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.
Cover photo by Thomas Hawk, used under Creative Commons license

Meat loop

Through weird circumstance we found ourselves eating at NAO again last week. And then again last night. Not that we mind, of course. But we’re starting to dig a rut.

Last night the sommelier continued his usual record of outstanding wine selections…a 2003 Roche de Bellène to start, a fantastic Montepulciano to bridge us through to the steak, and then a phenomenal cab sauv from Banshee with the meat itself.

Last week the sommelier wasn’t there so BC and I did our best to pair (and held our own, I think) before coming further downtown for some cocktails. Unfortunately D.W. Alexander was packed, and CC Lounge was fucking awful, so we came home and drank some wine instead.

.:.

Cover photo by Thomas Hawk, used under Creative Commons license

Cover photo by Sandy Noble, used under Creative Commons license

Low-key, high-falutin’

This was a big week for me at work. After more than two years of long hours, constant challenges, and blah blah whatever, this week we had reason to celebrate. Unfortunately I had no energy left to celebrate properly (and it’s not like the work is stopping), so we decided to do something low-key. We’re also in austerity measures (fiscal, caloric, etc.) following the holidays so Nellie decided to make dinner for us at home.

We started with some sushi-grade yellowfin tuna in citrus/yuzu/kosho. It was meant to be paired with a 2011 Pearl Morissette Black Ball Riesling, but this bottle appeared to have refermented. Luckily we had a cold bottle of Weihenstephaner, and the citrus-y beer went just fine.

Then we shared a 20 oz ribeye with heirloom tomatoes and a variety of mushrooms.

We opened a special bottle of wine to go with it: a 2008 Kerrigan + Berry Cabernet Sauvignon from the Margaret River region. We bought it from the winery when visiting Australia over four years ago, and have been very patient in waiting this long, if I do say so myself.

The steak? Fantastic. The wine? OutSTANDing. Seriously, worth the four-year wait.

For dessert Nellie picked up a lemon tart, and we had a bit of Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye to wrap things up.

Ace meal. Thanks baby!

.:.

Cover photo by Sandy Noble, used under Creative Commons license

Cover photo from NAO’s site

NAO again

Last night we had dinner at NAO for the third time in two months. It was just as good on occasion #3. We had the hamachi (I can’t not get the hamachi) and some oysters, and split two steaks (a T-Bone from Ontario, and a small Kobe striploin). We even managed to get the Rustenberg cab sauv I tried to order on our first visit.

I now consider it in the same league as Jacob’s & Co., which is a tier above any other steak place in Toronto. It’s becoming a worryingly expensive regular stop.

.:.

Cover photo from NAO’s site

A man’s gotta eat

My whole life for the past few months has been about work: Go to work, come home, eat dinner, open the laptop, do more work, sleep (not enough), wake up still thinking about work. Repeat.

I’ve still managed to get some pretty good meals into me though, and with good friends too.

A few weeks ago Nellie and I went to Rodney’s for the first time with a bunch of colleagues. It was a fun night, but a funny thing happened too: our server and I slowly came to the realization that we went to Dalhousie at the same time, lived in the same residence, and played intramural basketball against one another. Small world.

Not long after I met up with my buddy Pat, in town from Milwaukee, at the Monk’s Table.

Earlier this week Nellie and I went to an Ontario Wine Society event at Barque Butcher Bar. We tasted several Pinots from a single vineyard (the Lowrey vineyard in St. David’s ON) but made by four different wineries: Bachelder, Leaning Post, Adamo, and Five Rows (who own the vineyard). Barbecue isn’t what you’d normally think of as a wine pairing, but it was damned tasty. If I find myself out around Roncy again I’ll definitely find my way back there.

Last night we reprised our recent meal at NAO, this time with T-Bone and The Sof. It was even more epic than the first one: a ton of great starters, three delicious steaks (order of deliciousness: the swinging rib Canadian prime; the David Blackmore wagyu rump; the bone-in US prime) and sides, and some outstanding wine. The sommelier (who remembered us from last time) picked a couple of bottles that weren’t on the list, and both were tremendous: a Babosa Negra from the Canary Islands, and a Forefront Cab Sauv from California.

