Wine vs. Beer Throwdown

Back in early September Chef Michael Farber and I were at Brothers discussing Wittgenstein over a game of Backgammon when our mutual friend Dimitri van Kampen, the owner of Spearhead Brewing Co. arrived. He was overcome with a spell of liquid courage and threw down his gauntlet publicly challenging me to a duel--a wine vs beer pairing "throw-down". As a gentleman whose honour was offended, I demanded satisfaction and accepted the challenge. Chef Farber graciously offered his restaurant as a venue and to prepare for us a three course meal to facilitate the duel. I usually prefer to remain the strong silent type but Dimitri's agressive trash-talk began immediately in September. So with less than a week to go, the time has come to put out the fine china and set the record straight.

File photo: Dimitri van Kampen

Dimitri, pictured left rocking out with a much less interested man, thinks I'm intimidated by his challenge; but he shouldn't mistake my kindness for weakness. I admire his enthusiasm but he flatters himself. Having done wine dinners with Michelin-starred chefs and some of the world's top winemakers has more than prepared me for a duel with Dimitri. Spearhead burst onto the Ontario craft beer scene in 2011 with their popular Hawaiian-style Pale Ale known for its high alcohol, big hops, and pineapple fruit flavour. A year later they're back with a seasonal second beer temporarily in the arsenal--a Moroccan-style Pale Ale made with dates, figs and raisins which features more than a dash of cinnamon and sugar. Now Dimitri seems to be targeting the more delicate cuisine of the fine dining market with his high octane beers and is challenging me to make his case.

So the terms were set for Michael Farber to independently develop a seasonal three course menu for the duel. Dimitri would pair his two beers along with a 3rd wild card beer of his choosing, and I would pick any three wines for my pairings. Neither of us will have had the opportunity to taste the menu beforehand, we only have a list of ingredients to base our pairings. We will be presenting our choices between each course to provide some context to support our pairings. For his sake I hope there is pineapple on the menu. Godspeed.

The menu is set and the game is on for Wednesday, November 21st, 7:00pm at Farb's Kitchen & Wine Bar, 18 Beechwood Ave, Ottawa. Tickets are $60 plus taxes and gratuity, wine and beer pairings are included. It is a blind tasting menu, so we can't tell you whats in it, or what we're pairing. But you can rest assured that Farber's food will be tops and that I will be bringing some outstanding wines to do battle with Dimitri's beer. Note: It is not a vegetarian dinner and you will be expected to vote by secret ballot on your favourite pairings. So overall a great night of food, wine, beer and entertainment.

We're looking at only 1 seating of 40 people tops. So please reserve your seats immediately. You can call the restaurant directly at 613-744-6509.

24 Hours in Vancouver

Throughout my 10 days in the Okanagan working harvest I was inevitably teased with stories of Vancouver's great restaurant scene and overrun with dining recommendations. 2007 was the last time I was in Vancouver and a lot has changed in its culinary scene, so I decided to pull the chute and cut my Okanagan trip a day early to go on a 1 day bender exploring restaurants to try get the pulse of Vancouver dining. Even though I didn't veer too far out of Gastown, here are a few highlights:

There was almost unanimous consensus in the Okanagan that my one must-visit for lunch was Meat and Bread at Hastings and Cambie. What a cool spot! Guys, somebody please open one of these in Ottawa! I had their Fraser Valley Veal sandwich and a Phillips Brewery 'Blue Buck' beer (which aesthetically could be the official beer of Capital Wine).

Next it was onto Salt Tasting Room on Blood Alley, an unlikely back alley just north of Hastings. I'd heard about this place for years, but never been. Minimalist cement, wood and metal design...couldn't be more my style. I had a great flight of BC wines that I wasn't able to try while in the Valley, perfectly paired with a mix of preserves, cheese and charcuterie. And turns out that seemingly shady Blood Alley is actually home to quite a cluster of great restaurants--I also popped by the elegant Boneta wine bar for an app and drink and went around the corner for a few cocktails from the passionate bartenders at L'Abattoir. All a stones throw from Salt...Great little area.


It was unfortunate that I only stopped by for drinks at Hawksworth in the Georgia hotel, this may have been the overall highlight had I spent some more time there. The service, design and wine list were tops. And I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little in love with their logo (similar black and white minimalism to Capital Wine?). The bottle of Little Farm Riesling we drank in the lounge was one of my favourite Rieslings I tried on the entire trip, and our server was an alumnus of Restaurant 18 here in many good things happening there. It will be the top of my list to revisit on my next trip out west.

A visit to YEW inside the Four Seasons involved a few more Phillips Blue Buck Ales and a surf and turf charcuterie board that was outstanding. It was nice to meet the affable Executive Chef Ned Bell, turns out he has a lot of Ottawa homeboys as well. It was becoming clear to me that Vancouver does hotel restaurants and bars really really well!

While Meat and Bread, Salt and Hawksworth may have been my favourite stops from a list of 10 restaurants in 24 hours, very honourable mentions also go to Chambar, Wild Rice and Catch 122. Everything was really impressive and all within the Gastown area walking distance from my hotel. I'm a big fan of Vancouver again!