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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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Rebel music: Tanya Tagaq and the KW Symphony

I wasn’t prepared for Tanya Tagaq.

Oh, I had my concert tickets, which is good, because both her shows were complete sellouts. And I knew she was an Inuit singer who had her own take on traditional throat singing. I remembered her winning the Polaris prize in 2014.

But I hadn’t listened to any of her music in advance.

And thank goodness for that! Because you can only hear Tanya Tagaq for the very first time once in your life, and what better way than seeing her live, from just a few feet away? (We were in the second row.)

The problem is, I have no idea how to describe her sound and performance to you. I’ve never heard anyone else do anything like what she does. As we were revelling in her show afterward, Jean made an attempt: “It’s like she took you on a journey through a whole lifetime of dreams.”

This is traditional throat singing:

The adorable 11-year-old Inuit girls throat-singing at Justin Trudeau’s swearing-in ceremony

Tagaq does use this technique, but—in own words—in a completely punk way. She plays with pitch, vocal styling, breathing, making no literal sense but clearly conveying emotion. And she puts her whole body into it, swaying, gesturing, sinking to the floor. It’s just mesmerizing.


Tanya Tagaq’s Animism album on Spotify

And how does that work with the symphony? Well, first they prepared us to hear some unusual sounds by presenting the works of two Canadian composers (both in attendance, both women), along with a version of Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” that was so rockin’ it rivaled The Who’s take on the same.

They then let Tanya Tagaq do her thing on her own, totally improvised.

Next was a work by another Canadian composer, Rodney Sharman, (“I texted with him today,” said Tagaq. “He seems nice.”), and she improvised over that soundtrack.

Finally, Tagaq and orchestra came together on a chamber music piece written for her, called “Cercle du Nord III”. Ms. Tagaq said that the fuller sound provided by the larger symphony (vs. original string quartet) gave the piece another dimension.

(Her personality is quite charming, by the way. For example, she was taken aback at having to come back and acknowledge the rapturous applause she was receiving. She was unsure to do, she said. What does she normally do? “I go out for dinner,” she answered. She then told us, mock sternly: “OK, I’m leaving now. Don’t make me come back out again!”)

A few years ago, Edwin Outwater, Musical Director of the KWS and this concert’s conductor, gave a Ted Talk in which he argued that rock / pop music wasn’t the music of rebels anymore. That classical music was.

I think he has a point. Much as I still love rock music, there isn’t much danger or innovation in it anymore, is there? What is more choreographed, corporate, and scripted than a big, modern rock show? Who can improvise when everyone has to play to same click track?

Whereas tonight’s Tanya Tagaq concert could be a whole different experience than last night’s.

And this is following on two other KW Symphony shows we saw recently, in which they:

  1. Completely reconceived German opera Die Fleidermaus with local references, a hilarious narration absent in the original, and even a special guest spot for a former mayor.
  2. Along with the Art of Time, presented the Beatles’s Sgt. Pepper not just orchestrated, but truly rearranged such that every song was both familiar and strange (though wonderfully so, in my opinion).

As rock retreats to safety, the traditional symphony is taking it to the edge. Don’t let the strings and horns fool you: today, this is punk.


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White rabbit

Based on a positive review in the Waterloo Region Record, we decided go out with a couple friends to Waterloo’s White Rabbit bar and restaurant.

White Rabbit isn’t huge and doesn’t take reservations, so we thought a Tuesday night would be a safer bet than, say, a Friday. We were surprised just how busy it was on a Tuesday, but we were able to get a table at the back of the room.

Between the number of people and the soundtrack, it seemed rather loud. We feared conversation might prove impossible. At the back it wasn’t as bad as that, though. We did have to speak up, but not yell at each other. (Not a place for a quiet, romantic dinner, though.)

white-rabbit-heather-davidson

Photo by Heather Davidson of the table we sat at

As the place does specialize in cocktails and such, I took the unusual step of ordering one: the Rabbit Black Dog, which mixes bourbon, lemon juice, simple syrup, and blueberries. It was nice—blueberry tasting, not too sweet. One of our friends went with a Scotch flight, complete with written tasting notes for each, which he enjoyed. They offer similar flights of bourbon, cocktails, and wine.

