Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Garlic's of London - The Ethical Modern Ontario Restaurant

Please read my updated review


Garlic’s of London

From Scratch – Modern Rustic Cuisine with Local, Seasonal, Superb Ingredients

481 Richmond St, London, ON N6A 3E4


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Best Out of Town "Local" Restaurant 2013 - Stratford's Monforte on Wellington

Stratford, Ontario

Best Out of Town "Local" Restaurant 2013
Best Out of Town New Restaurant 2013

Guilty Pleasures at Stratford’s Monforte on Wellington  Redux


     Another renaissance of sorts is now afoot just off the town square in the premises formerly occupied by the Evergreen Terrace on Wellington Street in Stratford.  The new Monforte on Wellington is a casual seasonally –inspired osteria featuring an ever-changing selection of artisanal cheeses, charcuterie, and pastas, salads, soups, preserves, pickles and other signature specialties, prepared by chef Phil Philips and Monforte’s culinary team.
     Chef Philip’s worked in the kitchen at Bijou and has trained under the tutelage of Jamie Kennedy. The kitchen pushes the farm-to-fork philosophy even further, and develops a synergy between the local terroir and the diner, no doubt, inspired by the resolute cheesemaker, Ruth Klahsen, whose deep-rooted affection for all things sustainable, local and artisanal seems to continue to both fortify and nourish her creative drive and innovative entrepreneurism.

     Osteria (oh-stay-REE-ah) is the Italian term for the most casual and down-to-earth amongst restaurant classifications. Traditionally an osteria provided lodging and served simple and inexpensive food and wine. In Italy, travelling through the regions of Emilia Romagna, Molise, Umbria and Abruzzi is where I first became enamored with this style of restaurant. The osterias I gravitated towards in Italy were mainly located in the countryside and were informal gathering places with certain precepts that almost always held true:  short menus, local, seasonal house-made specialties, and sometimes but not always, meals are served at communal tables.

       Crafted by architectural students from the University of Toronto, the furniture is made from reclaimed wood and donated palletes creating a hand-crafted d├ęcor from mostly recycled and repurposed materials. The brightly coloured upholstered benches add a touch of pizzazz and accentuate the whitewashed walls.  The ceilings are high with interesting spider-like fixtures with bare bulbs and there is a large picture window facing the street. The kitchen is open to the dining room and there is a passageway beside the kitchen that leads to a 35-seat courtyard with umbrellaed tables for al fresco dining.

      The 35-seat main dining room has a sophisticated straightforward charm with a “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden” vibe. There are two or three main chalkboard features each day, prepared from what is seasonal, local, foraged and fermented.  Many of the products are made in-house or sourced from community farms and artisans. On one visit we sat on the terrace and the kitchen staff delivered a pair of cheese and charcuterie boards. They provided us with a friendly in- depth tutorial about the provenance of each ingredient.

     The rich and flavourful charcuterie included: a mound of perfect fatty cubed pancetta, a succulent slab of savoury headcheese (which brought back memories of my grandmother’s kitchen), and farmer David E. M. Martin’s pancetta served with house- made crackers and tiny pots of honey, mustard and red pepper jelly. A selection of luscious, earthy and creamy cheese on offer included: Piacere – Monforte’s own take on the classic French cheese Fleur du Maquis, TRUE BLUE made with Sunnivue Farm’s water buffalo milk was firm, salty and herbaceous and a creamy Black Sheep rolled in vegetable ash.  Klahsen’s philosophy is to “use only seasonal milk from humanely treated animals” for her cheese.  The cheese selection varies depending on availability.

     I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with both fresh cheese curd and Paridiso, a variation on the classic Italian Taleggio, this semi-soft, washed rind cheese has a piquant bite. Wild leeks, variously called ramps, made a delicious and pungent pesto that was the perfect accompaniment to the sandwich. Dandelion greens with rhubarb vinaigrette, Soiled Reputation organic greens with wild leek vinaigrette and a silky asparagus soup have also vied for my attention.
     We loved the rich, buttery water buffalo ice cream that can be ordered with either a demi-tasse of chocolate sauce or espresso and is served in artfully mismatched bowls with melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chip cookies.

