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Friday, April 6, 2007

Travelogue: Toronto back and forth

I've been back from Toronto for a few days now and I'm finally getting around to write about it. I hadn't been there since late summer, for the Festival of Fear and to pick up my soon-to-be girlfriend. Since then she has moved in and various financial matters have prevented me from going back sooner. But I was all set to go, planned as it was for a couple of months.

The trip itself was rather uneventful, I actually got to the bus a little early this time, a first for me I believe! I was forced to share my row halfway through, but the trip was uncomfortable anyways. I just cant bring myself so splurge on the train or the plane. Its not that long of a trip anyways, but I certainly wouldn't spend more than about 6 hours on a bus... not again.

Got to Toronto, found out that there was a subway station much closer than I thought there was; I certainly wont repeat last time's streetcar incident! The Intersection of Death at my destination has disappeared, leaving me in a bit of confusion. Troubled and not a little worried that I went the wrong way, I fortunately spot my host Kate coming to pick me up. Hurray!

As a second break from tradition, we left the apartment to go eat at a normal (so to speak) hour, actually making it while everything is opened. While the Iranian vodka bar was full 9reservations only), we went to Coca, which promised tapas galore. Now coca is Spain's version of pizza, with little toppings and a crust that is both thin and crumbly, closer to biscuit than bread. While the wine list is long enough for a tapas bar, the markup is ridiculous. The cheapest decent wine was 50$ a bottle, from 12$ at the LCBO. We drank beer.

Unlike the beers, which came in what could be approximated as pints, the dishes were small. Very small. actually, considering the sizes of the portion, they should have had a larger selection... and somewhat lower prices. It was definitely the smallest paella I have ever seen. And paella is definitely not a tapas item. Tapas should be small morsels of food, delicious and inexpensive, they should be able to fit on a saucer and eaten one-handed. Paella, like risotto, isn't of that category. But then again, we are talking about Toronto, jumping on the latest bandwagon, so with that taken into account, it wasn't bad. The food was tasty (a novelty certainly, for those who remember my Portuguese pasta misadventure) if costly (well, not THAT bad...) and the coca was certainly something I'd give a shot at again.

Afterwards, this being Friday night and still the evening early, drinks were in order. We decided to forgo the clubs, planning as we were to attend Panic on Saturday night. We passed by a Tiki lounge (it looked rather packed) and were to another mix-drink venue. The place is also packed, but we manage to scootch at the back terrace, under the burning glare of a heat lamp. The menu is ridiculous. We are somewhat traditionalists in our tastes for cocktails, and this place certainly didn't live up to either of our standards. Most of the drinks were vodka-based mixes of both dubious names and interests. Definitely a bad sign. I order a Manhattan, Kate orders a Sidecar, we are, I believe, both disappointed by the result. As a bad start, my glass is obviously broken. I ain't going back there again. The place is full, people are ridiculously loud, we decide to move on to a better location, that is, the nearly Tiki lounge.

Not as packed as feared, actually, only the front area is full, the back tables are empty. The music is both loud and inappropriate, but that's not what we're here for. With no table service, we approach the bar cautiously. We had nothing to worry about. Good menu, friendly attitude and the fastest bartender I've ever had the pleasure of dealing with. I've had beer served to me slower. She was both enthusiastic and knowledgeable, she never once hesitated and didn't seem to measure anything. We got our drinks and relaxed. They were tasty, were damned accurate as to what they should be, and for the amount of beverage, they were fairly priced. While our late arrival limited us to a single drink, we shall certainly return next time.

Saturday morning arrives and a second tradition is broken. We actually leave the apartment early and we head out for breakfast. As a repeat of the previous night, our first choice is packed; so Prague will be for a later visit. We go to La Hacienda, a neat little hole-in-the-wall nearby. The decor is all vintage 50's dinette sets, down to grandma's tableware. We are served by the thinnest waitress possible; the menu is impressive by it's variety and mouth-watering description. I order french toast and Kate orders something with black beans. We are quite thrilled where the food arrives and is everything it's advertised: my french toast is made of a couple of croissants sandwiches filled with Brie and grilled in butter. As per fancy cuisine dogma, there's swirls of fruit coulis, both on the food and on the plate. However, this is a good thing, and they are both appetising to the eyes and the mouth. Most recommended, I say. Kate's dish is a base of black beans, with an egg and mozzarella baked on top. Very nice and delicious. We'll be back at some point I'm sure.

Paul, a.k.a. Fozzie, joins us for our afternoon shopping trip. Our first stop is the Playdead Mansion. Gone is the Bathurst locale, they now sell their wares from a new, faraway location. The selection is far more interesting than the last time we saw them, with new items, both in style as in design. Unfortunately, the designs I wanted they didn't have in my size. Oh well, there's always a next time. We are Joined by Kate's friend Jen, as Paul departs for his Comedy Tour. Good luck Paul! Next stop, the Monster Factory. There, we are confronted with hard choices: there is simply too much to chose from! Not all the monsters are available, but we each make our selection and leave. We are assaulted on the way by the friendliest Boston terrier puppy I have ever seen, practically jumping into Kate's arms. Our shopping ends with Kensington market, for my cheese foray. Cheese is my passion, and Global Cheese is my pusher. I stay on budget and still leave with several pounds of cheese. Jen leaves, we pick up breads and empennaddas and head back for a nap.

Later that evening, we get set to dine before the club. We need to go out this time, since we have all that we need. Cured meats, cheeses and bread, accompanied by good wine, what more could we need? Well, in hindsight a nice pottage, a platter of fruits (especially grapes) would have been welcome. But we didn't have any, so hindsight and all that. Midnight comes and goes, and the question of clubbing gets resolved around a bottle of red. Screw it, we've paid our dues to the Dance Floor Gods and there's plenty of wine to go yet. With little to gain, we stay in and enjoy the rewards of adulthood: good wine, good conversation and great friendship. We go to bed past 6 am, with a tally of 4 bottles of wine as tribute to the night.

Sunday morning arrives way earlier than we thought. We slept only a few hours. after a bit of chatting, back to bed we go. The extra rest is beneficial, as that amount of wine is kinda harsh on the system. Mid afternoon comes and I head down. I check in with the girlfriend to make sure I take the bus on time... and a good thing it is. I was off by nearly an hour. That still gives me tiem to drop by Moonbeam for coffee, El Gordo for empannadas and I pick up some tasty cookies from the bakery. I'm on time for the bus (again!) and get a double seater the entire trip.

All in all, I stayed in budget; actually, I was under budget, since I didn't do anywhere near as much shopping as I usually do. I didn't get to drop by Mike Parson's studio, or Silver Snails, but that's okay. There will be other times, other trips, other wines.

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