Eating in Ottawa

I spent a lovely weekend in Ottawa, attending a convention called Can*Con. This post is not about the convention. These are not the words you are looking for. This post is for my foodie friends.

There are a lot of nice places to eat in Canada’s capital. We stayed at the Novotel, across from the Rideau Mall and two blocks from Byward Market, which gave us a lot of options right by our front door. We’re also keen walkers, and we consider anyplace we can reach on foot in half an hour to be within range. That includes all of Elgin Street and most of Bank Street short of the Glebe.

Before I start in, I should explain that my doctors have urged me to eat more sensibly than in the past, and I have listened. I have grown accustomed to it, and it influences what I order and even what I enjoy. You’ll see an example or two below. I try to avoid sugar, salt and saturated fat. I’m also bordering on allergic to some hot peppers. They make my palate swell and itch, and I am told this is a warning that an anaphylactic reaction is a future possibility if I push my luck. What kind of foodie does all that make me? A reasonably healthy one. But I totally understand if you’d order differently!

Friday night we had a couple of hours before I had to put in an evening appearance at the convention; enough time to have an unhurried meal if we ate near the hotel. We picked Play. This is a tapas restaurant on the other side of the market, an easy walk. Without a reservation on a Friday night, you’d likely be out of luck, but because of my schedule we were eating unfashionably early, and while they were out of tables, they still had seats at the counter by the kitchen. That added a fascinating dimension all in itself. Because they are so close to the customers, the chef never raises his voice, even when the same mistake is repeated. Example: there was a diner downstairs who could not have onions. His first dish came back because it had shallots on it, and his server caught sight of chives on a later plate for the same customer. There was no shouting. Caroline is in the restaurant trade, so trust me when I say a kitchen this tranquil is unusual. Or read Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential.

We had the duck tostadas, the rainbow trout with prosciutto, the gnocchi with mushrooms, the spatzle with duck sausage and saskatoons, and the hangar steak with mushrooms and frites. If you use the link above to visit the restaurant’s website, you can scope out more details than I’ve provided here. You’ll also see a warning that things change in subtle ways from day to day- the menu is not carved in stone. Everything was delicious, rising above the description to be harmonious and complimentary. A delightful meal, even in little and unexpected ways, such as the excellent bread and butter. Don’t laugh. The whole-grain sourdough made a terrific first impression and it let me know that this restaurant cares about the details. Caroline’s favourite was the duck sausage with Saskatoon berries. If you haven’t had Saskatoons, seek them out; they do for Canadian cuisine what Marion berries do in Oregon or Washington. Speaking of the west coast, I am a big believer in the wines from that area, while the sommelier for Play favours French and Italian wines, with a few regional wines from the Niagara Peninsula. So not many old friends on the wine list, but a nice selection. We’d eat again at Play in a heartbeat.

Saturday morning we felt like a walk, so we strolled over to Elgin and ate breakfast at the Elgin Street Diner. This is a vibrant and popular all-night eatery, with a big selection of breakfasts. I think it’s been featured on You Gotta Eat Here. We’ve eaten there before, so you know we like the place. Then again, Caroline isn’t a big fan of their hash browns, which go in a mashed potato kind of direction. We enjoyed our meal, but decided to try new places on our other days in town.

Saturday night I only had a short gap in my convention schedule, so we decided to eat in the hotel restaurant. Before you cheerfully take that for granted, I should explain that we do not routinely eat in the hotels we stay at. We try to go where the great food is, not eat where we are. At the Novotel in Ottawa, dining is in the Albion Rooms. It exceeded my expectations by a wide margin. My tuna on lemon risotto was amazingly good. Not that there was anything wrong with Caroline’s charcuterie selection, but she totally had plate envy. I had to make it a quick meal, but it was a delicious one. The wine list is not especially lengthy, but it offers a wide-ranging selection, so there should be something agreeable to everyone. We had the Flat Rock Chardonnay, from Niagara. Quite nice.

