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


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Eating out (in)

In the Before Times, early March, the day after I got my hair cut and coloured, I popped over to Starbucks for my free birthday latte. And that night I went out for dinner with my husband.

None of that seemed particularly remarkable at the time, of course. We had a dinner at King Street Trio. It was a Tuesday, so not especially busy, but a number of tables filled. The service was attentive. The food was not highly memorable, but it was well prepared. Nice night out.

During the “It’s starting to get weird now” time, mid-March, I experienced the most crazed grocery shopping trip of my life, as it seemed that all my neighbours were there, preparing for the apocalypse. I did not yet know that this would be my last “crowd” experience for some time. I wasn’t yet freaked out by being packed in there with so many people. But there was no mistaking the strangeness of this frenzy of buying. I even took a photo.

The first but not last time that the grocery store TP shelf looked like this…

I had changed my mind about my original plans for that weekend, which had been to try to get last-minute lottery tickets to Hamilton in Toronto. Once I read that Broadway in New York went dark, somehow seeing a play in Toronto no longer seemed like a good idea. (And I was right! The Saturday matinee performance we were going to attempt to get tickets for was destined to become the first of the cancelled Hamilton performances.)

We went ahead with our backup plans of visiting some local museums: the Homer Watson Gallery (a bit disappointing), the Ken Seiling Museum (very good!). We felt quite safe doing that, as in both cases, we were practically the only people there. And then we went out for lunch, at Cameron Seafood Restaurant. Normally a very popular dim sum spot, we were their lone customers for most of the meal (which was very good, and service very attentive!).

Sunday, we went for a interesting local hike, on the GeoTime trail, and were not particularly concerned about how many other people were doing the same.

Then on Monday, the museums and restaurants were closed, and I was working from home full time, and you all know the rest.


In the After Times, food-wise, it was the lattes that I missed the most, at first.

I was used to a weekly walk to my local Starbucks for one, the occasional weekend latte with Jean or with friends, and supplementing those with the mediocre-but-it’s-still-a-latte latte from the office coffee machines.

The Starbucks app briefly offered free delivery, before declaring that I now lived too far from the nearest outlet still open. I wasn’t about to do their drive-through thing—really don’t like drive-throughs (though I appreciate how handy they are to have now). For Jean’s birthday, we got takeout lattes and two “Benwiches” from Kitchener’s Cafe Pyrus. That was nice, but not convenient enough to do frequently.

So I started researching espresso machines—devices I’d resisted earlier exactly because I liked going out for lattes! Loops and lattes. Meeting friends for coffee. Polishing off a nice dinner out with out a cappuccino.

Sigh.

Pandemic-inspired purchase: Breville The Infuser, from Wayfair

(It’s some consolation that it does make really good lattes. Very handily, I have a husband who loves making them for me.)

As for restaurant dining (which I also miss, but not as acutely), the only option now, obviously, is takeout. Jean and I essentially never did takeout before—never even got pizza delivered or whatever. But if we want any of the local restaurants to survive this, we needed to start.

So after Cafe Pyrus, we tried Grand Trunk Saloon. They make absolutely delicious fried chicken, but when at the restaurant, ordering the “bucket of chicken” always seemed absurd: way too much food! Even for two. But as takeout? Yay, leftovers!

So we picked that up, and found that it was good. Including the leftovers.

Then inspired by a Globe and Mail article about virtual dinner parties, I suggested to some friends that we have virtual takeout night. We each ordered and picked up dinners from Swine and Vine, who’ve been coming up with new takeout menus weekly. Then we Zoom-connected with them while we each our dinner.

It was fun! (Even despite a few Zoom challenges.) And the Swine and Vine food was just delicious, from starter to dessert.

Next up, we’re taking a couple of days off, even though we can’t really go anywhere or do very much. But at least we can still get takeout! I think our target will be The White Rabbit. Might even splurge and get one of their bottles of wine…

Jean is still managing to take some nice photos from

I will leave you with this Google Map link to area restaurant, cafes, and food shops that are offering curb side pick-up or delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic.


