I just got home from Montreal. I am very full, and slightly sleepy, after this past weekend. So much fun. I flew in Thursday night, very much in need of relaxation and a few days with Lindsay. I had a nice easy ride from the airport, then we ordered pizza and put our damn feet up.


I needed a lazy, lie-about, do-nothing day. I got it on Friday. Man, it was nice. We grabbed some groceries, made a nice little breakfast of scrambled eggs with basil and tomato, sausage, fried potatoes, Belgian bread, and mimosas. After that we just hung out, watched TV, drank beer, played chess, ate leftover pizza, and tried to stay warm. Somehow we killed a whole day like this before going to dinner at Maison Publique. We’ve had a number of killer meals there, but this one was near the top of the charts. We had cocktails, house-made capocollo, pork belly salad with kimchi, garganelli grenoble, and a chicken pot pie the size of a chef’s hat. We had all this with a bottle of Domaine Queylus 2013 Signature Pinot Noir. We finished things off with a pot de creme and a pair of whiskies (Lagavulin 8, Glengoyne 10) before the staff surprised us with housemade ice cream. Helpful, since the rich food and whisky had given us a bit of heartburn.


Our heads hurt a little after that dinner, frankly, but we still got up early and had another lazy-ish morning. We had a bit more on the agenda this day though, the centerpiece being Péché Day at Dieu Du Ciel, where DDC offers a dozen or so one-off variants of the world famous Péché Mortel. First we wanted another Montreal staple: a smoked meat sandwich. We uber’d against the cold to St. Laurent, but skipped Schwartz’s and instead hit Main Deli across the street, which had no lineup, no cramped tables, and (arguably) better smoked meat sandwiches.

We felt a little full-sleepy from lunch so we stopped in at Dispatch Coffee, where both the decor and espresso were top-notch. We ducked back outside into deep freeze to catch another Uber, arriving at Dieu du Ciel. There was a huge lineup inside, extending another dozen or so outside, and the line was moving much less quickly than our hands and feet were freezing in the -35° cold, so we bailed. So did my battery: it was so cold that my battery suddenly drained from ~80% to 0% in seconds. We got ourselves home with a plan to warm ourselves before heading back out to dinner.

Unfortunately some sudden illness came over Lindsay; luckily she has a remarkable ability to know in advance when she’s gonna vom. And she did. So our planned dinner at Le Filet was out. Luckily Lindsay’s roommate was cooking chicken and vegetables, and offered to share. To round out the meal I girded myself for a quick excursion to the nearby Metro to pick up some white wine. While there I noticed a special 4-pack of Péché Mortel, including some of the variants they would have served at the brewpub…so I bought one and had myself a little mini-Péché day. The peach one was decent, as was the special edition (made with a lighter coffee), but the bourbon barrel-aged variant was tops. Meanwhile we had a lovely meal and fantastic conversation and listened to loads of good music which, several drinks in, turned into a bit of a dance party. Until 2am.


Between the late night and losing an hour to daylight savings chicanery, we woke up a little later than planned. We pulled on some clothes and went straight to The Sparrow, once again back on The Main, for some brunch. We’d timed it perfectly too, taking the last available table; a long line formed shortly after we sat down. Brunch was excellent: Lindsay had a hot toddy(!) and house-smoked trout with spinach & green onion pancake, soft boiled egg, beet salad, and whipped crème fraiche. I had shakshuka: two poached eggs in a Moroccan-spiced tomato sauce, with merguez sausage and sourdough toast. We ended with three fresh, tiny donuts: lemon curd, nutella, and pb+j. Then: back out into the cold.

We bought some Fairmount bagels, withdrew some cash, grabbed espressos and a churro at Barros Luco, and did a little shopping before getting to Dieu Du Ciel just as it opened. We’d hit on a nice little compromise: most of the one-offs were gone, sure, but the one I’d really wanted — the Péché Latte imperial coffee milk stout — was still there. It was beautiful, sweet and creamy like a dessert. Lindsay had a Rosée d’Hibiscus.

We split a sample of a few more, and finished with a final glass (a Paris Thé saison with green tea for me; a Nativitor Weizen Bock for Lindsay) before ducking back out into the Arctic. We knew we’d need a little more food, so we got burgers from Burger de Ville and Ubered home. I showered and packed; we ate and watched a few minutes of TV. Then it was off to the airport and home.


0 for 3


My superb weekends in Montreal are becoming too numerous to count. Here’s the really, really short version.

