For some out there, the stereotypical spa meal involves raw celery, carrots and obscure berries. One visit to Alton Ontario’s Millcroft Inn & Spa, and in particular to Chef Roberto Fracchioni’s tasting menu, is enough to dispel this myth.
A Room With A View
Seated in a beautifully appointed sun room, overlooking a gently flowing Credit River through the vast windows, the dining room is an ideal venue for sunset salutations prior to an evening of feasting under the country moonlight. The service is attentive yet personable, the atmosphere warm and inviting, giving the fine dining experience a friendly sheen. As one who feels that the bread basket is a fine indicator of the evening to come, it is pleasing that in this instance, the smoked potato bread and nut butter forecast quite the night.
The amuse bouche of venison tenderloin and berry pistachio compote is fruity, earthy and its freshness carries promises of spring, especially with the accompanying effervescence of Henry of Pelham’s Catherine Cuvée. Chef Roberto’s first offering is pork done three ways, which include a smoky tenderloin delicately balanced with apple jelly, a pork belly with shallots and a rillette on candy-striped beets.
Having Fun with Food and the Night’s Best Dish
Fracchioni has fun with his ingredients and draws inspiration from various cuisines, including his Asian-inspired Arctic Char with soba noodles in a salty nam jim sauce, fantastically balanced by the smoky sweet finish of a roasted red pepper. Genuinely interested in where his food comes from, he is truly excited to learn that he can source locally made soba noodles in Mississauga and immediately starts firing off questions – where, how and when. Although his inspirations may vary, the menu maintains its cohesion by maintaining straightforward flavours and simplicity. This is nowhere more evident than in the (arguably) best dish of the evening, his traditional handmade Pisarei pasta. A straightforward recipe by his own admission (if you’re a professional chef maybe), Chef Roberto learned how to make the Milanese bread dumplings (reminiscent of gnocchi) from his Zia Zelinda. He is almost apologetic at receiving the accolades, dismissing the dish as “so simple and easy to make” (again, if you’re a professional cook maybe). Served with nutty flageolet beans and earthy porcini and king mushrooms, then rounded off with a glass of Tiefenbrunner Pinot Gris, this simple “peasant” dish is an absolute delight.
The balance of the tasting menu includes locally sourced venison, including a foie gras topped mini-burger as well as fantastic elk tenderloin served with black trumpet mushrooms and a duck confit stuffed sweet pepper. As the meal tapers down, a generous wedge of Spanish idiazabal cheese from the Basque region is proffered, its nutty saltiness balanced with a truffled compote of berries. In a nod to the restaurant’s willingness to support local endeavours, our wine pairing for the cheese course is a Cabernet Franc from the Niagara College Teaching Winery.
And just as you think that you can absolutely do no more, dessert arrives in the shape of a deconstructed apple pie served with whisky ice cream, granola and honey “pearls”. Throughout the meal, a very attentive Patrick Field ensures that diners are happy and proves to have a wealth of “vinformation”. The evening is topped off with a glass of rare 1974 Rivesaltes Ambre’ hor’d Age, its port-like smoothness providing the perfect and decadent finale to a pampered evening.