CA+DA Day

We’ve just had a bit of a whirlwind visit from brother #2 and his better half. They arrived Thursday; that night we had dinner at Batch and attacked our wine inventory.

On Saturday we armed ourselves with umbrellas and coffee and drove around the lake to hit some wineries:

  • First: lunch and a tasting at Redstone, and wow what a burger. Can’t wait to go back there when their patio is open.
  • A tasting appointment at Pearl Morissette with the lovely Melissa. It was just the four of us and one other couple, who ended up with the patented Dan’s Shortlist Of Wineries To Visit Whilst In The Okanagan.
  • A quick stop at 13th Street.
  • An even quicker stop at Tawse, which was much too crowded. Pretty sure I’m done with that place for a while.
  • A much more in-depth visit to Back 10 Cellars, a first for all of us. We sat and tasted their entire lineup, and Nellie and I left with 4 bottles. I’ll be curious to see if the second taste justifies the enthusiasm we had on the spot.
  • A big haul from Hidden Bench: a dozen made up mostly of 2012 Terroir Caché and La Brunante. After the buying was done and the wine was shlepped to the car, we sat outside on their patio and enjoyed a glass in the shade.

We arrived back in Toronto, dropped the car, relaxed for a bit, and then went to dinner at Patria. We were a little slow getting into it (it’d been a long day already) but quickly picked up the pace. And what a feed it ended up being:

  • Pan Con Tomate (bread + tomato)
  • Aceitunas (house marinated olives)
  • Pimientos de padrón (blistered peppers + sea salt)
  • Sátiles (dates + ibérico bacon + manchego + guindillas)
  • Selección De Embutidos (ibérico lomo + ibérico chorizo + jamón serrano + salchichón)
  • Pulpo (octopus + olive oil + paprika)
  • Bombas con salsa brava (chorizo + aioli + spicy piquillo sauce)
  • Albondigas (wagyu meatballs + spicy tomato piperade + onion + manchego)
  • Brussales Bravas (brussels sprouts + spicy tomato + aioli + chorizo)
  • Paella De Bogavante (lobster + gulf shrimp + chorizo + peas)
  • Desserts (churros, chocolate pudding, mousse, etc.)

We struggled home, barely able to walk. I was still full the next morning when we woke up. After a while we did head off to Hank’s for brunch while Nellie slept in, then to the market, then back to Fahrenheit, and then off to Wvrst. Unfortunately Wvrst was already rammed in preparation for the Germany/Italy game and we couldn’t find a decent table. We left there and walked to the new(ish) Bar Hop, finding a spot on their fantastic rooftop patio. Well, three spots: we gingers had to keep moving out of the sun. We drank excellent beer and cider and had a very decent lunch — I’d heard troubling things about the food at the new Brewco, but my pork belly steamed buns were fantastic.

We swung back to Spadina to get some Quantum coffee and Soma chocolate, then trundled home. It was still beautiful outside so we drank gin + tonics on the balcony and enjoyed the day. Eventually Nellie started cooking, and over the next 5 (?) hours we ate seared Yellowfin tuna (with a Five Rows Pinot Gris), a small rack of lamb (with a Pearl Morissette Cuvée Métis Cabernet Franc), and two ribeyes  (with a Church & State Quintessential Bordeaux blend from the Okanagan). At that point we were done all around…too full, too tired, too richly-fed over the past 48 hours. We all kind of threw in the towel.

They left this morning, and hopefully their flights home went smoothly. As for us, we took advantage of the sunshine in our last few hours of long weekend, having beers and lunch on the near-empty Bier Markt patio.

Come back anytime, guys.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calgary

Last night I got back after a 5-day excursion to Calgary, ostensibly for work but with an extra 36 hours or so thrown in for a city visit. Little did I know I’d develop a sinus infection while there. Anyway, here’s the extracurricular summary:

Beer sampled: the rooftop at the National on 8th with my now-Cowtowner friend Andrea. I had a flight of 6 locals. Beer Revolution, where I tried two local pints while having an excellent (pizza) lunch with a colleague. I also had a coffee at Kawa which, once the sun’s over the yard arm, serves a very solid beer selection; alas, I was there too early.

