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Bar Raval: Tapas in Toronto finally grows up

9 Apr

Good Spanish food. Wood paneling. Surprisingly, these things are related – they make me very happy, and they both exist in spades at Bar Raval. Grant van Gameren’s newest establishment demonstrates that food inspired by the Iberian Peninsula is here to stay – he apparently spent the equivalent of a moderately equipped Ferrari on said wood paneling! I definitely couldn’t miss out on a stop at Bar Raval on my Easter weekend visit to the centre of the universe.

Bar Raval has garnered significant praise for both its food and its interior design, so expectations were high. It’s been a while since a Toronto restaurant has brought me to culinary coitus when the hype was so great, but Bar Raval did just that. When I walked through the doors I immediately realized two things. First, Bar Raval shares very little of the edginess of its eponymous neighbourhood in Barcelona, but it more than makes up for it with an interior design that truly propels the Toronto restaurant scene forward. Second, the kitchen has done what very few Toronto kitchens do – churn out exceptional versions of traditional pintxos and tapas (think croquetas or simple plates of slightly sweaty Manchego) while displaying playful innovation in other dishes (the dulce de leche spiked with piment d’Espelette, for example).

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Working furiously behind the pass is Grant van Gameren, one of Toronto’s foremost meat men and chef extraordinaire.

This ability to respect the tradition of tapas is incredibly important, and it means respecting not only the food but also the way it is served. Sadly, the Spanish-food craze has led far too many restauranteurs to slap the word “tapas” on dishes that are simply not so, and to charge a premium for the privilege of eating off of a microscopic plate. Many restaurant-going Torontonians have been taken in by this trickery, and falsely believe that they should be going to a tapas bar for dinner because tapas means “stuff yourself with more plates of food because they are smaller”. Bar Raval is likely the first “fashionable” establishment to buck this trend. There are no sprawling tables for ten. The layout encourages standing instead of slouching. A giddiness-inducing array of food is laid out on the main bar. Seafood and cured meats figure prominently. In short, Bar Raval is actually a tapas bar.

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No finer thing has likely been hewn out of the wood of a mahogany tree.

A sampling of the food confirmed that Bar Raval pays proper homage to the tapas bars that line the narrow streets of Barcelona and San Sebastian. I can state with much conviction that the croquetas are the best I have ever had. Anywhere. The anchovies dressed in olive oil had a complex flavour profile that went beyond the merely salty. The octopus pintxos were piled on delicious, dense bread and dressed with a fresh, bracing citrus concoction so bright that I was instantly transported to the warm streets of the Raval itself. These were all dishes that lived up to the true meaning of the words “tapas” and “pintxos”, not merely smaller portions of what would have been a dinnertime main course.

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The most perfect croqueta in the world, accompanied by a plate of olive-topped anchovy fillets simply dressed in floral, herbaceous olive oil.

The ambiance matched the food. The crowd cut across the entire spectrum of Toronto’s population, from families with babes in arms to hipsters sporting superfluous beards. There were no hushed tones or fussy waiters. Grant has crafted an environment that actually promotes snacking as opposed to dining, which goes to the essence of a true tapas bar. With time, I hope that Bar Raval loses some of its new-car shine, because that is the only thing that stands between it and perfection. With a few shrimp shells on the floor and the appropriate patina on the bar, the transformation from Teatro to Toronto’s first genuine tapas bar will be complete.

4.31 out of 5 brown thumbs up.

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Ace Mercado: a culinary teleportation device

27 Oct

Ottawa has two types of restaurants: those that make you feel like you’re imprisoned in a bureaucrat’s bureau, and those that transport you to a more, shall we say, cosmopolitan place.  Ace Mercado is firmly in the latter category, and the Byward Market is immeasurably better off because of it.  Ace occupies the busy corner of Dalhousie and Clarence, and it replaced a universally lampooned Italian restaurant named Mangia, a restaurant that will only be missed by those who have a palate as bland as powdered mashed potatoes.

