We dined in domes, tents, and old Victorian houses. We had five dinners but we only left two tips (and we don’t suck). In between, we walked, we wined, we saw some art.
Blog title courtesy of Jean, who was determined to have some time off after not getting any at Christmas time (beyond the statutory days). We didn’t venture too far from home—Beamsville, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Toronto, Kleinburg, which are all within a two hours’ drive. And it wasn’t, per se, designed as a culinary tour. But it did turn out that way!
Because, you see, I’m still making some efforts to avoid catching Covid. And when it came to selecting restaurants, well, it wasn’t your Mom and Pop fish’n’chips places that offered space. And clean air. Those only came packaged as “dining experiences”. Covid safe(r), it turns out, is kind of delicious.
We left home mid-morning, headed to an appointment at Commisso Estate Winery in Beamsville. Their website promised wine tastings in a “fun, safe, private” environment. I didn’t necessarily trust the promise—so many places just didn’t bother to remove their Covid protocols page once they stopped following it—but I figured a smaller winery in February wouldn’t be that crowded. I optimistically (and pragmatically, given that dinner wasn’t til 7) also ordered a charcuterie board.
It worked out. We ended up being their only customers at this time. Not only that, but their tastings are conducted in a tent that was plenty warm, thanks to gas heaters. After we were seated, we got the history of the place, and overview of the wines.
There are Big Things going on in the world that I am certainly reading about, am in some cases being affected by, and likely have some sort of opinion on. But here, as is often the case, I’d rather write about those times when I’m distracting myself from the news.
Like hey, you still gotta eat. Might as well enjoy it.
During the last round of restaurant closures in January, I took S&V Uptown up on their offer to deliver me a surprise pack of three wines with matching recipes. I ended up with an Ontario Riesling, an Italian Pinot Grigio, and a California Cabernet Sauvignon. That one came with what looked like the most interesting recipe: Bison burgers.
People are always thinking burgers with beers but you are not most people. You bougie. Sniff and swirl that Cab and pair this with Beyoncé on loud.
S&V Uptown recipe notes
I mean, after reading that, how could I not make the burgers? Me am bougie! I adapted the recipe slightly, the main difference being using only ground bison, no ground beef (not bougie enough!). I also simplified the already simple instructions (bougie and lazy). Resulting in:
1 pound ground bison
1/2 cup minced onion (I used frozen minced onion)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon fresh parsley
1/2 Tablespoon coconut oil
1/2 Tablespoon onion powder
2 Tablespoons ketchup
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Divide into four patties. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat with olive oil. Cook patties roughly four minutes per side.
Lordy, it was delicious. (Now I get why so many people order burgers.) And the Cab Sauv, not always my favourite wine, was just lovely!
Winter interferes with Winter House
Langdon Hall, meanwhile, coped with the closure by offering to feed people outdoors, in what admittedly looked like a pretty awesome setting:
A couple friends agreed to meet us there, weather depending. And honestly, the weather much of that planned day wasn’t great. Started off quite blowy and snowy. But we were planning to go only later in the day, anyway, and by then, it was sunny and calmer.
Jean and I decided to stop in and see the Ronnie Wood Art Exhibition first (yes, that would be The Rolling Stones bassist). When we got there, however, the museum was actually closed due to weather (even though, to be clear, the art is exhibited indoors), so we thought, huh. Better call Langdon Hall to make sure their Winter House is still in operation. Yep, they said, it’s open! No reservation required.
So we coordinated with our friends to meet there—it’s about a half hour drive. Only to be told on arrival that, oops, sorry. Closed after all, due to wind.
I mean. The closure was understandable. But they had decided to close it at 1:00 pm that day, and we called them around 4:30 pm. So…
We grumbled, but moved on. Upon discussion, this became a meal of takeout Indian at our friend’s house (courtesy: Vijay’s). And you know? By this point of the pandemic, it was actually much more exotic to be eating indoors at someone else’s house than be at a restaurant’s cool patio. The food was good, the beer was great; their house has many cool features; it was a fine evening.
And we got to the Ronnie Wood Art Exhibition the following weekend. He’s a talented guy!
Breathing easy at Loloan
Restaurants are back at full capacity now (if they want), and as of Tuesday, won’t have to ask for vaccination proof anymore (unless they want to). We decided to take the vax pass for one more spin at a day and time we thought wouldn’t be full capacity: Thursday at 5:30 pm. And we selected Loloan Lobby Bar both because we like their food, and because they’d made the point that they’ve worked to improve their ventilation.
