I can't recall the last time I had a dinner out with six (or more) people around the table who all enjoyed every dish, every morsel, and every bit of the culinary experience set before them.
I did last night. At the Brigadoon, in Oxford Mills.
Slightly further off the beaten track than most places, the Brigadoon belies its pirate-esque moniker with a humble, old-stone exterior that once housed the general store and post office of this tiny corner of Eastern Ontario. Inside, history comes at you full-force, from the ancient safe in the cloakroom to the grand dining room, where the original store counter has now become the bar. This close to Christmas, the foyer was gilded in festive boughs and ribbons, with a small army of Santas lining the sweeping, hardwood staircase.
Knick-knacks from the four corners of the globe, brought in by Brigadoon regulars, line the shelves. As do several tributes to the monarchy: queens Victoria and Elizabeth grace the walls, and there's even a commemorative dish bearing the smiling faces of Princess Di, Charles and their royal offspring. Not one inch of space is wasted, lending an eclectic, antique-shop feel to the space.
That night, the place was packed. There was a party up on the second level (there are three), and two more large groups in the dining room. The noise level was quite high, but more in the style of a jovial family gathering rather than an overbearing acoustic assault. We managed without too much trouble and ordered the house wine selection (a bottle each of Trapiche sauvignon blanc/semillon and merlot/malbec, from Argentina, both well-received by the whole table.) We caught up on family gossip, snacking on hot, fresh bread done up in a swirl of white, multi grain and pumpernickel, all in the same loaf.
The tempo of the service was just right: we were never left with empty glasses, nor did we have to strain our necks to spot our server somewhere across the room. She instinctively knew when to approach, and the kitchen followed her lead with appetizers and entrees spaced in punctual, but unhurried, procession.
This is where the conversation paused, as we each, in turn, tucked into plates of hearty, soul-warming fare presented with contemporary flair. My escargots were nestled into meaty mushroom caps, swimming in garlic and buried in cheese. The fall-off-the-bone duck leg came with a crisp, candied skin on a pool of merlot reduction, with a creamy purée of white and sweet potatoes.
I think we each said "Oh my gaawwwwwwd, this is SO good!" about three dozen times.
The chocolate crème brulée from their table d'hôte menu had an unexpected texture; I wasn't quite prepared for its thick, almost cake-like consistency beneath the usual blow-torched top. But the intensely gratifying flavours of the dark chocolate more than made up for it.
We wrapped things up with espressos and the requisite Dram, still in awe of how great the night had been: exceptional food, wonderful hospitality and a memorable location - all well worth the drive.