On the food front, Jean and I started with their cheese plate. It was really excellent. Five very good cheese, two from Ontario, two from Quebec, and one French. They were served with preserves, crackers, and grapes. Jean ordered a bottle (didn’t come by the glass, this one) of Oregon Pinot Noir to have with that.

As mains, two of us, including me, had the goat cheese agnolotti. I thought it was quite nice. Jean had the hangar steak. He said the meat was fine, but was especially impressed with the collard green side dish. It was similar for the friend who had the lobster roll: Protein was fine, but she found the side coleslaw outstanding.

We were all too full for the one homemade dessert on offer, though it did sound interesting. And we were a bit surprised to find they did not sell any tea or coffee. But we were happy they offered us the leftover bottle of wine to take home, even though they had decanted it. They just re-bottled and re-corked it for us.

No photographic proof, I’m afraid, but it was a fun place to go with friends.


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Giving homage to Homage (and some other restaurants)

We recently visited a new-to-us restaurant in Cambridge, Homage. It’s a relatively small place in a heritage building, with a wood decor, and a fairly casual, slightly hipster atmosphere. It mission statement is food that is “rooted in classic techniques, sourced from the community of farms around the area, served with respect and care”.

Homage interior

Homage interior. Not our photo; this is from their website.

We—or at least I—had been hoping to try their five-course tasting menu, but it turns out they now offer that only “upon advance request”. What they had instead was a small printed menu, supplemented with some chalkboard specials.

The menu was so small, in fact, that we all ended up getting the same entree: the vegetarian gnocchi. The other options were beef or sausage focused, which none of us were big on, or roast chicken, which we like, but which didn’t seem special enough.

We almost all had the same appetizer, too—a sweet pea soup. But then I decided to veer off into the sausage and asparagus flatbread.

Every item was very well prepared, quite flavorful, and the waiter was able to give us the farm origin of all key ingredients. Serving sizes were modest, so we had room for dessert. Two of us had the lovely chocolate parfait, another the strawberry marquis. And the bill was also modest: about $135 for the three of us, including a bottle of wine and some coffee.

And the restaurant–while admittedly not packed full–was blessedly quiet. No need to shout out our conversation.


While I’m on restaurants, I’ll mention that Huffpost Canada recently posted their Best Restaurants in Kitchener-Waterloo list.

They have a number that are also on my list:

  • Public Kitchen and Bar
  • Bhima’s Warung
  • Cameron Seafood Restaurant
  • Northern Thai Restaurant
  • Watami Sushi and Sake Bar

And they don’t disqualify any for being too noisy, so both Nick and Nat’s Uptown 21 and The Bauer Kitchen are also there.

They also have a number of places that I’ve also enjoyed, but didn’t include because I haven’t been there recently enough: Ellison’s Bistro, Janet Lynn’s Bistro, Borealis Grille & Bar, Masala Bay, and Red House. (I should really get back to some of these…)

Chef Elvis Ellison at his bistro

The charming Elvis Ellison, owner and chef at Ellison’s bistro. Also not our photo; this one is from Huffpost Canada.

And, they have a few more that I’m now curious about:

  • Bread Heads: “My vote for best pizza in the region”, it says.
  • The Belmont Bistro. I liked their previous incarnation as the Village Creperie, and the new menu sounds good.
  • Rainbow Caribbean Kitchen. “The top place in town for Jamaican fare”. That would be different, for a casual meal.
  • Timeless Cafe and Bar: With a “unique atmosphere” and “regularly changing menu” of delicious food.
  • The Guanaquita Restaurant, with El Salvadoran food, and dancing, apparently? Hmm.