 

 

Coffee drunk: I had a nice little espresso at Cucina, another at Kawa, a cappuccino at Phil & Sebastian‘s Simmons Building location, a latte to go from P&S which I drank sitting by the Bow River, and…like, 8 coffees over 3 days from Monogram, which happened to be right next door to my conference hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

Food scarfed: The Catch’s Oyster Bar for some crab cakes and oysters when I landed. CharCUT for dinner my first night, since it was in my first hotel. Small world confirmation: the bartender had also gone to Dal, and her boyfriend used to work at Bishop’s Cellar and, as such, has probably sold me booze at some point. My last night there I went to Modern Steak in Kensington, which was outstanding and had a nice Irish bartender. I walked home, along the Bow for a while and then across the Peace Bridge.

 

 

 

 

Movies watched: Sicario and Eye In The Sky on the flight there. Hyena Road and most of Stories We Tell on the flight back. I had to take my headphones out for the last twenty minutes of the flight because my ears weren’t popping (never did) and I was in such severe pain.

Random thoughts thunk:

  • The Le Germain is a much better hotel than the Westin.
  • Downtown Calgary is pretty compact, but the walkability is marred by highways and rail lines bisecting the core.
  • I skipped the private rodeo organized by the conference, partly for health and partly because I despise rodeos, and don’t regret it one bit.
  • While I generally prefer an aisle seat when flying, when flying into Calgary I will always try for a window seat so I can see the mountains when I land. We did this time, and I also happened to get a smashing picture of Winnipeg from the air halfway through the flight.

Session VII

Our seventh Session craft beer fest went off yesterday, and once again our friends Adam & Alicia joined us. Actually, they came over first to enjoy the views, do a bit of snacking, and sample a few beers before we left: Refined Fool Pouch Envy Australian Pale Ale, Left Field Sunlight Park Saison, and a phenomenal one-off Saison/rosé collaboration between Burdock and Pearl-Morissette winery. That bottle went straight to the hall of fame.

Then, off we went to Yonge/Dundas Square for the event itself. Here’s what I tried, as best I can remember:

  • Sextant “Why So Sirius?” pale ale
  • Big Rig “Great White North” hoppy wheat (collaboration w/ Central City)
  • Oast House “Haarlem Globe Trotter” koyt beer (collaboration w/ Jopen)
  • Stack vanilla chai amber
  • New Ontario “Sap Sucker” maple brown (collaboration, but not really)
  • Redline “Cruise Control” mango + lime session IPA
  • Nickel Brook “Arkells Morning Brew” coffee brett pale (collaboration w/ Detour coffee)
  • Nickel Brook “Uncommon Element” brett pale ale
  • Sawdust City “1606” barrel-aged raspberry stout
  • Sawdust City “Bitter Beauty” double IPA (collaboration w/ Jason Collett)
  • Muskoka “Ruff Draught” tropical blonde (collaboration w/ Born Ruffians)
  • Sawdust City 1606 (again)
  • Amsterdam “Revelator” Bock (collaboration w/ Jordan St John)
  • Sawdust City “Blood of Cthulhu” imperial stout

Oddly enough the Oast House was probably my least favourite, which surprised me. The New Ontario and Stack were pleasant surprises, but the 1606 was friggin’ outstanding.

We returned to our place, stopping at Batch to pick up some wings, and knocked down a few more beers (Fat Tug IPA, Great Lakes Hanlan’s Point coconut coffee porter) before calling it a night.

Overall, pretty happy with this event again. Lots of great beers, not too crowded, and unlike Cask Days I actually got every single beer I asked for. Add good friends and gorgeous weather, and it was a pretty top-notch day.

Chimps Batch Jays Owen

That was a busy-ass week. Fun too.

On Tuesday we grabbed some dinner at Wine Bar and then went to see a talk by one of Nellie’s heroes, Jane Goodall. Such an impressive human being, and her final story of the night (shown below) pretty much says it all.

On Wednesday we grabbed dinner at Batch with our buddy GB, visiting for the week.

