Dinner Debriefing: A Weekend in Thunder Bay

Caroline had a conference in Thunder Bay last weekend, so we drove down. I was warned that the drive was a bit bleak, but it was beautiful sunny spring weather, and the scenery was of the rocks and trees persuasion, which works fine for me.

Lakes were thawing, so we saw some that were open water, and others that were largely covered in candled ice. We stopped for lunch at the Riverside Lodge in Dryden. We were told it would be good, and it was.

We pushed our dinner reservation at The Caribou back by half an hour to be on the safe side, and arrived in plenty of time. We had a nice dinner there, with exceptionally fine service. Example: Shauna always came by to check on us just a minute or so after our dishes arrived, so if there had been a problem, it would have been rectified right away. The meal got off to a strong start with an original bread-basket accompanied by hummus. I always feel that if a restaurant does well with basics such as bread and soup, the food will be good overall. See the dinner menu here. We shared an order of Calamari to start. The squid part was very agreeable- lots of tentacle bits, which we both like. We were less sure of the tamarind dip. Caroline took a dislike to it right away, and switched to the hummus that came with the bread, while I persevered for a while before deciding it really wasn’t for me. We shared a salad, the warm goat cheese one with Dijon vinaigrette. For our main courses, I chose a fish special—I forgot to take notes, but I think European Sea Bass, with barley done like a risotto—while Caroline ordered the Mafaldine Braised Rabbit with Pancetta, mushrooms, truffle butter, and Parmesan. Both were tasty and tender. There was a fair selection of wines by the glass, and many suited our personal tastes. We picked the Noble Vines Merlot, and liked it so much I went looking for it in an LCBO the next day, but they list it as discontinued. We finished with a chocolate torte thing that rounded out the meal nicely. We would go back on any future visit to Thunder Bay. We might try for a quieter night; Friday evening was busy and rather noisy.

Saturday I had a day to myself while Caroline did conference things. A helpful front desk clerk printed me a map showing how to get to the scenic lookout on Mount McKay. I wanted to go there because every time I land on runway 30 in Thunder Bay, I get a good look at it from the pilot’s seat: Mount McKay is right beside an approaching aircraft. Map in hand, I programmed Dingbat, our long-time GPS, (notice I call him long-time, not trusty) and he knew a better way to get there. Which took me to a closed bridge. I told him to detour, and he diverted me to Boundary Road, which is blocked by gates to the mill property. When I attempted a second detour, Dingbat tried to guide me back to the closed bridge. Apparently, the Garmin algorithms do not deal well with double detours. I got the map out and did it the old-fashioned way.

The trip up the base of Mount McKay was serene, and a sign at the base said the scenic lookout was open from May to October, between the hours of 9:00 am and 11:00 pm. They didn’t mean all of May, apparently, because there was no one at the toll gate when I arrived at 9:15. Still, I had been told it would be okay to park my car outside the gate and walk in, so I did. It was about a twenty minute walk up the winding blacktop lane to the lookout.

Because we went by road, I had my titanium hiking staff with me! I can’t take it when I travel by air, because: one, it’s oversize and the cost is prohibitive, and two, it’s packed with survival supplies including some fire starting thingies that are prohibited on aircraft. Click to zoom in on this picture, and you can see that my staff is on its third wood grain paint scheme.

But I digress. Scenery!

This is as close to the edge of the drop as I cared to get; there’s a vertical drop of a hundred feet or more. You can see Thunder Bay’s runway 30 in the distance. There was a hiking trail that started at the scenic lookout, but it quickly became steep, and crossed scree slopes that I didn’t care to try alone with the ice still coming out of the rocks.

Saturday we went for dinner at Bistro One. We’d heard good things about the food, and we weren’t disappointed. On the other hand, the meal was slow getting started. We began with some classic French bread with roasted garlic and butter, but then there was a long pause before we saw anything else, and our server seemed to be avoiding us. I started with the Sesame Crusted Ahi Tuna, while Caroline chose the 5 Hour Roasted Confit of Ontario Duck Leg. We were both happy with them, although the duck leg was salty, as it often is; some chefs believe this dish should be rinsed, some do not. The wine list here wasn’t quite as tailored to our tastes, but there was a good choice of wines by the glass. For entrees, Caroline had the Roasted Fillet of Atlantic Salmon while I decided on the Cognac Flamed Breast of Duck. Both dishes were superb. By the time we were done, it was getting late, the staff were clearing things up, and there was a hockey game on, so we didn’t linger for dessert. We wouldn’t be likely to go back, but this restaurant was tranquil, and might suit people who wanted to take their time and talk.

Caroline’s conference finished before noon on Sunday, so we hit the road, pausing for lunch in Upsala. We were told it would be okay, and it was.

