Wednesday, October 14, 2009

OLA: Of Latin America - celebrates the Day of the Dead

Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Tasting Toronto was invited to a sneak peak of OLA: Of Latin America, featuring 7 of Toronto's top Latin chefs. In celebration of the Day of the Dead, OLA will be a 7 course epicurean adventure as well as a charitable event with all proceeds going to Youth Link, in support of vulnerable youth and their parents or caregivers living in the GTA.

OLA will showcase a cross section of Latin American comfort dishes elevated to haute cuisine from Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela paired with complementary Spanish, Chilean, and Argentinian wines selected by sommelier Drew Innes of George Brown College.

The featured chefs are:

Mario Cassini - owner/chef of Caju
Marina Queirolo - owner of Surkl Empanadas
Luis Valenzuela - chef at Torito Tapas Bar
Carlos Fuenmayor - owner of Sabrosito Catering
Steven Gonzalez - owner of Latino 5 Spice Catering
Jose Hadad - owner/chef of Frida Restaurant & Bar
Elizabeth Rumebe - owner of Alpine Bakery

To start off, we tickled our taste buds with Brazil's national cocktail, the Caipirinha. This blend of organic Porto Morretes White Cachaca, lime, sugar and ice trumps the mojito any day. Cachaca is rum produced directly from cane juice, which differs from most rum that is made from molasses. Oddly enough for a classy tasting drink, caipirinha translates into "hillbilly."

To go with our cocktails we had some Bolinhos de Bacalhau, cod balls. This was the best fishball I've had... ever! It was salty and flavourful. The cod's soft and flaky consistency complemented the crust's delicate crunch.

The next app to be served was Pao de Queijo, cheese puff balls made with cassava flour. Who doesn't like cheese-bread? These were comforting little morsels with a waxy cheese filling.

And then came the elegant looking Moqueca Shrimp Shooter. The shrimp was perfectly cooked and perfectly spiced. This hearty, savory shooter was just what you needed on a dreary fall day.

The mini empanadas were delightful. They had a very thin yet sturdy crust that held their exquisite contents well. My favourite was the one on the far right, which was infused with a concentrated corn flavour via corn husk.

On to tales of the sea for our main course, Octopus salad with artichokes, Ontario fingerling potatoes, and a spicy citrus dressing with baby cilantro. Wow! That was the best octopus. The meat was soft and delicious. Not gummy at all, and yet it still possessed the textural contrast between the inner flesh and the light snap of the tentacle's exterior. The artichokes were soft and packed a tart zing. Citrus and seafood go hand-in-hand. And the presentation... you can hang that portrait up your wall.

La Pausa, to cleanse our palates for the next course, a Granita of Lulo a.k.a. Naranjilla, essentially a citrus snow cone with simple syrup.

The wine pairings were wonderful, from syrahs to strawberry infused bubbly.

It feels like we're starting a whole new meal: Oxtail Sancocho - a Colombian inspired consommé with plantain ravioli, lime and bananito. Squeeze the lime into the warm soup and you get a light yet fulfilling treat. The plantain ravioli's faint sweetness goes well with the consommé's citrus notes.

For another main we had Frida's famous mole. Cornish Hen in Mole Poblano with rice, frijoles refritos and toasted sesame seeds. The mole was great on the cornish hen, giving some low-level, full-bodied heat, with hints of cinnamon and chocolate in a complex flavour medley. The refried beans were a little too salty for me, but this was an outstanding dish overall.

I have never seen cheese this way. For dessert we had what the chef likened to baklava, a Plantain Terrine. It was a beautiful work of art with precisely positioned plantains between sheets of queso fresco, with honey, pistachios, and wild flowers.

For our second dessert a Tres Leches cake, with an intricate icing-made orange marigold. The OLA logo was made of chocolate.

Kudos to the chefs for such an amazing spread!

We leave with bellies full... a chocolate skull for the Day of the Dead...

And a smile on our faces.

OLA will be on the 26th of October at Caju. See for more event information.

Posted by: Mark Rodas