By Michael Lowe
On my first visit to Two Sisters Vineyards, chefs were tasting through the menu in preparation for the opening of their restaurant. Great wine is even better when paired with great food and Kitchen 76 does just that.
Our visit starts with a wine tasting where, for me, the 2010 Cabernet Franc really stood out. Then it was off to lunch. The menu at Kitchen 76 echoes the Italian heritage of owners Angela Marotta and Melissa Marotta-Paolicelli — a straightforward collection of simple dishes made with the best ingredients available and a laser-like attention to detail.
The elements on the plate of “Polpi” (pictured above) are brillaint additions to the main attraction, grilled octopus. Shaved fennel, radish and celery are deftly seasoned and dressed with lemon, adding crunchy texture to the dish without detracting from the delicate flavour of the tender meat.
If carpaccio is on any menu, rest assured I will order it, and the dish as presented by Kitchen 76 is a lesson in simplicity and composition. I mean, just look at the marbling in the beef in the picture above. Fat, my friends, equals flavour – a detail not overlooked here. Accented with peppery arugula, salty pecorino, and just enough truffle oil to dress the greens, this dish subscribes to the Italian culinary philosophy of sticking to three or four high quality ingredients.
Another hallmark of good Italian cooking is the revered gnocchi. Kitchen 76 serves it in the Bolognese style (above photo), baked with wilted spinach, and asiago and parmigiano reggiano. The gnocchi are the lightest textured dumplings I’ve eaten. It’s clear that the chefs have learned the rule – not to overwork the dough. A rich, meaty tomato sauce makes this a hearty dish worth trying.
Another must-try item is Kitchen 76’s pizza. Straight from their beautiful wood-fired oven, the pies are masterful works indeed. Here again, the dough, which forms the crust, is near perfection. Crisp, thin, light and airy, the crust is not relegated to being just a base for the toppings. Rather, it is one of the star ingredients. Ours (above photo) was topped with parsley pesto, spinach, mushrooms, sage and ricotta. The combination of fresh herbs, meaty mushrooms and creamy ricotta create deliciously balanced flavours and textures.
Judging from the gnocchi and pizza crust, I am convinced that the zeppoli on the dessert menu (above photo) just have to be good – and they are. Lovely, puffed-up pillows with a golden brown shell, they are perfect for dipping in the apple butter, whipped cream or chocolate sauce accompaniments.
It’s clear that Chef Justin Lesso is intent on bringing the best authentic, fresh, top quality dishes to his guests. Just watching him pluck fresh herbs to garnish the plates his focus is clearly evident.
During this visit we are fortunate enough to meet the sisters who have made this wonderful place a reality. I can’t resist asking about the restaurant name and the rabbit on a penny farthing bicycle motif. The answer is quite simple. Rabbit was the sisters’ mother’s favourite dish, the bicycle reflects the growth of bicycle touring in Niagara, and the basket represents the bounty of our fine region. The number 76 is the number of acres under vine at Two Sisters Vineyards.
Kitchen 76 is already gaining popularity from local food-centric patrons so reservations are recommended. Visit the links provided above for complete menus and enjoy some of the finest food available in the region.
Kitchen 76 at Two Sisters Vineyards
240 John St. East
Winter Hours: Wednesday – Sunday | Lunch 11:30 am – 2:30 pm, Dinner 5-9 pm
To see Rick VanSickle’s reviews of the Two Sisters wine, go here.