Reporter's Notebook: Eating Toronto

January 27, 2010 1:35:13 PM PST
After the Ice Wine Festival, Hungry Hound Steve Dolinsky visited Toronto.

One of the interesting things about eating and drinking in Ontario is not only the availability of artisanal products, but also the energy with which locals promote them. While there continue to be financial hurdles to overcome, (such as high labor costs in the wine industry, keeping many great labels out of reach for most importers in the U.S.) the Canadians seem to be eager to get their dry wines into the States.

Over the course of two days here, I've seen everything from super-sweet ice wine that made my mouth pucker, to the most serene, elegant off-dry rieslings and fruit-forward gamays and baco noirs that would be at home in any top-tier restaurant.

After I visited the Ice Wine Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, I headed toward Toronto, hugging the Southern rim of Lake Ontario. Along the way, we stopped in the town of Jordan, where the well-known Cave Springs winery has been producing high-quality Rieslings (including dry, late-harvest and ice wine) for more than 20 years. Their Indian Summer late harvest is a revelation: pure fruit, great residual sugar but a very high level of acidity that keeps it balanced and not overly sweet.

In Toronto last night for dinner at Canoe, the table wines were all from Ontario: gamay, baco noir and pinot noir, as well as chardonnay and Riesling. The gamay and the baco noir were both new to me, since they are exclusive to Canada, and they paired wonderfully with a lunch of duck confit at Frank restaurant inside the newly-remodeled Art Gallery of Ontario.

I also hit some joints. Jumbo Empanadas -- where the focus is on the Chilean version of these pocket-sized treats, featuring ground beef, onions and black olives, sealed in a crisp exterior shell.

Caplansky's Deli was a real treat. Zane Caplansky has restored a Toronto tradition, in the former Jewish section of the city, by offering the smoked meat of his dreams. Inspired by trips to the legendary Schwartz's in Montreal, he wanted to recreate that juicy, smokey, garlicky feeling, so what does he do? He rubs whole brisket in a dry spice rub, containing mustard seeds, coriander, black pepper and chili flakes -- among many other goodies -- then leaves them in a covered container in a cooler for more than two weeks. After about 16 days in the refrigerator, the briskets are smoked for about eight hours, before being transferred to a steamer, where they wait until the orders come in. Hand-slicing is also key to the quality. There is a good balance of lean-to-fat, and the best way to sample the Jewish feast is to get a Caplansky Combo, which not only includes slices of brisket, but also smoked turkey, pickled tongue (better than it sounds), grilled salami and a healthy scoop of chopped liver -- rye bread and condiments arrive alongside.