Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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November was a heavy month

At least in terms of activities. (And the news. But I won’t be getting into that here.)

I’ve already blogged about dining at Gilt and taking in Nightshift; seeing Swing in concert; and listening to Who’s Next live in the tiny seats at Massey Hall. Now a summary of the rest.

Footloose the Musical: Not just a frolic

What I remember of Footloose the movie is that a preacher in a small town has banned dancing. Kevin Bacon moves to that town, takes up with the minister’s daughter, and dances his way into convincing the town to lift the ban.

Footloose the Musical, which we saw at the St. Jacob’s Playhouse, was very well-done, but the sadness running through the whole piece was a surprise to me. If also in the movie, I had forgotten about the abandoning father, the dead son and brother, the silenced women. Those people really needed to dance!

Jean was mostly sad that a piece that we first saw as contemporary is now an item of nostalgia.

A 100-mile feast with 7000 km theme

It’s somewhat confusing that 100-mile dinner of local food has a theme of A Tour of Italy, a country 7169 km away (says Google). But that’s what the Waterloo Inn had an offer, as sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and in benefit of local physician recruitment.

It was the place to be if you wanted to network. We were there for the food, but gathered up various business cards nonetheless. We were encouraged to Tweet during dinner, and so I did, and as a real rarity, also acted as food “photographer.” (I did all five courses, but will stick to three here.)

The Importance of Being Earnest: Reliably entertaining

I’ve seen the play before, I’ve seen the movie, yet I didn’t hesitate when invited to the University of Waterloo production of this Oscar Wilde play—and not only because the tickets were free (for me, because I’m special :-). I never remember the story that well; just that I really enjoyed watching it play out! This production, in the newly renovated Humanities Theatre, was no exception.

More people need to go to Marisol

We dined there before the Swing concert, and it was lovely as always, but alarmingly quiet for a Friday night. More people need to find this place! We can’t keep losing the area’s best restaurants.

Christmas parties

Some companies still have these. If yours doesn’t, I recommend marrying into one that does. It’s worked out for me.

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Writers on music: Like dancing about architecture?

That’s the saying, eh, that writing is about music is like dancing about architecture. Well, the KW Symphony begs to differ, and recently had a concert featuring novelists Miriam Toews and Wayne Grady, whose recent books (All My Puny Sorrows and Emancipation Day) have musicians as main characters.

Each novelist got half of the program, in which they read from their work, had the symphony play a piece related to what they read, discussed music and writing with the conductor, then listened to a modern work by the symphony and read a response to that.

it was a fascinating evening. The symphony were “forced” into genres they don’t typically tackle—jazz and piano concertos (featuring a lovely soloist from Wilfrid Laurier), and I’m sure the novelists hadn’t been previously familiar with the work they commented on.

And I have two new novels on my reading list.


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Gilt-y dining

Cork is a restaurant in Elora, Ontario that we enjoy going to. Elora is a bit of a hike, though, so we were happy to hear that the owners were opening a second restaurant in Kitchener: Gilt.

Gilt opened in late September, and we tried it out on November 1. It’s relatively small and has a contemporary look, with a bar area along with its tables. It was a little loud but not to the point of not being able to hear each other. Service was good–attentive and wel- informed about the menu items.

And that menu is all tasting plates; that is, tapas-style, appetizer-size dishes. The regular menu items are supplemented by three varying specials: from the sea, from land, and raw feature. The waiter recommended that we order two to four items per person.

So we got a variety. We liked that their oyster menu detailed exactly which were available, and let you select as many of each type as you want. (They do similarly with their cheese plate, though we didn’t try that.) We went three East Coast options, six oysters in total. Still on the seafood theme, we tried their raw ceviche tun special, and some cooked scallops.

To that we added brie and pear flatbreads (an item we’d enjoyed at Cork), duck confit steam buns, BC wild mushrooms, and peanut butter & jam foie gras! Except for the mushrooms, which seemed a bit underseasoned, we were happy with all items. Jean was impressed with their take on foie gras, the only issue being perhaps a bit too much salt topping.

They have a pretty good wine list, offering many by the large or small glass, 1/2 half liter, or full bottle. Given the variety of food, we got 1/2 liter of Sauvignon and a glass of Malbec to share.

We were reasonably full after that, and ready to skip dessert, until they described the house specialty, nitro ice cream. For this, you get to go back to the kitchen and watch them make the ice cream with liquid nitrogen. It’s kind of fun. And the results are very delicious!

