Not for me the crush of the summer crowd, the snaky line-ups for County ice cream, gourmet hotdogs and winery visits. Give me the great, grape-growing region of Prince Edward County when it’s been tucked into the cold dirt, the naked vines wrapped for winter. As a tourist to this treasure of a region, I have the dunes, wineries, fields, shops and restaurants to myself.
Or so it feels in mid-November. No need for bookings weeks in advance for a restaurant the calibre of Harvest.
This was my first visit to Michael and Karin Potters’ second County restaurant. The Milford Bistro was their first since moving from a series of highly regarded restaurants in Toronto. It was a tiny place of giant character (a converted general store, its shelves burdened with County cookbooks and jars of local honey) in the tiny historic hamlet of Milford. I wrote about it in 2005, my last visit to Prince Edward County.
Harvest is a bigger place, in more of a hub, less rustic, less old, with less personality you might say, but a restaurant that can accommodate more than 20 people. Which was the plan.
Bigger, yes, but cosy still, with walls the colour of persimmons, adorned with a network of wax paintings of stylized birch trunks. The room is rimmed with benches of the same warm, vivid colour, the whole effect autumnal and relaxed.
The service further tucks you in. Friendly, with a twinkle, familiar with the food and wine, and clever enough to be a part of our evening without intruding on it. And he brought us plate after plate of very good food, which endeared him further.
Starting with a pork consommÃ©, the broth clean and clear, tweaked with Asian flavours and greens, filled in with house made Udon noodles. Veal sweetbreads were crisp, the meat pale and supple, served with sweet and crunchy shrimp, a celery root ‘galette’ and moistened with a gentle seafood reduction. Braised sunchokes and hat shaped ravioli, the paper thin pasta filled with braised oxtail and Swiss chard, were the company for seared sea scallops.
Harvest is at home with an unfancy chicken stew – a hearty, vivid dish of browned and juicy chicken (with a depth of flavour that these days is more often just a memory) in a rich herbed sauce, with root vegetables and rough mounds of steamed buttermilk biscuits – as it is with a fancier dish of duck, the pink slices in a glossy, peppery brown sauce, with red rice, wild mushrooms, baby Brussels sprouts, and heirloom carrots.
For dessert, a perfect crÃ¨me brulÃ©e, a pear and almond tart and a layered chocolate cake you could sink your teeth into, one you’d like to eat for every birthday – yours and anyone else’s – for the rest of your days.