There are memorable meals, and then there are meals that you’ll never forget… Hunt Camp is a new project from the crew at Farmhouse Tavern. Darcy MacDonell, a proud farmboy himself, is opening up the homey backroom at the Junction Triangle restaurant every Wednesday until April 30th. While the rest of the restaurant and bar are otherwise closed, six lucky guests will enjoy an intimate 5-course game-centric dinner curated by Chef Alex Molitz. Designed to further accentuate the all-Ontario ingredients that Farmhouse is famous for, many of the portions are dished out family style. For the lucky few who snatched up reservations for the sold out $150/head meal, complete with wine pairings, make sure you reserve your appetite as well.
Table-side with two couples who’ve amassed nearly 90 meals at Farmhouse Tavern since it opened in June and our good friend Andrew Dobson, we toasted to all the supremely cooked animal heads we would soon consume – at least that’s what I was thinking.
Though Darcy’s standard wine selection is exclusively Ontario, tonight’s pairings were an assortment of some of his favourite small batches that he’s picked up over time. A crisp fruity Tarlant Rose Champagne sided up the huntsman’s platter – an eye popping scattering of preparations that set the tone for the four fishy, furry, fuzzy and feathered features of the night: trout, venison, rabbit, and pheasant.
Confit rabbit rillettes, rabbit liver mousse with dried Ontario cherry, house made Georgian Bay trout gravlax, trout liver mousse, venison terrine, pheasant terrine, Kozlik’s triple threat mustard, deep fried wild caught Lake Erie smelts, roasted rabbit hearts and kidneys, pickled Ontario veggies, and a whole roasted head of rabbit. It’s as much a mouthful to say as it was to eat. With such incredible execution it was hard to resist the temptation to keep topping up my plate. The soft but chunky rillettes were a table favourite; the smooth and sweet trout liver mousse and medium rare rabbit kidneys were tops for me.
Our second course was an ode to the trout. In true nose-to-tail fashion, this course was a triple threat of trout totality. A bright dish of fresh house-cured trout caviar went beautifully with a whole wheat blini and chilled Hewitt’s butter. Then, a whole house-smoked grilled trout de-boned and stuffed with thyme, garlic and lemon was served up table-side on top of a chowder of trout fume, black and breakfast radish, and thickened with a fennel nage. The smoky fish and fragrant herbs were unbelievable and a salad of roasted and raw fennel brought a beautiful crunch to compliment the soft fish and velvety chowder. This was paired alongside a 2011 Brovia, Roero Arneis – a vibrant and unique wine from Italy with a nose of apples and pears and a long mineral finish.
From a crisp, playful white to a red with a more defined character, we moved on to the fowl course with a 2010 Elk Cove Pinot Noir. From one of Oregon’s oldest and most respected producers, this light red had an intense nose of truffles and black cherry; it’s sleek with appealing raspberry, cherry and delicately meaty flavours on the palate.
Food-wise, the only plated dish of the evening was a real pretty presentation. Crispy pheasant breast with confit leg, a rich brown butter and Swiss chard puree, braised pink lentils with Ontario saffron and horseradish, a pheasant pan juice and sultry seared Quebec foie gras to tie it all together. This dish was best when all the elements invited themselves to my fork at once.
With three large portions already tempting us to loosen a notch on our belts, the heaviest of the five offerings emerged from the kitchen. Two boards worth of whole confit and roasted baby turnips, heirloom carrots, Mennonite garlic, and ash-baked pomme puree – a heavenly heap of sides for the huge cuts of roasted long-bone venison rack. Cooked to a deep rare, the venison was drizzled with a robust venison jus spiked with juniper, and much to everyone’s delight, Chef Molitz whips out a fresh white truffle from Italy for the shaving!
The venison course was paired with the only Canadian wine of the evening: a Black Hills Syrah from Black Sage Road in Okanagan, BC – impressively complex, with notes of charred meat, mocha and cigar box.
If dessert was on offer to finish up this most epic feast I’d have likely declined, but a selection of superb cheeses and a bottle of big, bold red was too tempting to pass up. Widely regarded as the highlight wine of the night was a 2006 ‘Onkaparinga’ Grenache from Claredon Hills in Australia. It was a wonderful companion to a fantastical cheese finale: Deer Hunter (a firm cow’s milk cheese from Holland), a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese from Le Mont Jacob in Quebec, a creamy blue from Wisconsin that was dynamite, and a soft and runny St-Marcellin goat’s milk cheese from France. Talk about a strong finish!
With close, friendly attention from each member of the Farmhouse Tavern, team this mega-meal managed to meld miraculous food and wine with an ultimately relaxing approach to eating. In the true spirit of the hunt, the guys honed in on this dinner and totally killed it!