The California experiment

Pearl Morissette is one of my favourite Canadian wineries, but until a month or so ago I didn’t know they were also producing wine in California. I found out when I saw an announcement about a dinner at hot new Toronto restaurant Alo, featuring these California wines from PM. It was such a hot ticket (and Alo is such a small restaurant) that the event sold out in minutes, but they scheduled a second seating and Nellie, Kaylea, and I got tickets.

Winemaker Francois Morissette was there to speak about each of the California wines, and a few surprise Ontario wines as well. All the wines were predictably delicious, but we were just so impressed with how he’s found a balance in the Californian wines: using all the advantages of the hot (but not too hot, based on their vineyard locations) without the overbearing, overwrought, over-oaked tendencies too often found in California bottles. These are California wines made with the restraint of a Burgundian winemaker.

The menu, as best I can remember provided by P-M…thanks Milt!:

  1. Pan au lait with fleur de sel
  2. Matsutake mushrooms, turnip, celery, chicken skin
  3. Carolina gold rice, foie gras, bonito
  4. Yorkshire rack of pork, romano bean, artichoke, mustard
  5. Beef brisket, king oyster mushroom, parsley, garlic
  6. White chocolate cremeux, toasted oats, quince (Note: Cori Murphy is a bad-ass pastry chef)

The rice + foie gras dish sounds like it should have been terrible, but it was goddamn delicious. And I hate foie gras.

The wines:

  • Blackball Riesling
  • 2012 Heintz Vineyard Chardonnay
  • 2012 Baranoff Vineyard Pinot Noir
  • 2012 Caldwell Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Niagara Viognier
  • I know I’m missing another Ontario wine. I just can’t remember what it was, goddammit.

All in all, an outstanding meal. I really want to go back Alo now, and we’ve already ordered some of the California wine.

After dinner we still wanted more wine, so we decided to meet up with more friends at Archive. The girls started drinking sparkling; I stayed on the Pearl Morissette with the 2012 “Dix-Neuvième” Chardonnay. I lost track of what everyone got, but after we shared a bottle of Cab Franc from Saumur I was out of there. The rest of the group partied well into the night.

Cask Days 2015

Last year our first Cask Days beer festival was a revelation. So many amazing beer, at such a well-run event, made us incredulous that we’d never been to one. For the past 11.5 months we’d looked forward to the 2015 installment.

We just got home from #caskdays2015, and the fact that I can type probably tells you that it was a little less epic than last year’s. Granted, there was no post-festival Wvrst bottle tour like last year’s, but still. It wasn’t quite as epic as last year’s maiden voyage.

I mean, sure, there was great beer and excellent food, and it was almost shockingly well-run. But here was my major disappointment: they were holding back so much beer that I couldn’t try half of what I really wanted. This is what I tried, and what I tried to try:

  1. Burdock Peach & Apricot Berliner Weisse
  2. Niagara Oast Dr. Lychee Gose Nuts Gose
  3. Niagara Oast Verjus Fruit Sour Ale
  4. Dunham Saison du Pinacle Farmhouse Ale w. Fireweed Flowers
  5. Indie Alehouse Maple Cinnamon Belgian Wit
  6. Stone City Ales Devil and the Deep American Sour
  7. Parallel 49 Bodhisattva Dry Hopped Sour Ale
  8. Community Beer Works Frank APA
  9. Dunham APA w. Habanero Pepper
  10. Macleod Ale Jackie Tar Brown Stout
  11. Dieu Du Ciel Tamarindo German Gose
  12. Left Field Bricks & Mortar Porter w. Pilot Roaster Coffee
  13. Great Lakes x Bar Hop Sweet Zombie Jesus Milk Stout w. Peanut Butter
  14. Sawdust City Damn!!!!!!! Spicy Peanut Butter Imperial Stout
  15. Wellington Buggin’ Out Cab Franc Barrel Aged Sour Ale
  16. Ladyface Companie Ballista Imperial Grisette Aged in Viognier Barrels
  17. Amsterdam El Jaguar Barrel Aged Imperial Stout w. Chocolate & Chilies
  18. Howe Sound “Smoked” Pumpkineater Imperial Pumpkin Ale w. Rum, Cacao & Vanilla
  19. House Ales Mezza Notte Espresso Milk Stout

So, yeah. Literally the first two beers I wanted were sold out. Or, rather, they were being “held back” for later sessions. I get that they’re trying to keep enough around for everyone, but I tried to get those two within seconds of entering the building, and I checked back a few times, so they were NEVER available for our session. That’s brutal.

Just before 5pm I went hunting for my 11th and final beer, and my last four choices were all off-limits. I gave up and ate some fried chicken instead.

So I ended up drinking a lot of sour beer on the day, which was fine, and one or two of them were tremendous (the Parallel 49 and Stone City especially), but GOD I wanted a heavy stout toward the end.

Frankly, the shot of espresso (from Boxcar Social) and fried chicken (from Brando’s fried chicken) were two of the best things I had all day, and the food program in general looked killer, so kudos to the festival for that. Also: military precision on the porta-potty line.

