Toronto:YYZ and LOTR

YYZ is the airport code for Toronto’s Pearson Airport. The members of Rush were so happy to see YYZ on their luggage tags they named one of their most famous instrumentals after it. It wasn’t a Rush weekend, but there were a couple times they came up. Of course I picked this weekend to read Contents Under Pressure (an oral history of Rush).

We had originally planned on going up Saturday, but due to the expensive tickets opted for redeeming frequent flier miles instead. That meant leaving on Friday. That was ok, I still had one vacation day after the big Europe trip in February and our Boston trip last month. We took Illa to the kennel, and parked at Dulles (even found parking in the Green Lot). Of course our plane was delayed, and we took off and landed 30 minutes late. Thankfully it’s only a little over an hour flight. We landed in Toronto, then took a while to get through immigration and customs.

The Toronto book I brought was pretty good, but it let us down in one major respect. It said that to get from the airport to downtown, you could take any of three bus routes (192 “Airport Rocket”, 58, or 307), but that they all took about the same amount of time, and the latter two got you to subway stops closer to downtown. Wrong! We took the 58 because it was the first one that stopped (and the driver was nice – I didn’t have tickets or tokens, only had 20s, and he let us ride for free), but it was a slow hour long slog through rush hour traffic. Not only that, but Jill compared it unfavorably to some of her rides through wretched stretches of Boston (and she used to take the bus through DC as well). The only redeeming part was the arrival of the white, blonde, pregnant weed pusher, chatting on her cell phone. “I want my money, eh?” And then she mentioned to her callee “I hate riding the [bus] – everyone always looks at me”. Wonder why?

We got on the subway, and it was almost 7PM. We had planned to see Hair that night, but due to a scheduling snafu, Jill had purchased tix for the previous week’s show. In retrospect, not a bad thing, as we wouldn’t have gotten dinner and probably would have fallen asleep. I had made reservations at my third choice restaurant for dinner at 7 when were at Dulles, and called them before getting on a train to bump it back to 8. We got to the Metropolitan Hotel and were checked in by 7:30, quickly changing and getting on the subway at the nearby St. Patrick station. We made it to the nearest subway to the restaurant, but there wasn’t enough time to wait for a street car to take us west, so we hailed a cab. The driver was chatty, and when he learned I had enough for exact change ($4.50) or a lotta change ($20), opted for exact change. That’s never happened to me before.

So we were feeling good as we arrived at the SoHo Metropolitan Hotel, sister hotel to the one we were staying at, and the Senses restaurant on the ground floor. The look was contemporary but comfortable. I’ll say right off that this may have not have been my first choice, but it was our favorite restaurant in Toronto. We were seated immediately and presented menus. We decided not to do the tasting menu, which I regretted somewhat after seeing the inventiveness of the chef. I had a King dark lager and Jill had a glass of cava. The taste from the kitchen was refreshing mix of cucumber foam and sorbert, followed by some scrumptious little rolls. For starters, Jill had a white bean bacon soup with duck confit, and I had a mixture of duck and calamari on watermelon with fresh thai herbs and watercress. Both were very good. For follow up drinks, I had a Unibroue Blanche de Chambly (excellent wheat beer) and Jill had a glass of savuignon blanc. I had a triple seared tenderloin for my entree, which came with a marinated carrot (utterly unidentifiable without help) and a small helping of elegant scalloped potato. Jill enjoyed her chicken breast with smoked bacon sauce and brussel sprouts. For dessert Jill had coffee and a banana pie (with sliced bananas on top) served with a dollop of caramelized mango sauce and a scoop of rich chocolate sorbet. I tried the chef’s “pre dessert” – a fork with a piece of granny smith apple, ginger crisp, and bee pollen on it, with sea salt to dip it in. The waiter described it as nothing he’d ever tasted before, and he was right – a perfect match of sweet and salt in a single bite.

Afterwards, we caught a cab to the Orbit Room, our first Rush moment. The club is co-owned by Alex Lifeson, the guitar player from the band. I knew it was a slim chance to see him, but I was curious to see what kind of a place it was. It was a tiny little place, upstairs in a very hip part of town – things were busy when we left after 11. There was a ska band playing there, The Arsenals, and we enjoyed our drinks (a Steam Whistle beer for me, vodka twist for Jill) for some of the show. I saw absinthe on the shelf and thought it was a good time to give it a try. Strong licorice flavor, but no visions for me, there or in my dreams that night. We caught a cab back to the hotel and went to bed.

