May 26, 2014

First Impression: Cascata Bistro

By now, I'm sure you all have read this article from Karon Liu of The GridTO about how Hamilton's Food scene is (finally) Booming - of course I've been saying it for years now but as soon as some fancy shmancy writer from Toronto says it - all of a suddenly it's a big deal! Just kidding, I love Karon Liu (in case he reads this, I don't need shade from a big shot TO writer) 

When I say Hamilton's Food scene is booming, I don't just mean James North or Locke Street - I legit mean HAM-IL-TON - all thirteen BIA's are booming with local, affordable, and delicious eateries. 
Take Cascata for example, just a quick zip up Highway 6 and you're at this gorgeous property in the tiny little community of Carlisle. You're transported into this quaint little spot that feels like you're dining at your girlfriends house - think Sweet Home Alabama (the one with Reese Witherspoon) kinda vibe. When I first laid eyes on their website and the stunning design job - I made it a point to add it to my never ending list of places to eat.  But luckily, it quickly jump to the top a few months later when owner, Angela Checchia invited me over for dinner. 
Like I previously mentioned, I was immediately blown away by the little details and the gorgeous design of the restaurant. I mean goooorrrgeous - like West Elm meets Martha Stewart down a dark alley in Kensington Market. Everything feels brand new, but old, fresh and vibrant, but historical and aged. It was all just a so damn pretty and blissful I expected bambi and snow white to be dining on the patio. Angela, a former triathlon athlete even has her bike hanging from one of the bathrooms and still manages to make it look artful and whimsical.
But lets, get to what's important - THE FOOD! First off, Cascata boasts about being very local driven, I'm talking farm-to-table business. They do their best to adhere to the 100 mile diet - i.e. everything is sourced within 100 miles from the restaurant, whenever possible. They have a "Market Menu" which showcases their haul from the market that day. It's literally a black board that gets erased and changed and tweaked in order to accommodate what's available at the farmers market. I absolutely love the concept of this. You're literally eating a meal that came right out of your back yard! And most often, things are made in house from scratch.  
To start , we shared the Calamari Fritti ($11),  Meatballs di Cascata - beef meatballs handrolled with Cascata sauce ($9) and Beet Salad - mixed greens,  red onion, goat cheese, and pumpkin seeds ($10).  

The calamari didn't really stand out much - but wasn't poorly executed as well. The breading was crispy, and not greasy, but nothing memorable. 

The meatballs were moist and smothered in a well balanced tomato sauce - but I have to say the meatballs at The Aberdeen Tavern were by far the more superior dish. There just wasn't enough umph in the sauce for me. 
But the beet salad? I loved it! It was everything you could ever want in a skinny girl salad and it was mighty delicious too! It was fresh, and light and an excellent portion - as a starter or to share like we did. This was my girlfriend Joanna's pick and I'm so glad she chose it. The vinaigrette was light but still left the flavours of the beets and raw onions in it's natural state. The benefit of using fresh ingredients daily means you don't have to smother everything in spices and sauces - you get to taste everything - like reaaaally taste everything, exactly the way good 'ol mother nature wanted it. I could not say enough great things about this lovely salad. 
As for main dishes, My girlfriend Kandi ordered the Tortellini - cheese stuffed with scallops, broccolini in a lemon mascarpone sauce ($17) from the Market Menu. Although a visually beautiful plate with vibrant colours, this pasta dish wasn't a hit with all of us. Kandi wasn't a fan of it but Joanna and I enjoyed it. Joanna actually enjoyed the tortellini mixed together with my dish.  I quickly realized the dishes at Cascata are meant to be light, and like a breathe of fresh air. There aren't a lot of heavy and rich things on the menu - nothing too greasy or anything that'll weigh you down. Even with a pasta dish like the tortellini they managed to lighten it up. The flavours were a little on the mild side, but I enjoyed the dish nonetheless.
Joanna's dish was their Signature Sea Scallops (market price) which changes frequently.  I love the concept of this dish,  the scallops stay the same but everything changes. This allows you to get something new every time but still have some familiarity. I am a huge fan of scallops so although it was Joanna's - I definitely stayed close. The veggies were well seasoned and grilled, the scallops nicely seared. Again, when you're using fresh produce - you don't need to do much to let them shine. This dish is an excellent example of that.
I ordered the Cioppino - traditional seafood dish with mussels, scallop, shrimp,  calamari, and white fish in a white wine tomato broth served with house made garlic toast ($27). Hands down - my favourite dish of the night! It hit all the right spots. It was light, refreshing and the flavours were perfectly balanced. I'm not a huge fan of tomato based broths but this one was just so well seasoned I scooped up every last bit of it. The seafood serving was very generous with plump juicy pieces of scallops, squid, mussels and fish. Not one morsel of the seafood was over cook at all. Some might say you needed a starch to go with this dish - but I wholehearted shake my head at that one. It would have made the dish too heavy and completely squashed the flavours of the seafood. And there was this lovely kick of spice to the broth as well, which made it even more enjoyable. I loved, loved, loved this dish!
Did I also mention this was the first "girls night" outting my girlfriends and I have had since the adorable little rascal Liam came into my life? So bonus points for being baby friendly Cascata.  Between selfies and hamming it up with Liam  - we enjoyed a fantastic meal. And of course the little munchkin came out for dessert too. All the desserts change so frequently there isn't an "official" dessert menu - it really is what the kitchen feels like whipping up! Today we have triamisu, cannolis and a cheesecake extravaganza. The perfect ending to the meal.

Me thinks, that's the trend at Cascata - all the flavours were familiar, comforting and fresh. You walked away from your meal feeling well fed but not like a complete glutton. You didn't go to some greasy spoon for dinner, you went to a friends house - the kind of friend that takes care of you and makes you feel all warm and mushy inside. 

Carlisle might not be as familiar as Locke Street or King William but Cascata is definitely a gem worth visiting. It's gorgeous, quaint and romantic enough for date night, casual and light hearted for girls night and comfortable and not froo froo  - perfect for baby date night - just ask my little monster Liam

Happy Eating!

Cascata Bistro
281 Carlisle Rd
Carlisle, On
Cascata Bistro on Urbanspoon

*Parts of my meal were taken care of by Cascata Bistro, opinions expressed are my own 

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