Sunday I had more time. We started with a longer walk, heading over to Bank Street and almost as far as the Glebe to eat breakfast at Wilf and Ada’s. (This link is to their Facebook page.) I know this place has been on You Gotta Eat Here because a regular customer waiting to get in told us so. We had heard it was busy, so we arrived a minute before they opened, and it did fill up while we were there. We soon found out why. Like Play, Wilf and Ada’s uses locally sourced food, and you can taste the difference: farm sausage, free-range eggs, and even peanut butter they make themselves. Caroline splurged and ordered the weekend special, which was French toast made with walnut bread, and served with coconut, bananas and banana cream (okay, the bananas may not have been locally grown, but the banana cream was made from scratch) and a little maple syrup. That breakfast single-handedly raised the bar on French toast to a level that franchise restaurants cannot even see. My sausages and eggs were tasty, too, with a subtle spiciness to the sausages. Yes, sausages are a treat food for me. I don’t eat them at home, but I’m glad I made an exception for these, because they were, well, exceptional.

A short anecdote: somehow I snagged my finger on my coffee cup and didn’t just knock over my mug, I practically hurled it across the table on its side, aiming the whole cupful directly at Caroline and her white Capri pants. The only pair of pants she had brought, she packed mostly dresses. The weather was supposed to be warm, but it wasn’t. She needed those pants. She’s pretty agile. She leapt out of the way, and didn’t get one drop of coffee on her. The staff was very good about it. They cleaned our table and the floor and even allowed me to have more coffee.

By now, you may have noticed I don’t use a rating system. But I do say whether I’d eat there again or not, which sums up how I feel about a restaurant quite well. We made immediate plans to return to Wilf and Ada’s.

On Sunday night, we debated whether to return to an old favourite, The Buzz, or try someplace new. The Buzz was closed, although they do open on Sundays in the winter. So that settled it. We decided to try Absinthe. This is a nice little cafe with some of the same vibe as The Buzz. It would be about an hour’s walk, so we cheated and took a cab. There were lots of interesting things on the menu, but what caught my eye right away was the night’s special. A salad of mixed greens with warm goat cheese sounded like an old friend, and beef Stroganoff is a favourite that I tend to order whenever I encounter it. Caroline liked the sound of that salad too, but paired it with the locally sourced duck breast. Okay, now comes the tricky part. Remember how I said I avoid salt? It’s been a couple of years now, I’ve got comfortable with a low salt diet, and I’ve become quite sensitive to salty food. But I never had a salty salad before, so I was caught off guard. The goat cheese, which was coated in panko, was very salty, to the point where I didn’t like it, and it immediately made me thirsty. Caroline thought hers was too salty, too, and she’s more flexible about it. Oh, well. The rest of our meal was fine. Caroline got a delicious reminder that duck can be best when you don’t let medium rare sneak towards medium, and my Stroganoff came on hand-made pappardelle with chanterelles. We enjoyed a Niagara Pinot Noir, but the restaurant’s website does not include the winelist, and I cannot remember exactly what it was. Caroline ordered the desert selection, and all four items were beautifully done. She ate two, and we took the other two home in a box. Would we eat there again? Yes, if we were in the neighbourhood. I believe Absinthe deserves another chance; the salty salad may have been an accident, or a characteristic of a goat cheese that just wasn’t to my taste. Would we spend the money to take a taxi both ways? I have to admit we have no plans to do that.

Monday. We had an afternoon flight, so we had ample time for a leisurely breakfast. We went straight back to Wilf and Ada’s. (This link is to their menu.) They let me have coffee, even though they remembered me. I was feeling a little guilty about my weekend’s eating straying too far towards saturated fats, so they were kind enough to customize their blackstone breakfast for me. They don’t usually make their variation on eggs Benedict with back bacon, preferring a local sourced side bacon. They found me some delicate ham instead. I admit that avoiding bacon fat while eating Bearnaise made with butter is hypocritical. I try, but sometimes I compromise. Wilf and Ada’s was a lovely way to say farewell to Ottawa.

So imagine my surprise when I got a really good burger at the airport! Thank-you, Byward Taps, for a great send-off.

 

 

 

Dinner Debriefings: PZA & Chianti in Calgary

It was too busy to write these up as I squeezed dinner into my WWC convention schedule, but here goes.

On Friday, we walked to PZA on the Macleod Trail and ate on the patio. The food was quite good, but I ordered the wrong thing. I’m pretty sensitive to salt, and the pepperoni and mushroom was too salty for me. The staff were very good about switching us over to a ham and pineapple, but our replacement order hit the kitchen at a peak period, and it took a long time. The manager was very apologetic, and both pizzas were free. I might go back; the replacement pizza was good, the service was fine, and the patio was very comfortable.

