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The City That Never Sleeps and Québec’s Metropolis

New York is one of the world’s great cities. Montreal is often considered Canada’s best. On our recent trip, we visited both. This was our itinerary:

  • Saturday: Fly Hamilton to Montreal late afternoon; stay in airport hotel.
  • Sunday: Fly Montreal to New York. Visit Museum of Modern Art.
  • Monday: Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Cruise. 9/11 Memorial Museum. B&H.
  • Tuesday: Metropolitan Museum of Art. Central Park. School of Rock on Broadway.
  • Wednesday: Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum. Rockefeller Center. Radio City Music Hall tour. Grand Central Station.
  • Thursday: New York Library. Fly to Montreal late afternoon.
  • Friday: Musée des beaux arts. Old Montreal and Old Port area.
  • Saturday: Mile End Local Montreal food walking tour. Mount Royal.
  • Sunday: McCord Museum. Fly back to Hamilton late afternoon.
Radio City Music Hall

Just now noticing the Canadian flag flying between the Japanese and US ones in uptown New York. No idea why.


The view from our Montreal hotel (not the airport one)


Our last trip to New York was in 2008, and we’d bypassed a lot of the major museums to avoid line-ups, then ended up regretting that. So this time we plunged in.Lord, New York has amazing museums.

MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) was up first, where we followed the good advice to start on the fifth floor, where all the major works are—famous Picasso’s, Van Gogh’s, Dali’s, Goya, Chagall, Monet. They had an online app to use an audio-guide. The other floors couldn’t measure up, but I did enjoy the pop art section.

The Ellis Island Museum had an interesting focus on the US immigrant experience, as it is housed in the building where they were processed back in the day, when immigration rates were staggering.

A statue of Annie Moore, the first immigrant processed at Ellis Island

We had pre-bought timed tickets to the very popular 9/11 Memorial Museum, but still faced a significant lineup to get in. It’s located where one of the World Trade Center buildings once stood. And the layout, all below ground, is somewhat confusing—still not sure if we saw everything.

It’s definitely an emotional experience, visiting there, being vividly reminded of a “historical” event I remember so well.

911 Memorial museum .... sobering!

What remains of the World Trade Center

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is huge and just fabulous. Of course, we didn’t try to see it all. We did get a Highlights Tour to get some sense of the Egyptian, European, American collections, with a close focus on some superb works in each. We went back to visit the American collection and the sculpture garden in more depth.

Pondering the lost of a continent!

We both happen to be reading An Inconvenient Indian, which discusses art depicting Natives, such as this

The Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum is a maritime and military history museum. There we got to tour a nuclear submarine; get on board a large military ship (the Intrepid) and see many war planes; and have a look at the Space Shuttle Enterprise—bigger than we expected! You do get a lot of US military history and a sense of what it would be like to work on these various vessels. Very interesting.

USS Growler Submarine

Inside the USS Growler nuclear submarine

Every Young Boys Dream Plane!

Yes, it’s a war plane, but this is an admittedly gorgeous design

New York has some of the great museums of the world. Whereas Montreal can’t even boast the best in Canada. But, the Musée des beaux arts (Fine art museum) was featuring an exhibit about New York artist Robert Mapplethorpe, and that was well worth seeing. They had an extensive collection on display, and if you didn’t know at the start, you’d realize by the end what an amazing photographer he was.

The McCord Museum attracted me for its exhibit of Montreal rock photography, but it was really small. The best part was their permanent collection on the history of Montreal, told by street and neighbourhood.

Historic buildings

Jean told me I had to see the New York City Library this time, and he’s right; it’s pretty stunning. (And free to tour.)

The Amazing New York City Library!

Be quiet and admire the art

He wasn’t so sure about my idea of touring Radio City Music Hall, but that was great also—and not only because we lucked into free tickets from two ladies who’d decided they just didn’t have time to take the tour they’d already paid for. But it’s gorgeous in there, and amazing to think it was originally built as a movie theatre. Now, of course, it’s used for shows. most famously those featuring the Rockettes. The tour takes you backstage, below stage, and to special guest rooms. You also get a meet a Rockette.

Our Montreal food tour also happened to include a stop at a former movie theatre that is now being used for shows. This one, the Rialto Theatre, has had a much rougher ride than Radio City Music Hall. It has suffered some unfortunate architectural and design changes, and actually lay vacant for a number of year after being declared a heritage site. But the new owner is determined to restore it to its former glory.


The Rialto Theatre’s future is now looking brighter

Nature in the city

Part of what makes both New York and Montreal great are the vast parklands available right in the core. After being art-exhausted by The Met, it was great to amble back to our hotel through Central Park on a lovely sunny day. (We were lucky weather-wise this trip; mostly all lovely sunny days.)

