Cover photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

Wonder?lust

Brother #2 reminded me yesterday that two years ago we happened to be in London at the same time, and met up for a delicious meal at Hawksmoor Knightsbridge. It made us both realize how much we miss travel. Lindsay and I then spent a good chunk of last evening talking about recent trips (Lisbon! Dublin! Paris/Champagne/Liège! Copenhagen/Amsterdam! Stockholm/Gothenberg! And so on.) and dreaming up a list of where we’d love to go when such things are once again possible. It was fun to think about, but bittersweet. I’m trying not to let myself speculate on when, as it’s so out of our control.

But man. Is it ever a list.

Speaking of reminiscing, Lindsay asked to start watching The Wire, as she’s never seen it. I agreed very, very quickly. Can’t wait to revisit all these characters. (Related news: there’s more David Simon coming, and it’s going to be about Baltimore cops again.)

.:.

Cover photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

Elora

More than fourteen years ago brother #1 visited from England, where he was living at the time. An impromptu decision to get out of the city for a bit led us to Elora, and a night at the Elora Mill Inn. This last weekend Lindsay and I, desperate to get out of the city for the first time in 6+ months, ended up back there.

It was always pretty, but it’s definitely gone through a reno some time in the last fourteen years, so that was nice. Also nice: our room had a huge terrace overlooking the river gorge — and, as it turns out, the pool — which is where we spent most of our time.

Our first night there had dinner downstairs in the restaurant, and it was a good one.

  • Oysters
  • Burrata and farm herbs on grilled sourdough
  • Lobster and melon salad with sea buckthorn, mint, hazelnut
    • NV Robert Moncuit Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs
  • Beef tenderloin with swiss chard dumplings, coal roasted mushrooms, sage
  • Duck two ways
    • Antinori Pian Delle Vigne Brunello di Montalcino 2003
  • Red fruit sorbet & ‘spark’ with cherries, raspberries, strawberries, Tawse sparkling

We spent the rest of the evening, into the wee hours in fact, relaxing on the terrace, enjoying the weather, watching shooting stars. Just, enjoying the peace.

The day we had a big sleep in, drank coffee on the terrace, ordered a late breakfast (the staff was very nice in overlooking that we’d missed the cut-off time), drank Pet-Nat mimosas, and read outside until the sun crept too close.

Our one excursion into the town itself led us to a scenic lookout over the gorge, a little walk down the main street, beers & sausage on the patio at Elora Brewing Company, and a quiet sit by the Grand River.

The terrace was so nice we decided to have dinner — charred tomato soup with basil creme fraiche; pan-roasted Chassagne Farms hen with potato butter, arugula, mushroom jus; grilled mozzarella sandwich with focaccia, rosemary pesto, baby-kale cashew salad, and a bottle of The Farm Chardonnay — up there.

The next morning we hit repeat: more coffee & breakfast & reading on the terrace, before heading back to Toronto. It was so nice to get away from the loft, and the city, and into some combination of luxury and nature.

Madrid -> Cairo -> Madrid

Just before Christmas a plan came together. I had a work reason to be in Madrid in early January, and decided to skip just a little further on to Cairo, to visit brother #2.

TUE 7

Flew from Pearson to Madrid overnight. Not the newest AC plane but it was still probably the most I’ve ever slept on an overnight flight.

WED 8

That bit of kip, plus a super-easy exist from the airport and a comfy Uber ride downtown made for what might have been my best transatlantic travel experience ever. My hotel — the Gran Hotel Ingles — was stunning. The staff apologized for how cold it was; I explained that as a Canadian I would be just fine. I got a few more hours of sleep, then a shower, and felt fresh again. Really, given that it was only 3pm, I felt like I was starting my day at the same time as most Spaniards.

Right down the street from my hotel was Brew Wild pizza & craft beer bar, so…yeah, I went there. I ate a diavola pizza and drank a few excellent beers and enjoyed their music mix, then walked around a bit enjoying the sunshine. Everyone else was in heavy jackets, but 9 degrees felt pretty good to me.

Back at the hotel I started watching The Mandalorian, then conked out for a bit (again), got up (again!), bought some wine from an excellent wine shop down the street called Los Rosales, and then did another very touristy thing on my street: I went to a Flamenco show at Cardamomo. I’ve long been semi-obsessed with Flamenco…the percussive dancing, the plaintive singing, etc. I sprung for a good ticket. I didn’t realize just how close to the stage it would get me.

