Saturday, August 29, 2009

Inn on the Twenty

On a lacklustre August day (why wouldn't it be lacklustre ... it is, after all, the summer of 2009), 3 colleagues and I trekked out to the Niagara region for 18 holes to be followed by dinner at Inn on the Twenty in Jordan.

Golf was, well, fun. It was not a great success, though there were shining moments. And as we usually play, it was relaxed and without pressures. We played the Escarpment and Iron Bridge courses, the former being slightly less imposing and equally as beautiful. We finished with smiling faces and empty bellies. On to Inn on the Twenty ...

After a short gander at the village of Jordan, we entered the restaurant for our 6pm reservation. The place was empty save 2 or 3 tables. Hmph. Not exactly what you want to see when visiting a place for the first time.

Nevertheless, we sat down and promptly got to choosing our meals. I opted for the caprese salad and ricotta gnocchi; the only other 3 dishes ordered were the tomato soup, scallops and capon. Capon, as I learned, is actually a castrated male chicken. I knew it was fowl ... I just didn't realize it was actually a term for what's done to the bird versus a breed. Nevertheless, Mark reported back it was delicious. The castrating, after all, is intended to create a very tender bird with less stringy meat.

The caprese salad, though not the most adventuresome of items, was delicious. The cheese was soft and fresh mozzarella di buffalo, and the tomatoes were local, ripe, and flavourful. We paired the first course with an extra dry Cave Springs sparking wine. It was tart and young; nothing like a French champagne, but crisp and bubbly and awakening to the palette.

Next came the gnocchi. They were 5 or 6 large dumplings resting atop fresh English peas and pea shoots, 'sugo crudo' (fancy for raw tomatoes), basil pesto and a hint of truffle. Sadly, I was not overwhelmed or even fully satisfied with the gnocchi. They were crisp outside, but rather than pillowy and smooth inside, they were slightly dry and verging on spongy. They lacked seasoning, which further compounded the textural issues. The flavours of the peas, truffle and tomato were a lovely accompaniment; I only wish the gnocchi were a bigger hit. We paired our dinner with a Syrah from Peninsula Ridge. I have to admit that while I am a fan of Ontario whites, the reds still need some time. The syrah lacked complexity, and was slightly too acidic for my syrah preferences. The out-of-country wine list looked decent, but was sufficiently over-priced (none less than $80, if I recall correctly) so as to encourage purchase of local wines. Not a stupid tactic when you are in the heart of Niagara wine country.

The service was impeccable. Attentive, knowledgeable and friendly without lingering on too much. Our final course was a plate of 4 cheeses. Three 'cow' and one 'non-cow'. Benedictin Bleu from Quebec, Thunder Oak Gouda, an ashy aged cheddar, and a tasty sheep's milk cheese whose name escapes me. The blue and the Gouda were by far my favourites, but the other two were definitely a delight.

I will conclude that although the restaurant was lacking in the vibe brought only by the company of others, by the end of our meal the room was sufficiently full. Despite my gnocchi experiences, I would recommend the restaurant to others, hands down. The menu is well thought out, full of local fare, and promises some excellent plates.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Opera at The Nose

Recently, a friend and I checked out "Opera at The Nose". For those who know The Nose (aka Gio Rana's Really Really Nice Restaurant), it is fun and lively and full of great meal items and ... most obviously ... Italian. Having been there many times I thought, "why not mix opera and eating?"

I knew the serving and seating format was going to be family style, and that it would be housed in their side room. What I didn't realize (and maybe stupidly), was that they were showing an ACTUAL opera, projected on a screen. For some reason, I thought there would be opera singers there live. No matter, I wasn't disappointed by the motion picture.

First, I will qualify that I have been to the opera once. Lucky for me, it was at the new COC building, so I could marvel at the architectural beauty. Aside from my one encounter, I know almost nil about this art.

The actual opera side of the evening was just OK. While I appreciate the arts, I don't think I'll be running out anytime soon to watch a subtitled singing play, cast with facial contortionists (I gather this is the only way to get out the sounds they are capable of making). BUT ... it was an experience nonetheless. And I do like new experiences.

So onto the food and social part of the evening. My friend and I sat at the end of a table of about 5 other guests. At our table were "cranky couple who probably hadn't had sex in the last quarter", "nice quiet gay guy", and "wealthy suburbanites". Our host was gracious and excited about the evening and clearly well versed in operas. I suppose if you're going to host an event like this, you'd better know a thing or two ...

So how about the food? Well, in true Nose style, it was delicious. And ample. The first round brought us a lovely misto di mare (seafood medley ... LOVED the calamari), a delicious caprese salad modified to include avocado and a little chili oil, and of course - tasty bread. The second course included a squash risotto done to perfection, a spaghettini ai oilo, and a lovely pasta with bolognese sauce. I thought this was it. I was FULL. But alas, it was not. How could I think so? We hadn't even had meat. The third round brought their famous (and gigantic) meatballs, delicious pork loin, and veal chop. The meatballs, I have to admit, were a little lacklustre for me. They were dry and underseasoned. The pork, on the other hand, was perfectly cooked with a flavourful gorgonzola sauce that I can neve get enough of.

We opted out of dessert so we could carry on our way. So what was the verdict? Go for it. Try it once. You may find you love opera, you most definitely will meet some new people, and as always with The Nose, you'll eat well.