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Cheap Trick

As I kept telling people, Cheap Trick was not a band I’d go out of my way to see in concert.

But Kitchener’s Centre in the Square is only a 15-minute drive away. So when I heard that Cheap Trick was playing there, on a night I didn’t have anything else booked, I figured, why not?

I was somewhat into Cheap Trick back in the day. I owned the At Budokan and Dream Police albums. I knew all the words to “The Flame”. I thought that Robin Zander and Tom Petersson were babes and hung their pictures on my wall.

But it wasn’t a band I’d particularly kept up with lo these many years. Still, when it’s easy, and I could score 4th row centre seats at a reasonable price, why not go?

Initially Jean thought that he couldn’t join me, but his work schedule changed such that he could. I was pleased to have company, and he ended up pleased to be at the show.

My goodness, they were entertaining! 30 seconds in, and Robin Zander made it clear that he had lost none of his vocal power.

He also still looks pretty good…

Guitarist Rick Neilsen, still the eccentric, had a never-ending parade of guitar changes, with many quirky designs. But what mad skills! These are guitar solos I quite enjoyed (for one, none were that long).

A not-so-quirky guitar (but I can’t say the same about the guitarist)

Tom Petersson (who also still looks pretty good) took vocals on one song. Original drummer Bun E. Carlos is no longer with the band, but their replacement is fantastic.

It was a fun, fast, efficient set, song, song, song, not too much chatter–though they did do a bit of reminiscing about past Canadian tours and having to eat seal flipper pie in Moncton. (“I had never even heard of Moncton.”)

Where some classic bands have amassed an audience with a wide age range, this Cheap Trick crowd was largely Generation X. And they were totally going back there, some even standing up to slow dance, high school style, during “The Flame”.

I stood up myself when they launched into “I Want You to Want Me”, until I started feeling vaguely rude and sat down again. Still, I like to think I started a trend, as the entire crowd leapt to their feet for the next song, “Dream Police”, and stayed there through the remaining hits, hits, hits which with they finished the show.

Photo restored…

I’ve been having a bit of a tough time lately, and this night out was quite the tonic. So much fun. Even the songs I didn’t know had that distinct Cheap Trick sound, so I liked them, too. They are the quintessential rock band, but in a not very rock move, they started promptly at 8:00 and had us out shortly after 9:30 (in time to catch most of the Raptors game).

And I left with my very own Rick Neilsen guitar pick (as he tosses them into the crowd freely): “We’re all all right!” it says. And we were.

It would even have been worth going out of my way.


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Swine and Vine

Swine and Vine is relatively new restaurant in Kitchener, located in the space vacated by Public. After a pretty positive review in the Waterloo Region Record, we decided to try it for ourselves.

The focus here is on wine and charcuterie. We were told that they change the wine list monthly.  All the menu items are intended to be shared between two people (so not a great place for solo dinners, I guess) and the advice was that ordering one starter, and one charcuterie board, generally provided enough food.

The place is small, and was not overly busy on this Saturday. We liked the musical soundtrack, but even more the fact that it wasn’t too loud; no need to yell at our dining companions to be understood.

And (hurray!) we really enjoyed the food.

To start, we shared the Peking duck crepes. These did feature some vegetables Jean isn’t overly fond of, but the duck itself was delicious, and he was able to eat around the onions and cucumber. I had a glass of Spanish Syrah / Grenache with that, while Jean had a lovely French rose.

An appetizer built for two

Our friends ordered six oysters to start, but were only able to get five—the kitchen ran out. That also meant that we weren’t able to get the oysters normally included on the “Octopus’s Garden” seafood-focused charcuterie board that we ordered. We were able to substitute any other option, and went with chicken liver paté. Our friends selected the classic OG board.

mde

Two boards, one land, one sea

The seafood one included ceviche, lemongrass curried PEI mussels, sous vide octopus, trout pâté, gravalax, and fish cakes, which were served with breads, chips, and vegetables. Every item, truly, was very good (though the ceviche again included the cucumber / onion less favored by my dining companion), and as you can see, you get a generous amount of food. And our friends were just as happy with their choice.

