When one thinks of fancy restaurants in wine country one might initially think about The French Laundry in Sonoma, California or perhaps The Herb Farm in Woodinville, Washington or somewhere in France. It is highly unlikely that one might first think about Ontario, Canada in the Niagara wine region – but someday they might as a result of the efforts going on a Pearl Morissette and The Restaurant at Pearl Morissette.
I would have had no idea, and no web search would have told me about it because it did a quiet opening in December. A quiet opening means no press. I don't even know if they launched with a website or if they just invited industry people to start the personal recommendation churn going. I found out about it thanks to fine people at Richmond Station in downtown Toronto. I found Richmond Station because they were near the top of the list of the best new restaurants in Toronto. I am not one to turn down a sincere recommendation of a passionate foodie – so I made a reservation(on their now existent website) for Saturday night to top off my adventure to Niagara Falls and Niagara Wine Country.
Pearl Morissette and The Restaurant located there are one of the few places that really felt far away from anything that I visited in Niagara wine country. There really are cows and fields and the restaurant is on the top of a barn.
Maybe it is a wine storage facility – but it looks a lot like a barn. Which is fine because you are on a working farm. I enjoyed the dirt road destination of it all. Now inside the barn is a whole other story.
Beautiful lines, views, lighting and reclaimed woodwork at every angle. I felt transported to Scandinavia and then there was the food. Like its Nordic food movement friends the restaurant at Pearl Morissette does a blind tasting menu. As in you do not get a menu, and you are surprised by each dish that appears in front of you and is explained in detail by the extremely professional, helpful, and good looking wait staff. (Seriously, they were all beautiful people.) I haven't had such service since my experience at Dill in Reykjavik, Iceland or Catbird Seat in Nashville, Tennessee – all of who have Noma in common for training of their chefs. I never caught (nor did I ask) the pedigree of the chefs at The Restaurant at Pearl Morissette – but the food told me a particular story – equating to high quality hyper-local cuisine served fresh (or pickled/processed by hand) and seasonally with what is available.
Fresh hand picked Qualicum Bay scallop with herbs, sassifras and greens from the farm.
Oysters with fresh asparagus, woodruff and carmelized whey.
One grilled razor clam sitting next to the best sour dough bread on the planet. It had whole grains, corn meal, a perfect hard crust and the most luxuriously earthy sour taste. I could have completely filled up on bread and missed out on the other many courses.
Dandelion the dragon agreed with me, so much he landed on the table to join me for the rest of dinner. No one wants to dine alone (except me, I'm not alone – I have my camera, my pen and paper, my higher self, and my taste buds). The dragon was a great piece to engage with the wait staff and make them smile. Dandelion makes me smile. Speaking of Dandelion,
it arrived on top of my crab and rye toast for the next dish. The sweet of the dandelion petals blended perfectly with the soft flavor of the crab and the texture of the toast made it a perfect mouth feel.
It was followed by this roasted jerusalem artichoke dish with pickled mushrooms and nasturtiums.
Then there was this full texture dish of pork covered with roasted bolted kale, walnuts and spring radishes. The sauce for this was made with nettle and was phenomenal – the roast, the crisp, the bitter all blended for the perfect salty umami with a crispy crunch.
It was time for dessert – in three courses starting with a palate cleanser of herbal sorrel sorbet with white mulberry.
Followed by a glass of sweet vermouth and a mixed raspberry and blackberry tart with fig leaf ice cream. Not fig, fig leaf, ice cream. It tasted like a kind of matcha green tea – very herbal.
It was a beautiful night of tastes and hyper-local cuisine artistry. If given a choice I would return here any day over the French Laundry, famous cookbooks aside, just the atmosphere, the enthusiasm of the staff and true cuisine of the land where I am sitting.