25th

I’m just about to leave Halifax after a little milestone celebration. About 18 months ago my friend Brian started organizing a 25th reunion of our Dal undergrad class, and it was held this past weekend. I was a little nervous headed into it — I wasn’t super-close with more than a handful of people in the program, and I knew a lot of them wouldn’t know me — but it turned out to be a good time nonetheless.

WED

I flew Porter from the island airport to Halifax, which I’d normally do anyway, but especially now that Pearson is a gong show. CBJ was on the same flight, by coincidence, so we could share an Uber to downtown Halifax.

Unlike most of the reunion attendees (who stayed at the Westin) I stayed at the new Muir Hotel on the waterfront. It’s part of the stunning new Queen’s Marque development, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be my new home when in the city.

I knew I’d be hungry, so I’d made a reservation at Drift, the hotel’s restaurant. My sister-in-law was able to join me, and we got a table outside next to the crowds and harbour. We shared the Maryann’s brown bread w/ organic honey butter, and I had the iced digby scallop crudo w/ charred dill pickles and sherry and slow-cooked sustainable blue salmon w/ Nova Scotia oyster & bacon dashi, fried butterball potatoes and roasted radishes.

THU

I woke up early-ish, considering I was on vacation. It was for a work reason though — I drove around with my company’s regional head to see some of the local store formats and understand the market a bit better (from our company’s perspective of selling wine; I’m something of an expert on actually buying it here). I bookended that activity with breakfast (blueberry pancakes w/ fresh blueberries, espresso crumble, chantilly cream and maple syrup) and lunch (fish & chips w/ frites, tartar sauce, malt vinegar and mushy peas) at Drift.

That afternoon I went up to the Dal business school to meet up with the other attendees and have a small ceremony for a new scholarship our class created. It was fun to see the new building (though I’d seen it before; I finished my last MBA class there in 2008) and awkwardly re-connect with people I hadn’t seen in 25 years and who barely knew me then.

After that, we made our way down to the patio at Garden for drinks, and a few more folks showed up. We were there for quite a bit, enjoying the perfect weather, before heading downtown to…Pacifico? Seriously?? We all remembered it as a…um, less than classy place in our youth. But it has (a) moved to where Merrill’s used to be — a bundle of memories unto itself — and (b) become a fairly classy live music venue. We took over a little corner and caught up, and more people arrived. We wrapped up sometime after midnight and wandered up the hill to Pizza Corner, for much-needed Sicilian slices.

FRI

I slept in a bit and missed breakfast, but that pizza slice was still holding court. The Canada Day crowds on the waterfront were already plentiful, so I had a throwback lunch at the Split Crow, walked around for a bit, went to Weird Harbour for a coffee, and retired to the room where I watched the new Stranger Things episodes.

That night I went to more reunion stuff, starting with dinner at the Agricola Street Brasserie. I had seared scallops w/ fennel, lemon slaw, radish & maple, and dry aged duck w/ duck fat confit, fingerling potatoes & duck jus. I’d wanted to try that place for a long time, so I’m glad we finally had the excuse.

After dinner we went down the street to Chainyard Cider, where we drank mostly beer. After last call there a few of us somehow ended up at an awful joint called the Roxbury. I bolted almost immediately.

SAT

I crawled out of bed and caught a ride over to brother #1’s house for waffles and coffee and some nephew hangout time. I got a ride partway home and walked the rest, in light rain, grabbing another capp from Weird Harbour before getting back to the room. I watched The Boys, read my book, ordered room service lunch (the Drift burger: a 200g chuck patty, Avonlea cheddar, thousand island sauce, iceberg lettuce, Branston pickle, brioche bun & onion ring w/ frites, and a glass of cab sauv) and generally relaxed.

