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Swap Your Kitchen for Some Tundra (December 9, 2003)

 

Timing is everything, and even more important when it includes a delightful dining experience that will be remembered and savoured for a long time. The evening should include the right ambiance, superb service, special people... and, of course, wonderful food perfectly paired with exquisite wines. Imagine how thrilled we were to have such an experience recently. And, icing on the cake, it's just steps away from our downtown Toronto home.

Does this sound like we're a bit over the top? You would be, too, if you were in the middle of our seemingly endless kitchen renovation. Timing? A special dinner out was clearly called for, and Tundra was just the place to get away from the construction and relax with friends!

 
Chef Executive Chef John Cirillo, C.C.C.  

Located in the Hilton Toronto, Tundra Restaurant is tucked on one side of the soaring modern lobby. The space is stunning, a calm landscape spread out on different levels; all subtle colours and rich textures cleverly suggesting our great Canadian wilderness.

Sigh, what a change from the wreckage and plaster dust at home. So what if the electricians were delayed, for we had been invited by Executive Chef John Cirillo to come sample Tundra's new menu, updated Canadian dishes each paired with a Canadian wine. Matter of fact, the entire wine list is Canadian; we were so pleased and proud to know not only that this is now possible, but that there are so many excellent choices for the myriad dishes offered.

Like any good party with friends, we began in the kitchen.

Kevin Girard, Hilton's gregarious Outlets Manager, led us through the labyrinth to the working heart of Tundra. Chef John Cirillo joined the group and presented his starter courses, crostini topped with roasted piquillo pepper, sun–dried tomato and warm feta cheese and grilled vertical forked scampi. Over introductions, Kevin poured the aperitif, Peninsula Ridge's tasty Ratafia 2002, a perfect match for these two appetizers.

 
Kevin Girard (Restaurant Manager) on the left with Jeff Stewart enjoying appetizers  

After a quick tour of the wine cellar, dinner was ready.

Our first course was Chef John's take on the Quebec classic, Tourtière, and oh my, what an interpretation. The popular version calls for ground pork, onion, herbs and occasionally cloves in a double crust pie - tasty, hearty and homey. Tundra's recipe elevates this dish with veal sweetbreads, chanterelles, and a slice of maple glazed duck breast with a Rougemount apple compote. It's a far cry from the country farmhouse, especially when the tourtière was paired with Cave Spring's Chardonnay Reserve, VQA Niagara Peninsula, 1998. Somehow, we managed to resist begging for seconds.

The fish course appeared: Tundra Seafood Stew. Oh yum, a variety of fresh fish with tender fennel, garlic aioli and a toasted baguette perfectly accompanied by Burrowing Owl Pinot Gris, VQA Okanagan.

 
  Chef Executive Chef John Cirillo, C.C.C., with New Yorker Delores Custer, who is on staff at the Culinary Institute of America (THE CIA!!!) and a top food stylist

Then Ron suddenly lit up, for you might remember in previous columns that we are seriously swinish about foie gras. Our dreams came true, as the third course was presented, a seared carignan Quebec foie gras and duck confit with egg-dipped French bread and a Saskatoon berry - chanterelle ragout. Oooohhhh, yes thank you. And Kevin, what a marvellous choice for the wine; an interesting and very successful Paradise Ranch Late Harvest Merlot, VQA Okanagan. Why, thank you, of course we'd like a bit more.

At this point we didn't give a hoot about the hole where our kitchen once existed. We were considering simply moving into the Toronto Hilton for the rest of our lives... especially when the fifth course arrived.

Chef John presented a rich trio of sterling silver strip, deer loin, and arctic char, all perfectly paired with Marynissen Estates Cabernet Franc, 1997. The combination worked beautifully with the wine; the tender sweet silver strip balanced the tempered gaminess of venison, and the slightly salty, subtle arctic char gave each mouthful a burst of flavour to finish. Brilliant, Chef John!

