Cultureguru's Weblog

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

Getting out(side) while the getting is good

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While it’s a hot, sticky day today again, there are hints of autumn on the way in the cooler nights, the changing leaf colours here and there, the shorter days. And while some outdoor activities hold an appeal in winter, not quite as many, and not for as long.

So we tried to rack up a few more outdoor events in the later part of August. And by “events”, I mostly mean eating and drinking outdoors. But with some travel and pretty locations involved.

Beamsville mini-tour

On our last trip to Niagara, we’d signed up for the Peller wine club, but had yet to really take much advantage of it. We were supposed to do so on the August long weekend, but Covid had other ideas, so we picked up those activities two weeks later.

Braving the heavy weekend traffic, we headed first to Thirty Bench Winery in Beamsville. This is a smaller, somewhat high-end winery that is reservation-only. I had thought that our membership entitled us to half-off the price of a wine tasting, but when we got there, we found that it entitled us to free wine tastings, and that we could include all the premium wines we wanted. Cool.

Inside the winery, we reviewed the tasting notes to make a selection of eight wines total to taste. Then we went to sit outdoors and they brought us the wines. It was quite a warm day! But we found a shaded seat, the staff were very friendly, and the wines were very good!

Red wine glass from Thirty Bench wines, outdoor tasting

We were particularly blown away by the two Rieslings, and by the recently bottled Cabernet Franc, so those were the bottles we took home. The Cab Franc was nice as is, but should be even better in a few years. The Rieslings seem ready now.

We then went to The Good Earth Food and Wine Company for lunch, a place we’d quite enjoyed last year. Guess word has gotten out (I’m so influential, haha), because we had to book ahead this year—the place was full. They have an absolutely beautiful outdoor seating area, with a good live singer, and the food… oh, my goodness. Though we also liked it last year, they’ve really stepped it up now.

Tuna dish in foreground
This tuna crudo was outstanding
Wild rose at Good Earth winery
We were also surrounded by flowers

We then made a stop at a cheese shop, before heading to our final winery of the day: 13th Street. We’d been there years ago, when it was just us with one guy at a counter. Folks, they have really grown! It was again all outdoors, but so many groups of people! We’d signed up through the Somm app, which our server mistakenly thought granted us snacks with our tasting. Having realized that was incorrect, we got them anyway. Which was nice.

But being so busy, it was hard to relax into this tasting. And while all the wines were… fine, we didn’t find ourselves overly wowed by any, though we did pick up one bottle of rose.

Pearl Morissette

Years ago, my sister told me about a great, multi-course she and my brother-in-law had at Pearl Morissette, a restaurant and winery in Jordan. So when I got an American Express offer for lunch there, I was intrigued, and immediately clicked to see the details. Only to find that it was already completely sold out, only minutes after the email had arrived. (Guess my sister is also influential. Also haha.)

The idea of eating there stayed on my mind, though, and when another friend mentioned out of the blue that she’d like to try it, I pursued. They are very popular, and on particular days, they open reservations for the next two months. The date to book August / September meals was pending. All meals were served outdoors, under a covered patio that could withstand all but the worst summer weather.

So on “opening day” for reservations, I decided to try to make a reservation for three for lunch in late August. Once in the system, though, I encountered an issue: they only allowed reservations for two, four, or six people—not three. And you had to prepay.

I decided to go ahead with a booking for four. Initially it wasn’t too hard to drum up the fourth person: my sister was interested in a repeat visit. But, she subsequently received a conflicting invitation that she couldn’t really turn down, and the hunt resumed. Eventually, another friend agreed, as long as they could accommodate her avoidance of dairy and gluten. Could they do that, I asked Pearl Morissette. Yes, they could!

On the day, the drive there was terrible, to the point where we had to call and explain we’d be a half hour late. No problem accommodating that, they said. Still, we were all pretty frazzled when we arrived.

Fortunately, they quickly got us settled and relaxed, and the whole thing turned out to be lovely. We had one main waiter, who was great, and several others bringing out the food or drinks and just ensuring that all was well. (The service charge is included in the price here.) It was seven courses (I think? A lot of courses!), with optional wine or juice pairings, or you could get wine or beer by the glass.

Jean and I went all out and shared one wine pairing and one juice pairing. These juice pairings were fascinating, as they made all the drinks themselves—complex, not overly sweet mixes of flavors. The wines were also interesting, unusual choices, a combination of international and winery-own. (Our favourite was probably their own Pinot Noir.) And the food? Yes, that very good also, with the non-dairy, non-gluten substitutes up to snuff with the rest.

It was pretty much an all-day event (and once home—after a blessedly smoother drive—we didn’t find we that we really needed dinner). It’s quite expensive, so I don’t see doing this any kind of frequently, but it was an event.

Meanwhile, back in Waterloo…

We’ve stepped up the dining out frequency a bit, to take of advantage of patio season before it times out. Our target has generally been uptown Waterloo, and each time, we took our ebikes.

Me on an ebike in front of Kitchener's Boathouse
But this isn’t uptown Waterloo; it’s downtown Kitchener, part of a longer weekend bike ride
  • I’d previously mentioned our very enjoyable dinner at Babylon Sisters Wine Bar; Jean liked it so much, he went again the week after with another friend. (Their menu is good but pretty limited, so I decided to skip it and let them do their boy’s night out thing.)
  • But the following week, Jean and I visited the neighbour restaurant, Champa Thai Kitchen, which offers Thai and Lao food. (I’d just been reading the short story collection How to Pronounce Knife, which has several mentions of how great Lao food is, so that made it particularly intriguing.) The menu is huge, but we managed to pick out a variety of dishes to try—and everything was great. Very fresh, very tasty, and with good advice on selecting appropriate levels of spice.
  • We also made a return trip to Redhouse, a late change destination for meeting friends from Guelph that we hadn’t seen since 2019. For some reason their back patio wasn’t available that night, and the weather did threaten with a few drops at one point. But then it cleared up, and we all enjoyed our food, along with the company.
  • Finally, we took ourselves out to The Olive Board, having discovered that they have set up a nice little patio as of July. That was a beautiful day, and we found that we enjoyed their French charcuterie board every bit as much this time as we had on our previous visit, back in March. The peach bocconcini and the feta olive dish were also nice. We had a wine flight each, one from Italy, and the other Sauvignon Blancs from around the world. As a bonus, some friends we hadn’t seen in years stopped by our table on their way back from getting ice cream.

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