In Montreal, when we had some time to kill between walking tour and dinner reservation, we took to walking to, up, around, and down Mount Royal.(That was a high calorie burn day, I think.)


See what I mean about the sunny days?

Both, of course, are also islands, and we enjoyed walking the Vieux Port in Montreal also—an area we haven’t visited as often. New York’s harbour, of course, offers some special views.

Lady Liberty Entertainment

We unsurprisingly failed to win tickets in the Hamilton lottery. Instead, we went to see runner-up for best musical, School of Rock. I chose that over The Color Purple for the fun, which it certainly had in abundance. But I did find a few moments surprisingly touching, particularly the “If Only You Would Listen” song by the kids.

And man, were those kids amazing musicians!

We did wish we had tried for Daily Show tickets—didn’t think of it in time. We did end up walking past their studio, though, on the way to the Intrepid.


We did not do much shopping, but Jean was determined to get to B&H store, which has a lot of photography items along with some tech stuff. The challenge was that they were closed for several days for Jewish holidays that week. But we fit it in a visit (barely) between our 9/11 visit and downtown dinner reservation.

And you know who’s the only one who bought anything at Jean’s mecca? Me. The Huawei phone I’d been eyeing looked lovely in person, and was discounted by $50 US. Combined with my Nexus 4 showing signs of age (irritating on this trip, as we were somewhat Google-reliant), I went for it. Then found out it came with not only a case and SD card but premium ($80 US) earphones and case, and various photography attachments.

But tip: Don’t try setting up your new phone on hotel wifi. Recipe for frustration.

In Montreal, I got my hands on case for my new eReader, and also bought a tiny wallet to go with the tiny purse I’d purchased for the trip.


Photo taken on new phone

Eating out

Both cities are great foodie destinations, but we didn’t book at any of the very top restaurants: no Toqué, no Per Se. And where we used the Michelin Guide on our last trip to New York, this time we relied on a mix of Frommer’s, Trip Advisor, and Google to find places to eat. Some highlights:

  • Our first lunch in New York was at Joe’s Shanghai, which doesn’t sound too promising, but it was very good Chinese, especially the soup dumplings, which had won some of kind of award.
  • Our lunch in the Financial District, at Southwest, an upscale Mexican place, was also quite good.
  • Forlini’s, an old-school, were quite amused I’d made reservations on a Monday, and even more so when I called to say we’d be late. “Hey, Cathy’s here!” he announced when arrived. On ordering the ravioli, I was told that was no good and they’d bring me the manicotti instead. The manicotti was indeed delicious!
  • Blue Fin, our pre-theatre restaurant, had some excellent sushi and a great cheese plate for dessert. Unfortunately the mains were a let-down; fish somewhat overcooked, mediocre pasta.
  • Despite being a chain (though one not available in Canada), Le Pain Quotidien, with a focus on nutrition and environmentalism, became our go-to for breakfast.
  • Best meal overall might have been at the bustling Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station. We each had an amazing Manhattan clam chowder (best ever, perhaps), then shared a seafood plate of 10 oysters, mussels, and shrimp.
Great Restaurant at Grand Central Station!

New York has some very fresh seafood on offer

In Montreal, we were guided more by Where to Eat in Canada. We went to a quite good Indian restaurant in Old Montreal called Mirchi on our first night. The table d’hôte was a good deal there.

Our more splurge dinner was at Bouillon Bilk. A bit noisy, but very creative and nicely prepared food, and excellent service. Good ability to match wines, also.


Liked that the mains were as creative as the appetizers: Scallops with buttery cauliflower; guinea fowl in foie gras jus with figs, bacon, and shitake


Ricotta meringue in the forefront; chocolate mousse and cake with fig in the back

Our food tour of the Mile End neighbourhood in the Plateau area was very good, giving history of the place and its inhabitants along with the food samples. The group participating was a good mix of Canadians and Americans (including another couple from Kitchener). Over three hours, we got:

  • Falafel at an environmentally friendly vegan restaurant
  • Gourmet chocolate
  • Montreal bagel from St. Viateur (but of course!)
  • Gnocchi with tomato sauce (this is not a good tour for the gluten intolerant)
  • Charcuterie (cheese and meat) from an organic boucherie (the stuff did taste notably better than the usual)
  • Two chocolate pastries from a boulangerie

So you see why we walked up Mount Royal after.


Unlike hot dogs, it’s just fine seeing how bagels are made

And we still went out for dinner in that neighbourhood late, at Le Comptoir, which features small plates. All very good! We had a charcuterie plate, beet salad, smoked salmon with aioli, and agnoletti with cured beef and tomato.


