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. Cheers! - Bethany

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Wining and dining for charity: Bon Appetit Ottawa

Darn it all, I have to eat really incredible food, drink a bunch of great beer, and snarf on mountains of chocolate … AGAIN??

All right, twist my arm. But only 'cuz it’s for charity.

That was how I justified the $75 ticket, $40 for babysitting, cab fare, the wrong shoes and blowing the rest of my Flex Points so that I could go to Bon App├ętit Ottawa.

It’s dubbed the “cocktail party of the year” and it certainly lives up to the title. The Aberdeen Pavilion, usually home to mammals of a more cloven-hooved variety, was transformed into a flashy, boisterous, all-you-can-consume smorgasbord for the senses.

Once issued our checklists, sampling platter and beverage tickets (only SIX??) off we went into the milling throng, eager to explore the unknown reaches of our fair city’s gastronomic geography.

The laid-back setting gave participating chefs permission to be adventurous and playful with their creations: the foie gras profiteroles from Courtyard Restaurant and the duck confit poutine from Sam Jakes Inn were two of my favourites, followed closely by Petit Bill’s Bistro and his open-faced, bison smoked meat sandwiches with red cabbage, Dijon mustard and melted Emmental.

Did I mention the chocolate? Chocolate truffles filled with balsamic ganache (A Culinary Conspiracy), dark chocolate nut torte (Prime 360), even a never-ending chocolate fountain! It’s like being in the Land of Chocolate … la, la, la …

The wine selection wasn’t all that great. The only sample I liked was a Huff Estates 2006 South Bay Merlot from Prince Edward County: a light red with lots of fruit and a smooth, sippable texture, either with food or without. I tried several cabernet francs that were all far too green; unfortunately, I find this is typical of Ontario cab francs, which don't do the varietal justice. After six samples of disappointment, I switched to beer. Good call.

Frothy cups were filled with abandon from the taps of a multitude of local and just-beyond-local breweries. It was dark ales for me tonight: Big Rock, Mill Street, Heritage and Hockley Valley were amazing, all of them showing careful craftsmanship and particular attention to flavour and quality. The St Ambroise Apricot Wheat Ale was also a winner, with a refreshing, fruity crispness and good body.

I couldn’t help but compare the event to the Ottawa Wine and Food Show, which I’ve been attending religiously for a few years now. Both have their pros and cons: there was a broader cross-section of restaurants, and more breweries featured, at Bon Appetit. And you can’t beat the prix fixe set-up (as opposed to fussing with cash and drink tickets all night long). But the Wine and Food Show would win the Pepsi Challenge with its better organization, layout and knowledgeable staff. Oh, and a coat check.

Still, I’m not going to knock a night out. And it is for charity, after all. So I’m willing to suck it up just this once and sacrifice my scruples (and my weigh-in) for the good of all humankind.

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