Saturday was our big touring day. Jill wanted breakfast, and she decided crepes would be fun, so we headed to the subway (where we got a day pass, good for two people on the weekend) and south to Union. We made one stop first, at Europe Bound, a sporting goods store, as I’d forgotten to bring a swimsuit and wanted to enjoy the hotel jacuzzi. The only one I could find that fit me and wasn’t bright orange was $40, but I didn’t want to go looking at other stores, so I bought it.

It was only a short stroll from there to Le Papillion. The skylights (especially on that sunny day) and cunning decorating made it feel like you were outside at a French cafe. Since we were only planning on two meals and this was Jill’s day off from counting points, we lived it up. We started with Paradise for me (gin, apricot brandy, orange juice, and lemon juice) and Morning Glory for Jill (a mimosa plus triple sec), then Crepes Parisienne for me (ham, swiss, and asparagus smothered in hollaindaise sauce), and Crepes Jean Denis for Jill (ham, garlic, mushroom in beshamel sauce, plus she added spinach). We finished by sharing Crepe aux Pommes (hot apples), covered in powdered sugar (yum) and ice cream on the side. Jill had her usual coffee, and I decided to have a Cafe Italien (coffee with amaretto and coffee liqueur).

We were well fortified for our day and took a circuitous route back to the subway. We found the Beer Bistro we knew we’d return to, and a Shoppers drugstore for Jill, who needed contact lens solution. Good choice, as they had both a selection of Coffee Crisps (candy Jill’s coworkers have a jones for) and a post office upstairs (where I cashed some Canadian money orders that my banks won’t cash). We opted to go back to the hotel to drop off our loot, then headed back out again.

First stop was Kinko’s – Norah Jones was coming to the Birchmere as part of the Little Willies band in May, and tickets were just going on sale. I enjoyed seeing her at Wolf Trap, but I think I’d prefer to see her in a club. I just hopped on a PC, ordered tix, and hopped off again (only $2). We headed west to McCaul Street, and I dropped Jill off Mocho Choco for coffee while I went down to Penguin Music (reminds me of long lost local Penguin Feather, where I use to buy Rush tapes), where I found a copy of the banned Dream Theater CD. I snapped a picture of the very funky Sharpe Centre for Design (looks like it’s supported by colored pencils) before grabbing Jill and heading north on McCaul to Recycled Books. Nothing we wanted there (except a cute puppy), so we headed back over University Avenue and down Edward Street to BMV Books. Jill picked up a couple books, and I scored a copy of a Peter David Babylon 5 book I’ve been looking for. Jill didn’t want to watch me wade through the comics and went back to the hotel. After I finished checking out the comics (didn’t find anything), I went next door to the World’s Biggest Bookstore, which was nice, but really just a homegrown Border’s – I prefer used places.

By the time I got back to the hotel, it was after 4, and we hustled downstairs for a brief soak in the jacuzzi. We got changed and were out the door before 5, this time with time to catch a streetcar, and were still two minutes early for our 5:30 reservation at Brassaii. The room was mostly gray with some blue, kind of subdued industrial look. I had a Millstone beer while Jill had a chardonnay spumante, which we enjoyed with a soup pistou for me and a romaine and bacon salad for her. I switched to a Steam Whistle and Jill switched to a cabernet franc for the entrees, and there was another big switch coming. Jill ordered the duck confit with herbed potato and wild mushrooms, which sounded good to me except for the mushrooms. I had elected to try the Capon a la Provencal (castrated chicken) with fennel and potatoes (Jill’s not a fennel fan). Funny thing was, as soon as the entrees arrived, one taste and we each said “I wished I’d ordered yours”. The capon was very strong in saffron flavor and very mild in fennel flavor, which Jill enjoyed, and I didn’t. Meanwhile, I ignored the mushrooms and enjoyed duck which was falling off the bone. We skipped any dessert (though Jill had coffee) as we had to get to the theatre quickly, and knew we’d found a place for later.