On Saturday, we did pasta at Chianti on the Macleod Trail. It was another lovely evening, so we ate on the patio there, too. The bread and salad were very nice, but the service rather spoiled the meal. Wine didn’t arrive with our salads, and when we were only halfway through our salads, the pasta came. At that moment, the waiter told us the wine we had ordered was out of stock, so we finished our salads while our spaghetti alla carbonara and fettuccine supremo sat. Then we sat while our waiter took another tables order. Then the wine came and we ate warm pasta that was starting to stick together. The food was tasty, and we both approved, but presentation was plain. It took a long time to get the bill; we thought our waiter had forgotten us. We probably wouldn’t go back. On a quieter night, with a more experienced waiter, you might have a much nicer experience.

On Sunday, we returned to Broken Plate and had another terrific dinner there.

Dinner Debriefing: The Buzz and Aroma Meze

Okay. Frantic rush to catch up on all the restaurants we ate at while we were in Ottawa.

I’m going to dash off a few words about the lobby lounge in the Ottawa Sheraton. I never noticed the name, but it was pretty decent. I had a perfectly good steak sandwich, Caroline remembers a very generous amount of chicken on a Cobb salad. I had lunch there another day, and the seafood club was also good. Points for Diet Coke in a glass bottle. Service varied.

Saturday. The Buzz, on Bank Street,is one of our favourite restaurants here. We ate there twice during our 2014 visit, and twice this year, too. I don’t know how to give you a clearer impression of how much we like the place than that.

We started with Calamari, which was on the pale side, but dusted with interesting spices. We ordered American wines by the glass, because I had a party to go to at my convention. We didn’t order any of the week’s specials, so you can find our starters and entrees on the menu. Caroline had the Lamb Shank, and I chose the Beef Short Ribs on Gnocchi. We were both very happy, and shared a Peach & Blueberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream that was the feature dessert.

On Sunday, we felt like something different, so we went to Aroma Meze on Nepean Street. Meze is the Greek version of tapas. You order lots of little plates, rather than two or three courses. They recommend six. If there are two in your party, you get two of each thing. If there are three of you, you get three, and so on. Unlike the rather random order we’ve sometimes experienced at tapas bars, they came out as follows: the pita and spicy dip; then the two garden dishes: the stuffed portobello mushrooms, the hot casserole of tomatoes and feta. Then the two seafood dishes: the calamari and the shrimp and black cod thing. Then the two meat selections: beef tenderloin with ginger and pulled lamb tacos.

Overall, this was an excellent meal. We ordered a bottle of Columbia Crest H3 Merlot (short for Horse Heaven Hills), which is an old friend from Washington state. It’s lovely and smooth, by the way. The vegetable dishes were good, the seafood dishes were a tad oily, (we shouldn’t have picked two fried things), and the red meat items were divine. It’s not often that Caroline raves about beef, and she said she’d be dreaming of the lamb tacos, which were like sopes. For dessert, we ordered two different desserts, rather than a matched pair. She had the chocolate explosion, I had the vanilla panna cotta. And the best decaf ever. Why does everyone not have a dark roast decaf? I demand that the universe be changed immediately! It was Kimbo, if you want to try it.

Monday for lunch, Caroline felt like returning to The Manx Pub on Elgin. She had eaten there a day or two earlier, while I was at Can-Con. But not on Cat Day, which might have been Karmic. It’s in a cellar, and it looks a little old, but the food was good and they are, “TV free since ’93.” Bravo. Today’s lentil soup was nice, and my pulled pork wrap was a delight. Caroline had the bean and cheese quesadilla, also very good, which came with a tomatillo dipping sauce. Interesting pub fare.

Monday evening, we went back to the Buzz. On Mondays (and Tuesdays, I think) you can bring your own wine and pay $5 corkage. We bought too much wine in Prince Edward County, in the sense that we have airline baggage limits. Our suitcases are feeling pretty heavy. So we took a Black Prince Cabernet Franc Reserve (2013). This is one of the weirdest wines I have ever tasted. We were enthralled at the winery by its date aroma. That’s right, it reminds me of sticky toffee pudding made with dates, or flake style pipe tobacco. It might appeal to Barolo or Zinfandel fans. It went beautifully with our meals.

