Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Friday, December 2, 2011

Caffeinated Cuisine: Dinner at Revel Caffe

And when their ham and eggs need savor 
Coffee ketchup gives 'em flavor 
Coffee pickles way outsell the dill 
Why, they put coffee in the coffee in Brazil! 
- Frank Sinatra, "The Coffee Song" 

Last Saturday night Lisa and I were at Revel Caffe for an amazing dinner. This might surprise folks who are familiar with Stratford's hip little Wellington Street spot, which is known for serving fresh-roasted Las Chicas Del Cafe coffee (and some beautiful baked goods to go with it!) but doesn't normally serve incredible four course meals. Owner and uber-barrista Anne Campion (above) hosted an event last year that featured coffee paired with creative desserts created by students from the Stratford Chefs School. But this year, she's pushing the relationship between food and coffee up another level, asking the question, "What does it look like when you actually start to put coffee in the food?"

The person Anne called upon to answer that question was Chef Jordan Lassaline. Jordan is an alumni and veteran instructor from the Stratford Chefs School, and I've heard nothing but great things about his cooking. This was the first time I had ever had the pleasure of enjoying an entire meal prepared by him (above, he's putting the final touches on the opening dish featuring savoury coffee gnocchi, spicy arugula and earthy mushrooms). Although I expected some really good food this dinner was truly above and beyond. I am officially a fan of this talented Chef. He also grows a mean moustache (part of the evening's proceeds were donated to the Movember campaign against prostate cancer, which was fitting since me, Jordan and about ten other dudes were proudly sporting mo's). 

The second course was a pork tostada that brought to mind the tropical landscapes of coffee country. Chef Jordan's approach was evident here as the subtle roasted/citrusy tones of coffee brought out the sweetness of the pork atop the crunchy corn tortilla, "The idea was to highlight some of the flavours that are in the coffee without letting it take over, and still letting the other ingredients come through."

By the end of February, 2011, I had already declared two contenders for the Local-Come-Lately's 'Best Dish of the Year' (I encountered them at two Chef School dinners: the first was a Pickerel taco by Mexican guest chef Pilar Cabrera Arroyo and the second was a Crispy Seared Veal Tongue by  France's Michelin star chef Alexandre Gauthier). My year-in-food has been absolutely phenomenal, but I gotta say this meal's Beef Short Rib main course is a runaway winner for the best thing I've eaten in '11. Rubbed in coffee and braised for hours in rich broth, the thick cut of beef slid off the bone and melted in our mouths. The Jerusalem artichoke puree and the Brussels sprout leaves provided a creamy and fresh pedestal for the sumptuous meat, which altogether made for an outstanding winter entree. 

After a meal like that there's nothing better than a good coffee, and coffee we got! A scoop of ice cream was drowned in a hot shot of espresso - a fun juxtaposition of temperatures that really worked flavour-wise too. Chef Jordan created a bread pudding out of coffee house croissants, which was perfect along with a steaming hot cup of Revel coffee (just as I like it, in basic black).

The Revel House Band (with Anne's husband Dave on drums along with some of his fellow musicians from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival) entertained throughout the night with some coffee-themed lounge numbers (including the Sinatra tune I quoted above) and after dinner Anne joined in for a duet!

This is only the first in a series of dinners planned for Revel this winter and spring. On January 21 there is a meal themed on the trip Anne and Dave are taking soon to visit the Nicaraguan family plantation where all of the beans for the Las Chicas single origin roasts are grown. On February 18 there is an "Apres Neige" dinner planned that will pay homage to Anne's home province of Quebec (there will be snowshoeing involved!). Although both of those are already sold out (with waiting lists), there will be another meal in March and another in April (which will raise funds in support of my project The Local Community Food Centre, which will be up and running by then!). Don't miss them! 

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