Hard edges. Delicious middle.

It’s amazing how much difference a half-hour can make. We left for Niagara half an hour later than we wanted on Saturday, and it ended up adding 90 minutes to our trip. A trip which should barely take 90 minutes anyway. Stupid GTA traffic.

We hadn’t been down to Niagara this year, and needed a bit of a weekend away, so down we went. I wasn’t planning to do the epic winery visits of years past, but I did have a plan. (Obviously.) First up: lunch at Two Sisters‘ restaurant, Kitchen 76.

I want to hate Two Sisters, with its obnoxious faux Italian villa and perpetually-selfie-ing clientele, but the wine is just too good. So, it turns out, is the food. Our caprese salad was excellent, as were our pizzas, and the patio space is stunning.

We planned to do a tasting as well, but my god…the crowds. Too many people, too drunk, too loud, too woo-hoo-y. I dashed in, bought the three bottles I knew I wanted (cab sauv, cab  franc, Lush sparkling) and fled.

Our hotel for the night was a new one for us both: Queen’s Landing. It might be one of the least precious of the Niagara-on-the-Lake hotels, and our room had a nice view of the river, so we made the most of it. We checked in as soon as we could, and checked out the next morning without a minute to spare.

IMG_20180825_230126.jpg

That afternoon, while Lindsay had a nap, I walked into town to check out the Exchange Brewery. I’d tried one or two of their beers before, but hadn’t been to the brewery itself. When I got there it was pretty hectic, and their bottles aren’t labeled super-well, and when I asked the taste the bartender sent me upstairs. I ended up lucking into a prime balcony spot, since some rain had just ended. I tried their Saison, Berliner, Porter, Bill NyePA, Oud Bruin, and breakfast stout. The Saison and Bill NyePA were pleasant surprises, but the Berliner, Porter, and Oud Bruin were a touch disappointing. The breakfast stout was as good as I thought it might be. Points for trying a few interesting styles though. I bought a few bottles (the Saison and stout, and another stout called The Exchange stout) and walked back to the hotel while it drizzled.

By the time I got back it was pretty much time for dinner. We’d booked a table at what I consider the best restaurant in Niagara, Treadwell. Sadly, the menu they have posted online bears no resemblance to the meal we actually ate, so I won’t remember the finer details of each course. But here’s the gist:

  • We had trouble deciding on which two appetizers to choose, but landed on the peach salad, which was chock full of local fruit and veg, and the tuna, served with (among other things) some amazing smoked cashews. We had this with a bottle of Kew Tradition sparkling.
  • Ultimately the other appetizer we’d considered — the cured duck — was too much to resist, and we ordered that too, while finishing off the sparkling.
  • For our mains Lindsay got BC halibut with mussels and smoked tomato risotto. I got the pork tenderloin with pork belly and crispy polenta, and I fully expect that dish to end up on best-things-I-ate-this-year list. We paired it with a bottle of The Farm Pinot Noir 2014, which I learned is made by Thomas Bachelder from the same grapes that produced Le Clos Jordanne’s “La Petite Colline” wines. And it was amazing.
  • Not quite ready for dessert, we ordered a little tasting of aged cheddar to go with the rest of our Pinot.
  • Still, amazingly, having room for dessert, we shared the cheesecake coated with graham cracker, alongside maple bourbon ice cream and some cherries. We each had a local ice wine with it.

By this time we’d pretty much shut the joint down, so we wandered slowly back to our hotel and konked out.

The next morning was a master class in chilling out. Room service breakfast (an absurd amount, really), leisurely showers, and dumb TV. We rolled out of there at the very last minute and into our trusty steed. After a brief stop on the parkway down to admire the quiet and the river, we arrived at Ravine. I hadn’t been in four years or thereabouts. We hurried through a quick tasting and bought a Cab Sauv and a reserve Chard before heading to lunch next door at their restaurant.