Honestly, it was pretty fucking great. I loved the music. I think I fell in love with the female dancer. And the male dancer was some kind of flamenco celebrity with his own reality show and who’s apparently danced for the King and Queen of Spain. So yeah, it was cool.

After the show I had dinner around the corner at…uh, Atlantik Corner. It was empty at 10:30, which led me to think Spaniards eat even later than I thought, but it might have just been a quiet restaurant as they locked the door behind me when I left. Pretty good meal though:

  • grilled artichokes w/ crispy king prawns + piri piri
    • glass of Barraida
  • grilled Iberian pork (almost steak-like!) w/ grilled pineapple + fries
    • glass of Douro

With no dessert, and having been hustled out, I made one last stop across the street from the hotel: La Vanencia. They serve only five kinds of Jerez (aka Xeres, aka Sherry) along with some cheese and cured meats. They write your tab on the bar in front of you in chalk. The place looks like it hasn’t been renovated in decades. Hemingway used to write there. Republicans conspired to overthrow Franco here. I had glasses of Fino and Palo Cortado; it cost 4.10 Euros. I tried to leave the 0.90 as a tip and was very firmly rebuffed. What a place.

THU 9

I made the most of the hotel — got up, ate breakfast, had a shower, did some work, and finished The Mandalorian before heading to the airport. I sped through the airport (Gold Track FTW!) and killed some time at the lounge before boarding my flight to Cairo. Over the Mediterranean we went, hugging the African coast. I watched Official Secrets (imdb | rotten tomatoes) and most certainly did not drink anything.

Landed in Cairo. The Meet & Assist person made it easy to get through, and I performed my duty-free store duty, and then suddenly, there was brother #2!

The drive to his place was…illuminating. Traffic rules in Cairo are theoretical. Highway lanes are merely loose suggestions, ignored by all. Traffic signals might as well not exist in cars. Horns are a distinct language. Pedestrians scamper hither and yon with so sign of a crosswalk. And I hadn’t even been downtown yet, where things get really chaotic.

We ordered in from Zooba for my first taste of koshari and ful and taameya, and I drank an Egyptian beer, and then I crashed.

FRI 10

Since I only had two days in Cairo we’d arranged for tours both days. I dragged my poor brother who’s seen everything half a dozen times, but gamely played along. We were joined by an American nurse visiting her mother, and a Canadian teacher.

First up was Saqqara, an ancient site west of the Nile and south of Giza. And by ancient I mean >4500 years old…hard to even fathom. The architecture, tombs, glyphs…it was a lot to take in, even with a guide helping us understand it. We fended off the swarm of people trying to sell us stuff long enough to learn a few things, and just marvel.

After a stop at the Imhotep museum at the foot of the site we ate some lunch at a nearby restaurant. After lunch we drove north, along a polluted canal strewn with garbage (so much garbage everywhere…and stray dogs…and just people) to see the big boys: the pyramids of Giza, practically in the suburbs of Cairo. You spend your whole life hearing about something, reading about it, seeing pictures of it, and building it up in your mind to the point where the reality can’t possibly meet your expectations. Except, this did. The Great Pyramid of Cheops deserves every bit of the Wonder of the Ancient World tag it carries. I’m so lucky I got to see it. I’m so lucky it’s still there, nearly 5000 years later, for me to see.

The other two pyramids at the site almost paled in comparison, as did the Sphinx down the hill. It’s actually an enormous site and I’m sure we missed all but the most impressive 2% of it, but still — what a sight.

After a quick stop at a cotton market we headed home, bobbing and weaving through pedestrians and traffic all the way. We ordered burgers (!) and drank some of the wine I picked up at duty free.

SAT 11

Day two of touring: this time just the brother and I. We started with a tour of Coptic Cairo. I had no idea a significant part of the population is Coptic Christian, but I guess it makes sense. Anyway, this neighbourhood was basically a mixing pot of several religions: an ancient Coptic Christian church (built on the site of the cave where the Bible says Jesus and his legal guardians stayed when in Egypt), a Greek Orthodox church, a Synagogue, and the first Mosque built in Egypt.

