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.

"'We were living beyond our means,' he says, 'and it’s all crashing down.'"

A little over a week ago I blogged about the most recent Toronto Life cover story:

“I’m angry at myself for throwing out my paper copy since TL won’t post most of their magazine content online (Dear editors: the 21st century. Please hear of it.) and I can’t remember the very best quotes, but suffice it to say I was barking with laughter after the Rosedale matron whined about the hardship of having to hide her full Holt Renfrew shopping bags for fear of showing up her friends and neighbours. Not to mention the lady who fretted about irritating her personal shopper when she asked for a discount on a dress that cost thousands of dollars.”

Fortunately Toronto Life has now opened up the article online so you can read the ridiculousness for yourself. To wit:

“It’s kind of becoming cool to be thrifty. It’s almost a point of pride,” said a woman who routinely makes Toronto’s best-dressed lists. She recently found herself haggling for the first time for a 10 per cent discount on a $3,000 designer dress at Holts. (Her personal shopper was not impressed.)


One young family decided to rein in their March break plans. Instead of going to the Four Seasons Mexico after skiing in Vail, they just skied Vail.

Heavens…how do these people survive?

More than one wealthy woman told me she’s economizing by getting her hair blown out twice instead of three times a week. For some, the biggest sacrifice is switching from a $400 to a $250 facial or letting go of the gardener who cost them more per month than their property taxes.


Some appreciated the gestures. “I walked through Yorkville the other day with my arms full of designer bags, and I got dirty looks, which really stung,” said one woman who recently moved to Rosedale.

Stop. Please stop. I can’t take it any more. I’m having sympathy pains.  I can actually feel the pain that woman must have felt at being ostracized for being so wealthy.

OK, so I’m being cheeky. But this one might just take the cake (emphasis mine):

The day [a former Bay Street worker] was laid off, he and his wife hunkered down at their kitchen table to calculate how they could scale back. Pulling their kids out of private school would save more than $50,000 a year. Trading in their luxury cars could lower their $40,000 annual lease payments. Cancelling their planned March break holiday to the Caribbean was an easy way to save 10 grand. But could they afford to keep their cottage? Should they fire the nanny? Obviously they wouldn’t be giving to charity this year.

Well, obviously! I mean, if you’re at the point where you’re actually considering taking the kids out of the private schools or trading in the luxury cars or canceling the trip to the Caribbean or selling the cottage, then you’ve reached desperate times. Food banks and homeless shelters and hospitals may be desperate for money, but goddammit, the leather seats in those cars feel like motherfucking butter. Ahem…but there I go being sarcastic again.

Look, I don’t begrudge anyone making money. Of course I don’t. But I don’t understand someone whose first thought, when trying to tighten the purse strings, is to make charity the first casualty when you have such egregious luxuries as an upcoming $10,000 vacation and cars that cost $40,000 in lease payments every year. It doesn’t occur to you that someone might need a bit of help more than you need to keep the best Maserati instead of the second-best Maserati.

I remember hearing years ago that low-income families tend to give more of their paycheque to charity. The results from the 2007 Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (warning: PDF) back that up: while 90% of families earning >$100,000 donated to charity vs. 71% of families making <$20,000, families making <20k donated $210 on average while families making at least five times more donated only three times as much. In fact, if you look at the table on page 19 you’ll see the average donation as a percentage of salary range midpoint moves down pretty steadily.

This suggests to me that the wealthier you are, the less of your disposable income goes to charity. I assume this is because those closer to the bottom can relate, and know that “There but for the grace of interest rates or labour woes go I.” Clearly the people cited in this TL article have no way to relate to actual financial hardship, and that disconnectedness from reality would back up my assumption.

Anyway, the article has a lovely little close: the afore-mentioned former Bay Streeter (who, by the way, had his entire savings in the stock market, which makes me question his credentials for working on Bay in the first place) says that “until the economy turns around…his wife may go back to work to tide them over, or they may hit up their parents for a loan.” I wish this gentleman a speedy economic recovery, as well as the best of luck in locating his balls.

Ohmigod, no!! Not the Pusateri's account! For the love of all that's holy! NOT THE PUSATERI'S ACCOUNT!!!!1!

Two and a half years ago I saw a documentary called Jesus Camp about kids raised by evangelicals and attending religious summer camps where they spoke in tongues and so on. I was impressed by how impartial the filmmakers remained throughout, always leaving the viewer free to interpret what they saw. The result was a film that I, and the entirety of the Toronto-based documentary-going crowd, found both hilarious and horrifying. Audiences in evangelical territories, like the American Midwest, didn’t have an adverse reaction to it…in fact, the filmmakers explained, audiences there loved it. It takes skill for an artist to tell the truth plainly enough that the subjects don’t realize the rest of the world will be aghast when it sees the light of day.