Well, our flights (all on Air Canada) were short: Takeoff, get your drink and pretzels, then get ready to land. Flying out of Hamilton made for an easier drive, parking, and checkin than Pearson would have—worth the flaky wifi and limited restaurant options. But really, things were fine at Trudeau and LaGuardia airports as well. We were amazed how quickly we got through security, customs, and baggage pickup.

Neither city has particular good non-taxi airport transportation, though. We tried taking the Montreal airport bus back, but they wouldn’t accept a $20 bill—we would have had to come up with $20 in change. Really? So back to taxi we went. And the initial New York taxi ride was complicated by roads being blocked for a Columbus day parade.

Once in either city, though, we were well-served by public transit. New York’s was definitely confusing—despite Google help, it took a while to realize that more than one line could use the same track, such that getting on the first train that pulled up wasn’t always the best bet. But we got better at it. Both cities give you cards with fare loaded, that you then tap (Montreal) or slide (New York); weird that Toronto doesn’t have that yet.

We were happy with our centrally located hotels in both cities—and frankly surprised how large the New York one was. The only problem at Park Central were the elevators, which simply weren’t sufficient in number, so more than often than not incredibly crowded and slow (stopping on every floor for people who had no room to get on).

City culture

If I had to sum up New York, I think it would be “efficient”. Yes, the lineups were long, but man, they were processed fast. Even with all the extra security checks. No time for niceties; just get everyone through.

At restaurants, there’s no (or very little) wondering what the delay is, but also not much lingering over your meal. Get them in, get them out.

The streets are crowded. You have to keep moving. One night in Times Square, always the busiest part of town anyway, part of the street was blocked off for an Alicia Keyes concert. We were simply caught up in a crush of people trying to get by that part of the street. We all had to walk at the same pace. When another group filed past us in the opposite direction, Jean and I were separated and I moved ahead faster—til I finally found a small open area I could wait for him to catch up.

She is Forever 21!

A relatively uncrowded Times Square; not Alicia Keyes night

 Montreal seemed super-mellow by comparison. Spacious. Lower buildings (law that none can be taller than Mount Royal). Linger over your meal if you’d like.

And it’s good they weren’t hell-bent on efficiency, because there was construction everywhere! Main streets, middle of all Old Montreal, all over. (In preparation for a big city anniversary next year, apparently.)

And, Montreal is famously bilingual. Everyone must greet you in French by law, so we’d respond in kind, but then they might switch to English after overhearing our English conversation, but then back if we’re using a French menu…

Though it must be said we heard a lot of French in New York as well. And that Met tour we did? Tout en français, as we didn’t want to wait an extra 45 minutes for the English one.

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No idea why, but this year the garden produced the biggest tomatoes ever. They’re gorgeous and taste as good as they look.


One day’s haul

I’ve had good tomato years before, but never at this size.

Yesterday’s lunch was built around this ingredient. It was based on a recipe from the Nutrition Action Newsletter, but switched up the greens and pumped up the protein.


Photo by Kate Sherwood

  • 1.5 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1.5 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • Kernels from 1/2 ear of corn
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1/2 avocado, chopped
  • 2 Tbs fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 cup mixed baby greens
  • 1 – 2 Tbs roasted unsalted sesame seeds
  • 1 – 2 Tbs crumbed goat cheese
  1. In a salad bowl, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, salt.
  2. Gently toss in the corn, tomatoes, avocado, basil, and greens.
  3. Top with sesame seeds and goat cheese.

Serves: 1

The basil was also from the garden, the corn—though not grown by me—was also Ontario fresh. Definitely worth using high-quality balsamic and olive oil for this.

Oh my God, so good.



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Let’s go to the Ex (whoa, baby)

When I expressed the desire to squeeze in a final summer holiday, Jean suggested Toronto as a place we could get to quickly enough to have time to enjoy with only minimal time off work (I took half a day).

“Hey, the Ex is on then,” I exclaimed. “Can we go?”

“Uh, I guess,” Jean replied, a bit mystified by my interest.

“The Ex” is the Canadian National Exhibition, an annual late-summer fair held in Toronto lo these past 138 years. Neither of us had ever been.

When I was a youngster back in Northern Ontario (from where one could not get to Toronto very quickly), the Ex seemed like coolest thing, based on ads like these:

The classic 1982 Let’s Go to the Ex commercial, with the cow

As an adult, admittedly, it seemed more like a site of cheesy entertainment and appalling-sound junk food (see: The Straight-Up Craziest Stuff To Eat At This Year’s CNE In Toronto). But, partly inspired by The Globe’s A guide to Toronto’s 2016 CNE, from someone who has been every year of her life, I thought we should check it out for ourselves. At least once in our lives.

