Saturday, July 23, 2011

A New Ensemble with Elzee

One of our regular - and favourite - drinking buddies on our Wine Odyssey is the lovely and talented Elzee. I'm not so sure that I should be advertising this but she's just returned from the most marvelous birthday celebration in Paris. We'd offered to head up to the Okanagan for the weekend with her, but that was pretty lame when an offer to spend a week in the City of Light presented itself.

Now that she's back, we needed to revel in all the details and dig a little to see if there was any dirt to unearth. I'd made a reservation at Ensemble, the new entry on the Vancouver dining scene but couldn't get anything before 8.30. Accordingly, we asked Elzee to join us for a little tipple before dinner.

872. 2004 Tantalus Blanc de Noir Brut (VQA Okanagan Valley)

I thought some bubble might be appropriate to celebrate Elzee's return and to belatedly toast her birthday. Prior to her leaving, I'd tried to arrange, with a mutual friend, for a bouquet of flowers and a bottle to be waiting for Elzee on her arrival in Gai Paris. I'd only been able to leave a message with our friend; so, I wasn't even sure that she'd received the surprise until she got back to Vancouver. She assured us she had and that she'd even kept the bottle so that we could open it together and add it to The List. Thoughtful gal, that Elzee.

As for this wine, I was surprised when I first read, last Fall, that Tantalus was going to release a sparkling wine. I've tried and enjoyed some their Rieslings since the old Pinot Reach winery was purchased and re-branded with a change in emphasis. I couldn't recall any previous mention of bubble - and was a little taken when I saw that it was going to be a 2004 vintage.

Made in the méthode traditionelle from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes, we really enjoyed it as an opener for the evening. Boo isn't the biggest fan of sparklers because he finds the biscuity tones that often prevail aren't to his taste. That wasn't the case with the Tantalus though. While the evidence of yeast and lees was definite, there was more fruit on the palate than many true Champagnes. Small problem though in that there wasn't a whole lot made and I read on one site that this was the only vintage of Blanc de Noir made so far.

We finished the Brut in just enough time to head downtown to Ensemble. This is the new restaurant opened by Dale MacKay - the recent winner of Top Chef Canada. We had watched the series and were rooting for MacKay and his local roots but we weren't sure he could make it to the finals as his skills in the kitchen definitely seemed to lend themselves to high end dining and not the often frivolous challenges that the show demanded.

He managed to stick around through all the eliminations and wow the judges in the penultimate dinner challenge. We were hoping that he could do a little magic for us as well. We decided to share and sample a number of smaller plates so that we could try as many different tastes as possible. Knowing that the dishes were going all over the map, we picked an Aussie GSM, hopping that it would be subdued enough not to overpower everything. That and a couple designer cocktails to help us through the lighter dishes.

873. 2007 Kaesler - Stonehorse Shiraz/Grenache/Mourvèdre (Barossa Valley - Australia)

Despite Boo's and my years with the Australian Wine Appreciation Society, I'm familiar more with the name Kaesler than I am with their wines. Indeed, it's taken 870 wines to be added to The List before a Kaesler wine makes its debut here.

It might not surprise you, after reading the last comment that we enjoyed this wine as well. Barossa red wines aren't necessarily known for their subtlety; however, this Aussie take on Chateauneuf-du-Pape was full and forward without being overwhelming with the fruit or the tannins. We felt it matched up nicely to the dishes that we'd ordered.

Those dishes covered a good range as well. Our plates ranged from Linda's foie gras parfait - perhaps a little reminiscent of her recent Parisian dining? - to cornmeal crusted scallops, pork belly, black cod with Thai broth (one of Chef MacKay's winning recipes from Top Chef) and beef shin served with some of the best fries Boo remembers the pleasure of eating. We didn't leave a whole lot left on any of the plates.

We didn't take the accompanying photo of Chef MacKay (I copied it from the restaurant website and is credited to Judy Chee), but he did (rather unexpectedly to us) emerge from the kitchen and he chatted to the table next to us for some time.

I was hardly going to be shameless enough to ask to have a picture taken with him so that we could blog him with a bottle of wine. We may have been taking more than a couple of food porn shots but asking Mackay to saunter over was too much for a shrinking violet like me.

I'm not about to venture into the world of food and restaurant criticism, but I think its safe to say that all of the dishes were intricate and fanciful. There were a couple favourites and one or two that might not be ordered again. I don't tend to get out to dine as much as I might like to; so, I don't see us getting back here in the very near future or becoming regulars, but I'd have no problem endorsing Ensemble as a good little spot to try - particularly with a sweet ending like a pineapple soufflé.

An all around great evening. We might need to celebrate birthdays a little more regularly.

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