ēst

Last night we finally tried ēst restaurant, which opened in our neighbourhood a few months ago. Their Instagram account has been filling my mouth with saliva since then, so were glad to make reservations when our friend SueB suggested it. Unfortunately she had a sudden engagement which pulled her away at the last minute, but we carried on.

The space itself is beautiful — it’s hard to believe this is where Sugarloaf Bakery used to be — and quite comfortable. The room holds two groups of four, eight two-tops, and a handful of bar seats. They wisely resisted the urge to cram one more table in.

The service is a teeeeeensy bit on the stuffy side, but our server James warmed up to us through the meal, and Sommelier Tiffany Jamison-Horne was delightful. She pulled some deep cuts for the premium wine pairings too, as you can see below. I didn’t get any notes on producer and vintage of the wines, but think I can remember everything generally.

  • Cocktails
  • Omnibus amuse-bouche: (1) prawn hot dog w/ chive mustard, brioche; (2) pork cheek w/ fish sauce caramel; (3) sunchoke skin w/ whipped sunchoke, sunflower seed condiment; (4) red pepper chip w/ fermented red pepper relish, cashew sour cream
  • Red fife bannock w/ butter covered in dried Saskatoon berries
    • Franciacorta
  • Squid w/ grilled cabbage, vegan XO sauce
    • Dry Riesling from the Finger Lakes
  • Smoked corn broth w/ poached lobster, foie mousse
    • Pinot Gris from Alsace
  • Potato dumplings w/ cultured butter
    • Pearl Morissette “Metis Blanc” Chardonnay
  • BC Steelhead trout w/ kohlrabi, sesame sambal, potato emulsion
    • Etna Bianco
  • Sixty-hour sous vide short rib w/ beef fat confit leek, jus (Dan)
    • Merlot/Cab blend from Margaux
  • Smoked duck breast w/ radish top pesto, marinated radish, duck confit sourdough doughnut (Lindsay)
    • Pinot Noir from Sancerre (!)
  • Sea buckthorn cream soda palate cleanser
  • Root vegetable sundae: potato skin ice cream, sweet potato brownie, parsnip dulce de leche
    • Pedro Ximinez from Montilla-Moriles
  • Orange & olive caramel petit fours
    • Sauternes

In short: one of the best tastings menus I’ve had in some time. That includes Smyth in Chicago earlier this month, which sports two Michelin stars and cost us twice as much. Usually there’s a course in every testing menu that underwhelms, but every course we tried last night was 100% on point. That bannock course, served along with a lesson in colonialist misdeeds, was every bit as memorable as Alo’s famous milk bun intermezzo.

It sounds as if their menu will be expanding in the new year, but we’ll be back before then. As phenomenal as the short rib was, I need me that duck.

Sexy self-help

On Tuesday Lindsay and I went to see Sasha Velour‘s Smoke & Mirrors show at the Danforth Music Hall. I didn’t really know what to expect — all I know was the famous Whitney Houston lip sync that Lindsay showed me when she was on Drag Race.

I was pretty blown away though, especially by the second half. The combination of a few great songs for the lip sync and the visuals felt like something I hadn’t seen before, and that gave me pretty visceral thrills at a few points. I mean, I get that I’m hardly an expert at drag revues, but Sasha dancing to Le Tigre’s “Deceptacon” backed by in-tux video Sashas was one of the cooler things I’ve ever seen on stage.

The Now Toronto review, while complimentary of some areas, called the visuals “obvious” and the show beholden to “the standard for drag […] set by Drag Race“, and I can see that, even though I think there has to be some audience service for what brought that big a crowd out in the first place. But the obvious (and even sweetly ragged at times, like during the Judy Garland number) visuals and choreography was part of what I admired about the show. Like, this growing pain of stepping onto a huge stage. This Herculean effort to bring a creative vision and narrative to life in the face of what I can only assume are ridiculous and frustrating barriers, not to mention logistical challenges. This pulling along of that TV audience into something more substantive, even if it wasn’t as substantive as it might have been. (Is it ever?)