On Thursday I met my buddy Joe at the new Bar Hop (my first visit, believe it or not) where I had an excellent Burdock session saison and then availed myself of one of his Jays tickets, with which we watched the Jays beat the Yankees. Labatt’s acquisition of Mill Street at least meant I could have a 100th Meridian to go with this view:

Last night we went over to our friends A+A’s place and had a seemingly Dan-tailored evening: grilled meat and charcuterie, stellar beer (including a Gueuze Tilquin they brought back from Brussels, bless their little hearts), cool music that made me want to start collecting LPs again, and a cat named Owen who blithely tolerated my attention. We turned into pumpkins on their couch. It was, after all, a busy-ass week.

Posting this at Mockingbird:Robin am

Uh…so, we went up to our friends Kaylea + Matt’s Bat Lake cottage last weekend, but I’ve waited so long to write this that I’ve forgotten all the clever things (or, all the things I thought clever at the time) I’d planned to use for the title, or interesting color for the weekend. I just remember that we ate well (obviously) and drank even better (still obviously) and relaxed and played some Cards Against Humanity and did a Pinot Noir blind tasting and ranked the Canada Heritage Minutes and spotted birds and visited Boshkung Brewery and I made everyone watch basketball and Nellie barely made it home.

Batch

Back in 2006, before we even moved downtown to this neighbourhood, we tried out a new restaurant at Victoria and Lombard called The Strand. It had been born into the space left behind by Growler’s brewpub and the Denison’s brewpub. The Strand didn’t have their liquor license set up yet so it was a quirky (and empty) first visit. I’m not sure they ever recovered; they closed before we moved down here in 2007.

Since then the space had a decent run as Duggan’s (which we really liked) and Beer Academy (which was just okay, but made a weird use of the space). Beer Academy had been an offshoot of Creemore (itself owned by Molson), so when they announced they’d be shutting down and re-opening as a new Creemore brewpub named Batch, that kind of made sense. It opened last weekend, and we finally tried it last night.

Gotta say, I’m excited to have it there. The beer they brew on premise was solid, especially the Pale and the Porter. They have guest bottles as well. They also sell Creemore and Granville products on tap, and sell everything in bottles from their fridge. So that’s a good option on our way home.

The food was good too, maybe a little better. We split a dense, tasty pretzel to start. My fried chicken was delicious, if a little sticky/saucy. Nellie’s pierogies were just okay. Luckily there are about a dozen other things on the menu we want to try, and we’ll have plenty of opportunity.

Maybe most surprising was the wine list. 12 by the glass (or bottle) and all Canadian: 11 from Ontario, 1 from BC. Good wineries, too: Creekside, Pearl-Morissette, Tawse, Keint-He, Hinterland, 13th Street, and so on.

I’d say this place has a serious shot at becoming our new local. Welcome to the neighbourhood, Batch.

Costa Rica

SUNDAY

Screw the winter jackets, it was finally time for Costa Rica. We got ourselves to Pearson and got on our WestJet flight. The in-flight movies didn’t work, so I watched Coriolanus and part of Sin City 2 on my tablet. The baby next to me was teething but barely made a sound, so…thanks, baby.

We got to SJO, wound through a huge customs line, and were met by Esteban as part of our Airbnb service. Awesome guy. He gave us a primer on San Jose, showed us good places to eat and drink in Barrio Escalante, and dropped us at our Airbnb loft, which was awesome.

We walked — outside! in short sleeves! — to Wilk but it was closed so we went to Costa Rica Beer Factory instead. Not quite what I was hoping for, but we found some decent local craft brews. We ate a bit there, picked up snacks and travelers at the grocery store on the corner, walked back to the loft, had chips & beer and crashed on their couch. Vacation!

MONDAY

Truck horns woke us up. I guess staying near a hospital loading zone will do that. We ate our breakfast, cleaned up, and called an Uber. Not that we were anxious to leave San Jose, but we were very anxious to reach our next spot. Got to the airport super-early, as Nellie often likes to do. Took a 20-seat NatureAir flight to Quepos on the Pacific coast. 20 minutes later and we were landing on a small paved strip in a bunch of palm trees.