  • Thursday: an easy taxi / flight / taxi combo had me from door to door in 3.5 hours; late-night Pizza Hut (the BEST)
  • Friday: a little leftover pizza to tide us over; shrimp pizza and beet salad at Café Parvis; an exhibition at the Musée d’art contemporain; beers at the Benelux Brasserie; a game of chess; our usual stellar meal at Maison Publique (albacore tuna crudo, calamari in its own ink and aioli, TH Wines Viognier, Garganelli pasta with pesto and walnuts, duck breast, Burrowing Owl Cabernet Franc, pôt de crème, butterscotch cake) with some extra drama thrown in when some dude passed out during dinner and had to be taken away by ambulance.
  • Saturday: sausage rolls and almond croissants; a few hours of work; an attempted visit to supposedly-top beer joint Vices & Versa waved off due to how crowded it was; a visit to Birra instead, which was outstanding; an espresso stop at Caffe San Simeon; dinner at Hostaria (burrata, gnocchi, strigoli pasta with duck ragu, some kind of rolled veal+spinach+mozzarella covered in prosciutto and mushroom sauce, and an absolutely stellar bottle of Cavaliere Michele Satta 2011 Sangiovese)
  • Sunday: brunch at Mamm Bolduc; Canadiens vs. Oilers at the Bell Centre (another loss; that makes three games I’ve seen in Montreal, all of them losses); lunch at Brutopia; TV and cheesies; a messed-up trip to the airport (Uber doesn’t know where the Montreal airport is, apparently) and a snowy flight home.

À la prochaine, Montréal.







Cover photo from the Southbrook site

Balsam Houblon

I wanted to be nowhere near a TV on American inauguration day, aka the beginning of the end, so I worked in a frenzy until I had to run to the airport. I was headed to Montreal for the weekend where it was cold and damp and gray.

After a really interesting talk we grabbed dinner at The Balsam Inn. We split the Quebec mozzarella and garlic bread and chorizo cake with fried egg and tomato jam (!), and then the salmon tartare and beef tartare, all with a bottle of Pinot. We sampled a peanut blondie and orange/almond cake for dessert, with scotch for me and bourbon for Lindsay.




The next day was kinda lazy, slightly worky, heavy on the pastry (there’s this amazing bakery near Lindsay’s place that makes me SO happy), and ended up with us at Saint Houblon for beers and lunch. Lindsay’s lamb burger looked prety good; my duck confit burger was fantastic. The beers were all pretty solid too…great selection (some brewed there, some from other Quebec microbreweries) and laid-back atmosphere.


We relaxed a little back at Lindsay’s before dinner, and drank a bottle I bought (and left behind) the last time I was here: Beau’s “One Ping Only” Baltic porter. I mean, I love porter anyway, but the reference to The Hunt For Red October guaranteed I’d buy it.


Dinner Saturday was at our usual spot: Maison Publique. Our first time there together was stellar; the second time was good, not great. This time, though, we found that first height again.

  • We started, at our server’s insistence, with the foie gras parfait. I’m not a foie gras fan, and Lindsay wasn’t sure, but she was a pretty big fan by the end.
  • Around the same time we had a grapefruit and fennel salad as a palate cleanser. We paired all this with glasses of Spark from Tawse. This one’s a 100% Riesling sparkling so it’s not my favourite, but it helped cut the richness of the foie gras.
  • Our mains were a collection of winter vegetables covered in something called bagna cauda, which was this rich, salty, garlicky sauce; the pappardelle with beef cheek; and the Charlevoix pork, a brined chop served with sweet potato. We wondered what wine would go with all these — flavour-wise cab franc seemed the best choice but we needed something which could keep up with all that richness, so we went for Pearl Morissette’s big one-off variant: the 2012 Le Spectateur. It worked pretty well actually.
  • For dessert we couldn’t decide between the caramel pot de creme and the pistachio doughnut, so…yeah. We got both. We hadn’t planned to get a dessert drink but our server brought over a serious treat: a 2006 (!) Vidal icewine from Southbrook. I’d not had this before, and it was lovely — not that sweet for an icewine. Strong finish, Maison Publique.


Sunday was a big old pile of relax: pancakes, merguez sausages, mimosas, work, and watching The Invitation. I was so relaxed I forgot I even owned a watch, and accidentally left it behind when I took off for the airport.

See you in two weeks, Maison Publique. You too, rest of Montreal.


Cover photo from the Southbrook site

Slow down, life. Slow down.

It’s rare that I go this long without posting, but it’s rare that I’m this busy. I’m going point-form this time, just ’cause.

