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.

Dominion City

I had a quick work(ish) trip to Ottawa this week. I was there for less than 48 hours and pretty busy the whole time so I didn’t even try making plans with friends there. I did get to try (and re-try) a few decent places though:

  • I tried to go to Union613 but it closes at 10pm. Because Ottawa. Instead I went back to my hotel, the Alt, and tried the Dominion City Earl Grey Marmalade Saison and then had a glass of Norm Hardie Cab Franc.
  • Bread & Sons for a very good cappuccino and a straight-outta-Paris croissant.
  • After a work(ish) dinner at Wilfrid’s in the Chateau Laurier I walked into the market and went to Brother’s Beer Bistro, my Ottawa favourite. I had last year’s Bellwoods Jelly King and it nearly melted my face with sourness.
  • Coffee at the newest (I think?) Morning Owl.

Ottaweekend

FRIDAY

It’s a universal truism that the Friday afternoon you’re hoping to wrap up early so you can catch a flight is the crazy-busiest stretch of the week. And so it was with us last Friday as we closed everything off as best we could, rushed home, grabbed our bags, and took off to catch a flight.

Even with bad ferry luck we had enough time to enjoy the Porter lounge, and an hour after boarding our flight we landed in Ottawa. We checked in at the Westin downtown and went out in search of food.

After walking through a very raucous Byward Market (a pub crawl of frozen Carlton students was the prime culprit) we tucked in at Vineyards Wine Bar. It was okay, but I can’t understand the long list of Wine Spectator awards. The wine list looked fairly pedestrian. The beer selection was pretty decent though, so we began heading in that direction after our charcuterie board let us down. After a while we were joined by Toronto friends JP+Sue, also in town, for one or two more. I ended up having a Unibroue Raftman, a Saison Dupont, and a Unibroue Maudite.

When Vineyards shut down around midnight we decided to have one more somewhere else. JP suggested Brothers Beer Bistro just down the street, a place high on my must-try list, so off we went. Cool spot. We closed it down around 2:15; I drank and Aventinus and the Mill Street Cobblestone stout from Nellie’s beer flight.

We got off the hotel elevator on the top floor and walked through a crowd of fancily-dressed people spilling out of the big suite across the lobby from our room. Nellie was hungry again so she perused the room service menu while I ran to the bathroom. Just then someone knocked on our door, and for some reason Nellie opened it. A couple stood there. The conversation went something like this:

Couple: “Uh, this isn’t suite 2318.”

Nellie: ” Nope, it’s not. 2318 is over there.” *points*

Couple: “Got it! Hey, we’re having a party over there if you guys want to come over for a drink.”

Nellie: “Oh, no thanks. It’s late. We’re just going to eat something and go to bed.”

Couple: “Are you sure? We’re very open-minded.”

Nellie: “Uh…okay. Nope, we’re good, thanks.”

Couple: “Okay, well, if you change your mind just come on over. We’re very open-minded.”

Nellie: “OK, g’nite!” *closes door, sets night lock*

A few minutes later some room service chicken wings showed up. We scarfed them down and tried not to think too hard about what had just happened. A little after 3am we crashed out.

SATURDAY

We’d had to keep the previous evening’s events quiet on social in order to fulfill a big part of our reason to be in Ottawa: to surprise our friend CB on her birthday weekend. GB had arranged for us to surprise her by meeting them for brunch at the Baker Street Cafe in Westboro. We got out of the cab and crossed the street right in front of her, but she didn’t notice us. We got in line right behind her, and waited for about 20 seconds before she noticed us and freaked out. Mission accomplished!

We had to wait about 20 minutes for a table, but it was worth it. The food was great — especially the sausage I had with my French toast — and there was so much that we left almost an entire breakfast behind. Incroyable. We finished there, did a quick stop at MEC with them, went back to their house for a little bit, and then went back downtown to our hotel.

Nellie was determined to have a nap, but first we went for a stroll around Parliament Hill. The food and fresh air put Nellie down pretty quickly, but I’d had an espresso during our walk so I stayed awake and read in the other room.

A quick word on this Westin: it’s an old hotel which has received a face lift in some spots, like the lobby, but still shows its age in others, like the windows or TVs. Not that we were watching much TV, but the one in the living room didn’t work for most of the weekend. There was also problems with the elevators like long waits and slow rides down at busy times like breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

And so, because we were caught off guard by the wonky elevators, we were (nearly) the last ones to arrive to CB’s birthday dinner at Restaurant 18. About 30 people were assembled to celebrate with her, most of whom we didn’t know, but we made fast friends. Especially once the meal was done and we begin swapping seats.

Speaking of the meal it was fantastic. The beet salad was great, my lamb was some of the best I’ve ever eaten, and the chocolate marquis dessert was perfect. I think GB catered to Nellie and I when picking the wine: an all-Ontario lineup of Redstone Chardonnay and Organized Crime meritage.

With the meal over we decided to relocate. Our first potential stop failed the douchebag test before ever set foot in the door. The second place failed it only after we stepped inside and were told we’d have to do bottle service. Fuck that. JP and I made an executive call and walked down the street to someplace we thought could work: Brothers Beer Bistro. They put together a table for 10 and we drank many, many good beers. Myself, I had the Trois Mousquetaires Gose, a Rodenbach Grand Cru, a St. Bernardus Wit, and a Nickel Brook Cuvee Reserve. By the end of the evening it was once again JP, Sue, Nellie and I who closed the joint down.

