"We are not swans. We are sharks."

I’m always conflicted about the Reuben sandwich. It always seems like a good idea, all the rye bread and corned beef and swiss cheese, and then all of a sudden…sauerkraut. Ugh…whose #@&% idea was that?!? It doesn’t ruin the whole experience. It just dampens the rest of the tasty flavours.

The past few days have been like a Reuben. On Wednesday we saw Up In The Air (imdb | rotten tomatoes) which was excellent, and deserves all the hype. George Clooney, Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga (my girlfriend du jour) were all great in their roles. Highly recommended, if you haven’t seen it yet.

On New Year’s Eve we returned to Nota Bene for dinner, as we were so impressed by our first visit (about a year ag0). Two things went wrong before we even got there: I finally succumbed to this cold I’ve been fighting off for weeks, and we had FAR too big a lunch at Terroni. Still, I was excited to go. Last time we both enjoyed all three of our courses and the service was outstanding. This time…well, I can’t be sure if things have gone downhill, or if it was just down to being New Year’s Eve. My lobster bisque was just okay and my main (pulled suckling pig) should have been better than it was, even after I realized I was eating blood sausage with it. Nellie’s starter was good (it was the same pasta she had last time) but her chicken was…well, a giant slab of chicken. The molten chocolate cake & Grand Marnier ice cream we had for dessert was solid, if unremarkable. Really, though, the thing that shocked me the most was the difference in service. From the start we felt we were being rushed…asked for our orders when we’d barely sat down, drinks showing up when the last ones were less than half drunk, and so on. We asked for a recommendation from the sommelier; whoever we got wasn’t the sommelier, but someone who seemed to know less about wine than we did. Merlot? Yeah, no, we don’t want merlot, thanks. What pissed us off the most was this: since we had a fair amount of wine to go with the chocolate dessert we ordered glasses of dessert wine for after that final course. Instead, they bought the dessert wine while we still had half our dessert and nearly a full glass of pinot each. I get it, it was New Year’s Eve and they were trying to turn over the table, but it’s not the kind of treatment I’d expect from Nota Bene.

On New Year’s Day (happy 2010, by the way!) I dragged my sick ass out of the condo because there was no way I’d miss the chance to see Avatar (imdb | rotten tomatoes) in IMAX/3D.  Wow…it was worth the hour standing in line. It took me a while to adjust to the 3D glasses, but my god. Just incredible. Seeing little plants floating in front of me, feeling vertigo as the camera looked down off a cliff, getting nearly airsick as we flew through a canyon. The movie itself wasn’t anything special or new, but if that movie doesn’t win every single visual effect Oscar, then something is drastically wrong.

We spent the rest of yesterday (and today, so far) sitting on the couch and watching movies (Lions For Lambs and The Watchmen) and playing Mario Kart Wii.

Pretty good couple of days. Too bad about the stupid sauerkraut.

On the first four days of Christmas…

Here’s what we’ve been up to in the four days since we left you:

On boxing day we enjoyed the main part of Nellie’s gift to me: gold seats at the Air Canada Centre for the Montreal Canadiens / Toronto Maple Leafs game. We were eleven rows from the ice, right at one of the blue lines, and had a great view of the ice. I was actually surprised by the number of Montreal fans in attendance…I’d say maybe 20% of the fans were cheering for the Habs. It was amazing for me to be that close to the ice — in my previous visits to Canadiens games (both in Montreal) I’d been in the nosebleeds — and to see and hear everything. It was also nice to see my team win for a change (the Habs won 3-2 in overtime) as the first two games I saw were losses. Nellie had fun too, eating a hot dog and drinking beer and making eyes at Carey Price. It was a blast, and an experience I was worried I’d never get to have in Toronto. Top-notch Christmas gift, baby!

.:.

December 27th was actually our anniversary. Typically we’d go out to dinner to celebrate, but it being Sunday everything was closed. We hung out with CBGB for a little bit and generally just took it easy.

.:.

Yesterday we thought we’d get out of the house and see what all this Avatar fuss is about, so we walked in the freezing-ass cold to the Scotiabank to buy tickets. Little did we know that tickets to the IMAX screenings had been sold out for days. Bah, forget it. We cut back across King Street and decided to stop in at the beerbistro so that the afternoon wasn’t a complete loss. I had a Tilburg’s Dutch Brown Ale and a Maudite, while Nellie had a Durham Hop Addict and an Urthel Hop-It, which I think is her new best friend. We went to movie plan B at home, watching Defiance (imdb | rotten tomatoes) on the PVR (it was okay…given the subject matter it probably should have been a little more engaging than it was). Then we got ready for dinner.

Much like North 44, Scaramouche is such a quintessentially Toronto restaurant we couldn’t hardly believe we hadn’t yet tried it. An anniversary seemed like an ideal time for such an adventure, and it was settled. First, the room: pleasant, if a little dull & dated, and while we were seated at the window to appreciate the famous view, the evening’s snow squalls made it difficult to see much. Second, the service: a little off, to be honest. Our server was efficient enough but not exactly friendly, and somewhere between dessert and the bill he just disappeared. We never saw him again, and after several minutes of waiting we finally got someone else’s attention and they tag-teamed our bill, etc. So that was weird. Third: the food, and this — most importantly — was the best part. I had warm duck salad, venison wrapped & roasted in smoked bacon and coconut cream pie for dessert. Nellie had butter poached lobster, a grilled kerr farms filet mignon and her dessert was three kinds of cheese. We had various glasses of wine before dinner and with our apps, but the real star of the evening was the 2006 Petite Sirah/Zinfandel/Mourvèdre ‘Phantom’ Bogle. Excellent without the food and downright superb with it, neither of us wanted to finish the bottle, but we couldn’t help ourselves. Nellie’s port and my Calvados with dessert were good, but I know we were both thinking about that wine. Oh, and the restaurant did make a nice final flourish with our dessert plates:

scaramouche dessert

.:.

Today was a bit more pedestrian: grand plans of shopping withered on the vine when we realized it was -20 with the wind chill, so we opted instead for leftovers, chocolate, napping and more movie-watching. Today the PVR served up the Warner Herzog documentary Encounters At The End Of The World (imdb | rotten tomatoes). Really, I could watch anything by that man and be happy, but from a strictly mechanical sense it did precisely what documentaries are supposed to do: answer some questions and raise still others.

Tonight the plan (well…my plan) is to watch Canada’s junior team play the Slovaks, and then tomorrow it’s back to work for a bit. In other words: wow, it’s been a relaxing vacation.