Mmmmm. Bacon bar
Here’s my recap of the Ottawa Wine and Food Festival’s bacon bar, which offers to patrons who pay a $25 premium on top of their day passes a four-course, heavy-on-the-swine tasting menu. Prepared by students and faculty of Algonquin College’s culinary skills program, the bacon bar’s wares will be offered several times Saturday and Sunday.
1. Beer-Braised Pork Belly, with Black Garlic, Pan-Roasted Mushrooms and Lanark Maple Foam
OK, pork belly isn’t really bacon – it’s the cut that becomes bacon. I can overlook the technicality given how good the course was. Full of clean pork flavour, savoury way out of proportion to its modest size and sinfully fatty, the bacon bar’s first course set the bar high for the rest of the tasting.
Atop the meat was a spritz of maple foam, and beside it, I think, was a pan-roasted chanterelle. The dish’s elements sat in a puddle of rich, spot-on sauce made from the braising liquids. Infused with star anise, black garlic and a hint of ginger, it was exceptional.
The course was a winner, and I told Algonquin College’s Russell Weir, who had created the menu and was supervising the students cooking the food, just that. I also asked him what the source was for the pork belly. Was it from a local farmer’s heritage hogs, perhaps?
No, said Weir, who surprised me with the admission that the pork had been donated by Olymel, the Canadian pork-processing giant. Weir said he was grateful for Olymel’s contribution because the bacon bar was raising money in support of Algonquin culinary program scholarships and having to buy meat would have meant less funds raised.
Kichesippi Natural Blonde pale ale
2. Seared Applewood-Smoked Bacon and Sausage Roll, Chocolate Barbecue Sauce, and Dark Chocolate Shavings
I’d never had sauerkraut and dark chocolate in the same mouthful before, but I have to say that the sour and sweet combination was just fine as a complement to this dish’s savoury stars. In particular, the sauerkraut’s acidity was a smart addition to cut the pork’s heaviness.
As for the sauce, I would have liked to have tasted it separately, as well as meat without it and then with it. In fact, Weir told me that his plan was to have separated the elements. However, one of his cooks had perhaps overzealously sauced the meat. That said, all of the dish’s components did come together.
Kichesippi 1855 dark ale
3. Beef Bourguignon with Pancetta and Sauteed Spaetzle
Perfectly seasoned, notably peppery meat and sauce? Check. Porky nubs in keeping with the Bacon Bar theme? Check. Perfectly cooked German extruded dumplings? Check. But the beef itself, alas, was surprisingly tough.
Weir apologized. He wasn’t able to supervise the cook who was in charge of the beef, and before he knew it, it was overcooked. “It didn’t happen on the last one, and it won’t happen on the next one,” he said.
Kichesippi Uncle Mark hoppy hefeweizen
4. Bacony Cookie
I don’t know about you, but even in my short stint as a restaurant critic, I’ve grown very jaded about bacon in desserts. I got it the first time, but ever since, the returns have been diminishing, whether it’s been a bacon-bit doughnut at Suzy Q or a bacon-powdered confection at Union 613 or an apple tart adorned with lardons at the Village House in Wakefield.
Well, the bacony cookie, concocted by Pasticceria Gelateria Italiana’s Joe Calabro, did fulfill the mandate of the bacon bar, and it did have enough sweetness and conventional cookie-ness to qualify as dessert. I enjoyed it, but still think that bacon for dessert is over. I wouldn’t be surprised if Calabro felt the same way.
The Ottawa Wine and Food Festival’s Bacon Bar will be held five times each day on Saturday and Sunday.