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


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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

Foamy!

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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Enver’s of Morriston

Morriston is a tiny town about 40 minutes west of KW. Enver’s is a fine dining restaurant that, inexplicably, is located in this town. I’ve been curious to try it for, oh, 20 years—but it’s just hard to find a reason to drive to Morriston for dinner.

Finally, though, last Friday, another couple invited us to a wine tasting dinner there.

The food was matched with these Tandem wines, none of which are available from the LCBO:

  • Coal Pit Sauvignon Blanc 2011
  • Coal Pit Pinot Noir 2011
  • Teusmer GMS “Joshua” 2012

These were all were quite nice. The Sauvignon was very complex and lovely; the Pinot was fruity but not excessively slow—still had tannins; the GMS was big but sophisticated.

Unfortunately, the wine seems to have clouded my recall for how the food was, exactly.

Truly, it’s a bit sad how tipsy I feel from a mere three glasses of wine over about three hours. And what’s with the waking up all sweaty about 4:00 in the morning after? Is that some “old lady” thing I have now?

I do have the menu, so I do know exactly what we had. There is some photographic evidence as well, though the photos didn’t turn out as well as usual. And I definitely enjoyed the company; it was a fun night.

But the food? Hmm…

Well, the amuse was definitely nice: “Maple hot smoked wild spring salmon on buckwheat blini with crème fraiche, rhubarb “caviar” and chive flowers.” A bit hard to eat, standing, but very tasty.

And the appetizer featured spot prawns, from BC, which apparently are quite the delicacy, and only available for a short time of the year. Those were served with avocado frozen yogurt, grapefruit, passionfruit coulis, and shaved asparagus salad.

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Unfortunately, travel doesn’t seem to suit spot prawns, and they were just not as tasty as good prawns can be. All the sides were good, though.

Then, the menu informs me, we had porchetta with baked romano beans on rye toast and beets. Very homey. And I think everything tasted.. fine? [Lamest blog post ever!]

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And after that came, says menu, saddle of lamb on braised lamb and mint ravioli with porcini mushrooms and currants. As for taste and texture, I got nothing. But Jean said the ravioli, while not bad, was not as good as he was hoping. The lamb looks nice in the picture, though:

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Dessert, wine-less and photo-less, I do recall being rather light and pleasant. (Will say that with the number of courses, they did a good job of making sure the serving sizes were reasonable.) It was a rhubarb tart with citrus curd. Refreshing!

But overall, that was a most unsatisfactory review. We’re just going to have to go again. (And I’m just going to have to stick to two glasses of wine.)


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Movie review: Fed Up

*** Fed Up (May 2014) – Theatre

Fed Up posterDocumentary about the obesity epidemic, linking it to changes in the food industry, particularly increased use of sugar.

He says: That was depressing.

She says: Fed Up gives the stats on the increasing obesity rates, particularly among children, and includes interviews with several such young people and teenagers. You can’t help but feel for how miserable their weight makes them, and how tough is it to lose.

Various experts than give their views that just saying “kids need to exercise more” is misguided, because the amount of calories burnt during exercise is so limited. (This is further bolstered by showing that one of the obese teens profiled is very active, every day, yet can’t seem to get the weight off.) Instead, they point to the changes in the food industry in the past 40 years, and how these track with increasing rates of obesity in America—and increasingly, around the world. This has had terrible and unprecedented effects on health, such as teenagers developing Type 2 diabetes.

The problematic changes include greatly increased amounts of sugar, greater use of cheese, and making conveniences food available everywhere—like at the checkout counters of stores that sell other things. Several examples are shown of governments trying to make changes to the food supply to make it healthier, and the food industry resisting them. This started with the McGovern Report in 1977 and continues to this day with Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign which started as a call to action to change the actual food supply, but now seems to be more about getting kids to exercise. (Ms. Obama refused to be interviewed for the documentary.)

It’s an interesting movie, and a compelling argument. It ends with some tips for what you can do while waiting for a better world :-), but I got to say, until that happens, it really is difficult.

