On Friday afternoon, Jane and I cut out of work a little early and took in the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. We arrived at about 4:30 PM and in a couple of hours, we'd be so glad that we did. After buying $20 in 'sampling tickets' (currency used to buy samples of food and drink), we were all to set nosh and guzzle.
Upon entering the large, stadium-like room, we were given actual glass wine glasses for tasting the wine, beer, and spirits. This was great since the number of plastic cups needed for sampling would have been astronomical. There were rinsing stations set up around the place to keep your glass fresh. It was yours to keep, but upon exiting you could choose to leave it behind and the show would donate $1/glass to Second Harvest.
Food Glorious Food
By pure luck, we started in exactly right place, which was with the food. I wanted to take pictures of the things we ate as well as take notes, but it's really hard to juggle a wine glass, shoulder bag, notebook, camera, pamphlets, and plate of food at the same time. A lot of the pictures came out blurry.
Friendly, Helpful, Blog-friendly Vendors
What was fantastic about the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo compared to the Good Food Festival and the One of a Kind Show was that all the vendors were super friendly and very agreeable to talking about their products and having pictures taken (of the food as well as themselves). They were awesome.
Batifole Restaurant: Profiteroles stuffed with ratatouille
The first thing I tried was a profiterole stuffed with ratatouille from Batifole Restaurant. Batifole is located in the predominantly Chinese Broadview and Gerrard area, which is why they call themselves the "Best French Food in Chinatown". I haven't been there before, but it is right across the street from my beloved Simon's Wok. My friend Darryl raves about it, so I must go someday. The profiterole was lovely and crispy with warm ratatouille in it. This was some sort of cross-promotional thing because there were posters for the animated movie, Ratatouille, everywhere.
Queenston Heights Restaurant: Smoked salmon and greens with ice wine vinegar
Next, we had some delicious smoked salmon and greens made by chefs from Queenston Heights Restaurant, which is located in Queenston, Ontario very close to Niagara on the Lake. Before we ate the salmon, the chef gave us samples of ice wine vinegar from Aceto Niagara, Inc. We literally drank the vinegar out of little cups and it was sweet and delicious. If you follow the link to the Aceto Niagara site, they have a list of stores in Toronto where you can buy it. It's amazing. The smoked salmon and greens were drizzled with it and it was a sweet complement to the salmon.
MacGregors Meat and Seafood Ltd.: Boutique Day Boat Scallop Ceviche
Jane and I agree that the most impressive thing we ate at the entire show was the ceviche made by chefs from Far Niente using scallops and Kona Blue Kampachi fish provided by MacGregors Meat and Seafood. I had the scallop ceviche and Jane had the Kona Blue. The scallop ceviche was served with a kaffir lime and coconut sauce along with slices of avocado on a bed of Boston Bibb lettuce. It was incredible (and it's on the menu at Far Niente, so GO! GO!). I'd never eaten scallops like this before. They were cold, sweet, and firm. Glenn, from MacGregors, told me that they are harvested in small quantities in day boats. This means that the fishermen only go out for a few hours, so the scallops are brought back to shore fresh and sold the very next day. No freezing. It really was sublime. I didn't taste the Kona Blue Kampachi fish, but Jane said that it was like butter.
Bright Pearl Seafood Restaurant: Radish cake and spring roll
Bright Pearl is a very noticeable, very large Chinese restaurant right in the heart of Chinatown at Spadina and Dundas. I had been a few times for dim sum, but not recently. They had loads of deep-fried goodness on offer at their booth and I couldn't resist. I had a radish cake (starchy pan-fried cake with bits of Chinese sausage and brine shrimp) and a spring roll, which was happily stuffed with shrimp. Completely unnecessary indulgence, but I am hopelessly devoted to radish cake.
Arvinda's: Chickpea and pumpkin curry
I came across Arvinda's for the first time in April at the Good Food Festival. Back then, I bought some Curry Masala (for vegetarian curries) and Tikka Masala (for marinating chicken and meats) and they were so good that I completely ran out. They are dry spice mixtures, but they have a little bit of moisture in them due to the fresh ginger and garlic. They complex, layered, and really spicy. I love them. After sampling some chickpea and pumpkin curry and chai, I bought one tin each of the Curry Masala, Madras Masala (for meat curries), and Whole Spices (cardamom pods, star anise, cinnamon bark, black peppercorns, and cloves). The lady at the booth said that you saute some of the whole spices in oil as the first step in making a curry and then add onions and one of the other masalas. For company, you might want to fish the whole spices out since they aren't really supposed to be eaten, but otherwise you can keep them in.
Shay Cheese: Highland Blue, Port Cheddar, Cendre de Pres
While I was loitering at Arvinda's, Jane was sampling some amazing cheese at the Shay Cheese booth. Shay Cheese is a sort of 'cheese of the month' type service where every month Andy Shay selects 5 artisanal cheeses and delivers them to your door. I think this is a fantastic idea. With shops like the Cheese Boutique, Pusateri's, and Whole Foods, Torontonians are spoiled for choice, but picking a cheese can be as complicated as choosing a wine. I'd love to get advice from an expert. The cheeses that Andy was offering at the show were Highland Blue (a really gnarly-looking, but heavenly, salty blue cheese), Port Cheddar (substantial and savoury), and Cendre des Pres (a soft cheese with a ribbon of maple ash). They were served with some baguette and a slice of dried apple. It was so good that I forgot to take a picture of my plate before I devoured it. My only question is, how does Andy Shay stay so slim being around all this cheese?
Booze, booze, booze everywhere
After the cheese, we sort of hit the wall as far food was concerned so we decided to start drinking. We walked from booth to booth and realized that this really should have been called the Gourmet Wine and Food show since it was probably 75% wine and 25% food. I'm defnitely no expert on wine or beer, so we just dabbled around trying this and that, which included ice wine from Mountain Road Wine Company, box o' chardonnay (in Tetra Pak) from French Rabbit, Chimay Premiere beer (got hooked on this at Beerbistro), apple pilsner from Better Bitters Brewing Company (Burlinton micro-brewery), and pinot gris from Mike Weir Estate Winery (yup, the golfer).
Blackfly Coolers: Vodka Infused Spiked Ice
One of the last things I tried was a Spiked Ice, which is a basically an adult popsicle made from a blend of vodka and real fruit juice (cranberry/blueberry, strawberry/rhubarb, black currant/blueberry). The very friendly and helpful guy at the booth said that both the coolers and popsicles made by Blackfly are made from all Canadian ingredients and include no artifical sweeteners. They pride themselves in offering a product that is more natural and less sweet than other cooler products. When I tried to take his picture for this blog, he insisted I be in it so his booth buddy took a picture of the two of us in front of the signage. Let's just say that I didn't look so good after having 7 drinks, so I'm keeping that picture to myself. Great popsicles though. Not too sweet. You can buy both the popsicles and coolers at the LCBO.
So glad we went early
When we staggered out at 7:30PM, the place was starting to get congested. We went out in the hallway and saw what looked like over a thousand people waiting in line. I don't know how they were all going to fit in there. Next year if you go, take Friday off and go during the day.