Later on I went to dinner at Rinaldo’s with brother #1 where we shared crispy brussel sprouts tossed in a lemon aioli w/ chili crisp & pecorino, and a Detroit-style pepperoni pizza. We drove around a bit, then headed downtown and walked along the waterfront before deciding to check out BKS, the Speakeasy in the hotel. It’s a cozy spot inside, and a spectacular waterfront patio outside. I was rather smoothly upsold a pricey glass of Little Book bourbon, but the beautiful view & great weather more than justified it,

SUN

Up early again to meet brother #1 for breakfast, this time at Robie Street Station. Stuffed completely full, I got dropped back at the hotel for one last bit of chilling in the room before strolling around the Queen’s Marque area a bit more and then heading to the airport.

We’ll be back in Halifax next month. Hopefully it won’t be another 25 years before I see this class again.

Visitors

It’s been a busy 48 hours of long-missed visitors coming to town.

On Friday CBJ and I met up with our old friend Wade, who was visiting Toronto and whom we hadn’t seen in ~20 years. We had an excellent dinner at Richmond Station (duck duck lamb) before hitting a couple spots (Planta Burger, Beerbistro) for drinks. There was a lot of reminiscing and struggles to remember names, as well as some struggles to read the menus without our glasses. It’s been 20 years, okay?

Yesterday two of Lindsay’s oldest friends T+K arrived from Halifax. So far we haven’t done much other than hang out, enjoy the weather, and eat…so, the perfect visit, basically. Last night we had a bottle of wine on the Chez Nous patio before ordering Descendent for dinner and sharing a magnum of Bachelder Pinot Noir.

This morning we went for fancy, boozy brunch at Cluny, and ordered plenty of food and cocktails. As we paid up and prepared to leave, something very nice happened: our server said we’d been such sweet guests that they wanted to send us over a round of mimosas. We happily accepted and drank our drinks, wondering what exactly we’d done to deserve such a treat. After observing more of the guests’ behaviour, we think it might have been more about what we didn’t do — i.e., be demanding jerks. I guess maybe at a touristy, insta-worthy restaurant, being polite, hungry, and low maintenance is enough to stand out.

All we did was eat and drink and relax and it was glorious

We spent last week in Montreal, visiting friends and old haunts, and taking the first downtime we’ve had since December. It was the relaxing & refreshing trip we needed, I think.

SUN

After the long drive to Montreal, with a brief stop at the Kingston Brewing Company along the way, we arrived at a familiar home base: the Hotel Nelligan. We dropped our stuff, got cleaned up, and then took a swing at dinner. Lindsay had done a bit of digging on the way into town and found Monarque; while they didn’t have reservations left, we took a chance and showed up. Luckily for us, there were two seats at the bar. Our meal was super tasty, and we liked the vibe. Here’s what we ate & drank:

  • Apps
    • Ocean trout tartare w/ smoked sour cream, mimosa garnish, trout caviar
    • Grilled Octopus w/ fattoush, labneh, dukkha, chermoula
    • A glass of Domaine Laroche, Les Butteaux, Chablis 1er Cru 2020 for me, and a Queen Bee cocktail (gin botanist, lillet, lacto-fermented mango & chili honey, lemon, orange blossom) for Lindsay
  • Main (shared)
    • House-made Thai sausage w/crunchy vegetables salad, peanut, nuoc cham
    • A bottle of François Mikulski 2019 Meursault
  • Dessert
    • Milk chocolate panna cotta w/ hojicha tea, caramel
    • A glass of Madeira for me, and Port for Lindsay

MON

After a pretty healthy lie-in (it was a VERY comfy bed!) I went downstairs for some breakfast while Lindsay relaxed. We had a lazy morning until heading out for brunch at Le Cartet around the corner and eating our fill. Lindsay had eggs benny served on an English muffin, orange hollandaise sauce, duck confit and onion compote with red wine, spinach, roasted potatoes with salted herbs, and greens. I had brioche French toast with apple butter, caramelized walnuts, chocolate crumble, chocolate mug cake, caramelized apples, salted caramel custard, and fruit salad. We walked it off along the waterfront, sat on the promenade du Vieux Port, and enjoyed the warm weather.