Next up was the Citadel of Cairo, originally built by Saladin during the crusades, and extended over the years into a police museum and military museum. Lots of mentions of how they bravely fought for and kept the Suez canal. Not so many mentions of the other wars. Anyway, the mosques up there were absolutely gorgeous, especially the Mosque of Muhammad Ali.

Just down the hill we visited two more mosques — the Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan and the Al-Rifa’i Mosque — built side by side. As with the others the architecture was stunning, but at the latter (which also houses the tomb of the Shah of Iran) we had richer experiences — we were shown a side room containing elaborate tombs, where the guide leading us turned off the lights to let the light stream in a single stained glass window, and sang prayers so we could hear his voice echo around the dome of the building. He also showed us the 150-year-old key (which weighed about three pounds) he used to unlock the doors to these rooms. It was all pretty amazing.

Our final stop was to be dropped off in the teeming throng of humanity that is the Khan el-Khalili market (after first driving through part of it, which seemed like the height of insanity until I saw several tour buses squeeze through, FFS) and walk around a bit.

I had no desire to buy anything, just to see it. Much like at the tourist sites I had to learn to ignore all the calls for our attention from the vendors. You could barely make your way through, although apparently the market was relatively calm that day. Our guide led us to a quiet little perch from where we could sip coffee and observe the madness below.

Anyway, we eventually found our van (leaping hurriedly into it in the middle of the street) and headed home. Pretty tuckered, to be honest. Again, we ordered food and drank more wine, and called it an early night. We’d packed a lot of Cairo into those two days, and we both had early starts the next morning.

SUN 12

My flight back to Madrid was at 9:30, so I got to the airport early. Fortunately I flew out of the newer terminal 2, which was pretty sane at that hour, and got through the various security and passport checks with plenty of time. Also fortunately, I had access to a few lounges, and found one — Pearl — that I liked. Not long after I was safely aboard my flight back to Spain, catching up on work, and watching Luce (imdb | rotten tomatoes).

After we landed I got to the conference hotel near the airport, showered, and (finally!) unpacked. There’s not really much going on at that hotel (it’s by the airport) so I reckoned I’d Uber downtown each day to see more of Madrid. And so, I did.

My first stop back in Madrid was actually to visit a little piece of Egypt: the transplanted and recreated Temple of Debod, gifted to Spain in 1968 by Egypt for Spain’s help in preserving historic sites threatened by the construction of the Aswan high dam. Being winter, the site was mostly closed, but the views from the park were stunning.

Still, it was (relatively) cold outside, and the wine bar on which I’d set my sights didn’t open until 8pm, so I walked to mur cafe instead, had a cappuccino, and read my book. When I did eventually hit Entrevinos wine bar I found a small table, tried a few different wines, and ate a delicious dish of lamb shoulder with spinach, green beans and sesame sauteé.

MON 13

After a quick meeting in morning, I dashed downtown once again, this time to the Plaza de Oriente, and the Café de Oriente thereon. I dearly wish it had been warm enough to sit outside and enjoy their view of the Square and Palacio Real; alas, it was not. Still, though, I got in a cup of coffee and a glass of Rias Baixas and some nibblies, which I think were some kind of whipped fish (?!) on toast.

After a quick sit in the park I walked along the Palacio, past the Catedral de la Almudena and its amazing door, past the postcard-perfect Plaza de la Villa, past the Mercado de San Miguel, and to my next intended stop where I planned to do some work, given that my ofice back home was waking up.

I’d heard the Federal Café was laptop-friendly, but as soon as I plugged mine in it melted. Or something. Anyway, it bluescreened and I never, ever got it working again. I took this as a sign from the universe to stop working. Or, at least, to buy a paper notebook.

Thus chastened, I consoled myself by walking to San Ginés for churros con chocolate. I sat outside and dunked my churros in piping hot chocolate and watched tourists flood by.

From there I walked to Taproom Madrid (the one on Plaza de Isabel II) for a beer. I got a sour, met an American (and American) pilot named Tim, and chatted for quite a while. Our server never returned after that first pour, so we eventually left. He was headed to Mikkeller; I wasn’t sure where I’d go.

