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Second time’s the charm for the Easy Pour Wine Bar

Although we had no complaints about the food at our first visit to the Easy Pour Wine Bar, the service left something to be desired.

It’s not a high-end, white-linen place; we weren’t expecting anyone to hold our chairs as we sat or to be given a complimentary amuse to start.

But we did expect familiarity with the menu, as it is a bit of an unusual one. It has a list of items “to share”, then some salads, then flatbreads, then a small number of “heartier plates”. So it wasn’t as clear as at appetizer / entree / dessert restaurants how much to order from each category. We needed guidance, and we didn’t really get it.

And it didn’t help the situation any when Jean asked which cheeses were included on the cheese plate, and the waiter didn’t know, and then seem quite startled that Jean expected him to go to the kitchen to find out.

Hence the rather large gap since our last visit. But when some friends wanted to go out for dinner, we thought we’d give them another chance.

And fortunately, we had a much more “on the ball” waitress this time out, who opined correctly on the amount of food we’d ordered, steered in a different direction when we ordered two rather similar items, and gave some good wine suggestions. We decided to share everything, picking among the “to share”, salad, and flatbread categories. We started with the Mixed board, a nice selection of cheese, olives, deli meats, bread, and crackers.

Mixed board

The remaining items were brought out together, per our waitress’s suggestion:

  • Pea seared sea scallops
  • Warm pecan crusted goat cheese
  • Roasted beet salad
  • Truffle mushroom flatbread

Easy_Pour_(20_of_43)_150425

Everything was really tasty, good texture, temperature, and presentation.

Our additional request for a special that day, oysters roquefeller, was apparently not heard, but just as well, as the above was enough food, and then most of us had room for dessert. I had the pumpkin creme brulee, which was light and delightful, and Jean went for the more hardy sticky toffee pudding.

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The restaurant itself has character, It’s a stone building, not that large, with wood interior and open ceiling to the second floor. It was packed this Saturday night, and that made it a bit noisy, but we still managed conversation. (Although once the musicians started, that became harder, but that was only at the end of our meal.)

Nice night out. Good to know the service issues aren’t chronic.


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What We Do in the Shadows on Easter Weeknd

Easter weekend this year looked like a lot like Christmas: Sunday we awoke to a coating of snow. It was pretty (and gone by Monday), but not really what you expect in April.

So it seems appropriate that I served up an Easter dinner of very hardy foods: Maple-Dijon roasted root vegetables, potatoes in duck fat, and herbed lamb chops. Served with a Cabernet Sauvignon from Peller Estates.

Easter Dinner!

Everything turned out well. Not the prettiest-looking meal I’ve ever made, but still more photo-worthy than citrus cake I made for dessert. Poor thing looked so sad, starting with the fact that my two cake pans aren’t quite the same diameter, so it had an odd shape, with ominously dripping cream cheese icing. (It’s occurring to me I could have cut the larger circle to fit the smaller, but that does sound like a waste of cake.) Tasted great, though.

I had vampires on the mind somehow :-) so we also took in a movie at the Princess called What We Do in the Shadows. It’s set in New Zealand, and purports to be a documentary about the lives (or unlives?) of vampires. Specifically, that four vampires of varying ages who share a flat agree to be interviewed and filmed as they go about their usual activities.

My feminist self will point out that this yet another movie that over-casts men. All the leads are men; the women in it are side characters, servants or girlfriends.

With that complaint out of the way, though—this is a really funny movie! Very enjoyable. These are your classic vampires who can’t eat food, wear silver, or go out during the day. but who can fly and transform into creatures. The centuries-long age differences cause some tensions among the roommates, which are only exacerbated when they are joined by a newly sired vampire who can’t resist telling everyone that he’s “like Twilight.”

(“Keep a low profile?” he complains, when called on it. “You have a whole documentary crew following you around!”)

What We Do in the Shadows official trailer

Jean enjoyed it as well, declaring it “weird but good”.

And that was Easter this year: Snow, vampires, and lopsided cake.


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Back to Bhima’s

Last weekend we went out for our “late for me, slightly early for him” birthday dinner. After much hemming and hawing, we decided to on Bhima’s Warung, a restaurant we hadn’t been to in a few years.

It was much busier than we remembered! We asked the waitress if that was unusual, but she was said no, it was typical—even on weekdays. It’s not that big a place; the couple seated next to us joked about how we were basically dining together, our tables were so close.

Bhima’s offers the cuisine of Asia prepared using French culinary techniques. Definitely makes for an original menu.

