Amandalas: Fine dining with the freshest ingredients
375 Water St., Peterborough
By Tim Johnson
“We’re surrounded by farms, and really fresh farms,” says Amanda Menard. “They’re literally on our doorstep.” So, says the owner of Amandala’s, her menu is often composed according to three factors—what’s local, what’s fresh, and what’s available right now.
Her restaurant serves high-quality, fine dining cuisine in a relaxed environment in a small, tucked-away restaurant in the heart of downtown. Think: linen tablecloths, exposed brick, artwork painted by a dear friend, and warm conversation emanating from just a handful of tables. Menard, a veteran of the local culinary scene—she was previously co-owner of Nicolini’s, a much-loved Italian restaurant—says she’s long been a strong advocate for food grown and raised right here in Peterborough County, often just a few minutes up the road from the restaurant.
So, she says, it works both ways on supplying the beautiful food that she puts on her plates. “A farmer will call me up and let me know, ‘I’ve got rabbits ready to go,’ or the King Street Market and Butcher Shop will phone and say, ‘hey, we’ve got this or that’ local right now.” And Menard actively shops farmer’s markets and other local outlets where she knows the products came from a close proximity.
For example—the food she sets before me today. The bison prime rib, Menard notes, comes from the butchers at King Street Market, sourced from a farm near Warsaw (just 26 kilometres away, if you’re keeping track). Chef Simon Brown, a scratch chef and another fixture on the local food scene, has been working in kitchens since the age of 16, and today he prepares the meat—which is lean, and can easily become dry when slightly overcooked—to a perfect, juicy, medium rare. (So tender, that I actually accidentally slice through it with my butter knife before spotting my steak knife next to it.)
And there’s plenty more of Peterborough County on this plate. Chef Simon has marinated the meat with a combination of chipotle, strawberries from McLean Berry Farm, and a vodka reduction, the latter from Black’s Distillery, just across the Hunter Street Bridge in East City—easy walking distance. A mix of savoury and sweet, it dances on the tongue with every bite.
And the pairings, too. The prime rib is served on a bed of Dijon mashed potatoes, which is silky and perfectly seasoned, pickled Daikon radishes stuffed with tomato, red pepper and goat cheese from Cross Wind Farm, near Keene, which adds a rich, creamy touch. And mushrooms, which taste like they’ve just been delivered today (probably the case, actually), garnished with micro-greens grown at Littleleaf Farms in Cavan, grown by a husband-and-wife team—one is a certified horticultural technician—using GMO-free seeds and an organic process. A big meal, I barely have room for a slice of lemon velvet cake. I walk out feeling like I’ve taken a culinary tour of the county, right here in the heart of the city.