For instance. In talking about the problem with sugar, the movie emphasizes that it’s not naturally occurring sugar in fruit, for example, that’s a problem. It’s added sugar. The movie also points out that in ingredient lists, sugar can be listed under many different names (corn syrup, malodrexin, sucrose, fructose, etc. — it was a huge list).

But what the movie doesn’t cover is that nutrition labels don’t distinguish naturally occurring and and added sugar. They just say Sugar. (This is the same in the US and Canada.) So if you look at a nutrition label on frozen peas, for example—just peas, now, no added anything—it says Sugar: 4g.

Well OK, you know it’s only peas, so you won’t worry about that “sugar”. But what if you buy a frozen dinner or something else with multiple ingredients? How much of that is naturally occurring and how much added on? Unless you understand absolutely every item in the ingredients list and can confidently recognize it all as real food, you have no way to know.

Michelle Obama proposed changing nutrition labels to spell out the two types of sugar – video link: http://fw.to/KXR6e3W

The food industry is “considering” it. They say it would be expensive, and change would not be possible for several years.


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Dinner and a concert: Times three

As previously mentioned, May was a big concert month for us. Unusually for us, we went out to eat before three of these outings.

1. Food trucks and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy are a band who play retro, swinging jazz music. Before their concert at Centre in the Square, the Waterloo Hep Cat Hoppers were offering a dance lesson in the lobby. We wanted to take part in that, but it was at 6:30 pm on a work night, which seemed a bit tight.

So when Centre in the Square announced they’d have a couple food trucks there that night starting at 6:00, that seemed like a good option.

Seemed. But while food trucks are a whole big thing right now, they have a few problems.

  1. Weather. At least the rain held off until we’d gotten our food and eaten it, but it was windy and cool, making it less than fabulous for eating outdoors.
  2. Eating standing up. I’m a big fan of working standing up, but eating a meal is best enjoyed sitting down. Using metal and not plastic cutlery.
  3. Standing in line. Just not my favorite activity. Made worst by the fact that while we were there promptly at 6:00, the trucks were not really ready until 6:15, allowing other people to get ahead of us in line, and making us a bit late for the dance lesson.

As for food quality… Meh… Jean didn’t particularly enjoy his Tandoori grilled cheese. I thought my Mediterranean crepe wasn’t bad, but not really worth braving weather / eating standing up / standing in line for again, unless I was stuck.

The dance lesson, though, was fine. What we were taught was very similar to the jive that Jean and I know well, only instead of backstep / step / step (or triple step), it was back-step / kick / kick. It was really hard to remember to do the kick / kick when we were so used to the step / step. Occasionally we just rebelled and reverted to jive dancing. But a good time.

Hep Cat Hoppers performance on YouTube

As for the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy performance, that was hard not to enjoy also, as the music is so lively and fun. I hadn’t known that the band, the same group of people, had been together since 1995. Jean wasn’t in the greatest mood that night (and I’m sure the grilled cheese didn’t help), but he could still recognize that they gave a really good show. (Should point out that this concert was his idea for a change, rather than mine.)

Video: Mr. Pinstripe Suit by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

2. Three Kretans and Ballroom with a Twist

Three Kretans is a Greek restaurant very close to Centre in the Square. For the past year or two, Centre in the Square’s parking lot has been under construction, making it a challenge to find a spot to leave your car before shows. So Three Kretans has come up with a pretty smart offer: Have dinner there, leave your car in their parking lot (for free), and walk to theatre. They have a pre-theatre menu that gets you to the show on time. With the ballroom concert at 7:00 on a week night, we decided to go that right.

The food isn’t bad. It is a casual Greek restaurnt, so you get your lamb, chicken, or pork skewers with potatoes and rice and Greek salad. And baklava-type dessert, if you want.

But Jean was underwhelmed. “I get better food than this at home,” he pointed out. [Ah, the perils of being such a fantastic home cook! :-) ]

The show, fortunately was in no way disappointing. Music was all provided by the KW Symphony, and the evening was hosted by Kym Johnson and Tristan MacManus of Dancing with the Stars, and also featured other dancers that show. That fact probably would have been more exciting if I watched Dancing with the Stars. (By the way, everyone in our ballroom dance class thinks it’s highly peculiar that we don’t watch that show.) And there were a couple singers from American Idol, which, again, I don’t watch, so I didn’t know who they were. But while the woman certainly had a nice voice, I will admit to being particularly impressed by the dude, one Von Smith, who had most impressive range and control.

