We spent the past four days in New York City, my first time back there in years, and even longer for Lindsay. We were there for a couple of Lindsay’s research visits, but decided to extend it a bit and have some fun.
We were up early and out the door two hours later. At the airport in plenty of time, no issues at security, had an easy flight, practically sailed through Newark Airport…but our luck ran out when we tried to get into the city. The St. Patrick’s Day parade runs down 5th, right around the time we were arriving, and bisected the city. Our cabbie didn’t know about it, so we got caught circling the upper west side until I just told him where to go. What should have been 45 minutes turned into 2+ hours.
By then we had no time to get to the hotel and eat lunch, so we dropped Lindsay at her first appointment and I took the bags to the hotel in the ricketiest Uber that ever there was. I unpacked our suitcases, drank a beer, and ate some cookies. We were here.
We stayed at The Mark Hotel on the upper east side (near Lindsay’s two research appointments). It’s a very chic hotel, probably too cool for the likes of us. The room was big by NYC standards, even if the description of a “courtyard view” was a massive stretch.
So while it wasn’t the smoothest entry, at least the weather was nice: it was sunny and 14 degrees, so my walk all the way up 5th Ave to 103rd street – passing the dying remnants of the parade – was beautiful. I collected Lindsay and we walked slightly east, into East Harlem, to a wine bar called Alison. We were early so we circled the block and took a load off for a bit, before taking one of their patio seats and taking advantage of happy hour.
Considering we hadn’t eaten all day, we were pretty restrained. We ordered a dozen oysters & a bottle of Provençal rosé, lamb sliders, and some Old Bay fries before wrapping up with glasses of Rioja and Minervois. The food was good and the vibe was chill, but we had dinner reservations elsewhere. As it turned out, we would have done better to stay put.
After stopping in briefly at the hotel to recharge, we walked down to a restaurant called August, which we’d identified earlier in the day. The menu sounded good. The vibe sounded good. We were excited. But we were pretty quickly disappointed – we waited 25 minutes for our cocktails, which were both rubbish. (Like…how do you screw up a Negroni?)
Our apps were decent – charred octopus w/ fennel-herb salad, crispy potatoes & preserved lemon caper dressing and tuna tartare w/ avocado, waffle potato chips & soy ginger dressing, with which we ordered glasses of Gruner Veltliner & Chardonnay – but when the apps came we were told the kitchen was closing soon. So much for the city that never sleeps, I guess. So we walked home, still a tad hungry.
We slept right the hell in, we did. It was a long couple weeks.
After leaving there we walked across 91st for an early dinner at Kaia, a South African wine bar. And there, we had the kind of meal we’d been seeking in NYC since we landed. The wine, the food, the vibe, the staff: all exceptional. We felt like we bonded with our server Ayo. At the end of our meal we brought us glasses of Amarula, which I haven’t had since I was in Botswana ten years ago.
Gebakte Suurlemoene (baked lemons with artichoke, cherry tomato, green olives & goat cheese)
Eend Vlerkies (duck drumettes with kaia’s sticky mango chutney sauce)
‘Elk’ Carpaccio (elk carpaccio served with the owner’s mother’s mustard and a peppery arugula salad)
Rooibos Tee en Bosbessie Vark Ribbetjies (rooibos tea & cranberry baby back pork ribs, with coleslaw)
The wine was obviously all South African, and we recognized a few – Raats Jasper, Kanonkop Kadette, HER Shiraz – and loved the rest of what we tried:
La Brune Pinot Noir
The Foundry Grenache Noir
Bosman Nero D’Avola (x2; Lindsay loved it)
Kanonkop Cabernet Sauvignon
I asked Ayo to pick something for me, and he went for a Bordeaux blend, which was terrific.
He also brought us a De Toren Malbec called Délicate to try, which wasn’t even on the list. What a guy.
Anyway, we’d bought way too much food, and took the ribs back to the hotel for later.
We turned on our heels, and took an Uber to Broadway. Our driver made a heroic move that got us there on time. We were seeing A Doll’s House at The Hudson Theatre, and as we arrived Jessica Chastain was sitting, expressionless, on the stage as it slowly spun around. It was exceptional. Ibsen’s play, adapted for modern times, with a wonderfully stark and minimalist set, just chairs and shadows and that rotating floor. Jessica Chastain was her brilliant self; the remaining cast killed it as well. The ending was just the coolest thing. We left, Ubered home, and let our brains process it all.
