We were delighted when Montecito Restaurant invited FAJO to a full day out in Niagara-on-the-Lake. We had wanted to experience the vineyards and local food there, so it was the perfect excuse! We both love dining and wining, plus are interested in the environmental and sustainable impact of how our food is sourced, so we were excited about this opportunity. Plus, it was an excellent trip that was romantic and fun!
We learnt about the passion and processes that drive the restaurant’s true farm-to-table dining experience and how Montecito’s menus embrace the artisanal attitude of its Californian roots. Accompanying us on the field trip were Executive Chef Matt Simpson and General Manager and Sommelier Heather McDougall. We got to see first-hand how they work with locally sourced ingredients and find suppliers who are just as passionate about their products as Montecito is.
On the way to Niagara-on-the-Lake, we stopped at Steel Town Cider Co. in Hamilton. We learnt about their focus on local ingredients, using 100% Ontario apples. Their flagship Session Cider is oak-barrel fermented and unfiltered dry cider made from a blend of nine Hamilton-area apples. We tried three different kinds of ciders, including the Session Cider—all dry and equally delicious! They range from 0% sugar to only 5 g, which is less than a glass of wine. Steel Town Cider is only supplied to top restaurants and bars, so unfortunately it isn’t available for the general public to purchase yet, but that’s just another reason to go to Montecito.
Our second stop was at Warner Orchards Farm where we were able to try out handpicked apples of many varieties, as well as walnuts, honey, maple syrup and other fresh fruit from the farm. Luckily, the sun came out when we went into the fields and were able to learn more about apple picking. Montecito uses the apples in several of their delicious desserts!
One of our favourite stops (our third location) was at Trend Aquafresh. We had a chance to try organic herbs, greens and flowers that were made in a very unique and sustainable way. Founded only three years ago, after having grown flowers and plants for over 23 years, the team at Aquafresh uses a special system. Their system was built for producing Rainbow Trout for consumption, with the effluent of the fish used as a fertilizer in order to grow organic salad greens, edible flowers and herbs. This system is more environmentally friendly, as it uses less water and energy, has barely no waste and allows everything to be recycled. We couldn’t believe how distinct some of the flavours of the plants were—such as licorice, mint and lemongrass.
Before we reached our final stop at Two Sisters Vineyards for wine tasting and dinner, we were told there was a surprise stop. We approached a small farm, where we were introduced to one of the founders of Two Sisters, Angela Marotta, and the General Manager Tony. The big surprise was that we got to slip into some blue plastic-shoe covers, so that we could feed goats and visit the chickens and bunnies at the Two Sisters farm!
After we all took lots of fun photos and boomerangs, it was time to drive up to the vineyards. Set on a beautiful estate with stunning wine country landscapes, Two Sisters Winery is simply breath-taking. Established a decade ago, it spans 76 acres, 60 of which are dedicated to classic Bordeaux varieties.
Upon entering the grand estate, we noticed a majestic brick-lined hallway where we could enjoy the views of the vineyards from the terrace. We also peeked into Kitchen76, their award-winning rustic Italian restaurant. Hidden behind massive wooden doors is the Estate Barrel Room, which holds over 400 barrels of Two Sisters’ red Bordeaux varieties and stainless steel fermentation tanks. It definitely gave us the “wow” factor with its high ceilings, crystal chandeliers and oak features. The table was set beautifully, while the lighting was dim, which left a romantic and calming ambiance that was truly memorable.
We went straight into the cellar for wine tasting with Two Sisters winemaker Adam Pearce, who showed us the range: from sparkling wine base to complex, full-bodied reds. They were all absolutely delicious. Next came a specially made 4-course dinner by Montecito’s chef, using ingredients from Warner Orchards and Trend Aquafresh Organics that we visited earlier in the day, with wine pairings from Two Sisters. The chef even catered special plant-based dishes for Cristina (she is vegan).
Here is what we enjoyed that evening:
The first course
His – Chinook Salmon Crudo with cranberry, pear, orange, pickled onion
Hers – Artichoke with cranberry, pear, orange, pickled onion
The second course
His – Two Sisters Rose cured foie gras with pain au lait, apple, walnut butter and burnt radicchio
Hers – Roaster cauliflower with apple, walnut butter and burnt radicchio
The third course
His – Two Sisters Estate Red Wine braised short rib with polenta, celery root and pumpkin seed
Hers – Grilled tofu with polenta, celery root and pumpkin seed
The fourth course
His – Glengarry Lankasster Gousta, sweet pumpkin, puffed wild rice, sherry gelee and Blackbird sourdough
Hers – Homemade matcha ice cream, sorbet, mint, blueberries and pear
It was such a special treat to have Matt Simpson come out between each dish to explain the ingredients and why he put the flavours together. The entire meal was delicious and it was some of the best wine we’ve ever had. In the end, we just had to purchase a bottle of the 2016 Unoaked Chardonnay and 2015 Cabernet Franc.
The opportunity to visit Montecito’s suppliers was the best way to learn and truly appreciate their focus on fresh, local and sustainable ingredients. Thank you again to their team for organizing the most incredible behind-the-scenes experience of a true farm-to-table restaurant.