Mainly, though, this was about dancing. It featured group numbers, solos, duets, mostly in the Latin and ballroom genres (though in that showy TV style with all the lifts and whatnot), but the twist was the inclusion of some modern and hip hop dancing as well. This was largely due to the inclusion of a couple dancers I had heard of: Legacy and Randi Lynn Strong, from So You Think You Can Dance. Their numbers were definitely my favorites. Very cool how the So You Think… training allows them to join the ballroom dancers in that genre, but also shine in their own.

Ballroom with a Twist promo video

At one point, the hosts even got the audience up dancing! All very fun.

Afterward we got to attend a reception with the performers, though I continued my tradition of never knowing what to say when in these situations. Still, what we learned from other people’s question were:

  • This was their only Canadian performance.
  • They don’t always get to perform with a live symphony, but like it when they do
  • … except when the symphony can’t keep the beat. But apparently, that was not a problem with the KW Symphony.
Randi Lynn Strong at reception

Randi Lynn Strong at Centre in the Square reception

After taking a few crappy phone photos, we headed home.

3. Marisol and KW Symphony Superheroes

Jean pointed out that Marisol restaurant is also close to Centre in the Square, but offers better food than Three Kretans. So though I hadn’t planned to go out to eat again this month, as we hadn’t been there in a while, I made a reservation before the final month’s concert.

It was a very enjoyable dinner. As an appetizer, we shared six small but delicious raspberry point oysters (they actually gave us seven, probably due to the size) and marinated sardines, served with a salad. There’s no beating fresh sardines from Portugal, but marinating them proved a rather good choice for those of us farther from the sea. We were so excited about these, we forgot to get a picture until almost done:

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The remnants of our appetizers

As the wine, the waiter suggested a Portuguese Viognier-Sauvignon Blanc blend that was lemony and well-suited to the food.

I continued the seafood theme through dinner, having the fish of the day, which was sea bream. Served whole, it was really easy to fillet, and had been cooked very nicely. The side was a pasta made in-house, dressed simply with lemon, olive oil, and parsley.

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Jean went with the lemon-tomato gnocchi. The texture of the pasta was perfect, and the flavor was more subtle than one usually gets with gnocchi. Not a bad thing.

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For dessert, we share a creme caramel and forgot to take pictures, again.

We were in plenty of time to walk over for our concert, which the KW Symphony performing music from Superhero movies. This was conducted by John Morris Phillips, Cincinnati Pops conductor, who is always a lot of fun.

The only themes I knew in advance was Darth Vadar’s from Star Wars, but I found most quite engaging. The themes from Dark Knight, Supergirl, and X-Men were particularly striking. A lot were almost hilariously short, though; just the length of the opening credits, I guess! In some cases they put a few scores together to make a somewhat longer “theme” piece. Nothing that ever really taxed the attention span, though.

It was a great way to showcase the symphony’s skill, and it was nice to see a very full house in attendance.


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French food

Other than its lack of in-house wifi (which we solved by bringing our own), we were pretty happy with our hotel room in Menton, which was Hôtel Club Le Balmoral. The hotel’s location, I think I noted, was fantastic: very central, facing the beach on one side. The room and bathroom was a good size (for Europe), and—a feature I find annoyingly rare in hotels—was furnished with well-placed desks and shelves and full-length mirrors, such that we could set up to work on our tablets, easily arrange the toiletry items, and confirm that in fact my outdoor clothing really didn’t match from head to toe. :-) The room temperature was a little bit of an issue until we remembered that with European hotels, you can actually open the window (no screens!), and the natural bit of air conditioning did the trick there.

So the only problem was the food.