  • Ten days ago, the Wednesday before last, I caught up with my old friend M2 at Batch, which he’d not tried. The beer was fine. The food was good. The conversation was, as always, long overdue and excellent.
  • That Friday a busy, noshy weekend started with an outrageous dinner at Carisma. Bread, burrata, calamari, pasta, white wine, a 100% Sangiovese that almost made me cry, creme brulee, espresso…oy. Barely made it home without needing a nap.
  • Saturday: pastries from XO Bisous, St. Lawrence Market, Arrival (imdb | rotten tomatoes), beers at Thirsty & Miserable (including a Westy 12!), and so much meat at Triple A.
  • Sunday: greasy Sunset Grill breakfast, an entire day grazing on the charcuterie picked up the day before at the market, and gnocchi + sausage + spicy sauce for dinner.
  • Monday: ham & cheese croissants from XO Bisous before I finally gave up and went to work.
  • Tuesday: I had to bail on drinks Monday, and (by choice) bailed on a work event Tuesday, because on Wednesday I was off to Ottawa for meetings.
  • Wednesday: I flew to Ottawa early in the morning, and arrived at my hotel early enough that I had time for a coffee at Morning Owl before my meetings started. I hit Morning Owl two more times that day (once for lunch, once for a meeting that afternoon), then had a fairly generic dinner at the Chateau Laurier.
  • Thursday: Morning Owl (again!) for coffee and breakfast. After my meetings and then a few errands I stopped at Bluebird Coffee in the Byward Market before meeting CB to get a ride with her to their place, wherein GB was preparing homemade fried chicken, which we ate with Dumangin 2004 Champagne. I caught an Uber X back to my hotel and had a glass of Norm Hardie cab franc at the bar.
  • Friday (Ottawa): black bean rolls and an Americano from Bread & Sons, back to Morning Owl for coffee to meet my friend Mark, and then lunch at Union 613 with my friend Dino. Union has an excellent beer lineup, and their fried chicken (yup, twice in two days) was outstanding, as was their corn bread. After lunch it was off to the train station and, from thence, Montreal.
  • Friday (Montreal): after a brief stop at Studio XX it was dinner surrounded by super-loud French bros at Bières et Compagnie, followed by a much better beer place: Pub Pit Caribou. I’ll be honest, I don’t even know what the main beer list looks like, because their menu said they were featuring guest bottles of Gueuze Tilquin. My holy fucking grail. Both kinds, the L’Ancienne and the Quetsche. Deeeeeeeelicious.
  • Saturday: so relaxing, Saturday. Enough pastries to kill a man, then hours of Black Mirror, then another killer dinner at Maison Publique. Seared mackerel, spiced lamb tartare on mint toast, roasted cabbage (better than it sounds, probably because it was smothered in butter), fried rabbit, and a pôt de crème, mostly paired with a Painted Rock Syrah.
  • Sunday: my flight home got cancelled, so I switched myself onto the latest flight possible so as to extend my enjoyment of Montreal. I hit two more spots on my list: Brasserie Boswell, which was really cool and had lots of great beer on tap, and Depanneur Peluso, the top-rated dep in Montreal for craft beer. I bought a few bottles, including a Beau’s One Ping Only, partly because it’s a tasty-looking Baltic Porter, and partly because of the Hunt For Red October reference.
  • Monday: now back in Toronto, I left work to meet up with my buddy Jeff at Little AAA, the second installation of old favourite AAA. A couple of bourbons, a pulled pork sandwich, and smoked chicken wings later, I find myself in dire need of salad and water.

Plus lentement, s’il vous plaît.

The bitter drink

Another weekend. Another epic weekend.


Christ, it was impossible to get out of Toronto. I’ve never seen Billy Bishop airport like that. A lot of commuter fliers + a few canceled flights = chaos on the island. My flight was an hour late leaving, and sat on the Montreal tarmac for fifteen minutes while we waited for an open slot. I didn’t have much in me but to get in a cab, drop my bags, listen to music, play some poker, and drink some beer.


I had a plan. A plan for beer. After driving in a delicious breakfast sandwich it was off to Le Saint Bock — tremendous beer, and tasty frites, but a weird vibe…I’m not used to craft beer places also being sports bars. Anyway, after pints of Hefeweizen and Saison, this was the sample lineup:

  • Malédiction Milk Stout
  • King Kunta Shiraz Saison Noire Impériale Vieillit en Fût de Shiraz
  • Pénitente Blanche Épicée
  • Harvest Ghosts American Brown Ale au Piment Bhut Jolokia
  • Jésus Chéri Ale Brune Impériale Aux Cerises
  • Black IPA (Brasserie Dunham)
  • L’ambiguë Rousse Bitter (La Voie Maltée)
  • Cidre à la Cerise (Vergers de la Colline)

Next up was L’Amère a Boire, just up the street. While the beer here was less impressive (the stout and red were fine, but…just fine) the food was very tasty. Rabbit dumplings? Lamb spring rolls? Yes please. Also: hot butch servers. Anyway.

