Le Salon, National Arts Centre, 22 January 2011
by Sylvia Ralphs-Thibodeau
Early in November, Chef Michael Blackie of the National Arts Centre met with the organizers of the 2011 NCSG Gala Dinner to present his concept for the dinner menu. The NCSG has a longstanding relationship with Chef Blackie reaching back to his days at the Brookstreet Hotel. His creations for this annual event are invariably original, complex and extraordinarily pleasing to the pallet—the five-course dinner at the 2011 event was no exception.
Based on feedback from previous years’ events, the dinner was moved out of the corridor of Christmas rush and instead scheduled for late in January. Furthermore, the venue, while still at the National Arts Centre, was moved to Le Salon, allowing a more elegant and comfortable arrangement for diners.
Upon arrival, diners were greeted with a champagne flute of Henry of Pelham that added life to the anticipation of fine dining while heightening social enthusiasm. The half-hour reception was just long enough to allow a Tsunami of arriving guests without any lull of empty glasses before dinner—the timing was superb.
Dinner began with welcoming words by Bill Ellis, Richard Thibodeau and Chef Michael Blackie. These opening words along with short updates were unobtrusively interspersed through the dinner, enriching the tasting experience and acknowledging all those who worked so hard to make this event happen.
Each of the five courses was an achievement of culinary excellence smoothly matched with elegant and sometimes unexpected wines from North American and European wineries. The complexity of each course presented challenges for matching and in the fourth and main course diners were offered both a red Bordeaux and a white Burgundy to ensure favour with all oenophiles.
The third course stands out as exemplary. Chef Blackie spent part of his summer tasting chowders all along the eastern seaboard. He was seeking that elusive perfection of flavour combinations and then created a dish with light creaminess integrated with flavour of fish, fowl, potato and herbs but lacking the appetite dulling heaviness and overpowering fish of conventional chowder. The result was supreme and well complimented by Southbrook Triomphe Syrah.
The dessert course was a world premier and a wonderful finish to the meal. It was matched with a Tokaj that flattered the citric element while not adding competing sweetness or heavy alcohol.
This meal was certainly the highlight of the NCSG winter season and an event unparalleled in taste and sophistication. Thanks to the assistance of the NAC, diners were offered the opportunity to spend the night downtown at the ARC Boutique Hotel at a very reasonable rate and walking distance from the NAC. Those who availed themselves of this offer were delighted by the European ambiance and a full breakfast. If you were unfortunate enough to miss this year’s Gala dinner then be sure to mark it on your calendar for next year.
Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Brut Rosé, VQA Niagara Peninsula
Chipotle-Honey Glazed Quail | Frisée Lettuce | Sticky Speck Lardon | Toasted Macadamia Nuts Crisp Leeks | Tangerine and Olive Oil Balm
Fielding Estate Winery, 2009 White Conception, VQA Niagara Peninsula
Scallop and King Crab Crisp Sphere | Israeli Couscous | Napa Cabbage Toss | Tabiko and Sour Pickle Fleck | Butter Broth
Stags’ Leap Viognier 2009, Napa Valley
Pulled Duck Confit | Smoked Haddock | Peaches and Cream Corn | Fingerling Potato | Fresh Thyme
Served with …
Southbrook Triomphe Syrah 2008, VQA Niagara Peninsula
Yukon Gold Potato Wrapped Tenderloin of Veal | Spiced Cosmopolitan BC Spotted Prawns
Sir Laurier and Sage Creamy Polenta | Whole Roasted Shallot | Espresso and Port Redux
Domaine Philippe Colin Chassagne-Montrachet 2007
Château Pipeau 2005, AOC Saint-Émilion Grand Cru
Inverted Baked Brioche | Core of Crushed Meringue | Lemon Cream | Berries | Hot Citric-Basil Custard
Tokaj Kereskedoház Tokaji Aszú 4 Puttonyos 2003