Our next place, Kura Design Villas, had arranged a driver to pick us up. One hour’s drive, and one VERY steep hill later, we arrived to…holy shit, the most amazing place we’ve ever stayed. Seriously. The place is stunning, from the rooms, to the pool, to the views, and all parts in between. We had a signature “Jaguar” cocktail, checked in, ate lunch, got to our room, changed, and spent the rest of the afternoon by the pool.

You can’t really see it in that last picture, but there was a stone parrot on the edge of the pool. Cool story, but you have to stay there to hear it. We had drinks by the pool and at the bar, courtesy of the amazing Simon. He made sangria (which I normally dislike, but this one…), let me practice my French, and tested a new rosé on us (verdict…we drank, like, all of it) and chatted with a couple from Texas. It’s easy to strike up conversations when there are only 10 people in the whole place. We ate dinner and crashed hard.

TUESDAY

Nellie’s birthday! We started the celebration by sleeping the hell in, since we’d imbibed a little too much in the heat and excitement of the day before. Then we had an absolutely stellar breakfast: fresh fruit, banana muffins, homemade bread with passion fruit jam, and coffee filtered through a cloth strainer, like an old-school pour over.

We spent the rest of the morning in and around the pool, enjoying the sun and breeze and water, and playing with a tiny visiting snake. We ate a light lunch of charcuterie and smoked wahoo (wahoo!) before I made it my mission to try all three Costa Rica Craft Brewing Co. beers on offer at the bar: the Libertas golden ale (which became my go-to drink all week), the Segua red ale (great, when I could find it), and their very last bottle of Malacrianza Scottish ale.

At some point in the afternoon we decided that we had to spend at least a little time on the awesome balcony just off our room. That’s where I gave Nellie her surprise birthday present: a trip I’ve already planned for this fall to see gorillas in Rwanda. She was more than a little excited about that.

We retired back upstairs to the main area where we toasted her birthday sunset with a bottle of Bollinger, watched two pairs of toucans in the nearby trees, and ate dinner alone on the rooftop, looking up at the stars.

WEDNESDAY

We got up early because our planned water taxi across the Gulf of Nicoya had been canceled due to high winds, so we had to go much further: up to Puntarenas to catch the big ferry. Not a nice drive, not a nice town, not a fast or exciting ferry ride, and not a nice drive from Paquera to our end destination: Santa Teresa. It was a tiring, boring trip, but at least we got to see some giant-ass crocodiles along the way.

We forgot the extra 3 hours of travel pretty quickly once we saw Latitude 10 though. It was a very different beast than Kura: right on the ocean, open air casitas with no locks, totally surrounded by trees and wildlife, but still with a high level of service. (It turns out all three places we stayed were part of the Cayuga collection of hotels.)

We had a quick lunch, dipped our toes in the ocean, had a nap in the hammocks at the top of the tide line, and watched the Pacific eat the sun.

Dinner was excellent: we shared a goat cheese salad, and had chicken and fish as our mains. We reconsider our plan to try a new place nearby each night; getting to town is a pain in the ass, and chef Mario has our full attention. The British couple staying there, usually as loathe to repeat dinner venues as we are, has already made the same decision. We take one last late night swim in the pool and we’re done, falling asleep under mosquito netting.

THURSDAY

We relax a little in the morning (leisurely breakfast; reading in hammock; swimming in pool; observing howler monkeys in nearby trees) before being collected for a zip-lining and canopy tour near Montezuma. There are no pictures because we looked like dweebs, but I can assure you that it was fun as hell. Along the way Nellie jumped in a natural pool at the top of a waterfall, we both got scolded a little for going too fast on the final line, I managed to knee one of our guides in the cojones (sorry mate) and we saw a white-nosed coati.

Afterwards our guide, Marcelo, took us to Montezuma where we grabbed some almuerzo típico (ceviche, mejillones, Imperial, Pilsen) by the water. He dropped us back at our place afterwards, where we rinsed off our sweat and jumped in the pool to cool down. We watched iguanas crawl around the trees by the pool, walked down to play in the surf, and had gin & tonic at sunset.


We had a few drinks before dinner with the Brits and a couple from Chicago on their honeymoon (who we totally sold on flying Porter to Toronto to try Jacobs & Co) before getting down to our own meals: we split a yellowfin tataki, then Nellie had the mushroom pasta and I had the steak with chimichurri.

