“Hell with it,” we thought last Thursday evening, “why not try some place new?”

So, the next day, we did.

E11even, not far from our place, is a newish restaurant that I keep forgetting about. It’s next to the Air Canada Centre, under the new Le Germain hotel and near Aria, but it never found its way on to my to-go list. But then I read Bruce Wallner’s review on Winefox, and it was still fresh in my head that evening when we booked in.

As soon as we walked in we could see there was a lot to like: the decor is great, the ceiling is a dark-stained wood which makes the whole room seem warm, and the bar at the front of the room looked pretty inviting. We also had a lot of fun playing with the iPad-based drinks list. I wanted one for home; my Google Spreadsheet wine inventory seems rather mundane now.

Our food was really terrific. Hot, tasty bread with herbed butter will never go uneaten at my table. Nellie had the crab cake starter, which we both found tasty…and I don’t even like crab cake. My prosciutto and buffalo mozzarella starter was great, but HUGE…I think it was meant for more than one person. We both ordered steaks from the grill: Nellie the petit filet and I the dry aged ribeye, both medium rare. I think they caught one corner of mine a little more than they meant to (it was medium to medium-well) but most of it was very tasty indeed. We did admit, though, that after having the Wagyu and Jacobs & Co a few weeks ago all other steaks seem to pale in comparison.

If we had one big complaint about the place it was the timing. We’d ordered a glass of wine (Carmenère for me, Prosecco for her) when we sat down, just while we settled in and perused the menu. Our starters (and accompaning glasses of wine) came out almost immediately after we ordered them, while we still had more than half our original drinks left. It’s hard to fault the kitchen for being speedy, but it made for a bit of glass-juggling. Speaking of wine, we’d asked the sommelier to suggest pairings for our starters (which he did: a Chablis for Nellie, a Pinot for me) and to pick a bottle of red to match our mains. He said he’d be back with options for the bottle of red. But we waited, and ate our starters, and waited again, and were still waiting when our steaks hit the table. No sign of our friend the sommelier. When our server returned he noticed the lack of red wine and flagged down the sommelier; who returned a few minutes later. The bottle he brought us — a 2009 Charles Melton Nine Popes GSM — wasn’t bad, but a) it hadn’t had any time to breathe and still tasted tight, and b) it was marginally over the upper limit of the price point I’d given him. It certainly seemed to us that he’d just forgotten about us and grabbed something quickly under pressure. So…not a huge deal, but when we’re spending over $100 on a bottle because we want it to match our food nicely, we were kind of expecting a little more care.

I mentioned our server, Shane — he really did save the evening. He was helpful, attentive, funny and apologetic when he noticed the sommelier’s oversight. Moreover, he quickly appeared with a decanter so our wine could open up faster. He gave us whisky suggestions at the end of the evening, which somehow led to discussions about Cape Breton and PEI and Alberta and how much better Calgary’s mayor is than ours.

So, not a great outing, but there was enough good there that it probably warrants another try. Maybe we’ll just sit at the bar. Or if we do have a full dinner, I’ll probably do something I’ve never done before, and ask to sit in a particular server’s section. You should too if you try it.

"You can lie, you can cheat, you can start a war, you can bankrupt the country, but you can't fuck the interns. They get you for that."

In our continuing efforts to see Oscar-nominated films, we watched two one* this past weekend:

  • The Ides Of March (imdb | rotten tomatoes) was really, really good. It would have been pretty depressing to anyone who wasn’t already cynical about politics, too. And man, what a cast…Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Evan Rachel Wood, George Clooney (barely in it, by the way; busy directing), Geoffrey Wright, Marisa Tomei…it’s worth it just to watch them work.
  • I’d always wondered someone could turn a book like Moneyball (imdb | rotten tomatoes) into a movie, let alone a good movie, let alone an Oscar-nominated movie. Turns out you give it to screenwriters like Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin. Despite all the hype I was kind of expecting something clunky and forced about baseball statistics, but it really worked. It worked because of the script, it worked because Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill (and others, especially — again — Philip Seymour Hoffman) sold it and it worked because they really highlighted the underdog angle. I’d also like to think that at least a tiny part of why it worked was the excellent score selection: strains of “The Mighty Rio Grande” by This Will Destroy You recur throughout the film to great effect. Filmmakers, take note: using Austin(ish)-based instrumental rock bands to score your sports-related films is never a bad idea.

* Yeah, so right after I wrote this I double-checked the Oscar best-picture nominee list and somehow The Ides Of March isn’t on it. War Horse (77%) is on it.  The Help (76%) is on it. Even Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (46%) is on it. What the balls, academy?

