Reel Eats hosted their third edition of their popular movie themed dinner parties last night, featuring the classic Johnny Depp flick “Chocolat”. Equal parts spoken word, tasting menu and social congregation, Reel Eats is constantly evolving and changing the definition of dinner party. Brainstorming over dim sum one day, Mary Luz Mejia and Mario Stojanac, Vanessa Yeung and Domenic Ubaldino and Sang Kim – all brought their creative food related talents to the table and imagined hosting a (soon to be) monthly tasting menu with a film focus that engages and entices diners in an entirely new fashion. Tickets are $75 for 6 courses, and wine is BYOB, or Sang can provide pairings for $25.
Finding the location proved to be a bit tricky, but we knew we had arrived when we were tempted by the wafting smells greeting us at the door. The room is all exposed brick and soaring ceilings, with the cluttered open kitchen in the back corner facing guests to watch the rotating chef produce course after course. Movies are silently projected onto a white wall, letting the spoken word speakers to surround guests with their verbal storytelling. The featured storytellers on this particular evening were Dwayne Morgan, a celebrated spoken word poet, Mardi Michels, a French teacher and well known food blogger and Patricia Bradbury a journalist and writer. All three adapted entertaining stories or verses about the theme which added a niche element to the evening, and like nothing else I’d ever experienced.
The chef for this evening is the charming and colourful Bruno Elsier. An accomplished international chef, specializing in French cuisine and holding the dignified title of ‘Master Chocolatier’, the chef couldn’t be better matched to the movie.
Dinner begins promptly at 7pm, and guests are seated at communal tables. If you aren’t terribly social or outgoing this format might not suit you, but we had a lovely experience with our dining mates and felt the content of the spoken word and silent movie gave us ample conversation starters.
Courses were paired with characters from the film, which was mostly lost on me, since the only thing I knew about the film was when it was spoofed on the Simpsons (we melted for you Johnny Depp, now you’ll melt for us!).
The Frisée salad was presented with bacon strips, sautéed pine nuts (in cacao butter no less) and given a shake table side with tiny chunks of unsweetened cacao. The dressing was absolutely drinkable, and I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to approach the chef after to get the recipe (honey and white balsamic, no oil).
The shallot and lentil cream soup reminded me of Habitant soup, minus the peas, with the addition of tender French shallots. While the last dish highlighted the cacao flavour, this dish the taste just didn’t translate.
Third course brought us the Bean Cassoulet and Toulouse Sausage with a touch of Milk Chocolate. It also brought Mary Luz to the table retelling the method of how Chef Bruno made the succulent sausages (old world style, still steaming them). The portion was plenty, and the steamed sausage reminded me again of another great (French) Canadian food, a Montreal Steamie. The blend of kidney and green beans played well with the sausage making it a rich and complex dish, but once again disguised the hint of chocolate.
A palate cleansing sorbet of Yellow Wine and Goat Cheese with Armagnac was then served. Although the flavours mingled well, occasionally I was surprised with a chunk of frozen goat cheese. Burgundy Beef Stew was swiftly delivered, well braised beef was enhanced by the noticeable dark chocolate flavours, and the fresh sprouts garnish provided a nice contrast to the stringy beef. Cones of sadly soggy fries were handed out by the affable wait staff, but judging by their mushy texture the cones didn’t disperse the heat well enough to keep the fries crisp. The spicy chili chocolate mayo was a nice hit of sweet and heat, I just wish the fries kept up their end of the bargain.
The last pairing of the evening was the delectable yet slightly over-engineered dessert flight. In order from left to right, a white chocolate mousse with lime, accompanied by an eye dropper of Cointreau, a single spoon portion of Crème Brûlée of both dark and milk chocolate, Hot and Spiced Chocolate Drink, all resting atop a length of tortilla. The mousse was a lovely consistency; the lime and Cointreau added a superb citrus infusion that balanced decadent and light white chocolate. The Brûlée was exceedingly sweet; I liked the addition of the sugar garnish, but missed the slightly burnt taste that Brûlée usually promises. Saving the best for last was the hot spiced chocolate which was rich and creamy with a lovely kick of chili peppers.
It was a splendid evening that I felt lucky to be involved with, and I would certainly love to attend more unique events like this. There were some lulls at some points; I suppose when you have so many products donated by sponsors (Cacao Barry chocolate, Evian Water, Le Dolci et al) you owe them an audience for their spiels. Next up for Reel Eats is an evening based on the movie Monsoon Wedding, with an all vegetarian menu.