A delicious, colourful stop at G&G Patisserie and a much-needed americano at Café Sfouf later and then it was time for Station, the home bar for Hopfenstark.

It was fricking rammed with beer nerds and stressed servers, so it started off rocky, but got a little better — especially when the flammekueche w/ crème fraiche, oignon, lardon, and emmental cheese showed up. The beer was almost too nerdy, if you know what I mean.

  • 7 Sisters: Mérope Belgian Pale Ale
  • Baltic Porter de L’Ancrier Baltic Porter
  • Saison Station 55 Saison amère
  • Berlin AlexanderPlatz Berliner Weisse

Clearly that wasn’t quite enough booze and food, so after a brief respite it was off to Pullman wine bar for some late-night charcuterie and fromage, and glasses of pinot noir and cab franc and more cab franc and barolo.

I barely remember getting home.


Sfouf indeed. Pastries and coffee please. Honestly, not much happened on Sunday apart from some delicious relaxation, until it was time for dinner at Maison Publique…and mon dieu. What a dinner.

First of all, the wine list: it’s entirely Canadian, and it’s easily the best Canadian wine lineup I’ve ever seen. Not the biggest, but certainly the best-curated. When I first walked in I saw bottles on the bar from TH Wines, Tawse, Pearl-Morissette, and so on. I ordered that TH Wines Cab-Merlot by the glass to start.

And then there was the food. Gawd. It was…well:

  • octopus & lentil salad
  • beets in marjoram, aioli
  • ricotta gnocchi in duck + pork ragu
  • magret de canard
  • olive oil cake

For the main meal the sommelier suggested a bottle of 2007 Southbrook Poetica Cab Merlot, which was amazing. After dessert he recommended glasses of Closson Chase chardonnay and Southbrook Triomphe Cab Franc.

The wine, the ambience, the service…it might be my new favourite place in Montreal.


Time to head up to my work conference in Mont Tremblant. A ginormous yummy breakfast, mimosas, and a péché mortel filled me up until I made the long drive up. Mercy.

Montreal, je t’aime.



Myriad(e) delights

Work took me to Montreal last week, and I stayed through the weekend to enjoy a city I see far too rarely. Fortunately I’ll have an excuse to see it a lot more now, so everything described below just represents a sampler of what’s to come.


A dim sum food truck pulled up right outside my work event, so some pork buns got demolished while I talked to startups and VCs.

Dinner was at Modavie wine bar in the old city. The live music was pretty outstanding…the lady had pipes. I ate rillette de canard and crème brûlée and felt very French indeed.


First up: coffee and food from nearby Café Veritas. Pretty solid.

I kind of skipped lunch after meetings at the Montreal office, instead just heading to Café Myriade for a cappuccino and croissant.

After going back to the office for a bit it was time for a quick stop at Brutopia for a brown ale and a bowl of sausage.

After some research, Bocata was the dinner choice, and it was goddamn outstanding: unbelievably soft bread + oil; beef carpaccio; octopus a la gallega; lobster roll w/ fennel, endive, and pear salad; plenty of good wine; and a lemon tart for dessert. I still feel full thinking about it now.


More coffee, this time from the Espace Café. The croissants here were even better.

A morning of work deserved a big-ass brunch, so Maamm Bolduc it was. My omelette was full of chorizo (yay!) and mushrooms (what?) but some careful surgery saved the day.

The day’s true objective, though, was the Dieu du Ciel! brewpub. Oh, the flights!

  1. Ultra Mosaika (pale ale w/ mosaic hops)
  2. Déesse Nocturne (dry stout)
  3. Nativité (blonde hefeweizen)
  4. Rosée d’hibiscus
  5. Résurrection (porter)
  6. Voyageur des brumes (bitter)
  7. Sul’ pouce vers une autre galaxie (IPA w/ galaxy hops)0
  8. Pionnière (imperial black IPA)
  9. Solstice d’été aux cerises (cherry sour wheat)
  10. Rigor Mortis double (abbey double)
  11. Isseki Nicho (imperial dark saison)
  12. Route des Epices (spiced ale)
  13. Tête de Corbeau (pale ale w/ denali hops)

The day’s beerventures weren’t done though, as friends were met at Brouhaha, another top-rated Montreal beer joint. I had three; I honestly can’t remember what anyone else had. I very much remember the food though: Alsacienne flatbread (lardons, caramelized onions, crème fraîche, cheese) and smoked duck wings.

  1. Charlevoix Bootlegger (brown ale)
  2. Brouehaha Saison Voatsiperifery (peppercorn saison)
  3. Charlevoix Vache Folle (imperial milk stout)


Grey, rainy, quiet. A bunch of amazing pastries, coffees, shockingly good beer procured from a Metro grocery store (Péché Mortel! Maudite!), and not wanting to come home. Alas.



