Last week, I was the lucky Facebook winner who won tickets to the wine and food pairing at Downtownfood. For this particular dinner, Darren MacLean, the owner of Downtownfood, created a special 6 course meal showcasing beef from Trail’s End.
Downtownfood is a beautiful restaurant, the interior is tasteful, sleek and modern. I love the artwork on the walls depicting urban Calgary landmarks. The tall black booths not only look good, it was also comfortable to sit in for the next few hours. We shared a table with 2 other couples; one of whom I immediately recognized, Phil de Jong, the owner of my favourite farm, Broxburn.
MacLean brought out an array of tasters prior to the first course. He briefly discussed his passion for sustainable, local food and his reason for selecting Trail’s End as a supplier. I thought MacLean was just like his restaurant – without pretense and approachable.
The first taster was ceviche shrimp, garnished with a piece of popcorn and a dollop of caviar. For such a small spoon, it held a lot of flavor. The sauce was buttery, the caviar salty, and the shrimp was very fresh.
The second taster was the beet tartar. I enjoyed the spiciness of the crispy cumin cracker, which nicely contrasted to the sweetness of the beets. The third taster was foie gras with Joie Farm jelly on crostini; with its butter like texture, I thought the cracker gave it something hang onto.
The first official course was a Coalville Bay Oyster with mint and cucumber salsa, paired with Gray Monk Odyssey Brut. While we slurped away on the oyster and sipped on sparkling wine, we learned about the owners from Gray Monk, a husband and wife team.
The second course was Trail’s End Beef Tataki with jalapeno salsa, garlic chips, green onions and yuzu. I thought this was beef at its best – it was tender and had much more flavor than I’m accustomed to at Japanese restaurants in Calgary. The beef tataki was paired with a Mount Royal University Centennial Pinot Grigio because the wine was acidic but still had a hint of sweetness to cut into the spiciness of the jalepeno and vinegar in the sauce. We were informed that all the profits from the Centennial wine go to scholarships at Mount Royal. Awesome. Who would have thought that by drinking, I could support students?
The story of how Trail’s End came to be was cute. Linda Loree, the owner of a 5th generation family ranch in Porcupine Hills in southern Alberta, was a vegetarian as was her daughter, Rachel Herbert. However, when Rachel met her cowboy husband, Tyler, she realized that they could raise grass-fed beef in a way that was good for the land, the animals and for humans. At their farm, cattle are aged between 26-29 months and finished on native grass. The greater aging compared to commercial competitors allows for further marbling of the fat, which results in more flavor. The result was a flavourful, organic, healthy and hormone-free beef.
For the third course, MacLean created Beef Ravioli in a miso brown butter sauce. The pasta was served with a glass of Henry of Pelham 2011 Reserve Chardonnay. We learned that the three brothers of the founding vineyard in Ontario couldn’t agree on creating either a white, rose or red wine, so all three varieties were created. I loved the Asian flavours in the ravioli; the miso was salty and creamy all at once. I thought the shaved truffle on top was the strongest note in the dish.
The fourth course was Braised Trail’s End Beef Short Rib Tempura with arugula. I really enjoyed the red wine – Rustico Cellars Mother Lode Merlot. The rib was in a cube-like shape, and lightly battered. The meat was so soft and sweet, but spicy from the red sauce. Meat on a stick has never tasted so good.
For our fifth course, we ate grilled Trail’s End Beef Sirloin with bok choy, garlic long beans and shitake mushrooms paired with Crystal Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot. The sirloin was served rare. I normally prefer my steak cooked to a medium. However, after trying Trail’s End beef, I realize that top quality beef taste better if it’s less cooked. I enjoyed the phyllo purse, it was stuffed with some sort of creamy savoury mixture that crumbled in my mouth. The bok choy was cooked just so you could taste the natural sweetness of the vegetable. The shitake mushrooms were silky smooth.
For dessert, we had Tempura Sweet Red Bean Ice Cream with Forbidden Fruit Cerise d’Eve, a dessert wine. Thank god it wasn’t like the sickly sweet red bean soup I was forced to drink as a kid at family banquet dinners. Instead, this red bean was subtle, creamy and slightly sweet, which spilled out when I cut into the tempura ice-cream. The sauce tasted like a creamsicle, tasting of both lemon and orange cream. I loved the ice wine so much I bought four bottles that night.