“I didn’t even know this place existed,” our taxi driver says, rolling to a stop in front of a minimalist black barn that glows like a landlocked lighthouse, as if we’d directed him to drop us off at Shangri-La. And maybe we have: In the upstairs dining room, after two bites of the dense, moist sourdough-cornmeal bread, then two more of sashimi-tender British Columbia scallops dressed with fermented peach juice and lemongrass oil, we’re dreaming of buying a yurt down the road, just to be nearby.
In a patch of wine country on the Niagara Peninsula, two chefs are coaxing the essence out of every plant and protein they lay their hands on. Daniel Hadida and Eric Robertson buffed their skills in European Michelin-starred kitchens before returning home to Ontario. Now, in this modernist farmhouse – a long, narrow rectangle anchored by an open industrial kitchen – they’re putting terroir on the plate with locally produced and foraged ingredients the same way owner/winemaker François Morissette corrals it in his bottles.
Lardo-draped asparagus, grilled over charcoal and peach wood, arrives lolling in a vivid vinaigrette of pickled white asparagus and milkweed, spicebush oil and black walnuts. It’s bright, earthy and out of this world. Our wine-savvy server suggests a green, mineral-driven 2016 Slovenian Petite Burja, the jackpot of pairings. To match the juicy slab of forage-fed Berkshire pork chop, it’s on to an intensely cherry-nosed 2011 pinot from Pearl Morissette’s California Spring Hill Vineyard project.
Couples on celebratory wine weekends toast their good fortune while servers – often the chefs themselves – glide down polished wood floors delivering dishes and a quick recitation of ingredients and cooking techniques. Meditative scenes of the surrounding landscape float by on a large lightbox at the back of the room. Even the animals below us are having fun: Scottish Highland calves cavort and geese waddle in and out of an amoeba-shaped pond.
The sorrel sorbet is a pre-dessert palate cleanser for the ages: sweetgrass-infused milk, accented by electrically sweet dried white mulberries and mint. A small spoonful explodes with a herbal sweet-sour blast, crystallizing the moment when Jordan, Ontario muscled its way to the top of the country’s best new dining destinations.