Today I was invited to my very first “Visa Infinite Dinner” featuring the collaborative efforts of “Wildebeest”, Vancouver and “Le Vin Papillon” in Montreal. Both of which helmed respectively by chefs Ian McHale and Jesse Grasso, friends and colleagues in this Montreal inspired meal to come. (As taken from the press release) Chef Grasso is “the third sibling in the Joe Beef clan and currently No.13 on Canada’s Top 100 list”. He will bringing his celebration of vegetables and cheeses to “Wildebeest’s” table of butchery, charcuterie, and game. A five course feast with canapés to start, and perfectly selected wine pairings every step of the way. Said wine was chosen by “Wildebeest’s” wine director, Christina Hartigan”. She is an impressive wine expert and enthusiast, with the title of BC’s second best sommelier.
“Wildebeest’s” cozy restaurant made the perfect setting for this private event. The narrow space had guests surrounded by red brick walls, wood panel separators, leather booths, and bulbs suspended by pulleys. Its rustic, yet homey feel played off their scratch-made, nose to tail, Pacific Northwest cuisine, well. We were seated towards the back, under the plume of a multitude of dried bouquets. Each seat was set with a name card and a menu listing the courses to come.
The night began with all the guests mingling in a mixed setting. Christina was at the back pouring glasses of “Jean Bourdy Crémant de Jura”. This was an easy drinking, 100% Chardonnay made in champagne-style. She mentioned that this was the perfect bottle to pair with likes of the light snacks that were also being passed around at this time.
The “Pomme Anna with kamouraska smoked eel” were tasty potatoes bites fried in waygu fat, and then topped with the eel and a dollop of sweeter mayonnaise. It was sumptuously rich and fatty in all the right ways. Definitely a great one to have with beer, or better yet: the sparkling above.
Next to be passed out was the “Waygu tartare with Chilliwack Horseradish”. It was served in a porcelain spoon for easy eating. It had a peppery tang that ended fairly garlicky. I liked the flavour, but am not a fan of the texture of tartare in general. Whereas, I prefer my raw beef in sheets, rather than minced.
I really liked the “Chicken liver and foie gras parfait with preserved wild berries on brioche”. I could have eaten a half dozen of these. Deliciously luscious pâté, smeared on thick. The sweetness of the berry played off the meaty paste well, and the crunchy brioche added some needed texture to the bite.
And I think this is first time trying whelks. They are much like their land cousins, and even seasoned similarly, here. These sea snails were prepared in plenty of butter with fragrant herb and garlic to finish. The seasonings masked anything musky you might not have wanted. I did like the firm chew of the whelks, it was a texture more like squid than escargot, which I prefer.
The “little neck clam with mirepoix bolognese” was served in shell. A scoop with flavours that ate like a meal, but I didn’t get much clam coming through.
When time, we were all directed to our assigned seats to start our meal. But first, a quick introduction to the program before us and acknowledgment of our traveling guest chef. Then our sommelier Christiana guided us through her wine choices, featuring many natural wines to speak to “Le Vin Papillon”.
The sit down portion of our night began with the “Mai & Kenji Hodgson Les Aussigouins 2016 Chenin Blanc; from Anjou, France. This is wine with a Vancouver connection. It is made by a former Vancouver wine writer that moved to France to make wine. His vintage was a lovely, medium bodied white with no oakiness, a fresh sipper that would pair well with the saltiness of the ham and starchiness of celeriac to come.
“Little burgundy ham, Avonlea cheddar, and brown butter”. This was one of the best ham and cheese platters I have ever had to date; and that says a lot, as this was just one of each kind being offered. But perfection together, with the savoury sweetness of the brown butter sauce coming through. I couldn’t stop picking at it. The creamy texture from the mildly smoked ham was memorable, especially how it played off the sharp and chalky cheese.
“Slow roasted celeriac, pickled chantrelles, and smoked walnuts”. Much like the dish above, this too was a light start that focused on delicious textures. Each element came together for a well balanced bite. Smooth celeriac, meaty mushrooms, and crunchy walnuts; best with a smear of oil from the pool at the bottom of the plate.
Our next wine tasting was the “Hajszan Neumann Nussberg 2018 Grüner Veltliner” from Vienna, Austria. Our in house sommelier declared that this is a wine that doesn’t get enough attention, so she would bring light to it here. It pairs well with any green vegetable, like the leeks in our fish course below. Its dairy nods went well with the green sauce and its savoury notes.
The “Lois Lake Steelhead, with Salt Spring Island mussels, leek velouté, Chilliwack lemongrass, and shore greens” would be my favourite dish of the night. And this is surprising considering I don’t often gravitate towards fish, or would I choose it over a heavy red meat main or a decadent pasta. But this buttery fish that ate like sashimi had it all, and I would order it again in a heartbeat. The freshness of the puréed leeks, the zested lemon in the sauce brightening things up, and the perfectly pedestal-ed mussels creating both visual and textural interest.
Next for wine we had the only red of the night, ideal for the red meat to follow. “La Stoppa Macchiano 2011 Barbera, Bonarda. This was a limited release from Central Northern Italy, pulled out from a cellar. It is a blend of two grapes at 50/50, all picked from a single vineyard. Made using traditional wooden vats that are unfiltered and triple decanted. The result, a smokier red with fine tobacco notes.
The red’s tartness helped to balance out the saltiness from the “Pastrami Pithivier served with sauerkraut, foie gras, house mustard, and bordelaise”. This was basically the merging of two Classic Montreal foodstuffs. A tourtiere filled with shredded Montreal smoked meat. But sadly I am not a fan of smoke meat, even with the delicious mustard plates. But I did appreciate the artistry and butteriness of the flaky pie crust and the gravy that I picked up with it.
Next, was the “Quebec cheese course”, another simple serving that I was caught off guard by how much I liked. There was pageantry in the plating of the Jersey royal cheese, topped with real honey comb, and served along side butterfly shortbread cookies and Quebec lingonberry. The latter most was even cultivated by monks in Quebec. This was a clean presentation that ate that way too. You spread chunky cheese over not all that sweet cookie, and topped it off with tangy berries in syrup. It was as fun to eat as it was to craft.
To pair with it we enjoyed an unique Quebec cider that you can’t normally find in BC. This is a bottle of fermented, 100% russet. Apples and cheese are a natural pairing and together the sweetness of the cider mellows out cheese above. But with an oakiness to it from the fermentation process. Dry and effervescent, it helped wash everything down.
And to close out the night, dessert was a “Grand Fir: Black locust, Chantilly, and cannoli pastry”. The pastry had an amazing crunch to it, like a solid strip of corn flake with ground sugar. And the black locus gel was set with vinegar, making it not too sweet. But I am not a fan of the texture of whipped creams in general, so it was a little much for me here. Although, I did enjoy the fresh lemon zest I got from it.
As its paring and our last glass, we had the “LaStella Moscato d’Osoyoos 2018 Muscat”. It is from Osoyoos in BC, but done in an Italian style; making it not as sweet as other Moscatos. A light sparkle coupled with floral and peachy notes.
In conclusion I was floored by the quality and caliber of this dinner, nothing disappointed. It delivered as advertised and I would be clamouring to attend any such Visa Infinite dinners in the future. And if you ever get the chance I suggest you do too. Simply fantastic.
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120 W Hastings St, Vancouver, BC V6B 1G8