We slept in again. Vacation! I’d accidentally frozen the ribs the night before, so that breakfast plan went out the window into the non-courtyard courtyard. We eventually left in search of food. It was much colder than the previous days, we we used sun and shelter strategically.
We decided we needed proper New York bagels, so after a bit of research we went to Bagel Shop on 3rd. We managed to get a table, and scarfed our enormous bagel sandwiches amongst the deli chaos. After that we decided to have a beer or three, so we crossed the street to the Third Avenue Alehouse. I ordered a Threes Brewing Volition Schwarzbier that was so flat I couldn’t drink it, but my Fifth Hammer Brewing Co. Smooth Jazzmin’ American Pale Ale, Aslin Beer Company Volcano Sauce Sour, and Who You Callin’ Old (Fashioned)? Cocktail w/ Old Forester Bourbon, cinnamon-rosemary maple syrup & cardamom bitters were all very good. Meanwhile Lindsay had a Delirium Tremens Belgian Strong Golden Ale, an Ever Grain Brewing Co. Vivify Red Ale, and a 3 Floyds Brewing Aggromaster Scottish Ale. Full of beer, we walked back to the hotel to chill (but also warm up) for a bit.
We decided we needed a reason to check out another neighbourhood, so we went to the Lower East Side. We were in search of a great pizza slice, and had heard Scarr’s was the best. We waited in line for about ten minutes and got a slice each and, yup. They were amazing. I want another one right now. Anyway, we scooted around the corner to a wine bar called Le Dive. We plopped ourselves at the end of the bar and split a bottle of Baga, then Raclette and some Bibb lettuce salad, then glasses of Barbera and Pineau d’Aunis – a new one for me. It was a cool little spot.
Back in the hotel room, we finally finished off the ribs from Kaia, and washed them down with some in-room cocktails.
One last thing on our must-do list: that sandwich from Pastrami Queen. They were, as advertised, delicious. We scarfed them down and packed up; after checking out Lindsay ran a half-errand, while I plopped myself in the hotel bar and held the fort until she came back. We drank our way through the by-the-glass list, gnoshed some fries, and Ubered to the airport. Security sucked; our flight was fine; our house was cold; we missed coming home to Kramer.
Earlier this week Lindsay and I attended a dinner we won in the Grapes For Humanity charity auction with three other couples (two of whom were also at last year’s Bachelder dinner at Barberian’s). This year’s prize was a dinner at Richmond Station with Southbrook‘s owner Bill Redelmeier and a board member from Tree Canada. Southbrook has long been a favourite of mine, but I’d not yet met Bill, so that was an extra treat. I also knew the food at Richmond Station would be great, but wow…they stepped up their game even more than usual.
Chocolate ice cream, white chocolate ganache, chocolate shortbread
Paired with Southbrook Cassis Dessert Wine
Lindsay and I just went back over the menu trying to pick out a favourite course, and realized every single thing was excellent.
As for the guest of honor: Bill’s been in and around this space forever, and it was amazing to pick his brain and hear his thoughts about the industry. Terrific wine, excellent conversation, superlative food, and great friends. The kind of night you wish wouldn’t end.
Last night we experienced what would have been a fairly typical Saturday night prior to 2020: we went to dinner and a show. Specifically, dinner at Gare de l’Est and a play called Girls & Boys at Crow’s Theatre.
First: dinner. It was a lovely, tasty time, and we ended up swapping wine stories with the general manager. I was also eyeing the brunch menu and thinking we need to get back there some weekend. Anyway, here’s what we ate:
baguette & beurre
scallop crudo w/ plantain chips
crispy confit duck leg, cherry preserve, green salad, frites
bottle of Pearce Predhomme Pinot Noir
Then, the play: ooof. It was good, but it was about such a tough subject. We were wondering why it came with such an emphatic content warning, but we found out soon enough. It was one woman on a small stage for 90 minutes, and we left wondering how she could run that dialogue night after night after night. One patron actually had to get up and leave about 3/4 of the way through, which they expected — the actress stopped the dialogue briefly to let the woman know it was okay to cross in front of the stage, and explained that it happens sometimes. I don’t want to give away too much of why the content was so harrowing, but…yeah. Incredibly impressive performance, and it’ll be sitting with me for a while.