I ended up at a place called Fábrica Maravillas, apparently one of the OG craft breweries in Madrid. I loved it instantly — fun Irish barkeep, and some nice beers on tap. I tried a bunch of them, and met a nice guy from just outside Philadelphia (okay, technically New Jersey) who was just on his way home from an internship at Cantillon (!) before Tim, from the last bar, appeared. I guess we were on a similar beer crawl.

Anyway, I’d not eaten, so I uber’d back to the hotel. At the hotel bar I ordered some dinner — filet mignon, wine, cheese — before the conference attendees started flooding in and ruining the quiet vibe. The guy standing next to me ordered two Johnny Walker Blue triples. But he ordered them with ice, and I wept. I popped into the American-style sports bar across the hotel to catch up with people I figured would be there, and I ordered a Don PX, which was the least sports bar drink ever. Fuck it though; an American sports bar has no business in a Spanish hotel anyway.

TUE 14

I had a quick presentation in the morning, then chilled in my room for a bit before eventually making my way downtown. I decided to have lunch at the Restaurante Vinoteca García de la Navarra; the food and wine were good, but the service was pretty wonky.

From there I walked to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza; I only checked out the ground floor, which was still full of subtle heavy hitters. I was saving the rest, and the other big museums, for when Lindsay comes with me in April.

It was too cold outside for much more so I went back to the hotel, worked for a bit, packed for a bit, and had dinner at Kalma in the hotel. Pretty good meal, actually:

  • Fritters of oxtail with late harvest wine sauce
  • Duck w/ prune sauce, red cabbage w/ cinnamon, roasted sweet potato
  • A bottle of 2017 Emilio Moro Tempranillo

I didn’t ask for dessert, but the staff brought me cheese & fruit anyway. What a country.

WED 15

Home: a perfectly-timed airport maneuver, a lovely flight filled with three fluffy movies (Roman J Israel Esq.; I Love You, Now Die; Hustlers), and an easy escape from the airport.

While I have no immediate plans to return to Cairo, I’m excited about returning to Madrid in the spring

Xmas 2019

We just got back from ten-ish days in Nova Scotia. We’d intended to skip Christmas this year in favour of a summer visit, but Lindsay’s broken ankle saw to that.

We got in plenty of family & pet time, both in Halifax and on the farm. We pied. We nogged. We saw friends. We played some crib. I drove around a lot. We had a weird night of singing 80s songs at brother #2’s house.

The (non-turkey-related) culinary highlight for me came early in the trip. Lindsay went out with her friends for dinner at EDNA, while brother #1 and I went to The Ostrich Club in the Hydrostone. It was really excellent food, and a fun time. I even got to try a wine varietal for the first time.

  • Koji aged bison crudo, porcini crème fraîche (Pearl Morissette Cuvee Blu Orange Wine)
  • Pan-seared halibut, chimichurri, vegetable pave (Grosjean Vigne Rovettaz Petite Arvine)
  • Chocolate tart, pine nut caramel, cultured cream sorbet (Port)

Already trying to figure out when I can slot in a return visit.

I already miss the family, but we’re back in Toronto for a quiet week, which we both sorely need. Kramer clearly missed us too; he hasn’t stopped silent-meowing at us since we got home.

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

Thursday at The Wednesday

Today I got back from a quick 36-hour work trip to Calgary, with a little side trip to Banff.

I flew in late Wednesday night, crashed at the Calgary airport Marriott, then early Thursday morning drove out to Banff to speak at a partner’s event. It was my first time out to the mountains in a lot of years, and the mountains made me feel as calm and peaceful as ever, even if I was only there for a couple of hours. This was the view from the Rimrock, where the event was held:

Later that day, after another work event back in Calgary, I had dinner at The Wednesday Room. The upstairs had a Shining theme; the downstairs was like eating in a 1970s basement rumpus room. The food & drink was pretty solid though:

  • cocktail: Fall Fashioned (pecan-infused bourbon blend, corn syrup, orange twist, 5 spice bitter)
  • starter: tuna tartare (albacore tuna, avocado, plantain, ancho aioli, sesame, tajin toasted nori)
    • Trimbach Pinot Blanc, Alsace
  • main: grilled ribeye (14oz cold smoked all-natural Alberta beef, jus gras, fried onions, stewed tomato, spanish olive oil)
  • side: jerk broccoli (w/ refried beans, puffed rice, chillies)
    • Chateau de Ferrand St. Emilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux
  • dessert: 20 year old Port