Ace is the brainchild of Top Chef Canada winner Rene Rodriguez, proprietor of nearby Navarra.  In my not-so-humble opinion, Ace is the real winner between the two.  Its menu has all of the innovation, creativity and boldness of Navarra’s without the sticker shock.  The atmosphere is essentially a cross between El Camino and Czehoski’s on Queen West.  This may sound like too much of a scene thing for some, but if you tune out the douchetastic conversations, the overall buzz is energetic and dynamic.  Ottawa needs this to counteract the whiff of dying souls that emanates from its overly ample suburbs.  More importantly, the Market needs this to drive out the tourist-trap, pedestrian slop-troughs that masquerade as restaurants.

Most importantly, the food lives up to the hype and the scene.  When I saw the menu, I was faced with the pleasant yet stressful dilemma that every foodie faces at a good restaurant – how to eat all the things.  Fortunately, I was with other eat-all-the-things people, so we made a serious dent in the menu.  The deviled spot prawns were spot on (yes, I did that).  The prawns retained their juicy sweetness in the face of bold Mexican-inspired spices.  I could find nothing Mexican about the Mexican Fries.  In fact, they were more like a bipolar Francophone – the fries were cooked so well that a Belgian would have been proud, and they were covered in cheese and dotted with crispy fried pigs’ ears – music to any Quebecker’s ears.  They were so crazy that they were awesome.

The tacos were no less impressive.  The lamb taco could compete with El Camino’s, and I think that El Camino’s lamb tacos are the single greatest taco ever made.  The crispy pig’s ear tacos would not have been out of place in a cabane à sucre in Papineauville, which makes them some of the most whimsical tacos I’ve ever had.  The fish tacos were innovative – most tacquerias stick to the well worn path of stuffing a battered and fried piece of whitefish in a shell.  Ace’s version was stuffed with grilled and flaked red snapper, which gave it a decidedly meatier texture.  Hit with some lime, they were almost flawless. In fact, the only flaw with the tacos was the shell.  The wraps were tepid, dry and flavourless.  Sadly, they did not add flavour to the whole, as a good taco shell should.  This flaw is the single reason why I must declare that El Camino’s tacos are marginally – but universally – better.

Ace Mercado’s drinks list is as laudable as its food.  The beer list is tight, but features a blend of local and foreign beers that pair well with all the items.  The tequila list is excellent and covers all the right bases.  Be sure to have a shot of house-made sangrita, a concoction that is essentially a Caesar that took a wrong turn on the highway and ended up in Tijuana.

I will go back to Ace Mercado after a day when I have to deal with HR, IT or any number of other bureaucratic black holes.  Ace Mercado can fix you on days when you think you’ve lost your soul to the crushing dreariness of Place du Portage.  Given how many people work there, I suspect that Ace will be packed on most nights.


3.74 out of 5 brown thumbs up.

Taste LOCAL! Taste FRESH! – Foodlink gets local food

22 Sep

Taste Local! Taste Fresh!Foodlink‘s annual Culinary Showcase and Fundraiser, has ruined us for other food festivals. It’s not that the other past food festivals we have attended have disappointed, but that Taste Local! Taste Fresh! offered such a unique, fun, and, most importantly, DELICIOUS experience.

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The setting was a pastoral dream: a heritage farm with sprawling rolling green grounds. The event paired local food producers and chefs who worked together to create 19 tasty creations that celebrate the produce and livestock grown and raised in Waterloo Region. Guests were given passports and invited to visit different booths to sample the small bites. At each table, patrons had the chance to talk to these local culinary titans. Clementine plans on trying her hand at making applesauce this fall so we made a point to pick the brain of the representative from Martin’s Family Fruit FarmInside scoop: GO GET YOUR COURTLANDS NOW. Great for pies and apple sauce.

It’s almost impossible to single out any one particular chef/producer team, since all of their creations were outstanding. Honourable mentions go to Pyrus Cafe/ Pfennings Organic Vegetables for the maple candied tempeh wrap. So crisp and flavourful.