We ordered off the regular menu again. We split a goat cheese salad, and asked them to hold the bacon. I’m allergic to one (artificial) smoke flavouring, and while I don’t actually encounter it often, it tenses me up to eat smoky foods. Mine was great. Caroline, who likes her dressing applied with a light hand, actually got the plate with more, so we could have traded if we had figured it out. She wanted the duck confit and it was just right.(not at all salty, Agrarian). I went with the six ounce filet mignon in a bourbon sauce. Num. We both chose the polenta sticks for the side, and they were splendid- crispy with parmesan. Caroline revisited the peach & blueberry cobbler, and I had coffee. Regular, not decaf, and very nice.

Can Con 2015

I had to cancel my plans to travel to Spokane for Sasquan this summer for reasons related to health and health insurance. I cautiously set my sights on Hal-Con for the fall. I’ve always wanted to see Halifax, and there would be lots to do: the Cabot Trail, the Maritime Museum, Halifax Harbour, Theodore Tugboat. However, by the time I felt ready to book, Saturday had sold out. This is probably because the costume ball falls on Halloween, an opportunity not to be missed by Cosplayers. For writing geeks like me, though, it meant I would only be able to attend the Friday and Sunday events, amounting to about half the total schedule. It’s likely that I would have missed some major panels and workshops. Maybe next year.

This year, Ottawa’s Can Con also falls at the end of October, so while I was thinking of Halifax, I was resigned to missing Ottawa. I loved Can Con last year. I pitched my novel to Dragon Moon and Bundoran, did a workshop with Jo Walton, and met a bunch of other writers. So I’m going.

We have enough Air Miles to fly to Ottawa from Winnipeg, and enough RBC Rewards to rent a car. The Sheraton has arranged a splendid room discount for convention guests, so it’s all starting to gel. We’ll start by driving out to Prince Edward County to see some wineries and sceneries. There are also cheese producers, and the whole county is a foodie paradise, with many fine chefs and restaurants. If we’re really lucky, there might still be some fall colours.

We’ll take Dingbat, our quirky but lovable Garmin GPS. He gets left and right mixed up sometimes, and there’s always some excuse: the museum expanded and was relocated across the road; the intersection was redesigned; the official address is on one street, but the parking lot entrance is on the side road. The lovable part is that if it wasn’t for Dingbat, Caroline would be navigating, and heated words might be uttered. I can utter all I want at Dingbat- he neither hears nor cares.

Once we’re back in Ottawa, we’ll return the car. The Sheraton is walking distance to Byward Market, the restaurants of  Elgin Street, and many other attractions. And enough coffee shops to get me a different dark roast every day. I’m starting to get excited.

Chaise Cafe and the Cornerstone

I’ve been so busy with KeyCon and Timothy Gwyn Writes that I had to let my visits to  Winnipeg restaurants slide for a day or two. Now it’s time to catch up, and I’m looking forward to telling you about a pair of restaurants that were very different, but both fun in their own way.

On Saturday, after a hectic day of trying to be both a sci-fi geek and a social butterfly -I’m better at the former- I was ready to unwind with my wife and an old friend for dinner. I dropped by Donna’s downtown condo and then the three of us set off for Chaise Cafe and lounge on Provencher. There was a moment’s confusion when we arrived for our seven o’clock reservation, but the staff didn’t panic and got it sorted out quickly and quietly. They admitted that they had misplaced our table, (which sounds so much better than misplacing our reservation!) but in only a minute or two we were seated at a wonderful little table tucked away by the bar. Sheltered from the main room by a low wall, I loved having more conversation and less background noise.

I’m sure the easiest way to get to know this restaurant would be to go for the prix fixe option. Everyone at the table shares a couple of salads, two different pizzas and samples of the entrees. A pasta course is included if you have room, or you can ask for seconds of something. Dessert is part of the deal, too. As it happens, we did not go that route, and please don’t blame the restaurant if I explained any part of that incorrectly. There is one other interesting thing about the menu here. The entrees are not described in detail because the details vary from night to night. There is always pork tenderloin, for instance, but the chef doesn’t prepare the same pork dish today as yesterday. Tired sigh department: if I got a free salad every time a restaurant misspelled Caesar, I’d eat so much romaine, I’d look like one.

