Put a little Samba in your life: Give the gift of memories

What do you give the person who has everything?

That question is cliché, no? And yet, I have the answer:

Early last summer I received an email from Samba Days, a Canadian company which offers experiences in a box, asking me to become a “Sambassador”. As a Sambassador, I’d have the opportunity to sample some of the experiences in exchange for promoting the company. I was asked to selected some options, three of which would be booked.

Samba Days offers gift experiences themed according to lifestyle: Action & Adventure, Body & Soul, Getaway, Gourmet, Life & Culture and Wine. With over 500 activities to choose from across Canada including indoor skydiving, exclusive spa packages, wine tours, sword fighting and gourmet getaways, there’s something for everyone. How it works is that the gift giver gives a themed card and the recipient chooses the exact experience that they want.

I was assigned a Gourmet Getaway.

Though I gave them a brief mention in my holiday gift guide in December, months went by in which the time wasn’t right for me to do any out of town sampling. No date, no car, no time, time flies. Enter January and I realized that a) I still hadn’t gone on my Gourmet Getaway (for that I apologize to Samba Days) and b) I now had a date and he has a car.

The option selection process had to restart and in the end we chose the Inn on the Twenty in Jordan for an overnight. The Inn on the Twenty Samba Days experience includes

  • One night accommodation in a two story Loft Suite
  • $50 gift card toward dinner
  • Breakfast at On the Twenty restaurant
  • Free makeup application with any spa service at The Spa on the Twenty (I passed on this)
  • 15% off all spa services except massage (after a lot of contemplation on my part we passed on the spa, though tempting)
  • Parking
  • Farewell gift

After consideration of available dates, the one we chose happened to be the weekend before my Wednesday birthday. It also just happened that Jason needed to restock his pinot noirs.

We took a Friday off work to tour wineries. There was supposed to be a huge snow storm so we left Toronto anticipating a long drive and made it to St. David’s in an hour and a half. I knew it would be a good day when I rolled up the rim of a Tim Horton’s cup and won a free coffee. Some people drink Tim’s daily and never win, but I rarely drink Tim’s. Tim Horton’s and Timbits are a road trip thing. We stopped at a half dozen wineries and had lunch at Ravine Vineyard Estate Winery.

When we checked into Inn on the Twenty a little after 3 we found a plate of mini butter tarts & sliced strawberries in the lobby. I can do without imported strawberries (I don’t eat them at all) but we enjoyed the butter tarts. I have a particular weakness for them. I think that it’s sad that Americans don’t know butter tarts. These were rich in brown sugar flavour. I went back for more.

Opening the door to our room near the check-in desk (Suite #4) was a treat. Though not the greatest view (try the Premium Suites), the downstairs living space had a big closet, a couple of couches, a gas fireplace and a half bathroom. Upstairs there was a full bathroom, TV with DVD player, iPod dock/alarm clock/radio and a king sized bed that I wanted to run and leap onto and kind of wanted to jump on, trampoline style. I love hotel beds; the pillows, the comforters, the size.

The bathroom of Suite 4 has a single Jacuzzi and shower combination. Other loft suite bathrooms are configured differently. I’d have loved to check out the Premium Suites and wish I’d thought to ask took take a look or to ask for an upgrade (birthday perk?). Damn you, Past Andrea!

The bathroom also had a Keurig single cup coffee machine and coffee & tea pods for it. I think it’s kind of amusing that hotels keep their coffee makers in the bathroom. Is it an indication that the guest is supposed to shit while the coffee is being brewed or that they should drink coffee while on the toilet? Coming out of the shower and picking up a cup of coffee is a better connection.

After an attempted nap we had a little tasting across the street at Cave Spring Cellars and then walked down the road to Jordan Tavern, attached to Jordan House Hotel. After a day of wine tasting we craved some palate-cleansing beer. Despite my protests that we were about to have a big dinner at On the Twenty restaurant (when did I become a mom?), Jason couldn’t resist the lure chicken wing aroma and so a small plate of dry rub wings were ordered. (I had 3.) I learned this afterward, but we could have charged the beer and wings to our room.

Back at On the Twenty, we asked about cocktails and tried the recommended icewine martini. Neither of us enjoyed it, but you might.

As a shared appetizer we ordered the Seared Quebec Foîe Gras on candied French Toast with sour cherry chutney, blood orange pickle and Tahitian vanilla powder. It was paired with a (shared) glass of 2008 Riesling Icewine (late harvest).