     The restaurant is BYOW with a corkage fee of $15.00, or if you order a glass of VQA wine they might bring you a full bottle and charge you for what you drink. The wine selection is limited and there is a good selection of craft beers. They retain a strong local focus on drinks to keep them consistent with the kitchen’s offerings. We also loved the “Fizzy Water” which was 50 cents a glass.

     There is an area at the front entrance that retails Monforte cheeses, Bauman honey, preserves and other interesting jarred goods- to- go. “This kind of brings things full circle for us,” says Klahsen referring to the restaurant. “For example, when we make cheese we have leftover whey, which we feed to pigs, which can become charcuterie. And the same farmer who raises the pigs grows wheat, which we can make into crackers.”

       The osteria opened in Stratford at the beginning of April, earlier in June, Monforte opened its first stand-alone store in Toronto in Liberty Village. If you like ethical farm-to-table dining that won’t break the bank, Monforte on Wellington, although in its fledgling days is well positioned to be a hands-down frontrunner in Stratford’s culinary scene.  

Monforte on Wellington
80 Wellington Street
Stratford, Ontario




Bryan Lavery's Picks  


See Updated Mini Reviews on 
Best London Ontario Restaurants: The City's Most Delicious Offerings

“We must pass our unbiased impressions on to the readers, while alerting the dining public to the diversity of choice on the culinary scene.”

 For those of you who are reading this blog for the first time, the objective has been to offer a professional insider’s perspective and to contribute to the enthusiasm and discussion about the local and regional culinary culture at large, and about the restaurant community in particular.

Seemingly, restaurant blogs the world over face a similar predicament. Are rating restaurants purely a question of taste? And within that there lies the matter of ingredients, innovation, style, consistency, service and much more. We place importance on other criterion such as, the wine list, the atmosphere, the setting and obviously, the price.

There are plenty of restaurants whose simple virtues deserve to be recognized without too much bravado or angst. Hopefully I will get to all of them in time. However, I am not in league with the restaurant business to hype underserving chefs and their establishments.

As patronising as it must sound, my personal mission has been to encourage people to dine out and to support culinary tourism and the farmers and culinary artisans by helping to reinforce community initiatives.

The food media are very necessary members of the culinary community. Like any thoughtful patron, I hope that I continually bring appreciation and sensibility to the table. But the food media’s mission goes beyond that. We must pass our unbiased impressions on to the readers, while alerting the dining public to the diversity of choice on the culinary scene.

Good writing furnishes you with enough information and insight to enable you to make informed decisions, while helping to arbitrate the standards of dining out. If you don’t have a good, strong food media — whether you love them or despise them — you don’t have the same degree of interest, enthusiasm and accountability.

One of the greatest satisfactions joys about writing a blog on the culinary scene is “unearthing the diamond in the rough”. In my opinion, among the disappointments are discovering restaurants that don’t live up to their reputations, or the complaining owner who has lost interest in the business and the writing is on the wall. Almost as bad is the culinary equivalent of grey: dull at worst, inoffensive at best. Or the one-trick pony — the great restaurant whose menu never changes, and quickly the food becomes stagnant.

Even more obnoxious are those hosts/servers who ride on the chef’s laurels and the restaurant’s former accolades, thinking the chef’s/restaurant’s reputation gives them carte blanche to dispense rude, indifferent or poor service to their customers.

Despite the changing definition of restaurant professionalism, poor customer service and unfriendly reservation policies disappoint us, and good service fosters loyalty, which in turn inspires repeat business and great word-of-mouth. Every time I return to certain restaurants, it hits me just how much uninterested service irks me and how profoundly irritated its patrons must feel, even when the food is the cream of the crop.

Reading someone else’s assessment of a restaurant is not necessarily enough for every reader to evaluate a restaurant. The real way to do a restaurant justice is to eat there. These are my professional opinions.