What we did was order a different salad each, and we mostly minded our own, then a different pizza each which we herded into the middle of the table and shared. For its versatility, we got a bottle of the Mirasou Pinot Noir. The specifics: Donna chose the Roasted Butternut Squash salad and the Pepperoni pizza with the mushroom option; Caroline went for the Roasted Beet salad and the Fig and Prosciutto pizza; and I picked the House Garden salad and the alfredo based Wild Mushroom pizza. We all enjoyed our salads, and I could see myself ordering the beet salad on a return visit. That means it wasn’t overwhelmingly dedicated to beets- they were more of a garnish or an accent to the greens and chevre. All the pizzas were thin-crust style, and came sliced into sixths, which meant (lengthy pause for Tim to do the math) we could each have two slices of each kind. In actual fact, the ladies ate one slice of each, and I had a second slice of two, so we could comfortably have ordered two pizzas for the three of us.  I doubled down on the Mushroom and on the Prosciutto and Fig. The pepperoni was nice, but perhaps the saltiest. I wanted another slice, but I was being good. Caroline thought the pepperoni pizza was best, praising the tomato sauce. Oddly, the Prosciutto she chose was her least favourite. No one had room for dessert, but we made sure to take the leftovers home.

I liked the food, the decor, the price and the service, and I’d happily go back.

On Sunday, my convention schedule was shorter. Before I move on to my next feature restaurant, let me just mention that the Winnipeg Radisson hotel’s 12 Resto Bar is not somewhere I would go out of my way to visit. At lunch one day I had a small salad and a large hamburger, but neither was exciting enough to justify the cost. The next day I wanted a light appetizer and ordered the crab-stuffed mushroom caps. The waitress was careful to make sure I understood that the vinaigrette would be imparting a vinegar taste to the dish. She was correct, and it was a little startling how it overpowered the other flavours. I’ve had other versions of this dish that I enjoyed more. Also, I thought $13 was a lot for three mushroom caps.

The month of May does not guarantee spring-like weather in Winnipeg. It does not guarantee howling winds and sleet, either, but they are apparently an option. I joined Caroline at Donna’s village condo again, and we made plans. If I had to live in a city, I have to concede that a downtown neighbourhood with restaurants, coffee shops, a supermarket and a wine store would be fun. Tonight, we took advantage of Donna’s central location to eat close by. It was no night for a stroll, so we decided on the Cornerstone, just steps away from Donna’s place. I didn’t like the bare decor, but it was warm and dry, and comfort food won the day. Well, Caroline had the flatbread and kale salad, which isn’t comfort food in my dictionary… I had the soup of the day, a tasty smoked potato clam chowder. Donna and I both ordered a steak sandwich. This last comes open-faced on a ciabatta bun, and is topped with mushrooms and a fried egg. It was delicious.

“Is there anything that isn’t improved by the addition of an egg?” Donna asked, contentedly.

“Beer.” I replied.

“I meant food.”

“Ice cream.”

It’s this kind of thing that forces me to eat with old friends, instead of refined company. A friend, they say, is someone who knows all about you, and likes you anyway. One day, I’m going to write a science fiction scene about a cantina where the aliens order chocolate ice cream and poached eggs. I’ll dedicate that story to Donna.

Good food, reasonable bill. I’d go there again, but I wish for decor that didn’t remind me of an office.

The weather didn’t worsen during dinner, but the forecast for morning was dreadful. We decided to make the drive in the evening after all. We loaded the car, grabbed a dark roast, and headed out into the rain and wind. It was both hands on the wheel and no cruise control until the highway grew some trees to break the gusty northeast wind. The rest of the drive was okay, if slow. Never turned the wipers off, but the temperatures stayed above freezing until we got home.

Heading South for Christmas

For a while there, it looked as if our flight might be delayed or cancelled for weather. Freezing rain warnings prompted us to make an early start on the drive to Winnipeg, even though we were already set up to go the day before our flight. Roads were damp, the air misty, but we did not see any real freezing precipitation until we neared the city. Aside from going through a lot of windshield-washer fluid, it wasn’t too bad.