So, my 40th birthday was last week. I’m not one to particularly care about birthdays, even milestone birthdays, but I was excited about this one. Nellie had something planned to celebrate my birthday, and I had no idea what it was. It was a complete secret. Well, almost complete — the night before we left, from my desk as I tried desperately to wrap up work before taking two days off, I saw her waving around a Porter boarding pass. That narrowed the field somewhat.

I’m writing this five days after the birthday festivities ended, in part because work insanity resumed immediately, and in part because it’s taken me that long to recover. Here’s what happened:


We got to the island airport, excited to use the new tunnel. Sadly the tunnel wouldn’t open until that afternoon, so the ferry it was. While waiting in line for the ferry I was surprised to see Kaylea & Matt appear. For a second it seemed like a coincidence, and I thought, “Where are they going?”. Then it clicked — they were coming to wherever my birthday weekend was happening! Traveling companions! Amazing!

Once we checked in and got through security Nellie revealed where we were going: a tour of Quebec breweries, starting in Quebec City and ending in Montreal. Badass! We boarded a little late and took off for Quebec City.

After a wait for our bags and a slight snafu with the rental car (which worked in our favour — we were given a much bigger car for the same rate) we piled in and drove downtown, listening to an awful 80s/90s mix on french radio.

Nellie and I haven’t been to Quebec City since our honeymoon, but Matt & Kaylea knew their way around, so we dropped them at their hotel, checked in ourselves, and walked back to meet them near the Chateau Frontenac. We saw Matt walk around a corner just ahead of us, and when we caught up…boom, there were Jeff & Steph! (Talking to a cop for some reason.) Jeff gave me a full-on bear hug and we all went to find some lunch.

Kaylea knew this place called L’Inox where they make their own beer, so that’s where the adventure started. We sat on the sweltering patio and drank tasty beers and tried to get a little food down our necks before our limo (more on that later) arrived. As we sat there, another surprise: CBJ+M arrived. What the? Deceit! Skullduggery! What great friends. I have great friends.

It started to pour, so we ducked inside, finished up, and then got into the stretch limo Nellie had rented. We were headed north to Baie-Saint-Paul to visit Microbrasserie Charlevoix, but first we had a stop to make. On the way out of town our driver Felix (who was 12) stopped at an SAQ, dropped Nellie and Kaylea, and executed an 8-point turn in tighter quarters than I could even imagine a limo being able to fit. Bubbles aboard, we took off north.

We drank Veuve Clicquot, passing Montmorency Falls and Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, eventually arriving in Baie-Saint-Paul and the Charlevoix bottle shop. The cashier confirmed that we were the first limo ever to pull into their parking lot. There’s no tasting room, but we loaded up bottles, including a bunch of Vache Folle milk stout. Jeff insisted on buying an expired bottle of rye pale ale from a display out front.

To sample their beers we drove into town to Le Saint Pub for dinner. Or late lunch. Or something. I didn’t eat enough, but did drink another 9% milk stout. We left there, and admired the pretty little town while Felix fetched the limo.

Felix drove us down to the St. Lawrence, where the Rivière du Gouffre empties into the bay which gives the town its name, and we took in the view before jumping back into the limo home.

Back to Quebec City we drove, drinking Charlevoix beer as we went (the expired ryePA? Delicious.) and checked into our respective hotels. Frankly, the rest of the evening is a blur for me. I’d had too much to drink, and not nearly enough to eat. I remember meeting everyone in the bar at the Hotel Clarendon. I remember grabbing cabs to get to Le Projet, which seemed like a really cool place for the few seconds I was there. And I remember the day getting completely away from me, if you know what I mean, and needing to go home immediately. Nellie and I managed to get ourselves into an Uber and I conked out. Way to ruin your birthday, Dan.


The next morning was a rough one, but I got some coffee and a bagel in me, and we got on the road. It was raining when we left QC, but the clouds soon broke and the sun appeared and we drove through the beautiful Quebec countryside. Nellie needed some fluids and I needed some grease, so we stopped in a little town called Donnacona and she got a vitamin water and I got McDonald’s drive-through fries. Those fries saved my life, yo.

Not long after we pulled off the highway at Fromagerie des Grondines for some cheese, then got back on the highway and continued on to Shawinigan. The plan was to visit Trou du Diable, another brewing favourite. Again, no tasting room per se, but WHAT a cool shop: an almost overwhelming selection of bottles available, and great swag. Nearly everyone bought a tshirt or a hat — I’m wearing mine as I type this. We could have stayed there all day if we didn’t have places to be. I still had no firm idea of where those places were, mind you; I was just along for the ride.

