It’s been a busy 48 hours of long-missed visitors coming to town.
On Friday CBJ and I met up with our old friend Wade, who was visiting Toronto and whom we hadn’t seen in ~20 years. We had an excellent dinner at Richmond Station (duck duck lamb) before hitting a couple spots (Planta Burger, Beerbistro) for drinks. There was a lot of reminiscing and struggles to remember names, as well as some struggles to read the menus without our glasses. It’s been 20 years, okay?
Yesterday two of Lindsay’s oldest friends T+K arrived from Halifax. So far we haven’t done much other than hang out, enjoy the weather, and eat…so, the perfect visit, basically. Last night we had a bottle of wine on the Chez Nous patio before ordering Descendent for dinner and sharing a magnum of Bachelder Pinot Noir.
This morning we went for fancy, boozy brunch at Cluny, and ordered plenty of food and cocktails. As we paid up and prepared to leave, something very nice happened: our server said we’d been such sweet guests that they wanted to send us over a round of mimosas. We happily accepted and drank our drinks, wondering what exactly we’d done to deserve such a treat. After observing more of the guests’ behaviour, we think it might have been more about what we didn’t do — i.e., be demanding jerks. I guess maybe at a touristy, insta-worthy restaurant, being polite, hungry, and low maintenance is enough to stand out.
We spent last week in Montreal, visiting friends and old haunts, and taking the first downtime we’ve had since December. It was the relaxing & refreshing trip we needed, I think.
After the long drive to Montreal, with a brief stop at the Kingston Brewing Company along the way, we arrived at a familiar home base: the Hotel Nelligan. We dropped our stuff, got cleaned up, and then took a swing at dinner. Lindsay had done a bit of digging on the way into town and found Monarque; while they didn’t have reservations left, we took a chance and showed up. Luckily for us, there were two seats at the bar. Our meal was super tasty, and we liked the vibe. Here’s what we ate & drank:
Milk chocolate panna cotta w/ hojicha tea, caramel
A glass of Madeira for me, and Port for Lindsay
After a pretty healthy lie-in (it was a VERY comfy bed!) I went downstairs for some breakfast while Lindsay relaxed. We had a lazy morning until heading out for brunch at Le Cartet around the corner and eating our fill. Lindsay had eggs benny served on an English muffin, orange hollandaise sauce, duck confit and onion compote with red wine, spinach, roasted potatoes with salted herbs, and greens. I had brioche French toast with apple butter, caramelized walnuts, chocolate crumble, chocolate mug cake, caramelized apples, salted caramel custard, and fruit salad. We walked it off along the waterfront, sat on the promenade du Vieux Port, and enjoyed the warm weather.
After relaxing for a few hours back in the room (I watched the new episode of The Boys) we went downstairs to the wine bar for a drink (okay, fine, we had a bottle of Viognier) before heading to dinner at Marcella, a new Italian place just down the street from the hotel. It was bustling and loud and had great music on the speakers. Our cocktails were good and the sausage and fennel salad were tasty. Everything was really great…until the pasta. We split the carbonara, and it was just so disappointing. My theory is that, because it was just before the kitchen closed, a line chef slapped it together or re-warmed it. Or something. It was bad. Overall the night was a good one, but that wasn’t a good note to go out on. (Also, we ordered a bottle of Barolo, with which I sometimes struggle.)
Homemade Italian sausage, rapini sautéed with garlic and extra virgin olive oil
Fennel salad with endives, mandarin, and citrus vinaigrette
It was hard to believe we’d only been in Montreal 36 hours. I’d definitely achieved a relaxation level I’d not felt in some time.
After some breakfast downstairs, we walked out of Old Montreal for the first time on this trip, meeting our friend N outside the not-yet-open (despite what the hours on their website and their door say) L’Ideal before plan B-ing our way around the corner to the cafe Saint Henri for some coffee and co-work time. We did eventually make our way back to L’Ideal — again, after some confusion about the hours — but settled in and enjoyed some funky wine. We chatted for a few hours, enjoying the fresh air, even if it was infested with so much pollen it looked like a mild snowstorm. Once good and chill, we walked home and crashed at the hotel.
For dinner we’d booked in at Nora Gray. We didn’t rally get the full experience as Lindsay suddenly felt very sick and we had to cut the evening in half, but I really enjoyed what we did have:
Homemade focaccia, pepperoncini, La Villana olive oil
QC lobster, asparagus, pickled ramp, brown butter crumble
Bottle of P. Frick 2018 “Auxerrois” Crémant d’Alsace
Would definitely go back if/when all parties were up for it.