Ventilation is key to indoor spaces being safer, especially those places where you can’t mask, but how to know what public places are well-ventilated? I decided to a buy a portable CO2 monitor to give me an idea. Outdoors is about 400 ppm, and levels above 1000 ppm are considered hazardous to health. You’re looking for indoor space to be under 800; under 600 for places like gyms, with a lot of exhaling going on.
I haven’t been to too many places since I got the monitor, but these are the results to date (rounded measurements, since the levels bounce around):
Also, the food at Loloan was delicious! (But we forgot the camera…)
I’m actually a bit appalled that my house doesn’t have better ventilation than my grocery store, but whatever the reason, it’s not because of a natural gas cooktop. Those, I’ve learned, are really bad for indoor air, as well as contributing fairly significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. So the use of induction cooktops is encouraged as an alternative.
I’ve recently acquired one of these. Mine replaces an electric cooktop, so shouldn’t make much difference to my indoor air quality, and only a minor improvement to my greenhouse gas emissions, as it uses less electricity. But I’ve grown quite fond of it, enjoying these benefits:
Speed of heating pots and pans: Water boils so fast. Pans are ready to fry foods so quickly.
Fine temperature control: This took some getting used to, but you can really quite finely set the controls for the level of simmering, boiling, or grilling you want to achieve.
Easier to clean. The element itself doesn’t get hot, so items don’t burn on it as much. Everything is flat, so no knobs to clean around.
Safer. The elements don’t heat unless a metal pot is on it. They will not burn cat paws. They won’t start a fire.
Downsides are that induction cooktops cost more, and they only work with magnetic pots—stainless steel, iron, and so on. Some of our previous stock of cookware worked, but we did have to replace a number of items. For me, though, the investment has been worth it.
This is the second year in a row we didn’t travel north for Christmas. We made the decision pre-Omicron, so it wasn’t because of that. It was related to work; namely, Jean’s inability to get time off—company policy for everyone at Christmas, at least for this year.
I was fine with it, basically. It was early enough that I had a lot of time to get used to the idea. And it is always kind of stressful travelling north at Christmas, given the crowds and the weather and the scramble to get a catsitter. We figured we’d visit family a little later.
But I definitely lacked in Christmas spirit. Last year, when we were all under health advisories to stay home in our family units, as compensation I really wanted to do all the things: Send out the Christmas cards and letter. Put up the lights and decorations. Play the Christmas songs. Watch the Christmas concerts and movies. Prepare the fruitcake, make soup out of the chicken bones, heat up the Christmas morning croissant.
This year, I felt no compulsion to do much of any of that. Now, I did do some of the cooking—we gotta eat anyway and I like tourtière, and cabbage rolls, and roast chicken, and chicken pot pie. And we did watch one (mediocre) new Christmas movie. And sure I played a few Christmas songs on the key days. Zoom family gift opening and game night were fun. And we did put up a tree, but then one cat ate a sharp piece and got an upset tummy, so then it was, bye tree.
Though Jean had no time off, I still took some. I had no big ambitions for what to do with the near two weeks, but no concerns that I’d be bored, either. There are enough chores, books, TV shows, cute cats, fitness breaks, and doom-scrolling sessions to fill days at home.
But we also got out a bit—most notably to the Rolling Stones: Unzipped exhibit at The Museum. It was really quite something to see, even if you’re not especially into the Rolling Stones.
So it’s really too bad that it’s about to be shut down for three weeks as a public health measure. (This was not a cheap show to bring to town!) I mean, it’s safer than the malls that have been left open—to get into this exhibit, you had to be be vaccinated.
Otherwise, we did outdoors stuff, like trying out the ebikes we got each other for Christmas. Yep, it’s winter, but it’s been a pretty mild and not terribly snowy one so far. And the ebikes are “fat tire” mountain-bike style. Jean has really taken to it, getting out on longish rides on roughish trails. I’ve been more tentative (you’re shocked, I know), but kind of surprised I’ve done it at all. More than once, even.
We had been indoor dining through the Fall, which has been lovely, and originally hoped to go out for a nice dinner on New Year’s Eve. But by mid-December, that just didn’t seem smart. (And a few of our favourite places proactively closed anyway.) So we went for the New Year’s Eve takeout, courtesy of Sole Restaurant and Wine Bar. (And we also got a lovely pastry box from Loloan Lobby Bar.)