Hot and Solid Meal

I was in Montreal ever-so-briefly yesterday & today for work. Whilst there, however briefly, I managed to get to a restaurant I’d wanted to visit for ages: Le Club Chasse et Pêche. On top of being an absolutely stellar meal it was a good bit of fun with new work(ish) colleagues. I’ll happily go back again, but I might not eat lunch beforehand this time. Anyway, here’s what I had:

  • Braised piglet risotto w/ foie gras shavings (with a glass of Côtes de Beaune)
  • Duck magret w/ chanterelles, spelt, sea buckthorn, and hazelnuts (with a Montepulciano/Sangiovese blend)
  • A glass of Sauternes for dessert

I really thought “shavings” meant I’d have a bit of foie gras on the side. In fact, the whole dish was covered in it. It was so rich that at one point I said this:

I survived, though, and this morning ducked out of the hotel (Hotel Nelligan, again) to a second location of Tommy, one of my favourite Montreal coffee shops, just down the street.

This weekend really made me realize how much I miss visiting Montreal though. I’m glad I’ll be back again in October.

BC 2019

We’re fresh off a hybrid work/fun trip to BC — Tofino and Vancouver, specifically — and have yet to come to grips with the fact that we can’t smell salt air. That aside, here’s how it went:

SAT 15

We had a fairly early flight, but timed it perfectly so that we walked right on to the plane with no waiting. After some screen issues I watched Captain Marvel (imdb | rotten tomatoes) and did some work while Lindsay fended off a brutally entitled family who crawled everywhere and kept their seats in her face the entire flight, poor thing.

We landed in Vancouver and had a few hours to kill before our transfer. We did the apparently very traditional BC thing of visiting White Spot for burgers, a milkshake, and some local wine. After that, we shuttled over to the south terminal and took a very tiny Pacific Coastal flight (the plane held 16 people, maybe?) to our destination for the next few days: Tofino.

I’d heard about Tofino — all rugged beauty and beaches and ocean surf and trees leaning into coastline — but I’d never been. Nor had Lindsay. Anyway, a few minutes out of the airport we saw what all the fuss was about.

A few more km down the road we pulled into our temporary home, the Wickaninnish Inn. After a brief orientation we settled into our room, and were immediately greeted with a jaw-dropping view.

We didn’t do much for the rest of the afternoon except enjoy that view and the smell of the sea, and wait for dinner at the in-house restaurant: The Pointe. Turns out the restaurant is pretty g-d spectacular.

  • Apps
    • charred albacore tuna w/ daikon, pickled kelp, oyster tonnato, apple dashi
    • elk tartare w/ pickled mushrooms, wild onion, spruce, black garlic bread
    • Blue Mountain sparkling wine
  • Mains
    • roasted ‘Yarrow Meadows’ duck w/ sunchoke pavé, swiss chard, cranberry, port jus (Dan)
    • pan seared scallops w/ miso leek & radish, grand fir, crab velouté (Lindsay)
    • Domain Michael Gros Bourgogne Rouge
  • Cheese
    • Thombury semi firm raw cow cheese (from Duncan BC)
  • Dessert
    • churro w/ preserved plum, roasted strawberry, buttermilk ice cream

SUN 16

We willed ourselves out of the perfect bed to get breakfast (smoked salmon rosti; fresh fruit crepes) and enjoy the view from the dining room now that it was light out. (If a little foggy.)

We were determined to do as little as possible that day, so we went for a stroll on that very beach (which is called Chesterman Beach, FYI), chilled back in the room for a bit re-watching Fargo, then took a bit of work down to the bar & lounge.

We had some lunch (west coast clam chowder; fish & chips) in the bar, ogled their new wine cellar, and did…nothing, basically? Like, aggressively did nothing. Not until dinner, when we drove in to Tofino for dinner at Wolf in the Fog.

