Follow Me Foodie to Muskoka!
Buick Encore’s Culinary Adventure in Muskoka.
It was Follow Me Foodie to Toronto and my Buick Encore Culinary trip was off to the next destination. After a uniquely designed lunch by Top Chef Canada 2012 finalist David Chrystian at Victor Restaurant we were ready to hit the road. We took our Buick Encores for a short road trip up to Muskoka, Ontario’s luxurious cottage country 2 hours north of Toronto.
At first I was a bit paranoid. I really suck with directions and we were kind of on our own with turn by turn instructions. I used to always just consider anything going straight ahead “north”, so I’m more confident in my driving capabilities than my navigation skills. Thankfully I also had the OnStar feature, and I won’t lie I pushed it twice. The exits were really subtle and easy to miss, but with a real person “navigator” I never hit panic mode. Anyway it was an easy, safe, comfortable and warm ride up especially with my heated steering wheel. I’ll keep bringing that up because I miss it so much.
So we arrived at Touchstone on Lake Muskoka, or should I say Touchstone on Frozen Lake Muskoka, it was really cold but regardless it was still beautiful. Apparently it is even more beautiful in the summer and I heard there are some great spots for foraging wild mushrooms. Muskoka is a popular summer destination, but a winter getaway there isn’t too shabby either.
There was a choice of indoor and outdoor activities and I was expecting ice wine tasting, maple syrup snow taffy making, or some sort of edible program, but instead I was surprised with other resort activities. They included fat biking, mountain ice climbing, skiing, snow shoeing, bowl making, quilt making, and various spa treatments. Anyone that knows me would easily assume that I would pick the spa treatments, but I actually went for something else. I figured I could get a spa treatment anywhere so I should try something totally out of my element, so I picked mountain ice climbing.
I was lucky to have Sharad and Chantel select the same activity so we drove up to Skeleton Lake together to find an ice mountain to climb.”Skeleton Lake” didn’t make me feel much better, but we were under professional guidance, and technically they found the mountain for us to climb. So it was all safe and sound… just like the Encore. See. Did you get that?! See how I just did that right there?! Smooth right? Okay… I’ll stop.
To put things in perspective, this is what I consider the outdoors (photo from Touchstone lobby). Honestly, I’m not an adventurous “outdoorsy” type unless it’s a picnic, visiting a winery, or picking fruits, so mountain ice climbing was really out of my comfort zone. I prefer being cozy and warm, but I was looking forward to a new challenge and ice mountain climbing had its appeal.
Definitely not vanilla bean seeds. I honestly don’t know how ANTS survive in the dead winter on a block of 12 inch thick ice. They were still moving too, but very slowly. It wasn’t all over the mountain, but it was on some sections of it. I had to remind myself that I’ve eaten bugs before and just force myself to get over it, and I did.
I wish I had a picture of me actually climbing the mountain, but unfortunately I don’t, but I swear I did it! I have witnesses! I climbed it three times too! It was an exhilarating experience and for someone non-athletic who can’t even do a peg board climb or climb a rope, I didn’t do too bad! (Words of my awesome instructor, unless he was humouring me.) It was a ton of fun though, but it was pretty tiring and I wouldn’t have minded that spa treatment after… or dinner. I’m always up for dinner.
The Buick Encore Long Table Dinner with Muskoka Catering
Perfect timing! After burning off some energy I needed to gain back some calories so we headed back to Touchstone for a special Buick Encore Experience dinner created by Executive Chef Don Potter of Muskoka Catering. Since this was a one off experience I will comment on the courses lightly, but overall it was good with a few stand out dishes.
However one thing I couldn’t help to notice was the inconsistency of local and seasonal ingredients, although I talked to chef about this. Being that it was winter in Muskoka, local produce was challenging to source, but chef said he tried to be local, but selects his ingredients according to quality. Although I’m not a “localvore,” I do prefer local ingredients where possible, but sometimes I can’t argue that within Canada great steaks come from Alberta. Overall Vancouver’s local and seasonal food scene is a lot more intense compared to the places I visited in Toronto which seemed to pride themselves more on being global and ethnically diverse.
It was a wine paired dinner featuring: Karlo Estates 2010 Riesling, Ontario, Zinck Paul & Philippe Pinot Blanc 2011, Alsace, France, Zinck Paul & Philippe Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé, France, Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara Pinot Noir 2008, Mitchell McNicol Shiraz 2002 Clare Valley Australia, and Innisfree Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009, Napa Valley, USA.