Oh yeah, and I got another surprise when we pulled into the TdD parking lot: brother #2 and his wife, who flew in from Nova Scotia the night before. Incroyable! I didn’t see that one coming. I got a little choked up. Had to wait a second before getting out of the car.

So now we were ten, and loaded up on beer, and — after a grocery stop in Trois-Rivières — on our way to a town called Sorel-Tracy on the Richelieu River. We arrived around 4, at a house called Le Maison Relaxio, and I promise that I am NOT making that up. Once we walked through we understood the name. It’s a beautiful, modern five-bedroom house with a big indoor pool, a games area, outdoor patios with decks and grills and stoves, a sauna, a hot tub, an enormous kitchen, a home theatre in the basement…it felt like we were in Beverly Hills. And it was ours for the night.

We snacked on an enormous charcuterie board and cracked craft beers and blasted hip-hop. We went for swims, and swung in hammocks, and battled at air hockey. We sat on docks, played pool, sipped wine. Matt and Jeff did every activity station in the place, like they were at camp. Before long Matt and his line chefs began preparing dinner: burgers made of beef and pork, stuffed with confit goose, and topped with local cheddar. Also: potato salad and grilled corn, and (obviously) wine and beer.

There was much more swimming after dinner. Nellie made friends with a plastic dolphin. Kaylea and I drank expired milk stout straight from bottles. Jeff swam around with the pink umbrella. Steph crashed early as she is wont to do. No one wanted to leave or let the day end, but eventually we all crashed. We needed three more days here at least.


Today it was back to Montreal, so everyone fueled up on a giant pork-ridden breakfast. I drove in a leftover burger for good measure and THAT GOOSE my god almighty god. Anyway, it was a short drive, but no one really had the wherewithal to tackle either Unibroue or a long drive to Brasserie Dunham. We just wanted to get to Montreal. We dropped CBJ+M at their hotel, and drove a few more blocks to our own: the Hotel Place d’Armes.

Unfortunately our room wasn’t ready yet, so we left our bags and went out in search of coffee. I found an espresso at Café Différance, and we found fresh local beer at Les Souers Grises, a brewpub on the site of an old nunnery.

We walked back toward our hotel along the Promenade du Vieux-Port, stopping for some tacos (me: chorizo; she: lobster) at Taco Box.

We walked in the hot sun to our hotel, where our room…still wasn’t ready. So off we went to the hotel bar to cool down with wine and gin, until suddenly…CBGB showed up! Nellie told me the surprises were over! Tricksy! False! We had a drink with them, but only one, as we all needed to clean up and now our room was ready. And what a room it was: a two level loft suite. Nellie had gone all-out, no doubt. We put on some tunes, showered, changed, and were ready for a drink when Andrew & Denise popped over.

We walked up the flight of outdoor stairs to the rooftop patio. Well, the lower one; the upper one was full and featured no shade, which is no place for two Dickinson men. We took over the corner couch, ordered a bottle of Möet et Chandon, and enjoyed the views.

We needed a drink locale to rally prior to dinner in the plateau, so we picked Gorge Rouge, a fairly hipster hangout a block from our restaurant. My French isn’t quite up to the task of a complex drinks list, but we muddled through, and got another surprise when two more friends showed up: MLK! In fact, they’d driven to Montreal just for this dinner. What a pair of beauties.

When it was nearly time for our dinner we walked the block to La Salle À Manger, and filled a table for 14. No, wait, make that 16: JP+Sue had just arrived. NOW, Nellie promised, there were no more surprises. This was it: the finale, the apex, the ne plus ultra. So we tucked in to dinner. And oh my. Dinner.

There were oysters. There was house-made charcuterie. There was seared tuna. There was some sort of enormous concoction of shrimp and salad and tomatoes and onion rings piled on a single huge loaf of bread. There was boudin noir. There were probably things I’ve forgotten now one week on. And finally, there was an entire suckling pig, including the head (which I held up Lord Of The Flies style, and which JP ate). Through it all there was a never-ending supply of goddamn outstanding wine, hand-picked by Kaylea. The Loire cab franc she ordered nearly stopped my heart. She gets me.

We bought a shot for the kitchen staff — they came out of the kitchen to thank us — and then we killed the lemon dessert which signaled the end. What a meal. What an event.

The adventure ended here for a few people: MLK, CBJ+M, and Andrew & Denise who had to leave early the next morning. For our part, we didn’t have much left in us either. We hailed an UberX and sped home.

One friend who knows me well (too well?) whispered an instruction to me that night: to look around the table and never again doubt that people love me. My insecure brain will never fully believe it, but there they all were. Those words glowed in my head as I drifted off to sleep.