With that, I drank a glass of Ontario Reisling, while Jean went with an Austrian Grüner Veltliner.

The restaurant wisely offers small-size desserts—small enough that you wouldn’t necessarily have to share them. But each couple did, all of us going with the lightest-sounding option on the menu, the lemon soufflé. It was a lovely custard, served in two hollowed-out lemons.

lemon-dessert

Jean might not be happy that I cropped his photo here, but I was kind of tired of pictures of me

This was the best seafood dinner we’ve had in this town for a long time. We will be back!


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The Mike and Micky Show (they were The Monkees)

smith: We have another dirty little secret. A Monkees song.

depp: Oh, “Daydream Believer.” It’s a great song. I don’t care what anyone says.

smith: “Daydream Believer” came on the radio when we were driving to the set. It was a moment of total happiness. It’s a pure, happy little song. What bad thing can you say about it?

depp: I know, I know. It’s O.K. to like “Daydream Believer.” There’s nothing wrong with a guilty pleasure from time to time. Know what I mean? It’s “Daydream Believer.” I’m justifying my own flag.

— Patti Smith and Johnny Depp (The Crowded Mind of Johnny Depp, Vanity Fair, 2010)

People were a bit bemused when we said we were going to The Monkees concert. “The ‘Hey, hey we’re The Monkees’ guys? They’re still around?”

They’re actually not all still around, Davy Jones having died in 2012. Peter Tork is still active in the music business—too active to go on this particular nostalgia tour. Leaving Micky Dolenz and Mike Nesmith to perform in what was dubbed “The Monkees Presents: The Mike and Micky Show”.

Micky Dolenz, Mike Nesmith, and band: The Mike and Micky Show

The show was to feature the hits, along with some “deep album tracks.” Or from my perspective, songs I know along with songs I don’t know.

Because I’m not a deep, hardcore Monkees fan. Like most people my age, I suspect, I watched the show as a kid, and then again when it re-ran in the 1980s. I own The Monkees Greatest Hits album. So when I saw the show announced, it piqued my interest, but I wasn’t sure about attending. Then Centre in the Square sweetened the deal by offering Jean a photographer’s pass:

It turned out that said pass could only be exercised during the first three songs, which Jean reports is not a lot of time! But we stayed for the whole thing, and were suitably entertained.

A subset of the full band—there were more musicians to the right

The two original Monkees members were joined by nine other musicians covering guitar, keyboards, bass, drums (Micky did not play drums, but did joke about having taught the drummer all he knew), maracas, fiddle / banjo, and backup vocals. Mike and Micky took turns taking lead vocals, both proving that not everyone in their 70s loses their vocal abilities. They both sounded very good.

They did not do as much chit-chatting as I thought they might, perhaps weary of telling their history of being TV show cast-mates who became a real band—fascinating though I find that story. The songs I knew in the first half included “Last Train to Clarksville”; ”Mary,  Mary”; and (yay!) “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”. The ones I didn’t offered more genre variety than I had been expecting (which was pure pop); in particular, a number had something of a country sound. But not in bad way.

(No idea, actually, if some Monkees songs always had a bit of country flair, or if they were reinterpreted the songs that way on this tour.)

Near the end of the first set, Micky did start talking a little more, asking if anyone had ever seen the movie Head and if so, did we have any idea what it was about?

Head was surrealistic, R-rated movie featuring The Monkees in the wake of their TV success. It was a huge flop. But at some point—probably in the 90s?—I got intrigued enough about to seek it out. I believe it required tracking down a rental copy from the alternative DVD store. (Now? Appears you can just watch the whole thing on YouTube.) It was so weird, but in such a fascinating way—they totally deconstructed themselves! And, it had a great soundtrack!

So I was very happy to hear a number of songs from the movie, including my favourite, “The Porpoise Song”. Those were followed by “Me and Magelena”.

Something else that surprised me during the first set was that one or the other of Mike and Micky would sometimes wander off-stage when the other was singing. (Mike started joking about that at one point: “Where are you going? Hey, come back!”) So it was nice that second set started with a focus on just the two of them. Then with each song, more and more band members rejoined them on stage.