There were two incidents of note on the way home. First, I saw moose. Not one, but a group of four. They were down by the ditch, so it was more interesting than startling. I flashed my hazards at the next truck, in case they moved onto the road.

Second, we got flagged down by motorists with two cars stopped at the side of the road. I pulled over immediately, in case someone had been hurt in an accident, but they just needed a screwdriver to remove a wheel-well liner that was rubbing on a tire. Boy Scout that I am, (well, was once) I had tools including a Leatherman and a multi-tip stubby that was just the thing. We had them fixed up in minutes and were back on our way.

All in all, a nice little trip.

 

Dinner Debriefing: Café Dario

I’m cheating a little in calling this a dinner debriefing, because we actually went for lunch at Café Dario in Winnipeg.

But I’m not cheating very much, because the lunch menu is built on the entrees from the dinner menu anyway. The main difference is that while dinner is a five-course meal, the lunch menu features an entrée plate accompanied by bread and soup. The menu changes fairly often, and reservations are required for dinner.

We heard about this restaurant from a friend of a friend, but it has received lots of good reviews, and has exceptionally good write-ups at Trip Advisor. The chef is from Colombia, so there are lots of interesting South American influences on the cuisine.

The day we were there, the soup was a butternut squash. It was very tasty, with a little spice, but I’m not sure quite what it was. Ancho chile? We saw lots of things we liked on the menu. Caroline chose the Chicken Breast stuffed with guava pulled pork, which came with a Romesco sauce. She had a glass of wine with it, but I cannot remember which one, and I don’t see the wine list on the website. I think it was a Malbec, because South America.

 

I was torn between the Beef tenderloin grilled and topped with Argentinean chimichurri sauce or the Pepper crusted rack of lamb with a red pepper mango puree. The server mentioned that the beef is one of their top sellers, so I ordered that, and a glass of Dos Equis Amber. I’m all about amber ales lately, especially now that the weather is turning cool. I love the toffee notes and the lack of hops.

 

I cut into my steak before taking this picture, and also moved a beet, which left a pink smear on the plate. In fairness to the kitchen’s beautiful presentation, I airbrushed the lower right corner of this photo to remove the stain.

The steak was wonderfully tender, and both of our dishes were delicious: zesty without being overtly spicy. As you might expect from a restaurant with Colombian roots, the coffee was exceptional.

The service was good, and the bill was remarkably modest. Café Dario is located at the corner of Erin and Wellington, which is not too far from many of the airport hotels. We’ll be back.

Dinner Debriefing: Three dinners and a breakfast in Ottawa.

We flew to Ottawa for Can-Con, a convention about speculative fiction in Canada. That means we spent some time apart. Meals were the centerpiece of our time together.

Friday we returned to a place we knew we liked: Play Food and Wine. We made a reservation this time.

This is a small plate restaurant, much like a tapas bar. The food is superb, starting with the sourdough bread and butter. Although we ordered a variety of dishes, we chose a bottle of Pinot Noir because this wine can be very versatile. There was a fine selection of wines by the glass, if you prefer to match more thoughtfully. Here’s the menu we ordered from. We chose the salmon tartare, the gnocchi, the trout and the hangar steak. If we were disappointed by the gnocchi, it was only because there were so few compared to the accompanying vegetables. The other dishes, we would order again in a heartbeat. The tasty hangar steak is one of their top sellers, by the way. We finished with a selection of cheeses, choosing three of the harder ones. Service was excellent.

Saturday we started with breakfast at Wilf & Ada’s, another repeat visit from last year. We knew to arrive three minutes before they unlocked the door, as this small restaurant fills up minutes after they open. Caroline had the eggs in purgatory, a skillet of eggs poached in a hot sauce. I had the blackstone, a variation on eggs benny with locally sourced bacon and the addition of fresh ripe tomato slices. Food here is locally sourced and they cook nearly everything from scratch. You can tell.

Saturday evening we wanted to see how the renovations in the Novotel’s Albion Rooms turned out. Last year, this was a small alcove of butcher-block tables tucked away behind the lobby bar. The food was good, and they’ve expanded beautifully. As I write this, the website doesn’t yet show the larger, more gracious room. You’ll have to take my word for it that there are paneled walls, sconce lighted art and graceful clusters of curved banquettes as well as tables with chairs. This sample menu is close to the one we ordered from, but not identical. For instance, Caroline’s Mariposa Duck included both breast and confit. My main course was a Lamb Curry that came in a deep dish with sauce and lentils. Caroline’s starter was the Blueberry Lavender Gravlax from the Charcuterie section of the menu, while mine was a Trout Crudo that does not appear on the sample menu at all. It was crispy on the outside, delicate in the middle. Caroline rated her duck dish among the best she’s had. I liked my lamb curry well enough, but wouldn’t choose it again. We had the James Mitchell Cabernet from Lodi, California. No dessert as I wanted to get back to the conference.

