Juggling two kids and a full-time day job doesn't leave me much time to check Ottawa's ever-exploding food scene in person, so having several notable joints crammed into one space, dishing out their best menu items and top-shelf vintages and brews is, for me, a perfect night out.
This year's Bon Appetit was at the shiny new CE Centre, next door neighbour of the Ottawa International Airport. The vast, hangar-like space meant way more room to mosey up and down the aisles, and the acoustics allowed for conversation at respectable decibel levels while still enjoying the nifty jazz ensemble in the background.
|Charcuterie platter from Les Fougeres:
terrine, duck magret & foie gras mousse
Foregoing the usual saunter to get the lay of the land, I snatched up nibbles and ticked off my checklist as I moved along with the crowds: sausage crostini at Courtyard Restaurant, shrimp sambuca at Fresco Bistro Italiano, an elegant charcuterie platter from Chelsea's Les Fougeres.
Most of the wineries in attendance were from either Niagara or Prince Edward County, with a few wine reps pouring imports here and there. (I tried a zesty, all-grapefruit Alpine Valley Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, represented by Churchill Cellars - good stuff.)
The best wine of the night was Palatine Hills 2010 '1812' Merlot Cabernet, bottled in celebration of the war's bicentennial, from grapes grown on the former battlegrounds where Loyalists roughed it up with our neighbours from the south way back when. I swooned over the nose on this one, overflowing with the rich aromas of Niagara soil. Fruit, acid and tannin played out in harmony on the palate. The list of food matches for this one is endless: roasts, pizza, spaghetti, grilled veggies, burgers, old cheddar ...
The most surprising find of the night was Muskoka Lakes Winery Muskoka Red. This wasn't anything like any fruit wine I've tried before. Wild blueberry wine fermented on the skins and aged in French oak for seven months, yielding something more along the lines of a dry table wine than a sweet liquor. It was well balanced, with a woody presence and firm tannins that were enhanced, rather than smothered by, the semi-sweet tang of blueberries.
For the most part, the crowds were kept happy as staff cranked out more food, more wine and more beer, moving things along at a fairly steady clip. The line ups were a bit long and annoying, particularly if you got to the front and discovered they had run out of samples, or the offerings were sub-par. The longest wait was for Urban Pear's emerald-green pea soup with shrimp swimming in the depths of the bowl; one mouthful of that made me forget my aching feet.
There was just enough room left for dessert. Strauss Cuisine's combo platter of chocolate wedges, lemon curd tarts and almond pastries needed a moment of quiet contemplation (read: foodgazm) It was almost enough to get me to overlook the missing 's' in 'desserts' on all their promo materials. Almost.
FYI - For more coverage of Bon Appetit, check out Katy Watt's amazing DishCam video over at Sheltered Girl Meets World!