It was a cool space — we were sat right next to a wolf sculpture made out of driftwood, which is the most Tofino thing ever — and the food was as good as we’d heard. Here’s what we consumed:

  • Cocktails
    • Dan: The Sun Has Reached The Yard Arm (Nicaraguan rum, apricot, allspice, ginger, honey, lime, sparkling wine, black walnut bitters)
    • Lindsay: Nocino Negroni (Wayward Distillation House ‘Unruly’ gin, Odd Society bittersweet vermouth, Ampersand green walnut nocino)
  • Apps
    • potato crusted oyster w/ leek, truffle
    • seafood gemelli w/ pacific shrimp (special)
  • Main
    • baked Tofino halibut (for two) w/ clams, white beans, fennel sausage, spring onions
    • Checkmate ‘Knights Challenge’ 2014 Chardonnay (Oliver, BC)
  • Dessert
    • Bergamot curd w/ yellow chartreuse mousse, thyme waffle, chamomile sorbet, honey
    • Espresso

MON 17

After having some breakfast in bed sent up, we got ourselves ready for our one and only activity (other than eating) whilst in Tofino: whale watching. We drove into town and geared up at Jamie’s Whaling, completely swaddling ourselves in orange flotation suits.

The trip, though very foggy, was even better than we’d hoped. We saw:

  • grey whales — lots of them, including a young whale named Lasso who swam right by our boat;
  • sea lions, including a giant male who our guide said was the biggest he’d ever seen;
  • sea otters, all floating on their backs wrapped up in kelp, including a few babies with pups on their chests, all of which made me completely melt (I’m obsessed with otters);
  • harbour porpoises, which appeared to us only as fins swooping in and out of the water.

Then, as if Tofino was just showing off, on our way to lunch we saw a bald eagle just hanging out on a telephone pole. WHERE WERE WE?

I mean.

Anyway, we grabbed a surprisingly excellent lunch of burgers (chicken; tuna) and beer at The Shed before driving home, stopping along the way for some beer courtesy of Tofino Brewing. After all that adventure, food, and drink, we had a hard nap in the room right up until the very last minute to get to the very last reservation at The Pointe. Our server assured us it wasn’t too late to order the tasting menu, and we trusted him. Thank goodness we did; it was one of the culinary highlights of the trip.

  • Lamb tartare w/ yogurt, mint, pita (Sage Hills Gewurztraminer, 2016)
  • Morel mushrooms w/ foie gras, maple blossom, truffle butter (Roche ‘Tradition’ Pinot Gris, 2016)
  • Poached salmon w/ sake lees, clam beignets, tomato dashi (Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir, 2015)
  • Beef ribeye w/ baked potato pave, grilled zucchini, black garlic jus (Domaine de Cause ‘La Lande Cavagnac’, 2014)
  • Nectarine mousse w/ salted almond caramel, croquante, citur sponge, ginger (Quail’s Gate Optima, 2015)

It was all superb, but the salmon w/ clam beignets was phenomenal, and the ribeye w/ black garlic jus will 100% be on the list of the best things I ate in 2019.

TUE 18

The weather was kind enough to clear for our last morning in Tofino, so we enjoyed one last coffee on the patio.

We went for one last long walk on the beach, which is just a spectacular place, full of sea life and surfers and romping dogs and digging kids. It’s as beautiful place as exists in Canada, which is saying something.

Finally, we got one last breakfast in at The Pointe (Rosti again for Lindsay; shrimp n’ eggs for Dan) before packing and heading back to the airport. Our flight back was a little more picturesque (and slightly less nerve-wracking for Lindsay) than on the flight out, and our cab ride into downtown Vancouver was uneventful. We arrived at the Sheraton Wall Centre to find NHL Draft posters everywhere. Apparently this was the home hotel for the NHL draft prospects, their families, and to some degree the NHL teams interested in them.

Anyway, while our room felt very old-Sheraton, the view was pretty solid: we could see all the way from False Creek to the mountains.

We didn’t hang around long though — the weather was too beautiful. We jumped in a cab and got ourselves to The Alibi Room. I hadn’t been in years, and it was Lindsay’s first time, but worthwhile given it’s the best beer joint in Vancouver (as far as my limited knowledge goes, anyway). We sat next to their open windows, sampled BC beer we’ve never tried, and ate charcuterie.

We’d decided to get dinner at St. Lawrence, like a mashup of Vancouver and our old Montreal adventures. It was tiny and bustling, and very delicious.

  • App
    • Beef tartare, chèvre noire cheese & potato chips
  • Mains
    • Braised lamb shoulder, Parisian gnocchi & summer vegetables
    • Salmon and scallop pie, leeks, potatoes & Bercy sauce
    • Bernard Defaix Bourgogne 2017

We didn’t have much left in us after that, except to take a cab back to the hotel and crash.

