Cultureguru's Weblog

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

Wining and dining while trying to avoid cooties

Leave a comment

I promise this won’t turn into a big politic rant, but it’s just a fact that the Ontario government no longer cares if I (or anyone in Ontario) gets Covid—as long as not too many of us end up in hospital with it. (And even there, they keep mumbling about how they have some spare hospitals beds now.)

Stubbornly, I’d still rather avoid it, if I can. Even for the triple-vaccinated, it seems unpleasant to have. And then there’s those possible long-term effects: Long Covid. Early dementia. Diabetes. Higher risk of heart attacks and stroke.

Happily for privileged me (and here I could do a rant about how the government has abandoned the less-privileged and the more-vulnerable, but I won’t), I do have considerable ability to, well, just stay home and avoid people. And the temperament to not mind it all that much.

But it is nice to leave the house once in a while. And I do have vacation days to take. We’d really enjoyed our time in Niagara-on-the-Lake in November, so earlier in the year, we planned to spend a few nights there in late March.

Then the government dismantled everything that had made that fall trip feel comfortable: Capacity limits—lifted. Vaccine passports—gone. Mask mandates—history. Meanwhile, the Omicron BA.2 variant, the most contagious one yet, makes its inexorable rise.

And thanks be we weren’t headed to Ottawa, which has already reached historic levels of Covid infections

Still, most of our planned activities seemed relatively low risk. The outdoor hiking is obviously not a problem. Wineries offered private tastings. We could mask in the common areas of the Inn we were staying. But what about dinner???

Spring has not really sprung in these parts yet, so patios weren’t an option. And sure, you can do takeout. But we didn’t want to. Niagara-on-the-Lake has some terrific restaurants. And we love the whole multi-course, wine-matched, lingering indoor dining experience. But Covid-wise, there’s so little you can control when in a restaurant: you can’t mask, you can’t know in advance how well-ventilated the restaurant is, you can’t prevent other people from being seated near you.

And then I got an idea…

Day 1

Original recipe orange & lemon marmalade 1927
Niagara-on-the-Lake storefront

Main activity the first day was getting to Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is a two-hour drive. We walked around uptown a bit, and by the river. And we checked into the Oban Inn, where we were quite pleased with the size and layout of our room.

Dinner was booked The Oaklands restaurant at the Riverbend Inn. The waitress wasn’t masked, and my CO2 monitor recorded a pretty high reading, bouncing around from 650 to over 800, indicating that the room’s ventilation was not that great. So was I panicked?

No, because we were literally the only people in the dining room (besides the waitress, with whom the interactions were brief). I achieved this feat by booking dinner at 4:00 PM. On a Wednesday. (Key to being ready for a 4:00 PM three-course dinner? Eat breakfast early and skip lunch.)

Moules et frites at The Oaklands at Riverbend
Moule et Frites at our private dinner at The Oaklands at Riverbend

The food was mixed bag. The pictured fries were terrific, the duck confit outstanding, and the desserts were fine. But the mussels, lamb carpaccio, and ahi tuna were a bit underwhelming.

Day 2

Breakfast was included with our Inn reservation. When we arrived for it, there were only two other people there, all staff were masked, and the CO2 reading was averaging somewhere around the 550 mark, so that seemed OK.

Wednesday had been rather chilly, but Thursday the temperature jumped to a near balmy 18 C degrees. That came with a side of rain, though, at times really heavy. So we decided to go for a drive rather than a walk, ending up in Niagara Lake proper. It had been a while since we seen the Falls, so we decided to park and take a walk for a closer look, even though the rain hadn’t entirely stopped. Handy for keeping the crowds away, though!

Niagara Falls
The American Falls actually looked more impressive this day, being less shrouded in fog…

For noon we had booked a private ”Black Glass Experience“ at Trius Winery. It was fun! It featured only their wines not available at the LCBO, and the six we picked to try were all poured into black glasses so you couldn’t really tell what the colour was. They also threw in a “mystery” wine. The idea was to try to guess which was which. We did reasonably well at that, and found some that we wanted to take home with us.

We then did some walking by the river, but then we had to get ourselves to dinner, because I had booked it for 3:30. On a Thursday.

Hence, we got the entire large Pellus Estates Winery Restaurant room to ourselves. The CO2 reading was the astonishingly low 407 throughout the whole five-course meal, so it would be probably be a reasonably safe space even with a few more souls in it. (Whereas at the Riverbend Inn, I’d wait til patio season to eat in a crowd.)

As noted, we had the five-course tasting menu with matching wine (shared pour), and it was excellent from start to finish. Lovely lupper.

Scallops at Peller Estate
Admire the scallops
Dessert from Peller Estates
Dessert that tasted as good as it looks

Evening weather was beautiful, and we lots of time for more walking!

Day 3

Breakfast room wasn’t terribly busy when we arrived, so we took a table in the corner. Then two more people arrived and sat at the table right beside us. And proceeded to, like, clear their throats. And mi-cough. And sniffle. The whole thing made me uncomfortable enough to re-mask. And then scarf down my food in record time when it arrived. And run away!

(I’m possibly a little too sheltered.)

The temperature had dropped dramatically overnight, but not much precipitation was expected, so we decided to clear our heads on a longer hike in the Niagara Glen. It was very chilly leading up to the trail, but fortunately once on it, we had refuge from the wind.

Bench on Niagara River; Toronto in the distance
Note the familiar skyline of Toronto in the distance
Whirlpool Rapids
The trail was named after these Whirlpool Rapids that we walked alongside of

The trail started off fairly innocuously, but it was times it would seem to just… disappear, and then we had to climber up muddy inclines or shimmy around and over big rocks until we spotted actual trail again. We had not been expecting that! Definitely more of a challenge (and workout) than we’d expected, but we managed it without injury.

That took up the morning, and as we had a somewhat later dinner that night (more on that later), we ordered takeout sushi from Masaki Sushi. It is so good!

We then made a reservation for a Terroir tasting at Strewn Winery, one we’d never visited before. It featured their smaller production line of wines not available at the LCBO. It was just the two of us one-on-one with the sommelier, and it took a bit for him to feel us out and what type of wine we really liked. But then we got into a groove, had a lot of fun, and found some wines we really liked, such as the terroir Gewurtz, the French oaked Chardonnay, the Cab France, and a Cab Sauv ice wine.

Dinner was at Treadwell Cuisine, which does not serve guests mid-afternoon. And they’re very popular, so the restaurant is generally full. And it’s a relatively small, somewhat crowded space. One thing that made us feel a bit better about it is that they were still checking proof of vaccination, and requiring staff to mask. But the main thing that convinced me was that they had covered outdoor patio.

Yes, it was a cool evening, and they did offer that we could sit indoors at the bar instead, if we preferred. But we stuck with the outdoor dining. They did have blankets, and heaters, and tarp-like covering around the area, so it was pretty comfortable. I still measured the CO2 out of curiousity, and found that it bounced around a fair bit, but in the 420 to 460 range (very good ventilation).

And the food was fantastic-o, creative, and delicious: a four-course menu with matching wines. And the staff was knowledgeable and friendly; we had a great evening there.

Foie gras with duck eggs
Foie Gras with Duck Eggs (and in this case with a choice of two matching off-dry wines…)
Duck Breast main course on a winter patio

And the next morning, we had breakfast delivered to our room. 😄

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s