This day they were also offering a surprise six-course menu based on the foods of Sumatra, for $47. Partly just out of laziness, Jean decided to go with that. I was not obliged to join in with him on it, though, so I puttered through the menu, which was made even more complex by the addition of three special appetizers and entrees that day.

Since we don’t get to Bhima’s that often, I wanted a sampling of items. The waitress described my ordered amount as somewhat “challenging” in terms of quantity. But she did point out that most of their dishes taste even better reheated the next day.

We didn’t take notes, so there’s no going through everything we eat (which is probably a relief to you). I will say that everything was very good, marking an improvement over previous visits, where the food could be uneven.

And we do have some photos.

Oysters at Bhima's

Oysters times two

Oyster are ordered by the piece, so we went with two from the regular menu, in warm lemongrass, ginger, chili, and garlic sauces, and two that were specials of the day: an oyster shooter in vodka.

Squid with rujak salad

Squid with ‘rujak’ salad

I also tried the regular menu sotong goreng sama rujak, or tapioca and garlic fried squid in roasted chili, lime, and hoisin glaze with ‘rujak’ salad. Very nice; great texture on the squid.

Shrimp items

Shrimp and ?

One of Jean’s courses featured shrimp and… Stuff we can’t remember.

Monkfish and lobster ball

Another Jean menu item: This one was monkfish and lobster ball

My main involved rabbit done three ways (a special), and it did indeed make a fine leftover. :-) Dessert for me was a tapioca and ice cream concoction, while Jean’s menu concluded with ice cream made of something we’d never heard of and now can’t remember—but tasted very good—along with some sort of pastry or apple or something. (Look, it was a lot of food!)

Bhima's dessert

Mystery ice cream with mystery other things

It’s not a fine dining experience, but the dining was still quite fine. We should notify Where to Eat in Canada that Bhima’s is once more worthy of inclusion.


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Experiencing pop culture in a time of grief

When someone you love dies, blogging about pop culture, news, travel, and food drops off the priority list.

Doesn’t mean that these trivialities drop our of your life, though. Just that your relationship to them changes, at least for a time.

Music

You know, if you break my heart I’ll go
But I’ll be back again
‘Cause I told you once before good-bye
And I came back again

Music is an emotional mindfield, isn’t it? I don’t think The Beatles “I’ll Be Back” would make anyone’s list of saddest songs ever, but on a day of bad news, I couldn’t handle it. I frantically searched through my playlists for safer havens. I finally settled on “High Energy”, a gathering of uptempo rock and dance numbers, generally with pleasingly dumb lyrics. I stayed locked on that for about a week and a half, ‘til it finally seemed just too incongruous. (Then I switched to Classical.)

Adam Lambert’s excellent album Trespassing was just the sort of uptempo music I needed for a time

Food

I was interested to discover that I still got hungry, still wanted to cook, was still able to eat. Because certain forms of stress and worry make that difficult for me. But not this one, this situation with a known but sad outcome. While  I didn’t eat more, or drink more—I didn’t find comfort in that—I still enjoyed the routine of preparing and eating meals.

I certainly became a distracted cook, though. Leaving the milk out on the counter, putting the vinegar in the wrong pantry, forgetting to start the timer. Like the energy of pushing the sadness away enough to follow a recipe was not leaving enough mental space to remember anything that wasn’t written down.

Things are now improving on that front.

Movies and TV

While actually going out to a movie seemed like too much effort, watching stuff on TV was an appealing distraction. Since I don’t watch much medical stuff anyway, there wasn’t much I felt I had to avoid. Howard’s mother died on Big Bang Theory (as the actress had in real life), but it was handled with a light touch and didn’t set me off. In picking HBO movies, I decided to skip Tom Cruise’s Edge of Tomorrow for now, given its premise of the lead character dying over and over. I instead watched and quite appreciated the comedic In a World, one of the more overtly feminist movies I’ve seen in a long time. Recommended.

In a World trailer

News

The human interest stories—little boys lost in the snow, Oliver Sack’s terminal cancer diagnosis—were best avoided for a while, but I still found the theatre of politics a surprisingly useful distraction. Especially in Twitter form (about the length of my attention span, at times). I couldn’t truly dig up my own personal outrage at some of what was going on, but I could still appreciate and retweet other people’s. #StopC51 and all that.

Books

Cover of Being MortalSo just a few days before all this my book club had selected Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal as our next book. It’s about getting older and end of life care, and how the medical profession has been dealing with it, and how it should.

