Smoke gets in your eyes. Just momentarily, but as we enter Boralia, a server walks past with a dish of mussels smoked in pine needles leaving a waft of wood smoke behind them. It’s a good smell – not just camp-fire-like, but green and woodsy. As other tables order the dish the smell lingers, like a less-cloying Canadiana-themed incense.
At a time when Toronto is so busy celebrating food from other countries and cultures, we often forget about the homegrown delicacies created around us. Canadian cuisine is hard to define, and as a young and growing country we tend to look forward, not back, but Evelyn Wu and Wayne Morris have built a whole restaurant around historic dishes. Morris comes to Toronto from Nova Scotia via the Okanagan, while Wu – who mostly runs front of house here – has worked in kitchens around the world from Coi in San Francisco to the infamous The Fat Duck. They met while working together in BC, later married, and moved to Toronto to open a restaurant after coming across a collection of historical recipes from Nova Scotia.
The room is elegant and modern, with subtle touches of Canadiana – menus are bound in leather, a sculpture of a wolf greets guests as they exit the washrooms – that never devolves into cutesy or twee.
Most items on the menu have a date associated with them, indicating the date of origin of the recipe. Morris and Wu have pored over historical cookbooks, but have also modernized things, so some dishes are a surprise when they appear at the table looking nothing like we expected.
At the beginning of January, the last thing anybody wants to hear about is milk punch, am I right? Weeks of parties full of cloying egg nog, resolutions to get fit… there is no place in there for a punch made with milk. Or so I thought.
On New Year’s Eve the hubbs and I celebrated our 17th anniversary at the lovely Geraldine restaurant (1564 Queen Street West). The menu was resplendent with oysters, foie gras and duck, and despite a massive hangover from a party the night before I was tempted by a couple of the fabulous cocktails created by bar manager Michael Mooney. Specifically the Parisienne Milk Punch, inspired by the Jerry Thomas Bartender’s Guide from 1862,which balances absinthe with a variety of aromatics, juices, rums and tea along with milk. Milk? Ugh! I was skeptical, but our server convinced me with a “just wait and see!”
The end result is not a creamy, gloppy drink at all, but a light, refreshing, fruity cocktail that is surprisingly clear but also amusingly smooth. Flavourwise, it reminded me of a very intricate Tiger Tail ice cream, which is never a bad thing.
It turns out that the trick to this type of milk cocktail is to mix all of the fruit, juices, herbs and liquors together to infuse, then add hot milk… and let it curdle. Yep. The drink is then strained so that the curds are removed, leaving the whey of the milk behind to create that silky smoothness.
The folks at Geraldine were kind enough to share the recipe with Sarah Parniak of NOW last month in a piece about party punches, but the recipe serves 30, includes 14 ingredients, and must infuse for 48 hours. Easier to just head over to Geraldine where a single Parisienne Milk Punch will set you back $13 or get the “tea service” (for the table, wink wink) for $48.