Sunday we slept in, because of course we did. We ordered a big greasy room-service breakfast and headed back up to the Plateau, because it was time for church: a visit to the Dieu du Ciel brewpub. I had somehow, criminally, never been to this place, the home of Canada’s best brewery and maker of my favourite beer, Péché Mortel. The intrepid ten left over from dinner the night before were all here, and we enjoyed a tour with one of the brewmasters  (who actually sat with us for hours and talked beer…such a great guy) followed by a tasting flight. Then we basically just killed the rest of the board. I’d started feeling ill while in the brewing room (humid, no air moving, not enough food in my stomach, etc.) and had a bit of a slow start, but the chai beer seemed to save me. I sampled three or four more, and was starting to rally.

CBGB departed for their train, and three of the remaining little piggies went to market (Marché Jean-Talon, that is) to fetch dinner for the evening. The rest of us went around the corner to Dépanneur As to buy some beer. There was so much Quebec beer there I’d never heard of that I didn’t know where to start. Jeff, JP, and I each loaded up a box, waited forever for a cab, suffered through said cabbie’s ridiculous roundabout route, and arrived at Matt & Kaylea’s Airbnb rental.

Their place had a beautiful (and dinosaur-ridden) back patio, so we drank cold beer and wine, and put Ben Harper and Nina Simone and NoFX and Bob Marley records on the turntable (!), and ate another Matt-feast: shrimp, oysters, duck bacon & goat cheese, scallops & chanterelle mushrooms, seared yellowfin tuna, a maelstrom of king crab, and (since we were in Quebec) a tarte au sucre. That was it. I could eat no more. We hugged it out and caught our last Uber of the trip.


The fairy tale was over. Time to go home. We collected our steed, dropped our beer off in the trunk of JP’s car, drove to the airport in the most clusterfuck-y manner possible, and checked in to our flight. Not that we were in a time crunch, but it’s still nice to sail through that Nexus line at security.

Our flight home barely even seemed like a thing, it was like a thought. We arrived back in Toronto barely 100 hours after we’d left, but it felt like we’d been gone for weeks. We walked through the island airport tunnel for the first time, and a few minutes later were home, suddenly feeling very lonely.


Of course, I needed that alone time. Not that I’d have traded it for anything, but the constant social interaction and being the ostensible reason for the festivities was just as exhausting for me as the rich food, heavy drink, and lack of sleep. Much like our other epic adventures with friends, I needed a vacation after our vacation.

But like all great adventures, they turn more brilliant as a day or two passes. Only today, after an especially intense week at work, do I really feel like I’m able to see the arc of the thing. During the weekend itself I was so busy being shuttled around, and then so overwhelmed by everyone’s arrival and attention, that I was barely reacting or getting excited. It took almost a week for the emotions to hit me. Gratitude. Appreciation. Joy, outright joy.

I can’t, and certainly didn’t, thank anyone enough for coming all the way from Toronto and Barrie and Ottawa and Nova Scotia. I’m bad at things like that, but I think they know that about me by now. I think they also know I love them whether I say it or not.

I also didn’t (and almost never do) thank my wife enough. The sheer logistics of what went into this trip was incredible, let alone the care and thoughtfulness. I might have guessed the destination, but never could have expected the company. I could never have anticipated the memories I now have.

I am so lucky. And what else could a man want on any day of his life?

Tension grows and the whistle blows

I love sports. The classic match-ups. The iconic venues. The unforgettable moments.

I was lucky enough to be back in Boston last weekend for work. In between conference sessions I had a pretty good steak at Davio’s, made a return visit to Stoddard’s to meet a friend, saw the memorial on Boylston Street, and drank a few good pints of craft beer (Allagash White, Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, Ommegang Abbey Ale) at the conference’s hotel pub. But mostly I was lucky because I got to experience one of those iconic venues. I got to watch a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, from atop the Green Monster no less.

I ate a ballpark dog and drank a Sam Adams. I leaned out and touched Carlton Fisk’s foul pole. I listened to the crowd sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” and, much more emphatically, “Sweet Caroline”. I watched David Ortiz crank a 439-footer to straightaway center not a week after his hilariously inspirational speech following the bombings. I watched the Sox beat Houston 7-2 on a blustery April evening and couldn’t think of anything more Bostonian to do.

The next day I flew back to Toronto, just ahead of my parents who flew in from Moncton for a (not quite) two-day stay. We had dinner at Starfish, explored the Distillery District, and sampled some of the breakfast sausage we made last weekend, but the real reason they were here was to see one of those classic match-ups: the Montreal Canadiens vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night. Nellie had somehow lucked into gold seats for the final game of the season, and gave up her seat so that my dad could watch his first NHL game in 49 (!) years and our first together.