Did they do “Daydream  Believer”, a song famously sung by Davy Jones? Of course, they did, with Micky starting it off, then handing it over to us, the crowd, to take over. On a week with so much disturbing news (“tender-age shelters”?!?), we needed that moment of pure happiness that comes from singing along to “Daydream Believer”. And we also got “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and “I’m a Believer”, for good measure. These guys earned their standing ovation.

Link to the full set list, with song link for each track

 


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Loloan-ing for a dining experience

More on this later, but we’re back from a vacation that was a success, particularly from a culinary perspective. From tiny Picton (population 5000) to romantic Québec City to Canada’s capital of Ottawa, we had no bad dinners and at least four outstanding ones.

Back at home, I’m feeling a little deprived on that front. Now, I can feel my friends from Northern Ontario rolling their eyes at that comment, and will admit that we do have places where you can get a well-prepared meal (like Solé, Janet Lynn’s Bistro, Gilt, Belmont Bistro, TWH Social, and so on. And if you’re willing to drop the big bucks, Langdon Hall.)

But ever since Verses closed, it’s just been a challenge finding that One Wonderful Place where the food is always amazing and everybody knows your name. Marisol came closest for a while, but then that closed. And The Berlin’s been closest of late, but guess what? They’re closing May 15, and reopening two weeks later under a new name and new menu: a tavern replacing the fine dining. Sigh.

(And again, Picton, population 5000, has two excellent restaurants. I guess KW just doesn’t get enough tourists?)

Anyway. This is all to explain why were so excited to hear about the new Loloan Lobby Bar restaurant. This is a second venture by the owner of Bhima’s Warung, another of Waterloo’s better restaurants. Since we heard about it, me and my friends have been anticipating it: When will it open? How will it be?

Earlier in April, after it had been open about a month, we went to find out.

Situated in the lobby of a condo building, it’s a lovely room, half of it devoted to bar space, the other to a sit-down restaurant. Service was attentive and eager to explain the menu, which featured some unusual ingredients. Food was served with a certain amount of ceremony:

It's Pouring Soup!

Pouring out the lobster bisque

Seafood Terrine

Seafood terrine with accompaniments

That was all very nice. And the food? Well, it was fine. Nothing really special, but fine. The only problem with that being, it was priced at a level that you’d expect something more than just fine. It should have been special.

I don’t think we’ve found The Place.

Altbough… Dinner did end on a high note. We ordered the petit fours assortment for dessert, and those were actually… Really amazing. Along with the delicious (decaf) French press coffee, served with timer to ensure I didn’t drink it too soon.

Dessert

All these little desserts were excellent

So, you can at least count on a lovely coffee and dessert experience here. It will have to do as I continue my quest.


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Where to eat in Canada: The Berlin

The new Where to Eat in Canada is out, and The Berlin has made the cut for the first time, as a two-star restaurant. We happened to dine at The Berlin this weekend, and the reaction of the staff upon being told the restaurant was listed in the guide now, was basically:

We’re in the what now?

Which likely shows the diminishing influence of a publication that remains strictly print based (save this tiny website). There’s no app. Where To Eat recommendations aren’t included as part of Google searches. Heck, you can’t even get it as an ebook.

The author, Anne Hardy, literally still works on a typewriter, sending an occasional email to her contributors only with great reluctance (and some assistance from her editor).

So why would anyone under 30 know about it, even if working in the higher-end food industry?


Where to Eat in Canada is meant to be a kind of Michelin Guide for Canada—list only good restaurants, with ratings from no to 3 stars. Very hard to be a three-star restaurant—Cambridge’s Langdon Hall just made it back after a few years downgraded to two. But a difference with the Michelin (apart from them being quite web-enabled now) is that all reviews have the personal touch and style of Anne Hardy herself.