Maple candied tempeh wrap with fresh organic kale, collards and carrots (Pyrus Cafe and Pfennings Organic Vegetables)

Maple candied tempeh wrap with fresh organic kale, collards and carrots (Pyrus Cafe and Pfennings Organic Vegetables)

The Walper Hotel and Two Crows Growery served the most creative dish. Their “Homage to the Soil,” featured  pickled carrots with pea purée and poached crab apple stuffed with pork terrine served on top of a bed of EDIBLE SOIL, which we were told consisted of charred onions and leeks. It was like nothing we’ve ever encountered. Très originale!

Edible SOIL along with pickled carrots (Walper Hotel & Two Crows Growery)

Edible SOIL along with pickled carrots (Walper Hotel & Two Crows Growery)

The Rushes Restaurant/Shantzholm Pumpkins and Wildcraft/Herrle’s Country Farm Market teams did the best job showcasing food producer’s key ingredient and serving it in an unconventional way to make it the star of the show.

Pumpkin FOUR ways (Waterloo Inn/ Rushes & Shantzholm Pumpkins)

Pumpkin FOUR ways (Waterloo Inn/ Rushes & Shantzholm Pumpkins)

The former served pumpkin four ways: pumpkin bisque on top of pumpkin spätzle, garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds and a pumpkin focaccia crouton. The bisque was filled with warm spices and crouton was so crisp and savoury. The contrasting textures of the smooth bisque and bouncy pumpkin spätzle was delightful.The latter took the corn, for which Herrle’s is renowned locally, and made sweet corn pannacotta served on top of a sumac meringue.

Sweet corn panacotta with sumac cream, duck fat, meringue & pumpkin seeds (Wildcraft & Herrle's Country Farm Market)

Sweet corn panacotta with sumac cream, duck fat, meringue & pumpkin seeds (Wildcraft & Herrle’s Country Farm Market)

Our consensus favourite dish was produced by Public Kitchen and Bar, Mountain Oak Cheese, and Colour Paradise Greenhouses and Garden Centre. Their fluffy gouda pancakes topped with thyme and brown butter custard and chamomile honey hit out taste buds in all the right places. Garnished with a pansy petal on top, it was also a feast for our eyes!

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Foodlink, the organization behind Taste Local! Taste Fresh!, has been doing this now for 11 years. They know how to elevate a food event from just good to great. First, Steckle Heritage Farm had the ultimate rustic and historic charm. It’s unbelievable that you’re just a 10 minute drive from downtown Kitchener. Also, one of our most frequent complaints is that the music at such events is too loud, drowning out all attempts at conversation. Here however, the music offered by a single acoustic guitarist who played a mixture of classic rock and Canadiana (Blue Rodeo!) was the perfect ambient soundtrack to our culinary adventure. As another lovely touch, upon arrival, each patron received a one-of-a-kind pottery appetizer plate made by local artist Vicky Lucas.

Steckle Heritage Farm

Steckle Heritage Farm

We cannot wait to see what next year’s event has to offer. We will be back with our family and friends in tow. We suggest you do the same.

In the sitcom Frasier, the title character and his brother Niles once commented that, for them, the ideal evening was a perfect meal with one minor flaw that they could pick at all night. With its lack of flaws, major or minor, Taste Local! Taste Fresh! would have left them disappointed. Bad for the Crane brothers, but great for everyone else.

Congrats, Foodlink!

Tennessy Willems: an unlikely haven for pizza lovers in Ottawa

16 Sep

On its face, Tennessy Willems sounds as much like a pizza joint as Toronto’s House of Chan sounds like a great steakhouse. I must admit that I judged this book by its cover and, still fresh off the boat (from Toronto), I had not yet overcome my Toronto food > Ottawa food complex. I mean, what bureaucrat worth his staunch commitment to mediocrity would really want top quality pizza? I was ultimately proven wrong, and thankfully so, since I’ve just moved back to the city of ill-fitting suits and soul-crushing winters. Tennessy Willems will henceforth be my go-to spot for pizza in Ottawa.

