Each year around this time, the Ottawa Congress Centre becomes a Mecca of sorts for foodies, wine enthusiasts and party people. Drooling tongues and parched palates turn with reverence towards the sprawling edifice along the Rideau Canal, to take in sumptuous offerings of fine wine and cuisine.
There are only a few requirements to truly enjoying the Show: a) you are old enough to drink, b) you possess functioning taste buds and c) you like to try new things. That broad appeal attracts a wide range of attendees, from hard-core Bordeaux lovers and classically trained chefs to university students looking to dress up, get loaded and check out the opposite sex. (It’s no secret that, come Friday and Saturday nights, the Show turns into a glitzy, see-and-be-seen meat market, where there is less interest in the art of wine and more focus on how many vodka shots one can pack in while squeezing through the crush of sweaty revellers.)
Hubby and I have been going to the Show since 2001 – that was when we first tried “good” Canadian wine, discovered we actually did like caribou pate, and fell in love with Santé’s Bali spring rolls. It was the place where my interest in wine was first sparked; we haven’t missed a show since. (We even managed to squeeze in a few hours of much-needed grown-up time in between feedings a month after the Doodle was born.)
This year’s show was just as informative, well-balanced and delicious as ever. The participating purveyors of fine foods don’t change much from year to year, but consistency has its charms. I simply cannot pass up the aforementioned spring rolls (spicy, deep-fried wrappers filled with eggplant, julienned carrots and a mélange of other fresh vegetables) or freshly-shucked oysters (offered up by Whalesbone Oyster Bar this time; three Colville Bays on the half shell, paired perfectly with the Whitecliff 2006 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc I had in hand.)
Of course, there are also endless samples of six-year-old Balderson cheese, connoisseur-grade premium dark chocolate, artisan breads of olive and rosemary, and sumptuous French and Belgian truffles offered gratis, just in case you run out of cash.
My favourite new find was hazelnut oil. Made in France by Trufarome, it was bright yellow with a hint of green, looking like a fairly close cousin of high-end olive oil. It has a much denser viscosity, and the robust nutty flavour doesn’t even pretend to be subtle. I could have stood there all afternoon, just greedily dunking in chunks of baguette, it was that good.
Table space is always at a premium; this is one shortcoming that the Show’s organizers have yet to address, although I was impressed with Milestone’s decision to have their own seating area. The tops of trash containers quickly get marked with makeshift “reserved” signs and crowds hover around the limited number of chairs, hoping to score a spot. Do what we do: invest in a sampling platter that has one corner moulded in just the right shape to hold your wine. I lost track of how many people stopped us to comment on the brilliance of this contraption (now, why didn’t I invent that?)
More to come …