Monday, February 7, 2011

Another Day in the Big City

So I seem to be in Toronto an awful lot these days. Don’t mind it, for someone who works from their home, these trips seem like the only time ‘off’ from work – or at least it separates me from my work, so they’re very welcomed.

This time my son Jordan had a concert to go to at The Opera House. It started early and ended late so Jon and I had plenty of time to relax in the big city.

First we took the kids to Chinatown for lunch and a bit of shopping. Lunch at Pho Hung on Spadina was really bad. The food came out dry and we were given giant bottles of cheap processed sauce that was watered down. I don’t recommend it at all. We did a bit of shopping, mostly for the boys. From Chinatown to Honest Eds to Sonic Boom.

Dropped the kids off at the concert and Jon and I went to the Riviera Bakery on College for a rest, coffee and decadent pastry. We had a window seat to people watch and had a Zeppola.

Zeppola are the Easter pastry or the pastry Italians eat to celebrate S Giuseppe. It looks like a giant donut sliced horizontally and filled with luscious whipped cream and topped with a cherry or two. For those who know it better, it's feather light egg dough, deep fried and dredged in sugar, stuffed with whipped cream and decorated with special Italian preserved cherries - beyond delicious!

I asked why they’re making Zeppoles so early and the owner said there is such a frienzy a few weeks before Easter – people were lined up down the street and they just couldn’t manage the onslaught of business around that time. Now they start making Zeppole a few months early and that has helped as people now come in early for the favourite Easter treat.

It was early evening, we went to the Manulife Building and shopped in Chapters for a while. This is probably the largest Chapters anywhere and it was opened until 11 pm on Sunday. Decided to go up to the Panorama for a drink. The Panarama is a beautiful, sultry bar on the 51st floor of the Manulife. We sipped on wine and watched the lights of the city come on.

On our way up to the Panorama we noticed the cinemas. We wanted to see the King’s Speech but were too early for the late show and too late for the early show. But there was a showing in between at the VIP theatre. We’d be out in time to pick up the kids.

VIP is a much smaller theatre (probably holds 36 people) with larger, plush, very comfortable seats that rock and have plenty of leg room. There are small coffee tables on ether side of a pair of chairs and it’s a licenced theatre with full service. You can order wine, beer, popcorn, anything the theatre offers. The concept was great so we paid the extra $5 per ticket.

When we arrived the theatre was dirty; popcorn scattered everywhere and we had to pick the clean seats as many of them had sticky pop over them. We found 2 good seats and sat back; this was nice. We ordered popcorn and it came in it’s traditional paper bag – not very VIPish at all.

For service you need to be in your seats 10 minutes before the show and that was doable, but waiting for a movie is like watching paint dry, it’s simply not convenient.

The movie was fantastic, but the VIP theatre concept needs a bit of rethinking to get it right. Don’t think it’s worth the extra money unless it’s a clean space, popcorn comes in a bowl and the movie starts when you’re ready.

I love impromptu trips into Toronto, not everything works as you'd like or expect but it's a break for the ordinary and it's all good.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Foodie Weekend in Toronto

Had a wonderful weekend in Toronto – it was a last minute thing to escape – just too much going on and don’t feel like I’ve recuperated from the holidays. So Jon and I ran away. Saturday morning, we got up early and went to yoga at White Oaks – if you’ve never been, I think it’s Niagara’s best fitness club, it’s certainly the most luxurious.

After yoga we headed up to Toronto and checked into the Hyatt Regency on King St. I book this the night before because of the rate. They were giving away rooms at $119 per night. I almost didn’t book it, thinking it was going to be a bad experience, but the Hyatt has a great reputation so I took a chance. We checked in and it was beautiful! Our room was very contemporary – just the way we like it and our stay was fantastic.

We dropped off our bags and bundled up. We headed east on King stopped into Roy Thompson Hall to see what was playing – a Mozart concert! I love classical so we bought a couple of tickets and headed over to Queen for a bite to eat.

Queen street certainly has changed from my memory of it. No longer is it flooded with trendy restaurants, but more clothing shops have taken over and the restaurants are fewer and far between. We walked by one and it was packed with what seemed like locals, not tourists so we went in. It was the Queen Mother Café, the décor was very pubby, menu incredibly eclectic with healthy salads, Asian and Indian dishes. The food was great, the ambience bustling and noisy – perfect for big city dining – a great place with even better prices.

We walked the Toronto streets for a while going in and out of shops and found ourselves at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It was closing in less than an hour so we didn’t go in, but found the gift shop fantastic! This is where I’m doing my Christmas shopping this year.

We went back to the hotel, got out our iPads. I brought a bottle of Nyarai Cellars Sauvignon Blanc (it's my favourite these days!) ( so we poured a few glasses and headed downstairs. The hotel charges for internet service but Starbucks doesn’t so we picked a plush corner of the lobby close to Starbucks and sure enough, the internet worked. We sipped on wine and surfed the net in search of our next travel destination - dreaming of a warmer destination.

Still full from lunch, we headed to the concert – it was fantastic! No better than fantastic! Music Director Peter Oundjian did a great job and the symphony was stunning. I listen to classical all the time and don’t claim to know much about it except I like most of it, but listening to it live, it really takes you in and vibrates right down to your soul – amazing!

On our way back to the hotel we stopped into Oliver Bonnaccini’s new eatery O & B Canteen at the TIFF Bell LightBox Centre. The atmosphere is sleek and modern with a casual ambience. It was lively and while the menu was small, the choices great and the food delicious. I had the beet salad with salmon which was great but Jon had the steak which was a bit disappointing – a tough piece of overcooked meat even though we’d asked for medium rare. Oh well, all was still good.

The next morning we bundled up and headed over to Spadina for coffee. We stopped into a little place that I won’t mention. It was a bit dirty and their idea of Chai Latte and mine don’t really agree. We walked up to Chinatown and did some shopping in the many grocery stores that spill into the sidewalks with foods, flavours and smells as foreign to me as a trip to China. It’s an exciting discovery and we bought lots of stuff for Jordan, our vegetarian son including green papayas for one of our favourite salads.

Chinatown is getting ready for the Chinese New Year with all sorts or decorations and firecrackers. In the midst of the grocery stores I found Tap Phong Trading Company. It’s a giant store filled with kitchen utensils, dishes, pots and pans, machinery from toasters to restaurant quality mixers and ovens. We spent the better part of the afternoon just in Tap Phong’s and left with loads of new stuff for our kitchen. It’s really cheap too! – I mean dirt cheap!

We loaded the car and headed for new Longo’s on York street in Maple Leaf Square. Everyone in Niagara is talking about it so I just had to go. Parking is free if you spend more than $30 and if you’ve ever bought groceries, you know that’s no problem. The store really focuses on ready made foods, but Longo’s makes them themselves. They look wholesomely good and delicious. You can buy ready made take out or eat it in their cafe. The store is a little short on staple cleaning supplies, but that’s ok, we can shop at cheaper bulk stores for those items and shop here for fresh and delicious food. My only complaint is that I wished they’d offer more local foods. They also have a wine shop, kitchen for cooking demonstrations and a café.

But here in Niagara I’m loving my Commisso’s Food Store in Niagara Falls, it’s the closest thing to the new Longo’s with ready made foods. At Commisso’s they have in-house chefs that cook up delicious dishes all day and you can take them home or eat in their trendy, modern café.

Anyway, I’m home and in case you’re wondering where the pictures are – there aren’t any; my camera is still in for repair. A great foodie weekend!