Breaking the Monotony of Winterlicious with a Real Barn Burner

With early April’s reminder that winter wasn’t quite over, it opened the door for me to rewind the clock a little and talk about Winterlicious. I’ve always been on the fence about this beloved annual event.  On one hand, it allows the masses to have a taste (literally) of one or more of the hundreds of restaurants that make up Toronto’s proud and diverse culinary culture.  On the other hand, it is a little artificial and contrived. Some the city’s restaurants stay at arms length from this festival and those that do participate often offer menus that are far from representative of their everyday vibe.

I figured I’d bring my dad out for dinner during Winterlicious.  I chose Barnsteiner’s ($35 set menu) for three reasons.  First, it’s located outside the downtown core. Two, it was relatively new on the scene. Thirdly, it actually had a menu that actually bordered on the side of creativity, offering both 5 appetizers and entrees as well as three desserts.  Barnsteiner’s is named after chef and owner Herbert Barnsteiner who, with his wife Michelle, ran the Corner House with great success for a decade and a half.  After a short break, they took over the old John and Sons’ oyster house just south of Yonge and St. Clair.

The vibe is a busy European bistro  feel.  The actual floor plan is a bit of a maze with lots of twists and turns and awkwardly placed tables.  Memories of the old oyster house exist, especially the ceiling mirrors which used to reflect visions of staff shucking oysters on the prep stations but now have benign angles that just miss most of the kitchen’s angles.

I started with a paper plane, a cocktail with  bourbon, montenegro, aperol and lemon. I’d put it at mid-range in terms of bourbon cocktails available throughout the city.

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Paper Plane Cocktail $12.5

Among the starters, we decided to split the smoked chicken salad with
grilled oyster mushrooms, arugula, fois gras croutons and finished with a raspberry-sherry dressing and the garlic and chili grill shrimps with crusty bread, and salsa verde.  The salad was a smart blend of colours, textures and flavours.  The sweet berries and dressing was dumbed down by the smoky chicken and the peppery arugula was a smart medium.  The shrimp were cooked to perfection and simply but nicely seasoned with the salsa verde.

From among the entrees, we opted for the  whole roasted black angus striploin with
crushed fingerling potatoes, crimini mushrooms, red-wine jus and the venison stew
braised in juniper red wine sauce with spaetzle and brussel sprouts. I don’t often order steak in a restaurant but I quite enjoy a good roast.  It was a simple dish but very well executed from the beef itself to the flavourful au jus.  The stew was the perfect winter dish; hearty yet refined.  The meat was super tender and the spaetzle was reminiscent of the chef’s proud German heritage.

For dessert, we chose from both ends of the spectrum, opting for the comforting apple and cranberry crumble and the more delicate lemon panacotta with toasted coconut. Once again, no complaints with either one as they were both well executed and exactly what I expected.

My Take

Although the Winterlicious experience is not always a fair representation of the essence of a restaurant, Barnsteiner’s succeeded in making me want to come back. There was good variety as far as a winterlicious menu goes and all the offerings I tried were well executed.  I plan to return to try one of the numerous menus offers such a the many flatbreads, seafood options and chef’s homeland dishes.  In fact, I was asked by a colleague for a last minute dinner suggestion for her team and I suggested here.  I called and they were able to accommodate 8 people with a little shuffling.  Although I didn’t go myself, the feedback from my colleague was a quick  twitterlike …”it was really good! And lots of fun.  Very good price wise.” I nodded in agreement as I thought $35 for a solid winterlicious meal wasn’t bad either.

Barnsteiner's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

 

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Ten Predicted Food Trends for 2015

As usual, I try to predict the wacky world of food trends.  It’s like a horoscope…I get a few right and a few wrong every year but it’s fun nonetheless.  I think there will be a trend toward more interactive dining experiences. From a food perspective, I think extreme tastes (sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami) will highlight menus: Here’s what we can expect in 2015:

Tableside Service

Dim sum service doesn’t have to be limited to weekends.  Places like State Bird Provisions in San Francisco and Ma Peche in New York have made tableside service the norm.  A little closer to home, Buca Yorkvile carves branzino crudo while you watch.  Watch this trend to explode in 2015 as diners demand a more interactive dining experience and restaurants see the opportunity for a sweet price mark-up.