.:.

Cover photo from the Barque site

 

Cover photo from NAO’s site

New And Old

I’ve been intrigued by NAO Steakhouse — a Japanese-influenced steak place, in an old Yorkville house that used to be Boba — ever since it opened. A friend used to work there, but we never quite made it in during her tenure, and for whatever reason we just hadn’t gotten around to making reservations. This week was a tiring one at work though, so we decided on Thursday to try a new place to end the week on a fun note. So we landed here.

First we stopped in at Boxcar Social for an espresso and some drinks. I like that I can get great versions of both there.

Then, on to NAO. It’s a cool space, and they gave us a nice corner on the banquette, the feel of the place was a hit. And the food? Outstanding. The Japanese influence lent a little something to the typical steak experience, but the steak itself was top-notch. I also really liked the wine selection…not the kind of 4-pound wine list that confounds or overwhelms, but well-organized and well-thought-out. We tried to get a bottle of Rustenberg from South Africa, but someone snagged the last bottle just before we did. Instead we got a Chilean Carmenere/Cab blend that wasn’t on the list, which worked out just fine indeed.

Our meal:

  • Blanc de Blanc // Pearl Morissette Chardonnay
  • Hamachi with jalapeño and yuzu // Oysters from BC and PEI
  • 22oz swinging rib Canadian prime (Norwich, ON)
  • Broccolini with soy, chili, and garlic

Consider it added to the favourites section of my list.

.:.

Cover photo from NAO’s site

Old-fashioned

Last night I had occasion to eat at a steakhouse, but felt I had to switch it up a little — it can’t be Jacobs & Co every time, right? And so, I made my first visit to one of Toronto’s quintessential old-man steakhouses: Barberian’s.

Barberians doesn’t seem like it’s changed in fifty years. Even the font on the menu has remained the same. It takes a lot of intestinal fortitude to stay the course like that for so long, but it also takes good execution. And the execution was good: I ate only a tiny bit of the seafood starter, and didn’t really order a side: I just wanted to focus on my 10oz New York sirloin, cooked rare. My knife sliced through it like it was barely there, and it tasted fantastic. Nothing fancy…just a bad-ass steak.

Also, since the meal was on someone else’s dime, I was on the hunt for bargain red wines to have with the steak, and found a couple: first, the 2005 Catena Zapata Nicolas. Now, $305 might not seem like a bargain for one bottle, but that’s half of what we would have paid for a good Napa cab, and a fraction of what a comparable Bordeaux would have cost. And it was tremendous. After a few bottles of that  (plus cocktails before dinner) we’d had enough to drink that another such bottle might have been wasted on us, so we hunted down another bargain: the 2012 Thirty Bench Red. At $75 it was one of the cheapest bottles on the entire list, but a solid red blend from a great Ontario vintage.

After dinner the staff took us downstairs for a quick look at the wine cellar, and I almost committed grand larceny. I can’t talk about it. I’ll get emotional.

.:.

Cover photo from the Barberian’s website

Cover photo by Dennis, used under Creative Commons license

Meat coda

Well, my visit to Jacobs & Co. steakhouse a couple weeks ago without the wife was the last straw. Her birthday is coming up and we go where the birthday girl wants, and the birthday girl wanted steak after hearing me talk about it last month. So.

Nellie’s still getting over the remnants of the flu so we kept it simple: champagne, Caesar salads, mushrooms and rapini, and no Wagyu…she wouldn’t be able to taste it. She had a Hereford bone-in striploin from Alberta; I had a USDA Black Angus ribeye from Nebraska. Nothing fancy on the wine front either: a bottle of Ridge 2010 Cab Sauv. We weren’t looking for a unique snowflake of a meal. We were looking for the perfect  straight-up-and-down steak dinner, and last night pretty much ticked the box. We didn’t even bother with dessert or coffee; the last bite of steak* and last sip of cab was the perfect exit note.

Unexpected stars of the night: our server in the downstairs piano bar who was so adorable you could just put her in your pocket; the smoked, chocolate-infused salt from Oregon which was so good I made the table runner put some in our to-go bag; our server who surprised Nellie with petit fours with a happy birthday message written in chocolate; the takeaway muffin which I always seem to forget about but which hit the spot this morning.