Then a number that I’m not interested in, because they’re just not my kind of place:

  • The Bent Elbow, “A place of beer worship” where “food is secondary”. (Basically the definition of “not my kind of place”.)
  • Lancaster Smokehouse: Cause it’s all about the ribs, which I don’t eat.
  • Del’s Enoteca (formerly Del Dente). Pizza. But why go here if Bread Heads has the best pizza?
  • Rana Doner Kebabs
  • Holy Guacamole. Isn’t this a chain? (Though it is useful to know that it offers decent Mexican.)
  • Kinkaku Izakaya. I don’t care if it’s better than most all you can eat sushi. It’s still all you can eat sushi.

Then these are the ones that I gave love to, but Huffpost didn’t: Gilt, Bloom restaurant, Sole, Aqua (at the Crowne Plaza—apparently only now “officially” launched), Niko Niko Sushi Roll, along the coffee shops, Death Valley’s Little Brother, Princess Cafe, and Cafe Pyrus.

And their list is strictly KW, so anything far afield, like Langdon Hall or the Easy Pour Wine Bar, is also not there.


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A feast of festivals

In Canada, weather dictates that outdoor festival is pretty short. That’s why I found that timing and programming of Kitchener’s Summer Lights Festival pretty smart. This night of “exploration and discovery” in downtown Kitchener, ran from 8 pm to 1 am, which meant that it started right after the Multicultural Festival in nearby Victoria Park ended. And, it was held in coordination with the Open Ears Festival of Music and Sound and the Our World Festival of Music.

Not only a clever way of allowing people to attend many festivals at once, but it also made the one event much more big and interesting than any of them would have been alone.

They blocked off part of King Street in Kitchener, so you ended up exploring it in that way. (I got suddenly curious about Fritsch Fragrances, Inc., which looks like it’s about 100 years old. Does it really only sell fragrances? Is that a viable business model?) A number of the restaurants and stores were open. Food carts and trucks were on the streets, as were installations such as:

  • The community couch (sit and talk to strangers—which I didn’t)
  • The black light post (get painted and glow)
  • Painters of the night (artists painting on the street, that is)
  • Board game zone
  • Henna tatoo station

Etc. The public buildings were also transformed—the KW Symphony building became a 90s house dance club (pretty dead one at first, but it did liven up later); the inside of City Hall an old-time arcade and Rock Band performance site; and The Museum a live concert venue (featuring a Very! Loud! rock band when we walked in), with an “alternative” market.

SummerSolsticeFest_(34_of_232)_150621_HDR

Lighting up the City Hall fountain at the Summer Lights Festival

The range of music and sound on the streets was quite astonishing. Open Ears brought in the weird but cool experimental stuff: the art installation featuring percussion instruments the public could bash away on; the arrangement of different musicians and styles all around the city hall fountain; the classical musicians providing a live soundtrack to a silent French surrealistic movie.

Then there was the AcaBellas, doing their best Pitch Perfect mash-up of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” with, well, two other songs that I’m sure are really famous and popular… And the jazz group performing ‘”What a Wonderful World” in front of a dance floor. (Jean refused to shake his groove thing, though, citing improper footwear and a dislike of rhumba.) Along with the more expected folk guitarists and bands doing classic rock covers.

Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

The lovely Alysha Brilla

The definite highlight for us, though, was the performance by the woman who convinced us to get out there past by our bedtime in the first place: Alysha Brilla. Her style of music is mix of jazz, pop, and Latin. We know of her mainly because CBC—even the news channel—plays her music a lot (for which she thanked them during her performance). We started watching her from afar, then got closer, until I, at least, couldn’t resist joining the crowd dancing right in front of the stage. She was terrific at egging us all on.

Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

Dance party in Kitchener!

I did not, however, volunteer to go up and dance on stage. Those who did, had some serious skills!

All in all, one of the funnest concerts we’ve been to in a while. We really got lifted.

Alysha Brilla – LIfted, live (Toronto performance)

Alysha Brilla, Two Shots – official music video


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Guide to dining in Waterloo region

I’ve been doing “web stuff” a long time, and some of my old pages come up shockingly high in Google search results. For example, when searching on the best places to eat in Kitchener Waterloo, my page was sometimes on that first page of results. Despite the contents being increasingly out of date.