We took no photos during dinner, but afterward we went to check out the Kitchener Nightshift, a sort of nuit blanche event with outdoor installations and many stores and restaurants open until 2:00 AM. It was unfortunately a somewhat chilly night for it, though many participants had hot beverages on offer. We found this Gloss installation interesting, though feared the models might be chilly:

Gloss installation at Kitchener Nightshift

We later went into the Gloss store for the first time, and I emerged with a nifty new lace top.


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Sleeping in Seattle

Near Mount Rainier, we stayed at the Copper Creek Inn, which provides an unusual “do it yourself” experience in hospital. You pay the cost upfront—not unknown in online booking online—but then they send you an access code and directions for getting into your room. That is, you never check in: You get there and let yourself into the building, then into the room. The all-important wifi password is posted on the wall, and any other documentation you might need is also in the room.

No one makes your bed or gives you fresh towels for the second day, either (though apparently, if we had stayed a third day, that would have happened). And when you’re ready to leave—you guessed it—you don’t check out; you just leave.

It was odd, but fine.The room was really cute, with a seating area, apart from the bedroom:

Seating area in Roselea's Suite at Copper Creek Inn

And even a small hot tub;

Small hot tub in Roselea's Suite at Copper Creek Inn

It also had some nice touches like an iPod dock.

And, it was right above a restaurant. The placed focused on more “homey” food like potatoes and pie, but on our first supper there, we concluded that everything was quite good. Our waitress was also great. We were hemming and hawing over which Washington wine to try, so she brought a tasting portion of all five house reds! (All quite decent, and we settled on a blend.) We also found the prices really reasonable—$90 for two fish entrees, which came with soup or salad, two pieces of pie, and the bottle of wine.

So except for one lunch in the park cafeteria, we ate all our Rainier meals there—breakfast and dinner,

Lake Crescent Lodge, at Olympic Park, had a beautiful setting:

Lake Crescent Lodge, Washington

But we almost had crisis there, because we didn’t have wifi in our room! We knew about the no TV or phones (staff there communicated via walkie-talkie), but no wifi? That’s crazy! (I was also out of cell phone range, so that was no help.)

Fortunately, we found that there was wifi at the main lodge. Not as convenient, but enough to feed the addiction. :-)

Our room at Lake Crescent featured cool-looking wood furniture, but was overall more barren than at Copper Creek. They were very environmentally focused: It was the first hotel room I’d ever seen with a compost along with a recycle bin. Possibly related, the shower water temperature was somewhat… Uneven. But it was otherwise a comfortable place to stay.

And the food at their restaurants, my friends… That was good stuff!

Meals there admittedly tended to be more than $90 for dinner, but it was a more gourmet approach than Copper Creek, as per this fancy plate presentation:

Wow! Heirloom Tomato Salad!

Heirloom tomatoes with sorbet, arugula, and toasts

And the items generally tasted as good as they looked. Particular standouts were their roasted Brussel sprouts and boar bacon appetizer, the crab Hollandaise breakfast (Jean had that), the pictured Heirloom tomato appetizer, and the seared scallops with lemon foam:

Scallops ... fresh!

We ate all our meals at that restaurant, while in the park.

In Seattle itself we stayed at The Maxwell Hotel, a very modern-looking place with a bright colour scheme. Our room was quite spacious and had all the amenities one could want, including open wifi (though that was a little flaky at times).

Queen room at Maxwell Hotel

A room at the Maxwell. Not *our* room, but gives you the idea.

They also had pretty friendly staff, offered free cupcakes daily (tiny but good), and the food at the bar restaurant was considerably better than we’d expected it to be.

But that was the only meal we ate there. We were in Seattle! Too many other options to explore.