We had PEI oysters, followed by spiced cauliflower ‘steaks’ w/ navy bean salad, smoked eggplant, roasted garlic emulsion, labneh, and dukkah (Lindsay) and duck leg confit w/ K2 milling artisanal grains ‘salad’, Niagara corn and peach succotash, tarragon aioli, sour cherry, and duck jus (Dan). We each had a glass of cab franc, but given my driving duties mine was shockingly small.

On the way back to Toronto we had three stops lined up, two for tastings as it was my first visit, and one for a quick pickup. The first visit was Westcott. It was a little chaotic but we managed to try two chard and two pinots, and loved them all. We left with four bottles.

Next: Domaine Queylus. I’m more than familiar with their wines (and winemaker) but this was my first visit. Again, I couldn’t really taste thoroughly as I was driving, but I fell hard for the chard, the reserve pinot, and their cab franc. Oof.

Finally, after a winding drive through the back roads, we made our last stop, a quick in-and-out at Thirty Bench to acquire some of their recently-lauded 2015 Cab Franc. I’ve always been a fan of that wine — it might have been the first Ontario wine, or any wine — that I fell in love with, and have bought every vintage. But ever since Decanter freaked out about the 2015, I was worried that I’d miss out, so I grabbed what I could and ran.

Speaking of running, we quickly realized that the drive back to Toronto was going to be tight to make our 5pm drop-off. As it turned out, we pulled in to the rental place with about five minutes to spare, and Ubered home with our loot.

So, fine: maybe the drive down and drive back weren’t all that relaxing, but overall it was a damn fine 30-hour break.

Sparks

Last night we completed our August full o’ concerts, seeing Beach House at the Sony Centre. They were just so…dreamy? Trance-y? Lush? The music is just as breathy and ethereal live as it is on the albums (not surprising; about 1/4 of it is backing track, not live) largely because it’s so precise and layered, so I didn’t hear anything new, but the visuals — intensely lights and effects back-lighting three silhouettes — added a lot.

Unfortunately there was a constant flow of people walking in and out, which was distracting, especially since no one could find their way back without turning on their phone’s light. I don’t know if people were tripping from the lights or just had to pee a lot, but it kept yanking me out of the moment. Still: so lovely.

The reported set list:

  1. Levitation
  2. Wild
  3. PPP
  4. Dark Spring
  5. Heart of Chambers
  6. Lazuli
  7. L’Inconnue
  8. Myth
  9. Rough Song
  10. Sparks
  11. Girl of the Year
  12. Space Song
  13. Wishes
  14. Drunk in LA
  15. Wildflower
  16. Lemon Glow
  17. Walk in the Park
  18. Dive

IMG_20180820_223243

Also: before the concert we had dinner — a much better outing than last time, too. This time we stopped at Leña, in my old neighbourhood. I’d never managed to go, as it opened not long before I moved, but I’m glad we stepped in — it was very tasty. We had:

  • bread w/ housemade miche, salted butter
  • sea bream tartare w/ sweet green tomato, lime, nasty sauce, potato
  • seasonal oysters w/ half dozen, cava mignonette, nasty sauce
  • angus beef ribeye steak w/ peperonata, yukon gold chips, chimichurri
  • 12 vegetable salad w/ milk mayonnaise, charred & raw vegetables, tomatillo & coriander dressing

It was all good, but the sea bream tartare was so spicy and delicious. I’d go back just for that.

 

The last birthday present

It’s nice having trailing birthday presents that you get to enjoy weeks after the event itself. To wit: Lindsay booked tickets for us to attend a tasting at Rorschach Brewing with beer + cheese pairings. They do it in conjunction with The Art Of Cheese, and apparently pretty often.