Today is day one of ~1.5 weeks’ vacation. We’re not traveling to Nova Scotia this year, though, choosing instead to stay here in Toronto and be cozy. Good thing, too — today would have been our likely travel day, and it’s a brutal winter storm out there.
So, we’ll stay put. We’ll catch up on TV shows (we just finished season one of Yellowjackets (imdb) and an old British miniseries called Secret State (imdb), and I have plenty more lined up). We’ll delve into the wine collection. We might finish Pandemic: Legacy. I’ll watch the World Juniors and write up my year-end lists & summary. We’ll try to tackle the mountain of sweets our parents sent to our home. We’ll snuggle with Kramer. We’ll watch Die Hard and Four Christmases.
We’ll miss visiting family, but it’s going to be a fun end of the year.
First was Greta Solomon’s, a little French bistro down the street from us in Leslieville. It was our first time there. What a cozy, charming little spot — and one of our favourite ex-Chez Nous servers Trinette was working there! I think that, for first timers, we did pretty well:
I really didn’t think I’d like a fish pie, but it was goddamn delicious. So were our mains, and that Cab Franc. Next time: dessert!
Later in the week, I had a work-related dinner at Barberian’s, a very well-known commodity to both I and the friend I had dinner with. No surprises with the food — surprises aren’t really the point at a classic steak house — but we asked the sommelier for her opinion on what wine we should be drinking, and got an absolute treat in return.
Caesar salad w/ parmigiano & grilled bacon
Jumbo shrimp cocktail
New York strip
Rack of lamb
Spicy, crispy Brussels sprouts
2003 Andrew Will Sheridan red blend
Glasses of vintage port for dessert. Don’t ask me which.
I also left with a recommendation for an Italian Cab Franc I need to check out. So it was a Cab Franc kinda week, I guess.
It’s the time of year when dinners abound. This week it was Aria, where the food was very good, but the highlight was the long chat I had with the sommelier as he poured various dessert wines and amaro for us.
Charcuterie with 3 meats, pickles, preserves, mustards, sourdough focaccia
Pain Au Lait w/ grass-fed butter, vancouver island sea salt
Others got the Stn. Burger, Tanjo Farms Duck, Arctic Char, and Cave-Aged Comté Agnolotti
I had the Berkshire Pork loin w/ brussels sprouts, caramelized apple, potato rösti, apple cider vinaigrette
Just before we moved into this house (two years ago now!) we thought we’d use the basement the same way the previous owners had staged it: we’d put the TV and a couch down there, and keep our living room TV-free. However, once we moved in we realized that simply wasn’t realistic — the basement’s too small, it’s too cool in the winter and humid in the summer, and…y’know, Kramer shits in a box down there. So: on to plan B.
One of the top candidates for plan B quickly became to build a wine cellar down there. I had grand visions of a full-scale cellar, but that just wasn’t feasible, or even necessary — my collection currently stands at 453 bottles, only 415 of which are reasonably cellar-worthy. Still a proper wine cabinet could be good. And so, we had Rosehill build us one. It holds 722 bottles, and they finished it Monday of this week. (Thanks Chris!)
Look at this beaut:
Since I took today as a holiday, I might just spend the afternoon filling it up. I’m surprised I’ve waited four days, frankly.
I’ve never really been a guy who grills. I was the youngest kid growing up, so I was way back in line to man the barbeque. Later, when I was married and we had a place that could support a bbq, my ex-wife liked to grill (and was really good at it) so I always deferred. After the divorce I moved to a loft with no outside space.
Then, when we bought the house a couple years ago, the previous owners left their old grill. But it was old. Like, old old. I didn’t feel great about using it, and the igniter was broken anyway, so a little while ago we finally got around to replacing it.
We fired up our new Weber E-325S last night to grill some sausages and corn on the cob. It was delicious, and I’m annoyed at myself for waiting so long to buy this thing.
[Bonus points to anyone who gets the Thrush Hermit reference.]