Getting there was the first challenge. We aren’t experts on Toronto Transit, but the CNE grounds were too far for our usual “we’ll just walk there” approach to getting around in that city. The CNE website clearly listed the best transit options, but that didn’t stop us from messing up: Confusing the Dundas West subway stop(which had a direct bus to the CNE) with Dundas one (which did not). Taking a while to figure out that the “street” car stop at Union Station is not actually on the street, but below ground. And then some confusion about whether we were taking the street car in the right direction.

So we were well ready for lunch by the time we got there, and headed straight to the Food Building. We munched on completely un-weird fish and chips (Jean) and fish tacos (me), but when we walked around afterwards looking for things like the Bug Bistro and the philly sandwiches with whipped cream, we couldn’t find them. It pretty much seemed like any other food court.

Mind, we were rushing through a bit as we (well, I) wanted to get a seat at the popular ice skating and aerial acrobatics show. It featured Olympic bronze medallist Joannie Rochette. She indeed did a lovely solo, but I was actually more impressed with some of acrobatics, and from seeing two male ice skaters skate together. And it seemed a bit rude that they didn’t introduce any performers other than Joannie.

Much of the CNE grounds is a really big midway / fair sort of thing, with rides and games. We didn’t partake of that part at all, beyond walking through it. We had planned to Ferris wheel together, but Jean got a bit overwhelmed with the crowds in those parts.

Instead, we visited a few exhibitions spaces—the farm, arts and hobbies, kitchen stuff (my favourite)—and concluded the day with the (also very popular) Superdogs show. That was so cute and fun, all these different types of dogs doing tricks or playing the clown. Was probably the day’s highlight.


One of the Superdogs–from

After the Ex

The new Where to Eat in Canada had arrived just before this trip, so we took the opportunity to visit a couple of the listed places. We met some friends for dinner at Origin. I had been a bit pushy on this suggestion, despite never having been, so was relieved to find that:

  • The place was quiet enough for conversation
  • The food was very good
  • The prices weren’t outlandish

It’s one of those places with more of a tapas focus, and the servers were very good about helping us through our selections and bringing out items in a sensible order. We had the devilled eggs, a couple items from the raw (sushi) bar, a mozarella-based appetizer, a kale salad, and crispy calamari. (Who needs meat?)


This kale salad was freakin’ delicious

The next day went to the ROM ahead of our reservation at Cafe Boulud. We had forgotten, however, that we were just there in February, and basically remembered the regular collection enough that we didn’t feel the need to look at it again. They had a Chihully exhibit, but having also been to his gallery in Seattle recently, we didn’t feel inclined to pay extra for that. Fortunately, we were saved by being time for a tour of their Egyptian collection, which was really interesting!

Cafe Boulud is a chi-chi poo-poo restaurant in a chi-chi poo-poo hotel. We were there for brunch, which is one of the cheaper ways of partaking in it ($45 for two courses with coffee). The wines by the glass were almost as expensive as bottles are in some others places, so we stuck with the $9 mimosa.


Berries tartine and soupe de mais (corn soup) with our mimosa

The food was quite good, though, excluding Jean’s duck confit being more salted than he cared for. I wasn’t sure what to expect from my Gorditas de papa con chorizo, but I quite enjoyed it.


This is Gorditas de papa con chorizo

The rest of the day we wandered the streets of Toronto, the predicted rain never quite materializing. It was quite warm, so we stopped regularly for beverages of the non-alcoholic variety. We saw street fests and visited some favourite stores and burnt off restaurant calories.

On to Fall.

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Ottawa getaway

Ahead of the long weekend, we took a long weekend, booking the Friday and Monday off and heading up to Ottawa. We had no major ambitions for our visit; it’s just a nice place to go relax. And the weather cooperated—it was a bit warm (hence me wearing nothing but dresses in the photos), but overall can’t complain about a sunny summer weekend.


The Rideau canal area of Ottawa

We booked in at the Les Suites Hotel, very conveniently located downtown. The rooms are a bit older, but you certainly get a lot of space: a full kitchen, a living room with TV, along with the expected bedroom and bathroom. We took advantage of having a fridge by buying food from the Market to bring home (in a cooler).

Apart from that, the only thing we booked ahead were dinner reservations. Friday we ate at Beckta for the first time. It has a fancy dining room with prix fixe dinners, but we decided to eat in the slightly more casual wine bar. We still got excellent service and delicious food.


These PEI oysters left us wanting more. We had them with an Ontario sparkling made specially for Beckta.

Jean tried the soup of the day, which was celeriac with coconut.

Celeriac and Coconut Soup

It was good, but not quite as good as my appetizer of Peking-style glazed pork belly in sesame crepe with cucumber and scallion relish.

Pork Belly Crepes

As mains, I had the risotto with shrimp, peas, and mushrooms, while Jean went with the Tagliatelle pasta with confit chicken, black olive pesto, and arugula. We switched to glasses of red wine with those.

