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

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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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A midsummer night’s dream

The original idea was to see King Lear. But instead we were drawn to the controversial Stratford production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. Would we hate it–like the Toronto Star critic did? Or would we love it–like the Globe and Mail critic did?

Either way, it would certainly be cheerier than King Lear. (Which we may still see, in the fall. Although Stratford plays aren’t exactly cheap, are they?)

This production of Midsummer’s Night begins with a same-sex, mixed-race wedding, then presents the familiar Shakespeare play with the premise that Lysander is a woman, and hence not the suitor Hermia’s father prefers. I thought this was a rather effective retelling in our time, and interestingly, it was one thing that both Star and Globe critics appreciated as well.

It’s everything else that also gets thrown into this version of the play that the critics didn’t agree on. For example, that isn’t the only gender switching that goes on: most notable of the others is that the Fairy Queen is played by a gent, and a hairy one at that. And the play seems to be set (somewhat) in modern times, featuring modern pop music (most effectively, “Bizarre Love Triangle”) and a scene where the characters gather around a cell phone to look up the phases of the moon (though the answer is ultimately found in a paper almanac). And there is a whole lot of slapstick, physical humor: cake fights, slipping into water, almost-sex in a tent.

It’s certainly a memorable version of Midsummer Night’s Dream. And a funny one–especially the second half. I don’t know that I loved it quite as much as the Globe critic, but I most certainly didn’t hate it as much the Star one. Though if I have to pick between love it or hate it, as they say, then I’m going with love.

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Avocado for dessert

Wish I’d thought of it, but thought I could at least share it…

This dessert was quick, easy, and (for a dessert) pretty healthy…

  1. Alternate slices of pear and avocado on a plate (about ½ each per person).
  2. If you have them, add some sliced strawberry on the edges. (We can still get local strawberries.)
    I think blueberries sprinkled on would be nice as an alternative.
  3. Sprinkle each plate with about 1 Tbsp of blue cheese.
  4. Pour a little port over each plate.
  5. Grind on a bit of black pepper.
Avocado pear strawberry dessert

I didn’t stack the avocado and pear like this, but gives you the idea…

Sounds weird, but it was really quite delicious all together.

(Though keep in mind that I like all of those ingredients on their own as well. If you don’t… Your mileage on the taste front could vary.)

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Things we did in Toronto when not at a rock concert

Queen + Adam Lambert capped off our Toronto weekend, but before that, we….

1. Learned about sake

The Distillery District was our first destination (after checking into the hotel), where I happily shopped while Jean felt uncomfortable due to the crowds. (For a people person, he can be surprisingly squeamish about people.)

But we both enjoyed the one-hour sake tasting and tour we signed up for, at Ontario Spring Water Sake.

We had much to learn. I wasn’t even sure I remembered that it was made from rice, let alone what the other three ingredients were—one of which is Ontario water, though not from Toronto! And bacteria also plays an important role in the production, and since bacterial mix is always changing, so no two sake batches are ever quite the same.

We learned about the types of sake, notably pasteurized and unpasteurized, and “first press”, and about sake etiquette and its place in Japanese life. We were even treated to a beat boxing session at the end, as our guide does that on the side. He was very good!

We got to taste five samples, all notably different from one another for all being sake by the same company. Jean and I agree on our two favorites and bought a bottle of each.

2. Walked. A lot!

We were car-less in Toronto. We took the bus in, which itself involved a walk from our chosen parking lot to the Kitchener bus station. But except for some rain Sunday morning, it was nice weekend, so we just walked wherever we wanted to go rather than take transit. Jean figures we got in about 30 K in two days.

Roy Thompson Hall

Roy Thompson Hall (I think)

Buildings in Toronto

Things will be great when you’re downtown

Mall interior, Toronto

The malls are quiet at night

3. Visited the AGO

We spent a few hours there. We didn’t see the feature exhibit, on Francis Bacon and Henry Moore, but did see “Fan the Flames: Queer Positions in Photography.” That was installed, I assume, in coordination with the recent World Pride. It was an interesting collection, with combinations of video, collage collections, commercial photography, and work by artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe.

We also saw most of the “Art as Therapy”, where they gathered various pieces of the permanent collection under themes such as love, money, and politics. That made for some interesting juxtapositions as well.

4. Ate out

We had no bad meals in Toronto, but none were particularly spectacular, either. We decided to try Blowfish Sushi and Sake Bar based on a list that rated it the best sushi restaurant in downtown Toronto. While it was good, we didn’t agree that it was better than Ki, the supposed second-best one. But they did have some creativity in combinations and presentations.

Sushi platter

The truffle oil on these was nice. The garlic chip looked cool, but didn’t cohere as a taste. Better on its own…

Foamy sushi dish


Though we went here after the sake tasting, it was actually no help in picking one from the menu. (Not like they had any from Ontario Spring Water Sake company.) Fortunately the waitress was able to guide us toward one we enjoyed.

Breakfast, though very fine, is just breakfast, and was mainly notable for our managing to get a table just before the lineup for a table started, a feat we had also achieved on Saturday at Balzac’s coffee shop in The Distillery District.

Lunch was at Bangkok Garden, which was featuring a $15 three-course Summerlicious menu. It was very tasty, and a good deal, but mainly about the company, as we met up with my sister and brother-in-law there.

Dinner was another Summerlicious event, at Toula’s on Harbourfront, selected largely for being near the Air Canada Centre. It is a very cool room, though, on the 23rd floor, with windows all around.

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It’s an Italian place, and we liked the food. Jean had lobster ravioli as his main; I had gnocchi in tomato sauce. The service was also quite friendly and professional. But the room itself was the highlight.

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