Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dillon's Distillery: Beamsville, Ontario

Since they opened (and according to their t-shirts they have been ‘legit’ since 2012), I have been itching to get out to Dillon’s Distillery. Located just off the QEW in Beamsville, ON, Dillon’s is the Niagara Region’s only craft distiller and they are doing some incredibly unique spirits, liqueurs and bitters. I first had their unfiltered small batch gin a few months ago and have not been able to get enough (which, may or may not be a good thing…) 

Dillon’s has been winning awards such as the Platinum Medal at The SIP Awards – International Spirits Competition in Las Vegas and their goods are popping up all over Ontario. They are now in several LCBOs and I was very excited when I tasted drank gulped saw their gin most recently at the Queen and Beaver in Toronto. 

We recently popped in on our way back from visiting my family in Niagara and immediately liked the location, the décor and atmosphere. Using lots of old wood, white paint and vintage glass-wear, their store front offers a modern, yet rustic vibe. They use the space wisely - featuring both their drinkable and edible goods. 

We decided to enjoy a tasting in which we sampled several spirits as well as bitters. For those of you who have never been to a spirits tasting (including both of us prior to this trip) it is very different than a wine or beer tasting, as you can probably imagine. Instead of half glasses and/or flights, Dillon’s uses cute little shot glasses in which they add just tiny dribbles of their booze. It is just enough to get the taste and aroma without leaving inebriated. 

We started out with a taste of their award-winning vodka. Being a vodka-water kinda gal, I really liked the refreshing and unique taste of this particular version and the fact that it is made with local Niagara wine grapes. This was followed by their rye which was also very enjoyable. 
After that we tasted their pear eau-de-vie, something which I had never tried before. For those of you who don’t know (and I only know now because I asked) eau-de-vie is a clear-colourless fruit-based liquor and this one was made with local Bartlett pears. A light and fresh drink that would certainly play well with others. 

We skipped the unfiltered gin since we had already had it, but for those of you who have never tried it, I highly recommend it. It is a very floral and almost citrus-y gin, using local Niagara grapes and botanicals. If you’re not a gin drinker, this is the one to start with (assuming you want to be a gin drinker?)

Lastly we tried their rose gin (of which they describe as Canada’s answer to sloe gin), and it is a London-style gin infused with rose hips and rose petals. It has a nice sweetness to it without being overly sugary and without detracting from the wonderful flavors of the grapes and botanicals. We decided to take a bottle home for further assessment...

The staff member providing us with the tasting also gave us incredible ideas for cocktails and even for baking and making jams! After going through the tasting as well as smelling their beautiful bitters, we settled on 2 bitters – the pear bitters and the orange bitters.

Overall, Dillon’s is a great little stop along the way to and from Niagara and I would definitely recommend stopping by for a taste as well as to replenish your bar with delicious, unique, craft spirits that are sure to keep your bar stocked for a week the summer!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Aberdeen Tavern: Hamilton, Ontario

The dining room
Whenever a new restaurant opens up in Hamilton, I get absolutely giddy. The promise of new food and drink adventures as well as the possibility of a new local watering hole is all it takes to make this girl really happy! When I noticed that the former 7 Windows was closed and the storefront was covered in brown paper, I immediately had a good feeling about what was to come. The neighbourhood has truly been missing out on a local gastropub and the Aberdeen Tavern is doing a very good job so far of filling that space.

Situated on the corner of Aberdeen and Dundurn is the newly launched Aberdeen Tavern. Unlike its predecessor, which was a somewhat stuffy, fine dining locale, the Aberdeen Tavern blends a fine dining feel with a more casual, yet refined, menu and atmosphere. The new restaurant is being co-managed by Andrea Cassis and Nathaniel Beattie, two very experienced leaders in the restaurant industry. With beautiful old wood booths, a long dining hall with high ceilings and a classic bar with a view of the kitchen, they clearly put a lot of time and attention into the restaurant. I instantly liked the vibe and was impressed by the space and staff.