So I finally decided to write a new one, and post it here: Guide to dining in Waterloo region

It includes only independent restaurants and is based on my personal opinion that:

  • Quality beats quantity
  • Conversation is an important part of the dining experience
  • So is wine (often)

It’s a longish page, but includes original photography, and the opportunity to find out:

  • Where coffee and scotch come together at last, in a place that’s way too cool for me (but I go anyway)
  • Which restaurants have lost my business for being too bloody noisy
  • Which place’s sandwiches make me swoon (and I don’t even like sandwiches)
  • Where to get good sushi (rather than all you can eat sushi)
  • Why it’s sometimes worth the drive to Cambridge—or even Singhampton

And finally—RIP, Marisol. We’ll miss you.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

But we look forward to hearing about chef Jeff Ward’s upcoming new venture in downtown Kitchener.


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Follow-ups

Some recent-ish news about subjects previously featured in this blog…

KW Glee, who blew us away with their performance with the KW Symphony earlier this year, proved that performance was no fluke as they were named Show Choir Canada’s Grand Champions. They also won best vocal, choreography, show design, and new choir. Unsurprisingly, their spring concert is sold out! We’re going to have to be more on the ball for tickets if want to see them in concert again.

As for the TV show that inspired KW Glee, the last two season 5 Glee episodes featuring Adam Lambert — “Trio” and “New New York” turned out to be… Pretty good, actually. Not so good that I feel the need to watch more episodes of Glee or anything, but worth watching for more than the Lambert pretty.

Adam Lambert himself has been in full promotional mode this week, as his new single has been released.  “Ghost Town” is incredibly catchy and rather, as long you’re OK with the house style (which  I am). Now that I’m no longer in a grief fog, I’ve also been re-listening to his Trespassing album. It’s quite good (and more than just distracting pop, really); very surprising it wasn’t a bigger success. Let’s hope he gets the success he deserves with the new album, out in June.

Adam Lambert on radio

And he’s still handsome. Guess that’s not news.

.But the other “Americans” I’ve been watching, Elizabeth and Phillip, have been recognized with a Peabody Award for Quality in Television. Well-deserved, I think; we’re nearly done watching Season 1 of The Americans and the show only get more complicated and fascinating as it goes. Apparently it’s just as good (or even better) through seasons 2 and 3. Great viewing ahead!


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Lights, camera, gala! Singin’ in the Rain

When we arrived at the KW Symphony’s gala fundraising dinner, we immediately noticed a glamorous-looking woman in a shimmery dress with a long train that we made a mental note not to step on. Next thing we knew, after getting a drink from the bar, she was introducing herself to us.

I’m Patricia Ward Kelly. Gene Kelly’s wife.

That would be Gene Kelly, actor, dancer, director, and star of Singin’ in the Rain, the greatest musical of all time. And no, Ms. Kelly is not 90 years old; she’s maybe 50?

“Big age difference when they met,” I told Jean, after we’d thanked her for talking to us and moved off into the next room. He was a bit stunned, not having read about Patricia Kelly in advance, as I had.

Everyone got dolled up for this “black tie optional” affair, which is always kind of fun. (Though I only have a picture of me, not a set of the well-dressed crowd.)

Me in a dress

We weren’t able to convince any of our friends to join us at this affair, though, so we were seated with three other couples we didn’t know. (Should have been four, but one set was a no-show.) They proved to be good company. We had interesting conversations on topics such as travel, books, and Future Shop (which had suddenly closed that morning).

The event was held in the ballroom of the Crown Plaza Hotel (so, far from the pool smell…). Cocktails started at 4:30, dinner at 5:30, and they did an exemplary job of getting through speeches, an auction, and the three-course meal in time for us to get to Centre in the Square for the show.

As for the food, I think everyone was happy with the salad appetizer and the dessert, which was a choice of carrot or chocolate truffle cake.

Salad

Le salade

For the entree, I overheard some complaints of it being cold or the meat tough. Maybe just luck of the draw, then, but Jean and I found our meals quite fine.

