Sunday, December 6, 2009

Niagara-on-the-Lake: One Gluttonous Affair

The thing I love most about Thanksgiving are the endless, mouthwatering plates of food. I had quite the non-traditional Thanksgiving this year and took a three-day trip up to Niagara, Ontario. Every year, millions of tourists travel to Buffalo and Niagara to admire their world-renowned waterfalls, but lesser known is the beautiful town of Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL), a mere 20 minute drive from Niagara Falls. There's something magical about this place. The crisp air, historic buildings, and plentiful vineyards that line this quaint little town evoke a sense of longing for some sort of lost past. Wine and vineyards aside, NOTL is also a great breeding ground for gourmet food. We ate at restaurants that were absolutely fabulous (quality in line with top NYC places), bought delectable treats at downtown gourmet shops, and drank/ate our way through NOTL for Taste the Season, a heavenly-sent event for foodies alike. Below I've included some highlights of my trip!

On NOTL Ice Wine...
Niagara-on-the-Lake is probably best known for
its ice wine, a prestigious dessert wine made from grapes that are picked while still frozen on the vine. The water freezes, but the sugar does not, which results in a highly concentrated and sweet tasting wine. Ice wine was first introduced in Germany in the 1700s, and the founders of Inniskillin Winery introduced the first batch to Niagara in 1984. Today, most of the wineries in NOTL produce icewine, and during our winery hopping, we sampled quite a few different bottles. Though each had its distinct taste, they all exhibited the same sweet aroma that is characteristic of ice wine.

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Ice Wine from Konzelmann Estate Winery

View of Inniskillin Winery

On Taste the Season...
Each November, 21 wineries of NOTL get together and host a gourmet event where each prepares a specific food and wine pairing, and attendees can buy a "passport" and make their way through the wineries.
Thanks to a wonderful grape guy who offered a great review on his experience, we planned strategically and prioritized the best pairings to maximize our success. It was pretty insane (and required my partner in crime's excellent driving skills), but we managed to hit 18 out of 21 wineries in only one day! After much debate and reflection on the pairings, we decided that the top three contenders were Coyote's Run, Cattail Creek, and Konzelmann.

Winner: Cattail Creek Estate Winery
2008 Gamay Noir paired with Gamay-Infused Sausages topped with Sauteed Wild Mushrooms
served on a Grape Skin Baguette

The gamay-infused sausage was unbelievably delicious - a spicy, yet earthy taste from the wild mushrooms. The hot sausage slice was served on a crispy grape skin baguette, and the Gamay Noir really brought out the flavor in the meat and mushrooms. We loved the consistent gamay theme throughout the dish, from the sausage to the bread and wine.

Second Runner-Up: Konzelmann Estate Winery
2007 Sparkling Riesling Methode Cuvee Close paired with Salmon-Zucchini Twist crowned with 'Bleu Turtle' Salsa and Chive Cream Cheese dollop on Artisan Corn Bread

This was a very logical pairing - smoked salmon with a light Sparkling Riesling. I suppose the long title is a bit ironic, giving the simplicity of the pairing. The Riesling added a hint of freshness to the salmon-zucchini twist, which was served on top of a mini corn bread muffin. My only complaint was that the corn bread was a bit on the drier side, but the bubbly Riesling made up for it!

Third Runner-Up: Coyote's Run
2008 Unoaked Chardonnay paired with Sweet Roasted Pepper and Lobster Ragu

The chardonnay was crisp and clean, and the lobster ragu extremely rich and flavorful. The ragu was prepared by Stone Road Grille, an excellent local restaurant that serves a to-die-for charcuterie plate. Although the ragu was heavy on the salt, the chardonnay brought a delicate balance to the palate. It's also interesting to note that in some cases, white wine can actually go very well with beef!

On Downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake...
In addition to the wineries, there are also several gourmet food shops in the downtown NOTL area that have been around for quite some time.

Greaves makes delicious jams out of all sorts of fruits (20+ different kinds!), and the store is so cutely decorated with rows and rows of bottles big and small.

Cheese Creations offered some great stinky and non-stinky cheeses. We tried the Eight Year Old Cheddar from Ripley, ON, and it was oh-so-good, especially after a few wine tastings.

Unfortunately our stomachs were too full for ice cream, so we can't say whether Cows really lives up to this big claim?! If it does, then we'll probably have to head back there in the summertime.

On Accommodations...

