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A Short Day Trip to Niagara - Lunch at ' Benchmark ' and Wine Tasting at ' Thirty Bench '.

Charles Yu | Apr 23, 201612:51 PM

After returning to frigid Canada from hot and balmy S.E Asia. Most of my past month was spend all cooped up indoors due to the cold, lousy wet weather. Taking advantage of a relatively mild and sunny day, my wife and I decided to take a short day trip to the Niagara wine region, take in a casual lunch and, if time allows, a few wine tasting sessions at selected award winning wineries.

Rather than spending an extra half hour driving each way into NOTL, we decided to have lunch at close-by 'Benchmark Restaurant' - the in-house restaurant at the Canadian Food & Wine institute ( Niagara ) and visit wineries around Beamsville.

Realizing this local culinary institution is no 'CIA' ( Culinary Institute of America ), I did not have high hope and was actually psychologically prepared to be disappointed. This turned out to be a great strategy since the food offered turned out to be surprisingly tasty and exceptionally good value!

Though plating was not particularly artistic and playful, the majority was still pretty eye pleasing. As for the food itself. Using mostly local or in-house grown 'organic' produce and ingredients, they were nicely executed with a homey and rustic feel. Portion was very generous, flavor intense and taste delicious. Casing point, 6 gigantic diver's scallops for $24, 8 oz Ontario grass fed Angus striploin beef for $26, gorgeous Bordelaise sauce..etc. Service, considering the wait staff were all student, was efficient, professional and friendly, albeit a bit slow.

After lunch, we headed over to the newly crowned Ontario Best New Small Winery - 'Thirty Bench Winery' for a tasting of their award winning old vine and small lot Riesling.

A most enjoyable day.....until we hit the QEW / 401 which spoiled it all. Rush hour traffic jam galore resulting in us taking way over 3 bloody hours to get home!!! ( normally a hour and a half drive! ) $%&(*&^#@@^&!!!!!!

A nice and tranquil campus — at Canadian Food and Wine Institute (Niagara College).

Entrance and adjacent main building. — at Canadian Food and Wine Institute (Niagara College).

Somehow, they were recipient of the prestigious ' Nation wide Gold Plate Award ' — at Canadian Food and Wine Institute (Niagara College).

Winter Greens Salad - Institute vineyard verjus dressing, Brussels, Kale, Cabbage, Cranberries ( all organic and locally grown ) — at Canadian Food and Wine Institute (Niagara College).

Roasted Beet Salad - Baby Arugula, Candid Almonds, Goat Cheese, Beet chips.
Those chewy and super intense and sweet beet chips were so good. — at Canadian Food and Wine Institute (Niagara College).

Tempura Fried Ontario Apples - Spiced Mascarpone, Oat crumble, Ontario Mutsu Puree.
This must be the best tasting $6 dish I have eaten here in Canada. Texture ( greaseless crispy shell housing a moist juicy crunchy filling ), seasoning, taste were all spot-on! — at Canadian Food and Wine Institute (Niagara College).

Seared Digby Scallops - Roasted Parsnip, Celery, Bacon, Lemon-Caper Butter sauce.
6 gigantic wild Canadian diver scallops for $24! Are you kidding me! What great value! And the taste! Lovely smokey and aromatic ' wok-hay' sauce and ingredients. — at Canadian Food and Wine Institute (Niagara College).

Oven Roasted Grass Fed Angus Striploin Beef - Celeraic Puree, Crispy Potatos, Glazed Vegetables, Sauce Bordelaise.
Pity the meat was slightly overcooked! Sigh! Otherwise this generous and homey dish would have been near perfection. The meat was sweet with real beefy taste ( very similar to the grass-fed Argentinian beef I had in S. America ) and that delicious sauce almost resembled the memorable one I had at Scaramouche a while back. At $26 for such high quality ingredients...who can complain?! — at Canadian Food and Wine Institute (Niagara College).

Chocolate Tarte - Orange Marmalade, Meringue, Pomegranate.
All I can say about that piece of ultra smooth, velvety and not too sweet chocolate delight was OMG goooood! — at Canadian Food and Wine Institute (Niagara College).

Part of Thirty Bench Riesling planting. Still very early on in the growing season. Nothing to show! — at Canadian Food and Wine Institute (Niagara College).

Wine store and tasting room — at Canadian Food and Wine Institute (Niagara College).

Ditto.

Scaramouche Pasta Bar
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