Oxtail tacos
Duck confit spring rolls
We started off at the bar for some cocktails and drinks. We were dining with some of my fellow foodie friends, who were equally looking forward to the meal. They have 4 beers on tap (which, admittedly, I was a bit disappointed about since I was hoping to see a slew of craft taps on hand!), a good wine list as well as some unique cocktails. I opted for a Manhattan, a classic cocktail with bourbon and bitters, which they served with a sour cherry on the rocks. After that I decided to venture into one of their specialty cocktails and ordered The Derby. The Derby is made with bourbon, peach liqueur, lemonade, earl grey tea and fresh mint. It was tart and very refreshing – a perfect way to start the meal.

Brussel sprouts
The menu itself is quite eclectic with a lot of different options – starters, plates to share, salads, pastas and mains. We picked out a few different appetizers to start, including the oxtail tacos, the charcuterie platter, the spring rolls and the beef carpaccio. The tacos were delicious – flavourful and tender meat with lime and cabbage. The spring rolls were the second stand out app since they were homemade and filled with duck confit! Savoury, flaky and delicious. The charcuterie platter was nice however the carpaccio was quite salty. I enjoy all sorts of carpaccio and tartares and while I enjoyed the fresh quail egg on top, the overwhelming flavor was salt which overtook everything else.

Halibut fillet
For our mains we ordered the 24-hour braised short ribs with grits (x2!), the halibut with risotto and the seafood linguini. The short ribs were fork tender and basically melted in your mouth. But the grits! Ohh… the grits. They totally blew us away. Creamy in texture like mashed potatoes with a buttery, rich flavour. Delish! The halibut was pan fried in brown butter and was served on top of risotto. The fish was flaky with a nice crust and great flavor. I ordered the linguini because 1 – I had heard a lot about it and 2 – I like to know how a place makes an otherwise common restaurant dish standout. This linguini included clams, mussels, shrimp (with the tails already removed, which is always the way to 
go in my book) and scallops.  It was light, with fresh chives and tomatoes, which really let the flavor of the seafood shine. It wasn’t overly creamy; rather they used the elements of the dish as well as (what I’m pretty sure were) finely diced artichokes to create the right texture and subtle flavors. We also shared 2 plates of their brussel sprouts as an additional side. I was pretty surprised to find a table of people who all liked the infamous sprout and the Tavern did them well. Softly steamed, but still green with the right amount of bite and topped with cheese gratin.  Needless to say, we all cleaned our plates.

Seafood linguini
The dessert options were equally impressive. I was already set on the flourless chocolate meringue after seeing it sitting by the kitchen window when we came in. The chocolate was dense and moist and oh so chocolatey…  and the meringue was truly impressive. Not hard and crunchy or overly egg-y, it was smooth and almost had a marshmallow-like texture. Incredible. It was served with a fresh berry sauce, which complemented the rich chocolate flavors completely. My dining partners opted for the pair of crème brulées. One was chocolate and the other tasted exactly like banana bread!

Flourless chocolate meringue
Overall the Aberdeen Tavern is a great new addition to the Hamilton food scene and to the neighbourhood. While the price point is a bit higher than I would have liked to see, you certainly won’t be disappointed with the food, the service or the atmosphere. I can’t wait to go back and enjoy their patio in the summer!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Courtyard on Locke: Hamilton, Ontario

Berries & nuts salad
I think that one of Hamilton’s lesser known gems is the Courtyard on Locke. Yes, it is a bit more expensive than some of its neighbours, but the food and overall dining experience make it a worthwhile stop for any Hamilton foodie looking for a quiet, refined and delicious meal.