Our first stop in the city was a shoe-repair place, to arrange for crepe outsoles to be bonded to Caroline’s mukluks. I bought them for her in Kingfisher last year, and they’re amazing. Far more brightly coloured than the mass-produced ones that have suddenly become popular, they attract attention everywhere she wears them. But the deerskin soles took a beating on concrete sidewalks last winter, and we actually ended up sending them all the way to Fort Severn for repairs. I know that’s crazy, but she met some people from there at work, and it turned out one of them did beadwork. So the deerskin got patched with caribou hide, which is tougher, but they recommended Caroline do what the jingle-dancers do to protect their nice moccasins: crepe-rubber soles. Asked about them at the shoe-repair place, and not only did the guy know what we meant, he had a pair of mukluks waiting for pickup that he had just done. Caroline’s will be ready in early January.

Popped in at Polo Park to pick up a couple of things we needed for the trip, and had one of those moments when you realize what you forgot to bring. As I slipped off my shoes in a change-room, it hit me that the last-minute decision to wear jeans and boots because of the sloppy weather meant that I should have packed my athletic shoes. In Plan A, they were on my feet. They were essential for walking in Mexico. So there I was in Winnipeg’s largest mall, days before Christmas, buying a pair of Skechers.

Checked in at the Best Western near the airport, and had a little rest before heading out to meet our friend Donna for dinner. We chose Teo’s Mano a Mano for this – it’s reasonably close to our hotel, and Donna can walk there from her Osborne Village condo.

Mano a Mano has changed their menu, and we were disappointed. Both our favourite pizzas are gone. We ordered others, but neither of us enjoyed them nearly as much. The tomato sauce on my Pugliese was too salty, and applied with a heavy hand. Caroline liked the toppings on her Stagioni, but not the way they were separated into quadrants. The oven-fired crust is still awesome, and the Insalata Misto is still one of the best salads out there, but there is no longer a pizza to bring me back.

Up at 0300 to get ready for our flight. Yes, Virginia, there is a three in the morning. It just feels unreal. Muzzy and unfocused – no wait, that’s the freezing fog and drizzle. It’s lifted a bit since last night, when two departing flights from Winnipeg were cancelled, but it’s not great.

Easy check-in at WestJet, then stumbled over to Stella’s for breakfast in the terminal. They have real food, and they open early. I managed to enjoy a mushroom and Swiss omelette at four in the morning, but Caroline’s stomach requires more advance notice.

While we were eating, the line-up for security grew much longer. It didn’t really matter, we had plenty of time, but ugh. Caroline wore the wrong thing. Her top has a neckline bordered with flat white beads that look exactly like chiclets. Apparently they do not X-ray well, so she had to have a pat-down. She won’t be wearing that top to travel by air again.

I expected our flight to be delayed by the need for de-icing, but it was delayed by a panic attack. A nervous flyer refused to get on, and they had to extract her bags. She will miss her vacation with her husband and son. She did take a calming medication (perhaps Atavan, the stuff they give you if you are too claustrophobic for an MRI scan) but she left it too late. The stuff takes an hour or more to fully kick in. I hope she had someone in Winnipeg to give her a ride, because after the flight left and the stress vanished, she probably couldn’t keep her eyes open.

The flight was uneventful, and our row had one of the very few empty spots, so we spread out and used the center seat for a coffee table.

The terminal in Puerto Vallarta was practically deserted. Apart from the unusual sight of a dog taking a crap in the concourse, things went very smoothly. Yes, the owners of the dog cleaned it up. Good thing the terminal here runs to polished stone floors, not carpet. Immigration lady pleasant, and she actually smiled when I wished her a Feliz Navidad. Our bags came through quickly and we scored a green light at customs, so we were out in the sunshine in record time.

One of the nice things about the Hilton in PVR is that it’s quite close to the airport, so no prolonged taxi ride. I fully expected to be told it would be two or three hours before our room was available, but they checked us straight in at noon. Sweet!

We are on the eighth floor, so the we will spend a lot of time waiting for elevators. This is a great way to meet people. Yes, I start conversations with strangers, it’s one of my flaws. “Partial Ocean View” means about what I thought it did. If you stand at one end of the balcony, you can see a bit of the beach between the buildings. Also, there is a rhythmic rumbling noise from the ventilation duct in the bathroom, so at night it sounds like the monster in the closet is purring, loudly. But the bed is comfy and the desk is huge, and those are the things we value most in a hotel room.