Once I sat down at the bar, I was faced with a menu replete with temptations of the insert-name-of-animal confit kind. I exercised remarkable self-control and ordered the margherita. After all, the truest test of any restaurant is its most basic dish, and a pizzeria with a middling margherita is like a brewpub with boring beer – utterly useless. The crust was arguably the star of the show – chewy in the classic Neapolitan tradition – and the sauce was loaded with fresh flavour and just the right amount of sweetness and heat. The latter was in perfect harmony with the copious amounts of aromatic basil leaves. The cheese was perfectly melted, but seemed pedestrian compared to the bursting flavour of the rest of the ingredients.

I must confess that I cheated by adding bacon, but this was after much pressure from my friend who was raving about it. I was not disappointed. The bacon was like meat candy in my mouth – huge chunks of well-cooked, lean, sweet-salty glory. This was not your store-bought, paper-thin, tasteless protein.

No great restaurant experience is complete without solid service. By that, I mean a snarky server who possesses equal parts sarcasm and skill. Sitting at the bar is the best idea at Tennessy Willems, because the bartender – and likely manager/owner – is the poster child for my vision of the perfect server. His sardonic running commentary about life in general was matched only by his cool, collected demeanour in the face of a busy dining room and glassware that seemed to want nothing more than to crash to the ground. His ridiculously hipster-practical glasses with built-in lights added a measure of quirkiness to the whole package.

I will certainly return to Tennessy Willems when I’m in need of a reminder that Ottawa does manage to keep concealed some true culinary gems. Tennessy Willems takes pizza (and sarcasm) seriously, and executes both largely without compromise.

3.59 brown thumbs up. I would give some sort of score for the service, but I haven’t bothered to dream up a rating scale for good service. Deal with it.

On the Mediocrity of Pub Culture in Ottawa

12 Sep

A Treatise Tirade

I was recently sitting in a pub on Elgin Street. It was happy hour. When the waitress stared vaguely at me and visibly strained her intellect to recite the list of half-price appetizers, it struck me, as I recited the well-worn list with her in my head, that many of the pubs on Ottawa’s high streets are hopelessly and predictably mediocre when it comes to food. Surely in 2014, amid the resurgence of quality ingredients as a prime consideration, a basic pub can finally leave the factory-frozen chicken wings behind!

In many world capitals a fraction of Ottawa’s size, the main streets offer up an eclectic array of quality bars that serve simple yet high-quality food. For example, in Luxembourg’s capital city, a quasi-hamlet the size of a postage stamp, the bars and pubs focus on quality rather than quantity, and reflect the region’s culinary history. In Lisbon, a city half Ottawa’s size, the bars that do offer food serve the high-quality seafood and meats that are available in the region. Obvious tourist traps aside (read: Hard Rock Café, etc.), there is largely no recourse to frozen, pre-packaged industrial waste that masquerades as food. In Great Britain, arguably the geographical genesis of Ottawa’s pub culture, even the local public house in the remotest of villages serves inspiring food, to the point that such establishments routinely feature in leading publications on cuisine (e.g., the excellent British Regional Food by Mark Hix).

Sadly, in Ottawa, on streets like Bank and Elgin and in neighbourhoods like the Market, most of the pubs still serve the same tired, bland, lowest-common-denominator food that used to reign supreme before Canada’s cities were flung open to both the world and to the great farms that surround them. These pubs and their clinically depressing fare mirror the people I see walking by. People who wear Crocs to work. People who wear backpacks on suits. People who don’t quite grasp the fact that their clothes should fit them and not the obese geriatrics that they will likely become. Petits fonctionnaires. Melodramatic cynicism aside, I fear that the main reason why mediocre pubs continue to rule the high streets of Ottawa is that there aren’t enough people out there who would vote with their stomachs to expel them from the prime locations.

There are, however, pockets of hope along the avenues of mediocrity. For example, the Manx on Elgin takes its food as seriously as its beer, and hasn’t installed twenty flat-screen TVs per square foot. Chez Lucien in the Market follows much the same philosophy (I will forgive it for having two small, elderly televisions perched in the corners above the bar). Sadly, these gems are drowned in a sea of Royal Oaks and similarly styled McPubs that rely on their location, their 24/7 sports coverage and their lack of discernable soul to attract the hordes of bureaucrats who want nothing more than to avoid the march of culinary progress for fear of having to face any sort of change in their little lives.