The Courtyard is one of those restaurants that fits somewhere between casual and fine dining. Would I wear jeans? No. That being said, the place nor the 
Lobster sliders
service feels stuffy or pretentious. The atmosphere is calm, modern and elegant. At night the restaurant offers a cozy, dimly lit intimate setting and during the summer, the courtyard in the back makes for a perfect outdoor brunch locale. A bonus feature is that they use Riedel wine glasses. While I am both too clumsy/too cheap to buy these for myself, I have to admit that using the right glass for the right type of wine truly makes a difference!*
Steak & frites
When I visited for dinner awhile back, I went with my mom and aunt who strongly recommended this restaurant. We started with appetizers and wine, ordered 3 different mains and left feeling very satisfied and full! While the menu has changed since my last visit, I hope this post offers you a small glimpse at the quality of their food and diversity of their menu.

We started with the 3 mini lobster sliders. The buns were fresh and the lobster was light and topped with an avocado purée. Since there were 3 of us, this was an easy and tasty way for us to begin our meal. We then shared the nuts and berries salad, which had a mix of fresh berries, walnuts and goat cheese and was topped with a light balsamic vinaigrette. 
Fresh pickerel with mash and beans

Primavera pasta
For our mains, my mom ordered a creamy primavera pasta. Full of peppers, asparagus and mushrooms. This pasta was served in a creamy white sauce and topped with freshly grated parmesan cheese. My aunt ordered the special - a beautifully grilled piece of pickerel, topped with tomatoes and onions and served with mashed potatoes and green beans. I would like to note here that the beans were perfect. I mean everything else was equally delicious, but the beans were right at that perfect stage of cooked-ness without losing their bright colour or being overly mushy. 

I opted for the steak & frites and was very happy with that decision. They use thick, juicy cuts of Canadian AAA striploin and serve it in a veal reduction. The frites are actually fingerling potatoes, cut in half and served perfectly crisp. I ate every last morsel on my plate. Dee-lish. 

While I couldn’t get dessert because I was too full (which, for those of you who know me, know that that is rare indeed), I feel pretty confident that it would have been equally delicious! Next date night? Check out the Courtyard.

*The Riedel Wine Test. Take any ol’ wine and match it with a regular wine glass. Now pour that same wine into the designated Riedel glass. BOOM. Totally different.  

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Smokin' Buddha: Port Colborne, Ontario

A long time ago, I used to live on Lake Erie in Wainfleet, Ontario. I loved this house – it was breezy, surrounded by trees and water and I always had the very best naps outside on the deck. Our neighbours were the Echlin’s, Kevin and Kyla, and after years of being out of touch, I was lucky enough to reconnect with them a few months ago while visiting their restaurant The Smokin’ Buddha in Port Colborne, Ontario.

Avocotta dip
Located in the old train station, the Smokin’ Buddha has a warm, cozy vibe, with super friendly service and an impressive menu. What started out as a small stall at the Port Colborne Farmer’s Market (in which he used to sell the very best homemade mango salsa I have ever had!) in 2005, blossomed into a successful restaurant that officially opened on October 5th, 2007. The menu and set up of the restaurant are largely inspired by his time in Japan, with the addition of other colourful, bright and unique dishes from all over.

When I visited a few months back, my good friend Sarah and I decided to try a few different items. We of course, however, started with some beer... but not just any beer. Kevin partnered up with Great Lakes Brewery in Etobicoke and created the Smokin’ Buddha lager. This lager is the perfect balance to the varied and often spicy offerings available on the menu.

Bulgogi bowl
For our appetizers, we started with the Avocotta Dip – an avocado and cottage cheese guacamole hybrid. The dip was creamy and light and despite not being a particularly huge fan of cottage cheese, it worked well with both the chips and the antejitos. Antejitos are one of my favorite appetizers and this place does them better than anywhere else. For those of you who have never tried them, they typically include a mix of beans, corn, peppers, cheese and spices in a flour tortilla which gets rolled, then baked and then cut into bite size pieces. Where the Buddha’s are best however, is in the fact that they coat the outside of the tortilla in a spicy dry rub, before quickly frying it and then serving it. Perfection!