Sunday we branched out and ate somewhere completely new to us: Sur Lie. With the conference over, we had plenty of time to linger over a dinner of modern French cuisine. There were a lot of interesting choices, and we peppered our server with questions. In keeping with my run on seafood starters, I ordered the salmon crudo, while Caroline went with the rabbit loin. We ended up half trading with each other. I found the salmon rather overpowered by the beet preparation. Caroline loves beets, and thought it was wonderful. We both thought the flaky little rabbit rounds were amazing. Caroline ordered the perfect halibut dish:20171015_175856

I tried it, and it tasted every  bit as good as it looks. I thought about having the scallops, but I wanted to do a wine flight that ended with a red, so I chose the beef tenderloin instead.20171015_175921

I wasn’t disappointed. The duck fat fingerling potatoes were lovely.

As to the wine, Caroline paired the Casa Dea wines from nearby Prince Edward County: Pinot Noir with the rabbit and Chardonnay with the halibut. She much preferred the red, which recently won an award. The Chardonnay was flinty, which I like, but she doesn’t. She was hoping for a bigger, leggier wine. I chose a flight of four 2oz. glasses. Sur Lie offers several different flights, and I went with the Big & Bold one because I liked the idea of starting with Gewurztraminer and finishing with Cabernet Sauvignon. Also, I got to try wines I would hesitate to buy a whole bottle of: a French Cabernet Franc, a Portuguese red blend, and a South African Cabernet Sauvignon. I enjoyed each of them, but I think the variety added to the fun. Our server was very knowledgeable.

We splurged on dessert, both ordering carrot cake even though there were some other tempting options. It’s a good thing we ordered two, there would have been a vicious fork-fight over one, because it was delightful.

Dinner Debriefing: Sous Sol

Sous Sol is tucked away in a basement in Winnipeg’s Osborne Village. There’s barely a sign. I’d say you have to be hip to eat there, but then I’d have to explain how I snuck in.

The menu is small, and changes often, so I don’t know how long that link will work. The ambiance is candlelit. The art is consciously trashy, which pairs well with the dim light. The chinaware is ornate, but mismatched, as if it were bought at yard sales. The food is divine.

Caroline and I joined our friend Donna, our Winnipeg guide to out-of-the-way bistros.

I started with the French cheese selection: a sharp goat cheese, an unpasteurized Trappist and a bleu, with an apricot compote, a tomato coulis and crostini. I let the ladies eat the bleu in exchange for a sample of the Fennel Salad they shared.

Caroline had the pork tenderloin, paired with the mushroom ragout. The pork was perfect. I chose the beef noisette with king oyster mushrooms and Calvados barbecue sauce. I also teamed it with the mushroom ragout. Donna had the crab croquettes with remoulade, poached egg and caviar. Technically, that’s a side dish, but it was as generous as the entrees. She got an order of sweet potato gnocchi for sharing. Everything was excellent.

Donna ordered the wine, the Chateau de Gaudou Malbec Merlot. It was too dark to see the colour, and I draw the line at turning on my smartphone’s flashlight to check it out when other people are trying to enjoy a meal. It tasted rich and dark, and we enjoyed it.

Caroline and Donna shared the last slice of a chocolate cheesecake, but I don’t remember the details.

Would I go back? Yes, definitely. In fact, this was our second visit.

 

 

Dinner Debriefing: Inferno’s on Academy

We were in Winnipeg for the weekend: I was going to KeyCon, a convention with writerly stuff, and Caroline was planning to go plant shopping. We hooked up for dinner each day.

Inferno’s in St. Boniface is one of our favourite Winnipeg restaurants, but with our hotel near the airport, and my convention downtown, there wasn’t time to venture so far. Inferno’s on Academy offers a similar menu, with much less driving, making it possible for us to eat, drop Caroline off back at the hotel, and still get me downtown in time for the opening ceremonies at 7:00.

We went at around 5:00, so there was no need to worry about noise or a busy kitchen. The food was tasty: we had wonderful calamari, and I sipped a Bulldog beer, while Caroline had a glass of house Chardonnay. We made it a seafood theme, Caroline chose mussels and frites, I went with the arctic char with gruyere. Both were good, and Caroline got her frites extra crispy, as she asked.

Highlight of the evening was Caroline’s dessert, a chocolate fantasy that swept her away.

I don’t do ratings, I only say whether I would return. Yes I would. I still prefer the original Inferno’s Bistro location, because I like the ambiance a little more, and find the servers more knowledgeable and a smidge more attentive. But if I was in the neighbourhood, I’d happily go to Inferno’s on Academy again.