- Citrus Foam, Crisp Pancetta, Hawaiian Black Lava Salt, Chimichurri and Mint Dressing
- The pineapple was marinated for 2 days in cardamom, cloves, star anise and all spice, but I wouldn’t be able to tell if chef had not said so.
- I really liked that he didn’t do the bacon wrapped scallops since they cook at different times and never finish properly.
- I enjoyed the crisp pancetta on the side much better.
- I liked the natural sweetness of the scallop with the very ripe pineapple and crisp salty bacon which reminded me of “ham and pineapple”.
- I don’t mind foams, but I couldn’t really taste it in this and I found the chimichurri and mint dressing acidic enough.
- Herb Crouton, Sauteed Duck Foie Gras Bites
- This was my favourite course of the night and not because I really like foie.
- He actually minced the foie and let it melt into the piping hot soup, but not all of it melted so they came off as little tiny pieces of mushroom.
- The soup had intense umami (savoury flavour) from the foie and porcini mushroom combination.
- I could taste fresh thyme, garlic and rosemary and it was very mushroomy and aromatic, and not just heavy with cream and butter flavours.
- It was a very rich and frothy soup with good salt and pepper balance and I thoroughly enjoyed and savoured this.
- Seedless Grapes, Almond Slivers, Champagne Vinaigrette
- This was quite standard and literal.
- Shiitake Mushroooms, Pecan and Cucumber Salad, Riesling infused Watermelon.
- I was able to try most of the vegetarian courses and I had the meat menu myself.
- This was my favourite vegetarian course on that menu though.
- I found the strengths in the meats more so than the vegetables, but perhaps it’s different in the summer.
- Ontario Raspberry Wine Reduction Demi, with Pecan and Cucumber Salad, Riesling infused Watermelon.
- Duck tastes better on the rarer side, but this one was slightly chewy from being a bit undercooked.
- The fat was quite well rendered though and the skin not too chewy, but also not quite crisp.
- I liked the sweet and savoury flavours of the duck, glaze and sauces it was served with though.
- The watermelon relish was one of those non-seasonal/non-local things I noticed, but it was actually sweet and very good. I was surprised.
- Poached Bartlett Pear in Aged Port with Melted Gorgonzola, Roast Beet Puree
- Gnocchi Tossed in a Pea Mint Puree, Poached Bartlett Pear in Aged Port with Melted Gorgonzola, Roast Beet Puree served with Honey and Dijon Demi
- The lamb is one of his signatures and he didn’t even have to say it.
- It just tasted like a tried, tested and true recipe and the quality of it was very good.
- I could taste rosemary in the grainy mustard seed crust and the pear and blue cheese made me think of steak and blue cheese, but with lamb.
- The gnocchi wasn’t my favourite, but the lamb was well executed.
- Cremini Mushroom, Manchego, Saffron Risotto Croquette
- It was a traditional and somewhat expected take on a vegetarian main and the feedback was pretty split on it.
- It is not because I’m a meat eater that I am saying the meat option was a better choice, but it was.
- Roast Cremini Mushroom and Poached Quail Egg, Saffron Risotto Croquette, Honey Roasted Baby Carrots, Cabernet Reduction
- Winner. This was my second favourite course of the night after the soup.
- The beef was tender (being tenderloin) and it was excellent quality and cooked medium rare.
- It was maybe even a bit closer to medium, but it was still moist and tender.
- Chef had transportation issues with the quail egg so he ended up having to use Shiitake mushrooms.
- The Saffron Risotto Croquettes reminded me of tater tots and they weren’t quite arancini although nicely fried and crispy.
- I wouldn’t mind more cheese in the risotto croquettes and the saffron was very mild too.
- Dessert was quite a spectacle with the angel hair sugar basket and I kind of felt like I was on a cruise ship. Not a bad thing, but that’s what it felt like.
- Again the non-seasonal strawberry and raspberry garnishes caught me off guard, but that could be the Vancouver in me to be a bit critical of that.
- Chef also likes to do duet desserts and I realized this after trying another one of his menus on another night. I loved the quirk!
Passion Fruit Cheesecake with Angel Hair Sugar Basket – I thought this was a lemon cheesecake and it was very cheesy and quite a classic recipe. The sugar basket was actually good and I liked it with the cheesecake so it’s a bonus when the garnish serves a purpose. It was a fun dessert and I think the table was thoroughly entertained playing with them. It was a good note to wrap up the Buick Encore Long Table Dinner & Experience with.