Ellen Douglas, a producer of Wine Portfolio CNBC's hit show got in touch and invited us for a soirée of Vino Verde wine matching with Asian food. A very interesting premise, we thought and agreed on the spot.
This lovely event was hosted in the heart of Chinatown - A Taste of China restaurant. From the outside, this spot did not stand out from the hoard of similar-looking places lining Spadina and adjacent streets. It did have a bright red banner with the name in Chinese characters, a translation as well as a phone number. The facade also had grey granite tiles, but what made it’s appearance lose in class and authenticity was all the window clutter - long folded out menu pages, plenty of stickers of recognition, some news articles and the neon sign.
On one side, the interior had white boards and chalkboards with plenty of Chinese characters - perhaps daily specials, we thought. The other side was full of mirrors, helping the space feel larger. There were blue metal chairs and basic tables both rectangular and circular with numerous layers of plastic table cloths probably to make the cleaning easier. The walls were light green and beige with dark wooden elements and an authentic floral patterned carpet. The ribbed wooden-planked ceiling had circular metal decorative plates with writing on them. Overall, the interior had a sense of authenticity to it.
We met everyone, and begun our journey talking about the origins of Vinho Verde - an up and coming area in North West Portugal. Kevin Fox, a producer of Wine Porfolio as well as Ellen were entertaining and very knowledgeable. We touched on many points about the Vinho - naming, terroir, processes, varieties, current consumption... We also set the premise that restaurants with Asian food, do not tend to specialize in wine pairing or even have decent wine choices. That was the point everyone agreed on. Cheri and I have stopped ordering wine in Asian venues due to being burned in terms of quality on multiple occasions. Throughout this evening, our opinion changed.
In the next couple of hours, our palette was introduced to three white wines and four dishes - rating, sharing and discussing.
The ambiance of the restaurant was busy with cutlery clicking, phone ringing and no music. The owner, Ling was great at addressing all our needs. She also gave a full description for each dish as she presented it.
We started off with their Fried Shrimp Balls with a side of sweet sauce. The balls were large, breaded and fried. We had this dish with a light and crisp Quinta da Aveleda 2014. The vinho appeared very clean, almost water-like in its appearance. This white wine blend was dry and citrusy. We thought it was an easy and light match for our shrimp appetizers. The sweet sauce did create some conflict with the light-bodied wine, we agreed that the shrimp balls with a bit vinegar instead would be a better option.
Next we had their Vegetarian Glass Noodles dish. It was a light dish served warm. There were mushrooms, peppers, onion, and soy bean sprouts. This simple dish added interesting nuances to our taste buds. we enjoyed it with Muralhas de Moncao. This vinho verde was also bright, with a light sparkle feel. There were hints of peach and apricot on the nose as well as a clean finish. I thought it enhanced this dish quite well as both the food and the wine were in the same light weight category. We agreed that the mushroom, especially, created an intrigue with Muralhas de Moncao.
Next, we had their Cod with Green Beans - an item off the restaurant's chalk board. It was creatively served in the fried fish's skin as a shell, filled with green beans, sweet peas and carrots, then topped with bite-sized pieces of the white cod. This plate was a real treat. The fish was tender and juicy. It had hints of garlic and ginger in the sauce. We enjoyed this dish with the Muralhas de Moncao wine, once again. This wine was now a bit different with the cod - a pleasant surprise, we though.
Lastly, we had their Spicy Filet Mignon with Broccoli. This was a heavier dish, yet the way the thinly sliced beef was prepared made it very tender. The steamed broccoli made a bed where the beef lied, mixed in with a bean sauce, spicy red peppers and some green ones. As we are not used to spicy food, this was quite hot for us, while Kevin ate it and assured us this dish is very mild. The suggested match for this one was CDV Brazao, Arinto 2013. This wine was medium-bodied, definitely smoother than the previous two. We talked out the subtle tasting areas in our palettes - as the wine started off crisp and then sweetened up near the end and the sides of our mouths. It was a unique wine, however for this meaty, hot dish my palette would have preferred a buttery Chardonnay.
We were surprised to find much complexity and intrigue in these Portuguese "green wines”.
This soirée left us all feeling surprising content, it was definitely a contribution to the slow food movement. Time and dimension warp when in good company and conversation one shares food and a few bottles of wine.
As for A Taste of China, if you ever feel intimidated to try a Chinese restaurant, this is just the place for you. Ling, the owner, is known to help people find out what they like and guide them in making decisions through the overwhelming choices and culture surrounding one as soon as they step through the front door. We should note, that we were happy to see all these wines were served in fresh glasses every time. We will definitely be back for more, hopefully when the menu gets some unique wine selections.