This past week, the team over at Canoe, including John Horne (chef de cuisine) and Will Predhomme (sommelier) accepted the challenge of creating a pairing menu for the Whisky enthusiast. Pairing food with wine is a more subtle art, and to be fair, this challenge was akin to asking the team to bring a Howitzer to a duel. I was extremely excited to taste what the team would put together.
1st course: “All Canada”
The first course was all about Canada: a sockeye salmon duo paired with Canada’s only single malt distillery, Glen Breton. The whisky acted as a blank canvas for the food, which had varied flavours between the maple cured salmon, salmon tartar, and the sides of sea asparagus, radish puree, and preserved lemon. The flavours of the plate accentuated elements of the whisky. For example, the slight smokiness of the Glen Breton added another dimension to the maple cure. The fattiness of the tartar balanced the whisky and encouraged a longer, sweeter finish than it has on its own.
2nd course: Frog legs with Irish whisky
Jameson 18 is a wonderfully smooth, mildly spicy whisky with a lingering sweet finish. This dish is an example of the difficulties in pairing whisky. My first taste consisted of just the frog legs (sans accouterments) followed by a sip of the Jameson. Something was a bit off with this combination. The frog legs were beautifully glazed in three types of tree syrups with such a wonderfully smooth taste profile that the blunt force of the whisky cut into it. However, once I added to the mixture the marinated eggplant that had a hint of bitterness, the brilliance of the pairing was quickly evident. The initial overpowering flavour of the whisky was mellowed by the eggplant, allowing more “pop” in the gentle sweetness of the frog legs, with the bitter finish of the eggplant complimented by the sweetness of the whisky. A very good whisky lingers in a pleasant aftertaste, and this combination of sweetness and bitterness accentuated those lingering flavours. I couldn’t get enough of this pairing.
3rd course: Campfire Hen’s Egg with Lagavulin 16
My one fear when my wife suggested this challenge was that some Scotches are so beautifully complex on their own that the food would just get in the way. Lavavulin’s 16 year old is probably my favourite Scotch, so when I saw it on the menu I was concerned it would negatively impact both the food and the taste of the Scotch. Chef John Horne didn’t know about my love for Lagavulin 16, but he paired this smoky Scotch with my favourite course of the evening: Campfire Hen’s Egg. The egg was partially cooked in water leaving the yoke soft, stripped of the shell, and then finished in double smoked bacon broth. This gave the outside of the egg a beautiful golden colour with a smoky first bite, melting into a soft runny egg within. Accompanying the egg was a root vegetable slaw, prosciutto and smear of mustard, all lending and elevating to the rich earthiness of the dish. If you never had a Lagavulin, I’ll simply describe it as a Scotch that is heavily smoked. The smokiness is less that of a smoked fish, and more like a smouldering campfire. With the smokiness from the bacon broth, the Lagavulin provided a depth to the smokiness without overpowering the delicate flavours of the egg. The pairing of Scotch and prosciutto was worded on the menu as an “ambrosial accompaniment.” There are no disagreements here! The earthiness of the Scotch came through, as did the sweetness and saltiness of the prosciutto, enhancing the iodine tones. Given the boldness of the Lagavulin, one may assume that it would take center-stage, drowning out the flavors of the food it was paired it. But the kitchen, in their brilliance, managed to create a dish that held its own against the Lagavulin, and the flavours of both were elevated by this combination.
4th course: Maple & Miso Glazed Sablefish with Glenrothes ’98
Glenrothes ’98 is a beautifully bold Scotch. It’s filled with bright tropical fruit (tangerine, pineapple, lemon), honey, nutty and chocolaty tones. It was gutsy to pair this Scotch with such a delicate fish. The Sablefish was wonderfully fatty and sweet with the maple & miso glaze. The pairing added a zest to the fish, and the fattiness of the fish added greater depth to the Scotch.
5th course: Dessert & Woodford Reserve Bourbon
The complexity of bourbon hits you straight out of the gate, as opposed to Scotch which tends to linger from start to finish. The dessert itself was a stone ground conrmeal cake with Ontario maple syrup (on the side) & oatmeal ice cream, and the combination could not have been more perfect. I’ll say that both bourbon and dessert were fantastic on their own. Together, they were incredible. The toasted corn flavour of both bourbon and cornmeal cake bursts right through, with flavours reminiscent of kettle corn. Even my wife, who does not typically like Whisky, fell in love with this pairing, proclaiming that this dish alone made her into a Bourbon fan.
The tasting menu was $100, and the addition of the Scotch pairing was an incremental $50. If you’re interested in repeating the experience please call Canoe in advance and ask them if it’s available. The pours were just enough for you to enjoy the whisky without it making you stumble out of the restaurant. The tasting notes, prepared by Nicolas Busch, were well thought-out, thorough, and a pleasure to read. This was an excellent experience, and I hope that other restaurants will also be willing to rise to the challenge.