To me it felt like bootstrapped brilliance. Like an artist who felt compelled to get this show out of them and into the world for everyone to see.

To me those will always be the best kind.

Photo by Kym Ellis on Unsplash

Cerveza -> Vino

I’ve been undergoing a change this year. Or, more specifically, a narrowing.

While I’ve always been a big fan of both beer and wine, lately I’ve been shifting my focus much more to the latter. I stopped trying to keep up with new craft beer releases in Toronto. I haven’t even been to the reborn Volo, which would have seemed unimaginable a few years ago. I’ve even mostly stopped drinking it, except for when I take advantage of a newly-discovered trove of excellent beers at the Rosedale Diner that turn half-priced from 3-5. Anyway.

In lieu of beer I’ve been leaning toward wine. I have lots of it at home, I live down the street from an excellent all-Ontario wine bar, and I’m taking an intro wine course at George Brown. People laugh a bit when I say that because it sometimes seems to them like I know a lot about wine, but really I’ve just tasted a lot. This course has been super helpful in understanding a bit more of the method, the nomenclature, and how to properly describe what I get on the nose and palate. We’ve already covered the major areas of France, Eastern Europe more generally (flitting over Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Greece), Italy (which I missed whilst in Chicago), and, yesterday, Spain & Portugal.

Earlier this week I happened to also get an early look at Spain in a tasting event with John Szabo. He walked us through wines from several regions of Spain, throwing in notes on food, history, beauty, architecture, etc. as well. It all just made me so excited for my trip (or trips?) to Spain early next year.

I mean, it’s not like I needed an excuse to get more into wine. But here we are.

.:.

Cover photo by Kym Ellis on Unsplash

Chicago 2019

A couple weeks ago we decided to take a little impromptu trip. There were three reasons:

  1. We both needed a couple of days away from work (though this ended up being much more the case for me than for Lindsay)
  2. Lindsay had never been to Chicago and had mentioned a desire to visit
  3. I needed to book one more flight to maintain my Porter status for 2020

And so, after some last-minute (for me; I usually plan trips months in advance) bookings we were off to the midwest.

This was Lindsay’s first trip post-fracture, but she and her ankle came through it like a champ. Porter flies into Midway, not O’Hare, which I thought would mean less walking, but all the construction had us wandering all over god’s green acre. Anyway, we escaped, and the taxi ride downtown was short, but hair-raising.

We’d booked at the Chicago Athletic Association hotel, an old private club restored in recent years to be the same type of destination hotel we found in The Line DC. It’s a gorgeous old Gothic building from 1893, still full of knickknacks and curios. We had a big spacious room overlooking Millennium Park (albeit only from the 3rd floor) and, given the late hour, we didn’t have much in us that night except a quick drink and snack in the room and then sleep.

On Friday morning we ate breakfast downstairs in one of the hotel’s restaurants, the Cherry Circle Room. I had braised pork belly & polenta w/ Brussels sprouts, carrot, hazelnut, and vadouvan. Lindsay had grilled lamb Merguez sausage w/ tomato ragout, poached eggs, pickled onion, and Manchego.

We did both have work to do so we retired to the drawing room — essentially a great cozy hall just off reception — and set up shop next to a fireplace. Eventually, once the hour was respectable, we supplemented our work with a Negroni and an Old Fashioned. Or two.

After working away for a several hours we needed lunch, so we popped next door to Acanto, a casual-looking Italian wine bar. What was supposed to be a simple, light lunch (we had a testing menu booked at a Michelin-starred restaurant that evening) turned into a bit of an affair.

  • Soppressata
  • Robiola Langhe 3 milk cheese
  • Salad special w/ salmon
  • Lobster Spaghetti w/ Maine lobster, Calabrian chili, fennel
    • A bottle of I Custodi ‘Aetneus’ 2010 Etna Rosso

It was all pretty damn good, but that bottle of wine was special. And we had such a good time chatting with our server that he brought us some polenta cake (better than it sounds, trust me) on the house.

