By Michael Lowe
One of Niagara’s most beautiful wineries is offering a deal at their restaurant that’s just too good to pass up. Vineland Estates restaurant’s Spring Fling, now in it’s second phase, is sure to please.
Three-course, fixed price menus – $25 for lunch or $45 for dinner – are great value and an amazing way to taste the creations of one of Niagara’s finest chefs, Justin Downes. The dishes featured here are from Spring Fling 1.0, which wrapped up April 12. But, not to worry, version 2.0 is now underway and runs until May 13.
My first introduction to Chef Justin Downes was a number of years ago. Then, as sous chef, he competed against then executive chef Jan-Willem Stulp in a showdown called Ironic Chef. I recall a certain creativity in his dishes and his demeanor was just as suited to the front-of-the-house as the back. No wonder, then, that when the top job became vacant, Downes became a well-deserved shoo-in for the position.
Our Spring Fling dinner began with salt cod cakes (top, above photo) and beef short ribs (bottom, above photo). I loved the use of squid ink in the aioli, which, in addition to the contrasting colour, enhanced the dish with the delicate flavour of squid. Oven roasted tomatoes for sweetness, pickled shallots for acidity and earthy radishes complement and balance the flavours and textures. Vineland’s own 2015 Pinot Blanc was a great match with the combination. The beef ribs with accompaniments of lightly pickled onion and enoki mushrooms, sweet red pepper coulis and fresh cilantro stand up beautifully to the mild bite of the fresh chilies.
A braised lamb shank is a thing of beauty and the one tasted at Vineland (above photo) certainly elevates this humble cut to the highest level. Moist, tender meat nestled in a jus that is reduced to an almost syrupy consistency is pure pleasure to the palate. Served with creamy polenta, vibrant gremolata, sauteed rapini and turnip, the dish suggests the simplicity of traditional Italian fare. I paired the lamb with Vineland Estates 2014 Briar Creek Vineyard Cabernet Franc, which proved a winning partner.
Pork loin, slow-roasted until the fat melts in the mouth is the star of our other main dish. The sweetness of perfectly cooked carrots balance the slight bitterness of rapini, while the natural “sauce” of the runny yolk of a fried egg adds even more richness and silky texture. Add to the above the soft, smoked goat cheese and, well, I think you should be drooling about now.
We wrap up our relaxing meal with two perfectly executed sweet dishes — one, a light layered cake with ice cream, the other, a sumptuous chocolate offering with raspberries (above photo, top-to-bottom respectively). During our visit the dining room filled up quickly so reservations are strongly recommended. If you’re lucky enough to get a window table, it’s hard to find a better view of the vineyards and Lake Ontario in the distance. The winery has plenty of on-site parking and do try to plan a wine tasting at the boutique before dining. Menus and hours for Spring Fling 2.0 are located the link below.
Vineland Estates Winery Restaurant
3620 Moyer Rd.,
1-888-846-3526 | 905-562-7088
Note: For a list of other great spots to dine/eat in Niagara, see Michael Lowe’s past reviews here