I have some faith that quality pubs will continue to grow in number and stature in Ottawa. Alas, I don’t harbour real optimism that they will take over from the overly sanitized establishments that currently line the main streets, because this city simply does not have a progressive class on a scale large enough to truly change the face of its culinary scene.  Ultimately, I am too jaded to believe that, some day, John Q. Civil Servant will wake up and walk past the Fox and Feather and into the Manx. Ottawa’s baseline standard for pub food is sadly doomed to remain as low as its wintertime windchills. Those who want a pint and a plate that don’t diminish their hopes for a better world with every sip and every bite will continue to be relegated to the little pockets of quality cuisine that dot the city. It’s a sad statement to make about a world capital of a million residents.

Taste LOCAL! Taste FRESH! – Foodlink’s Annual Culinary Showcase & Fundraiser

29 Aug

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Fellow gourmandes in the southwestern Ontario region, have you heard of the event “Taste Local! Taste Fresh!” ? Foodlink Waterloo Region is a grassroots nonprofit organization that promotes local food. They connect farmers with food producers, provide local food education and perform community outreach. Their goal is that more and more people have access to fresh local food.

“Taste Fresh!  Taste Local!” is Foodlink’s annual local food showcase as well as the organization’s only fundraiser. What does that mean? The event pairs local food producers and chefs who work together and come up with food creations that celebrate the bounty of our local harvest.  All the proceeds go towards promoting lovely local food.

Steckle BarnThis year, the will be held on the grounds of Kitchener’s Steckle Heritage Farm – it’s a beautiful barn which dates back to 1840.

Guests will sample the delicious creations of nineteen chef/producer teams, all while listening to live music and taking in on an historic property surrounded by the natural beauty of southern Ontario.

TLTFweb14The writers at YYZ, especially the #smugcouple, LOVE the fresh local food movement/ philosophy. One of the joys of summer is popping out to your local farmer’s market on the weekend, buying WAY too much delicious produce and then cooking up a storm all week. It’s the only way to live. That’s why we’re really looking forward to the 11th annual culinary showcase taking place at Steckle Heritage Farm on Sunday, September 14, 2014, 2-5 pm. 

For all foodies in southwestern Ontario, this event is your Woodstock!  We expect to see you all there! GTA readers, Waterloo is a mere 1h 20 min drive away. Your daily commute into Toronto is longer and way less scenic of a drive. So, no excuses!

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Tickets are on sale here, while quantities last: $70/ person or $650 for group of 10. Each ticket includes food and a hand-crafted pottery plate.

Follow this link for a full list of chefs, restaurants, food producers, and sponsors. Foodlink is also on Twitter (@FoodlinkBLBF) and Facebook, naturally.

Photos credit: Sara Geilinger. 

Return To Sudbury: How Gourmands Camp

1 Aug

Last year some friends and I were spoiled rotten with a bountiful harvest of wild blueberries foraged from the Sudbury area.  We planned the same camping trip for this summer and you can bet for weeks leading up to it, we talked a big game.  C even bought four new 4-L tupperware containers, and worried that they’d overflow. Let’s just say, this year, our trip was not fruitful (sorry, sorry…).  We each left with a sad sandwich bag worth of tiny blue berries.  We think we missed the first harvest by a week, and were too early for the second round.  Woe!

Falls

It was still a fun time camping near Onaping High Falls, a gorgeous natural wonder made famous by Group of Seven’s A.Y. Jackson’s painting, Spring on the Onaping River.  (There, your art fact of the day!  Cherry would be proud.)  And of course, we ate like gluttons.

The difference between camping when I was a teenager versus camping as an adult  who makes more than minimum wage: we used to pack the cooler with frozen hot dogs (and cheap beer) and lived off that.  Now, we take the time to make sure that the benefit of living outdoors doesn’t cost us our enjoyment of a really good meal.  Camping is really about spending quality time with some good friends in beautiful scenery while breathing fresh air and that is all made better with a bountiful feast on a picnic table.

One of my favourite camping meals?  Breakfast (well, it’s a three-way tie, really….)