I’m a Little Bitter

Look for greens like hickory, endive, dandelion and maybe even radicchio to grace salad plates.  The strong bitterness and varying colours and shapes will be like playing lego for the palates of foodies everywhere. Even better, it might come with a housemade honey/maple vinaigrette for a great contrast.

Getting in the Game

Bison, venison and maybe even elk will compete with beef on menus in 2015.  The strong, gamy flavours will be more in demand than the 86 ounce steaks that graced menus in 2014.  Also, look for rabbit to hop onto menus as a substitute for chicken or pork.

Duck Dynasty

Half the hipsters I see look like these lovable hillbillies, so why not eat the damn stuff too.  I’m surprised duck hasn’t been deemed the other “red meat”.  Although it has never declined that much in popularity, its unique flavour and versatile use makes it a strong candidate to soar up the ranks of fowl in 2015.

Pssst…achios

It’s no secret that the pistachio has been the most aggressive ad campaign to come of the Golden State since the California raisins. Once nothing more than a snack food which left red dye all over your mouth and fingers,  the pistachio’s recent endorsement by the witty, satirical, side-part, spectacle wearing Stephen Colbert coupled with the fact they can used in everything from salads to desserts might result in “pistachio is the new walnut”  t-shirts popping up everywhere.

Root, Root, Root for the home team.

Dainty vegetables won’t be able to withstand the assault of extreme tastes of 2015. Potatoes provide a blank canvas for all sorts of flavours. The sweetness of  beets and carrots amidst bitter and spice should be a great compliment. Foodie favorites like sunchokes and salsify should round out a good year for the root.

Squash the competition

The squash is longer reserved for soup. This local fall favorite is emerging as a player across the board.  It’s a great base for vegetarian dishes and pairs nicely with a number of spices including clove, nutmeg and even sage, The regional production should appease the locavores and the diversity of the gourds available make them ideal for salads and even desserts.   

 Korean- More popular than “The Interview”

Although Korean is already enjoying popularity in the GTA, I think there’s more to come.  Twists on bibimbap and hot pots will become options on fusion menus while hole in the wall Korean joints may be chosen over a sushi bar or ramen house for a quick and inexpensive lunch.  Plus, your playstation shouldn’t  crash over a little bulgogi.

Micro Booze

The popularity of 40 Creek whisky within what was once seen as an impenetrable rye market plus emerging players like Gibson’s in the vodka and gin world make the small batch production of potent potables is as lucrative as  micro brews.  Bourbon enthusiasts will gravitate toward micro booze whether in a clever cocktail or even on tap.  Look for tasting flights of infused shots of gins, vodkas and vermouths to wiggle their ways onto bar menus everywhere.

The Dumpling and Pancake: More than a way to describe your ass

The use of either a dumpling or a pancake as a canvas  has limitless possibilities. To date, dim sum and gyoza have been all the rage.  In 2014, we saw the emergence of savory pancakes such as latkes.  Look for both to explode in 2015.  From perogies to beghrir, the possibilities are endless. So will the choices on menus.

My Take

2015 will be a year filled with intense flavours highlighted by extreme taste profiles.  Much of the sweet may in fact come from fruits and vegetables including beets, carrots and squash.  Bitter will come from a resurgence of fragrant leafy greens  and infused alcohols.  Strong flavoured proteins such as game meat and duck will be needed to compliment these extreme tastes. Dumplings and pancakes will provide an ideal medium for many trendy tastes.  Pistachio is the new walnut.  Korean will surpass sushi and ramen as the preferred Asian provision of foodie nation. Regardless of the food, look for more options to be served tableside or in some other type of extravagant fashion. So, bring me a duck pancake atop of bed of mixed greens served under a cloche with a shot of vermouth and a pistachio cannoli pronto!