After relaxing for a few hours back in the room (I watched the new episode of The Boys) we went downstairs to the wine bar for a drink (okay, fine, we had a bottle of Viognier) before heading to dinner at Marcella, a new Italian place just down the street from the hotel. It was bustling and loud and had great music on the speakers. Our cocktails were good and the sausage and fennel salad were tasty. Everything was really great…until the pasta. We split the carbonara, and it was just so disappointing. My theory is that, because it was just before the kitchen closed, a line chef slapped it together or re-warmed it. Or something. It was bad. Overall the night was a good one, but that wasn’t a good note to go out on. (Also, we ordered a bottle of Barolo, with which I sometimes struggle.)

  • Cocktails
    • Italo Fizz: Bombay Gin, Martini Bitters, lemon juice, simple syrup, soda, Pastis
    • Smoky Old Fashioned: Bulleit Bourbon, Jack’s Bourbon Cherries, Angostura Citrus
      Bitters, Jack’s Bourbon Cherry Syrup
  • Dinner
    • Homemade Italian sausage, rapini sautéed with garlic and extra virgin olive oil
    • Fennel salad with endives, mandarin, and citrus vinaigrette
    • Chitarra Carbonara

TUE

It was hard to believe we’d only been in Montreal 36 hours. I’d definitely achieved a relaxation level I’d not felt in some time.

After some breakfast downstairs, we walked out of Old Montreal for the first time on this trip, meeting our friend N outside the not-yet-open (despite what the hours on their website and their door say) L’Ideal before plan B-ing our way around the corner to the cafe Saint Henri for some coffee and co-work time. We did eventually make our way back to L’Ideal — again, after some confusion about the hours — but settled in and enjoyed some funky wine. We chatted for a few hours, enjoying the fresh air, even if it was infested with so much pollen it looked like a mild snowstorm. Once good and chill, we walked home and crashed at the hotel.

For dinner we’d booked in at Nora Gray. We didn’t rally get the full experience as Lindsay suddenly felt very sick and we had to cut the evening in half, but I really enjoyed what we did have:

  • Appetizers
    • Homemade focaccia, pepperoncini, La Villana olive oil
    • QC lobster, asparagus, pickled ramp, brown butter crumble
    • Bottle of P. Frick 2018 “Auxerrois” Crémant d’Alsace
  • Pastas
    • Fettucine, calamari, pancetta, spicy tomato sauce, chive
    • Capunti, fresh peas, lamb sausage, mint, piave
  • Main
    • Grilled pork chop, zucchini, sunflower seed, fennel pollen
    • A glass of Rosso dell’Emilia 2017 “Le Marcone”

Would definitely go back if/when all parties were up for it.

WED

After yet another good sleep, I popped downstairs for breakfast while Lindsay tried to exorcise whatever demon possessed her body the night before. We kept the morning pretty relaxed, overall, watching an episode of Gaslit in bed while Lindsay nibbled gingerly on a croissant. Eventually we went out for a walk along the water, stopping in a park to admire a fountain and squeal at some cute ducks.

Eventually we got hungry, and went round the corner to Pub BreWskey. We opted to sit inside, but later regretted it. I had a salad and a fruit smoothie sour; Lindsay had mac & cheese and a grisette. I needed to eat some vegetables, and she needed to eat something, so we both did well, I think. After another walk & sit by the river, and a nice flat white from Aloha, we went back to the hotel to relax a little more before dinner.

Dinner #4 was at old favourite Maison Publique. It’s not far from where Lindsay used to live, so we went every time I was in town. Four years away didn’t diminish our affection for the place, nor had the food suffered — the meal was absolutely delicious.

