Foodie Har­bour …in Oakville, that is

DINE and Destinations - - MEDITERRANEAN CUISINE -

Ev­ery road is the same chrome-to-chrome bumper-to-bumper mess. I’ve just got to get off this road. It’s time for me. Veer­ing off the high­way I pass a beau­ti­ful stretch of man­sions that could be Bev­erly Hills with­out the palm trees. Where in the world am I? Sud­denly a quaint vil­lage full of restau­rants, bou­tiques, sa­lons and dog-walk­ers ap­pears. I’ve only now dis­cov­ered what lo­cals have known for years: the her­itagedes­ig­nated down­town vil­lage of Oakville.

Along this posh strip of the Lakeshore, a short get­away from Toronto, I’m only mo­ments from the peb­ble shore­line of Lake On­tario. Oakville has the most har­bours per city in Canada; parking is free after 6pm, on Sun­days and hol­i­days, and there is an easy, small town feel that beck­ons a leisurely stroll.

I be­gin at the Hamba Lounge in Touch De L’afrique. Part South African art gallery, part travel agency, and part café, here I sip on an in­tense but smooth Red Latte of rooibos tea ground through an espresso ma­chine, and ad­mire the ar­ti­sanal works. Around the cor­ner I am drawn to the sweet aroma of Sweet­bites where a va­ri­ety of 20 cup­cakes brings out the kid in me. All made from scratch. Im­me­di­ately ze­ro­ing-in on a moist choco­late cup­cake with choco­late ganache and a spoon­ful of cookie dough, I fol­low up with more, more, more.

I had heard about the health ben­e­fits of Hi­malayan salt, and its 84 min­er­als com­po­si­tion, but I never imag­ined there would be a salt cave in down­town Oakville. The glow­ing pink Solana Salt Cave in­vites us to detox­ify, breath­ing in neg­a­tive-ions equiv­a­lent to re­lax­ing by an ocean. Re­vi­tal­ized, it’s time to shop! The bou­tique that catches my at­ten­tion is M for Men. Smart, hip col­lec­tions that in­clude Pal Zi­leri, Ja­cob Co­hen Jeans and Xa­cus Shirts, and with price tags I can af­ford to look at, I want ev­ery­thing I see. I’m of­fered espresso and bis­cotti, and made to feel like a star be­ing styled to im­press. This is how shop­ping should feel. Shop­ping and lunch­ing gives me that “where am I?” feel­ing again. A pil­lar of the vil­lage is Ris­torante Julia. “It’s re­ally im­por­tant to us that peo­ple eat healthy,” shares chef Carl Dahl. His menu ranges from clas­sic rus­tic to nou­veau eclec­tic, and the calm pos­i­tive vibe that ef­fuses through­out the room is ev­i­dent in the warmth and flare of his cook­ing. An in­ven­tive menu at Fin Iza­kaya, paired with a range of sake, ex­cites my palate with char­coal­grilled gar­lic soy oys­ters, av­o­cado tem­pura, mar­bled beef siz­zling on a hot stone, and roasted duck en­livened with a seven-spice sauce.

The cen­tre of ac­tion is the ro­man­tic pi­azza am­bi­ence of the town square. Chil­dren play in the grass, baby-strollers and bi­cy­clists pause to re­lax; yoga en­thu­si­asts as­sem­ble for lessons; on sum­mer nights live jazz en­ter­tains, and in win­ter it’s an ice rink. From my pa­tio ta­ble at 7 Enoteca, the em­pha­sis is on shar­ing fresh in­gre­di­ents sourced lo­cally or flown in from Italy. A one-of-a-kind, 900-de­gree wood-fired oven needs only 60 sec­onds to crisp my gen­er­ously por­tioned lob­ster pizza. Fresh black truf­fles are shaved onto it table­side.

On a re­turn visit with friends, we me­an­der along the pier, and take a “Lakeshore lap” of gas­tron­omy: ta­pas at Corks, craft beer at Bru, din­ner at Sea­sons, and wine tast­ing at Maluca. When Oakville needed a change, Ge­orge and Tammy Couto in­jected a new pulse with their four restau­rants, each with its own niche. At Corks we crunch on beer­bat­tered shrimp ta­cos with av­o­cado and pico de gallo, and ri­cotta, spinach and pine nut em­panadas with tomato basil coulis. Sidling up to the gas­tro-bar at Bru we se­lect from 30 craft beers and pair with shrimp po’ boys, smoked peanuts and lip-smack­ing deep-fried pick­les. Em­brac­ing or­ganic in­gre­di­ents from the area, even the art­work is lo­cal at Sea­sons. Ex­ec­u­tive Chef Peter’s tangy and ten­der sticky Thai rubbed pork shoul­der, and sous vide lamb with caramelized eg­g­plant and figs are re­flec­tions of colour and un­com­mon fi­nesse that are ex­cit­ing to taste. From crisp spicy-sweet chicken wings and Reuben-smoked brisket slid­ers to a ba­con-wrapped ter­rine of foie gras, duck and pis­ta­chio, the French bistro wine bar, Maluca, of­fers us a de­li­cious se­lec­tion to pair with wine and cock­tails.

Oakville is far enough away that we feel like tourists on a splen­did day trip, and close enough to feel that we’re home.

By Adam Wax­man

Oakville Pier

Yoga in Town Square

www.oakville­down­town.com

Above: Pick­led Peach & Wa­ter­cress Salad, Sea­sons Restau­rant Right: Spike ‘em up S’more, Sweet­bites

Solana Salt Cave

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