In Ontario, we are very fortunate to have many talented chefs, restaurateurs and culinary retailers who are not just advocating eating and drinking local, and eating seasonal, they are actively and creatively enhancing and developing new region-specific cuisines. As for their cuisine, it’s made from scratch and it’s innovative. They are implementing time-honoured traditions and trusted techniques yet delivering ingredients in revolutionary ways. They are the new culinary vanguards. Many of these trailblazers of the cutting-edge and emerging culinary regionalism in Ontario's Southwest are profiled on this blog. Our true culinary stars are not only our farmers, but also those labouring in restaurant, hotel and market kitchens throughout the city, offering up some of Ontario’s finest food and most innovative drink experiences.


London Ontario’s Top Restaurants in 2013

The latest news on: restaurants, chefs, farmers` markets, culinary retail and food events. The ethicalgourmet curates the best restaurants in Ontario and beyond. Serving them up to you in an entertaining and accessible way so you can appreciate the best the area has to offer.

We’ve wined there, we’ve dined there and now we want to share our best places to drink and dine in in London’s top dining destinations, as selected by ethicalgourmet in 2013:
"2013 was the year of the Modernist Chef as the indie- hipster artiste."


Best Chef – Daniel Markovic, Kantina Restaurant

Best Pastry Chef – Michelle Lenhardt, River Room


Best Restaurant Dining Experience – River Room

Best New Restaurant – Byron FreeHouse 

Best Fine Dining Restaurant – David’s Bistro

Best Farm-to-Table Restaurant– The Only on King

Best Modernist Dining – Kantina Restaurant

Best Overall Dining – Garlic’s of London

People's Choice – Michael's on the Thames

Best Gastropub – Church Key Bistro

Best Diner – The Early Bird

Best Deli – Billy’s

Best Bakery/Cafe – Organic Works Bakery

Best Restobar – Che  Restobar

Best Health Conscious Menu – Blackfriars Bistro

Best Hotel Dining – Idlewyld Inn

Best Private Dining – Blu Duby

 Best Alfresco Dining – Black Trumpet

Best Restaurant Interior Design – Tamarine by Quynh Nhi

Best Restaurant Wine List (Ontario) – The Only on King

Best Restaurant Wine List (Overall) – David’s Bistro

Best Restaurant Craft Beer – Milos Craft Beer

Best Caterer– North Moore Catering

Best Organic – The Root Cellar

Best Italian – Abruzzi

Best Ethiopian – Addis Ababa

Best Latin American – Tru Taco

Best Chinese – The Chinese Barbeque

Best Greek – Mykonos

Best Hungarian –The Budapest

Best Indian – The Raja

Best Korean – Korean House

Best Mediterranean – Aroma 

Best Polish – Unique Food Attitudes

Best Thai – Thaifoon

Best Vietnamese – Tamarine by Quynh Nhi

Best Restaurant Service – Blu Duby


Best "Local" Restaurant – Monforte-on Wellington, Stratford

Best Fine Dining Restaurant – Mercer Hall, Stratford

Best New Restaurant -The Bruce






Monday, December 23, 2013

Not All Farmers’ Markets are Created Equal - The Sale of VQA Wine at Ontario’s Farmers’ Markets

Not All Farmers’ Markets are Created Equal

Among the Questions to be Clarified Include:  What Constitutes a Farmers’ Market?  Which Farmers’ Market will be Eligible?
A big question on everyone’s mind is what will be the qualification and restrictions on which markets will be allowed to sell VQA wine?  Will customers be able to sample, taste and buy?  No doubt, both the farmers’ market and the winery will have to meet additional licencing requirements for approval through the LCBO.

The term farmers’ market has been used to describe many different types of facilities whose mission is to foster community well-being and local economic development through the establishment of a venue for local and small business incubation. This creates an economic multiplier effect to neighboring businesses, and a place where the community have greater access to safe, healthy, locally- produced and environmentally friendly food and where growers and producers can market their goods directly to consumers.
Ministry spokesperson Abigail Dancey said there’s no decision on what qualifies as a farmer’s market. “I don’t have a firm answer. We are still working on the details,” said Dancey, who stated a pilot project would be launched next year.

