Monday, November 21, 2016

No going hungry or thirsty at Gourmet Food & Wine Expo

You’d think that I’d eat a lot at an event called the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo, but that hasn’t always been the case. I attend more for the wine, beer, ciders and spirits. The food, for me, is almost an afterthought.

Maybe it was just my imagination, but I thought that there were more food exhibitors and more of a focus on food at this year’s event at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre than in recent years. So I paid a bit more attention to sampling edibles, while still getting my drink on, from Friday to Sunday.

I’ve walked by Entice Culinary Lounge on Toronto’s Queen Street West dozens of times without ever going in. But proprietor Ali K graciously offered me three of the things it offers in the restaurant that it also had available at its Gourmet Food & Wine Expo booth. The ravioli, Korean beef ribs and unique bread pudding in hot chocolate were all delicious.

Two companies were peddling jerky: Krave and Lorissa’s Kitchen. They each had four varieties available and, while I enjoyed them all, Krave Chili Lime Beef Jerky was my favourite, as it had the most bite of all of them.

That bite also gave the edge to Campbell’s Thai Tomato Coconut Soup, though I'd also have no problem serving its tomato basil and golden butternut squash flavours, which I also sampled.

Cool isn’t the word I’d apply to most of Cool Runnings’ sauces, but I tried almost all of them and most bring a satisfying amount of heat. Damien’s only had two sauces, one hotter than the other, but both were terrific. They would have gone well with the parmesan turkey meatballs I sampled.

I always have a jar of Matt & Steve’s Extreme Beans in my fridge, and now I know I also like their similarly flavoured asparagus and olive products — and I don’t even eat olives.

Casa Manila has treated me right at past Gourmet Food & Wine Expos, and did so again this year, as I closed both Friday and Sunday sessions at its booth. On night one a spring roll, tangy boneless chicken adobo and tomato garlic beef stew hit the spot. And on Sunday I was left satiated and satisfied with grilled chicken skewers, salad, rice and more chicken adobo. I accompanied both meals with a delicious calamansi mojito.

Speaking of cocktails, I had several of them on Sunday.

The worst was first. Social Lite comes in a can and has a full ginger and lime aroma, but those elements are much less pronounced in the flavour. It’s certainly light, with just 80 calories and a four-per cent alcohol content, but it’s much too watery and lacks the kick that both lime and ginger can provide.

Things improved considerably after that, starting with a simple Bombay Sapphire Gin and Fever-Tree Tonic. You can’t go wrong with those two ingredients.

Great Britain’s dry and non-citrusy Boodles Gin was the primary alcoholic ingredient in my next three cocktails, which were mixed and served by a lovely young woman from Invite Catering.

The Boodles Smash was made with 45.2-per cent alcohol content Boodles Gin, QCumber Water, Belvoir Elderflower Water, cucumber, lime and basil. It’s as cool as a cucumber and would make a great summer refresher.

The Boodles Mule was made with Boodles Gin, Kiju Apple Juice, Fever-Tree Ginger Beer and a slice of lime, and then shaken and served over ice with an apple slice. The ginger beer comes through loud and clear in the nose and flavour, but the apple adds a distinctive touch and mellows things out a bit.

The Boodles Blossom was made with Boodles Gin, Kiju Mango Passionfruit Juice, Kiju Lemonade, iced tea and fresh raspberries that were shaken and served over ice with a bruised mint leaf. The raspberries and iced tea provided the strongest flavours in this easy-drinking translucent pink cocktail.

Jeremy Parsons mixed my next two drinks with 1800 Tequila.

The Winter Sun Margarita was made with 1800 Tequila, Kiju Cranberry, Pomegranate and Blueberry Juice, Kiju Mango Orange Juice foam, and a lime slice, shaken and served neat. While I’m a traditionalist when it comes to margaritas and prefer the original lime juice-based version, this was a fun alternative.

I preferred 1800 Punch, which was made with 1800 Tequila, Kiju Pomegranate Cherry Juice, Fever-Tree Ginger Beer and an orange slice that was shaken and served over ice. It’s surprisingly mellow, considering the tequila and ginger beer combination, but it’s beautiful.

Circa Lemon Ginger was made with Ciroc Ultra-Premium Vodka, lemonade and ginger beer, and then garnished with mint and lemon. The ginger beer cuts through and makes this sparkle.

The Moksha Indian Bistro booth was out of its chicken when I arrived shortly before closing time on Sunday, but the Niagara Falls restaurant more than made up for my disappointment with that with its cocktails, including the excellent Moksha Ginger Sour made with Jagermeister and ginger. I also tried a concoction made with rum and tamarind. It made me smile.

I discovered Tito’s Vodka in Austin, Texas several years ago and have drank it on occasion ever since. At the Gourmet Food & Wine Expo, I was given a souvenir Tito’s glass for a drink that mixed the vodka with cranberry juice and lemonade. I wasn’t disappointed.

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