Right, where's that key to the gym?

It’s been a week of long hours punctuated by extravagant eating. Nellie kicked off the week with a test dinner (she likes to test out potential dinner-party meals on me, which I’m just fine with) consisting of salad, prosciutto-wrapped shrimp and gnocchi in a pancetta tomato-cream sauce, paired with bottles of Riesling and Pinot Grigio.

On Monday I had a work thing at North 44, still one of Toronto’s most consistent & solid restaurants. I didn’t realize it at the time but I ended up ordering the same meal I’d had there almost exactly a year earlier: butternut squash ravioli with oxtail ragout and sage, and the 12 oz. USDA rib eye. And then some kind of coconut thing for dessert.

On Wednesday night I met M2 at Volo to do some catching up. They have a particularly good tap list on right now; I had a Denison’s Dunkel and a Great Lakes Winter Ale, as well as the 38th beer on my Project FiftyBrew list: a Wellington Russian Imperial Stout. Most important, though, was a few hours spent with an old friend and, let’s face it, mentor. It happens far too infrequently for my liking.

Last night was another catch-up with old friends, this time with two old mates from university, including CBJ, briefly in town from Cincinnati with his wife. The other friend and his wife made beef bourguignon and poured us copious amounts of wine and port and limoncello as we sat in their beautiful apartment and talked into the wee hours. And to top the evening off, CBJ had smuggled three more Project FiftyBrew beers across the border — and the fact that I have to import Quebec beer from northern Kentucky tells you all you need to know about inter-provincial liquor import laws. Anyway, I now have bottles of La Terrible, Quelque Chose and Ephemere Pomme in my fridge. So…win.


We needed that.

About a year ago Nellie’s boss gave her a gift card for all her hard work on a particular project. The gift card was from North 44, long considered one of the best restaurants in Toronto, so we were pretty excited about going. However, delays, other priorities and more work kept interfering with our plans to go. It wasn’t until last night that we finally used our card, and it couldn’t have come at a better time: we needed a night to enjoy ourselves and stop thinking about work for a few hours.

I don’t know how I’ve lived here for twelve years and not eaten at North 44, considering I’d made multiple visits to Mark McEwan’s other restaurants Bymark and One. Toronto Life magazine still considers it one of the ten best in the city (#7 to be exact), and it was perfect. I’ve had more impressive meals, certainly, but last night it was precisely what we needed: excellent, uncomplicated food in a relaxed but elegant room. Here’s what graced our forks as we moaned and swooned:


  • Chandon Brut from California
  • Red and green pear salad with endive, blue goat cheese, pine nuts and sherry vinaigrette / Sancerre, Domaine du Carrou 2008, Dominique Roger from France
  • 10 oz. U.S.D.A. prime strip / Cabernet Sauvignon, Mantra 2004 from Sonoma
  • Four cheeses / Port sampler:  1 oz each of Taylors 10 year, 20 year & late bottled vintage


  • Butternut squash ravioli with oxtail ragout and sage / Glass of Cave Spring Riesling 2007 from Niagara
  • 12 oz. U.S.D.A. Rib Eye / Cabernet Sauvignon, Mantra 2004 from Sonoma
  • Chocolate hazelnut terrine caramel fleur de sel moux, soft brownie, crisp orange tuile / Lilly Pilly “Noble Blend” 2006 dessert wine from Australia

It was all of it as good as it sounds. The card’s donors had picked North 44 specifically because, at the time of its’ giving, the only meat Nellie or I would eat was fish. The fish selection was certainly impressive, but we both craved a steak, and it was among the best I’ve ever had. The Cab Sauv we shared with it was equally spectacular. We rolled out of there very full, and very happy.

We decided to keep pressing our luck with the wine, and headed for reds bistro. A side note: it was the most pleasant cab ride we’d ever had in Toronto. The cab was immaculate. Soft classical music played. The driver was polite, quiet and wore a shirt and vest. It kind of freaked me out. I kind of wanted to put him on full-time retainer.

Anyway, we got to reds and let them know we wanted to try some interesting wine. For my part, I wanted to stick to Ontario wines. The staff was more than happy to oblige, and here’s what they gave us. Note that Nellie’s second wine was the same as my first. She had a sip of mine and loved it so much that she ordered a full glass.


  • David Trager 2002 Verdelho
  • Peninsula Ridge 2007 Fume Blanc
  • Fontodi 2006 Chianti Classico


  • Peninsula Ridge 2007 Fume Blanc
  • Norman Hardie Pinot Noir
  • Peninsula Ridge 2007 Meritage

We wrapped up the evening will some ill-advised single-malt whisky (Oban for me, Cragganmore for her) and even donated some money to the bartender’s Movember moustache fund-raising efforts. A fun night, and a tasty one as well.

After such a luxurious evening we just couldn’t go through with our plan to spend the whole day back in the office, so we slept in and lay about. Tomorrow we’ll work the full day, but we needed these 36 hours badly.