Apex point - © Robert Sommers 2024

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Oh Canada

When I started writing this blog almost ten years ago, I really didn't know how things would shake down with it, what form it would eventually morph into?

Wanted a free forum for personal and community expression, not much else.

Never thought it would run for this long, that is for sure.

Certainly never intended to provide the world with a public diary of my life, how boring, never thought I would be graced with such a global forum, never grokked the full import and extent of the virtual community/family.

Never realized just how incredibly time consuming this unpaid job could be, or the possible pathology inherent in this intense need to share and overshare.

But things find their own way, you are what you are, it is what it is and we got what we got. [ed. note - insert proper John Lennon quote of your choice here.] Many of you have checked in with me on a daily basis for years and when I don't show up for a spell, some of you get a little worried. I appreciate that. Still not sure how much is too much.

I am fine.

I was in Toronto this week to see my brother Buzz and his family. I was long overdue. Buzz hasn't been feeling well, has had his tsuris and is going through more than his fair share of medical crap at present.

I love my brother like no other and it was wonderful to see the whole family. He looked better than I thought he would actually. Asked him if he wasn't sure he had merely inherited my late mother's hypochondria but you don't fake a kidney transplant, etc.

We were heading into the cold on this journey, extreme cold for a southern Californian. Minus four today. We spent an hour and a half on the runway in Detroit getting the airplane's wings de-iced.

I had been piling up free nights and credits all year on Hotels.com and decided to use the whole batch on the lovely old queen of a hotel, the Fairmount Royal York.

Got the rooms for a song. Ideally located across from Union Station. We were going to rent a car but took the subway and train instead and I'm glad that we did. Would have been hell on those roads.

Toronto is a lovely city, even in the freezing cold. Everyone is fashionable and even the dogs like to dress up.

Actually the mittens are to keep the salt off their feet.

We did a lot of visiting with our large extended family, some sightseeing and of course, a lot of eating. By the way, I now weigh more than my younger brother Buzz and he was simply overjoyed.

We ate out with Buzz and Julia the first night in Chinatown, on Spadina. The Chinese food in Toronto is legendary, it is home for a huge community. Barrels of supplies on the sidewalk, food made before your eyes in open kitchens.

First we stopped at Dumpling House.

We ordered XLB, our favorite steamed dumplings, wonton soup and pan fried dumplings. While all were very good, the pan fried were by far the best I had ever tasted. By a long shot. Best in show.

And you know I am a dumpling freak. Crispy, flavorful, perfect. Good thing I don't live in the area, I would be a pest.

But no, we were not content. My brother quit a law career and became a celebrated chef and restaurateur in Canada. My wife can cook with anybody. Hardcore foodies all and basically full but at my urging we went down the street for a second dinner anyway.

We asked several Chinese folks about barbecue recommendations, walked north in the frozen air and never found the joint then back to an old standby, King's Noodle.

We were actually already stuffed  so we decided to forego the noodle dishes and go right to the serious stuff; roast pork, barbecue pork and roast duck.

It was all good but the roast pork was in a class by itself, the skin was so crispy it crackled.

We left, utterly gorged from our gluttonous repast. All my fault, really. Thought about dessert and then thought better not. No chance on pushing the heart muscle and who really knows about Canadian medicine?

They drove us back to our hotel and we hit the hay early. We had a large Chinese dim sum feast with extended family to look forward to the next day.

Leslie and I took a train up to the museum area and walked to Dynasty in Yorkville. We had eaten there before on a previous trip but the location had changed. Some of the best dim sum in Toronto, purportedly. And it was excellent.

chili, salt and pepper prawns
I quickly made friends with the staff and got them to bring us a few nice things off menu. Wonderful and was even better yet to be with my nephew Zachary, niece Rachel, her child, Buzz, Julia, Julia's sister Susan and Leslie.

Now of course I don't usually go off on such a monofood, single cuisine tangent. But when would I have an opportunity to feed like this again?

After lunch Leslie and I went to the Distillery District to stock up on our favorite all time favorite hot chocolate at Soma. It is free on Fridays during the Christmas season, of course they never used to charge at all.

Purchases in mittened hands, we decided to brave the chilly air and walk back to the hotel, stopping first at the wonderful old St. Laurence Market.

The St. Laurence market is so classic, one of my very favorites.

Bought real raw Cantal cheese from France, which I prize above all others. Can't buy that in the U.S..

They had smoked salmon I had never even heard of. Wolfhead?

Saw all sorts of stuff, even fish parts.

What else can I say? Had some more interesting meals including an incredible gourmet meal at the Hotel at Epic.

Lamb shank with squash purée and mint gremolata, celery root veloute with prickled pear and cress, beets with hazelnut dukkah, honey, gouda and radicchio, an absolutely sinful dessert. Very unusual flavor set with the meal, tended to the Mediterranean but kept you on your toes and taste buds.

Spent way too much money at a Benihana on a night when there weren't many options.

Had a great bouillabaisse at a nearby food court, Marché. Watched a lot of curling. Remembered what it was like to be cold. Hung out with family. Took pictures of skyscrapers. Was going to check out the CN Tower but forty bucks a piece? I don't think so.


Had the pleasure of a very enjoyable evening with my niece and her family.

The last day we decided to take a quick train to Niagara Falls, one of my wife's favorite places. What we didn't know was that there was only one train back and it was that evening.

We also didn't know that it would be snowing so intensely. The falls not frozen yet probably soon. We certainly were and my camera gear took some abuse too. Hope it doesn't end up real expensive.

The snow got very intense, blowing sideways and hard.

We first found shelter at Tim Hortons, than finally at a blackjack table after a steep climb up top. Saw homeless people in the snow, cruel and heartbreaking, incomprehensible how they survive, really.

Been there winter and summer and I honestly think I like summer better.  By a nose. But this was still great and there were very few people there which is always good. The natives were all especially nice.

Funny thing about Canada. It may, as my brother says, indeed have an inferiority complex but people of all shades and creeds seem to live very harmoniously.

Many things to admire about our neighbors to the north.

Hope to catch it totally frozen before I am.

Twas a very enjoyable trip, perhaps the last of a very enjoyable year. But who knows? Never know what's waiting around the next corner...

Dreamt about my brother after the flight back last night. We were both kids, maybe in the tub. The honest and beautiful experience of loving your brother or sister as a child and even as we get older, does anything else compare?


Jon Harwood said...

Grand set of Leslie snaps. The first one is particularly fun. Better you than me in that weather. I had enough of that as a kid in Colorado and Illinois.

Ken Seals said...

Awesome story and photos. You are certainly the National Geographic and Gourmet Magazine of the blogosphere! It was like being there to read and see the photos of your Canadian adventure.

Anonymous said...

The food looks and sounds incredible Robert. Very happy for you to be able to spend time with your brother Buzz.

Sanoguy said...

All nice shots. I particularly like the architectural shots. Several would be good B & W candidates.

Anonymous said...

Hey hoser, so how was your trip to Canada? Eat some good food eh?

Max Hall said...

I'm sorry, but who's hoser, and why?