WED 19

My two days of meetings started Wednesday, so we grabbed an early breakfast around the corner at The Twisted Fork, where we found portions so big as to be terrifying.

  • Poached eggs and ratatouille served with honey lager pork sausage, green salad, sourdough toast and house made jam (Dan)
  • Croque Monsieur with brioche, smoked gouda, cheddar and ham served with fresh greens and house tomato sauce (Lindsay)

After we walked that off, the rest of my day was taken up with meetings and a work dinner at Ancora overlooking False Creek. Lindsay met up with a friend and then, weirdly, got rather ill for about 24 hours.

THU 20

After another long day of meetings I grabbed a drink at the hotel bar, surrounded by hockey families and NHL personnel (example: Barry Trotz ordered a Stella Artois next to me at the bar), before Lindsay — now mostly on the mend — and I walked down to Sunset Beach and then back to the hotel for a few local beers in the room. Later that night we met up with friends at Hawksworth, one of my all-time Vancity favs. Here’s what we got:

  • Various cocktails and sparkling drinks
    • I don’t remember what everyone got, but I do know that five years after having a Dalhousie #2 here, I ordered a Dalhousie #3: Lot 40 rye, pineapple, Montenegro, Ginger of the Indies)
  • Apps
    • charcoal BBQ octopus w/ kohlrabi, mole, mezcal, burnt avocado
    • pacific halibut crudo w/ tomatillo, orange, espelette, crispy fish skin
    • foie gras parfait w/ pineapple, ginger, red pepper
    • Roche Pinot Gris 2016 from the Okanagan valley
  • Mains
    • Yarrow Meadows duck breast w/ rhubarb jam, fava bean, orange gel (Dan)
    • salmon w/ cucumber, potato, mussel, dill (Lindsay)
    • smoked cod ravioli + aged beef sirloin (friends)
    • (wines were by the glass; no bottle would satisfy all those needs)
  • Dessert
    • Glasses of Sauternes, Cortados

Afterward we went for a drink at UVA, which had somehow shown up on my list of places to try, even though it turned to be really fucking weird. Weird decor, hinky service, long-but-strangely-empty cocktail list, etc. We had one and left.

FRI 21

We liked Twisted Fork so much we went back for breakfast again, and left equally stuffed.

  • Well done house-smoked Gouda baked eggs w/ sourdough toast, bacon, tomato, rösti and baked beans (Dan)
  • Eggs Benny with toasted brioche, poached eggs, hollandaise, roasted tomato, and avocado salsa w/ sautéed spinach, rösti and baked beans (Lindsay)

We did some work in the room for a while before decamping for Gastown, finding Six Acres a good place to sit and drink craft beer and watch the neighbourhood pass by while getting some shit done.

After leaving there and walking a ways (and taxiing the rest) we got back to the room to do more work and get ready for dinner, while killing a bottle of Blue Mountain sparkling Lindsay’d bought the day before.

Dinner was at Black + Blue, since we were looking for a simple (simple as in easy choices, not simple as in not-nice) dinner, and were tapped out on seafood. So, steak it was. And what a steak!

  • App
    • Caesar salad for two w/ crisp romaine, lemon & anchovy dressing, Parmigiano-Reggiano
    • Two glasses of Chardonnay (the exact one escapes me now)
  • Mains
    • 16oz Canadian Prime ribeye
    • 6oz A5 Wagyu New York Strip
    • Gnocchi w/ Atlantic lobster, tarragon, cream
    • Brussels sprouts w/ lemon, capers, parmesan, chilies
    • Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon 2014

Let it be known that the Wagyu was fucking unreal. Every bite was like butter. Maybe the best Wagyu I’ve ever had, and I’ve had lots. Another entry on the ‘best things I ate this year’ list come December, I’ll bet.

SAT 22

And that was it. BC. Tofino, Vancouver. All done. One last breakfast in the room and all that was left to do was pack up, head to the airport, fly home — no annoying families or busted screens this time; I watched They Shall Not Grow Old (imdb | rotten tomatoes) — coo at Kramer, and unpack.

Epilogue

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: BC is the prettiest province. Now that I’ve seen Tofino, I know that’s even more true.