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Thursday evening I attended the Winterlicious Gala at 360 Restaurant atop the CN Tower. For uninitiated, Winterlicious, it is a winter restaurant promotion in Toronto that occurs every February for two weeks (this year it actually runs from January 30 – February 12). There are a list of restaurants that offer three-course lunches and dinners ranging from $10-$20 and $20-$30, respectively, depending on the quality of the restaurant. In addition to these dinners, there are special gala events at restaurants that include Centro, Rosewater Supper Club, and 360 Restaurant. The purpose of the event is to encourage Toronto residents to spend some of their hard-earned dollars at some of the city’s restaurants during the post-Christmas lull.

This was the first time I had ever been to the CN Tower, let alone for the revolving restaurant that sits above the observation deck. It takes 58 seconds to take the elevator to the top, and it’s quite a beautiful sight. We had a window seat for dinner and it made for a very awe inspiring view. It takes 72 minutes for the restaurant to rotate once, so we were treated to two and a half complete views of the Toronto area.

Prior to dinner, there was a wine tasting and reception at Horizons, the bar area downstairs from 360. It was at this point I realized that Vincor was supplying all the wine for the evening, and I was less than impressed since I have yet to enjoy any of their labels from anywhere in North America. Vincor owns Jackson-Triggs, Inniskillin, Sumac Ridge, and other wineries.

Appetizers at the reception:

Wild Boar Ragu in Puff Pastry

No real gaminess to the boar, so I failed to see the point of this dish. It was quite bland.

Smoked Salmon with Capers and Shallots on Pumpernickel Canape

Great smoked salmon, good appetizer.

Rapini Bruschetta with Shaved Romano

Not a bad combination. Nice bitter greens with salty cheese on top.

Mussel with Béarnaise Sauce

Probably the best appetizer served. The béarnaise was not heavy and melded well with the shellfish.

Spanakopita

An utter failure. It tasted like it was taken from a box of frozen finger-foods.

Wines at the reception (I’ve included retail prices as well):

2002 Inniskillin Riesling, Niagara Peninsula, $11CAD.

Light floral and lychee aromas. Off-dry on the palate with a short finish. Sorry, no notes on colour because it was quite dark in there. 83 points.

2001 Jackson-Triggs Proprietor’s Grand Reserve Meritage, Niagara Peninsula, $24CAD.

Aromas of red berry fruit with cedar and red berry replays on palate. Thin and uninspiring with biting tannin and a short finish. 80 points.

At this point it was time to move upstairs to the restaurant itself and begin the meal. It was a five-course tasting menu with wine pairings.

First courses:

Prosciutto and Parmesan Crisp with Vincotto and Peppered Goat’s Milk Cheese.

And so began the story of the night – disjointed flavours abound. The prosciutto was of poor quality, aged only six months and was of the Canadian, not Italian variety. The goat’s cheese had no place in this dish as the flavours clashed quite severely, and detracted from the prosciutto-parmesan combination. The aged balsamic drizzle was too sweet and added another element to this car-wreck of a dish.

Tender Young Salad Leaves on Marinated Winter Radish with Maple Vinaigrette.

Might as well put undressed mesclun greens on a plate and serve it up. The vinaigrette was nowhere to be found; not even a hint of maple goodness in this dish. The marinated winter radish was crisp and peppery, however, with good flavour.

Wine pairing:

2002 Hogue Cellars Pinot Grigio, Columbia Valley, Washington State, $13CAD.

Off-dry, light-bodied Pinot Grigio from Washington State. No other notes to recall other than it was another uninspiring offering. 81 points.

Second course:

Milford Bay Smoked Trout Risotto with Fresh Tarragon and Roasted Lemon Cream.

The tarragon-lemon cream saved this dish, providing a freshness and perk to an otherwise bland risotto. The trout was barely smoked, providing little depth. The risotto arrived lukewarm on cold plates, and was completely cold within minutes. Apparently the kitchen has never heard of doing service on warm plates.

Wine pairing:

2001 R.H. Philips Toasted Head Chardonnay, Dunnigan Hills, California, $22CAD.

Not overly oaked, which allowed for the fruit to show through. Off-dry with a pear and just a hint of creaminess. The best white of the evening. 84 points.

Main course:

Roast Loin of Venison with Sicilian Gnocchi, Root Vegetables, and Partridge Berry Relish.

Served again lukewarm on cold plates, albeit it did come cooked nice and rare. Parsnips were undercooked, but still had good flavour. I don’t know whose idea the gnocchi was in this dish, but I can’t think of a side that’s more out in left field than this. Furthermore, it was very doughy and chewy, nowhere near the pillowy texture that good gnocchi should be. It resembled more of a boiled dumpling texture. The venison lacked the gaminess that I attribute to this meat and was somewhat of a disappointment. It was, however, quite tender, even when cold.

Wine pairing:

2001 Sumac Ridge Winery Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot, Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, $14CAD.

Another red that was uninspiring. Berry and cherry notes on the nose and palate. Soft tannin and a short finish. 82 points.

Dessert:

Warm Dark Chocolate Espresso Torte with Toasted Hazelnut, Cranberry Custard, and Lindt Milk Chocolate Ice Cream.

When “warm” is in the name of the dessert, you would like to think that the dessert would be served at the appropriate temperature. Apparently someone forgot to tell the kitchen that. The torte had good chocolate flavour, but was missing the espresso. The milk chocolate ice cream tasted more like mocha/coffee than chocolate, and someone needs to explain to me how “Cranberry Custard” translates into a pool of crème with some cranberry coulis spooned on top.