It was this same impressive brand of fine line-walking that graced the cover story of this month’s Toronto Life magazine, written by Sonia Verma. The abstract:

“The money’s running out and they must choose: pull the kids out of private school or fire the gardener; pawn the silver or close the Pusateri’s account; cancel the club memberships or default on the cottage. An inside report on the sacrifices of the nouveau poor”

I’m angry at myself for throwing out my paper copy since TL won’t post most of their magazine content online (Dear editors: the 21st century. Please hear of it.) and I can’t remember the very best quotes, but suffice it to say I was barking with laughter after the Rosedale matron whined about the hardship of having to hide her full Holt Renfrew shopping bags for fear of showing up her friends and neighbours. Not to mention the lady who fretted about irritating her personal shopper when she asked for a discount on a dress that cost thousands of dollars.

The beauty is that this little circle of wealthy, oblivious nimrods actually seem to expect sympathy — or at least empathy — and probably have no idea that 99% of those who read the magazine laughed themselves silly, giving thanks for once that they themselves aren’t rich enough to become this disconnected from reality.

I couldn't C5 things on the menu that I wanted

Last night five of us (it should’ve been six but one of our party took one — a kid’s fever, specifically — for the team) had dinner at C5. We had booked dinner with the intention of participating in the Crosstown Kitchens event Stop For Food, but when we arrived we were disappointed to find that, unlike Winterlicious, there was no choice in the courses. Since the lone price fixe menu option didn’t impress, the five of us opted for the regular menu. So much for going easy on the pocketbook.

The food we ordered from the regular menu was good, not great. The buffalo mozzarella amuse-bouche was excellent. My pork belly and calamari starter was decent…really, I’ve had better pork belly and the calamari may as well have been left out. My venison was quite good, and the other touches — sweet potato puree, beets, etc. — were delicious. Our wine — a Morgan Pinot Noir — was excellent. Nothing on the dessert list appealed so I passed. Nellie enjoyed her meal less than I did. I got the sense that our other dinner companions were up and down as well, and no one seemed blown away. I feel like what I had wasn’t the best that C5 had to offer, especially given that Toronto Life just ranked it the 10th best restaurant in the city, but compared to a recent visit to Nota Bene or yet another return trip to Canoe (which TorLife ranked #1 this year) it just doesn’t stack up.

However, in such pleasant company, the evening was still more than enjoyable. And the space, it should be noted, is spectacular. I would happily come here for drinks, especially if my other option in the immediate neighbourhood is Lobby.


reading: The Angel Riots by Ibi Kaslik and Strategic Management: An Integrated Approach by Charles Hill and Gareth Jones. Eye Weekly and Now Magazine every Thursday. Toronto Life once a month.

listening to: Saul Williams by Saul Williams, though any minute now I’ll move on to Death Cab For Cutie‘s Narrow Stairs or Visiter by The Dodos.

watching: almost nothing. I’m paying only marginal attention to sports (go Pens! go Celts!), The Office and 30 Rock are done for the season and The Shield hasn’t started yet. All that’s on right now is Battlestar Galactica, and even that’s on 2-week hiatus.

scanning: 190 news feeds, averaging about 509 articles per day. Of course, these are only my personal-interest feeds; I have just as many work feeds. I mainly skim the headlines here, and pay attention to maybe 50, flagging 5-10 to read later.

browsing: 6-7 websites per day. I rarely have a need to visit particular websites now (see ‘scanning’, above) but a few are applications (e.g., Google Analytics) or snapshots (e.g., the weather) that don’t work in an RSS channel. There’s also Bruce MacKinnon’s editorial cartoon every day which, despite my best efforts, I cannot wrangle into a Yahoo Pipe. Again, this is personal-interest only; there’re other work sites.

running: 3-4 times per week, 3 miles at a time. On a treadmill. Half flat, half slight incline.

eating: penne with sundried tomato pesto. Well…an hour ago, anyway.

looking forward to: our rockies/BC trip in June; Euro 2008; visiting Nova Scotia twice in August, once to visit with family and once to wrap up the MBA.

wondering: why the hell I started writing this blog post in the first place.

[tags]angel riots, ibi kaslik, toronto life, saul williams, death cab for cutie, narrow stairs, dodos, visiter,  google reader, bruce mackinnon, yahoo pipes, euro 2008[/tags]