Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fresh & Local at Chives Canadian Bistro

This past Thursday I was in for a treat- a ridiculously indulgent one. It was a cold windy night as I made my way to Chives' Canadian Bistro for the launch of Chef Craig Flynn's first cookbook: Fresh and Local. I was greeted at the door by a TDH (tall, dark and handsome) server with a tray of festive sparkling wine. Not a bad way to start an evening. This was, after all, a night for celebration. Craig has been working on this cookbook for a while, and this was his way of gathering together friends and loved ones who labored over this endeavor with him.

And the story unfolds...
Chapter 1

A delightful bag of Chives' Signature Buttermilk biscuit arrives at the table with maple butter

w/ Jost Prost

I've had these treats before, and was filled with glee when I saw their presence on the menu. Warm, flaky biscuits melted the sweet maple butter, turning my taste buds on for the blissful event that was to come.

The afore-mentioned bubbly was Jost's Prost, whose name is German for "cheers". Made from Nova Scotia's signature grape; Acadie Blanc, this fun, citrus sparkler was just the right pairing for this opening course. Cool, crisp and effervescent, the Prost's acidity was in perfect balance with the rich, buttery biscuits and smooth maple butter.

Chapter 2

Roasted squash soup with sauteed sweet corn succotash and maple balsamic drizzle

w/ L'Acadie Vineyards L'Acadie Blanc

This was, hands down, the best soup that I have ever had. In my whole life. I dunno what kind of magic was going on in the kitchen that night, but it must have overflowed into the dining room. Here's the gist of my experience with this first course. The soup was placed in front of me. I, along with the table, marveled at the simple, yet elegant presentation, and then, I dipped my spoon in, and raised it to my lips. You know that feeling when you're so overcome with happiness that you become oblivious to what's going on around you? Yup, that's the one! With the first spoonful of this soup, I closed my eyes, and the chatter in the room seemed to melt away. It was sublime; smooth and velvety. The crisp corn succotash added a crunchy texture while the maple balsamic had a tang that both enhanced the soup's sweetness, and contrasted it at the same time. Now here is a dish with intrigue.

The soup was paired with L'Acadie Vineyard's L'Acadie Blanc. The only organic winery in the province, L'Acadie is also Nova Scotia's newest. The crisp citrus tones of this wine were well suited to even-out the rich, earthy squash.

Chapter 3

Heirloom tomato salad, boccanccini cheese, 12-year aged balsamic vinegar, basil oil, fleur de sel

w/ Gasperau Vineyards Seyval Blanc

OK, so cheese and tomatoes never get tired for me. Especially when I'm presented with a variety of flavors such as those included in this dish. Juicy red, yellow and green heirloom tomatoes came together with soft, slightly chewy boccanccini cheese. Fresh basil added another flavor layer of deep anise and lemon. The luscious, syrupy balsamic kicked this dish up a notch.

The tomato salad was paired with Gaspereau Vineyard's Seyval Blanc; a gold medal winner in the 2008 Taster's Guild Competition. With nuances of orchard flavors and a touch of honey , this semi dry wine accented the salad's bright flavors.

Chapter 4

Caramelized sea scallop on Westphelean ham, Swiss chard, wild lovage and lemon risotto

w/ Jost Eagle Tree Muscat

What's not to love here? Especially when there's 'lovage' involved. Sorry- couldn't resist! I hate to use the generic phrase "cooked to perfection", but this dish actually merits it. Look at the factors here; scallop and risotto, two ingredients that are more than often overcooked. However, the kitchen brought their 'A' game on this one. The scallop was caramelized with a sweet crust on the outside and supple within. The risotto was cooked just as it should be; creamy with bite, while the touch of lemon added zing. The ham provided another layer of salty goodness.

Jost's Eagle Tree Muscat, a two time silver medal winner was the pairing here. I can't think of a wine that would have better matched this dish. The fresh, fruity flavors of apricot and honey nicely balanced the citrus in the risotto, while showcasing the scallop's caramelized coating.

Chapter 5

Brown sugar cured and confit of house bacon, navy bean, kale, celery and horseradish ragout

w/ Gaspereau Vineyards Vitis

Mmmmm, bacon. And not just any bacon at that; mouth-watering, house cured bacon. The yielding meat was so tender, no knife was necessary. The spicy horseradish rounded out the sweetness of the brown sugar, while the navy beans added a lovely, creamy base for the meat.

Gaspereau Vineyard's Vitis was a great choice for this hearty dish. The wine, a blend of Lucie Kuhlman, Baco Noir and DeChaunac grapes won gold at the 2007 All Canadian Wine Competition. The intense blend of red berries and chocolate was just the thing to enhance the meat's sugared glaze, while cutting through the blanket of lush, buttery beans.

Chapter 6

Lamb shoulder "pot roast", toasted barley pilaf, rosemary and golden beets

w/ Domaine de Grand Pre Castel Vitner's Reserve

For the main event, Craig chose lamb, a favorite of his, and largely by his influence, mine too. His take on a pot roast was nothing like my momma's- and I wouldn't have it any other way. The lamb was unreal; pink and juicy, with mouth-filling flavor. The choice of starch was a nice surprise, and a welcome change from the potato that normally accompanies a meat dish. The barley's consistency was reminiscent of risotto but with an intense, almost nutty flavor. Yellow beets added a bright accent to the dish's deep, savory character.

I once overheard at a wine function that Grand Pre's Castel Vitner's Reserve was THE most full-bodied red wine to come out of Nova Scotia. I couldn't agree more. This rich, peppery wine was a wonderful compliment to the toasted, earthy barley, and brought out the sweetness in the lamb. It was also a lovely flavor pairing to the rosemary.

Chapter 7

Pumpkin cranberry brioche bread pudding, maple pumpkin compote, crystal ginger ice cream

w/ Sainte Famille Port

I was thrilled to discover that Craig had combined all of my favorite fall flavors into an inventive, delectable dessert. My sweet tooth can sometimes get me in trouble. When it comes to ice cream, I'm like Dennis the Menace. The ginger ice cream was both hot and cold, with heat coming from the spicy ginger. This bread pudding was only slightly sweet, a characteristic that I enjoy with this kind of dessert, as the real sweetness came from the touch of maple pumpkin compote. The tart cranberries added a delightful tang.

Sainte Famille's Port was the last drop on the menu. It's interesting that I always thought of port as a little old lady wine. I couldn't have been more wrong. Now, whenever I drink Port, it induces the "shiver effect". Sainte Famille's Port did just that with it's ripe black berries and toasted vanilla. The slightly smokey aroma heightened the bread pudding's spices while balancing the maple compote.

And so the so the night ends there, but the story is just beginning. There seemed to be a general consensus at my table, in that no one could truly pinpoint their favorite dish. I shared this feeling right along with them. Congrats to Chef Craig, and all those involved for a spectacular evening. I'm looking forward to seeing what else this gastronome has up his sleeve when Fresh and Local hits the shelves on November 1st.

Chives Canadian Bistro
All of the wines featured on the menu can be found on the Winery Association of Nova Scotia at:

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