"Rommel, you magnificent bastard…I read your book!"

Last week I did a 36-hour trip to San Francisco, one of my very favourite cities. It was for work, alas, and I didn’t get to see or do all — or anything, really —  that I would have liked, but it was still quite nice. Here’s how it went:

  • 5+ hour flight to SFO, during which I watched Se7en (for the quillionth time) and several episodes of Portlandia (for the first time)
  • 6+ hour vendor meeting, which actually went better than you would normally expect with a 6+ hour vendor meeting
  • Dinner at L’Appart, a fantastic French restaurant up in San Anselmo. I had Shrimp Napoleon and cassoulet and crème brûlée, and shared in the flowing bottles of Bordeaux and Cotes du Rhone. It was like being back in Juilley.
  • Heavy, zonked, lights-out sleep at the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins in Nob Hill
  • Relaxing morning, including a walk around the city (and by ‘a walk’ I mean ‘climbing up and down a million hills’), a Starbucks stop and returning to my room to sit in the window, drink my coffee and read the New York Times
  • 5+ hour flight to YYZ, during which I watched Patton (imdb | rotten tomatoes) for the first time. I’ve always put off watching it because it’s so long, but when you have five hours to kill a 182-minute movie comes in handy.

I would have loved to spend more time in the city, or take a side trip up to Napa, but it just wasn’t happening. Still, 24 hours in northern California in February is better than no hours at all.

Jewellery, meat & companionship

Since Nellie’s birthday last year was a (pretty kick-ass) trip to New York, this year we decided to do our celebrating closer to home. The festivities took three parts:

Diamonds. Diamond earrings, to be exact. She was more than a little bit happy about that.

Steak. Three years ago, shortly after our escape from vegetarianism, we went with friends to Jacobs & Co. Steakhouse for Nellie’s birthday. We had such a great meal that we always planned to go back. And go back we did, last summer, but it was an ill-advised visit as we’d had far too much to drink before we arrived, making it a wasted and wasteful visit. However, another birthday seemed just the occasion for a proper return, and so we booked our spot for her birthday Thursday. We had a drink first at Crush, then skipped just around the corner to Jacobs and strapped in. We each had a drink to start (bubbles for Nellie, naturally) and then got into things with the lobster bisque and a chard that I just don’t remember. For our mains we decided to go big, each ordering a different 10 oz Wagyu to share. We paired it with a 2009 Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon which tasted like chocolate with the steak and like vanilla on its own. Maybe one of the best flavour combinations I’ve ever had in my mouth. Neither of us had room for dessert but our server did talk us into a glass of port, and sent us on our way with muffins for Friday’s breakfast. None too soon either; Jersey Shore-lite sat down at the booth next to ours just as we were sipping our port, and we wanted out of there. But even their cheesiness couldn’t tarnish a delicious (triumphant, maybe?) return to Jacobs.

Friends. Nellie wanted to do something with friends, so we invited everyone over to ours for a Saturday evening. No agenda other than just to drink some drinks, eat some eats, and laugh some laughs. We braved the shite weather to pick up a bunch of little snacks and beer (Beau’s Lugtread, Rogue Dead Guy Ale, Garrison Porter) and Prairie Girl cupcakes and Cumbrae’s pulled pork with slider buns, and we spent a little time coming up with an Ontario-focused wine list, ’cause that’s what we like to do.

  • To start: 13th Street 07 Cuvee Rose, Appleby Lane 10 Sauv Blanc (the “house white”), Dowie Doole 09 Shiraz (the “house red”)
  • Whites: Five Rows 09 Riesling, Lailey 08 Old Vines Chardonnay, Norman Hardie 09 Pinot Gris, Thirty Bench 10 Riesling
  • Reds: Colaneri 08 Cab Sauv, Le Clos Jordanne 08 Petite Colline Pinot Noir, Southbrook 09 Triomphe Syrah, Staff 09 Cab Merlot

I think the last couple wandered out some time after 2AM, and we got to bed around 3. We spent Sunday lazing on the couch and finishing off the pulled pork, I think the pulled pork put us over the top, as Nellie declared this the best birthday ever.