Back in the room it was basically nap time. Like, nap so hard time. As I said, we had a late, fancy dinner booked. Not that 8:30 is that late, but given the time zone difference and the recent daylight savings change, it felt like 10:30 to us and, well…I’m old. Anyway, I stayed conked out until the end, but Lindsay at least took advantage of the big soaker tub.

Dinner was at Smyth, a two Michelin starred restaurant in an old warehouse. Gorgeous decor. Precise but unstuffy service. Fully open kitchen, so you get a show with dinner. And the food lived up to the Micheliny hype. They kindly printed off the entire menu with wine pairings; I stupidly forgot it at the table. [UPDATE: they mailed the menus to me! Corrected/updated version shown below as of 11 Dec 2019.] However, the online version seemed to match it exactly; I’ve provided what I can remember about the wine, but didn’t capture the producer, nor the vintage.

  • Maine uni glazed in egg yolk
    • Ruinart NV brut rosé Champagne
  • Squash with quince & chestnut
  • Shima Aji, barley & frozen turnip
    • 2015 J.B. Adam “Kaefferkopf” Vielles Vignes Alsace Grand Cru Riesling
  • Lobster with leek & gooseberry kombucha
  • Trout, kelp & autumn greens
    • 2014 Domaine Dublere Chablis Bougros Grand Cru
  • New potatoes, rosehip & white asparagus
    • 2012 Bruno Clair “Les Champs Perdrix” Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Vosne Romanée
  • Aged lamb with “The Farm” Lima beans and fermented black truffle brioche doughnut
    • 2007 Le Macioche Brunello di Montalcino
  • A bar of milk chocolate, raspberry preserves, and shiitake mushrooms
  • Egg yolk soaked in salted licorice with frozen yogurt meringue
    • 1979 Chateau Riveyrac “La Cuvee des Aigles” Banyuls Vin Doux from Rivesaltes, Languedoc
  • Koji caramel apple
    • NV Billecarte-Salmon demi-sec Champagne
  • Earl Grey tea

Saturday we had breakfast brought to our room, largely because we couldn’t move. Lindsay had more work to do so I went out and wandered around Millennium Park a bit and got a coffee from Fairgrounds.

That’s our hotel in the middle

Our plan that afternoon was to get a Chicago deep dish pizza, drink some beer, and visit the Museum of Contemporary Art. Through a combination of misadventures we accomplished very little of that — the Gino’s East we landed at was not the brewpub but rather a family restaurant. Lindsay didn’t think to bring her ID, but they ID’d her, so she couldn’t drink what few decent beers they had. The pizza was…fine. And we were so thrown from the whole thing that we opted to not even go around the corner to the MCA. We needed to recover this afternoon.

After a bit of an arduous walk we put the recovery plan into action at Pops For Champagne. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a Champagne bar. Our (extremely sweet, extremely attractive, extremely Kiwi) server guided us through the options, and I think we did a good job. She told us we were her favourite table, and I’m sure she never says that to anyone else.

  • Glasses of Egly Ouriet Blanc de Noirs
  • Oysters
  • A bottle of Vilmart & Cie Grand Celier D’Or 2013
  • Fries
  • Glasses of Moussé L’Or d’Eugene Blanc de Noirs (Lindsay) and Pierre Moncuit Blanc de Blancs (Dan)

The afternoon thus salvaged, we went back to our room for yet another afternoon nap (only on vacation!) before yet another monster dinner, this time back downstairs at the Cherry Circle Room.

  • Cocktails (Lindsay had a Nice New Outfit; I had an Improved Whiskey Cocktail with Westward single malt whiskey from Portland, along with something else so strong it took me the whole dinner to drink 3/4 of it)
  • Oysters on the half shell w/ fresh horseradish, japaleno mignonette
  • Yellowtail w/ aquachile, pickled rhubarb, grapefruit
    • glasses of Ingrid Groiss Gruner Veltliner (Lindsay) and Bellevue Muscadet (Dan)
  • 10oz Wagyu strip steak from Snake River Farms
  • Dry aged Rohan duck breast w/ roasted strawberry, mustard greens, Ras el Hanout
  • Brussels sprout slaw
    • Bottle of 2013 Elio Grasso Barolo Gavarini Chiniera
  • Ice cream: concord grape & peanut butter swirl / spicy Mexican hot chocolate
    • Disznoko “5 Puttonyos” Tokaji-Aszu 2010

We thought hard about one more cocktail at the Milk Room on our way out, but it was full and about to close, and as it turns out, it probably would have seemed like a very bad idea the next morning. So.