  • Food
    • Mozzarella with radish and pesto
    • Duck hearts in a spicy diavola sauce
    • Smelts grilled in lemon, butter, capers, tarragon
    • Ravioli with ricotta, garlic
    • Halibut in a cream sauce
  • Drink
    • glasses of a Mâcon Chardonnay
    • a bottle of Chardonnay from Jura, very funky and different but delicious with our meal
  • Dessert
    • pot de crème
    • strawberry tart
    • glasses of red wine (Lindsay) and Jurançon (Dan)

THU

Time to leave our hotel, and Old Montreal. As the week got closer to the big F1 weekend, it was becoming nearly intolerable anyway. After a quick lunch at Mandy’s we jumped in the car and drove to a new neighbourhood. N lent us their apartment for a few days, and we got ourselves settled in just ahead of the huge rainstorm which battered Montreal on Thursday, In between downpours we managed to skip over to one of our old favourite beer bars, Brouhaha. We had some tasty pints (me: a brown and a session IPA; Lindsay: a sour and a rauchbier; Finchy: lager) and a flatbread pizza, and timed our escape for another lull in the rain.

Later that night we met up with N= J at Brouillon Café-Buvette for a pre-dinner drink. We’d originally planned to visit somewhere outside of the city, but the biblical rain would have made that pretty miserable, so N smartly booked us in for a late dinner at Pichai. Luckily it had been on my list of places to try, not just because it was on the Canada’s Best 100 list, but because they’re known to have a great wine selection — which, it turns out, was curated by Nora Grey’s sommelier. It turned out to be an exceptional choice — what a wonderful meal.

  • Food
    • Veal tongue
    • Fried rice w/ scallops
    • Green papaya salad w/ peanuts & dried shrimp
    • Fish balls in sweet chili sauce
    • Grilled hangar steak w/ rice powder, herbs, lemon
    • Sauteed Argentinian shrimp, green beans, chili, basil
  • Wine bottles (note: their list isn’t online and I didn’t take good notes/pictures, so this is all I remember)
    • Pierre Frick Muscat Sec
    • Giardino Gaia orange wine

FRI

I went out in the morning to get coffee and pastries from a local place called Miche & Carré. The croissants and my capp were good; sadly Lindsay’s Americano was not.

Eventually N + J met us here, and we jumped in the car for a day trip out to see La Fondation Grantham. We were there in part to see an exhibition called Exhibition Troubled Garden: Study for Migratory Roots:

The Iranian-Canadian multidisciplinary artist Anahita Norouzi is interested in displacement issues related to notions such as statelessness and hybridity. For two years, in collaboration with the Biodiversity Research Centre of the Université de Montréal, she is developing a research/creation project on the ecological, cultural and social dimensions of migration issues from the perspective of non-native plants that have appeared in Quebec as an extension of the migratory flows of populations. Curator: Bénédicte Ramade. [source]

We were also there to see the building itself, tucked into the landscape and old forest, with a river running lazily by. We found trails afterward, and got some fresh air and walking in before the mosquitoes found us.

On the way back to Montreal we were hungry, so we pulled off the highway and visited Cantine Chez Dave & Dan in Saint-Liboire, a box on the side of the road which served up delicious hamburgers and chicken burgers and enough fries to kill a horse. We piled back in the car and did our best to stay awake as we drove back in to Montreal traffic, narrowly missing rush hour and another thunderstorm. We decided not to tempt fate, as we’d done the day before, and just stayed in.

SAT

Not much to Saturday: packing, one last coffee with N as we handed their apartment back to them, and a drive home. We fought one last brutal rainstorm on the way out of town, but the rest of the drive was pretty easy. We even stopped in Cornwall and fulfilled Lindsay’s nostalgic wish for an East Side Mario’s lunch.

We came home to a Kramer who yelled at us for a couple of minutes but pretty quickly became an affection monster. Not a bad welcoming party, really.

A week where we did little but sleep in, dine out, drink well, and see friends did us a world of good. As much as I love vacations where we experience something new and fill our brains with different, this was what we needed right now.

Eastside Social

Last night we finally tried Eastside Social for dinner, after years of living five minutes away from it. There’s also a vague coastal/Maritimes theme we haven’t quite been able to zero in on (e.g., they have a donair once a week) but we heard there’s a nice backyard patio, so we booked us a table.