It wasn’t all dire. They certainly used a good supplier of food ingredients such that breakfast buffet, which we had every day, was very good: delicious croissant, very fresh fruit salad, nice cheese and ham. Similarly, the cheese course that was always included with dinner featured some wonderful French cheeses. And whoever did the desserts had some talent; those were always nice—lemon meringue pie, ile flottante, crème caramel.

But the cooking was a problem. Overcooked, dry fish. Under-seasoned soup. Mushy, overbreaded shrimp. Spring rolls so tough you could barely cut through them. Oy. They were somewhat better with meat—the lamb tangine we had one night was probably the most successful of the week’s entrees—but it was definitely disappointing to be in France and not be able to count on getting great food.

And it wasn’t just us being over-fussy foodies. We had four hotel dinners included, and everyone in the group complained about them. (In fact, if we hadn’t enjoyed the company of our group so much, we would have skipped some of those dinners….)

Fortunately, the restaurant meals did make up for that, to some degree. Best of the lot was Table d’Oc, which I’d read about before leaving, and which ended up being very close to the hotel. It was a small, funky, fairly casual place with a nautical theme, despite not being particularly focused on seafood.

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Table D’Oc

Prices were quite reasonable, offering three-course meals for 21 Euros (about 32 dollars).

I started with roast vegetables with a duck stuffing. Jean, unsurprisingly, started with a cold terrine of foie gras. What was surprising? How it was served:

This

That, my friends, is a bucket of foie gras

His expression was priceless when this was served. The waitress was very amused. “Nous recommendons de ne pas tout le manger.”

He found it some of the best cold foie gras he’d had, but nevertheless managed to leave some of the container for others.

As a main course, I had more duck, sliced and served in a pepper sauce. That came with carrots, long green beans, and scalloped potatoes. All very good. Jean had the pork and morels, which tasted amazing, and the same veg as I.

For dessert I had the lemon meringue pie that this area is known for (Menton is the lemon capital of France), and Jean had the crème brulée, with the brulée done right at the table:

Table D'Oc, Menton, France

Except for an unusually long wait for the bill, it was quite a lovely evening out.

Another pretty successful meal was at Le Cirke, which I read about in The Guardian. This was a somewhat more expensive seafood place. Jean started with a seafood soup, while I had an octopus and white bean salad. Then we shared the paella, which contained only seafood—no chicken, no sausage. All well-prepared and tasty.

We ate a really good Paella on the terrace.

Lunch most days was on the trail, so was basically unexciting sandwiches and granola bars. But in Nice on our free day, we did have lunch at a bistro, enjoying some pasta in a pot .

NIce, France

Squash ravioli

Later that day we joined much of the rest of the group to see what they were doing for dinner, which turned out not to be the greatest idea. I thought the group of 8 might split into 2 or 3 smaller groups headed for different locales, but instead everyone took off together, which of course made it more difficult to find a place that could accommodate us all. One place claimed to be able to, by putting tables together outside, but then he proceeded to basically ignore us for some time: no menus, no drink orders, while attended to other tables and other people arriving. Most of the group got kind of offended by this and decided to leave; Jean, I, and another lady decided to stay.

Our “congenial” host than got a bit irate about the departure and started barking at us to change tables, whereupon Jean pretty much wanted to leave, also. I was kind with him on that, but the lady we were with didn’t seem to catch it (admittedly, she didn’t have as many years experience as I at reading Jean body language), and persisted in ordering us some wine. So, we ended up staying.

The service did get civil, if never quite friendly (this would be a rare time you’d wish they tipped in France, so you could not leave one). But, upside: The food was really good.  Jean had gnocchi with gorgonzola, followed by duck with morels. I had grilled calamari with arugula, followed by risotto with a half lobster. And it was a pleasant evening in terms of the company.

But we would never go back to that restaurant again.


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Easter is all about… fine dining?

That’s not right, is it? The foods of Easter are homey ham and scalloped potatoes and cheap chocolate. Good Friday is fish. Restaurants are not full to bursting for Easter; in fact, some close for the holiday.

So I’m not sure how we came to mark the start of Easter weekend by going out to not one but two of the area’s finest restaurants. It was as spur of the moment as can be for places that require reservations.

