Welcome to Second Ferment! Wine pairs well with life ... and food, travel, people, work and play. Grab a glass and join me as I explore the wine scene in Ottawa, Canada, and beyond. Love hearing from my readers, so please leave a comment or drop me a line. Cheers! - Bethany

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Best. Birthday. Gift. Ever.

Since day one, hubby and I have chosen experiences over objects when it comes to birthday gifts. This year, hubby outdid himself with a package positively meant for the wine geek and foodie in me: Brookstreet Hotel’s Food and Wine Rave. Five courses of gastronomically exquisite proportions, all paired with top-shelf wine. Here’s the kicker: YOU are the chef.

About 15 other food-lover couples were teamed up according to course (we were Team Hopper—frogs’ legs—but I think hubby would have liked Team PIE! Anything all in caps with an exclamation mark tacked on the end has got to be good.) We were outfitted with aprons and hand towels, advised to stay to the right at all times when going through the swinging doors, and then escorted into the enormous, shiny and bustling kitchen of Perspectives restaurant.

Executive chef Michael Blackie led a team of equally laid-back, approachable chefs who all shared the same wicked sense of humour and passion for food. (I’m sheepishly going to admit I was a star-struck goof when Blackie walked in, but by the end of the evening, we were all hanging out like old friends and shooting the shit. Good times, noodle salad.) Each chef led a team, showing off the walk-ins, demonstrating how to use a real knife without losing a finger, and hovering over sauté pans while we tossed, chopped and stirred.

I now have a new appreciation for the work done in a kitchen, having witnessed the gruelling, non-stop barrage of demands that came in … and that was a slow night. It’s hard work, prepping and plating one course of a meal, let alone hundreds of dinners a night.

I found myself at the head of an assembly line, pressing pastry bowls into tiny lumps of mashed potato, then lining them up double-time to be decorated and filled with our creamy frogs’ legs mixture. I endured a few good-natured jabs about the bowls not being perfectly straight and lobbed out my share of comments regarding a certain someone who ran out of garnish before all the plates were ready. I kept waiting for Blackie to spew out a string of expletives à la Gordon Ramsey, but I guess he just saves that for the people he pays … not the ones who pay him.

At the table, where the chaos of the kitchen was a muted memory, we oohed and ahhed over the delicacies before us and chatted up the sommelier about our preferences in the “Canada vs The World” wine samples paired with each course.

With all that decadence, it was no surprise that the end of the night found us shoving our plates away, our bloated carcasses groaning under the weight of So. Much. Food. The team came out to a well-deserved round of jubilant applause; there was no question, this was an unforgettable experience.

Menu:

Team Chop: Tic Tac Toe Tartare (tuna, salmon and beef)
Team Liquid: White Truffled Green Pea Bisque (with a poached quail’s egg on top)
Team Hopper: Flashing Frog Legs (in a pastry dish with chipotle cream)
Team Smoking: Darjeeling tea hot smoked duck2 (melt-in-your-mouth breast and confit)
Team PIE!: Lime and Blueberry individual pie (with ice cream, of course)

Our wine picks:
Clos Jordanne 2005 Chardonnay (Niagara, Ontario) – Aromas of butter cream icing, banana and vanilla bean, followed up with butter, baked apple and smoky goodness on the palate. Very well-balanced, with a silky mouth feel. More apple on the long, smooth finish.

Kim Crawford 2006 Pinot Noir (Marlborough, New Zealand) – Everything a classic pinot should be: lovely aromas of earth and mushroom, and flavours bursting with red berry sweetness, which paired exceptionally well with the duck. Perfectly balanced, light- to medium-bodied, with a pleasant finish. (Note: my notes were getting kinda vague and messy at this point; otherwise, I’m sure I would have said more!)

P.S. Do yourself a favour – book the whole package and stay overnight at the hotel. The rooms are elegant, fashionable and über-comfortable; there are also in-house spa services and a decent pool/hot tub/sauna area. Breakfast in Perspectives is lovely, especially in the company of all the fine art done by students from Canterbury High School (I was SO excited to see this – we’re talking some really stunning works here. Check out the three-panel nude study in the back of Options Bar. Gorgeous.) And really, after all that wine and food, you’re better off just crawling upstairs than trying to find your way home from the wilds of Kanata.

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