The Ministry has yet to provide detailed clarification around implementation and it appears that there will be significant work ahead both at the policy level and how the logistics of this pilot project will be successfully rolled out as soon as it becomes feasible, but I suspect, not until further industry and stakeholder consultation even though we have been down this road before.
From past experience, additional questions to ponder include: whether it will be mandatory for a winery market stall to have hard walls, what regulatory controls will be imposed on the premises in order to limit access to alcohol, will wineries be permitted to unite to decrease overhead costs or increase access to markets, how will wine be transported and warehoused, and whether a winery principal will be required to be on the premises to sell (as opposed to an agent or employee), as some  farmers’ markets require this compliance from their growers and farmers.

What we are reading and hearing is that, “essentially, what is being proposed is an add-on endorsement to an existing winery license. Wineries are permitted to sell their wines from their own premises and in some cases from satellite outlets. The endorsement would simply expand a winery’s retail channels to include farmers’ markets.” 
Not all farmers’ markets are created equal and there are differing criteria as to what constitutes a proper farmers’ market. In some cases the definition is also a municipal issue.
In London Ontario, the Middlesex Health Unit defines a farmers’ markets exemption from the Food Premises Regulation when the majority (51% or greater) of vendors operating the stalls/booths at the market are producers of farm products who are primarily selling or offering for sale their own products. “Farm products” means products that are grown, raised or produced on a farm and intended for use as food and include, without being restricted to, fruits and vegetables, mushrooms, meat and meat products, dairy products, honey products, maple products, fish, grains and seeds and grain and seed products.

Farmers’ Markets Ontario is the provincial association representing the province’s more than 166 farmers’ markets that meet particular criterion. They have been generously supported through the Ontario Farmers’ Market Strategy.  Farmers’ Markets Ontario is solely focused on assisting the development of community-based farmers’ markets, so if you are in the position to run a private market they do not offer support.
 Farmers’ markets  as defined by Farmer’s Market Ontario are seasonal, multi-vendor, community –driven (not private) organization selling agricultural food, art and craft products including home-grown produce, home-made crafts and value-added products where the majority of vendors are primary producers (including preserves, baked goods, meat, fish, dairy products etc.)

Farmer’s Market Ontario on its website lists 165 markets, including in Woodstock, St. Thomas, Stratford, Sarnia and Exeter and the seasonal Outdoor Farmers’ Market at Covent Garden in downtown London.
There has been an increase in the amount of farmers’, community, municipal and privatized markets across the province which is now estimated to be in excess of 350.
As I get more news I will update this story.

The Sale of VQA Wine at Ontario’s Farmers’ Markets

The Sale of VQA Wine at Ontario’s Farmers’ Markets

Apparently, Ontario will be revamping provincial liquor laws to permit VQA wines made from regulated homegrown grapes to be sold at farmers' markets.  On Dec 16, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who doubles as agriculture minister, announced a $75-million program to enhance the province’s wine and grape industry, which will allow the sale of certified VQA wine at farmers’ markets.
Many in the industry recognize this advance as a great concept but wonder if the proposed pilot program is still too restrictive and protectionist by limiting it to only VQA wineries. The announcement constitutes a minor victory, with the long- term goal to have the Province of Ontario ditch prohibition-era LCBO regulations and join the rest of the country by revamping dated liquor laws. British Columbia, Alberta, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Quebec already allow sale of local wines at farmers’ markets. 
The announcement although welcomed has been met with plenty of skepticism. The fact remains; this is not the first time that politicians have endorsed selling wine at farmers’ markets. In September of 2008, Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal Government, and the LCBO decided to allow wine to be sold in farmers’ markets; nonetheless a variety of restrictions both social and regulatory resulted in failure of the initiative.
There are those who question why the latest announcement is exclusionary and not more comprehensive in scope.  At the very least they are hoping that this will pave the way for expanding additional product offerings in the future to include a wider range sales of local craft beer, wine and artisanal spirits at farmers’ markets and beyond.
One would think that it is a no-brainer, Ontario's licenced restaurants, winery tasting rooms, and micro-breweries are already watchdogs for acceptable practice and culture of the responsible service of alcohol.

