Touchstone offers a taste of something different
By Dianne Park Thach
Before you open the menu, and perhaps even before you sit down in one of the soft, plush chairs, clear your mind of everything you’ve eaten in the past. At Taste, the new restaurant at Touchstone on Lake Muskoka, your taste buds are about to experience is something new.
Named after one of the senses about to be stimulated, Taste Restaurant has been attracting Muskoka residents and visitors who are ready to experience something different. And that something different is what sets Taste apart from other restaurants in the area, says Touchstone general manager Colin Morrison.
“What is dominant in the area is food that people expect,” he says. “What we look to do, and I think we’ve been successful, is creating the unexpected. It could be with just a simple dish such as chef’s risotto. When you taste it, it curls your toes.”
One dessert that has been creating buzz is the presentation of an ice cream dish curiously named Mr. Nitro. Your eyes see a burger and French fries, but your mouth tastes a decadent dessert. Morrison says they “prepare it with flair and a twist,” and it’s a moment that will have the whole dining room stop and stare.
“We like to do things that are just a bit different,” says Morrison, smiling. “There are a number of ‘all things to all people’ restaurants in the area. We want to be the restaurant that they turn to when they want something that’s a wow,” he explains.
That can certainly be said about Taste’s design and view of the waterfront. Described by Morrison as casually elegant, one of the themes of design was blending the old and the new. What they wanted to create was a Muskoka experience of the past, pairing it with the colours and flavours of the present and future. Stepping into the restaurant is like stepping into the great room of a warm, cottage retreat.
To the right is a lounge area where welcoming sofas and chairs invite you to curl up by the stone fireplace. The lounge is flanked by the bar and the patio, treating the eyes to an expansive view of Lake Muskoka. Diners can enjoy their meal out on the deck, right through blackfly season. Stone pillars are equipped with discreet railings, and with a flick of a switch, sheer panels lower down, instantly turning the deck into a Muskoka Room.
Back inside, the walls and ceiling feature rich, dark brown slatted wood, mimicking a traditional Muskoka icon.
“The inspiration was the wooden, mahogany Muskoka boats,” says Morrison.
That touch, along with the hardwood floors, give the restaurant a warm atmosphere.
“We wanted to create a space where people could arrive in attire that is comfortable to them, whether it’s shorts or jeans, or shirt and tie,” he says. “They would arrive and feel comfortable in the environment.”
The grand wall of wine is a conversation piece, built with mahogany wood and Plexiglas shelves to let the light filter through to the hallway on the other side.
Morrison says the restaurant’s elegance hints at Taste’s tantalizing offerings.
“Elegant is what we present on the plate. The chef creates art on a plate, and the art is delicious,” he says.
The artist Morrison is referring to is executive chef Joseph Watters. Trained in France for almost five years, Watters has worked in Michelin-rated three-star establishments, as well as working for French chef Marc Veyrat who is widely known for specializing in molecular gastronomy.
Educated at Ottawa’s Le Cordon Bleu, Watters began following the family’s path into pastries before he “turned savoury.” His father taught international pastries, and his sister, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in England, works in pastries as well. Watters still enjoys working with pastries by doing all of the baking at Taste. Before arriving in Muskoka, Kingston-raised Watters was the executive chef for almost two years at The Little Inn of Bayfield where he received CAA’s four diamond rating.
The 27-year-old chef describes Taste’s seasonal menu as “sport dining” because of its interactive ability and he can often be found at the front of the house chatting with diners.
“The basis behind my food is a ‘wow’ factor. I mean, who’s serving a burger and French fries for dessert?” he asks, referring to a dish that consists of an ice cream patty created using liquid nitrogen. It is placed on a pastry, which looks like a bun, and is then smothered with toppings like mint, strawberry coulis, mango coulis and the like, which resemble condiments traditionally found on barbecue fare like hamburgers.
Watters revels in creating plays on commercial, everyday products, and inspiration can strike at any time of the day.
“It was like 10:30 at night and I was driving home from work,” recalls Watters. “The radio was on, and there was an ad for McDonalds for a cheeseburger and French fries. I thought, ‘That’s it, I’m making a dessert of a burger and French fries, and I’m going to call it fast food.’”