The pairings:

  • Thunder Oak Gouda / “Reminiscence” Mexican lager
  • Beemster XO / “Reverse Psychology” double dry-hopped IPA
  • Oak Grove Truffle / “Synchronicity” Tea Lime saison
  • St Albray Camembert / “Memory Trace” table sour
  • Pied de Vent / “Memory Trace” table sour
  • Raspberry Fudge (!) cheese / “Malevolent Benevolence: Turtles” imperial stout

The Gouda, Beemster, Pied de Vent, and even the truffle cheese (I don’t like truffles) were all excellent, and their pairings really worked. As did the final pairing, even though I’d never eaten anything like that raspberry fudge cheese in my life. The St Albray was…rough. Like, I’ve had Camembert before, but sheezus. Cheezus, even.

Unexpected bonus of the night: Nils from The Rural Alberta Advantage was sitting at our table. I introduced myself after and told him I was a big fan, and we chatted for a bit. Extra-special birthday!

Nanatsu no taizai

Last weekend was fun. Busy and delicious and friend-filled. Fun! Camaraderie! Not work!

It started right after we left the office on Friday when we met Joe & Sheila at La Carnita (the downtown one, not the one in our hood) before their Jays game. We got silly on tacos and colourful cocktails. After that we had dinner lined up at White Lily Diner, which is always so chill on Friday nights. We ate stupid-good patty melts and blackberry crumble and took peanut butter doughnuts home for breakfast.

Saturday got a little busy as we headed up to our friends Sarah & Mekki’s place in the northwest corner of the city. I’d never taken the new line 1 extension north of Sheppard West (nee Downsview) so it was an adventure. A long, long adventure. We were there to meet a new friend, who I’ll talk about more next week. We ended up spending several hours at theirs and got into their booze, so rather than face the long transit ride home we took a pricey Uber.

Even so, we were a little late to meet my friend Andrea at Lake Inez. She’d never been, and we hadn’t been since the chef turned over, so it was new-ish for all of us. We did PRETTY WELL, I think:

  • broccoli charred in chili jam w/ vegan oyster sauce, crispy anchovy & shallots, kohlrabi
  • za’atar roasted califlower w/ spicy herb sauce, edamame hummus, peanut dukkah
  • beef tartare w/ sweet soy reduction, slow-cooked egg yolk, calamansi lime, rice crisp
  • Thai-style curry w/ market fish grilled over Japanese charcoal, zucchini, savoy cabbage, cilantro, peanuts, jasmine rice
  • Korean-ish short rib w/ kimchi mash, ssamjang mayo, bibb lettuce
  • Some unusual but terrific Pinot Noir whose name I can’t remember

Afterward we walked around the corner to Godspeed Brewery. Andrea’s not a beer drinker, but I know they keep Tawse on tap, so she was good. Meanwhile Lindsay and I delved into their list, which I must say has improved since our last visit a year ago.

The next morning we weren’t exactly feeling 100%, so we dragged our sorry selves to Eastbound for brunch. God bless that fork-and-knife fried chicken sandwich (which is really a piece of spicy fried chicken, a two-egg omelette, and two bacon-filled pancakes) and some coffee. It all saved me.

Great weekend. I did feel the need to return to work just to slow things down though.

Hope Drone

Last Tuesday I met Lindsay after work for dinner and some beers at Stout Irish Pub before strolling around the corner to the Phoenix.

We were there to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Lindsay for the first time, me for the first time in seven years. We got there late so it was tough to find a good spot, but it’s not like you need to see much of what GY!BE does on stage. They started, as they often do, with “Hope Drone” before moving on to more. We’d eventually hear a lot of their latest album Luciferian Towers (including “Bosses Hang”, to my mind one of their best songs) but I was happily surprised when their second song was “Mladic”, another of my all-time favourites, coming from a few albums back.

Midway through the concert I moved toward the back, which was kind of a mistake, and I drifted away from the show a little. But then they ended with the “Sad Mafioso” section of “East Hastings”, which always reminds me of watching 28 Days Later with Tim in London sixteen years ago, and it was savage and thumping and so amazing to see live when I never thought I would. So for the second time I ended up having a weird, almost offputting experience seeing GY!BE, but they played three of my favourite songs, so it felt worth it.