What I took from this, though, is that a) the Friday night session is the only good one, and everything else is a poor cousin; and b) you have to buy your way into one of the premium packages to get decent beer. I guess I’ll keep that in mind for next year, and see whether the price is justified.

Cover photo by Loaded Dog, used under Creative Commons

What a week-ish

It’s been a busy 8 days, considering I haven’t been traveling or anything. The mother in law visited for about a week. We had a huge dinner at Jacobs & Co. I spent Saturday, including a Fieramosca dinner, involved in a work conference. Good Jays games and bad Jays games. Absolutely insane amounts of work.

I spent tonight eating dinner at Hawthorne with Nellie, planning my attack on Cask Days tomorrow, and watching the Jays’ season end in game 6 against the Royals, in a game they probably could (should) have won. But hey, at least the Habs are 8-0 to start the season. So there’s that.


Cover photo by Loaded Dog, used under Creative Commons


I have an emotional hangover. I sportsed too hard last night.

Plenty of ink has already been spilled about the Blue Jays game 5 win over Texas to advance to the American League Championship series. (Cathal Kelly’s story in the Globe was the best, I thought.) All I can say is that it was definitely one of the highlights of my sports-fan life…to go from so low to so high, to sprout a profuse belief in the sporting gods, all in the space of a single epic inning of baseball, was mildly profound. I can’t imagine actually being at the Rogers Centre Skydome for the game, as some of my friends were.

We’d had tickets for the Toronto FC game last night, but given how long the Jays game ran over we really didn’t think we’d make it over to BMO Field. But after Jose’s bat flip we figured we’d make a break for it: we assumed the Jays would win, and if they relinquished the lead, I didn’t want to watch it. So in the middle of the 8th we jumped in a cab and beat it west before the mayhem began. As it turned out, the mayhem began at the corner of Queens Quay and Bathurst, when every car around us at the traffic light began honking wildly.

Despite it being freezing cold, we’re glad we made it to the TFC game. They clinched the first playoff berth in team history last night, on a highlight-reel goal from the incomparable Giovinco, who’d gotten off a plane from Italy just a few hours before. For at least this one night the sports gods were on Toronto’s side.

All in all, a pretty good evening. Oh, and as I type this, the Canadiens are about to win their fifth straight game to start the NHL season, the first (!) time in their storied history that’s happened.


Cover photo by Maggie Mbroh, used under Creative Commons license

How I commute now

I have a pretty easy commute to work each day. Most people in Toronto have to drive, or take a GO Train, or at least a long subway ride. Me, I’m about 20 minutes door-to-door: short walk + 7 subway stops + even shorter walk. I don’t know how people do an hour (or more) each way every day. I’ve never been one for needing a giant house (not having kids helps, I guess) so I don’t get the trade-off of spending that much time in a car or on a train.

I was thinking about some people’s long commutes earlier this week, when I flew home from New York. I was in and out of NYC in about 12 hours, just long enough to check in to my room, get some sleep, take care of some work things, and fly home. I flew Porter, naturally.

I didn’t even get to have a meal in New York, which just seems criminal. Worse yet: on my way into Manhattan my taxi stopped at a light right in front of The Pony Bar (one of my all-time favourite beer joints) and I couldn’t even go in. I just stared longingly through the window like a thirsty Garfield.

The next day I wrapped up my work thing at the Marriott Marquis, took a picture of Times Square from the 9th floor lobby, and beat it out of there.

Here’s the mildly-amazing bit: I left the hotel at 10:45. By 11:15 I was at Newark airport. By 11:20 the Porter agent had switched me to the noon flight. By 11:45 I was boarding. By 12:05 we were airborne. By 1:20 we were on the ground back in Toronto. By 1:25 I was clearing customs (well, a Nexus machine). By 1:35 I was through the tunnel and in a cab. By 1:45 I was home.

So that’s three hours from the door of my hotel room in midtown Manhattan to the foyer of my condo in downtown Toronto. I know people in the GTA who commute for three hours by car every day. I’m not sure whether to be impressed by the efficiency of modern air travel (when you get pretty good at it, that is) or sad for the people I know who spend 20% of their waking day fighting Toronto traffic.

Maybe both.


Cover photo by Maggie Mbroh, used under Creative Commons license

Cover photo from iMBb

“If we are going to have a secret project called ‘Elrond’, then I want my code name to be ‘Glorfindel’.”

Last night we had a laid-back Friday night and went to a movie for the first time in a long while: The Martian (imdb | rotten tomatoes). I didn’t read the book, but the trailer made the premise pretty clear: Matt Damon gets abandoned on Mars, and then sciences the shit out of the problem.

What a great 2.5 hours. It never felt like 2.5 hours, of course, because it was terrifically entertaining. Smart, funny, gripping, and endearing. There were no surprises. No big twists or higher concepts. Just science + drama. And it was great. Go see it.

Side note: there’s a nice little inside-Hollywood Lord Of The Rings joke that absolutely killed in our particular theatre.


Cover photo from iMBb