Photo by jp1958, used under Creative Commons license

On the east side

Last weekend we introduced four friends to Harlem, a local place with some amazing southern food. We had catfish Lafayette and short ribs and crisps and plantains. We had southern fried chicken (LOTS of southern fried chicken) and jambalaya and Guinness-marinated stewed chicken and jerk meatloaf. We had corn bread and mac-n-cheese and cocktails and Red Stripes. We were all stuffed, but it was so good. Four days later I’m still thinking about it.

We also polished off a bottle or two of Ontario wine back at ours, namely a Bachelder 2009 Niagara Chardonnay, a Daniel Lenko 2007 Signature Chardonnay, a Hidden Bench 2010 Felseck Riesling, a Kacaba 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, a Norman Hardie 2009 Niagara Pinot Noir, a Southbrook 2009 Whimsy “Renewed Vows” Cabernet Franc, a Stratus 2007 Red, and a Thirty Bench 2008 Cabernet Franc.

God, I need a vegetable and some tap water.

.:.

Photo by jp1958, used under Creative Commons license

Photo by Bastian, used under Creative Commons license

"If we wanted applause, we would have joined the circus."

Argo (imdb | rotten tomatoes) was one of the marquee films at TIFF this year, one that many thought would contend for the best picture Oscar. After watching it yesterday, I can see that. It was a very good movie — not a great one, but certainly the kind of picture that wins an Oscar. Even though we knew the broad strokes of the story, it’s the details that make the difference in stranger-than-fiction accounts like this. Well worth your two hours.

.:.

Photo by Bastian, used under Creative Commons license

Photo by Bill in DC, used under Creative Commons license

"She's a Longhorn, the oldest pure breed cattle in Britain."

I’ve been doing a fair amount of travelling for work lately.  Luckily I was able to avoid the pitfall of eating shitty food on the road. Here’s what stood out.

Washington, D.C.

When I first landed in Washington (interesting city, by the way) my hotel wasn’t ready so I needed to kill a couple of hours. I was starving and went looking for a bite. I was about to give up and eat a Starbucks snack, but happened upon Graffiato and took a seat at the bar. I was pretty happy with where I’d landed: cool spot, nice staff, excellent music (Led Zeppelin, Tool, Queens of the Stone Age, White Stripes, Nirvana, old Smashing Pumpkins, etc.) on the speakers, and an interesting beer & wine list — I had a Southern Tier IPA and an Anne Amie Amrita Cuvee 2011 Viognier blend from Oregon. I ended up back there the following night; I had the Brooklyn Oktoberfest and Shipyard Pumpkinhead while listening to The Talking Heads, Rolling Stones, The Pixies, and The Proclaimers.

I got to hang out at the POV Lounge for a while, overlooking the White House and Treasury and other Washington sites, and have dinner at The Hamilton. And when I kind of couldn’t take any more interaction at my conference I went down the street to Brasserie Beck to have some excellent beers: I know I had a Van Eecke Cuvée Watou and a double dry hopped Poperings Hommelbier; after that I stopped keeping track.

Finally, after an airport snafu had me waiting in Dulles airport for several hours, I was lucky to come across Vino Volo, a wine bar in terminal B. I had a Tabali 2011 Reserva Viognier from Chile and an Emerson 2009 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir from Oregon, and a Chardonnay that I forgot to write down. Between that, free wifi, excellent food, and a perfect view of the runway, it was a miraculous find.

London

It’s been seven years since my last visit to England, and unfortunately I didn’t have much time to really enjoy London this time around. However, the company I was visiting had arranged some excellent meals for us…some excellent coffee too, as I was able to have a flat white or three for the first time since our visit to Australia last year, courtesy of Taylor St.

Most impressive was The Hawksmoor, a restaurant with the menu and decor of a classic steakhouse, but with a badass young staff. We ate as a large group, meaning the apps and wine were communal, but the Tamworth belly ribs were the the standout starter. My enormous & rare bone-in sirloin covered in Béarnaise sauce was tremendous, as was the sticky toffee pudding. We all left nearly bursting at the seams…what a great meal.

The next day most of us had lunch at the nearby Jamie’s Italian, but none of us really had much room.  Still, I managed to somehow force down some tagliatelle bolognese before heading to Heathrow for my flight home.

