted with such a challenge and restriction in North America, was at our own ‘Alo’ or some top tier Michelin 3* establishments like ‘The French Laundry’ in Napa or ‘Eleven Madison Park’ in New York!
Today, armed with our special, hard-to-get, reservation and the help of Google map, we made our long awaited, special trip to the Niagara wine region. After navigating around some remote side streets, orchards and vineyards, we finally managed to arrive at the heart of the Pearl Morissette vineyard property. To our amazement, we noticed our destination restaurant was housed inside a huge, mystic looking, renovated ‘barn’, painted in all black!…..not unlike a scene from some Sci-Fi movie featuring buildings inside the secretive Area 51, Roswell!
Upon entering the building, we were met with one of the most beautiful and serene restaurant I have ever visited. The modern, minimalistic design space in neutral silvery grey and strategically adorned with gorgeous artwork and plants was more a piece of architectural art than a restaurant! No wonder patrons including ourselves were all busy taking photos from all angles!
We were met at the reception area by a friendly, smiling lady concierge. Next, our ‘Duo’ of executive head chefs – Daniel Hadida and Eric Robertson. ( both Michelin star trained in Europe - Septime, Paris and De Wulf, Belgium ) also came out from the kitchen to welcome us. Chef Hadida happened to notice my name on the reservation list and asked whether I was the ‘Charles Yu’ on Chowhound?! Apparently, he too was a fellow chowhounder and had been following me for Chinese food ideas in the GTA! Small world?! After exchanging pleasantries and some foodie stories, we were given a quick tour of the open kitchen before being led to our table at the centre of the room. There, began our culinary journey!
The restaurant offers a blind tasting 7-9 course Omakase menu with or without wine pairing ( $88 plus $70 for wine pairing ). However, the most welcoming and unique part of this was the price of the meal was all inclusive of gratuities! What a brilliant policy!
Now to the food!
For me, the meal was one of the most adventurous, creative, educational and enjoyable dining experience I have had recently, here in North America and abroad! The food truly reflects the diverse skill and creative prowess of both chefs! The use of multiple, complex tasting and textural different components, harmoniously integrated, is a reflection of the chefs’ mastery and finesse. In addition, it was delightful to be introduced to myriads of unique, rare and never-tried-before ingredients…..from unfamiliar wild Canadian berries to scarce and unusual foraged roots and vegetables.
The following are some high lights from my observation and tasting notes:
The first three, seafood-centric, amuse-bouche /appetizers were very ‘ NOMA-esque’ in presentation and preparation. A nature theme of using twigs, aromatic herbs, seaweed, pebbles…..was used as pedestal ‘nest’ to showcase the main ingredients such as oysters, whole sea urchins etc. As well, sauces and condiments derived through various pickling, aging or preserving methods were used to dress the stars! The ultra-crispy buckwheat tartlet with crunchy pickled turnips topped with wild sturgeon caviar was a fine, addictive example! A splendid creation that earned a collective ‘wow’ from all of us!
Just as we thought this nouveau, nature theme was a bit overdone, in comes some gorgeously executed dishes using traditional French cooking techniques and plate presentation. The perfectly cooked wild, line-caught Haddock was a prime example. Here, the chef also adopted certain Chinese and Japanese technique by salting and aging the fish before pan-frying…..thus intensifying the sweet flavor of the fish. Next, a smoked and aged Goose, with the breast grilled to perfection and paired with crispy, skin-on leg confit, was another mouth watering example.
However, the star of the meal was undoubtedly that small, simple and un-assuming plate of Parsley Root cooked with Berkeshire pork lardoon and sweet onion, sprinkled with crispy house-cured ham dust. Do not be deceived by the dish’s plain appearance! It was a ‘taste bomb of mass sensation’!! WOW!!! I could eat this dish day after day!! Bravo!
Desserts were also a collection of masterful pieces. ‘Outside-the-box’ ingredients like Sunchokes and Miso-caramel were used to create sweet wonders with unique and intricate flavor profile.
As much as I loved the delightful experience whilst navigating through this gastronomic vista. I did manage to identify a few ‘minor’ flaws during this culinary journey. These were mostly the result of side ingredients having over-powering characteristics being used. Some of them tend to mask the delicate taste profile of the main ingredients. Casing points, the effect of the tart rhubarb and buttermilk combo on the umami-laden oyster and the use of the spicy hot, prickly ash which overwhelmed the sweetness of the pristine fresh Uni! Thankfully, these only happened during the first couple of courses. The rest of the meal then unfold into a continuous possession of flawless, lip-smacking delicious goodness!
All in all, it was a meal of exceptional value, quality and enjoyment! The total package of delectable food, fine wine, impeccable, attentive service and cozy ambiance was near perfection!.......If only I could have a helicopter instead of a car, to help shorten the journey time from my home to Niagara, for my next visit!!
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