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.

Saranac Lake, NY to Kingston, ON

Kept our morning walk simple today, strolling along the sidewalks around Saranac Lake for half an hour and return. We could have completed a loop in something like fifteen minutes more, but Caroline’s knee was sore, so we retraced our steps.

Drove out of the Adirondack National Park today, stopping twice to allow wild turkeys to cross the road.

Dingbat got us lost in Watertown, because after we told him we wanted to stop at Five Guys for cheeseburgers, we forgot to untell him that we wanted to go to the center of the city. So he tried to do both. Five Guys Burgers and Fries, by the way, is the soul-partner of California’s In-N-Out Burger. Real beef, and they know where their potatoes came from today. They even had malt vinegar for the fries. Why do we always discover these places on our last day? Actually, there is one in Ottawa.

It was cloudy all morning and it started raining at lunch-time. This reminds me to mention that Mitsu has a nice feature: if you have the front wipers on, when you put the car in reverse, the rear wiper makes a couple of passes without being asked. Good thinking, Mitsubishi.

Before I forget: Coca-Cola – it’s not just for breakfast any more! Saw someone enjoying an ice cold one with her dinner and white wine. I don’t know what would taste worse, the wine or the coke. Maybe the dinner.

Crossed back into Canada at the Thousand Island bridge. Shortest border stop ever. No line up in lane two and our only purchases were the picnic cooler and a single bottle of wine. Usually we bring back more wine than our duty-free allowance, but we’re flying back to Winnipeg soon, so we’d have to pay extra baggage or shipping. Decided against.

I thought for sure we’d spot all of the Eastern US licence plates on this trip, but we never saw a Delaware. They must not get out much. We got all the others, and we even spotted some stray westerners like Oregon. And California – they will not stay home.

When we chose to cut short our planned two-day stop in Lake Placid/Saranac Lake, we booked another night in Kingston. This will give us more time to track down some genealogy stuff for Caroline; we’ll be able to do it as a side trip tomorrow instead of fitting it in on the way back to Ottawa.

Busy Weekend in Ottawa

I’ve been so busy in Ottawa that I haven’t had time to blog for my foodie friends. Head on over to Timothy Gwyn Writes for an idea of why I had an eighteen hour day Saturday. I’ll get right to the point – food. We haven’t been travelling anyway.

Friday night we found enough free time to get together at The Standard Tavern, a pub on Elgin. Caroline had excellent grilled Mahi Mahi tacos, which came with red cabbage shreds, much like the coleslaw style we do at home. I had the mac and cheese, which came in a little iron skillet. Both our meals came with a tossed salad of spring greens, lightly dressed. We did not linger, so that I could get back to Can-Con in time for the Bundoran Press party in the entertainment suite.

Saturday we had planned on separate dinners because the convention schedule was very full. In the end, we were both hungry at 8:00pm because I hadn’t managed to fit in a meal between the convention sessions and Caroline’s previously acquired deli food no longer looked so appetizing. We managed to connect for a late supper at Maxwell’s Bistro, also on Elgin. I was hungry because of the long day and the late hour and had a Pollo pizza with chicken and peppers on a nice brick-oven style crust. Caroline had a beef melt with carmelized onion, swiss cheese, and a horseradish and blue cheese mayo. The mayo was subtle, especially the blue cheese part, but nice. I walked Caroline back to our hotel and went to the second night’s convention party for a bit.

We went out for breakfast this morning, as we’ve been eating the hot continental at the hotel and felt like a change. We went to the Elgin Street Diner, which has all sorts of original touches like their own baked beans as a breakfast side as well as a breakfast potato that is closer to fried mashed potatoes than your typical hash browns. Before I forget, amazing blackboard art in this diner – I wasn’t sure it was really chalk. Wow! Not just beautifully lettered menu items all around the room, but an amazing mural of past present and future diners! Caroline says they know how to poach a soft egg. I can vouch for the three-cheese omelette, to which I added mushrooms. This place is open 24 hours, by the way.

Tonight we had more time. Can-Con ended in the afternoon, and I had time to come back to the Best Western and work on the other blog for a while before dinner. For a break from Elgin Street, we went the other way and walked over to The Buzz on Bank Street. On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday evenings, you can bring your own wine and pay a very modest corkage of just $5. Other nights, BYO is not available. Lots of nice things on the menu, and we settled on sharing a Woolwich Cheese and Garlic Affair while I hogged a bowl of tonight’s soup, a mushroom cream with potato. I contemplated the Malay lamb shanks and even tonight’s seafood special, but it wouldn’t have gone with red wine, and we had taken a bottle of Guenoc (Californian) Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon that we picked up at the vintages section of the local LCBO. Caroline wavered between the duck confit and the venison osso bucco and chose the latter. It was very tender. I ended up ordering the filet mignon, and it was marvelous. Melt on your fork.

We shared a dessert, a pumpkin cheesecake with a cinnamon cream cheese icing. Amazing.

Dinner in Lethbridge

I keep forgetting to mention that as we pulled out of Walla Walla, I reached up to straighten the Sirius satellite radio and it came unstuck from the windshield. This is remarkable, as it has stayed on for months, thanks to some aircraft structural cement. It’s a good thing aircraft are not commonly made of glass. This is probably what led to my off-the-wall remarks about Wonder Woman’s jet.


Anyway… walked a short distance from our hotel to Chopstix, a restaurant with a drive-through lane that claims to serve gourmet Chinese food – fast. The thought that it must all be sitting around on steam tables to make that possible put us off. In the other direction, I had spotted a place called Luigi’s Pizza. Closer examination revealed that they did steaks and stuff, too. I had a pepper steak saute, which is pretty much the same thing as a beef stir-fry, especially if you order it with rice. It was pretty good. Caroline had a ham, pineapple, onion and green pepper pizza. They aren’t kidding, they really do make their own crust, and it was excellent. Oh, and they bake their own bread, too, it seems, it was fresh and soft. We had a cheap Chianti, and it was just fine.