So I don’t particularly have the new year’s “spirit”, either. Not inclined to think back on the year that was, nor motivated to set many aspirations for the year ahead. Except maybe this idea, which I like:
Things have changed since March 2020, and they’re not all going to go back to how they were. And that’s OK—the pandemic has only amplified the fact that a lot of things were terrible. So there’s no point in just longing for the past. We gotta go forward. We gotta make the best of it now, then do what we can to make it better later.
After hearing reports like the above for a couple of years now, ith our Ottawa leg, we decided to give this Air Bnb thing a whirl. We wanted a place close to downtown, that would be self-contained, and cheaper than a hotel (or why bother)? We picked one that met those qualifications and otherwise seemed OK, per photos and reviews.
The place was kind of… run down. Creaky, uneven floors. What looked like a hole punched in the wall. Water pooling at the bottom of the fridge. Trash strewn around out back. An electrical outlet of dubious safety. And we could really hear the next-door neighbours.
On the other hand, it was basically clean, we spotted no insects of any sort, the location was very convenient, it had a strong the wifi signal, and after a visit to the Byward Market to add fresh fruit and Montreal-style bagels to our arsenal of produce from Ile d’Orléans, we made ourselves the best breakfasts of the trip.
Still, now I have an answer when people ask, why would anyone stay in a hotel anymore?
Unlike our accommodations, Ottawa looked very regal while we were there
Our first Ottawa dinner was at Fairouz, a restaurant specializing in high-end Middle Eastern food. It’s a smallish place, and somewhat noisy, but with very good service. We had with spicy olives, salmon pastourma, lamb kofte, and date cake for dessert. It definitely was a step above your typical Middle Eastern food—but that type of food still isn’t our favourite.
We then had to decide what to do with ourselves in Ottawa, a city we visit rather more often than Québec City. We decided to give the Museum of History another chance, now that the Canadian History Hall was open. They also had a special exhibit on The Franklin Expedition that was of interest, especially since we’d been watching AMC’s The Terror.
The walk to the Museum of History
The Franklin Expedition exhibit was really terrific. It was interactive and laid out in a way that gave a good sense of what the men went through. The bit about the recent discovery of the two lost ships was featured less than I expected it would be, but it was featured.
The Canadian History Hall, which is on two floors, is also really well done. It starts with Native history and their story gets included throughout, much more than if this Hall had been put together a decade or so ago, I suspect. We then get the stories of the French explorers and settlers (and the Filles du Roy), the Acadians, the United Empire Loyalists. We revisit Confederation, Louis Riel, the building of the railroad. Exhibits continue on to more current events: the world wars, Expo 67, Trudeaumania (the first), the two Quebec Referendum, the October Crisis, the legalization of gay marriage, the Idle No More movement, and so on.
It was all very interesting, and we ended up spending far more time at that museum than we’d expected to. At one point we took a lunch break to eat at the fairly indifferent (nowhere near as good as Apsara) Thai restaurant across the street (the Green Papaya), then headed back. We were there til 3:30.
The day had turned lovely, so we then did some ambling about Ottawa. I also stopped off at clothing boutique near the Air Bnb, featuring local designers. I tried on a number of items and did end up purchasing a pretty cute little black dress (about $120).
For dinner, we met up with some friends at Play Food and Wine. The service was a bit error-prone: a cheese plate including blue cheese despite an allergy having been reported to that very thing; duplicated dishes arriving when different dishes had been ordered. But everything got rectified and we did enjoy our various small dishes, though nothing especially stood out this time.
Saturday was predicted to be rainy, but in the end, less rain fell than expected. We started the day at National Gallery. It was partly under construction, and featured no special exhibits, but we hadn’t been in a few years, and so just enjoyed the regular collection, particularly the European and American works.
Jean was there!
So were camels!
We then had a decent lunch in the Market area, resisted the offerings at the Poutine festival on Sparks Street, and did some shopping around the Bank street area, mainly picking up books and magazines (like, on paper!). The independent coffee shops all seemed to be overflowing with patrons, so made our way to Starbucks at the Chapters.
Our final dinner of the trip was at the Beckta Wine Bar, and it was quite lovely. We started with some oysters, and both had the Parisian gnocchi (ricotta, asparagus, pine nuts, peas), which was worth doubling up on. (I suspect we had dessert as well, though I can’t remember what, now.) Service was very good (not error-prone) and helpful with the wine matching.