All this travel happened in the span of about nine days, so I was pretty wiped when I arrived home late Friday night. I’m just glad I got to try some decent new places and avoid fast food.

.:.

Photo by Bill in DC, used under Creative Commons license

Photo by bobolink, user under Creative Commons license

How Porter might have blown it

Oh Porter. I loved you. Like, a lot. For those of us who travel a fair amount and dislike most airline experiences, you were a breath of fresh air. I talked you up every chance I got. I always chose you over Air Canada if possible, even after AC began flying off the Toronto island airport. But Thursday’s experience — albeit it at Dulles, not your YTZ home — may have cost you a die-hard customer.

I was already booked on PD728 to Toronto at 8:45PM. As luck would have it I was able to end my day early so I thought I’d see if I could catch an earlier flight. My assistant called Porter, who told her it would be much cheaper to switch to PD726 (leaving IAD at 4:20PM) in person at the airport. So, after my presentation I jumped in a cab and arrived at IAD at 3:15. By 3:20 I was in a line of three people waiting to be checked in at the Porter desk. There were two people working the desk, so I figured I was in good shape.

I was wrong.

One of the two employees working the desk was new, and unable to process new check-ins. The other wasn’t at the counter, but rather in the room behind the desk making phone calls on behalf of a customer having Visa problems. Now, I do not begrudge her this; the customer needed help, and she was trying to provide it. But was there no way to have the other employee — who couldn’t process new check-ins — handle the phone call? Was there no way to call for additional staff? Was there no way to prioritize people like myself, and the passenger in front of me, as we rushed to make an earlier flight?

However, like good Canadians, the two of us waited patiently while the newly-returned Porter employee checked in the first passenger in line (and her family) and finished with the customer experiencing Visa problems. This took twenty minutes. TWENTY MINUTES. By the time the customer in front of me, also trying to get on the 4:20PM flight, got to the desk he was told that he was too late, and that the flight was boarding in just ten minutes. I had been standing in line for twenty minutes; the customer in front of me had clearly been waiting longer than that. If the counter had been properly staffed, or had the staff allocated work correctly, or had they prioritized in some way, we both could have made it easily, even at an airport as complicated as Dulles.

What made the experience even more frustrating was what followed: the poor passenger in front of me was told to return at 6:45 — more than three hours later — to check in for the next flight. He, being a nice guy and aware that I was also trying to make the flight, turned and told me the situation — that he’d have to wait three hours in the departures area just to check in to PD728, and then proceed to the gates. I felt sorry for him, but also felt relieved that I already had a seat confirmed on PD728 — Porter had emailed me 24 hours before — and assumed the staff would check me in so I could at least proceed to the terminal A gates, which are infinitely nicer than the departures level at Dulles. However, before I had a chance to do so, the two staff members put out a sign saying the counter was closed and disappeared into the back. I called to them; no answer. I waited a few moments; they did not return. I was incredulous. They didn’t even speak to me; they simply assumed I was in the exact situation as the passenger in front of me (who I didn’t know) and closed up shop.

About an hour later I realized my email from Porter actually contained the boarding pass and barcode I’d need to get through security. Luckily I could now kill three hours in a better part of town than Dulles departures. I should have realized that sooner, but I also shouldn’t have had to figure it out on my own…I should have already been sitting in an airside lounge, having been checked in by an agent.

I realize I was asking a lot to move my flight up, and that extenuating circumstances (a passenger wrestling with visa issues) made it difficult, but never in my experience has a challenging thrown a Porter employee. If Porter had lived up to my expectations of them — well-deserved expectations, I must say — I’d have been on the 4:20PM flight and home in Toronto by 6:00PM, instead of sitting in a Dulles airport bar for three hours.

I’ve been a long and loyal Porter advocate, but on Thursday my faith was shaken. I’m not sure how long it will be before my trust is restored. What I do know is that I will not defend as loudly, nor promote as proudly, the Porter service as I have in the past. And that’s a shame.

.:.

Photo by bobolink, user under Creative Commons license

Photo from jackwhiteiii.com, taken Oct 4 2012 by Jo McCaughey.