Of course, there were days I wasn’t up to reading much of anything at all, but when I did feel up to it, I did read this, I seriously doubt I would have selected this particular book if left to my own druthers, but I feel it was in some ways helpful. It’s an excellent book, anyway, and much of it was more abstract and factual, which appealed to my logical side. Stories did become more personal and touching later in the book, but that was later in this whole saga for me too and—I don’t think it made anything worse. It certainly presented a number of scenarios I’m so glad my loved one never went through.


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Valentine / Family Day weekend

We originally thought of taking a day trip this long weekend—maybe do some snowshoeing—but the record cold temperatures dissuaded us from that plan. Instead we found entertainment closer to home.

Friday night we had dinner with friends at Aqua, the new seafood restaurant in the not-so-new Crowne Plaza Hotel. The service was a little iff-y—bit inattentive—but the food was pretty good. We all went with the Valentine’s special menu. The highlights were the beet soup with smoked trout, the ravioli and beef entree Jean had, and the two desserts: A chocolate mousse cake and a cookie with ice cream concoction. We all concluded we’d eat here again, amidst that special chlorinated pool ambiance. :-)

Afterward we all attended a symphony concert. It started with a modern piece that our friend accurately described as interesting, but not that musical. Then we got Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concert no. 2 in C minor. For me, this would be the number 3 Rachmaninoff piano concerto I have heard live, and he is three for three in my books. I always enjoy them. The second movement of this one sounds so much “All By Myself” that Eric Carmen still pays royalties to Rachmininoff’s estate. (True fact!) The third movement was lively and sensual. The featured pianist was an attractive and obviously talented young woman named Natasha Paremski.

The second half of the concert featured Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, which was also good though, for me, not as good as the piano concerto.

Saturday was actual Valentine’s Day, and we don’t generally go to restaurants then. But it being a holiday, I decided to make a nicer dinner.

I tried a new (to me) Jamie Oliver recipe for slow-cooked duck pasta. We weren’t able to buy the duck until that morning, and it was frozen, so the main challenge was getting it defrosted in time for dinner that day. That required a whole lot of rinsing.

Otherwise, the recipe wasn’t tough: Just required time. The duck cooked at 350 for 2 hours, in its juices, and I had to turn it every half hour. Then in a fry pan I sauteed some pancetta, then I added various vegetables and some can tomatoes and red wine to make a pasta sauce. After the duck cooled, we removed the meat from it, and added that to the sauce. Then it was a matter of cooking rigatoni and mixing it all together, topped with Parmesan.

by Jamie Oliver. Valentine Dinner at home

Quite delish. We served it with a Chateauneuf du pape.

For dessert I made a chocolate mousse cake. No flour, just cocoa, unsweetened, and bittersweet chocolate with eggs and Cool Whip, basically. It was another new recipe (to me), and it turned out well—not too sweet, good texture.

.... or is that chocolate mousse? Too much wine with dinner .. Valentine Dinner with my one and only :)

But we weren’t done eating yet. :-)

Sunday we braved the cold and drove to Wilk’s Bar, which is at Langdon Hall, for lunch. It isn’t a cheap place (though cheaper than the Langdon Hal dining room), but they do a nice job.

Valentine Lunch at Wilke's Bar at Langdon Hall

We had the “From the Land” sharing platter to start, along with four oysters. The oysters were amazing. The land platter was fine, but not outstanding. The highlight of that was probably the almonds!

Valentine Lunch at Wilke's Bar at Langdon Hall

Muskox stew with mushroom risotto in the background

Both of the lunch entrees were very good, though. I had the wild mushroom risotto and Jean had muskox stew. The glasses of wine were quite nice, also.

But no time (or room, really) for dessert, as we had tea dance tickets for 2:00. After a detour to the wrong location, we got to that event around 2:15. It was a fun time, and a chance to work off some of the food—especially dancing to “Jump, Jive, and Wail”! Wow, that’s a fast song. (Which is why the wailing after the jiving, I guess.)

And then, we dashed to a 4:20 showing of The Theory of Everything at the Princess. Pretty interesting movie about the relationship between Stephen Hawking and his first wife, Jane. Definitely shows the challenges of her having to cope with his increasingly serious illness. Though of course, as we know, he continued to do amazing physics work through it all.

Then we were ready to go back home and relax. Family Day was pretty quiet, and that suited us just fine. Especially as we got some news Sunday night that definitely had us thinking about family.