Internet is free in the lobby and so on, but there is a fee if you wish to go online in your room. Last year we scored a room directly over the lobby, and had free wifi on the balcony. (WOOT!) No such luck from the top floor, but I found out that if you book a whole week of wifi, it’s only about six bucks a day. At home, that would get you a coffee, but not a glass of wine. Here, the coffee and wine are free, and I don’t mind paying for an internet connection. Makes it way easier to blog if you don’t have to guess the URLs of the restaurants. Also, I will need my email, as I have homework coming. I’m taking an online writing course from Odyssey in January, and our first reading assignment is supposed to show up any day now.

Spent the afternoon poking around the hotel and walking on the beach. Ate supper in the Seafire, the hotel’s buffet restaurant. I actually prefer it to the a la carte restaurants on the property. Some guests complain that the buffet is too limited, but it depends on what kind of food you expect. If you came to Mexico but wanted to eat the same as if you were in America, you might be disappointed. Saturday night’s buffet is Mexican themed, and the hot line had tortilla soup, Mexican rice, puntas de res (tenderloin tips in a sauce), fish Veracruz style (olives and veggies on top), Pollo en mole (chicken in spicy brown sauce), nopales crema (cactus and corn in a cream sauce), and so on. We thought it was great, and lingered over soup, salad, entree and dessert courses.

Early to bed, on account of three in the morning hasn’t forgiven us yet.

Picks & Pans

We have a late check-out and an afternoon flight to Winnipeg today, so I have time to wrap things up. We walked a loop up one side of the Rideau Canal and down the other. There are tons of fit people in Ottawa. Caroline gave up all hope of redeeming her hair and wore it in a ponytail.

Here is a look at some of the best and worst of our road trip from Ottawa to Bar Harbor and back.

Restaurants

Caroline’s pick: Leunig’s Bistro in downtown Burlington, Vermont. Truly transcendent duck, cool location on the Church Street pedestrian concourse. Honorable mention to the Café Provence in Waterbury, Vermont. Her pan: Pizzeria Verità in Burlington, Vermont. The beet salad was all beets, no salad, and she didn’t like the pizza much, either.

Tim’s pick: the BUZZ in Ottawa, Ontario. Sure the food was good at Leunig’s, but it was crowded and noisy. At the Buzz, you could have delightful food and conversation. My pan: the West Street Cafe in Bar Harbor, Maine. I ordered the wrong thing, but if I was back in Bar Harbor, I’d go somewhere nicer to look for the right thing.

Hotels

Caroline’s pick: the Best Western Waterbury/Stowe in Waterbury, Vermont. Beautiful building with a conservatory for the pool and whirlpool tub, an arcade with air hockey and pinball and a truly amazing restaurant. Great staff, too, that helped with an internet problem and suggested walking options.

Tim’s pick: the Best Western Victoria Suites in Ottawa, Ontario. Wonderful suite that made it easy for me to blog at the desk in the front room while Caroline slept. Terrific location within walking distance of restaurants, downtown, and the Rideau Canal, helpful staff.

Unanimous pan: the Best Western Adirondack Inn in Lake Placid, New York. Lugged my fifty pound suitcase and all our other junk up a flight of stairs to discover a small, noisy room with a fridge in the closet and no desk. Older properties like this have so many challenges – drafty windows, small rooms, inadequate wiring – that it’s hard for them to compete with newer buildings. But they weren’t  gracious when we balked.

Towns

My pick for visiting again, Bar Harbor, Maine. Tons of places to hike and cycle, abundant seafood. My pick for moving to permanently, Ottawa, Ontario. I’m not a city person, but this place could convert me. My pan: Lake Placid, New York. I was hoping for the outdoorsy charm of Bozeman, Montana, but it’s tightly nestled in the mountains, more like Banff, Alberta, and that gives it a crowded, touristy feel, as if nobody is actually from there.

Caroline’s pick, Burlington, Vermont. Loved the ambiance of downtown and the Lake Champlain waterfront. Her pan would be Bennington, Vermont. It wasn’t hideous or anything, we would just try to stay somewhere with more to offer next time.

Walking

Our pick: The Carriage Roads of Desert Island, Acadia National Park, near Bar Harbor. Smooth enough to cycle, quiet enough to walk with weights, vast variety.

Our pan: Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Our hotel was awkwardly located, so we did an urban walk to Memorial Bridge and the adjacent park. If I went there again, I’d do more research in an effort to find something more tranquil.