Barring any travel hiccups, we’re just about to fly back to Toronto after 2+ weeks in Nova Scotia. Here’s the rundown.
Just barely made our flight, but then we cooked on tarmac for a bit because of mechanical issues or some such. Guy in front of us wouldn’t keep his mask on. Read Pipette magazine on the flight. Landed in Halifax, met brother & sister-in-law #2 who generously provided us with a car for two weeks. Drove to Bedford, ate pizza, watched Bojack, and slept.
Spent the morning being lazy. The four of us (me, Lindsay, Lindsay’s mom + brother) drove to Mahone Bay to visit Lindsay’s other brother, his fiancé, their dog, and two cats. We hung out at their place and had delicious pasta, garlic knots, and lemon tarts. I got my dog-petting and cat-snuggling fixes too. It was good for the soul, and I also realized I’d somehow never been to Mahone Bay (that I can recall, anyway).
We drove home, enjoyed the backyard, barbecued hot dogs, and played Taboo.
Did as much nothing as was humanly possible. Only activity for the day was to drive the 2 minutes to the NSLC, load up on a case of wine, and drive back.
Lindsay’s grandparents came over for dinner. We played some more Taboo in the evening. THAT WAS IT.
Somehow managed to do even less today than yesterday. Read a book. Watched TV. Loafed in the backyard. Drank wine. Major excitement was that we switched it up to Scrabble in the evening.
Another day of chilling. More reading. Watched Goodfellas (finally after many years!) and The F Word (made Toronto look amazing!). Then — trumpet fanfare — the four of us actually did a dinner out, down the street at Il Mercato.
Affogato al Caffè, vanilla gelato doused with Illy Espresso, splash of Baileys, fresh whipped cream, chocolate shavings
Port & cocktails
The 10 year Port on their menu was out, so they gave me a 20 year. I did not complain.
Moving day. Left Bedford, drove downtown, checked into the Muir. Just as magical as last time — the view wasn’t as nice, but the room/suite was bigger. We relaxed for a bit before walking downstairs to dinner at Drift. Here’s what we ate, sitting outside on the patio near the water on a perfect evening:
maritime oyster w/ mignonette, lemon, horseradish
Maryann’s brown bread w/ organic honey butter
crispy mushy peas w/ malt mayo, pea greens, maritime sea salt
sustainable blue salmon tartare w/ salmon eggs, onion chip dip
Lightfoot & Wolfville bubbly
L’Acadie Vineyards cuvée rosé
roast chicken & rappie pie w/ parsnips, mushrooms, klondike potatoes
bottle of Leeuwin Estate, Art Series, Chardonnay, 2018, Margaret River
Seafoam Royal Gin Fizz (Compass Royal gin, egg white, lemon juice, lavender syrup & bitters)
It was all excellent, but the highlights were the brown bread, the crispy mushy peas (which basically tasted like falafel), the salmon tartare, the rappie pie, and the bottle of Chard.
We left the restaurant and walked over to the water, specifically to the steps leading down into the harbour, where we saw a school of little fish swimming around by the light.
We slept in a bit (being back in a king bed felt like heaven) before ordering a big room service breakfast. Eventually we collected ourselves and went out to do a bit of shopping.
First up was Bookmark, where we bought three new books — two for Lindsay, one for me. Next up was The Port for a couple of gift bottles, then cortados at Coffeeology. In retrospect, ordering hot coffees on one of the warmest days of the year was a misstep. Anyway, we made it home, got showered, and prepared to head out to dinner. We were meeting Lindsay’s dad and brother…but first: wine.
We’d originally planned to have dinner at Obladee, my favourite Halifax wine bar, but decided to just have a little cinq à sept there instead. They have an intriguing-yet-delicious wine list, and it was a treat for a wine nerd like me. The list below shows what I drank before and after dinner (more on that later).
Glasses/flights I drank myself
Cederberg Bukettraube 2021 (Western Cape, South Africa)
One cool little story: that copy of Pipette Magazine I read on the flight down contained an article about Judith Beck…and now here we were drinking her wine.
