Last week I was lucky enough to attend an amazing dinner and wine pairing hosted by Bonterra Wines in partnership with Evergreen Brickworks and Café Belong in Toronto. Having been born and raised in Toronto, I had never visited the Brickworks and was excited to be able to do that while also trying out the onsite restaurant. Evergreen Canada is an organization dedicated to using urban areas to positively influence the environment and those living there. In Toronto, Evergreen has set up shop at the Brickworks, a former industrial quarry and brick factory that began business in 1889. Bricks produced there have been used to build tons of Toronto landmarks and visiting the site was like stepping back in time. Today Brickworks serves as an ideal spot to promote urban sustainability through farmers markets, farming initiatives, environmental awareness, and lots of local events like beer festivals, pizza nights, and parties.
After a tour of the Brickworks, we were invited into the dining room of Café Belong, the restaurant onsite. Café Belong is the kitchen belonging to Chef Brad Long, who has been cooking organic since before it was cool. Chef Long’s vision is a simple one; buy from farmers and make the best food you can. In Toronto, that means creating a Canadian menu from local produce and fare. It was only fitting then that Bonterra chose this spot to host a dinner. Bonterra has been creating organic wines since 1987 long before the practices were widely used. In fact, they have been in the scene for such a long time that many of the methods used to create organic wine they had to develop themselves, and continue to use them today. As Vineyard Director Dave Koball told us, Bonterra pays attention; they pay attention to how the local insects affect the vines, how the soil changes from season to season, and how you can grow and adapt to that. They grow their grapes with the knowledge of how the vineyard works as a whole. After our crash course in organic wine, the fun part began; eating and drinking!
First Course: Ontario Shrimp, Squid Ink Aiolo, Pickled Ramp Beurre Blanc, Pickled Shaved Celery, Chorizo Oil and Bacon Lardons paired with Bonterra Chardonnay
Now, I admit I am not much of a wine expert. My first visit to a vineyard was at Tracey’s wedding, so my opinions on how food and wine interact is formed by thinking “do I like this or not”. I learned, however, that there is a real correlation between the two and one flavour can bring out another. The first course Chef Long brought out was an Ontario Shrimp with bacon and squid ink aioli. Yes, you read that right, Ontario Shrimp. In our province, our shrimp has typically been 100% imported until an initiative to farm shrimp in Ontario began. Now we can get fresh seafood from nearby. The pairing of Bonterra Chardonnay tied the whole course together. The cold shrimp paired with the crisp taste of the chardonnay and the salty flavour of the bacon blended perfectly with each bite.
Second Course: Halibut, Aromatic Red Curry, Zucchini “Pasta”, Turmeric Oil, Pickled Apple, paired with Bonterra Viognier
The first thing I tried with the second course was the Viognier, a wine I had never tasted before. It was very good, with an almost fruity taste to it, and it paired nicely with the light fish on the plate. It also worked with the curry and turmeric. Two strong flavours somehow didn’t overpower the fish, or the wine and you got a bit of each. Halibut is a pretty neutral tasting fish and Chef Long managed to make the fish tastes like both, separately and together. The part of the course that caught my attention most, though, was the Zucchini “pasta”. Basic Zucchini had been cut up and spun in such a way that it resembled spaghetti! For this carb free girl, that was a nice surprise.
Third Course: Caribou Ragu and Northern Woods Mushrooms, Black Garlic Spaetzle, paired with Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon
This course had two of my favourite things; strong flavoured meat, and strong wine. Caribou is a dark, gamey meat that needed a dark, full bodied wine to hold up to it. A white would have gotten lost here, and the Bonterra Cab Sauv really shined. Add to it the strong flavour of the mushrooms, and the subtle black garlic in the spaezle and I quickly saw why a red was chosen for this course. Personally I loved the caribou, but again, I like a dark sexy cut of meat. We can eat chicken at home, but it’s not every day that we get to try caribou so I was lucky to taste this. The course, like those before it, worked beautifully, and the cabernet sauvignon really impressed me. In fact, I took a bottle home with me to try with some Bison I have.
The Cab Sauv I loved so much
As dinner was wrapping up and everyone was feeling the effects of all the wine, we began to smell the most heavenly cinnamon scent as it filled the air. Café Belong suddenly smelled like my favourite seasonal candle, and this was put in front of us…..
Apple Crumble with salted caramel, vanilla yogurt, and cheddar
Remember when I said I loved strong meats and wines? Well I also love salted caramel and old white cheddar. Basically, I like flavours that will punch me in the mouth and make me want more. This beautiful dessert did just that. The tartness of the apples, the sweetness of the caramel and crumble, and the saltiness of the cheese created the perfect bite. The nice part of this dish was that it was served family style. Plates were put in front of us with a dollop of the salted caramel, and then big plates full of crumble were placed around the table so everyone could help themselves. By the end of it, as we were finishing our coffees (and even more wine) we all just ate straight from the dish like family.
The event was a fantastic experience for all my senses. The beauty of the Brickworks, the sight and smell of each dish, and the delicious tastes of the wines and courses created a wonderland for me. I didn’t know what to expect next, and my palate was always guessing. I also learned about wine, innovative ways to make wine, and that we are now farming shrimp in Ontario (mind blowing). Add to that the new friends made aground the table at Chef Long’s restaurant and I will cherish all the lasting memories we made. A special thank you Bonterra Wines and Café Belong for hosting this wonderful event. I can’t wait to try more wine from Bonterra, and maybe brunch at the Café!