Watters has even created a play on a coffee and doughnut. Braised short ribs are served with coffee beans and a “double double” cream sauce, topped with foam that resembles a cappuccino. It’s served with an orange zest, cranberry, almond focaccia, adding crunch. Finishing the dish is a whipped cream doughnut – prepared with liquid nitrogen making it crispy on the outside and melted on the inside – infused with the flavour of bacon. Other creations include a fois-gras Ferrero Rocher and a white truffle-oil Freezee.
Everything is made from scratch, and Watters strongly believes that the basis of good food is a good product. An active member and big supporter of Savour Muskoka, Watters can be found outside, getting his hands dirty.
“In the summertime I like to go and pick my veggies every morning,” he says, and loves to forage for Queen Anne’s Lace, which he then transforms into deconstructed crème brulée.
His favourite type of food is something he’s never had before.
“That’s my favourite kind of food – something I can experience for the first time; something that’s artistic yet creative, and still risky.”
Delivering that to Taste clientele, Morrison wants their experience to be moving, “to the point where they feel compelled to Twitter about it while they’re at the table.” And it’s happened already. In August, a diner Tweeted that the potato veloute was the best soup he’d ever had in his life.
“If someone’s moved to the point where they’re pulling out their Blackberry or iPhone and writing about it on the spot, that’s meaningful,” explains Morrison. “If they’re talking about it next week, then we’ve truly succeeded.”
Chef Morrison of Taste Restaurant agreed to share one of his recipes with Muskoka Magazine.
Cauliflower Arborio Risotto
5 tbsp olive oil olive oil
3 pieces Shallot
2 cups Arborio rice
5 cups+ Chicken broth
Zest –Half a lemon
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp Cauliflower purée
1 tbsp Butter
2 tbsp Parsley chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Begin by mincing a small shallot, and chopping curly parsley to add at the very end of the dish.
Sauté the shallots in olive oil, and when it has been sweated (cooked without colour), stir in the rice and sauté it too until it becomes translucent (this will take 3-5 minutes). Stir constantly to keep it from sticking. Add a third of a cup of dry white wine. If it is cold you will shock the rice, which will flake on the outside and stay hard at the core.
Once the wine has evaporated completely, add a ladle of simmering broth. Stir continuously while all the liquid is absorbed, because if the grains get too dry they will flake.
Continue cooking, stirring and adding broth as the rice absorbs it, until the rice barely reaches the al dente stage. If you want your risotto firm, time your additions of broth so that the rice will finish absorbing the broth when it reaches this stage. If you want it softer, time the additions so there will still be some liquid left.
At this point stir in a tablespoon of butter, cauliflower puree, grated parmesan, chopped parsley and zest of lemon.
YOUR GUIDE TO FINE DINING IN MUSKOKA
Bartlett Lodge - Algonquin Park
Find out why our dining room is becoming a “not to be missed” evening out, while in Muskoka. Take a boat ride to dinner and experience exceptional cuisine. Revisit Algonquin’s past, recreated in our tabletop models of former Algonquin resorts.
Dinner is served at 6 and 8 p.m. Call for reservations, 705-633-5543, or visit our website: www.bartlettlodge.com
Chefs Richard and Julie Lalonde welcome you to Crossroads. Come enjoy our breathtaking view of Lake Rosseau, extensive wine list, welcoming staff and our wonderful cottage feel. Our upscale, casual cuisine features dishes made with love, using the best of what nature has to offer. We are open year-round and are now booking private functions and meetings. We are now baking fresh pies, cakes and breads.
We are also taking orders for birthday and wedding cakes. Please call 705-732-4343 for reservations.
R & L Bistro
Traditional and Modern French Bistro Cuisine awaits you at R&L Bistro at 193 Manitoba Street Bracebridge.
A warm, modern, comfortable interior prepares you for an exquisite Bistro experience. From the welcoming greetings, casual atmosphere and expertly prepared food, a gourmet experience awaits.
Choose from Traditional French dishes such as Coq Au Vin, Beef bourguignon, Sole Meuniere, Moules Marinere and Baked Escargots. Or from contemporary dishes including, Goat Cheese Crostini, Warm Mushroom and Aged Cheddar Salad, New Zealand Rack of Lamb, Seafood Fettucine Pesto or Chicken Cordon Bleu Supreme.
Finish with one of our decadent Traditional French Desserts or Selection of Fine Cheeses.
Our extensive wine list was selected to reflect the distinctive flavours of each dish.
Reservations can be made at 646-2237 or via our website at www.rlbistro.ca
To receive your copy of Muskoka Magazine click here to subscribe or try a 14 Day Free Trial eEdition Subscription.