  • Breakfast daily was at a cafe three blocks down, that the hotel staff recommended. I don’t seem to have noted its name, but it was very good, offering a lot of crepes.
  • Local 360 had a menu focused on ingredients from within 100 miles (or something like that). It was also the first restaurant I’d been to that wouldn’t seat us until the other two members of our party arrived, Hmm. And, the print on its menu was too small for me to read by candlelight. Grumble.
    But on the plus side, food was good—weirdly, I started with a cheese plate while Jean had salad—and the waiter was very helpful with wine suggestions (given I couldn’t read the menu myself!).
  • Black Bottle was an excellent tapas restaurant. The highlight were the clams in garlic sauce, rivaling those we’d had in Spain, but no complaints about any dishes, which included deep-fired olives, raw oysters, and lemon tart on a lavender crust. On arrival, we feared the place would be too noisy, but they sat us in back where the volume was quite reasonable.
  • The Chihuly Museum had a good restaurant in it, the Collection Cafe, which was quite convenient for lunch on our “running around to museums” day in Seattle. With museum entry, you got a free small appetizer or dessert with your meal.
  • La Vita e Bella was a very enjoyable Italian restaurant, with generous serving sizes and very well-prepared food, Jean had a rigatoni with chanterelle mushrooms in white wine sauce, which was very delicious. I couldn’t resist having fish again, so went with their fresh halibut special.
  • Cafe Presse, in the Capitol Hill area, effectively revived memories of our trips to France with its menu of rillettes, fromage, and olives marinés. (Our French pronunciation on ordering threw the waiter off a bit, though! Menu items really were in French, but with English descriptions.) We ordered only appetizers, but still ended up with too much food. All good, though. And French wine.

Making several of these meals more special was that we had another couple joining us! (And we even got a delicious, home-cooked brunch out of the deal.)

E. and I were matched as “pen pals” (remember those?) many years ago, when we were both around 13, via some teen magazine. I had quite a few pen pals back in those pre-email / Facebook days, and some of those correspondences endured for years. But only this one has endured to this day.

This was the first time we’d spent any amount of time together “in person”, filling in those details of real life that you’re never going to write each other about. And, it was the first opportunity to get to know E.’s husband in his own words, not hers. It was great. Jean commented after the first meeting how comfortable it all was. By the end of the trip, he was musing that spending time with them might have been his favorite activity of all.

There is magic in long-distance friendships.


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Ode to Verses

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got

Takin’ a break from all your worries sure would help a lot

Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go

Where everybody knows your name

And they’re always glad you came

For Norm Peters, that place was Boston bar Cheers. For Jean and me, it was Verses Restaurant.

Now, a white-linen, four-diamond restaurant likely seems a curious place to name as somewhere so comfortable, you can forget all your worries and just revel in the companionship. Yet, that’s how it was, The waiters may have been in suits, but they were never stuffy. The menu may have contained items you’d never heard of, but they were always delighted to explain it to you. And they had a remarkable ability to remember you, and your name.

But after 11 years in business, Verses is closing its doors as of September 27.

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The news was a shock. This was our place. Our New Year’s Eve destination. The one spot my parents always want to go when they visit. The place where we catch up with friends. Where we have Christmas parties, celebrate anniversaries, partake in multi-course and surprise dining experiments.

We went in for one last dinner. Waiter Ken joked about people’s reaction: “People keep saying, ‘Where will I go now?’ Excuse me if I can’t sympathize too much, given that I just lost my job!” Hmm, good point.

But last two weeks or not, the food and service quality was impeccable as always.

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What wasn’t quite so usual were the many conversations about what other restaurants the various staff might be ending up at, the promise that we would be emailed everyone’s final destinations, and the round of hugs for everyone at the end—along with some bonus chocolate mint truffles.

The fact is, there aren’t any other restaurants in Kitchener-Waterloo that offer the same level of creative, high-quality cuisine as Verses.

But it isn’t the food I’m going to miss the most.

Gallery of Verses photos through the years


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Barbie-Q at Langdon Hall

Langdon Hall is a chi-chi poo-poo restaurant and spa in Cambridge, Ontario.

Langdon Hall at night

Langdon Hall at night (by Jean)

This summer they have been offering barbecue experiences for the comparatively low price of $75 a plate. We decided to try out the one on the last Friday in August, featuring a menu by Toronto chef Jamie Kennedy and cheese from Montforte Dairy of Stratford.

They and we were lucky enough to get nice weather that day—no rain and warm, but not too warm. So we were seated outside, in a part of the grounds we’d never seen before. (Apparently there was a contingency plan for indoor seating if necessary, but it was not necessary.)

Outdoor seating at Langdon Hall

Outdoor seating at Langdon Hall

The servers brought drinks, but they explained that it was otherwise a “serve yourself” style. (All you can eat, I guess, though I hadn’t thought of it that way until now!) They had a soup and salad station, a barbecue station, and a dessert table.

They also had a selection of five wines on offer—for an extra charge—all available by the bottle or the glass: three French and two Canadian. Or, you could try all five in 3-oz serving stations. Jean and I couldn’t resist the “try all five” option, though I then realized that with this “serve yourself” approach, I’d have to figure out my own pacing through them all. They went from lightest white to heaviest red, so I aimed for the two whites with salads, first two reds with barbecue, then big red gliding into dessert if necessary.