First of all, in a neighbourhood bereft of good patios, especially backyard patios, this one’s pretty good: cozy, pretty, with a little fireplace. Our experience of it was dampened in part by the loud, barely-drinking-age, diner en blanc happening behind us. One attendee of said party was wearing so much perfume or lotion or whatever that I couldn’t smell anything else all night. Anyway, the vibe threw us.

As for food, it was good-ish, if kinda weird. The wine selection was lacking, to say the least. I have so many comments on both that I’ve had to annotate them below.

  • Cocktails
    • Bourbon Sour 1
    • Dill On Dill
  • Appetizers
    • East Coast Oysters with “all the fixins” 2
    • Grilled Octopus, slow cooked sous vide and grilled w/ parsley, garlic, chili, olive oil, and lemon 3
    • Sauvignon Blanc (Te Henga, NZ)
    • Sancere [sic] style Sauvignon Blanc 4
  • Mains
    • Fried tempura duck leg confit w/ bbq glaze; served with green salad w/ Asian pear, pickled fennel, radish, green bean, candied walnuts, and orange-sesame vinaigrette 5
    • PEI Mussels Marinieres w/ white wine, butter, shallots, garlic, parsley, and chili; served with warm sourdough bread, fries, and aioli
    • Chateau Pesquie 2020 Viognier 6

Notes on the food:

  1. I couldn’t taste the bourbon. Also, I’ve never seen foam last like this on a cocktail. It was still there 30 minutes after I finished drinking the liquid underneath.
  2. By “all the fixins” they meant cocktail sauce and a basic mignonette. No hot sauce. Not even horseradish.
  3. The octopus was very delicious.
  4. It might have been a sancer[r]e style sauv blanc, but the menu contains no other information and I never saw the bottle, so we’ll never know. Also, the NZ sauv blanc was not good. Also also, the only reason we were drinking SB was because the lone sparkling they have by the glass is Prosecco.
  5. The duck was very confusing. The meat was delicious and tender, but the sauce tasted like a hot wing. My brain struggled with it.
  6. A viognier was, admittedly, an odd choice to pair with our mains (though it worked better with my deck than I expected, what with the buffalo wild wing sauce) but it was literally the only decent option. At first we thought about a bottle of chard, but the only one they had was — I shit you not — Barefoot. And not just that: they were charging $65 for a bottle, when it retails for $10 at the LCBO. ($9 until mid-June!) Even for a restaurant, 550% markup is pretty egregious.

So while the meal was decent, if quite puzzling, we couldn’t quite square the final bill of $268 + tip with what we’d just eaten. Not sure we’re going to be rushing back.

Overporked

Brother #2 was visiting this weekend. Amidst the hangs and watching The Matrix: Resurrections (imdb | rotten tomatoes) — which wasn’t great — we drove out to Oshawa a couple of times to visit the niece. The first time we had steaks at The Keg; the second time we drove up to Port Perry, ate lunch (including a pulled pork sandwich where they massively overstuffed it and apologized for “overporking” me) at The Pub while looking out at Lake Scugog, went for a little random drive and ended up at Pleasant Point Park where we saw pups and an osprey and a water snake, then had a hankering for ice cream which led us to the nearest Kawartha Dairy. A nice little swing through Ontario.

Club Pickup

Today Lindsay and I (and our friend Sarah) drove down to Beamsville to pick up our Hidden Bench wine club allotment. It was our second one of these visits. It was a beautiful day — we ate snacks and sipped wine inside the barn and out.

We’re now loaded up on a bunch of great Riesling and rosé for the summer, but also their killer Pinot for the cellar and — most excitingly — the 2018 La Brunante, their flagship red, which was superb when we sampled it today. I still have the 2012, 2015, 2016, and 2017 vintages as well, so there’s a pretty solid vertical building up.

Meat. Sports. Good.