Open Faced Fancy Breakfast Sandwich

Ingredients:

  • smoked bacon from a butcher on Roncesvalles
  • one of de la Terre’s amazing organic artisan breads
  • free-range organic eggs
  • pre-washed and pre-chopped red onion and cilantro (pre-washing and pre-chopping is KEY to camping gourmand)
  • Black River Cheese Company‘s 6 year old cheddar (strong flavour means you use less, pack less!)
  • homemade preserved cherry tomatoes (no Heinz for us!)
  • homemade sriracha (go ahead, close down that California plant…we’ll survive)

Bacon!

The first step: cook up that bacon!  And yes, it’s so that you can use the bacon grease to cook up the rest of your breakfast (nobody said we’re cardiologists). This way you don’t have to pack cooking oil and everything tastes like delicious bacon.

onions

Next, brown those pre-chopped onions in that bacon grease.  Yup, pre-washing and pre-chopping some of the vegetables will make things a whole lot easier while camping.

eggs

Once those onions caramelize, crack some eggs into the pan and soak up the remaining bacon grease.

Preserves

Bring out the jars of preserved cherry tomatoes and homemade sriracha from the cooler so that they can come up to room temperature (forest temperature…?).  Preserves are a great way to add flavour, and don’t even necessarily need to stay in the cooler if you plan to finish a smaller jar rather quickly.  It also reduces prep as you really just need to spoon out a cherry tomato instead of washing and chopping.

Sammy

Once everything is finished, take a piece of incredibly dense de la Terre’s artisan bread, put some of that 6 year old cheddar on it, then top with the warm eggs so that the cheese melts a bit.  Then a dollop of preserved cherry tomatoes, a smidge of homemade sriracha, and a sprinkle of pre-washed, pre-chopped cilantro. Eat this masterpiece while throwing the bacon-grease-soaked paper towels into the fire for a little show.

Comedy and (near) Tragedy in Stratford

4 Jul

The #SmugCouple recently ticked off a bucket list item we’re sure all Canadians share: watch Colm Feore in a Shakespearean production at Stratford. Sound familiar? You probably know Colm from Bon Cop/ Bad Cop or … playing Canada’s most badass PM, Trudeau. He’s playing King Lear this year and yes, he’s everything we imagined.

Perhaps it was our hectic week that was to blame … or the long weekend in May, but like a pair of fools, we neglected to make restaurant reservations in advance. We assumed we’d be able to eat anywhere. Thus, when we arrived at the restaurant where we had been planning on eating (Pazzo Taverna), we were informed that they had “no tables” and could not seat us until well into the second act of our play. Perfect.

Undaunted, and armed with a list of several restaurants at which we have dined in the past, we ventured onwards in search of food. At each stop, we were told by hosts and hostesses (stifling laughter) that there was no room to accommodate us.  What began as a comedy was quickly descending into a tragedy. Would we be forced to suffer the outrageous fortune of beginning our evening at one of North America’s premier theatre festivals with a meal of (ugh) fast food?!

Despairing and by now running short on time, we decided to try one more place, Rene’s Bistro, a small and charming seeming establishment, but one that we had neither seen, nor heard of before. We walked by the restaurant TWICE, unimpressed by the “French/ Italian” billing. But, we peered into the busy restaurant, it was filled with contented diners so we tried our luck. The flaxen-haired hostess (our saviour) told us that, despite a rather busy looking dining room, they not only had room to seat us, but that it would be no problem to get us fed and on our way in time to make our play.

When we were at last seated and looking at the menu, we found that nearly everything sounded appealing to us, even the oft-maligned vegetarian option.  Normally this would be a good problem to have, but we were in a hurry.  My main, a braised lamb shank, was a winner.  The meat was fall-off-the-bone tender, and the sauce was rich and savoury.  The star, however, was Clementine’s main of herb-crusted salmon.  The fish was light and delicate yet still flavourful. The accompanying polenta, which packed a garlicky, herbaceous punch, almost stole the show on its own; an impressive feat for a dish which has its origins as simple peasant fare.