After yet another good sleep, I popped downstairs for breakfast while Lindsay tried to exorcise whatever demon possessed her body the night before. We kept the morning pretty relaxed, overall, watching an episode of Gaslit in bed while Lindsay nibbled gingerly on a croissant. Eventually we went out for a walk along the water, stopping in a park to admire a fountain and squeal at some cute ducks.
Eventually we got hungry, and went round the corner to Pub BreWskey. We opted to sit inside, but later regretted it. I had a salad and a fruit smoothie sour; Lindsay had mac & cheese and a grisette. I needed to eat some vegetables, and she needed to eat something, so we both did well, I think. After another walk & sit by the river, and a nice flat white from Aloha, we went back to the hotel to relax a little more before dinner.
Dinner #4 was at old favourite Maison Publique. It’s not far from where Lindsay used to live, so we went every time I was in town. Four years away didn’t diminish our affection for the place, nor had the food suffered — the meal was absolutely delicious.
Mozzarella with radish and pesto
Duck hearts in a spicy diavola sauce
Smelts grilled in lemon, butter, capers, tarragon
Ravioli with ricotta, garlic
Halibut in a cream sauce
glasses of a Mâcon Chardonnay
a bottle of Chardonnay from Jura, very funky and different but delicious with our meal
pot de crème
glasses of red wine (Lindsay) and Jurançon (Dan)
Time to leave our hotel, and Old Montreal. As the week got closer to the big F1 weekend, it was becoming nearly intolerable anyway. After a quick lunch at Mandy’s we jumped in the car and drove to a new neighbourhood. N lent us their apartment for a few days, and we got ourselves settled in just ahead of the huge rainstorm which battered Montreal on Thursday, In between downpours we managed to skip over to one of our old favourite beer bars, Brouhaha. We had some tasty pints (me: a brown and a session IPA; Lindsay: a sour and a rauchbier; Finchy: lager) and a flatbread pizza, and timed our escape for another lull in the rain.
Later that night we met up with N= J at Brouillon Café-Buvette for a pre-dinner drink. We’d originally planned to visit somewhere outside of the city, but the biblical rain would have made that pretty miserable, so N smartly booked us in for a late dinner at Pichai. Luckily it had been on my list of places to try, not just because it was on the Canada’s Best 100 list, but because they’re known to have a great wine selection — which, it turns out, was curated by Nora Grey’s sommelier. It turned out to be an exceptional choice — what a wonderful meal.
Fried rice w/ scallops
Green papaya salad w/ peanuts & dried shrimp
Fish balls in sweet chili sauce
Grilled hangar steak w/ rice powder, herbs, lemon
Sauteed Argentinian shrimp, green beans, chili, basil
Wine bottles (note: their list isn’t online and I didn’t take good notes/pictures, so this is all I remember)
Pierre Frick Muscat Sec
Giardino Gaia orange wine
I went out in the morning to get coffee and pastries from a local place called Miche & Carré. The croissants and my capp were good; sadly Lindsay’s Americano was not.
Eventually N + J met us here, and we jumped in the car for a day trip out to see La Fondation Grantham. We were there in part to see an exhibition called Exhibition Troubled Garden: Study for Migratory Roots:
The Iranian-Canadian multidisciplinary artist Anahita Norouzi is interested in displacement issues related to notions such as statelessness and hybridity. For two years, in collaboration with the Biodiversity Research Centre of the Université de Montréal, she is developing a research/creation project on the ecological, cultural and social dimensions of migration issues from the perspective of non-native plants that have appeared in Quebec as an extension of the migratory flows of populations. Curator: Bénédicte Ramade. [source]
We were also there to see the building itself, tucked into the landscape and old forest, with a river running lazily by. We found trails afterward, and got some fresh air and walking in before the mosquitoes found us.
On the way back to Montreal we were hungry, so we pulled off the highway and visited Cantine Chez Dave & Dan in Saint-Liboire, a box on the side of the road which served up delicious hamburgers and chicken burgers and enough fries to kill a horse. We piled back in the car and did our best to stay awake as we drove back in to Montreal traffic, narrowly missing rush hour and another thunderstorm. We decided not to tempt fate, as we’d done the day before, and just stayed in.
Not much to Saturday: packing, one last coffee with N as we handed their apartment back to them, and a drive home. We fought one last brutal rainstorm on the way out of town, but the rest of the drive was pretty easy. We even stopped in Cornwall and fulfilled Lindsay’s nostalgic wish for an East Side Mario’s lunch.