Then a still life painting appeared in front of each guest: three exquisite cheeses from Quebec - Bleu Benedictine, Triple Crème Brie, and a St. Augustine. Kevin served a rare and interesting choice, Château des Charmes Savagnin, VQA Niagara Peninsula, 1998. We learned that it's the grape of Vin Jaune in France. While it matched the cheese, it was not an overwhelming favourite with most of the guests - but we were delighted to have the chance to taste something so unusual.

Impossible, we couldn't possibly do dessert. But wait, Chef's Duo appeared, Warm Chocolate Cake and Strawberry and Rhubarb Torte. Nobody, but nobody was turning this down; every crumb disappeared, assisted by a slow stream of Malivoire Wine Company Riesling Icewine, VQA Niagara, 2000. Nirvana, and in our lifetimes, too.

The mysterious leak in the kitchen pipes didn't matter; the cut phone lines weren't a problem; so what if the new fridge needed a service call. A great evening out handsomely re-knitted the raveled sleeve, as they say; we were restored and happy and ready to face tomorrow.

Don't wait for a crisis in your life; go have a special dinner tonight. We're treating ourselves again soon - we've earned it! Make sure you get acquainted with Tundra, for you'll be downtown for the Opera or a play, perhaps an opening at the AGO... or just some good downtown shopping. Don't go home hungry, go Tundra!

On today's menu:

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (86 KB)


 

Veal Sweetbread, Chanterelle Tourtière with Sliced Maple Glazed Duck Breast and Rougemont Apple Compote

A rich, sinful and amusing take on the traditional Quebec Tourtière.

Chef John Cirillo has mixed veal and veal sweetbreads with chanterelles and cream for the filling, topping this rich little tart with a perfect rare maple glazed duck breast. Vive Chef John and his magic for turning this hearty peasant into a true designer dish!

Serves 4

    Filling
  • Olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp chopped shallots (15 g)
  • 1 Tbsp chopped garlic (15 g)
  • 5 oz ground veal (150 g)
  • 3.5 oz veal jus (or half-and-half chicken and beef stock) (100 mL)
  • 5 oz veal sweetbread nuggets (cooked) (150 g)
  • 4 oz chanterelle mushrooms (cooked) (125 g)
  • 1/3 cup 35% cream (75 mL)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh herbs, chopped, to taste (10 g)
    (fresh herbs: traditionally, the Québec Tourtière contains thyme, savory, bay leaf and a pinch of ground cloves or allspice. Use your favourite combination; start sparingly, and increase to taste.)
  • 4 4-inch pie shells pre-baked
  • 1 maple glazed duck breast (or Chinese roast duck)
  • 6 Tbsp veal jus (90 mL)
  • 1–2 cups mixed salad greens (250–500 mL)
  • 1/3 cup vinaigrette (75 mL)

Method

Sauté shallots and garlic in olive oil; add ground veal and brown. Pour in veal jus and simmer for 5 to 6 minutes.

Add sweetbreads and chanterelles. Mix well, add cream, and season to taste with salt, pepper and herbs. The mixture should be creamy and not too thick. Keep warm.

Warm up pie shells in oven, place shells onto a dinner plate and fill with tourtière mixture to the top.

Slice duck into 12 slices. Place 3 slices fanned out on top of each shell. To finish, toss salad greens in vinaigrette. Place salad on top of duck and pour heated veal jus around tourtière.

Accompanying wine? Tony recommends...
You'll need a powerful white wine with some residual sweetness – this suggests a Viognier from the Rhône, a Pinot Gris from Alsace or a barrel-fermented Ontario Chardonnay (Stoney Ridge or Henry of Pelham).


TUNDRA, at Hilton Toronto
145 Richmond Street West, corner of Richmond & University Ave
416-860-6800; tundra.toronto@hilton.com; www.toronto.com/tundra

Photos of Tourtière and of John Cirillo (standing) courtesy of Kathleen O'Gorman; other photos by Helen Hatton.

 

Happily tested by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (86 KB)

 

 

 

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