Chicken entree

For the auction, it was interesting that bidding was fiercest for the items that were essentially donations: for sending a school to a concert or for the symphony’s music therapy program. Instead of just taking the largest bids, Patricia Ward Kelly suggested accepting all the highest bids as multiple donations. Good idea!

She herself was quite a good speaker, talking of her meeting with Gene Kelly, when she didn’t know who the heck he was, and how they fell in love, and she’s become the keeper of his legacy. She’s never remarried. She was also very gracious about the community and the symphony organization.

The final part of the evening was at Centre in the Square (taxi ride to and from included), where Singin’ in the Rain was played with a voice-only soundtrack, and the KW Symphony played all the music live. Ms. Kelly spoke briefly here as well, and one of the items she told us was that all the original scores were thrown out by the studio, and had to be re-created later, by ear.

Evan Mitchell came back from Kingston to do the conducting of this show, and he did an amazing job of keeping the symphony in sync with film being shown. All really seamless, except for occasionally hearing the musicians turn the pages!

Jean concluded he hadn’t ever seen the entire movie before. For me, it was certainly the first time I’d seen it on the big screen. It’s so good! And for once, it totally made sense to applaud in the middle and at the end of a movie.

Good Mornin’ from Singin’ in the Rain.— the only song Debbie Reynolds actually sang in this movie. Otherwise, her voice was dubbed. Ironically. (This is I learned only last night…)

After the performance there was another reception downstairs, in the fancy member’s lounge. While it was nice to be in that room again (and get more desserts!), it wasn’t a terribly entertaining event, so we didn’t stay too long. We ended up cabbing back to the Crown Plaza with the Assistant Conductor of the KW Symphony.

Singin’ in the Rain plays again tonight (without all the gala accoutrements).


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Back to Bhima’s

Last weekend we went out for our “late for me, slightly early for him” birthday dinner. After much hemming and hawing, we decided to on Bhima’s Warung, a restaurant we hadn’t been to in a few years.

It was much busier than we remembered! We asked the waitress if that was unusual, but she was said no, it was typical—even on weekdays. It’s not that big a place; the couple seated next to us joked about how we were basically dining together, our tables were so close.

Bhima’s offers the cuisine of Asia prepared using French culinary techniques. Definitely makes for an original menu.

This day they were also offering a surprise six-course menu based on the foods of Sumatra, for $47. Partly just out of laziness, Jean decided to go with that. I was not obliged to join in with him on it, though, so I puttered through the menu, which was made even more complex by the addition of three special appetizers and entrees that day.

Since we don’t get to Bhima’s that often, I wanted a sampling of items. The waitress described my ordered amount as somewhat “challenging” in terms of quantity. But she did point out that most of their dishes taste even better reheated the next day.

We didn’t take notes, so there’s no going through everything we eat (which is probably a relief to you). I will say that everything was very good, marking an improvement over previous visits, where the food could be uneven.

And we do have some photos.

Oysters at Bhima's

Oysters times two

Oyster are ordered by the piece, so we went with two from the regular menu, in warm lemongrass, ginger, chili, and garlic sauces, and two that were specials of the day: an oyster shooter in vodka.

Squid with rujak salad

Squid with ‘rujak’ salad

I also tried the regular menu sotong goreng sama rujak, or tapioca and garlic fried squid in roasted chili, lime, and hoisin glaze with ‘rujak’ salad. Very nice; great texture on the squid.

Shrimp items

Shrimp and ?

One of Jean’s courses featured shrimp and… Stuff we can’t remember.

Monkfish and lobster ball

Another Jean menu item: This one was monkfish and lobster ball

My main involved rabbit done three ways (a special), and it did indeed make a fine leftover. 🙂 Dessert for me was a tapioca and ice cream concoction, while Jean’s menu concluded with ice cream made of something we’d never heard of and now can’t remember—but tasted very good—along with some sort of pastry or apple or something. (Look, it was a lot of food!)

Bhima's dessert

Mystery ice cream with mystery other things

It’s not a fine dining experience, but the dining was still quite fine. We should notify Where to Eat in Canada that Bhima’s is once more worthy of inclusion.