Wine pairing:

I ordered a glass of 1997 Taylor-Fladgate LBV Port, which was easily the best wine of the night. Definitely from a fresh bottle based on the heat of the wine, it displayed good black fruits and a hint of chocolate that went well with the torte. 86 points.

The highlight of the evening was the tour of the wine cellar. Temperature controlled and sitting in the middle of the restaurant, it has the honour of being the highest wine cellar in the world. There is capacity for 5000 bottles in that room, and 9000 bottles total if other cellars and cabinets are included. First growths and Burgundy are nicely represented, with vintages going back to 1966. There is a nice selection of Vintage Port as well, the oldest being a 1955 Dow’s at only $850CAD per bottle Eek. I chatted briefly with the couple next to our table that was receiving a tour at the same time, gabbing about various wines in our cellars and what bottles we were going to try to stick in our jackets on the way out. It was awfully nice of the sommelier to let us rummage through the racks pulling and looking at anything we desired.

After three and a half hours between Horizons and 360, it was time to be on our way. At $80CAD, it wasn’t the most horrible dining experience in my life, but I was expecting just a little bit more with respect to quality. There seemed to be little thought in the flavour combinations that were presented throughout the evening, and there’s no excuse for serving cold food, even if you are doing service for 30 tables attending the gala.

My friend said that their regular menu is much better than what was presented at the gala, but after this experience coupled with a wine list that is in the 3-4 times markup range, I don’t foresee myself returning to the 360.

Edited for readability.

[This message was edited by futronic on Feb 06, 2004 at 06:01 AM.]
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quote:
Originally posted by futronic:
It was at this point I realized that Vincor was supplying all the wine for the evening, and I was less than impressed since I have yet to enjoy any of their labels from anywhere in North America. Vincor owns Jackson-Triggs, Inniskillin, Sumac Ridge, and other wineries.

Vincor is a terrific company (and an outstanding stock that was up about 25% in 2003). I take your point on some of their domestic lines, such as Jackson-Triggs, but the company has done a great job of adding more up-market offerings to the line-up. In recent years, Vincor has improved its portfolio by acquiring some very good wineries around the world. Recent acquisitions include Kim Crawford, Hogue Cellars, Goundrey Wines and R.H. Phillips.

Full disclosure: I participated in a financing for Vincor earlier this week (LINK - you'll see my name at the back) and the company has been getting quite a bit of press here lately (LINK and LINK).
Sorry, slan, I guess we have a different impression of Crawford, Hogue, and RH Phillips (I don't think I've had any Goundrey wines.) It's been a long time since I would call Hogue a "very good" winery, and would never have applied that term to RH Phillips, though some of their EXP series weren't bad.

On the other hand, I'm certainly aware of how successful Vincor's expansion has been, and the rising value of their stock. More power to them.

-----------------------------

Cheers.
quote:
There's a difference between very good wineries and very good wines.



Absolutely! I have no problem conceding that one to you, slan. Smile

I have no issue with Vincor. Eventually, I'm sure they'll purchase an excellent flagship winery. So far, they own a bunch of apparently profitable ones. That makes perfect commercial sense.

-----------------------------

Cheers.
Last year we took our daughter to dinner at the CN Tower for the 'family' celebration of her 8th birthday. I resisted the choice because I don't believe that you get quality at restaurants that cater to tourists, and especially ones that rotate and offer a view. That was 2 strikes against it. And then, I remember hearing some rather bad comments about it from people who had been there after it first opened up. Strike three.

However, I was voted down and we went to 360 anyway. And I must say I was quite pleasantly surprised. I had rack of lamb that was very well prepared with good quality meat that tasted like it was fresh (not frozen), and the wine list was also good (although I can't remember specifics now).

I had heard that someone new had taken over the operation of the restaurant recently before we went, and they made a real effort to upgrade the quality. One problem they always had was the cooking had to be done at ground level due to fire safety regulations. Then, it has to be moved up to the restaurant by elevator. All they have at the restaurant level is a serving/warming kitchen (and the rather impressive wine cellar which you saw). However, the cooking arrangement may partly explain why some of your dishes were not as warm as they should be.

Oh, and the bill was about $350 (before tip) for 2 adults, 1 senior plus 2 kids.
I almost put an international reception in the Horizons room at the CN Tower in 2002, but the price was too high for a government event. Most of the participants were European, I think the view would have knocked their socks off, and the wine list looked much better than most, but the prices were much too high and ultimately it just couldn't be done within my cost limits. But I've been tempted to put it on my short list for a meal with the kids, but will now not thanks to your good advice.

snow sucks, cold is worse.......
bman - One problem (aside from the cost) of taking kids to eat at the CN Tower is that they do not open for lunch. So you have to go for dinner. (At least that was true when we took our kids there last year.)

And, they will not reserve a window table - you need to discuss the best time to get a reservation to get a window seat. We were lucky that we got a window table with an 8:00pm reservation.
My kids are teenagers with many years' experience eating in nice places at supper time, thanks to our years of travel overseas, so I'm not so concerned about that as I would be the cost for the return if the food is merely OK and the wine markups are so high. And thanks for the info about trying to reserve a window table - why else would one go to the trouble of eating there if not able to guarantee a window seat?

snow sucks, cold is worse.......

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