First up, Thursday night before the long weekend, was Verses. We just… Hadn’t been there in a while. We’d hoped to have one final crack at their fine fall / winter menu, but we were just too late for that. Upside was: First crack at their fine spring / summer menu.

The place was fairly quiet this Thursday night, and being there just felt nice. As restorative as a visit to the spa.

A celebration of food!

A lovely place to be after a busy work week

We were hungry, and it was a bit difficult deciding what to choose on the new menu, most of which sounded delicious. Jean made it easy on himself appetizer-wise by going for his standby foie gras, this time served with “saffron, vanilla waffle, slow poached orange supremes, and Vin Cotto”.

Foie Gras, The most sinful food!

Le foie gras

And I suppose I also went for the somewhat habitual: They usually have some kind of seafood trio as an appetizer, which I usually can’t resist. This time it was scallops:

Sake Kombu cured on arame salad in toasted sesame rice wine vinaigrette
Ceviche, layered with pico de gallo and avocado croutons
Fennel wrapped pan seared on champagne vinegar dressed fennel fronds

Scallop Tasting

Why have scallops one way when you can have them three ways?

Jean favored the tart ceviche style; I thought it was hard to beat the traditional pan seared, but we both agreed the avocado croutons were just the coolest!

We had a heck of a time selecting our wine, partly because I somehow wanted white despite have selected duck as my main course. But we finally settled on a very lovely French Gewurtz. It arrived just after our appetizers, which may be a first (for this restaurant)! (And by after I mean, like, 30 seconds after.)

Lovely Gewürztraminer and Andrew

Andrew suggested this wine

It certainly suited Jean’s main course of three kinds of seafood: tempura shrimp with aioli, grilled octopus salad, and crab and lobster cannelloni with mushrooms and broccoli.

Seafood

Why have one kind of seafood when you can have four?

The octopus salad had a pleasant smoky taste and very nice texture. The cannelloni were rich and delicious. But perhaps the best were the crispy shrimp, which did not suffer the fate that large shrimp often seem to, of ending up kind of tasteless.

My main was seared duck breast served with a mole sauce. The duck was perfectly prepared, and I loved the chocolate  spiciness of the mole, served in its own mound. The dish was called Duck Duck Goose, and the goose was in the form of a quesadilla, which was crispy and rich. The sides were “dirty” rice—wild rice with black beans—and a Brussels sprout slaw.

We resolved to share a dessert, a plan that was complicated a bit when we didn’t agree on which one. Finally Jean just agreed to go with my choice, the maple mousse.

Maple Desert

Maple mousse

Of course, this wasn’t just maple mousse in a little dish. It was served in delicious dark chocolate, and accented with a fleur de sel tuile and caramel “dust” that tasted rather like the inside of those Crunchie bars. Everything was quite exquisite.

The Friday outing came about because Langdon Hall somehow put me back on their email list, though I haven’t been there in years. And the email mentioned they were doing an oyster and wine tasting on Good Friday, in Wilk’s Bar. Wilk’s Bar is the somewhat less formal, and somewhat less expensive, dining area at this luxury hotel. We didn’t have any particular plans for the holiday Friday, and most things were closed, so trying that out seemed like a nice afternoon outing.

We didn’t want to have another full three-course meal, but we figured that three oysters likely wouldn’t be enough to sustain us til dinner, either. So we each went with another appetizer. I ordered the squash soup with morels, duck confit, and foie gras. Jean ordered the terrine. We received the 2 oz servings of the white wines that were to suit the three oysters to come: a very dry Chablis, a good sparkling Reisling from Tawse winery, and a delicious oaky Chardonnay.

A flight of wine: Chablis, Oaked Chardonay, Tawse Sparkling -> Perfect for Oysters

Why have just one kind of wine when you can have three?

And then we waited. The warm bread basket served with butter made in-house topped with sea salt helped, but it still seemed a long wait for just soup and paté.

When the food did arrive, it came with apologies for the delay; clearly something had gone awry. And they were forgiven when we tasted everything. Hmm. Some of the best examples of squash soup and terrine ever.

Terrine doe Foie Gras - excellent!

Yay! The food is here!