We went home and supercrashed, again around 3am. No awkward inquiries from neighbors this night. None that we heard, anyway.

SUNDAY

I managed to get about six hours of sleep. Unfortunately Westin blinds down close completely so by 9am the room was pretty bright and I was fully up. I let Nellie sleep and walked down Elgin to check out The Ministry Of Coffee. I had an amazing cortado and a nutella croissant there before walking home. It was a nice little stroll along the canal on what was turning out to be a mild fall morning.

I got back in time to roust Nellie from bed. We had brunch plans with our friends Mark+Sandra, Dino+Kerry, and their kids. Dino had made brunch plans at…wait for it…Brothers Beer Bistro. So we walked in for the third time in about 36 hours. At this point we were basically employees.

Brunch was excellent. I had fluffy pancakes covered in fruit and crème fraîche, and pork belly bacon. Nellie had a cheese and egg and peameal beacon monstrosity alongside a pound of fries. And a Caesar. The kids gamely assembled suitable meals out of this weird collection of food and quietly read or played games. Next time we have brunch with four kids I’m requesting those ones.

We said our goodbyes, walked back to the hotel to pack up, and got confused by our own timing and got to the airport a little earlier than we meant to, but it worked out — YOW is actually a quiet, relaxing airport.

It’s hard to believe we were only in town for about 43 hours. It felt like we did a lot. And by “did” I mean “ate and drank and laughed”. Must make plans to come back when it’s warm; we have more place to try, and I miss Ottawa when it’s green.

Happy birthday CB!!

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.

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.

Even I adore ya, my Victoria-aaa-a-a-a

According to Richard Florida’s latest in the Globe, I’m living in the wrong city.

MID-CAREER PROFESSIONALS (Age 29-44)
1. Ottawa-Gatineau
2. Calgary
3. Whitehorse
4. Yellowknife
5. Iqaluit
6. Edmonton
7. Guelph
8. Victoria
9. Toronto
10. Montreal

Hmmm…#9, and behind some cities that I really have no desire in which to live. Also, the older you get, the better an option Toronto is for you, according to Florida: It’s #2 for families with children, #1 for empty-nesters and #2 for retirees. It doesn’t even show up in the top ten for single people. Not that I am, but that ranking says something about the city, or at least Florida’s perception of it.

I suppose I’d have to buy Who’s Your City to know exactly what criteria Florida uses. I suspect growth potential of the economy plays a large part (otherwise I can’t imagine Whitehorse-Yellowknife-Iqaluit going 3-4-5), but there are likely specific industries centered around Toronto and Montreal that would skew the scores for some people.

Anyway, having just gotten a taste of Ottawa winter (and having lived there for an entire humid-ass summer), I don’t think that #1 rating’s gonna sway me.

How do I get Rideau this cold?

As my brother has been blogging, his wife surprised him by flying him to Ottawa for a long weekend with friends and, as an added surprise, Nellie and I. He flew back to England this evening; Nellie and I returned to Toronto yesterday. It was a fun few days for us. I’ve known many of his friends since 1996 when I lived there with him for the summer, and it was good to hang out with all of them again. It was good to see Ottawa again too; I’ve not been there in a while, but it still feels a little like home. Best of all, though, was getting to help celebrate my brother’s 40th birthday in such great circumstances.

Highlights: an awesome Porter flight to Ottawa; surprising (kinda) my brother at our hotel; the food and drink at the Wellington Gastropub, including the Beau’s and a 2005 Raymond Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (also overheard a great Grant Lee Philips cover of Echo & The Bunnymen‘s “The Killing Moon” on the stereo there); getting silly (where exactly did “chicken sodomy” come from anyway?) and reliving some memories at a Royal Oak (warning: awful, obnoxious music embedded in site); struggling the next morning until I could get some sausage and toast into me at the Elgin Street Diner; Winterlude ice sculptures; marveling at just how far Lego has come since we were kids; awesome homemade pizzas at mblogler/imspycat‘s place; playing the Wii with the kiddies; breakfast at the Metropolitan Brasserie with our aunt (where we loudly berated the Senate, even as Art Eggleton dined next to us); more pizza and beer at the Prescott where people who used to work with my brother were invited out to see him (funnily enough, three of them walked up and started talking to me, thinking I was him…by the third I just said, “Hey, how are you? That’s Tim over there.”); cheap pub breakfast at the Aulde Dubliner in the market; walking (not skating…couldn’t be arsed) down the Rideau Canal to the hotel before flying home.

That’s obviously an abuse of the word “highlights” but it really was a great weekend. My biggest problem with it was that I got very, very sick. Saturday night I felt a cold coming on; by Sunday morning it was severe, and by Monday morning it was brutal. It kept me in bed most of Sunday, made me miserable for all of Monday, and made our plane’s descent into Toronto excruciating. But it could have been worse: I could’ve been sick the entire weekend, or worst of all, my brother might have been sick. So it all turned out for the best. I didn’t even mind the cold; chilly as it got, the sun stayed out most of the time.

It was a great weekend. I’m really glad I got to be part of it.

[UPDATE: Ooh, ooh, almost forgot: the brother and sister-in-law brought me some Pierre Marcolini chocolate from Belgium. Zowie.]

This city = cold

For those of you not following my Twitter feed, I’ve been in Ottawa since Friday afternoon as part of a surprise for my brother. It’s been lots of fun so far, out with some of his friends, lots of food and drink and hanging out and catching up. Too tired to post much right now; will likely have more to say later.