What came first: the wine bar or the nouvelle Indian menu? It’s a chicken and egg kind of question. Either way, Harsh Chawla and Derek Valleau of new Toronto restaurant, Pukka, have hatched an exotic concept that, for a wine bar, is the most exciting menu in town, and for an Indian restaurant, is the most refreshing and forward-thinking.
We begin with monkfish elevated by citric flavours of mango, tomato and red pepper. A salad of greens with crumbled paneer and spiced pumpkin seeds in a chili-orange vinaigrette, and a tender dish of herb-infused Tandoori chicken tikka with tamarind chutney, are paired with a 2012 Grüner Veltliner, Rabl from Austria. Great thought is put into the wine menu, because the pairing has to compliment very distinct aromas as well as ingredients. This proves to be a versatile wine that harmonizes well with the salad in particular. Well-structured with notes of apple and lemon and a hint of minerality, it is lush without being sweet.
Crunching on crisp red chili-crusted okra fries, we are aware that this in not the typical Indian restaurant. We don’t miss the usual suspects on the wine menu either. They have been replaced by a range of Ontario wines from Norman Hardie, Organized Crime, Tawse and Stratus to the new Kew Vineyards replace them.
Seared tender duck breast luxuriates in rich grape and lime chutney that we crave to scoop up with our warm naan bread, or ladle onto our rice served in a mason jar. There are those who suggest that when it comes to Asian cuisines, beer is a more profitable pairing than wine. For Peter Boyd, Pukka’s wine consultant, “Beer is tasty, but it’s almost savoury in itself, and so its kind of angular; it doesn’t really work with anything, it works against it. Beer bloats. Wine is tricky, there is no doubt about it, but with some things it does work better.” The challenge is to find the right wine, and in this case the Rhone Valley Domaine de Lorient, with its plum-y blend of Syrah and Grenache, matches the essence of the duck and the tang of the chutney without being overpowering. It is a delicate balance and it marries beautifully.
We enjoy experimenting with wines and the exotic potpourri of menu items with which to pair. At Pukka, there is passion for good food and wine—together in a happy marriage.
~ For more info go to: Pukka ~
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.