For our first night, we stayed at Charles Inn, which is an adorable little establishment that has a rich heritage in NOTL. Coincidentally (or not!), it is also home to one of the best restaurants in NOTL, and of course we had to try it out. Below is the Pan Seared Quebec Foie Gras on a Caramelized Pear Tart and drizzled with Balsamic Honey Syrup. It was absolutely an gluttonous indulgence, but I guess that is what Thanksgiving is all about, right?

I know Creme Brulee isn't new to any dessert fiends, but I must compliment the chef for his wonderfully creamy and rich, but not overly sweet custard. Mmmm.

For our second night, we opted for a more simple experience at Britaly, the top-rated bed and breakfast in NOTL. We were greeted by the adorable hosts, Aldo and Graham, who concocted this amazing breakfast dish below. I was so intrigued by the presentation of the dish, and I don't even know whether it has a name, but basically the top part is an egg-white meringue that lays on raisin french toast and served with caramelized apples and bananas. What more could one ask for?

So after 2 and a half days of eating and drinking in Niagara-on-the-Lake, we decided to fast for a week after we got back home to New York. That isn't working too well, and I'm already missing the great food and wine in NOTL. I can't wait to head back there in the summertime, when all the vineyards will be lush and green, but until then, New York has plenty of good food to entertain me.

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!


Monday, October 19, 2009

Pates et Traditions

In light of the newly opened La Crepe Parisienne in Soho (supposedly with many more to come), crepes are slowly making their way back into the limelight. La Crepe Parisienne is a trendy, warm neighborhood joint, but it really is closer to being a takeout place (crepes are served in paper packets rather than plates). For those looking for a more wholesome, sit-down crepe meal, hop onto the L train to Bedford, walk a few blocks south, and head towards Pates et Traditions.

Restaurant: Pates et Traditions

Pates et Traditions is an uber cute, affordable little crepe place aiming to give you a taste of France. It's run by a French family, whose aesthetic tastes have translated into a cozy, friendly
ambiance that couples can't resist. Note below, the little French girl in the highchair. Doesn't she fit right into the theme of the place? C'est charmant!

Our first crepe: Mussels in a Curry Sauce. I'm not a fan of mussels, but they were very fresh, and the light curry sauce was actually quite flavorful. They served it in a whole wheat crepe, which can be a bit dry at times, but not here!

The menu at Pates et Traditions consists mostly of crepes (20+ different flavors), but they've got some delectable pastas as well. Following the waiter's suggestion, we ordered the Mustard Chicken Penne, which was one of my favorites! Penne, cooked al dente, on a bed of creamy mustard sauce with generous dashes of white wine. It totally inspired me to add mustard to my pasta sauces. Yum!

Now onto the dessert crepes! Our second crepe: Belle-Helene. Unfortunately, this one did not score very many points for us. Traditional Belle-Helene desserts usually offer juicy, poached pears, but here it was served with canned pears, whose tartness did not go well with the crepe.

Our third crepe: Bananas Foster. Sounds just like the name. Bananas cooked in caramelized sugar and rum. It's always fascinating to watch the fire work its magic, but be careful not to ask them for too much rum. Although it makes the burning effect last longer, it can really eat up the crepe as well.

Our fourth crepe: Fresh Berries with Cream. Dum dum dum. This was indeed, the fairest of them all. We all know how great berries taste with fresh whipped cream, and the sweet berry compote sauce really made the crepe "berry" delicious!

There might be a a few inconsistencies here and there at this charming little French creperie, but Pates et Traditions is a hidden gem that could become the new playground for crepe lovers.

Pates et Traditions
52 Havemeyer St (between 6th and 7th)
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(646) 409-4019

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Alice's Tea Cup

If Alice had a private tea house in Wonderland, this would be it. With three "chapters" located in the city, Alice's Tea Cup is the perfect play-land for those looking for dreamy, wonder-filled scones and a calm cup of tea. This adorable establishment has wooed the Upper West Siders and East Siders alike, with its delectable selection of pastries and teas.

Restaurant: Alice's Tea Cup

The ambiance at Alice's Tea Cup can only be described as enchanting. Scenes from Alice in Wonderland are artfully painted on the walls, and the ceilings are graced with beautifully lit chandeliers. Birthday parties here are a tradition, and Sunday brunches are always ensued by long lines of eager patrons.

This is the view of the backroom on the second floor. Yup, those are indeed fairy wings on the ceiling!

This is the signature of Alice's Tea Cup - freshly baked scones with a variety of different flavors of the day, ham & cheese and mixed berry being my favorites. The scones are served with a side of fresh cream and berry preserves. The combination of the two is absolutely delicious! Very reasonably priced as well - two scones with a pot of tea for $10.