Cheapest dinner in ages, and we would make a note to eat there again next time we stay at this hotel. I say ‘would’, but we won’t. The bathroom smells of tobacco smoke, and we just found out it wafts up the vent from smoking floors below us. Also, the pop machines and ice makers on the fourth and eighth floors are out of order, so you have to go all the way down to the lobby. Not an expensive hotel, but I think I’d rather pay more and get more.

Dinner in Walla Walla

It’s a good thing we skipped Yakima/Prosser and came here a day early. We got into the Creektown Cafe tonight, but they are closed tomorrow. Due to the cab being busy, we had to show up at 1900 for our 1930 reservation, but they seated us right away. The restaurant was packed from the time we arrived to the time we left, and the kitchen was bogging down. Caroline noticed a whole herd of wait staff lurking around the kitchen, afraid to go near their tables, but the cooks all had their heads down trying to catch up, and wouldn’t even make eye contact with the front staff. So service was slow, but we loved our waitress Erica. She did everything she could to keep things moving along for us. I swear the restaurant was near panic, though; two busboys tried to clear our extra wineglasses, which were actually for the bottle of wine we hadn’t started yet.


So, just in case we can’t find any tomorrow, we had the Abeja Chardonnay with our apps: smoked scallops with some apple and pralines and leafy stuff for Tim, house special salad of spring greens and goat cheese for Caroline. Then we had the Abeja Syrah with our main courses: beef bourgignon for T, lamb shank for C. All was good, and the two hearty French entrees were a perfect match for the wine.

The cafe specializes in pies for dessert, but pies of every sort. I had a wedge of coconut cream pie that must have been over three inches tall, Caroline had her beloved Marionberry pie. If you don’t know what that is, it sucks to be you. Google it and eat your heart out.

Out to the parking lot for a minute, for a little fresh air and a chance to admire a vintage Jeep Wagoneer station wagon in excellent condition, except that the red and white two-tone paint had faded to salmon and cream, and then our cab showed up and Rita ran us back to the hotel.

Day in McMinnville

Another cold and rainy day, so we weren’t too keen to leap into action this morning. Goofed off and did laundry until noon, then stirred ourselves enough to pick up a few things at a supermarket and have lunch at the Wildwood Cafe. This funky local favourite is decorated with old metal signs from the fifties and sixties, and the ceiling is hung with hundreds of egg-beaters and potato mashers of every vintage. Best cheese and broccoli soup I’ve ever had, but the sandwiches were kind of bland.


Out into wine country to hunt for some of the Pinot Noir that Oregon is famous for. Started with Panther Creek actually, who have a tasting room right downtown. Their loveable dog is not on duty on weekends, but we did buy a couple of bottles of wine. Then out into the Dundee Hills area, since we did not cover it well before. Went to Erath first, but found most of their stuff to be what we call ‘Turkey Pinots’: perfect for roast turkey and cranberry sauce, but too light for barbecued chicken, or pork, let alone any kind of red meat. I love these paler, fruity wines, but we don’t have the right kind of food very often, so we don’t need more. Next stop Argyle, but the tasting room was very crowded, and the most likely wine was out of our price range, so we slipped away without even talking to anyone. Tried to go to Domain Serene, which was recommended by the Erath folks as a good place for heavier, earthier Pinots, plus they also have an interesting Viognier, but they were closed for a private function. Drove a little further while we were looking for a place to turn around, and found ourselves at Winter’s Hill. They were having a tasting in the winery itself, hosted by the actual winemaker herself. Despite her best efforts to make those famous light Pinots, we liked her cheapest stuff the best – it had the most guts. After that, well, we just can’t taste dozens of wines and still enjoy it. We headed back. The sun came out a little, but the temperature never made it over 14C today.

Dundee Hills vineyards
Out to dinner at Golden Valley Alehouse. Had a nice dinner there a year ago, on a weeknight, but tonight it was crowded and a party of forty had tied up the kitchen. They were catching up by the time we ordered, but were probably hurrying. The seafood chowder was very nice, and my New York with peppercorn crust and Marsala sauce was pretty good. Caroline’s ranch Angus burger was a bit plain. Our first choice of wine was the Mystic Merlot, but they were out. Plan B was Belle Vallee Cabernet from Rogue Valley, in the south of Oregon. Never had a wine with ‘notes of tar and lilac’ before, but they weren’t kidding. It went well with my hot and crusty peppercorn steak, but this one is SO not a deck sipper, so we didn’t bring back the heel of the bottle to finish in our room.

Tomorrow, we drive to Walla Walla, the last of our wine area destinations. After that, it’s pretty much the trek home.


Dinner in Edmonds

The rain let up long enough for us to walk to either of the two nearby seafood restaurants. Front desk guy loaned us an umbrella, but it was so windy, I don’t think we could have used it if the rain resumed. Arnie’s was the closer of the two, and the menu ranged from seafood to pasta. Anthony’s was a block further and a notch fancier. I was a little alarmed at the number of Mercedes and Lexus automobiles in the parking lot, but the prices were alright and the service was excellent. They did know what gins they had, and they had a Ryan Patrick Chardonnay on the wine list. Since we were just at their tasting room, that was a natural. For me the high point was my coconut prawns. The chowder was good, but not as good as Havre, believe it or not. I was stunned to see halibut cheeks on the menu – I didn’t even know fish had buttocks – so I ordered them, of course. Caroline had the Macadamia Mahi Mahi. A good dinner, but also our most expensive so far, by about twenty bucks.