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Vol. 3: No. 195 – May 15, 2015

Cruel and unusual punishment. No, it’s just the Oyster Bar in New York.

oyster bar

In the pages of the New York Times, this photo of California stone crabs appears. It purports to show stone crabs plated at the Oyster Bar in New York City. Previously, the stone crabs came from Florida only in the winter. The article states that the California crabs which the Oyster Bar now serves are different. When they are caught, one claw is removed and the animal is returned to the water, where it regenerates its claw. Wonder whether the claw is pulled off by small malicious boys who are used to pulling off the legs of ants in their spare time. If you want to avoid participating in such a process, when next at the Oyster Bar, you may wish to inquire whether the Florida crabs are in.

Wine school this month – Californian chardonnay

Eric Asimov, wine critic for the New York Times turns to California Chardonnay as Wine School’s next exercise. As usual he suggests three wines available in New York to try and we have found three similar ones available at the LCBO.

Asimov acknowledges that the movement against the heavy oaky taste of California Chards in the 1990’s was so strong that prejudice still remains. Do you remember ABC the Anything But Chardonnay movement? Asimov thinks that Californian chards have evolved and some very good wines can now be had. Beware he says, of low priced (call them cheap) commodity wines which fall ”into the category of industrially produced beverages.” He advises that you must pay up. Serve them with rich food and not too cold. He suggests a bunch of brands you might try if you cannot find the ones suggested.

Here is what he says to look for:

How do these wines feel in the mouth? Does the sensation change when you begin eating?

Note the weight of the wine. Does it feel light in the mouth? Heavy? Is it a pleasing sensation?

Aroma and Flavor
Are these wines as flamboyant as the clichés would have it? Or are they more subtle than you may have expected?”

But there are lots of chardonnays in the world to discover. An alternative and we think better chardonnay exercise is available for Wine School right here in Toronto in July. This summer marks the 5th Anniversary of the International Cool Climate Chardonnay Association, (referred to as i4c). See
Formed by twenty-eight Ontario wineries over the past three years, this group has invited premium cool climate Chardonnay producers from across the globe to present some of the finest examples of cool climate Chardonnay in the world at events being held on weekends in July.  i4C aims at “creating a home for excellence in Chardonnay – casual but in-depth weekend celebrations of wine, food and learning, with an eye to reinvigorating a seriously cool wine.`

GEORGE is in the programme with a special event next Friday on May 22, offering a wine dinner using Chardonnays from France and Burgundy with those from Niagara. Be assured the results will be interesting.

Cottage life made easier. Pick up delicious food just off the 400 on the way north.

In purchasing BBQs at Ontario Gas BBQ off the 400 just north of Toronto with our Ivy at Verity hotel physician Dr. Rae Lake, we were directed by Dr. Lake to a nearby Italian enclave, where he introduced us to four stores. They were a pasta store, Only Pasta Inc, an Italian pastry shop across the street, an Italian bakery next to the pastry shop and a factory outlet of a cheese maker which the Chef considers the best Italian-type cheese producer in Ontario, Quality Cheese. It is located down the street (Don’t go to the cheese shop right across the street).

The pasta shop ( prides itself on selling fresh pasta stuffed and unstuffed which they make on site with their own sauces made from quality natural ingredients. They also sell frozen pastas. These shops are two minutes off Highway 400 exiting on Langstaff Road on the way north. The good doctor told us that he regularly stops on his way to his cottage to pick up food. He swears by how good the food is. We purchased three different types of ravioli and agree. Dr. Lake says, that the pasta is so fresh your guests will think you made it yourself. Below is a map directing you to what is as close to Italy as you can get in Canada. Even better, you can shop in English, although everyone speaks Italian too. It is a very short detour off the 400.


The spring Ontario crop arrives

And it’s spectacular so far. Ontario green asparagus, wild leeks and fiddleheads are here. The Chef is using the asparagus in many dishes and it is deliciously sweet without a hint of woodiness. He is grilling or roasting the wild leeks and fiddleheads and using them mainly with pork. A woman arrived unbidden at the restaurant offering only wild leeks telling the Chef that the fiddleheads she usually supplies are growing too far away this year from the leeks. The farmer at the Terminal supplying the fiddleheads apologized for not having any leeks because they were not growing near the wild leek locations this year.

It’s a challenge to find Ontario white asparagus this year. The one farmer growing it has a small crop and is not selling it direct this year. Cookstown Greens will be offering it but not until June.

The other field crop rhubarb just like last month, is a bit woody without as nice a colour as Ontario hothouse rhubarb which the Chef continues to favour. Cucumbers, and peppers will start in 2 or 3 weeks but are late. Hothouse vegetables continue to dominate the Ontario crop. The Chef notes, that they are producing more and more “heirloom“ tomatoes which look different but lack taste. He suggests you avoid them until the real ones arrive later in the summer and instead buy hothouse cherry tomatoes which are abundant and pretty good right now. The last of last year’s Ontario apple crop is coming out of cold storage.

On the citrus front, US lemons are almost impossible to find. There are a few Spanish lemons and some available from South Africa. All the limes are from Mexico and the Chef wonders why Mexico is not supplying us with lemons. Blood oranges are available form Sicily. This is unusual and the Chef wonders whether they have been kept in cold storage because they look unusually ripe. But they taste fine. The growing season in Sicily starts in November and runs through May. Normally Ontario is supplied from January to the end of March but this year, we did not receive them until February. We are not sure why this is changing.

The Chef reports that US celery and artichokes are nice but cauliflower is in short supply. The price is nearly double and will not reduce until the Ontario crop appears.

US blueberries, raspberries and strawberries are in and in good shape. Cherries and apricots are starting but the Chef will wait to buy these until he finishes with his mango and citrus based desserts. The Chef judges how early or how late our Ontario crops will be by how the raspberry bush in his front garden at home is faring. Currently it has not even started to flower and this normally means that we are about one month behind normal.

The Chef has received the first crop of wild porcini mushrooms form Oregon and notes that BC morels are still going strong.

Halibut season in Nova Scotia and BC has started. In addition, the Chef is seeing wild BC salmon appearing. BC spot prawns have arrived but the Chef has concluded that the hours of killing and cleaning them is not worthwhile when judged against the ultimate poor mushy result. Snow crabs start from Quebec this month and BC cod is here. Ontario pickerel has arrived and may be better than ever due to the icy waters in the Great Lakes.

The Chef is buying sweetbreads, duck and Alberta wagyu beef which he is combining with a foie gras mousse and spring vegetables. The Chef’s squab farmer has disappeared and the supplier is trying partridge. The legs are delicious but the breasts lack taste. What to do!

The Chef is lightening up desserts adding panne cotta and almond cheesecake. He will be introducing berries slowly.

Marinade for grilled salmon

In March in this column we set out the Chef’s suggestions for grilling fish. In the article, we referred to a marinade coating but we omitted the recipe. Here it is:

Peppercorn Miso Marinade
¼ cup each of miso, Dijon mustard and honey
1 tbl crushed green peppercorn
½ tbl crushed black peppercorn
½ cup of brandy

Place brandy and peppercorn in a pot and reduce brandy by half. Let cool then mix with miso mixture.

Season fish lightly and brush a touch of marinade. Cook on low to med heat to avoid burning.

— Le Patron

A monthly online newsletter, Ecclesiastes 3 contains Le Patron’s ruminations on local seasonal food markets as well as speculation on broader global food issues.