Of course, it might have been fitting if they’d played “Storm” instead since we exited into an epic deluge which swamped the city and drenched me to the bone trying to get home.

The set list:

  • “Hope Drone”
  • “Mladic”
  • “Bosses Hang”
  • “Fam/Famine”
  • “Undoing a Luciferian Towers”
  • “Monheim” (including Murray Ostril / ‘…They Don’t Sleep Anymore on the Beach…’) from “Sleep”
  • “The Sad Mafioso” from “East Hastings”

Digital Witnesses

On Tuesday we went to the Sony Centre for one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen: St. Vincent, on her Masseduction tour. The performance was so stylish and sharp and overwhelming, and the music was just as good live as on the albums, and she fucking shreds on guitar. A couple of times it was so good that I actually welled up, just from the sheer awesomeness. It was made all the better by the crowd being so into it (except the two dunces standing next to Lindsay). What an experience.

The set list:

  1. Sugarboy
  2. Los Ageless
  3. Masseduction
  4. Savior
  5. Huey Newton
  6. Year of the Tiger
  7. Marrow
  8. Pills
  9. Cruel
  10. Cheerleader
  11. Digital Witness
  12. Rattlesnake
  13. Hysterical Strength
  14. Young Lover
  15. Fear the Future
  16. Slow Disco
  17. New York
  18. Smoking Section
  19. Happy Birthday, Johnny
  20. Severed Crossed Fingers

IMG_20180731_212258

Also: before the concert we tried East 36, which used to be Lucien, and it…wasn’t very good. I mean, our cocktails were good, but after that the problems began: our oysters were served without any sauces, my confit duck leg was too fatty (even for confit duck!), and Lindsay’s NY strip was like shoe leather. Lindsay’s Cab was okay, but my Pinot was rubbish. Don’t think we’ll be going back there anytime soon.

Forty-three

After a long week in San Francisco I just wanted some time to relax. Lindsay gave me a night. Then the birthday activities started. Pre-birthday, really, since my birthday was Monday, but who wants to celebrate their birthday on a Monday?

First up was a cozy breakfast of griddle cakes at White Lily, followed by an afternoon of beer sampling at Rorschach. It was my/our first time there, and I was pretty psyched. I had a “Syncronicity” Oolong tea & lime saison, a “Malevolent Benevolence – Turtle” pecan coffee & cocoa nib imperial stout, and a “Malevolent Benevolence – French Toast” maple syrup, cinnamon & vanilla imperial stout. All on a rooftop patio amongst trees, by a park. Pretty sweet pre-birthday afternoon, right?

For dinner that night we hit another new place: the Maple Leaf Tavern. I liked the vibe right away: very relaxed, but with a serious (read: meat-heavy) menu. We sampled heavily — to the point where multiple staff members came to our table and told us, “I like what you’re doing here.” We delved deeply:

  • When we mentioned this was my birthday celebration dinner, they brought over glasses of sparkling, which I’m guessing were the N. Pearce Ward 5 Brut Blanc, but I’m not sure.
  • They make their own sausages so we got three: French Onion, Jerk Pork, and Arabiki. Each came with a special mustard. I’d go back just for the sausages.
  • Extra bread
  • Whole Ontario Burrata w/ extra virgin canola oil, Baco Noir balsamic, and Newfoundland salt
  • A bottle of Mencia
  • 24oz tomahawk pork chop w/ rosemary apple sauce
  • 7oz Wagyu flat iron steak w/ tarragon butter
  • Honey & cumin glazed carrots w/ parsley yoghurt
  • Beets
  • A bottle of No Name Barolo

The next morning we slept in until…like, 11 or something. Crazily late for me, at any rate. When we finally got up we made our way to Eastbound for brunch where I annihilated a Bo Ssam pulled pork & kimchi sandwich. We spent most of the rest of the day chilling on the couch, ending the day drinking a bottle of Kew Vineyards 2014 Blanc de Blancs and eating a bowl of plain kettle chips.

So: bonne fête à moi, right?