Last Saturday I went to my first hockey game since the pre-Omicron home opener. The game was, just like said opener, Leafs against Habs. I’d managed to get my hands on some tickets, so I brought a former colleague who’s a big Leafs fan. We had dinner before at the Hot Stove Club, where we indulged in huge steaks and a 2001 Rioja, which might have been a tiny bit past its peak (no tannin or acid left, just fruit — dried fruit, given the age — and relatively subtle oak, but it hadn’t tipped over into a vegetal note. In retrospect I might have ordered a more delicate cut than my ribeye to match it properly, but we’re niggling now. It was a lovely meal, and chance to catch up. I also got to see Auston Matthews hit fifty goals in his last fifty games, even if it did come at the expense of my team. Nonetheless, a good night all around.

The first rule of flight club

Earlier this week we joined a handful of other patrons at Chez Nous Wine Bar’s inaugural Flight Club. It involved samples of 11 different Ontario wines (see below) some of which were the acknowledged stars of Niagara, while others snuck up on us.

It was terrific fun, to where Lindsay had to restrain me from excitedly blabbing too much. If this is a monthly event, we’ll happily keep signing up. Though, given how we felt Tuesday morning, we probably won’t share a bottle of wine before we go to the next one. That wasn’t our best call.

The wines:

  • Meldville Muscat Bubble 2020
  • 2027 Cellars Pinot Gris 2020
  • Leaning Post Riesling 2018
  • Flat Rock Gewuztraminer 2020
  • 13th Street Maximum Intervention 2020 (Riesling; orange wine)
  • Big Head Rosé 2020 (Malbec)
  • Westcott Temperance 2020 (Pinot Noir / Gamay)
  • Bachelder “Les Villages” Gamay 2019
  • Malivoire Analog 2020 (Cabernet Franc / Gamay)
  • Ravine “Sand & Gravel” Cabernet Franc 2019
  • Black Bank Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Staycanndore

Since I had some Hyatt loyalty points expiring on Dec 31, I used them to book us a little staycation in the city. In fact, back in my old neighbourhood of Yonge & Bloor: a room at the Anndore House. The points bought us a loft for the night, though between a long work day yesterday and an early-ish checkout this morning we didn’t get to spend much time there. We spent most of our time there downstairs, having dinner at Constantine with a friend.

Said dinner was pretty damn good too:

  • Food
    • Lucky Limes oysters
    • Muhammara w/ za’atar, walnut, wood-fired pita
    • ‘Nduja Flatbread w/ ricotta, honey, oregano
    • Burratini w/ coronation grape puree, pickled grape, marinated cherry tomato, pine nut dukkah, focaccia
    • Ricotta Gnocchi w/ Kendall Hills oyster mushroom, chantrelle, Shogun maitake, swiss chard, focaccia crumble, grana padano
    • Lamb Cavatelli w/ broccolini, pepper soffritto, mint pesto, pecorino
  • Wine
    • glasses of Monmarthe ‘Secret de Famille’ Champagne
    • glasses of Pinot Gris and Langhe red
    • a bottle of Chateau Musar 2014
    • glasses of late harvest Riesling

So many half-magnums

Last night Lindsay and I, and three other couples, had dinner in the beautiful private dining room in the cellar at Barberian’s steakhouse. We’d won the dinner in last fall’s Grapes for Climate Change charity auction; after not being sure what would happen throughout the Omicron lockdown we found out last week it was going ahead, and we re-mobilized.

Dinner wasn’t just dinner either — there were special guests. Beverly Crandon, one of the founders of Vinequity, and Thomas Bachelder, Niagara winemaking royalty. Thomas was pouring several of his wines to go with the meal, and we got to compare, contrast, and learn about the wines as we went. Some were the very last magnums and bottles (sorry — half-magnums) of his 2014s. At one point Arron Barberian came down and talked about the barrels of wine Thomas had made of blended wine from dozens of Niagara producers, and which he had put into more magnums, which Barberian had signed by Geddy Lee. Proceeds from the sale of those bottles also went to GfH, so…we bought six.

It was a great night, our first since this latest lockdown began. And the best part is, the winnings included a tasting at the Bachelder bat cave in the spring. Can’t effing wait.