Luckily for me, my Canadiens won. I felt bad that my dad had come all the way from Nova Scotia to watch his beloved Leafs lose, but I’m sure he felt the same way I would have had my team lost: just getting to watch such a big game together is now one of those unforgettable moments that sports can sometimes produce.


Signs of spring: birds singing. Snow melting. Taxes. Maple syrup. Flowers blooming. Bruins/Habs.

Tomorrow night Montreal will face Boston in the playoffs for the fifth time in ten years. True, that’s not quite as frequent as in the years before the 1993 shift to conference vs. divisional playoffs, when they met each other in the playoffs nine straight years. But this year has a little extra zing, thanks to Zdeno Chara’s attempted decapitation of Max Pacioretty last month.

I don’t see Montreal trying to go after the Bruins physically. First, they can’t. Second, if physical retaliation were their plan they would have tried it during their final meeting of the season, in which Boston demolished them 7-0. No, the Canadiens’ only intended revenge would be to knock off the third-seeded Bruins. But I don’t see how they can do it. Boston is too big, too strong, too fast. Montreal has been without their two best defensemen, Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges, for the better part of the year. Montreal’s only star player is Carey Price, but Boston goalie Tim Thomas is also one of the best in the league on many nights.

If Price steals a few wins, Thomas gets rattled, Boston’s scorers dry up and Montreal gets a second straight heroic playoff from guys like Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and P.K. Subban, then maybe they’ll pull off the upset.

If, if, if. Go Habs go.

Where to next?

4,634 days ago I moved to a place I never thought I’d end up: Toronto. Growing up on the east coast of Canada, you’re trained to dislike Ontario in general, and Toronto in particular. Of course, that was an uninformed opinion, typical small-town distrust of big cities. I was excited as soon as it became a real possibility, just as I’d been excited to move from my tiny home town to Halifax for university. Living in the country’s biggest city became a thrilling idea. Anyway, I’d been offered a good job in Toronto straight out of school, and you didn’t turn that down.

I was lucky enough to move here with other people from university and lived here with my friend Brock for my first year. Brock had lived here before and made the transition a little easier. So did making a lot of good friends at work, mainly other transplanted Maritimers. I really started to love it here: countless live music venues, huge record stores (back when that was important), movie theatres showing all kinds of movies and all the sleepless energy of the big city. For god’s sake, the stores were open on Sunday! Nellie joined me in Toronto the following year, by which time I was in love with the city.

My jobs moved progressively further downtown (except for one blip up to Markham), and so did our apartments. We discovered more advantages of living here: new foods, nicer clothing stores, the film festival, better beer places. We got married, bought a home, adopted cats, got better jobs. Toronto was our home now, rather than a stopping point until we figured out what else to do.

After thirteen years here, though, I’m beginning to fall out of love with Toronto. It still has lots of what we like, but some of Toronto is wearing on us: the pollution, the dysfunctional waterfront, the paralyzing. I also find myself comparing Toronto to other Canadian cities, greener places with more character.

So what would it take to make me move? Career aside, I’d still want a city with a diverse population, good movie theatres (and maybe even a film festival), great restaurants and progressive politics. I’d also like to live in a city with good parks and nearby mountains. A few years ago live music venues and record stores would’ve been major factors, but things change. I suspect that soon movie theatres won’t matter much anymore either, as long as I have broadband.

The career point is the kicker, obviously, but supposing we got a great job offers in another city there are three places in Canada I’d consider moving to:

Halifax: home sweet home, obviously, but it’s changed from when we were students. Or maybe it’s just that we see more now than we did then. It’s a small town, but it’s laid back and comfortable while getting ever so slightly more cosmopolitan all the time. Plus, it’s close to family. However, if they hadn’t done away with the Sunday shopping ban three years ago, Halifax would’ve been a non-starter.

Calgary: true, Alberta’s a very conservative province, and the freaking cowboy/stampede culture would drive me batty, but I could put up with a lot for living 90 minutes from the Rockies.

Vancouver: I think this one tops my list. The green space, the proximity to mountains and wine country, the incredible restaurants, the weather (rain doesn’t bother me, given where I grew up) and the attitude of the city makes it feel like home every time I visit. So if somebody could hurry up and offer me an amazing job there, I’d appreciate it.

(By the way, apologies to Montreal. You certainly have your charms, but moving there from Toronto would feel too much like the same thing, just with a much better hockey team. Likewise, Ottawa: I like your green space and many of your inhabitants, but I…iiiii…zzzzzzzzzz…zzzzzzzzSNRK!!! Huh? Wha? Oh…uh, sorry, Ottawa, you put me to sleep there.)

And, of course, I haven’t even mentioned cities outside of Canada. I’d be here all night.