The rest of the meal proceeded at the expected pace. The three kinds of oysters—raw, crispy, and baked—were each just amazingly delicious, and it was fun to have a matching wine for each.

Oyster Trio: Raw, Baked, Fried.  Best Oysters I've had in decades!

Oyster trio. (It’s high time I drop the “why have one” “joke”)

And we again indulged in dessert: One each this time! Jean had the so-called “ice cream sandwich” while I went with cranberry fritters and “hot chocolate”, which turned out to be warm chocolate mousse. And yes, I dipped the fritters.

Icecream Sandwich like no other!

Walnut ice cream and daquoise

The least pleasant part of these types of meals—paying the bill—wasn’t quite as bad this day. They gave us the desserts on the house to compensate for the delay in serving our appetizers.

On Saturday, we gathered with extended family. Interestingly, that was also more of gourmet Easter dinner than one might expect: baked lamb, two kinds of potatoes (neither scalloped, exactly), French green beans, asparagus and mushrooms. And fancy chocolate mousse pastries for dessert, along with fruit salad.

The food was delicious. And the company was even better.


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Birthday dinners

Jean was away for my birthday, but my friends kindly stepped in, and I wound up with more than the usual allotment of birthday outings.

First up was a dinner at Masala Bay. This was on a freezing cold Wednesday, and two of us could not resist having the mulligatawny soup, which was indeed very warming and delicious. But also very filling, making it difficult to finish our main course curries and naan. But hey, Indian leftovers are good.

The day after my birthday, I was taken out for both lunch and dinner. Lunch was at Bauer Kitchen, a place I tend to avoid because it’s so noisy. But it wasn’t so bad this day. We arrived earlier so the initially smaller number of people helped; but even as it filled up, because we were sitting against a wood backing. it wasn’t as loud as it can be at more central tables. I made a meal of two appetizers: mussels and duck confit wings—both very tasty, though the mussels really would have been enough. Well, the duck confit wings were pretty good leftovers, also.

Dinner was at a new place to me, but one that people speak pretty highly of: Redhouse, on the site of the former Yukiko’s. Quite a nice meal here, too. I, like several others, started with the Iron Horse Trail salad, in which the greens are topped with various nuts and dried fruit. And my main course was the Boneless Cornish Hen: Porcini-dusted & pan-roasted, truffled wild mushroom ragout, wilted blonde frisee, goat cheese & lemon potato croquettes, tarragon puree. (Did I remember all those details? Of course not. I just copied it from their online menu.) It was just about as good as that description made it sound.

Oh, and I got a free birthday dessert at both of those meals as well.

I have no photographic proof of any of those meals [so how do we know they really happened?], but this was made up for last night at Jean’s birthday dinner. We went to 39 Carden Street restaurant in Guelph, which I got interested in after its rather good review in The Record.

It’s a small place, and seems rather popular, so we had some concerns about the noise level here also, but it wasn’t that bad. They change their menu frequently, so instead of printed menus, we had to select everything from chalk boards on the wall. Not crazy about that, particularly as the far ones at an angle are rather hard to read. And it means you spend the first part of your meal turning away from each other, staring at the wall.

But the chalk boards did contain many interesting-sounding items. They call their appetizers “snacks”. For these, we finally settled on six raw East Coast oysters (to share), to which I added deep-fried oysters (mysteriously called chicken-fried oysters, though I do not believe any meat was involved). In all its forms, the oysters were just perfectly delicious.

Oysters on the half shell. Rasberry Point and Pickle Point Oysters :)

And Jean tried potatoes croquette with salt code aioli, which was also a mighty fine dish. Crispy and not too salty.

Potatoe Croquettes with Salt Cod Aioli

We were a bit disappointed that it seemed they had no white wines by the glass (as our main courses were definitely red wine fare), but when we asked, he said they did have a Sauvignon Blanc available. And that was perfect with this.

But while we were on the track of thinking that we had to pick a red that would work with everything, we settled on a Pinot Noir from Chile. Then we didn’t change that when we found out we could start with white after all. That turned out to be a mistake, as the Pinot was a 2013, so really quite young and thin. It wasn’t bad, on its own, but it didn’t stand up to the food that well.