FRIDAY

This was the kind of day vacation dreams are made of: after breakfast all four other couples left, and we had the entire place to ourselves for the whole day. We toyed with the idea of heading into town for lunch, but soon decided on the ambitious undertaking of doing absolutely nothing for a whole day. So we went for a swim. We read in the hammocks for hours (I finished Michael Lewis’ Flash Boys). We had a leisurely lunch. We walked along the beach for a bit and played in the surf. We watched iguanas and monkeys (including a tiny baby) be almost as lazy as us. We were enjoying one last sunset when finally another couple (New Yorkers, this time) arrived. Interlopers!

We got ourselves cleaned up before heading back to dinner, chatted with New York at the bar, and decided to eat dinner with them. Nellie had the chicken; I had this insane tuna steak. We all talked politics and entertainment news and health care and then had some local rum, then went for an after-dinner swim in the pool, dodging the swooping bats and comparing notes on constellations as seen from Central America. None of us knew what we were talking about, of course, except that Orion’s belt is obvious everywhere.

SATURDAY

Finally, we awoke to a noise we’d expected to hear all week: howler monkeys! They sound like a pack of angry dog-men, come for your soul. It’s good that the staff warns you in advance; if you didn’t have some context for that noise you’d have a heart attack.

We ate our last breakfast, hung out on the beach one more time, took one last swim in the pool, then packed up and said goodbye to the staff. The ride to Tambor airstrip was long and made Nellie kind of sick, and the wait there was about two hours longer than expected since our NatureAir flight was severely delayed. Luckily we had no connection to make, so we weren’t stressed…just hot and tired and very hungry.

Our flight finally arrived, and 25 minutes later we were at SJO. There we waited on the tarmac even longer than our time in the air while they figured out where to bus us. Luckily where they dropped us was where our driver was waiting, and he took us to our final home in Costa Rica: Finca Rosa Blanca, a coffee-plantation-cum-hotel in the hills north of San Jose. We had a quick snack at the bar, checked into our room, and enjoyed the view (and a cup of the house coffee) on our patio.

We ate dinner at their restaurant El Tigre Vestido that night, which was pretty good: Nellie had tomato soup and a huge sirloin; I had a roasted beet salad and the queen corvina with chorizo. It’s windy up in those hills, so for the first time on the whole trip we were actually rather chilly — Nellie brought a scarf, and we saw some (non-Canadian) people wearing coats.

Back in our room, we were pretty much done in. It was a late night after a long day of travel, so we just watched a movie (Adult Beginners) and conked out.

SUNDAY

I took advantage of our final day of warm weather by enjoying my morning coffee on the patio and waiting for Nellie to get up. We grabbed breakfast back in the restaurant (my pancakes with coconut syrup were especially delicious), packed up, relaxed for a bit, then got a ride to the airport. There were lines (airport exit tax: short; WestJet check-in: short; security: long) but we had enough time to grab a sandwich and beer at the Imperial pub and still get to our gate in time. I watched The Martian (still excellent) and Burnt (not bad) and almost finished Sin City 2 on the flight home.

It was shit-ass cold when we got off the plane, and reality began to sink in. We got home, unpacked, ordered pizza, watched The Walking Dead, and wished desperately that we were back at the Kura pool, or the Latitude 10 beach, or our Barrio Escalante loft.

We miss you, Costa Rica. Pura vida.

 

Cover photo by Rob, used under Creative Commons license

Happy 12

Whereas in the past we’ve used our anniversary as an excuse to try the tasting menu at restaurants like Canoe, Scaramouche, and George, this year neither of us had it in us. On the flight back from Halifax yesterday we both agreed a) that we’d eaten entirely too much rich food in the past week, and b) that we didn’t have the energy to sit through a four-hour meal. Plus, Nellie thinks she broke her toe, so getting her into fancy heels was a non-starter.

Instead, we cobbled together a rather ingenious little plan: comfort food + killer wine. And so it was that we drank a bottle of Benjamin Bridge 2003 Brut with a bowl of plain potato chips, walked to Triple A where we ordered food and drank Koval bourbon and Steam Whistle and did whiskey shots with Chuck & Jeremy, and came home to eat pork ribs and chicken+waffles with a bottle of Le Vieux Pin 2013 Equinox Chardonnay. It was all delicious, and it was exactly what we needed.