As I write this a little over two weeks later (I intended to do it the next day) I remember how spectacular it was. Foie gras with sour cherry chutney is just perfect. I’d never had pickled blood orange before. That was brilliant. What can’t you pickle? (click that, trust me.) The pairing with the icewine was inspired. Jason offered to arm wrestle me for the last piece. I would have accepted but it didn’t seem like an arm wrestling sort of place. His verdict on the dish: “I have no critique of that. It was fantastic.” Well said, honey.

I don’t remember which one of us got that last piece but I know that I wanted more. This was one of the best things I’ve eaten in 2012.

We took a very specific approach to our entrees: The On the Twenty menu suggests wine pairings with each dish but instead of choosing the food and then wine, we chose the wine first. Our selection was Cave Spring 2007 Pinor Noir Estate ($40 at the winery, $75 at the restaurant).

Problem: Only one menu item lists this wine beneath it and as predicted, it was the duck. Jason and I rarely order the same thing because food is meant to be shared. Also, if I’m going to write about it I want variety.

Solution: Ask the chef to go off-menu, have fun, and make something that he thinks pairs well with the 2007 Pinot Noir Estate. I like doing that in restaurants when it’s not too busy (we were there during the off-season) and won’t throw off the chef. “No” is an acceptable answer to the request. Executive Chef Frank Romano nailed it. Pork is not on the dinner menu at all, but it is on the lunch menu and Chef gave us an organic Rowe Farms double pork chop, with cherry compote, fois gras jus and diced potatoes. The flavours were right on and I’d be thrilled to eat it again. If I had to critique it I’d say that it was a bit overcooked. As we went off-menu, we were charged the same price as the Wellington Beef Tenderloin.

The duck was a Lakeland Farms duck breast served with smoked wheat berries, roasted Tokyo turnips, fig and cherry balsamic compote, green peppercorn sauce. I love wheat berries. I like the way they pop in my mouth. The flavour reminded me of lapsang souchong tea, which I occasionally use as cooking liquid for grains. I adored the pairing with the pinot.

For dessert we ordered the Dessert Sampler for Two and some cheeses.

Chef came by and chatted with us. I learned that he’s from Toronto and moved up to the Niagara region last year. I didn’t ask for his history, but a quick search of the Chef and Restaurant Database tells me that he started in 1994 as Chef de Partie at Bloor Street Diner and has worked his way up since in various chef roles at a number of restaurants.

Service was excellent.

Full photo set slideshow
(food photos are too dark to post here)

We’d considered going back to Jordan Tavern after dinner to hear some live music but after all that food we returned to the hotel and passed out in front of the TV. Apparently even on vacation that’s our routine. I’m okay with that.

The next morning we lounged in bed until around 9:30 before heading back to On the Twenty for our included breakfast, where we were able to take in the beautiful view that had been invisible the evening before. Breakfast included assorted pastries and fruit salad and thin buckwheat pancakes served with maple syrup, fruit compote and choice of meat (sausage for me). I enjoyed the pancakes a lot.

After check-out, during which all we had to pay was dinner minus the $50 credit (that’s how it would work for any Samba Days card recipient), we drove around the area (we saw chickens crossing the road and wondered why?), enjoyed the scenery and checked out a couple more wineries before heading to Niagara Falls. I was craving kitch, we needed something to do, we couldn’t cross the border with the wine and I didn’t want to go home yet. Lunch (at an American chain restaurant, with a salad bar), a brief visit to the falls, a ride on the SkyWheel ferris wheel and back home to hide out for the rest of the weekend. I didn’t want anyone to know that we were home yet.

Thanks to Samba Days being the catalyst, we had an amazing couple of days. We build a two-day vacation around Samba Days. I would absolutely recommend Inn on the Twenty and On the Twenty. Our only critique of the hotel was that despite the reception desk being up a flight of stairs there was neither elevator nor porter, so we had to carry cases of wine up the stairs ourselves. A storage room on the main floor for guests to store their wine would be a great service to offer.

As a Samba Days experience I think that the overnight stay with discounts to spa and dining and free breakfast + bottle of wine is a great deal.

What do you give the person who has everything? A Samba Days gift card. Give the gift of an experience that they can choose themselves. I look forward to returning to Inn on the Twenty – maybe a Premium Suite – and to more Samba Days experiences.

Wineries visited:

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