On the other hand, it was only $30, which is quite good in a restaurant, and we just corked the remainder to bring home. (After informing the waiter that, yes, it is legal to do that in Ontario, even with screw-top wines.)

Jean had roast duck over risotto as his main course, while I went with lamb sirloin with lentil cassoulet. All the meat was prepared very well, tasty, with good texture. I also found the lentils were very well flavored. Jean wasn’t bowled over by the risotto, but it was a reasonable presentation.

Medium Rare Lamb Sirloin with lentil cassoulet

For dessert we had: A cheese tray! (Well, it was Jean’s birthday, and that is his favorite food.) The best of that lot was the blue, which wasn’t too strong. One of the cheeses, a raclette, was just so-so. Nonetheless, we took the leftover of that home along with the wine.

Given that it’s a 45-minute drive to Guelph, I’m not sure how often we’ll get to 39 Carden Street again, but overall they acquitted themselves well. It was a nice evening out.

———————

And more related to my last post: It reminded me that the last (only) time I’d previously seen Brian May and Roger Taylor perform live also involved the “Idol” franchise—Canadian version. As with Adam’s year, one of the non-winners is the one who ended up with the big career: Carly Rae Jepsen. Yep.Jean was too busy at the time to join me, so my younger sister stepped in. It was nearly seven years ago, and I wrote about it here: An Ironic Night at the Rock Opera.


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Commission photography

We had three bottles of wine sitting up on the buffet, rather than in the wine rack, because their music-inspired names made them good conversation pieces (not that we’ve really had anyone over lately to converse with…):

  • Bohemian Raspberry
  • Ja Maca Me Blush
  • Dark Side of the Moon

The first two we picked up at the Rasta Ranch winery in the Finger Lakes; the last is an Australian Shiraz, a Christmas.

I thought they might be an interesting photography subject, but not if I was the photographer. So I mentioned the idea to Jean.

This is what he came up with. Kind of cool, eh?

Rock&WIne_Feb2014_(1_of_34)_HDR

Rock&WIne_Feb2014_(32_of_34)_HDR


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Post-Valentine activities

We don’t go out to restaurants on or around Valentine’s Day, as it’s just unpleasant. The next day Valentine’s we did go out ballroom dancing, though. Sufficiently romantic, and considerably more enjoyable!

The following day was the “Family Day” stat holiday in Ontario, so we went with a small group for our second snowshoe outing of the year. As with our first time, about a week earlier, we had lovely winter weather and tons of snow to walk on. You could almost forget you were still in the city.

Wait! .. don't leave me in the cold!

Off we go…

Yesterday got warmer and rainier, then icier, so I’m not sure how the snow will be now. But we decided to have a dinner out then, at Verses. While we’d had a couple special dinners there semi recently, we hadn’t had a chance to try their regular winter menu before now.

Verses - a lovely refuge on a stormy night

We actually had the place to ourselves, to start… Not something you’d experience February 14th.

The appetizer list always has many amazing-sounding options on it, but I quickly settled on the oysters five ways: poached, cripsy, Rockefeller, steamed, and of course, raw. Each with its own distinct accompaniments, from smoked bacon to tomato sorbet shooter. My goodness, each one was fantastic.

Delectable assortment of Oysters!

Jean managed with the foie gras, this time served with foie gras custard brûleé, brioche, and cranberry and bluberry. That was rather sublime as well.

Foie Gras ... some of the best I've had!

We were both tempted by the roast duck served with kale, squash batons, and chestnut ravioli, but Jean let me order it.

Duck and ravioli!

It was quite delectable, but he probably did even better with the tender pork shank braised in cider and beer, served with rutabaga, Brussels sprouts, and beets.

Pork Shank .. nearly Osso Bucco :)

He wasn’t able to finish it all, but declared it made a rather good breakfast as well. (The wine, by the way—which he did not have for breakfast—was a very lovely 2010 Cote du Rhone, one of their feature wines.)

For dessert, I went chocolate, with a flourless chocolate cake served with chantilly, apricot foam, and passion fruit popsicle. All at a quite manageable serving size.