This makes it a fun look-over whenever the new edition arrives, and it can be handy when planning a visit to a particular Canadian city or town.

cof

Post-its for possible future travels

But it’s also always been organized a bit strangely, alphabetically by city name. There are maps, but only to indicate where each city / town is, not where the restaurants are in each locality (for how would that fit a in a physical book?). Each listing does include an address, but usually doesn’t say what part of town it’s in. I generally have to sit there book in one hand, Google Maps in the other, to figure out if a listing is anywhere near where my hotel is.

And as an intended traveler’s guide, it does lack some portability. Do you want to cart a 332-page paperback with you as you trek around town as a tourist? Or would you rather just check the TripAdvisor restaurant listings on your phone?


As for our Berlin dinner, they did quite a good job, despite it being a busy Saturday—A full restaurant plus a wedding party in the room upstairs—and having some key players away that day, including chef Jonathan Gushue.

Although the fixed four-course menu was pretty tempting, we went with assembling our own four-course dinner. Jean had the oysters in grapefruit dressing, I the roasted asparagus with lemon and pecorino. I had a really good gruner veltliner with that, Jean a very interesting sparkling.

The_Berlin-0010of0073-20170624-2-HDR

As an appetizer Jean went with a terrine of foie gras and pork while I had a tomato salad with fennel, avocado, and prawns.

The_Berlin-0038of0073-20170624-HDR

Then we both had the goose confit with a broccoli salad and white bean ragout.

The_Berlin-0052of0073-20170624-HDR

And we shared the strawberries and vanilla ice cream with fennel meringue, which was very interesting).

The_Berlin-0065of0073-20170624-HDR

The only hiccup in the service was a longer-than-ideal delay in getting our second glass of wine, a Tuscany rose for me, an intriguing muscat blend for Jean. Possibly because of that—or because I mentioned I’m a “food blogger”?—we were credited for some items on our bill.


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Chefs in Bloom

Not for the first time, our waiter asked, “How is the food, ma’am?” while looking at my husband, which was confusing to both of us. He also inquired as to whether it was OK to remove plates we were clearly done with, given that they were entirely bereft of food. Offered us more bread only after we were pretty much done our entrees. Kept trying to refill our sparkling water glasses with regular water. Initially forgot to bring us the dessert course.

And somehow, we didn’t mind at all.

The waiter was good-natured, and was definitely trying to do a good job.

And the food—which was very good—was $20 for three courses. That’s $20 Canadian for the whole meal. Despite including items such as beef tenderloin, lamb, foie gras, and fancy French cheeses.

Foie Gras ... my achilles heel!

The controversial but delicious foie gras

When foie gras alone is typically over $20 at a “regular” restaurant, that kind of a deal can buy you a lot of good will.

Yes, last Wednesday, for the first time in some time, we returned to Bloom restaurant at Conestoga College, where students’ training for a possible career in the hospitality industry includes running this restaurant open to the public—under the watchful eye of people who know what they’re doing. This week’s theme was foods of Southern France.

They went all out in trying to give us a French restaurant-like experience, starting us with an amuse bouche of mushroom and cheese. As appetizers, while Jean enjoyed his foie gras, I had a very nice wild mushroom crepe.

Crepes to Start

Wild mushroom crepe

We then received a palate cleanser of pear and brandy sorbet. Couldn’t taste the brandy much, but it was nice and refreshing. And pretty.

Pear and Brandy Ice!

For mains, Jean won the coin toss to get the lamb three ways, which was really great. I very unusually opted to go with beef tenderloin, as it was accompanied by an interesting mix of Brussels sprouts and turnips. (Other possibilities on offer were salmon and a bean cassoulet.)

Rack of Lamb .... hm hm hm!

Lamb in the foreground, beef in the background

The managing chef made the rounds of tables as we were waiting on our dessert (which they scrambled to deliver once they realized it was missed). They had no decaf espresso, so they made us a latte of decaf roobois tea, which was pretty good.

Jean had wanted the apple dessert, but they were out, so he managed with the cheese plate. I had a deconstructed blueberry tart that was light and delicious.

Benedictine Blue!

Benedictine Blue among the offerings

Dining at Bloom is an experience worth having. The service hiccups are just part of the charm.