Nellie suggested we eat dinner there every Friday night. Apart from gluttony and destitution I’m having a hard time finding a reason not to.

* The last bite we took, that is. We each brought home nearly half of our steak, so we’ll have a meat coda sometime this weekend.

.:.

Cover photo by Dennis, used under Creative Commons license

Cover photo by Razas Bovinas de Colombia, used under Creative Commons license

Still the champ

Thursday night I made a believer out of several more skeptics: people who didn’t quite believe me that Jacob’s & Co. is the best steakhouse in Toronto. Look on our works, ye mighty, and despair:

  • Appetizers:
    • white cheddar pop-overs
    • four Caesar salads, prepared table-side
  • Steaks, shared among the table (there were nine of us):
    • Canadian Piedmont/Angus 40oz porterhouse, aged 30 days (Fergus, ON)
    • Snake River Farms Wagyu 10oz tenderloin (Boise, ID)
    • A5 Black Tajima Wagyu 20oz ribeye (Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan)
  • Sides, shared among the table:
    • sautéed spinach
    • beefsteak tomato
    • duck fat french fried potatoes
    • mashed potatoes
  • Wine:
    • Ridge Estates 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon
    • Hidden Bench 2010 La Brunante
  • Dessert:
    • petit fours
    • Port, Sauternes, Whisky, etc.
    • coffee/espresso

I’m still full.

steakysteaksteak

.:.

Cover photo by Razas Bovinas de Colombia, used under Creative Commons license

Cover photo from the Michael's On Simcoe site

Michael’s on Simcoe

Yesterday was our 11th anniversary. We spent it watching hockey. That’s how cool my wife is.

After we watched Sweden smoke Denmark (accompanied by two hours of loud, drunk commentary by the world’s most annoying human behind us, who was mercifully tossed from the building before the final period) and Switzerland manhandle the Czechs, with a couple of heavy beers (Black Oak Nutcracker porter and the Muskoka Winter Jacket) at Corks in between games, we got ourselves tucked in for dinner at Michael’s On Simcoe. It’s a steak place we’ve been meaning to try since it opened over a year ago.

When we walked in we noticed most of the activity was in the dining room ahead of us, but they led us into the stark, quiet bar at the front. It seemed like they dropped the tables they expected to be lightweights into the bar area, and but for one table and a single dude at the bar we were alone in the whole section. No matter; the food would be the same.

It turns out our server had been in Nova Scotia last week, just as we were, and also grew up near where Nellie’s family was stationed for years. So that’s why she was so nice.

We started with glasses of Veuve Clicquot and Fleur Du Cap Chardonnay (which took us back to our days in Cape Town) to go with our starters: aragosta gnocchi w/ fresh lobster, spiced tomato, garlic, lobster stock, and fresh basil for Nellie, and tonno crudo (fresh tuna, basil, cucumber, shallot, crisp chick peas, and tomato dressing) for me. For our main we split a 25oz bone-in ribeye, w/ sides of shredded brussels sprouts with apple and bacon, and heirloom tomato & cucumber salad. We paired it with a bottle of 2006 Palmaz Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was rich but not overwhelming in the way that some California cabs are. Strong but subtle, it paired beautifully with the steak. The steak was excellent. Maybe not the best I’ve ever had — it was a little overcooked at the edges — but definitely worthy of a celebration.

We underestimated the size of their desserts and ordered one each: a maple walnut butter tart w/ cinnamon ice cream and poached pear for me, and sticky toffee pudding w/ a caramelized apple for Nellie. My butter tart was more like a butter tray, so I’m glad I ordered a smoky bourbon to counter the overwhelming sweetness. Nellie ordered Amarone with her dessert; we’re not quite sure what she got but it wasn’t Amarone.

We had no complaints about our meal — on the contrary, we quite enjoyed it. But it did nothing to knock Jacobs & Co out of our #1 choice for Toronto steakhouses.

.:.

Cover photo from the Michael’s On Simcoe site