Then with dessert, we each got a glass of sweet wine. Jean had a Tokaji, while I had a cabernet ice wine.

Strawberry and Sorbet

Strawberries and chocolate with sorbet

Maple Meringue

Which were almost as good as the maple semifreddo

Saturday we ambled around the uptown in the morning.


One of the sights we took in

We stopped for lunch at Murray Street, where we had more oysters (this time with cider), and a lovely charcuterie plate of two cheeses, smoked ducks, and two styles of pate.

Charc Plate
In the afternoon we visited the National Gallery.


Outdoor exhibit

Queen Bee!

Indoor exhibit

For our dinner at Signatures, we were joined by friends who live in Ottawa, which was really nice. Signatures has only prix fixe menus, of three, five, or eight courses. We went with three, but chose different items.

Foie Gras Torchon at Signatures

Jean had the mousse de foie de canard

And I the escargots au pastis et tomates.

Something at Signatures

Then I ordered the cabbage-wrapped trout with dill chips

while it was Jean’s turn for risotto with mushroom and peas. I believe the dessert was the same for both, and can’t recall what that was. (Not because it wasn’t good, though.)

Sunday was even warmer, but we still did the walking around thing in the morning, heading down Bank Street and over toward the Museum of Nature, which we visited after a lunch of Thai food. They had a feature dinosaur exhibit (the Museum of Nature did, that is—not the Thai restaurant).



Our final Ottawa dinner was at Sidedoor, which has more of a “small plattes” approach. We were in a seafood-y mood, ordering halibut crispy fish taco, tuna sashimi with yuzu, and coconut poached halibut along with jasmine rice and Chinese greens.

Fried Halibut Taco

Lovely fish tacos at Sidedoor

Everything was quite delicious. The only sour note was that our waiter, who had started really well, seemed to lose interest in us at some point, not really checking back once our initial items arrived or asking if we wanted dessert. (I had to volunteer that I did—they have really amazing donuts here!) Odd, as it wasn’t especially busy or anything. Maybe someone had just told him the Brexit news?

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Maison Louis Jadot at The Berlin

I can’t stop writing about Berlin! But this time I mean the restaurant in Kitchener, Ontario, and not the city in Germany. They are now holding the following events:

The Berlin is excited to announce our new dining series “Upstairs at The Berlin” in our second floor gallery. Each dinner we will focus on the unique aspects of wine/beer and food culture to celebrate and be led by the community of chefs, farmers, foragers/producers, wine and beer makers/ambassadors/sommeliers, writers and epicureans who contribute to our ever growing culinary scene here in Kitchener-Waterloo/Ontario/Canada.

Arrival Reception/Meet and Greet to begin at 6:00 p.m, with our casual, fun and interactive dinner to start at 7:00 p.m, where guests will be seated at communal tables for maximum mingling.
Beer Dinners – $85 – 4 courses, 4 Beers
Wine Dinners – $105 – 4 courses, 4 Wines

We signed up for one featuring wines from France’s Louis Jadot winery.

On entry to the upstairs, we were greeted and offered a glass of either the 2014 Chardonnay from Macon Village or the 2014 Gamay / Pinot Noir blend. We split the difference and got to try both—very pleasant wines.

There was also a welcome spread of amazing Raspberry point oysters, goat cheese, and a cut of meat slow-braised to pâté-like consistency. Everyone was just milling about, and we got into a nice conversation with someone I worked with a couple companies and quite few years ago—good memory for faces (on his part, not mine)!

(And we had been hoping that the upstairs would be a little quieter than downstairs, but it wasn’t, so much. So everyone had to speak up.)

We then selected spots at two long communal tables. We hadn’t previously met any of the people we ended up sitting with, but some had interesting ties to the food and wine being served (farmers or fathers of wine reps), others had visited the region of France being featured (which we haven’t), and everyone was quite interesting.

The first pour was a Pouilly-Fussé, which I don’t think of as my favourite wine, but this was a very nice, fresh example. We heard briefly from The Berlin’s sommelier, than the representative from Louis Jadot explained the region, the history of the company, and the particularities of this wine. (Including that it’s actually a Chardonnay. Did you know that? I hadn’t known that.) This particular one is not branded as Louis Jadot, because while they bought this small winery, they decided to leave the original branding and management in place. It traditionally and still has a woman who does the wine-making,

One terrific Poully Fuisse

The first course served with it were bay scallops seasoned with dried apricot, cucumber, mustard seed, and hazelnut yogourt. Chef Jonathan Gushu came out to explain that he used the smaller bay scallops instead of the usual showy sea scallops, because they had a more true seafood flavor this time of year. And that was correct. Lovely dish with sharp flavors.