The friendly and efficient staff at Rene’s Bistro ensured that our meal was speedy but also never made us feel rushed.  Most importantly, they delivered on their promise and we arrived at our play with a few minutes to spare. Thank you Rene’s Bistro for saving our night!

We came to Stratford looking for a good meal and a good show.  After some unexpected drama, we ended up getting both.

 

Rene's Bistro on Urbanspoon

VIA Rail: Derailing my Tunnel Vision and Setting the Platform for Train Meals

10 Jun A refreshing start!

Sorry about the title.  I know I have a problem.

I recently had the pleasure of taking a VIA Rail train from Windsor to Toronto for the the return leg of a business trip.  I’ve always preferred to travel by train versus plane for shorter distances.  Tell us why, Alice!  Oh, okay I will.

  • If you factor in the time required to show up early for airport security, a journey by express train takes about the same time as a short-haul flight.
  • There is GLORIOUS wifi onboard which means I can download stock photos to get that last minute PowerPoint completed (aka stream Mad Men from Netflix and gasp audibly whenever the plot thickens).
  • No pesky seat belts! I can (safely) rebel against personal safety and stand up whenever I want (which proved to be not very often).
  • And lastly – and most importantly –  I can actually afford Business Class on VIA…

…Business Class – the land of hot meals and cocktail carts!

Let me set the scene.  I was a bit cranky after a tough couple of days in Windsor and was really looking forward to going home.   Once on the train, I sank into my luxurious leather seat (with enough leg room for an entire basketball team) and I didn’t even have time to exclaim, “AUGGGH I COULD USE A DRINK!” before someone came around with a cocktail cart and a packet of nibbles.  Gin and soda, please!

A refreshing start!

The last time I was in Business Class, I was offered a descriptive paper menu detailing three meal choices and a server came around to take my order (just like at a restaurant!).  Unfortunately, I think they stopped doing that.  I admittedly love reading menus so this was a bit of a bummer (but okay, fine, we’ll let the trees live).  Instead, the server came around with the meal cart and I had to pick on the spot.  And instead of fancy schmancy descriptions, he only said, “Beef, seafood or vegetarian?”.    I chose beef…and red wine.

Nothing like a hot meal!

Never would I have thought I’d say this, but man, I was impressed.  This was probably one of the better onboard travel meals I’ve ever had.  The beef tenderloin was well-seasoned and cooked to a perfect medium and was not dry.  My broccoli was crisp and my potatoes cheesey.  The salad was a creative mix of butternut squash and feta on a bed of wheatberries (I think?  Again, would’ve loved a menu!).  The chocolate cake looked pretty good but I renounced those calories for a second…er, third glass of wine.

Coffee and tea were offered to accompany the dessert, as well as an organic fair trade piece of dark chocolate.  Just when I was about to go for my post meal cool-down nap (much to the chagrin of fitness gurus everywhere), a digestif cart appeared and next thing you know it, I’m sipping a port and watching the scenery of Southwestern Ontario whizz on by.

It was such a pleasant end to a rather stressful business trip.  Looking forward to taking the train again for a weekend getaway!

 

If you’re like Alice and always on the lookout for a quick and cheap getaway, keep your eyes on this site, where every Tuesday VIA releases some extremely discounted fares!

 

 

Waterloo Region Food & Drink, 2014

25 Apr

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Foodies rejoice! There’s a great food & drink show in Waterloo this weekend. Exhibitors include local favourites like the Great British Bake Food Truck and Caudle’s Catch Seafood (a major sponsor of the event). We also spied Rosewood Estates Winery on their list of exhibitors. Fair readers, they make MEAD. If you ever want to feel like a Tudor king/ queen, you need to get yourself some mead.

This event will also be a place of learning with scheduled talks and demonstrations from local oenophiles, chefs, and brewmasters.

Even though it looks a bit rainy this weekend, you should stop by and check this out if you can!

April 25-27, 2014

Show Hours:
Friday  5pm – 10pm

Saturday 12pm – 10pm

Sunday 12pm – 5pm

  • 19+, no children, no infants.
  • Admission: $12 per person/per day
  • Sample tokens act as the official show currency; tokens can be purchased in increments of $10 (10 tokens)