We came home to a Kramer who yelled at us for a couple of minutes but pretty quickly became an affection monster. Not a bad welcoming party, really.
A week where we did little but sleep in, dine out, drink well, and see friends did us a world of good. As much as I love vacations where we experience something new and fill our brains with different, this was what we needed right now.
A few scant weeks after brother #2’s visit, brother #1 and his family were in town yesterday. They came over for a bit of a hangout before said brother and I went to see Sigur Rós play at Meridian Hall. It was my first time since seeing them in September 2001 and October 2002.
It was worth the 20-year wait. They played for a combined 2.5+ hours, and had all the magic I remember. They swung from delicate to punishing with little warning. They seem as tight as ever, with the maturity that comes from two additional decades of touring. Jonsi still emits alien whale song from a slender body in such a way that it beggars belief. I got choked up during “Svefn-g-englar”, but the final movement of “Popplagið” was so overwhelming that I teared up.
Today the brother + fam are wrapping up their visit to Toronto, and we’re off to Montreal for a week. It’s my first work break since December and and our first time back in Montreal together since Lindsay finished her Masters there. À bientôt!
Last night we finally tried Eastside Social for dinner, after years of living five minutes away from it. There’s also a vague coastal/Maritimes theme we haven’t quite been able to zero in on (e.g., they have a donair once a week) but we heard there’s a nice backyard patio, so we booked us a table.
First of all, in a neighbourhood bereft of good patios, especially backyard patios, this one’s pretty good: cozy, pretty, with a little fireplace. Our experience of it was dampened in part by the loud, barely-drinking-age, diner en blanc happening behind us. One attendee of said party was wearing so much perfume or lotion or whatever that I couldn’t smell anything else all night. Anyway, the vibe threw us.
As for food, it was good-ish, if kinda weird. The wine selection was lacking, to say the least. I have so many comments on both that I’ve had to annotate them below.
Bourbon Sour 1
Dill On Dill
East Coast Oysters with “all the fixins” 2
Grilled Octopus, slow cooked sous vide and grilled w/ parsley, garlic, chili, olive oil, and lemon 3
Sauvignon Blanc (Te Henga, NZ)
Sancere [sic] style Sauvignon Blanc 4
Fried tempura duck leg confit w/ bbq glaze; served with green salad w/ Asian pear, pickled fennel, radish, green bean, candied walnuts, and orange-sesame vinaigrette 5
PEI Mussels Marinieres w/ white wine, butter, shallots, garlic, parsley, and chili; served with warm sourdough bread, fries, and aioli
Chateau Pesquie 2020 Viognier 6
Notes on the food:
I couldn’t taste the bourbon. Also, I’ve never seen foam last like this on a cocktail. It was still there 30 minutes after I finished drinking the liquid underneath.
By “all the fixins” they meant cocktail sauce and a basic mignonette. No hot sauce. Not even horseradish.
The octopus was very delicious.
It might have been a sancer[r]e style sauv blanc, but the menu contains no other information and I never saw the bottle, so we’ll never know. Also, the NZ sauv blanc was not good. Also also, the only reason we were drinking SB was because the lone sparkling they have by the glass is Prosecco.
The duck was very confusing. The meat was delicious and tender, but the sauce tasted like a hot wing. My brain struggled with it.
A viognier was, admittedly, an odd choice to pair with our mains (though it worked better with my deck than I expected, what with the buffalo wild wing sauce) but it was literally the only decent option. At first we thought about a bottle of chard, but the only one they had was — I shit you not — Barefoot. And not just that: they were charging $65 for a bottle, when it retails for $10 at the LCBO. ($9 until mid-June!) Even for a restaurant, 550% markup is pretty egregious.
So while the meal was decent, if quite puzzling, we couldn’t quite square the final bill of $268 + tip with what we’d just eaten. Not sure we’re going to be rushing back.
Brother #2 was visiting this weekend. Amidst the hangs and watching The Matrix: Resurrections (imdb | rotten tomatoes) — which wasn’t great — we drove out to Oshawa a couple of times to visit the niece. The first time we had steaks at The Keg; the second time we drove up to Port Perry, ate lunch (including a pulled pork sandwich where they massively overstuffed it and apologized for “overporking” me) at The Pub while looking out at Lake Scugog, went for a little random drive and ended up at Pleasant Point Park where we saw pups and an osprey and a water snake, then had a hankering for ice cream which led us to the nearest Kawartha Dairy. A nice little swing through Ontario.