A nice ending to this leg of the trip. Then it a blessedly uneventful drive home on Sunday (during which we didn’t quite finish Ready Player One).
Now that I’ve come up with it, the title of this post seem vaguely ominous, as though I’m about to recount some tragic event that, in four short days, changed my life forever.
But no, sorry, this is nothing that interesting, I’m afraid. (Mind you, I am glad I haven’t recently experienced a great tragedy.)
Jean’s work has been requiring more travel lately, including three weeks in Barrie (about a 2-hour drive away). The first weekend in between, he came home. The second one, he decided to go a conference in Toronto. I would join him there.
This conference is annual, and normally I just stay over for one, maybe two nights. But with us having seen less of each other, I went there Friday after work and took Monday off, such that we could spend three nights and (part of) four days together.
Due to heavy Toronto traffic, my Friday bus was late arriving. Meanwhile, Jean was dealing with the fact that he couldn’t get into his hotel room, because the hotel (Doubletree by Hilton) had mistakenly registered him as staying only one night, even though we had booked for four (and had the paperwork to prove it). Initially, they also weren’t sure where his luggage was. (Turned out it was still in the room.) That all got straightened out shortly before I arrived.
Originally we’d been planning to meet with my younger sister and her husband for dinner, but she’d contacted us a couple days before with the realization that her son had a basketball game and her husband would be out of town, so… We made other plans. Which was just as well, as with the bus delay and hotel troubles, we would have been late for dinner.
But we were on time for the alternative we booked, old reliable Ki, where we once again had a really nice meal of their “modern sushi”, with a bottle of Grüner Veltliner.
The jalapenos gave this a nice kick
Sushi and sashimi assortment
Saturday morning Jean had more conferencing, and we had an early dinner booking, so in the afternoon, we just did a bit of ambling about on Toronto streets…
Hospital street art
Til the weather became rainy and unpleasant, at which point we decided to explore the Toronto underground. This told us that… A lot of stores in the Toronto underground are closed on Saturdays. Kind of weird.
Dinner was at the very popular Richmond Station, which we’d really enjoyed this past summer. Given its popularity, we were only able to get reservations at either 5:15 or 10 pm. We went with 5:15 pm. We were able to do the chef’s surprise menu, which made it easy. They were able to give us five courses before they needed the table again, and everything was lovely, from the raw oysters…
To the truffle mushroom soup, and on to the trout with cauliflower and barley…
to the beef main course, and the hazelnut ice cream dessert, and polished off with some chocolates and macaroons.
The wine we had was a French Pinot noir that was a pretty flexible match.
We were back at the hotel early enough to watch Eddie the Eagle on Netflix. Pretty much the definition of “feel good movie”, that one, but it’s well done. Eddie the Eagle was the British ski jumper at the Calgary Olympics who had taken up the sport only a year before, and came dead last in the competition, but was thrilled just to land on his feet (and, incidentally, set a British record for that sport). This movie was good at showing that this really was an accomplishment! Landing at Olympic ski jumping is not easy.
So, I’d recommend it. (Canadians, though, will have to look elsewhere than Netflix to watch it. They dropped it on February 1. Hence my hurry to watch it in January.)
Sunday late morning we met with my other sister at the Crown Princess for dim sum. Food and conversation were good, as usual.
Then we headed to the ROM, where they were featuring three special exhibits. Once we got through the rather long entry lineup, we went to the first one, on the Vikings. And found it somewhat underwhelming. Definitely I learned more about the Vikings, but that included the fact that they didn’t leave behind that many artifacts. I was expecting something more spectacular, I guess.
I was amused by Zuul’s tag line
The Wildlife Photography exhibit, on the other hand, was really great. Lots of fantastic photographs (none of which we could take photos of, of course). As for Christian Dior exhibit? Honestly, we didn’t go ub because of the lineups. Which is really unfortunate, because when we first got to the exhibit door, there was no lineup. Had we realized, we would have gone in then and looked at the Wildlife Photography afterwards. But we didn’t, and we didn’t.
Our dinner that night, with some friends, was at our first new (to us) restaurant, Pearl Diver. It was a little bit noisy, but friendly service and definitely good at preparing its signature cuisine, seafood.
Jean’s meal was Spanish-style: No sides! But they weren’t all like that.
And snowy Monday was basically about getting ourselves on the road, back to our respective destination cities.