For dinner we met said father and brother at the Black Sheep on Lower Water. I’d been to the previous incarnation off Dresden Row for brunch with brother #1 years before, but hadn’t tried this one. It was decent. We four shared calamari and brisket nachos; I had the pork chop for my main, and Lindsay had the lamb fettucine. We rejuvenated ourselves with coffees, and walked back into the perfect evening. Lindsay’s dad had had a long day, but her brother was up for another drink, so back we went to Obladee for a…uh, dix à une. We closed the place down, and rolled down the hill to our bed.
Lindsay slept in while I got up for breakfast. I ate french toast and sipped coffee on the quiet Drift patio, looking out over the harbour. Eventually Lindsay arose, and we just relaxed in the room until noon-ish, after which we met her mom and brother at Café Lunette for brunch. It was a cute little place, and everyone seemed to like their food. Having already eaten breakfast I opted for the steak frites; the steak was especially delicious.
[Writing this several days later, I honestly cannot remember what we did for the rest of the day. Let’s assume we napped and/or watched something in the room.]
We did manage to negotiate schedules and sneak in a dinner with brother #1 at a place he’d not yet tried: Trattoria da Claudio, which funnily enough has moved into where Black Sheep used to be. The meal was quite good: picture authentic Italian cuisine using as many local ingredients as he could. All-Italian wine list, of course, and Italian opera on the speakers all night, so a little on the nose, but we didn’t mind. I had the Capesante E Prosciutto Di Parma (Seared Digby Scallops with Prosciutto di Parma fat, green pea velouté, crispy Prosciutto di Parma julienne, roasted cherry tomatoes rosemary emulsion) and Fusilli Al Pesto Di Noci (Speck, pecans pesto, sundried tomatoes julienne). Lindsay had the Caprese Pesche E Prosciutto (Grilled oregano white wine marinated peaches, arugula, tomatoes on the vine, Ciro’s local mozzarella, Prosciutto di Parma roses, balsamic vinegar of Modena gel) and Risotto Zafferano Ed Aragosta (NS lobster, white wine, thyme with saffron Arborio risotto). We had cold white wine (it was VERY warm in there) and cannoli and lemon-berry gelato for dessert. All in all, a very good find from brother #1.
Moving day again. Phase 3 of the trip was to be spent on my family farm, so we got some breakfast sent up to the room, showered, packed, and checked out. We had one last lunch at Drift — where we saw Nathan MacKinnon, fresh off his Stanley Cup parade through Halifax — before leaving.
Our drive to the farm was uneventful, apart from a few dumb drivers, and we arrived in the early evening. It was weirdly quiet, as (a) it’s the middle of blueberry season, and (b) half the family was working at a nearby rock & mineral show. Eventually we collected everyone at home, hurriedly ate some sandwiches, and crashed.
Since my mom was free we decided to go on a daytrip: while mom did errands in Parrsboro, we chatted with the artists who were sculpting a log from my dad’s woods, then had lunch (including a big piece of butterscotch pie) at the Pier restaurant (or Harbour View or whatever it’s called) at low tide. After that we drove downshore toward Advocate, admired the view along the way, stopped at Cape d’Or and walked down to the lighthouse, and hung out at Driftwood Beach. It was a hot, sunny, beautiful day, perfect to revisit this area where two of my grandparents grew up, and which Lindsay had never before seen.
We picked up roast chickens and salads on the way home; brother #2 and 4/5 of the family (two kids are at home for the summer) came across the yard for dinner, along with the two pups. After dinner we took brother #2’s side by side out for a rip. Lindsay even took a turn on the back roads.
A mostly-lazy day marred by one incident: out for a walk around the home hill, Lindsay got something in her eye, to a very painful and traumatic degree. She was in severe pain for most of the evening, even as we tried to flush out whatever it was. She went to sleep with a warm facecloth across her eyes, hoping the next day would be better.
It was better. Somewhat. Less pain than the night before, and more mobility in the eye, but far from fully healed. We decided to get on with our day the best we could anyway. We drove to Parrsboro, grabbed lunch from Tim Horton’s, drove down to West Bay (where, somehow, I’d never driven before) to get a great view of Blomidon and Cape Split, then backtracked to the beach at Partridge Island where we walked around, skipped stones, and enjoyed the sea air.