We got to the Princess of Wales theatre for Lord Of The Rings about 20 minutes early, which was good. We found a nice gift for a friend (which I left in the cab later, oh well), and got to our seats in time to see the opening entertainment (hobbits running around the theatre celebrating Bilbo’s birthday). The star of the show is undoubtedly the stage. It rises and falls and bends and breaks to make you believe it’s the Mines of Moria, or Helm’s Deep, or Mount Doom. The actors were good as well, though the guys playing Gandalf, Aragorn, and Gollum were obviously compared to their movie counterparts. The fellow playing Gollum, Michael Therriault, is an entertainingly physical actor, slithering and stalking his way through the role, easily the audience’s favorite. My favorite bits were the Ents, the Nine Riders, Gandalf’s telling of how Gollum got the ring, and Aragorn’s summoning of the dead. Even at more than three hours (and two intermissions), significant plots were jettisoned (no Gondor), but the show ably catches the spirit of the books. Jill said she found the second act a little slow – I said “Honey, that’s the source material – the second book drags in places”.

Afterwards, we walked east on King to the Beer Bistro. We decided just to have dessert, and went very decadent. Jill had a Chambly like I’d had at Senses, while I had a 3 beer sampler (on a stick) of Denison’s Weissbier, De Konick, and Ephemere Framboise (all excellent, particularly the framboise). We had to wait for our dessert, as Jill had ordered the drink paired with the Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble, the Quelque Chose. It was a spiced cherry ale, meant to be served hot, so we had to wait for the kitchen to heat it up. It was very tasty, like a mixture of a mulled wine and a beer. I had Dayna’s (the brewmistress) special – the King’s Brewery Pils Bock, which did tast like a mashup of a pilsner and a bock. And with it, I had some of the finest ice cream ever – Maker’s Mark Caramel Ripple. I just wished I’d had room to try some of the others. Our waiter, Brian, was also very entertaining and made sure we enjoyed ourselves. We caught a cab back as we were both feeling it, but that was when I left behind my package.

Sunday, we slept in, then Jill was interested in hitting a greasy spoon for brunch. I thought I found one up on Yonge Street, but it turned out to be just a deli, so we strolled down Yonge until we found Brownstone, a hip little place. I had a Smoothmoove (orange juice, strawberrry juice, and banana) while Jill had a Sunshine (pineapple juice, orange juice, mango juice), then both of us had eggs benedict, Jill with coffee and me with milk. After brunch, we stopped at ABC books where Jill made some finds, then we went back to the hotel by way of the police station to check the lost and found for my package (no luck). We changed and went to the Jacuzzi for a good long while, chatting with a couple who’d won a trip to the David Gilmour show that night. We relaxed and read for a bit (I’d finished my Rush book and started on Writers on Comic Scriptwriting), then changed for dinner.

Not much effort to make it to dinner, as Lai Wah Heen was on the second floor of the hotel. We didn’t make the lunch and missed their dim sum, but the Cantonese menu at dinner was tasty. Jill had a Ketel One martini , and I had a Malibu Monsoon (rum and fruit juices). We both had the prix fixe menu, which started with a chicken cake (the chef’s version of a McNugget, complete with a mustard sauce, but with an exotic flavor). Next was soup, shrimp wonton soup and hot and sour soup for me, we agreed some of the most flavorful asian soup we’ve had. My entree was chicken in a schezuan sauce, and Jill’s was prawns and scallops in a black bean sauce. I’d asked for some spice, and they brought a very smooth chili garlic sauce that was hot, but not too hot (and didn’t strain my system like chili garlic sauce sometimes does). Along the way I got oolong tea with ginseng (so I wouldn’t forget anything more, especially that night) and Jill had a glass of riesling. Dessert was a treat, as it was from Senses Bakery, featuring strawberry ice cream in a crunchy shell, a pecan caramel toffee tart, chocolate sticks, and an apple almond tart. We went up to the room and got our coats, then headed over to Massey Hall for our second Rush moment – it’s the same theatre where they recorded their first live album, All The World’s A Stage. I’m going to do another entry tomorrow about the show, but suffice it to say it was totally worth going up there for.

Afterwards, Jill was peckish, and thought about Subway, but we went to Hemispheres, the other restaurant in the hotel, where she picked the cashews out of the nut bowl, and had a pint of London’s Best while I had a pint of Canada Red. The bar was closing, so we went upstairs and packed, then read for a bit. Morning came early – I got up at 6:15 to shower, and we were out the door at 7. We took the subway as far as we could, then the 192 “Airport Rocket” bus, which was much better than the other one, being a nonstop to the airport. There was a very long line for customs and immigration, but we were through a little after 9, and had time for breakfast (a full breakfast for $5 – in an airport?) before taking the long walk to our gate. The flight was fine and on time, and we snagged our luggage before getting the car and then the dog. Jill slept some as she’s working tonight, and I went in very very late to work, but I worked very very late, so that’s ok.