The weekend prior to Valentine’s Day, Mack and I headed to Sherwood Park for dinner and a paired wine and chocolate tasting. The latter was the primary reason that drew us to the suburb, but we decided to take advantage of that excuse and have dinner nearby as well.
I had heard of Pasta Pantry through work colleagues, and a quick gander on their website gave me the impression that dinner would be an inexpensive affair (a small pasta was advertised at $7.95). Given the $65 tickets to the tasting were on the high end of the spectrum, we thought this dinner would help balance things out.
We arrived at a non-descript strip mall just after 5pm, and were surprised to find an absolutely frenzied restaurant. I would not have guessed that a cafeteria-style cantina would be the most hopping place in Sherwood Park on a Saturday night, but I was wrong. We queued up, doing our best to scan the whiteboard menu quickly, and eyed our options on the other side of the glass. I probably should have taken more time to consider the possibilities, but I didn’t want to hold up the growing line behind me, and hastily chose a small pasta topped with alfredo sauce and one meatball. Mack ordered a large pasta with the four cheese sauce and two meatballs. Our total bill was just under $25.
As we had dinner, we couldn’t believe the number of people streaming in – the line was consistently out the door for the duration of our meal. Most were take-out customers, but given the very basic sauce over pasta in front of us, we had to wonder if there was something we were missing. Mack’s four cheese sauce was the better of the two, and sure, the meatballs were tasty, but we were hard pressed to say the fare at Pasta Pantry was much better than dishes found at an Italian food court kiosk (we heard later that their pasticcio is their specialty, but they were out when it was our turn to order).
Pasta with alfredo sauce
Pasta with four cheese sauce
Service was speedy, and the owner made the rounds to check in with diners. We appreciated that personal touch, but what stood out most from our dinner was actually the live music. A young duo, led by Jordan Kaminski, played an assortment of pop covers and originals during our visit, and really helped elevate an otherwise bland experience. Given most of the customers didn’t stay, I would imagine the entertainment wasn’t the primary draw for the restaurant, but it should have been. Though we likely won’t be returning to Pasta Pantry anytime soon, we will be keeping an eye out for the talented young singers!
Following dinner, we headed over to Baseline Wines. About a year ago, the store moved from Baseline to a brand new space on Athabascan Avenue, and before the tasting, we wandered the store to peruse their displays and inventory.
We also couldn’t help but admire the glassed-in tasting room, minimally decorated but stunning. Mack and I had to restrain ourselves from indulging right then and there!
Beautifully set table
After all the guests had arrived. we took our seats. Ryan, Manager of Baseline Wines and Jacqueline, the Jacek Chocolate Couture Cocoanista herself, would be leading the tasting. As the evening went on, we found out how fortunate we were to have a wine and a chocolate expert at our disposal, as each of them shed insight on how each pairing worked. Ryan explained that chocolate was inherently difficult to pair with wine (contrary to popular belief) because the amount of tannins in the cocoa most often react negatively with wine. As a result, Ryan shared that he tried to either complement or contrast with the flavours in each piece of chocolate.
We were served a total of seven wines (one reception wine, and six to be paired with the six chocolate pieces in front of us). Ryan and Jacqueline guided us through each pairing, providing background on the chocolate and wine, and then encouraged us to sample each individually, then together.
Though this wasn’t my first time sampling Jacek chocolates, it was the first time I’ve been able to listen to Jacqueline speak about her creative and production process in a detailed way. Her attention to detail absolutely blew me away, and was something I wouldn’t have appreciated without such a measured opportunity to learn about her chocolates. Her current Spring 2013 collection is all about nostalgia, so it is no surprise to find childhood throwbacks like old fashioned root beer celebrated. But what I didn’t expect was for Jaqueline to tell us that instead of reducing down store-bought root beer, she sourced the needed roots like sassafras from Chinatown herbal stores for the syrup. And to simulate the froth of a root beer float, she sprinkled each truffle with citric acid for a pop on the tongue – genius.
Mack takes a whiff of the root beer syrup ingredients
My favourite truffle that we sampled that night was the Shirley Temple. I loved the bright and creamy citrus flavour, but even better was the way the grenadine drop bled into the ganache. For Jacqueline, this was a representation of the coloured layers blending together when one stirs up a Shirley Temple.
Our favourite pairing was a Quinta de La Rosa Port with a single-origin Mokaya Mexican chocolate (unfortunately, not available for sale). I’m not a fan of port, but I found the dark chocolate complemented the smooth port perfectly.
Baseline Wines and Jacek Chocolate Couture partner for these tastings on the release of every new collection (this was their third pairing event). Based on our experience, we thought the tickets were well worth the price (we even got to take home a box of chocolate each!), and was a wonderful way to learn about chocolate and wine. Sign up for Jacek’s mailing list to keep informed, and make sure to reserve your tickets early!
305, 101 Granada Boulevard, Sherwood Park
11 Athabascan Avenue, Unit 172, Sherwood Park
Jacek Chocolate Couture
406 Kaska Road, Sherwood Park