Turn the oscillator

There are concerts you go to because you’re hoping the live show transcends the recorded material. There are concerts you go to because you want to see a band or artist of significant importance play live, just once. And once in a while, you see a concert that delivers both. Once in a while…like when Jack White schedules two nights at the Sony Centre.

We had an insanely busy week leading up to the concert (the second of the two) so I didn’t even know who was opening. Turns out it was a band called Pokey Lafarge and the South City Three, an entertaining little contraption of a band that impressed mostly via their rock star harmonica player and enthusiastic old-timey image. They dutifully played their set, got the energy level up, and were on their way. Then the roadies — all dressed in zoot-suit-ish garb — reset the stage.

When Jack himself took the stage, he did so with his all-male band. I was sad to miss his all-female band, who had played the previous night, but my disappointment was short lived. The band ripped into a 5-song sequence with no break, and this band let it all fly. The drummer and keyboardist especially; both were large, muscular guys who played the hell out of their instruments, contrasted against the waifish White. I found it hard to take my eyes off of them, especially as they were positioned at the front of the stage, framing White as he lurched about. The only difficulty I had was seeing through the 6-6 Shaggy-from-Scooby-Doo looking jagoff in front of me who kept swaying and dancing and then hugging his girlfriend every time she recognized a song. For once I knew what it felt like for Nellie to go to shows and not be able to see anything but the back (and iPhone screen) of the person in front of her.

The set was seventeen songs long, plus four in the encore: eight of his songs from Blunderbuss, eight White Stripes songs, two Raconteurs, two Dead Weather, and one collaboration/feature Jack White did with Danger Mouse. The set list didn’t seem to stray too far from the previous night; I would have liked to hear “John The Revelator” and “Hotel Yorba” but I was happy that he ended the main set with “Ball And A Biscuit” on the second night too, as it’s probably my favourite White Stripes song. It was a crushing version of it too; playing with a powerful backing band just gives the songs a lot more depth.

The range of styles White pulled out that night, the breadth of the bands and side projects, the tightness of the band, the art integrated with the show, the monumental musicianship…it all paid tribute to Jack White being one of the most influential and meaningful artists playing today. It was a fun two hours, but ten years from now it’ll feel momentous.

Pictures here.

.:.

Photo from jackwhiteiii.com, taken Oct 4 2012 by Jo McCaughey.

 

"It's pronounced verst."

 After a very long week, Nellie and I wanted some place to relax, drink a few good pints of beer, and eat some great food. I convinced her that we should take a chance on Wvrst (ratebeer), a place on King West I’ve been wanting to try for a while.

And man, did it pay off. We had a great night. We’re already anxious to go back.

Here’s why we liked it so much:

  1. The space is pretty different: it was a giant beer hall with communal tables, somewhat smaller tables along the side, a long bar, and a kitchen on the south wall. We chose to sit at the bar; everything else seemed to be reserved.
  2. The atmosphere was pretty unlike what I’d expect to find at a newish place on King West. Read: not at all douchey. It was a very young crowd, but there were no popped collars or sunglasses on backs of necks. These, we would discover later, were unofficial house rules of the place. Which made us like it more.
  3. The house speciality, as the name suggests, was sausage. Many, many kinds of sausage. I went basic with a calabrese, but can’t wait to try some of the more advanced options like venison or wild boar or kangaroo. You could also choose whether to eat the sausage on a bun or in a tomato curry sauce; I chose the latter. Nellie, meanwhile, had a pile of Belgian-style fries with chipotle and maple/rosemary dipping sauces. I ended up eating a lot of those too.
  4. The beer selection was very solid indeed. I had a Dieu du Ciel Route des Epices, a Black Oak nut brown, a Central City Red Racer, and a Dieu du Ciel Peche Mortel. Nellie had equally tasty selections. While we both steered toward Canadian offerings, they had some interesting international bottles on offer as well. Definitely worth some return visits.

Throughout the course of the evening we ended up meeting the manager Bram, who gave us a couple of samples and introduced us to Justin from the Beer Academy. Twitter: helping tipsy introverts meet each other since 2009.

If I weren’t still full of turkey (MLK and CBGB had us over last night; we ate their food and they drank our wine…the perfect symbiotic relationship!) I’d be there right now.