Bay Scallops, Dried Apricot, Mustard Seed

Bay scallops and friends

At this point I should mention that Jean and I chose to take the iXpress bus to the restaurant and a taxi back. So that while it would have been possible to stick with the modest initial pourings of each wine, taste everything, and still be fine to drive home, we were glad that our not driving meant could enjoy the wine top-ups generously provided.

Speaking of which, next on offer was the 2013 Marsannay Clos Du Roy, which is a Pinot Noir, and of the lighter, dry style that is common with this grape. This one also had nice complexity, and I could see it suiting a wide variety of food.

Marsannay (Beaune -Pinot Noire)

What we got was a classic Pinor Noir  pairing of duck—specifically, duck pâté en croute with shallot jam. Jean declared it the best dish of its type ever, and I also can’t recall a better one.

This is the Best Canard en Croute ever! EVER!!

The next wine was the same grape from the same house—except that it could have been from another planet, it was that different from the previous wine. The wine rep explained that, yes, this was what so typical and mystifying about this wine region: That mere kilometres apart, wines could be so very different. And also that some of the plots (like the Beaune ones) are tiny and specialize in the one thing they do best. This was our special wine of the evening, the 2007 (great year in France) Beaune Close Des Ursules Pinot Noir. Rich, delicious, stunning… And yes, we got refills. (It’s not available at LCBO, of course, but the Beaune wines they do have start at $90. I think the $105 for this dinner was a pretty good deal.)

Blow your socks off Pinot Noire ... Yes! that good.

No leftovers of this one

We also got food with this.🙂 That would be the smoked beef strip loin, courtesy of the farmers opposite us, who raise in them in the best possible conditions, all grass fed and whatnot. Served with leek and shallot puree. And while beef will never be my favourite item, the smoking made it more interesting, and it was nice cut of meat.

Keeping her eye on the prize while Jonathan talks!

Chef Jonathan Gushu behind me. His cooking philosophy is to work wih the best ingredients and allow their own character through.

For dessert we got to stretch, as they laid out a buffet of various cheeses along with sweets such as creme brulée, macaroons, strawberries, and caramel popcorn. Both the savoury fan (Jean) and the sweet fan (me of course; for who is sweeter than I?🙂 were pleased with our options. The creme caramel was, in Gushu style, just perfect texture cream, sugar, and eggs, with no exotic flavors to mess with that basis. And the macaroons and popcorn… I had to go back for more of both.

Too Much of Everything ... but particularly cheese :)

We loaded up but still needed refills

Our wine with that was the Chateau des Jacques 2011 Moulin a Vent, which is a Gamay, and is available from LCBO (for about $34).

All in all a lovely evening. I hope this series continues.

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Dining in Berlin

The Hackescher Markt area of Berlin is the one end we ended up dining in the most. We went there first on the Monday, aiming for an Italian restaurant named Muret La Barba. We knew it was wise to try to arrive before the peak dining timing of 8:00 pm, but we were still figuring out the transit system then and weren’t able to meet that deadline. And therefore weren’t able to get a table.

For the next night, we made a reservation. That was tricky, as they were pretty busy that night as well, but we did nab one for 6:30 pm. When we arrived we were offered a table we’d have to vacate by 8:00, or we could sit in the bar area by the window and stay as long as we’d like. Jean selected the window because he thought it was a better spot anyway—he has trouble with accents and hadn’t caught that it also allowed us to eat at leisure.

A few things we gradually learned about dining out in Berlin:

  • They just don’t bring you your bill until you ask for it.
  • Berliners tend to like to linger over their meals, so if the place is full at 7:30, you’re likely not getting in at all that day.
  • Your server will speak at least some English, but don’t count on an English menu being available. Might be, might not.
  • The Google Translate app allows you to use phone’s camera to translate Germans “on the fly” into English.
  • Getting credit cards accepted is not so much a problem as it used to be. But, there is no tip option. You have to tell the server in advance how much tip to add to the credit card bill. (Typical tip rates there are 5 to 10%.)
  • If tipping in cash, you don’t just leave it on the table. You give it to the server.

Google Translate app

We hadn’t figured all of that out by Tuesday, however, and were still wondering why the constant delay in getting our bill, and ended up not leaving a tip despite the fine service. Oops.

But, it was a lovely meal. They make their own wine there, and were able to recommend an interesting white to start. We intended to have just a glass each of that, with the idea of trying another, but they just left the whole bottle there after pouring us a glass each, for us to take as much as we wanted, and turned out what we wanted was the whole bottle.

As for food, we started by sharing a bread and cheese plate with walnuts, pear, and honey. Then I had the linguine con vongole (“with clams”) in a white wine and garlic sauce, while Jean went with a delicious mushroom ravioli in cream sauce. We shared a crème brulée for dessert, and each had a decaf espresso.