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Toronto in pictures

Our annual “weekend in Toronto in winter because Jean has a conference” wasn’t terribly eventful—we drove back before da big storm really hit—but it did provide some photographic opportunities.

We visited the very crowded, kind of expensive, but still pretty neat Ripley’s Aquarium.

Ripley's Aquarium, Toronto, Ontario

The big draw seemed to be sharks swimming overhead.

Ripley's Aquarium, Toronto, Ontario

But there were other interesting critters, too

Ripley's Aquarium, Toronto, Ontario

Hello moray

We had some trouble getting dinner reservations Saturday due to (I assume) Winterlicious being on. But we managed to get in at Frank, at the AGO. Jean had their Winterlicious items while I ordered from the main menu.

Frank's at the Art Gallery of Ontario

This was the mussel appetizer.

I had a roasted squash salad. For mains, we each had a tuna entree, but prepared different ways—both good.

Frank's at the Art Gallery of Ontario

This was the Winterlicious entree.

For wine, we had a bottle of a Spanish white, an albarino, that was on special. Quite nice, and appeared to be low in alcohol.

For dessert, Jean’s had rum raisin crème brulée. Yum.

Frank's at the Art Gallery of Ontario

I had the Tres Leches Cake—not too shaby, either.

For January, the weather wasn’t too bad. It was partly sunny on Saturday, and not that cold, especially when not in the wind. So we did do some walking around, and Jean took some photos.

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Toronto City Hall

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Skating rink at Nathan Phillips Square

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View from our hotel

Sunday we had some delicious dim sum (no photos), then visited the Douglas Coupland exhibit at the ROM. It was more to my taste than Jean’s. Therefore, you must now prepare for a precipitous decline in photo quality, because the following ones are mine.

If you look at the next image through the camera of your cell phone, they’ll look quite different than they do with the naked eye. It’s really weird. (And if you actually take the cell phone picture, you lose the effect.)

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I don’t know what you do if you’re looking at this post on your cell phone.

The exhibit was very pop art-like. One set of paintings was of QR codes that bring up phrases like “Sworn to fun, loyal to none” and “I wait and I wait and I wait for God to appear”, that you can then text to your friends to confuse them. Another was a large installation of found objects, arranged to represent the four quadrants of the brain, and the cerebellum.

The following photos might help you judge how interested you might find all this. How many of these coloured squares do you want to read?

IMG_20150201_121651

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I read them all.


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And a happy new year

With Verses closed, we were at a bit of a loss as to what to do New Year’s Eve. We finally went with just a dinner at Marisol. And that was fine—food and service were good, as always—but it just wasn’t particularly special. Except for a salmon carpaccio starter and roast duck on duck confit main—both very good—it was just the regular menu.

But at least I got to wear a new dress.

Purple dress

Next year we might see if Haisai does anything for New Year’s. We did stop there on the drive up to Timmins, and meals there are always special!

Dessert at Haisai

The intriguing desserts at Haisai. (They tasted good, too.)

Yesterday the weather turned frightful with a winter storm, so it seemed a good day to do our new year’s cooking thing. We decided to return to some past fave items.

The starter was a tuna carpaccio with avocado quenelle, which we’d first made last year. This was the fastest, easiest item we prepared, but quite good, with its dressing of good olive oil and lime juice, And the Stratus 2010 white we had with it was complex and amazing.

Tuna starter with Stratus white

The main course took the main amount of time to prepare: Duck confit and mashed potato ravioli with white truffle sauce (first attempted in 2009). You have to prepare the mashed potatoes, and chop up and heat all the duck meat, then combine all that and stuff it into about 60 sets of wonton noodles… Fortunately, it really does taste amazing in the end.Duck ravioli and squash salad

We served that with a roasted butternut squash salad with pears and stilton, which was a new recipe. We followed the recipe except for cutting the squash a little thinner than we were supposed to (that was an accident, saved by less cooking time), using mixed greens instead of escarole (what is escarole?), and using “speck”—double smoked bacon we’d acquired from Michael Stadtlander’s farm after visiting Haisai—instead of regular bacon. It was very tasty, even when we forgot the dressing!

And the GSM wine we selected stood up well to all the strong flavors.

Dessert was chocolate souffle (from 2010). This year we got smart and only baked the two we planned to eat this night, since souffle really doesn’t hold up well to being a leftover. We served that with a raspberry wine that was less sweet than expected, but still a classic pairing for chocolate.

Chocolate souffle

And, I took the opportunity to wear another new dress. (I may have a dress problem.)

Black dress

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