Jean had the cheese plate, which was downsized somewhat compared with past menus, but still fairly large (better for sharing, only I didn’t, so he left some). He included a manchego, Sauvagine, and goat cheese. It was served with dried wild blueberry bread, spiced almonds, port fig jam, and honey comb.

Cheese Please!

Hmm. Maybe we should make this a tradition… Post-Valentine weekday dinner out…


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Weekend in Tranna

Why Toronto in February, when the weather, much more often than not, is abysmal? Two words: free hotel. Jean goes there for a work-related conference; hotels don’t charge extra for another person staying in the room.

Toronto_Feb_2014_(133_of_171)_HDR

Considering how bad this winter has been in general, the weather picture wasn’t so bad. The temperature had been in deep freeze all week, but rose for that weekend. KW was expecting a lot of snow Saturday (and that materialized), but Toronto, not quite as much (also materialized).

The main issue was that the snow they did get was very wet, as it was near the freezing mark, and we did do a ton of walking outside in it on Saturday afternoon. Tiring of the wet hair, I bought a hat with a brim, but there wasn’t much to be done about the wet coat collar, or the wet pant bottoms. And the “waterproof” boots eventually caved in under the pressure, allowing water in at the seams. Squish, squish!

I had no other footwear with me, so while I could and did change into dry pants and socks for dinner, the best I think of boot-wise was putting the feet in plastic bags in the wet boots. That did keep the feet dry when I was outside. Once sitting inside, though, eventually, there was a bit of a perspiration issue…

But hey, it really was nice to get away. Friday night Jean had a conference dinner, so I went out with my sister and her husband to Bangkok Garden, where they were offering a Winterlicious menu that was, in fact, quite delicious, along with being a good deal. My sister and I both had the options of mussels in lemongrass and beer sauce, rainbow trout with pineapple red curry, and chocolate chai mousse for dessert.

Jean remained occupied Saturday morning, so after breakfast (really good waffles with walnuts and banana), I decided to go check out the Bata Shoe Museum for the first time.

It had four floors of exhibits. The basement presented shoes though history, including the very oldest pair of shoes ever found:

shoes

The next floor showed footwear of famous people, such Elvis Presley, Elton John, John Lennon, and Justin Beiber. (Beiber’s “Baby, Baby, oh” song proved to be the biggest earworm.) The second floor covered traditional shoemaking, a somewhat endangered endeavour. And the top floor was for special exhibits. Currently it’s on sneaker culture, something I previously knew nothing about. Like, people spend big money on sneakers. They riot over particular limited editions of them. They build up huge collections, so they never have to repeat the same pair. One dude had enough to cover the next three years—new pair every day.

We had been thinking of going to the ROM Saturday afternoon, but I felt museumed-out, and Jean was somewhat stir-crazy from all the hotel time, so that become our soggy walk afternoon.

For supper we went to George on Queen, a restaurant with a good reputation. It’s a nice room with notably well-dressed patrons and excellent service. They specialize in multi-course meals, but we went for just three (rather than five or seven).

We were quite blown away by the first course, which was centered around duck for me, and smoked trout for Jean.

Toronto_Feb_2014_(18_of_171)

All the elements on the plate really worked, and were creative and fun.

The next two courses, of tuna and lobster, then seabass and arctic char, were very good. But they couldn’t quite match up to the standard of the first, so you couldn’t help feeling a bit let down. For dessert, we just shared some cheese, and I had an ice wine while Jean had an Italian sweet sparkling.

Toronto_Feb_2014_(103_of_171)_HDR

On the walk back from George

Sunday we met up with sister and husband again, this time at a dim sum restaurant, the Crown Princess. This one is fancier than most and doesn’t feature the usual little carts; instead you have to order from a menu. The items were of a very high standard, definitely above the average dim sum place (though I also like that). And it wasn’t really that expensive.

Good job that we aimed to arrive by 11:00, because it got busier and busier as we were sitting, until there was quite a lineup. We had the table right by the door, where the hungry people in line could watch us eat. A bit awkward!

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