Tuesday we were back in that same area, this time trying a vegan restaurant, believe it or not: Kopps. And it was fantastic. They gave us an amuse to start, then Jean had a delicious cauliflower and peanut soup, while I tried the asparagus tart.

Vegan Soup .... Um Um Good!

Not sure why the soup is green, but it was some good

Vegan Veggie Roll :)

It was a spring roll-like tart

As mains, Jean had amazing gnocchi with eggplant and beet. I had barley risotto with asparagus (again!) and apple—the apple really made the dish “pop”. We enjoyed these with different glasses of German whites.

For dessert, we shared a plate of faux cheese—made with nuts and so on, and served with fruit such as figs and strawberries. Jean was kind of disappointed it wasn’t really cheese (which he knew going in, but still), but I thought everything was quite good. The waiter recommended having beer with that, and it seemed so odd to me, I ordered it. The beer was delicious! (I think it’s only Canadian beer I don’t like.) Jean had a kir royale type of drink that was also very nice.

Our lunches tended to be fine but not worth blogging about—all right udon, OK Chinese, acceptable Turkish. On Thursday lunch time, we were in the Charlottenburg Schloss area of more touristy restaurants. We though it time to finally have German good, at Brauhaus Lemke. We had a congenial waiter who commented on the number of Canadians he’d served that week—in fact, a couple were at the table behind us. And the place had a nice ambience, and a history, explained on the menu.

The food wasn’t terrific, though. German’s not our favourite cuisine anyway, and I’m not sure this was the best exemplar of it. I had duck, and the meat right under the skin was nice, but overall, it was overcooked. It came with some actually very good red cabbage, but pretty mediocre dumplings. Huge portions! But we left quite a bit.

The place was also a brewery, so we each had a beer. Both of those, my friends, were delicious!

After that heavy lunch, we weren’t up for a big meal. We considered trying to do something cool like go to a jazz club, or out dancing, but finally just settled on a wine bar.

IMG_20160428_204518 (1)

Vivent les vins… Libre!

No complaints here about the quality and choice of wines, many of which were French, or the food: We had a couple cheese plates (actual cheese, this time), a buffalo mozarella and beet dish, and another built around bacon and eggs. The only problem was that our waiter wasn’t very attentive. The whole pacing of when items arrived was a bit off; we’d have to wander off and go look for him when we wanted to order something else. So it was a nice evening—but not perfect.

Our best lunch was Wednesday, at the beautiful Café-Restaurant Wintergarten, facing a garden. Their white asparagus soup was incredible, but even more important was that it put an end to our streak of breakfast problems.

We’d decided not to go with our hotel’s breakfast buffet, as it was kind of expensive, and we’re not big fans of buffets. We’d thought that the nearby train station restaurants might be suitable for this simple meal, but… Honestly, if we’d been OK with just pastry and coffee for breakfast, that would have worked. German pastries are almost as good as French, and I experienced no bad coffee all week. But French experience had taught me that pastry breakfast leaves me hangry by lunchtime, so we were looking for something more substantial to start the day.

Googling breakfast places did indeed find others, but they just weren’t that good. So when we saw that Café-Restaurant Wintergarten served breakfast daily til 2:00 pm, it seemed perfectly reasonable Thursday morning to take the 20-minute train ride there to eat it. Finally, five days in: A delicious start to the day! (Belgian waffles with fruit, in my case.)

Then Friday, after sleeping in, we took a ride in a different direction to the place Lonely Planet advised offered the best breakfast in Berlin: Chipps Restaurant. It was totally worth the subway ride and walk. Jean declared his Hollandaise eggs delicious. I loved my “lumberjack” breakfast of French toast, scrambled eggs, bacon, and greens. Due to concert timing, this turned out to be a two-meal day for us, so just as well we started with a hardy one.


I’m a lumberjack and I’m OK… Photo from Yelp

Saturday night I was hoping to get a nice final dinner, but doubtful I would given, that we were in a random tapas restaurant. German tapas. Not Spanish.

But I was pleasantly surprised by the nice little dishes that were served. Exquisite mashed potatoes with truffle oil. Tender sole with tomatoes. Lively beets and walnuts. Tasty roast potatoes in walnut oil. Fresh tomato bocconcini. Creative fried cucumber (Jean left that one to me). Everything was great.



Berlin, mon amour

Tuesday morning. It’s cold. It’s raining. The museum lineup has slowed to a crawl, as groups of school children gained entry ahead of us. Jean has lapsed into a grumpy silence. My mood is darkening accordingly.

“Good Lord,” I think. “This is going to be a long week.”

Why visit Berlin? Well, weird as it seems, it really was a vacation built around an Adam Lambert concert. We’d been thinking of heading back to Europe in the spring anyway. He was touring there then; I’d been wanting to see Lambert in concert for a while. So we used his tour itinerary for vacation planning.

