Just two nights ago some lucky folks here in Toronto got to experience the first of many Greek cuisine-themed dinners I hope to organize in the future. Beyond organizing dinners at my home or other people’s residences this was the first to be held at a restaurant. I chose Malena because I love the warm feel of the restaurant, the impeccable service and its central location in the Avenue Road & Davenport area.
Malena’s owners (David Minnicucci & Sam Kalogiros) were immediately interested in co-hosting this event when I approached them a couple of months ago. The dinner would be co-hosted by the restaurant and myself and we were very fortunate to have GAIA wines of Nemea as the wines of choice with all the dinner courses.
The menu was decided after consensus was reached between owners, Chef Alex Bruveris and myself. I threw some ideas at the chef, emphasized that Greek cuisine relies upon seasonal fresh ingredients that are allowed to shine in a dish. Our goal with the “evening in Greece” dinner was to highlight Greek wine, pair it with a menu that would trigger food memories vacations in Greece, family dinners or an experience at your favourite taverna.
Before I begin sharing the dishes I would like to thank David and Sam of Malena for believing in Greek cuisine and wine. Many thanks to Roger of Small Winemakers, Tatianna Read of Knot PR, Christine Cushing for bringing her signature brand of Greek olive oils for all of us to enjoy, Paula Costa for her assistance, perspective and photography. A hearty thank you and congratulations to Chef Alex Bruveris, Sous-chef Becky and Jordan for their professionalism in the kitchen and finally, thank you, thank you, thank you to all those who attended this dinner.
New friends were made, we broke bread together, lots of laughs were shared and we learned that good Greek wine does exist and that Greek cuisine in Toronto continues to grow in popularity and in quality. I have lots of ideas for some upcoming events, seating will be limited to keep the dinners intimate and informal. Any developments will be posted here, on Twitter (@kalofagas) or my Facebook page.
Like many a Greek dinner, we begin with appetizers/meze which was served with house-made country bread, jardiniere (pickled mixed vegetables), warm marinated olives with bay, thyme, garlic, chillis and orange peel.
I also brought two large Strifti Tyropitas that my mom and I made (you need two people to make these) and I was delighted to see all the guests enjoy homemade phyllo. The Tyropita was filled with Feta, ricotta, eggs and ground pepper. GAIA’s Agiotghitiko rose was served during the appetizer/cocktail hour of the evening.
The first course to arrive was the marinated fluke (a fish in the flounder family) that was served with thin strips of zucchini and a wild oregano and mint oil. The 2010 Gaia Assyrtiko Thallasatis Santorini was paired with this simple, clean dish that converted even the “everything must be cooked crowd”.
As I’ve stated here before, Greeks “own” octopus and we pride ourselves in serving tender octopus that still has some resistance when you cut into it but still soft enough to slice with a butter knife. I emphasized to Chef Alex that we HAVE to nail this dish down and he counters with the idea to sous-vide the octopus. Sous-vide is a modern way of cooking where food (usually a protein) is placed in vacuum-sealed bags and place in a circulating warm water bath. The end result should be tender, succulent meat/protein.
The octopus sat in the sous-vide for 7 hours and then it was grilled and served with smoked eggplant purée, chickpea fritter and pickled fennel. Eggplant and octopus are classic Greek pairings and the near-perfect grilled octopus transported me back to a seaside taverna. Gaia’s 2010 Assyrtiko “wild ferment” was served with this course.
Next up wasthe main course, a duo of Ontario lamb: on one side of the plate was a slow-roasted lamb shoulder that was then hand-pulled and tossed in a sauace of pan juices. The second lamb offering was some loin that was also placed in the sous-vide and then seared on the grill. Orzo, kale and olives with two Gaia reds: the 2008 “S’ Agiorghitiko/Syrah and the 2006 Gaia Estate Agiorghitiko.
Sous-chef Becky created these individual pecan Baklavas that were served with sliced macerated dry figs and a housemade goat’s milk yogurt ice cream. The 2004 Gaia Anatolikos was served alongside. This dessert wine is made like a Vin Santo and it was the perfect wine to cap a tremendous meal at Malena.
Enjoy the slideshow with more highlights from this memorable dinner. I will also post even more photos in my Facebook Fanpage.
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