Lavender Crème Brulée
For our mains, Sarah ordered to Yam-A-Rito and I ordered the Bulgogi Bowl, two of the Buddha’s staple items. The Yam-A-Rito is a delicious sweet potato tortilla, with salsa, cheese and a bit of heat. It was sweet, savoury and very filling! My Bulgogi bowl was filled with tender sesame, ginger, garlic and soy sauce marinated beef, cucumber cut into matchsticks and shredded carrots on top of warm rice. The dish had the perfect balance of saltiness and flavor, and I have since been trying to replicate it at home!

As if all of that food wasn’t enough, we decided to order dessert. 3 words = Lavender. Crème. Brulée. It was heavenly. Light, sweet but not too sweet, with just a subtle hint of lavender. It was the absolute perfect ending to our meal and further proved why The Smokin’ Buddha is doing as well as it has been. Did I mention that they were featured on You Gotta Eat Here? Well they were, and you do!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I'm Back!

After a very long break, I have decided to make my way back into the food blogging world and I am excited to share some of my recent food adventures with you. I am in the process of editing and proofing my stories and photos and will be posting new blogs very soon! 

Thank you for your patience and happy eating!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Good Earth Food and Wine Company: Beamsville, Ontario

Cheese pot
How do I love thee Good Earth? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth of baked bread delight
My mouth can eat with edible flowers on each bite,
For the ends of feasting in a beautiful space.

I love thee to the level of every wine glass’
Most urgent need to be filled up just right.
I love thee shortbread, fluffy and light;
I love thee creamy pâté, perfectly bruléed.

I love thee with a passion put to food
In my pot of cheese as I stuff my face.
I love thee with a love I did not choose.

With my every visit – I love thee with the best 
Wine, bread and cheese of all my life! – and if you so choose,
You shall but visit the winery before your death!

*Not many words rhyme with death, so I had to stick with it.
** I would absolutely recommend visiting the Good Earth Food and Wine Company in Beamsville soon! 

Deli board

Friday, September 6, 2013

Jake’s Grill & Oyster House: Burlington, Ontario

Freshly shucked oysters
I hate to admit it but I can be somewhat of a food snob from time to time. Don’t get me wrong, I will eat just about anything but certain things, like restaurants attached to hotels, don’t typically appeal to me... but, people can change, right? When I recently got a hankering for seafood and googled “seafood Burlington”, Jake’s Grill & Oyster House popped up. I scanned the menu and thought it looked great so I drove over, anxious to try a new place. I admit that I was initially somewhat dismayed to see that it was adjacent to a hotel; I hadn’t done my full research and was pretty much sold on going for a bite as soon as I saw fish tacos on the menu. Though skeptical, I decided to check it out and was not disappointed.

The place is pretty spacious and though kitschy in their over-the-top boathouse theme, it felt cozy and warm. My friends and I sat down and began to go through their small but impressive menu. We decided to start off with a platter of fresh shucked oysters on the half shell and were served 15 incredible malpeques. They came on a bowl of ice with freshly grated horseradish, lemon wedges and a variety of sauces. We easily polished them off and wished we had ordered more.
Tilapia fish tacos

Next on the menu was the fish taco that initially drew me in. After having enjoyed incredible fish tacos in Ottawa at Burrito Borracho about a month ago, I had been trying to find something nearby to satisfy my craving. These tacos were fully loaded with a generous portion of bronzed tilapia, nappa cabbage, pico de gallo and a delicious and creamy cilantro lime aioli. The lunch orders consisted of two large tacos and a side salad. My first taco was incredible but sadly the second one had to be sent back because the fish was raw inside. The server quickly ordered me a fresh plate and the manager came out and apologized promptly. I got a whole new order (2 tacos!) in no time and they were delicious. The fish was fresh, the cabbage was crisp and the aioli was perfect, adding just the right amount of creaminess and bite.

While I didn’t have a chance to sample much else on the menu because we all ordered the exact same thing, I wanted to share this place none-the-less. If you are looking for fresh, reasonably priced seafood in the area, I would recommend giving Jake’s a try!