Monday, June 15, 2009

dish du jour: asparagus

DeLuca's - Asparagus Salad
Asparagus salad, DeLuca's Wine Country Restaurant, Niagara-on-the-Lake

During my formative years, Dad was the only person in the house who ate asparagus. We drove down to Harrow during peak season and bought it from farms where it was the only offering. Dim memories tell me that once in awhile he picked some growing in the upper part of the ditch alongside Ridge Road. Mom steamed several slender stalks and bestowed upon them the honour of being served in a glass dish. Dad gingerly picked them up and smiled as he ate each stalk. The rest of us stared, occasionally interrupted by a look of disgust from Mom, which I suspect delayed any notion of trying asparagus for years.

I didn't warm to asparagus until one night a friend pan-fried a few stalks and drizzled then with grated parmesan. Suddenly I had an inkling of what Dad had enjoyed years earlier. Another item was scratched off the "yuck" list. Since then, I've tended to add asparagus to stir-fries, risotto or pasta dishes, though Sarah recently discovered a recipe for baking it that produces stalks that are crunchy and tender at the same time.

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For the June outing of the monthly dining group, we headed down to Niagara-on-the-Lake to sample DeLuca's Wine Country Restaurant. The menu used seasonal ingredients, of which asparagus popped up several times. My meal started with the asparagus salad (shown above), a mound of perfectly cooked stalks accompanied by lemon aioli, pine nuts and manchego cheese. The plate also came with a poached egg whose yolk had the ideal runny consistency for dipping bread in.

DeLuca's - Venison Roast

A bundle of asparagus wrapped in pancetta came as a side with the venison roast. The wrapping pleased those who believed there cannot be such a thing as too much pork in a meal. Much of the table chose Bambi or Thumper (rabbit fettuccine) for their main. The plate also included zucchini and a tasty potato-blue cheese gratin.

Photos taken June 6, 2009. Full set on Flickr.

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Sidebar: An hour before dining, Sarah and I drove to the restaurant to verify its location. It was found in a faux-downtown styled plaza on the south end of town, which also contained a sales office for a subdivision and a Shoppers Drug Mart. On our way into the parking, we passed by a hunched-over man who slightly resembled Jerry Stiller. He didn't appear to be moving, so we drove past him.

Satisfied we had found our destination, we turned around and headed out. The man was still there...he might have moved an inch or two. As we crept towards him, he slowly raised his arm. The slow extension of his middle finger followed in a precise manner. The withering look in his eyes yelled out "f**k you." I stared in disbelief. Sarah thought he might have been saying something, but it wasn't loud enough to hear over the air conditioning and radio.

We couldn't stop laughing for the next five minutes. "Grumpy old man" formed part of the next few sentences, as we theorized as to why he might have been so cranky (apart from the obvious thought that he suspected we were going to run him over). - JB

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