 

 

Road Trip Wrap-Up

The last days of our trip were hectic, and I didn’t get a chance to write about them.

In Kelowna for one night, we didn’t have time to do anything fancy about dining out. We walked to Cactus Club Cafe. I don’t usually write up chain restaurants, because we’re more into finding the unusual or at least the individual. However, I will say that after visiting the franchise wasteland that is Federal Way, Washington, the restaurant scene in Kelowna was a breath of fresh air, even in the mass-market vicinity of the airport. The Cactus Club was comfortable and the food was quite good. The ceviche was nice; refreshing and delicate. I made one last attempt to have salmon on this trip, but they had just run out. I had the Ahi Tuna Club instead, and enjoyed it even though I ordered it without bacon. Caroline ordered the fish tacos. They were large, and she could only eat one. For wine we ordered something called Feenie Goes Haywire. It’s an odd blend of white grapes conceived by the company chef, but quite enjoyable.

Tuesday we slept in a bit, and the hotel’s breakfast buffet was packed. We drove to Cora’s, because you can get fresh fruit there, and we were craving.

Went for a walk, packed up and drove to the airport for our afternoon departure to Winnipeg. Car return was a snap. Check-in was fine. Once again, my suitcase weighed exactly fifty pounds. Robert J. Sawyer, this is your fault: I must not buy hardcovers for you to autograph when I have to fly. If I hadn’t ditched some toiletries, I’d have been paying an overweight baggage premium because of Quantum Night.

Security was lined up, and I managed to get myself singled out for an X-ray. They spotted something at my right hip, which was a loonie I had overlooked when emptying my pockets, and something in my left armpit area. I believe that was my stents. They don’t show on a metal scan, because titanium is not a ferrous metal. An X-ray, however, could detect them. Total Recall, anyone?

Airport food. Num. Boarding began early, but went on and on. I suspect some of the last to arrive were delayed by the long lines at security.

Jonathan was waiting for us in Winnipeg, so that was easy. He and Caroline went for pizza after dropping me off at my critique group for the monthly meeting. Yay, no late-night drive or work the next morning!

Drove to Kenora Wednesday, arriving home shortly after noon.

I’m going to sneak in one more book recommendation here. I mentioned Arabella of Mars the other day, and I actually read the whole thing while we were in Portland, which is home to the author, David D. Levine. He, however, was off at WorldCon, signing autographs and receiving much love for his book. I thoroughly enjoyed this Young Adult Spec Fic tale that mashes up Age of Sail, Clockwork, and Martians. You might want to check it out.

I’ll be back to work next week, and then next month we’ll be taking a long weekend to visit Ottawa for Can*Con 2016. I’ll be moderating a panel about exciting new books in different sub-genres, and I should be on the schedule for a reading, too. With the release of Avians less than a year away, I’ll be on the hunt for book reviewers that lean towards YA and SF.

 

Dinner Debriefing: Subterra

We decided to make a side-trip to an old favourite for dinner. Subterra is in Newberg, almost an hour away from our hotel near the Portland airport. We ate there some years ago and liked it.

It’s still good: you get fancy food at very reasonable prices. The restaurant is in a lower level; you could call it a cellar or a basement. You aren’t paying for the view, and it felt naturally cool.

Soup and salad are included, and there were two soups on offer. We hedged our bets by choosing different ones. Caroline thought the chilled tomato basil gazpacho might be acidic, so she ordered the black bean soup, and I took the tomato. It was very refreshing, and not acid at all. We traded soups half-way through; you can dress us up, but you can’t take us anywhere. We both liked the salad.

We were in the mood for seafood, so we ordered the potato-scaled halibut (Caroline) and the scallops (Tim). We’re red wine with turkey people, but for fish we like a big white. We chose the L’Ecole 41 Chardonnay. It’s not the kind of wine I’d usually put in an icer, but there’s a heat wave, so we did. Both dishes were tasty and interesting. My scallops came with a crab-stuffed tomato and risotto. Caroline immediately began reverse engineering the halibut’s thin shell of crispy potato slices. Her pinot infused mashed potatoes were a surprising dark colour, but a delicious change from the usual.

Caroline ordered a trifle: fresh local blueberries and strawberries, cream and a little layer of delicate cake. I helped her finish it.

The only negative was the coffee. Dreaming of the dark roast I got in Hope, BC, I ordered a large French Press to finish the meal. I found it weak, watery and uninteresting, and I only drank one mouthful.

Bill was very reasonable, in the same range as a nice lunch. The restaurant prides itself on the wait staff and the service lived up to that expectation. The food was sublime. Last time we were here, we said we’d go back. We did, and we’d go back again. That’s my highest praise.