The current government says the initiative is part of the roll-out of the 2009 Wine and Grape Strategy, which involves the creation  of an Ontario wine fund to purchase specialized equipment and machinery, as well as better marketing for wines locally and around the world. As well, a wine secretariat — to reduce red tape and help grape growers and wineries be more competitive is in the process of being instituted.
Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA)
Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) sets a framework by which standards for quality wine production made from Ontario grapes and appellations for wine regions are established. From quality standards for grape growing and winemaking, to comprehensive testing and truth in labeling and consumer safety standards, all stages of the regulation are stringent and intensive.
The Grape Growers of Ontario is the official organization that represents 500 grape growers in the province, including the three designated viticulture areas: Niagara Peninsula, Prince Edward County, the North shore of Lake Erie or Pelee Island.
To qualify for the VQA, wineries must use only grapes grown in the three designated viticulture areas. Non-grape wines or wines that do not meet this geographical criterion don’t qualify and in addition to giving up the majority of the revenue they generate outside their own vineyards, those who are not in a VQA-designated area for grapes; or fail to qualify for VQA status cannot put “Made in Ontario” on their labels.
Several people I have spoken with our concerned that a VQA Ontario designation will significantly restrict the wine varieties wineries will be able to offer at farmers’ markets now and in the future. There are already comprehensive testing requirements, registrations, audits and volume fees that come with a VQA designation. And it takes a couple years to get a VQA registration for wine as the grapes need to be registered and tracked from harvest to bottle.

Hillary Dawson, president of the Wine Council of Ontario – an industry group self-described as the “champion” of VQA wines – argues the number of wineries producing 100% made-in-Ontario product that don’t qualifying for VQA membership is unbelievably limited. In the past, Dawson wondered whether farmers’ markets are worth pursuing. She stated a preference for private wine stores dotted across the province to open up an even larger market. “I think the opportunity is so commercially small,” said Dawson. “Is that going to grow our industry? Not a chance.”
According to data collected from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, there over 140 licensed wineries including grape and fruit wineries of which 108 wineries produce VQA wines.

Questioned whether the VQA would contemplate expanding its membership criterion to include other made-in-Ontario wines such as fruit wines from Ontario’s 27 licensed fruit wineries, Ms. Dawson has been quoted as saying, “ the VQA  is important enough and has driven value enough that we don’t want to dilute it.”
The Ontario Viniculture Association had lobbied for years for a relaxation of the rules, arguing its VQA wines are made only with Ontario grapes. In addition to its first-rate grape wines, Ontario boasts an notable selection of fruit wine which is produced from non-grape products, including apples, blueberries, cherries, currants, elderberries, loganberries, pears, raspberries, strawberries and honey. By law fruit wines have to use 100% Ontario fruit so they are 100% Ontario product but are not given the same privileges as grape wines. At the end of the day, it all comes from the ground in Ontario.

Small wineries that stand to gain the most from the farmers’ market program are the ones who are likely to be excluded if it is strictly a VQA initiative. Mead and hard ciders are not produced from grapes and therefore can't receive a VQA designation. Currently there is no designation for a 100% Ontario hard cider or mead. Haliburton’s Moon Shadows Winery is the only winery in the province licensed to produce maple syrup-based wine and would not be eligible.
Other provinces, most recently British Columbia, realize the benefits to both fruit producers and their clients, and have permitted the sale of locally produced craft beer, wine and cider at its farmers’ markets. 

Critics chafe that the VQA Act that initially supported a struggling wine industry that was constantly losing out to imported products has become a cartel and a closed exclusionary group: “The playing field for wineries in Ontario is not level. There are rules that apply to the influential wineries and rules that apply to everybody else.”