20151227_213137

.:.

Cover photo by Rob, used under Creative Commons license

Cover photo from Quantum Coffee's site

A day off (sort of)

On Friday I took a vacation day from work. Of course, I still had to work; I just did it from home, and a few other spots.

After making myself an espresso at home I had a meeting at Dineen Coffee. I took the streetcar across King and had lunch (and some tasty beers) at Wvrst. Then more coffee at Quantum, where I tried their cappuccino and espresso and got a couple hours of work done — that place is quickly becoming one of my new favourite places in the city.

Side note: four strong coffees before 4:00 leaves one fairly jumpy.

Last night Nellie and I ordered Indian, drank Two Sisters Riesling, and finished season 1 of Jessica Jones.

.:.

Cover photo from Quantum Coffee’s site

Cask Days 2015

Last year our first Cask Days beer festival was a revelation. So many amazing beer, at such a well-run event, made us incredulous that we’d never been to one. For the past 11.5 months we’d looked forward to the 2015 installment.

We just got home from #caskdays2015, and the fact that I can type probably tells you that it was a little less epic than last year’s. Granted, there was no post-festival Wvrst bottle tour like last year’s, but still. It wasn’t quite as epic as last year’s maiden voyage.

I mean, sure, there was great beer and excellent food, and it was almost shockingly well-run. But here was my major disappointment: they were holding back so much beer that I couldn’t try half of what I really wanted. This is what I tried, and what I tried to try:

  1. Burdock Peach & Apricot Berliner Weisse
  2. Niagara Oast Dr. Lychee Gose Nuts Gose
  3. Niagara Oast Verjus Fruit Sour Ale
  4. Dunham Saison du Pinacle Farmhouse Ale w. Fireweed Flowers
  5. Indie Alehouse Maple Cinnamon Belgian Wit
  6. Stone City Ales Devil and the Deep American Sour
  7. Parallel 49 Bodhisattva Dry Hopped Sour Ale
  8. Community Beer Works Frank APA
  9. Dunham APA w. Habanero Pepper
  10. Macleod Ale Jackie Tar Brown Stout
  11. Dieu Du Ciel Tamarindo German Gose
  12. Left Field Bricks & Mortar Porter w. Pilot Roaster Coffee
  13. Great Lakes x Bar Hop Sweet Zombie Jesus Milk Stout w. Peanut Butter
  14. Sawdust City Damn!!!!!!! Spicy Peanut Butter Imperial Stout
  15. Wellington Buggin’ Out Cab Franc Barrel Aged Sour Ale
  16. Ladyface Companie Ballista Imperial Grisette Aged in Viognier Barrels
  17. Amsterdam El Jaguar Barrel Aged Imperial Stout w. Chocolate & Chilies
  18. Howe Sound “Smoked” Pumpkineater Imperial Pumpkin Ale w. Rum, Cacao & Vanilla
  19. House Ales Mezza Notte Espresso Milk Stout

So, yeah. Literally the first two beers I wanted were sold out. Or, rather, they were being “held back” for later sessions. I get that they’re trying to keep enough around for everyone, but I tried to get those two within seconds of entering the building, and I checked back a few times, so they were NEVER available for our session. That’s brutal.

Just before 5pm I went hunting for my 11th and final beer, and my last four choices were all off-limits. I gave up and ate some fried chicken instead.

So I ended up drinking a lot of sour beer on the day, which was fine, and one or two of them were tremendous (the Parallel 49 and Stone City especially), but GOD I wanted a heavy stout toward the end.

Frankly, the shot of espresso (from Boxcar Social) and fried chicken (from Brando’s fried chicken) were two of the best things I had all day, and the food program in general looked killer, so kudos to the festival for that. Also: military precision on the porta-potty line.

What I took from this, though, is that a) the Friday night session is the only good one, and everything else is a poor cousin; and b) you have to buy your way into one of the premium packages to get decent beer. I guess I’ll keep that in mind for next year, and see whether the price is justified.