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Valentine / Family Day weekend

We originally thought of taking a day trip this long weekend—maybe do some snowshoeing—but the record cold temperatures dissuaded us from that plan. Instead we found entertainment closer to home.

Friday night we had dinner with friends at Aqua, the new seafood restaurant in the not-so-new Crowne Plaza Hotel. The service was a little iff-y—bit inattentive—but the food was pretty good. We all went with the Valentine’s special menu. The highlights were the beet soup with smoked trout, the ravioli and beef entree Jean had, and the two desserts: A chocolate mousse cake and a cookie with ice cream concoction. We all concluded we’d eat here again, amidst that special chlorinated pool ambiance. 🙂

Afterward we all attended a symphony concert. It started with a modern piece that our friend accurately described as interesting, but not that musical. Then we got Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concert no. 2 in C minor. For me, this would be the number 3 Rachmaninoff piano concerto I have heard live, and he is three for three in my books. I always enjoy them. The second movement of this one sounds so much “All By Myself” that Eric Carmen still pays royalties to Rachmininoff’s estate. (True fact!) The third movement was lively and sensual. The featured pianist was an attractive and obviously talented young woman named Natasha Paremski.

The second half of the concert featured Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, which was also good though, for me, not as good as the piano concerto.

Saturday was actual Valentine’s Day, and we don’t generally go to restaurants then. But it being a holiday, I decided to make a nicer dinner.

I tried a new (to me) Jamie Oliver recipe for slow-cooked duck pasta. We weren’t able to buy the duck until that morning, and it was frozen, so the main challenge was getting it defrosted in time for dinner that day. That required a whole lot of rinsing.

Otherwise, the recipe wasn’t tough: Just required time. The duck cooked at 350 for 2 hours, in its juices, and I had to turn it every half hour. Then in a fry pan I sauteed some pancetta, then I added various vegetables and some can tomatoes and red wine to make a pasta sauce. After the duck cooled, we removed the meat from it, and added that to the sauce. Then it was a matter of cooking rigatoni and mixing it all together, topped with Parmesan.

by Jamie Oliver. Valentine Dinner at home

Quite delish. We served it with a Chateauneuf du pape.

For dessert I made a chocolate mousse cake. No flour, just cocoa, unsweetened, and bittersweet chocolate with eggs and Cool Whip, basically. It was another new recipe (to me), and it turned out well—not too sweet, good texture.

.... or is that chocolate mousse? Too much wine with dinner .. Valentine Dinner with my one and only :)

But we weren’t done eating yet. 🙂

Sunday we braved the cold and drove to Wilk’s Bar, which is at Langdon Hall, for lunch. It isn’t a cheap place (though cheaper than the Langdon Hal dining room), but they do a nice job.

Valentine Lunch at Wilke's Bar at Langdon Hall

We had the “From the Land” sharing platter to start, along with four oysters. The oysters were amazing. The land platter was fine, but not outstanding. The highlight of that was probably the almonds!

Valentine Lunch at Wilke's Bar at Langdon Hall

Muskox stew with mushroom risotto in the background

Both of the lunch entrees were very good, though. I had the wild mushroom risotto and Jean had muskox stew. The glasses of wine were quite nice, also.

But no time (or room, really) for dessert, as we had tea dance tickets for 2:00. After a detour to the wrong location, we got to that event around 2:15. It was a fun time, and a chance to work off some of the food—especially dancing to “Jump, Jive, and Wail”! Wow, that’s a fast song. (Which is why the wailing after the jiving, I guess.)

And then, we dashed to a 4:20 showing of The Theory of Everything at the Princess. Pretty interesting movie about the relationship between Stephen Hawking and his first wife, Jane. Definitely shows the challenges of her having to cope with his increasingly serious illness. Though of course, as we know, he continued to do amazing physics work through it all.

Then we were ready to go back home and relax. Family Day was pretty quiet, and that suited us just fine. Especially as we got some news Sunday night that definitely had us thinking about family.