Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Braving the Burbs: Blacktree

Well I can now add two firsts to my list: making wine, and having a great meal at a restaurant in Burlington.

It all started like this: I have friends who are true wine-lovers, and in fact have a wine importing business. They invited me to make wine with them (read: pick varietal, pay money, go back 8 weeks later and retrieve “home-made” wine) at a place near their house in Oakville. Seeing as how they know what they’re talking about when it comes to wine, I happily conceded, presuming the outcome would be nothing like the plonk I imagined home-made wine to be. As we were booking our wine pick-up date, my friend suggested we make an event of it and go out for dinner afterwards. I rarely say no to a dinner date. And so we were booked.

Jump ahead 8 weeks, and there we were, driving to Blacktree restaurant in Burlington. I hadn’t heard of it before and so Googled the National Post review. It was a moderate review; certainly not the glowing report I was hoping for. Hmmm. Would this just be an over-priced disaster?

After driving along, wondering which of the crappy cookie-cutter strip malls the restaurant was in, we arrive. We walk towards what I think can only be the back / dumpster area. “Where the hell are we going?” And then there it is: Blacktree. A simple, clean, modern and engaging exterior, leading to a romantic, cozy and welcoming interior. Check: we won’t be eating off paper plates.

Alright so we’re here. I like the place. It’s not slammed-busy, but it’s got some good energy. Let’s get to the FOOD already! OK, here goes.

After placing our orders, our server arrives with fresh-baked, perfectly salted and crispy/soft bread. With … wait for it … foie gras butter! OMG. I love you already, Blacktree. Then, out comes an amuse bouche, a tidy little white bean ravioli with gogi berry. What an intense burst of flavour from just one bite!  And a 2006 Amarone arrives, at the request of my wine-knowledged friend.  Ohhhhhh, it was good.  Dear Amarone: I love you.  Love, Alyssa.

Smoked Cod
Our appetizers then arrive: first, a smoked Alaskan black cod with pork jam (yes, pork jam), roasted red pepper sauce and bacon-wrapped tempura asparagus.  It was sublime. The smoke flavour led, and I really enjoyed how it provided an experience to both the smell and the taste. Plus, the bacon/asparagus tempura rocked.  I really, really loved this dish. Can I use “really” once more? Really. OK, so the second app was the lamb carpaccio with quail egg and goat cheese. The lamb had a subtle flavour, and the quail egg was cooked perfectly. It was not my personal choice so if the diner (you know who you are) cares to elaborate, please do.

Then, through conversation I discovered at least two of my fellow diners had not had foie gras. What?! They must! They must fall in love the way I did! And so, we order one for the table. It arrives, all pan-seared and buttery goodness. It’s topped with a meringue and served with sponge toffee and tamarillo. Blow. My. Mind. And then, out came the honey truffle bomb, which really was a culinary exercise in food science. The flavours were subtle (too subtle in my mind), but the presentation and subsequent mouth-feel was entertaining.

Gnocchi with Pork Belly
Finally, our mains arrive. Me with a gnocchi with pork belly and pork tenderloin, others with tuna and scallop as well as ostrich tenderloin. Though my gnocchi dish was promoted as my Italian dumpling favourite, it was really more of a meat dish with gnocchi as the pairing. The pork belly was so tender and salty and flavourful. The sauce was rich and tomatoey (I just made up a word, BTW). The tuna was a beautiful dish; light, cooked properly, and seasoned well. The ostrich was a bit heavier, and not as gamey as one might imagine. All in all, we were happy campers.

Honey Truffle Verjus Bomb
To top off the night, we enjoyed grappa, and a tableside demonstration of how the bombs are made (a mixture of truffle honey verjus with xanthan and glucose, then dipped in aglin water to make a skin/capsule around the verjus that makes the little flavour bubble).  Extra points for that little number ... I ate it up.

So was I surprised? Yes. Was I impressed? Mostly. Would I go back? Sure … if you offer to drive.


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