This is another favorite, the Croque Monsieur, with hearty layers of black forest ham and gruyere sandwiched between semolina slices with golden raisins and fennel. The raisins add a wonderful sweetness to the ham and gruyere, and the Croque comes with a side of greens or crunchy fries.

Dum dum dum. Who would've thought that the burger at Alice's Tea Cup would be such a big winner? The garnishes are the secret. Lapsang and rooibos tea infused sauteed onions and mushrooms. Mmm, the meat is so tender, and the onions and mushrooms taste of light, lapsang tea. This, clearly, is a must-order for burger lovers.

Alice's Tea Cup may be a little overwhelming for the serious patron, but it certainly does bring out the child in us, and sometimes, that can be a very nice thing.

Alice's Tea Cup
(3 chapter locations)

Monday, October 5, 2009


Welcome to the circa 1938 world of Moto, a hidden treasure off the Hewes St. stop on the J/M/Z. It's all about the ambiance here. The wild bohemian feel runs along the rusted copper doors to the extension collection of vintage decorations inside this charming little place.

Restaurant: Moto

I had to throw in this picture below. Note the name of the restaurant written in chalk on the rusted door. I just love the angle from which the shot was taken.

This is the 'moto' - namesake, hanging above the charming joint.

Did I mention the marvelous architecture? The shape of the restaurant space is actually triangular! The red exit sign is a burst of innovation compared to the awful conventional signs, and the clock is another favorite. Normally they have a lady and band playing music on the weekends.

Hear this. German Mac 'n Cheese? A delightful combination, the Aepler Macronnen consists of mac 'n cheese with sauteed onions (almost like sauerkrat) and apple sauce. I was somewhat skeptical at first, but the light sweetness of the apple sauce fared well against the soft and creamy macaroni. It's a bit much for one to handle, but you could always order it for two.

The fresh steamed artichoke was cooked to a soft and tender composition and served with a delicious aioli. Simplicity at its best.

For dessert, the waitress recommended her favorite dessert in the world - the warm date cake served in toffee sauce and fresh cream. Alert: intense sweetness in action. The toffee sauce was decadent (reminded me of the maple butter from Clinton St. Bakery), and oh so sweet. Thankfully, the cream was light and fluffy, which helped to balance the heaviness of the chunky cake. The refreshing mint leaf garnish did wonders to cleansing our palates, as we prepared to take another bite of the candy-coated fortress.

Moto is the perfect date spot -- classy, old school, and filled with cultured hipsters.

394 Broadway
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 599-6895

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Food, Inc: What Did You Eat Today?

"You'll never look at food the same way again." -Food, Inc.

Two weeks ago, I finally watched this much-anticipated documentary, which delves into the changing landscape of our food industry in the recent decade. The movie isn't for the faint of heart, but I really think that everyone should know (whether or not they want to) where their food is coming from. Directed by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Robert Kenner, Food, Inc. sets off on a mission to unveil the secrets behind mighty agribusiness corporations and their Herculean control over the food industry. The pace of the film is quick, as scenes jump from one issue to another, but essentially, the different topics are all deeply interconnected.

Some quick and dirty facts from Food, Inc.:

Nowadays, chicks are injected with gross amounts of hormones so that they can grow to be more than twice the size in same amount of time.

The majority of the meat in the entire world is dominated by four large conglomerates: Cargill, Smithfield, IBP, and Tyson. (I know, I didn't believe it but I looked it up and it's true.)

Corn (hint: high fructose syrup) has become the basis of everything we eat. The industry has been heavily subsidized by the government for years, with the purpose of keeping food prices down. This is partly responsible for our nation's obesity epidemic.

The lack of FDA regulation has empowered corporate giants to maintain poor health conditions in slaughterhouses and cow/pig/chicken farms (animals standing in their manure all day long). Of course, this has led to an outbreak of diseases such as E. Coli, killing thousands of people.

This really is an issue that is so near and dear to our health, and there are things that can be done.

To see where it's playing near you, click here.


I saw Food, Inc. at The Quad Cinemas (cute little place on 13th St), and after we got out of the theater, we were starving but neither of us was willing to suggest a place to eat. That's when we saw GustOrganics, New York's first and only USDA certified organic restaurant. How convenient! Everything there was organic, from the food to the drinks. The pizza is a little bland, but the fruit juices are delicious (albeit pricey, at $6.50 a glass)

This was my favorite: Spinach Salad with Strawberries, Pears, and Pine Nuts in a Lemon Olive Oil Dressing.

GustOrganics Restaurant & Bar
519 Avenue of the Americas (14th St)
New York, NY 10011
(212) 242-5800