Many years ago, while living in Ottawa for a summer work term, brother #1 and I each bought electric hair clippers. We both shaved our heads at the time, and thought we could save money by doing it ourselves. (And checking the back of each others’ heads.)
I kept it up for probably a few years after graduating, but eventually starting going to proper barbershops. (I’ve always kept my hair short.) The clippers just got stuck in a drawer, but followed me around through each move.
When the pandemic hit and everything closed, I dug the clippers out of whatever drawer they were in. They still worked, and thank goodness, because they were the only thing that’s kept my hair reasonably tame since.
Yesterday, for the first time in over two years, I had an appointment with a barber. It’s just up the street (my old place was across the street from St. Lawrence Market, which was convenient when I lived around there, or still went to the market for groceries every other week, but not so much anymore), it was a very chill vibe, and I accepted the up-sell of a hot towel + face/head/neck/shoulder massage. This is NOT something I’d normally go for, but goddamn…I just about fell asleep in the chair. Now I don’t think I can go back to shaving my own head.
Today Lindsay and I (and our friend Sarah) drove down to Beamsville to pick up our Hidden Bench wine club allotment. It was our second one of these visits. It was a beautiful day — we ate snacks and sipped wine inside the barn and out.
We’re now loaded up on a bunch of great Riesling and rosé for the summer, but also their killer Pinot for the cellar and — most excitingly — the 2018 La Brunante, their flagship red, which was superb when we sampled it today. I still have the 2012, 2015, 2016, and 2017 vintages as well, so there’s a pretty solid vertical building up.
I’m just about to start a podcast about Nova Scotian winery Avondale Sky. Their site says “If you love wine, business and the thrill of new ventures. Then Avondale Sky Winery Podcast is the show for you.” and I was like…yup.
We just got back from a couple of nights away in Niagara-on-the-Lake. I worked from there on Friday, which gave us a nice excuse to stay an extra night. We stayed at 124 On Queen for the first time (big win; nice rooms and super central), had a couple beers at the Irish Harp Pub, and dinner — as always — at Treadwell:
Bread w/ 13th Street Blanc de Blancs
D: Whiskey Cured Atlantic Salmon, Creamed Sweet Potato, Maple & Birch Syrup w/ a Nebbiolo rose from Piedmont but I can’t remember which
L: Chilled Pea & Mint Soup, Chive Crème Fraiche, Preserved Lemon, Brown Butter Crumb w/ a Loire Chenin…just can’t remember which one
D: Pan Seared Scallops, Maple & Chili Glazed Pork Belly, Apple & Yuzu Puree w/ Flat Rock Nadja’s Riesling
L: Herb & Upper Canada Ricotta Gnocchi, Green Garlic Pesto, “Pingue” Guanciale, Shaved Pecorino w/ Azienda Agricola Molino Arneis
L: a dinner special of trout crusted with chorizo w/ 13th Street “June’s Vineyard” Unoaked Chardonnay
D: Pistachio Tart with Vanilla Whipped Cream w/ Meldville Sparkling Muscat
L: a dessert special of panna cotta, rhubarb, and some other stuff w/ Meldville Sparkling Muscat
This morning we slept in, picked up two pies from the new Pie Plate store, stopped at Leaning Post for what was supposed to be a few bottles but turned into twenty, and drove home. I must say, just being able to pull into the garage and unload things sure beats dropping off a rental car and shlepping our tired asses home.
The Raptors won yesterday against the 76ers, staving off the sweep. (Sorry, Shaq.) Despite no team ever coming back from 3-0 down, I’ll keep the faith until the end. This team has earned it.
Meanwhile, my only excitement surrounding the Canadiens has been hoping they finish dead last so they have the best shot at the #1 draft pick.
Apart from the Raps overachievement, most of my excitement lately has been for the start of the Blue Jays season. They look awfully good this year, and they’ve been fun to watch.
And so it goes. One team playing well (and favoured to win it all); one occupying the middle, and one in dead last. Logically, it’s so rare that all your teams would be at the top at the same time. I guess the closest I ever got was 1993:
the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup
the Blue Jays won their second world series in a row
The Edmonton Eskimos (I used to watch way more CFL) won the Grey Cup
The New York Knicks (the team I considered my favourite, until the Raptors were created) lost in the Eastern Conference finals to the Bulls
At the time I probably didn’t appreciate how rare all that combined success was.