Amsterdam had been the likely prospect, but the date wasn’t ideal—a bit early in April, and conflicting with a local show we had tickets to. Then more dates were added. “Hey look,” I told Jean. “He’s playing Berlin.”

“Well, I’ve always wanted to visit Berlin,” Jean said as he hurried off to work.

That afternoon I emailed him. “I bought Adam Lambert concert tickets!

“For Berlin!”

And five months later, we were off.

For whatever reason, I did a lot of fretting before this vacation. At various times, I worried about:

  • The low dollar. [But it had started swinging upward again well before we left, taking the steam out of that worry.]
  • That our Tep wireless device wouldn’t arrive in time. [It did.]
  • That it would rain constantly. [Actuality: Three of the seven days, it did rain regularly, but never constantly. Basically, we had four days of sun and three days of partial sun.]
  • Terrorism. That would be right after the Brussels airport bombing—the very airport we were transferring through on the way back. But I eventually got hold of myself and realized that fear was somewhat irrational, and replaced it with a fear of:
  • The Brussels airport not being ready for us to transfer through—But then I looked it up two weeks before, and it was ready, so then it was just
  • That security would be a nightmare. [Which it wasn’t really. Just that the extra checking delayed our departing flight somewhat.]

I could continue on this vein for a while. Will we get good seats on the plane? Have I done enough Berlin research? Should I get the Museumcard or the Citypass or the Berlinpass? Should I be booking a Parliament tour ahead of time? You get the idea.

Still, up to that Tuesday morning, it really seemed all that worrying had been silly. The flight over—and I never say this about transatlantic flights—seemed to go by really fast. Jet lag makes everything a bit challenging the first day, but we still managed to get our transit pass, then (eventually) find the bus to the train station, from where we (rather easily) found our hotel.

And our hotel was nicer than I had been expecting, and in our slightly sleepy state, we agreed to a room upgrade. I don’t know quite what the difference was, but if that’s why we got such a big bathroom counter, that was appreciated. (I don’t travel light in terms of cosmetics.) And the bed was quite comfortable.

It was a nice day, so after wrestling our wireless device into submission (after a shaky start, it ultimately worked really well for us), we got out into the city a bit. Our first Berlin meal, at a random but very busy pub across from a popular market, was delicious: Gorgonzola and spinach ravioli for me; Hungarian goulash for Jean. We saw the Berlin Wall remnants, with plans to go back for a proper visit, and that night had an incredibly long, restorative sleep.

What’s left of “The Wall”

So I think the troubles started Monday. But not dramatically so. Yes, we tried booking some sites online, and just ended up confused, which wasn’t a great start to a day. And yes, many museums were closed that day.

But it was also nice and sunny out, so a good day to visit several outdoor sites, which we did. We saw:

  • The Bradenburg Gates
  • The Holocaust Memorial
  • The Topographie des Terrors site
  • The Berlin Wall memorial

All of which I found at least somewhat interesting, and some fascinating. And I’ll be writing more about them later.

But the problem for Jean—along with the fact that was a rather depressing series of historical events we were revisiting this day—was that he didn’t find much of this picture-worthy. And taking photos is a big part of what he enjoys doing on vacation.


As Jean didn’t take a picture of the Bradenburg Gate, here’s one by Terrance Spencer, a member of Adam Lambert’s band, taken the week we were there. Source:

It also didn’t help that our second Berlin dinner wasn’t as successful as the first. Having failed to get into the Italian restaurant we were aiming for, the alternative we selected was just so-so. (Though I think the lamb I had was better than Jean’s chicken.)

So Tuesday’s mediocre breakfast, rainy morning, and 45-minute wait to get into a museum did nothing improve to the situation.

Fortunately, when we got into the Pergamon, we found that it actually was a pretty darn good museum, with picture-worthy exhibits! I was quite relieved to finally see Jean pull out his camera and start snapping away. And the companion museum we visited in the afternoon—no lineup here—was even better: the Neues Museum.

Museum Island resident

One of the statues on “Museum Island”, where both the Pergamon and Neues Museums are located

And then the day cleared up, weather-wise. And that night we did get ourselves into that Italian restaurant we’d aimed for on Monday, and we had a wonderful meal there, with great wine.

However, it’s just a fact that Berlin is a less photographer-friendly city than many we’ve visited, given how much was destroyed in the wars and how much is currently under construction, So it just wasn’t destined to be Jean’s favourite. But he stopped letting that affect his mood, and for the rest of the vacation was his usual cheery self and generally great travel partner.

Meanwhile I was perfectly happy just stuffing historical and archaeological facts into my head (though I think many of them have just spilled back out…), and envisioning past times so very different from the vibrant and free city in front of me now.

And the week went by really fast…🙂

(More to come.)