We got home and, within a few hours, were headed back to Parrsboro for dinner with my parents at the Glooscap. It was my first time there since it burned down a few years ago. We stuffed ourselves, drove home, and played a few games of crib. Lindsay’s eye was better, but still not good.
We’d made an appointment with an eye doctor in Amherst for first thing in the morning where, it was discovered, something was still stuck in Lindsay’s eye. It was too hard to tell what it has originally been (my guess was an insect) but as soon as it was out, her eye started responding favourably. While we waited for a prescription to be filled we had a HUGE feed downtown at Breakfast at Brittney’s, then drove back to collect our goods and head home.
Later that afternoon, after everyone had taken off to different appointments and engagements, we packed up and began the drive back to Bedford. We drove the long way, along the old shore road, intending to stop at Diane’s for clams but somehow missing it, opting instead for dinner at Catch Of The Bay in Masstown (which involved a mediocre musician singing terrible songs, a nearby airshow, and the strong smell of cow manure) before driving to Bedford.
After a slow morning we got on the road toward a cottage in the Annapolis Valley, but first we stopped at a couple of wineries. First up was Avondale Sky, which we’d never visited. It’s a lovely little spot away from the other wineries, and we really enjoyed our tasting. We left with two bottles of the Blanc de Noirs which just won gold at the national level, as well as a dry rosé and a weird 2012 white blend left behind by the previous owners.
The second winery was Blomidon, which I hadn’t been to in 12ish years. We did a hook around a freak rainstorm and found them at the end of a rainbow. It was too wet to sit outside, but we did a reserve flight and the reds flight; we were very pleasantly surprised with their Chardonnay and Pinot; we took two Chards (we got our mitts on a newer vintage too), a Pinot, and some bottles of Cremant to fuel our French 75 dreams.
We drove along side roads, admiring the trees and farmland, and met the rest of the family at the cottage. They’d ordered donairs in advance from Mama Sofia, and when they arrived…oh man. Consensus in the cottage was that they were among the best donairs we’d ever eaten. Messy as hell, but frickin’ delicious. We threw those down, got in a quick game of washer toss, had a campfire, played Balderdash, and drank A LOT of wine on the deck into the wee hours. Luckily, there was ample donair to soak everything up.
No one was in any rush to activate on the day, so we slowly mobilized, had some coffee, ate some eggs benny casserole (it’s a thing), and decided to drive to a nearby beach, just over the mountains at Margaretsville. Not a sandy beach, mind you; this was a rocky beach just across the Minas Basin from the beaches we’d visited earlier in the week near Advocate. We spied the lighthouse and some beautiful early afternoon fog. We walked along the shoreline and found the waterfall of a stream cascading onto the beach. We spotted a seal who kept bobbing up and keeping an eye on us. It was a lovely little excursion.
Back at the cottage we had some hot dogs for lunch (summer!), played a few rounds of washer toss, did a little lying around and reading, drank the fancy Avondale Sky sparkling, and then got to work on dinner: steaks, potatoes, and salad. By then we’d switched to red, and — after some cleanup — carried on right into a long game of Taboo. We didn’t go as long as the night before; everyone knew we’d be on the move the next day.
Lots of coffee and a breakfast sandwich later we set to the task of cleaning the place up, and got on the road.
We drove a half hour or so up the valley and gathered for lunch at Lightfoot & Wolfville. We had a pupper with us, so we sat at a picnic table and ate oysters and pizzas and drank glasses of wine. There was some management of dogs and fending off of hornets, but the food and the view made it all worth it.
We had arranged to give our borrowed car back to brother #2, so after dumping our stuff back in Bedford, we drove to Truro to meet he and my mom, who had driven him there. It was good to sneak in one more hug. 🙂 We drove back a new way, avoiding an accident, and saw some really nice homes along a nice lake. So much NS exploration in this trip!
Back in Bedford, on our last night before flying home, Lindsay, her mom, her brother, and I opted to maximize our east coast food exposure before leaving, getting both donair pizza and garlic fingers for dinner, and drinking the 2020 Blomidon Chard. We moved our Monday flight back a few hours, both to avoid a stopover, and to give ourselves a little time and space in the morning.
Naught left to do but pack up and go. Thanks Nova Scotia, you were a delight.