Our flight left at 5:30pm on Sunday, so we had time for a bit of a leisurely last day. Lindsay had more work to do, and did it. I relaxed and read and got more coffee from Fairgrounds. We Uber’d over to the Museum of Contemporary Art again; even though we only had an hour or so we did see the main exhibition we were interested in, and another quick one, before heading back to the hotel for check-out.

We still had a few hours to kill; luckily we’d managed a reservation at Cindy’s, their (extremely popular) rooftop restaurant + bar. Looooooooooots of selfies happening there. But the food was pretty good too: we had oysters (for some reason we were loving the oysters in Chicago!) and chilaquiles and cocktails and Lambrusco and beer and coffee, and we left absolutely stuffed. Like, in pain.

Our trip back to Toronto was unremarkable, except that our cabbie at the Toronto airport almost got in a fight with another cabbie. Moral of the story: take Ubers.

So yeah, we didn’t do very much of Chicago except eat its food and admire its architecture, but doing wasn’t the point of the trip. We ate and relaxed like champs, and Lindsay’s ankle held up pretty well, and I had Monday off, so…great trip.

The Torch Bearer

At the base of the pylons is the Torch Bearer standing near a statue of a young dying soldier. The Torch Bearer has taken the torch from the figure of the Spirit of Sacrifice. He then takes up the fight, and strains up to the highest points on the twin white pylons toward the eight figures representing The Chorus [ed: Justice, Peace, Faith, Honour, Hope, Charity, Knowledge, and Truth]. This is a reference to one of the most famous poems of the First World War, ‘In Flanders Fields,’ by the Canadian Army Medical Corps officer, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae.

From the Vimy Memorial site

.:.

Cover photo from Veterans Affairs

Cover photo by Felix Mooneeram at Unsplash

Hollywood, make an action movie without a colon in the name. I dare you.

Almost forgot: on that flight to/from Calgary I watched a couple new movies.

Spider-Man: Far From Home (imdb | rotten tomatoes) was really, really good. So fun. I know they’ve rebooted Spider-Man, like, eleven times now, but this incarnation might be my favourite. I know they’re aiming for a younger audience, but that cast is so charming it works for everyone. I especially like seeing Martin Starr play a fussy teacher. I actually lol’d on the plane a couple of times.

Unfortunately, Godzilla: King Of The Monsters (imdb | rotten tomatoes) ruined the flight movie score average. Big, boom-y rubbish with wooden acting.

.:.

Cover photo by Felix Mooneeram at Unsplash

Returnby Watchco

Last Saturday Lindsay and I and our friend Sarah, after drinks at our place, made an impromptu trip up the street to Ruby Watchco. We hadn’t been in quite a while, and my last experience there wasn’t the best, but we were hungry and the menu looked good and Lindsay could limp there, so.

Stupidly I forgot to write down what we ate, and it was of course gone from the website the next day, so to the best of my memory here’s what we had:

  • cocktails
  • a salad that I can’t really remember at all
  • smoked trout rillette
    • rosé, which I think was the 2018 ‘Beausoleil’ St. John’s from Languedoc
  • Thai lemongrass-marinated steak
  • butternut squash & ricotta dumplings
    • uh, some red…honestly, I can’t remember what for the life of me
  • Ontario cheddar
    • Chardonnay, which I’m relatively sure was the 2016 Rickshaw from Santa Barbara
  • Panna Cotta
    • Cantina Formigine Pedemontana ‘Tramontino’ NV Lambrusco

It should be noted that my lack of memory does not represent a lack of quality. It was an amazing meal.

Bonus: surprise Trinette sighting.