"Rouge, Leblanc"

For no particular reason other than that I can, and want to, and they’re awesome, here are what I consider to be the ten best White Stripes songs ever:

  • “Ball And A Biscuit”
  • “Fell In Love With A Girl”
  • “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet)”
  • “Jimmy The Exploder”
  • “Lafayette Blues”
  • “Let’s Build A Home”
  • “Let’s Shake Hands”
  • “Stop Breaking Down”
  • “There’s No Home For You Here Girl, Go Away”
  • “When I Hear My Name”

You’re welcome.

By the way, I nearly picked “Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine” solely because it has maybe the greatest name ever in the history of song names.

"There it is."

Just before Christmas (and I do mean just before…it was at about 10PM on Christmas eve) our friends MLK gave Nellie and I a couple of books. I just finished reading mine: Matterhorn (amazon | kobo) by Karl Marlantes. It’s billed as a novel about the Vietnam war, but it’s so obviously a slight-dramatized recounting of Marlantes’ time there. The details are too vivid, the people too real, for it to be fiction. I was a little slow getting into it, but after about 100 pages I was desperate to return to it each time I put it down. The characters stick indelibly…I would fall asleep thinking of Vancouver, or Hawke, or Hamilton, or Parker. I would flip each page terrified something would happen to Pat. I would get angry at Big John and Big John Three just like I got angry at Sobel when we watched Band Of Brothers. But mostly I would be Mellas each time I opened the book.

"You shouldn't think of her as being a woman. That would be a mistake."

Given the discrepancy between the general critical review of Haywire (imdb | rotten tomatoes) vs. audiences — 80% of critics liked it vs. 46% of audience members — I’m guessing that a lot of people went into the film thinking it would be a generic, rote action movie. It’s not, thank god.

To me, it felt like Stephen Soderbergh was echoing his own film The Limey, except instead of Terence Stamp the main protagonist was MMA fighter and first-time actor Gina Carano. What she lacked in acting skills she made up for in fighting ability, and so the numerous fights felt more like real brawls than set-pieces…combatants were awkward and knocked into things, not whirling dervishes of perfectly timed punches and blocks. They felt like struggles, not like highlight reels.

The movie itself wasn’t anything terribly new, and the plot was a little thin, but Soderbergh’s style and Carano’s charisma* gave it enough to make it a very good film overall. And probably not at all what 54% of people were expecting when they want to the theatre.

* and by “charisma” I mean that she’s unbelievably fucking hot. Just saying.

A week of drinking well

Our recycling pile and credit card bill would suggest that we drank very, very well this past week:

On Sunday we had a bottle of 2007 Le Clos Jordanne Claystone Terrace Chardonnay. On Monday we had a 2009 Twenty Twenty Seven Featherstone Vineyard Riesling. On Tuesday it was a 2009 Thirty Bench Triangle Vineyard Riesling. Wednesday was a 2009 Le Clos Jordanne Village Reserve Pinot Noir, and on Thursday (after I had two pints by Great Lakes at Volo, the Katy Brown Ale and the Karma Stoutra) we had a bottle of 2009 Tawse Misek Riesling to go with our Thai takeout.

By Friday we’d decided we’d done our part for the Ontario wine economy and branched out somewhat. We had a few glasses each at REDS (2008 Foreign Affair Conspiracy, 2009 Nuestro Ribera del Duero and 2009 Jean Luc Colombo Les Abeilles Cotes du Rhone for me; 2008 Flat Rock Chardonnay, 2008 Foreign Affair Conspiracy and 2008 Rubrato Aglianico dei Feudi for Nellie) before strolling down to Wellington Street and trying Trevor for the first (!) time. We appeared to be the only non-Winterlicious people in the place, and the bartender expressed his appreciation when we ordered a full bottle of wine; I think we may have been the first to do so that night. We warmed up with a 2008 Bogle Zinfandel (me) and 2010 Bogle Chardonnay (her), and drank a bottle of 2010 McManis Petite Sirah with our mini Kobe burgers, tempura shrimp and truffle goat cheese poutine.

Yesterday we slept in (obv) before picking up supplies for the week, including a bunch of Garrison beer, one of our Halifax favourites which happens to be on feature at the LCBO this week. Last night we had a pretty disappointing dinner at a pub near the theatre where our movie was playing, so we made it up to our taste buds with a visit to Paese before the screening. I know I had a Malbec and a Foreign Affair Cabernet Sauvignon, while Nellie had an Amarone (in fact, they recognized her from the last time we were in and, remembering her affection for the last Amarone they sold by the glass, immediately poured her their new one) and a California Chardonnay; I don’t recall the details beyond that.

All in all it was a smashing good week of wine drinking, punctuated by the odd burst of beer and decadent food. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to the gym.