We proved to be pretty effective at pacing our way through the meal, making it a lingering one. We paused partway through to visit their gardens—they grow a lot of their own food here. We noted a rabbit in the garden, and wondered why he or she hadn’t devoured everything in sight.

Langdon Hall

Flowers in the herb and veggie garden of Langdon Hall

There’s no point in listing everything we ate, but standouts were:

  • Watermelon gazpacho with herb oil and Monteforte Fresco—Who would have thought of that? But it was lovely
  • Shiso (an Asian herb) with peaches and plums and Montforte Blossom
  • Torched wild keta salmon—Outstanding texture and smokey flavor
  • Salt marsh lamb
  • Grilled corn with herbed chillies and buttermilk sauce
  • Decadent brownies (that was their name)—Deep, intense chocolate
  • Blueberry fritters—Nice little ones

All the wines were worthwhile, also, but the standouts were probably the Niagara Keint-He Chardonnay and the 2003 Haut Medoc red from Chateau Dasvin Bel Air.

Cheese and charcuterie at Langdon Hall Barbecue

Cold plate sampler

Corn and salmon Langdon Hall Barbecue

And warm

It was neat that chef Jamie Kennedy himself served us some of the barbecue items. (And he commented that he enjoyed working with a glass of wine in one hand.)

Jamie Kennedy at Langdon Hall

Spot the chef! (He’s the one pointing at the food)It

It was a fun night out. If they do this again next summer, we’re going to see if can rally up more troops for it.


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Vacation photo count: Low

The nature of our week-long Ontario getaway—combined with some unseasonable August weather—meant that the number of photos Jean took was much lower than usual. Good thing we went to Science North in Sudbury, or it would otherwise have been close to a count of zero.

Science North building

The Science North building is itself very interesting, built right onto the rock of Sudbury

Flowers overlooking the lake in Science North

It was a gray day in Sudbury, so a good one to be inside a museum

We weren’t the only ones with that thought, though; Science North was crazy full of parents and their kids!

Butterfly close-up from Science North

The butterfly room was a nice, calm oasis away from the crowds

We probably spent the most time on the floor focusing on wildlife. We were there late afternoon, which happened to be feeding time for a lot of the critters.

Porcupine at Science North

If you’ve ever wanted to pet a porcupine, Science North is the place for you

Skunk feeding at Science North

The skunk was too shy for petting, especially with all the kids there that day, but couldn’t resist coming out for meal worms

Beaver feeding at Science North

The beaver was nonplussed by his audience, and a big fan of green beans

And to conclude, the now almost obligatory photo of me in front of food, at Churchill’s restaurant in North Bay (another day, on the way back).

Ahi tuna at Churchill's Restaurant in North Bay Ontario

Lovely ahi tuna


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Tapas at Haisai

Haisai, in the small town of Singhampton, is an unusual-looking restaurant.

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When we drove up to it on Sunday, we weren’t even sure it was open. But the young guitarist outside confirmed that it was. And the fact that there was a young guitarist outside–in jeans, with a beard, and electric guitar–tells you something about the place as well.

Haisai has a strong focus on sustainable and natural food. You are given tap water there, not offered bottled. Both house wines are Ontario. Most of the ingredients are from the owner’s farm. I don’t know if it actually has an organic designation, but it’s certainly no factory farm, but just a small operation with pigs, chickens, vegetables, and fruit.

And, that owner / farmer also happens to be a world-reknowned chef, Michael Stadtlander. He’s no longer the chef at Haisai, however, but he does the guide the menu, which offers tapas-size dishes along with stone-oven pizza.

We went for four of the tapas plates: French bean salad with speck and mustard dressing, speck and Cheddar pierogi, vegetarian gyoza (dumplings), and roast pork on peach ravioli. (As you see, there is a lot “speck” on the menu. That is a delicious long-smoked pork.)

Not having been prepared by Michael Stadtlander, not everything tasted like a miracle in your mouth. But it was all very good, and the offerings were creative. And, not having been prepared by Michael Stadtlander, each dish was only $6 to $9. (The whole meal, with a glass of wine each, and dessert each, came to $75.)

Singhampton, Ontario, Canada
Yet another picture of me in front of food

Speaking of desserts, Jean declared that my trio of ice creams was some of the best ice cream he’d ever had. I felt much the same. (I can’t remember all the flavors–lavendar, peach, another…?) His apple crumble with maple cream was perfectly acceptable too, though.

Haisai. It’s worth the drive to Singhampton.

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