Thursday, November 12, 2009

Offal ≠ Awful (Or, Why You Should Believe In 'Nose-to-Tail' Eating)

Yesterday I was sitting in my car, waiting for the clock to hit 6:30, and thought to myself, "Alyssa, here goes.  If you really think you're a foodie, you better be ready to eat this stuff"  And at precisely 6:30pm, I walked into The Black Hoof, found a table with a welcoming group, and sat down.  By 9:30 I had new foodie friends, I'd made some connections to fuel my hobby, I'd re-connected with someone from the past, and I had an extreme appreciation for what a real culinary artist can do to food we might otherwise (at least in North America), not even consider ordering.

The event was set up by Paul and Dick of City Bites, and was presented also Mark of The Living Vine (who was accompanied by the lovely Morgane Fleury of Domaine Fleury).  Here was the proposition: $120, 34 guests, communal serving, wine pairings and some new menu items.  Since The Black Hoof was a restaurant on my list of "must visits" (recently rated #2 resto in Canada by EnRoute) and I hadn't yet been, I figured this was the perfect opportunity.  I was sooooo right.

Here's what was on the menu:
  • 1st course:
  • charcuterie plate
  • Fleury & Fils Champagne Brute Carte Rouge (the first winery to go biodynamic in 1989)
  • 2nd through 4th courses:
  • raw scallop with bone marrow sauce
  • cold testina (jowl of the pig's face ... this one thinly sliced) hazlenut and pickled chaterelle salad
  • lamb brain tortellini with fennel seed, orange zest and pecorino
  • Heyl Zu Herrnsheim Baron Heyl Estate Riesling 2005
  • 5th course:
  • horse carpaccio and hot sauce
  • Chateau Monty - Monty's French Red 2007 Vin de Pays des Cotes Catalanes
  • 6th course:
  • tripe and trotter stew (stomach and pig's feet)
  • Ceago Vinegarden Cabernet Sauvignon 2005
  • 7th & 8th courses:
  • blue cheese and balsamic & cocoa pickled walnuts
  • boudin noir (blood sausage ... yes made with blood), rutabega, quince and ricotta tart
  • Fleury Cuvee Robert Fleury Brut 2000
With each and every course, I was totally and utterly wowed.  With the first course, not one single meat was a let-down.  Each succulent and differentiated and thoughtful.  Then came buttery and flavourful bone marrow atop raw, fresh scallop.  The brain was delicate and the pasta and ingredients in perfect balance and combination.  The horse (left) was lean and so tender it melted in your mouth.  The stew was hearty with incredible depth and a hint of heat.  You honestly didn't eat a single item thinking, 'ew, the [insert animal] used to [insert verb] with this'.  You thought only, 'is it possible these dishes can get any better?!'

Right, so let's be clear: 'offal' is entrails and internal organs of animals.  Not every dish was made from offal.  But, what this meal enlightened me on was two things.  1: 'nose-to-tail' cooking is not only the right thing to do, but can be incredibly delightful (even to those who may only be happy eating chicken breast or striploin) particularly in the hands of a talented chef and 2: that unusual meats (like horse, which for a girl who used to compete in showjumping didn't ever think about riding AND eating the beast) can be as equally flavourful and enjoyable as any other meat we're accustomed to eating.

I must applaud Grant Van Gameren, Jenn Agg and their team for their efforts.  Not only did the food blow my mind, but the pre-dinner cocktail (gin, orange blossom, lime and basil) was freaking fabulous and the service was friendly and professional.  And important to note: the staff was knowledgable.  As in, "what's in this" and they can answer without skipping a beat.  THAT is what good service should offer.

So there you have it, friends.  I ate brains.  I ate pig's feet.  I ate horse.  And I loved it all.  I encourage all of you to try something new, to consider how the full animal is being utilized, and be thankful we can have such amazing choices in life. 

1 comment:

  1. I agree - black hoof rocks! I also just saw in the November En Route they were voted Canada's number 2 top new restaurant. You are more brave than I, I stuck with the charcuterie and cheese and didn't get into the entrails and such. After reading your review, you have inspired me to become adventerous and try it next time!