Saturday, March 19, 2011

Wine, Women, and Song - Redux!

#14: Wine Bar.

Full disclosure: Last night was my second time at Wine Bar (Church just south of Front).  Still, it easily qualifies as a first, due to it being a unique experience this time around.

Piera and I were seated at the kitchen.  That's right, the remarkable design includes a bar framing the kitchen, so that while patrons sit, eat, and drink, they have the opportunity to watch and possibly even interact with the chefs (depending on how busy it gets!).

We quickly created an impromptu food and wine tasting menu, with the help of the sommelier and chefs.  While I assumed the wine would be excellent - which it was - the food was outstanding, both in terms of presentation and taste.  It was a treat for the senses.

We were soon joined by Mary, one of the owners of this gem.  Mary and I had met in screenwriting class years ago, and stayed in touch sporadically over the years.  It was fantastic to see her again and catch up after all this time, especially over delicious wine and delectable apps.  Here's a shot of Mary, Bryan (another one of the owners), Piera, and me - and a LOT of jars.

This is easily one of the very best wine venues the city has to offer.  I'm already looking forward to a return trip!

#15: Berber Lounge.

So many things stood out on the first trip to Berber Lounge (Front west of Church, just around the corner from Wine Bar).

The handmade Moroccan decor was beautiful, and helped us to feel instantly transported out of the city and into a foreign land.  The plush couches were inviting and comfortable.  The food didn't disappoint.

#16: Suzana Da Camara.

Still...the best part of the Berber evening was the live music.  Suzana Da Camara wasn't just a singer...she was an experience.  A theatrical combination of cabaret, jazz, blues, performed in English, French, and Portugese, she was one of those unforgettable musical pleasures that come along very rarely.

After the final set, we had a chance to briefly sit and chat with Suzana and Mike.  They were both extremely friendly and personable, and it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to get to know these artists a little better.

Here are Piera and Suzana, two incredibly lovely women - though I think the pic more than speaks for itself.

Although I rarely buy merch when catching new live music, we snapped up a couple of CDs immediately after the show.  I think my copy is already almost worn out. :)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Magical Mystery Tour!

#12: Eight Wine Bar.

The first time going to Eight Wine Bar started with a couple of pleasant surprises.

The first surprise was for Piera, that being the the location itself.  I had decided to make the evening a little more interesting by arranging drinks and dinner in advance, and revealing the details only as we arrived at our destinations.

The second surprise was that the wine bar had a wide selection of bottles available for tastings at a dollar per ounce.  It doesn't get a whole lot better than that!  Advantage: Us!

Eight Wine Bar is situated in the Cosmopolitan Hotel on Colborne St., near Yonge and King.  It's a great little place, with very friendly serving staff (not the snooty types you get in some wine bars).

The prosciutto-wrapped figs with bocconcini were just enough to tide us over until dinner...speaking of which...

#13: Gate 403.

When I started this blog, I anticipated that every now and then, I would try a first that would have me wanting seconds!  This is one of those firsts.

I had sketched out an evening of dinner and jazz, but took a bit of a chance with the venue.  I didn't have a whole lot to go on, and had no idea how things would turn out.

While the location was a surprise for Piera, the surprise for both of us was how much we enjoyed the place.  The food was excellent, and I had my customary pasta arrabiata (my dinner of choice, whenever it's my first time at a restaurant), and it was one of the best plates I've had anywhere in the city.  The jazz was top-notch as well, and well-situated so that you could hear it clearly and cleanly, but not find it overpowering.

Again, I was very happy with the serving staff.  In fact, I feel like I've been on a roll lately when it comes to waiters and waitresses.  It's been nothing but good reviews for the entire first month of this adventure.

Gate 403 is a real find, and I would highly recommend it.  I can't wait to go back.

Disclaimer: As cool as the wine bar and the dinner/jazz club were, the best part of these firsts was, to be sure, the company. :)

A Recurring Theme!

#11: Henri Perrot-Minot Chambolle-Musigny Vieilles Vignes 2000.

It's always a noteworthy experience when trying any wine for the very first time.

When that wine is French, old(er), shared with fellow oenophiles MJ and Angie, and paired with assorted cheeses...well, that's got to be one for the 'Firsts' list!

The wine was fantastic.  I'm still working on my tasting skills, but got a lot of red fruit (without being overpowering), some vanilla, and balanced tannins.

It was a strange day had rained most of the day, and looked quite like spring had come a few weeks early.  Later that night, when I was leaving to head home, the winter wonderland had suddenly returned!  Either way, it was a perfect day to stay in, sit by the fire, spend time with friends, and drink and talk wine.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Wine, Women, and Song!

#9: Tardieu Laurent Chateauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Speciale 2003.

In March of 2010, I attended my first wine auction.  I admit it, I got caught up in bidding fever...I ended up with a little more product than I had originally anticipated - enough to warrant buying a mini-fridge.  In retrospect, both the wine and the fridge were great investments.  One of those bottles became a victim in last night's tasting experience.

Greg and Lisette graciously invited me over to their place for dinner Saturday night.  Even though it was only a couple of months since we last got together, it seemed like there was too much time between visits.

Dinner was great.  The prime rib complemented the wine (yes, I usually put the pairing in that order) very nicely.  You might recall from the previous post that the move toward vegetarianism is still 'in progress'.
The wine was a true delight.  I found it earthy and complex, with subtle hints of red fruit, mostly raspberry and cherry.

Note to self: Remember to register for this year's auction.  And crack open more bottles, in order to free up space in the fridge.  That's a win-wine-win. :)

#10: 'Apostles of Sin' at Duffy's Tavern.

Cabbed it from dinner to catch the debut of Rod's new band.  This was actually a double-first, as Duffy's Tavern (Bloor, between Dufferin and Lansdowne) was new territory.

It was an excellent first (ever) 40 minute set.  It included 1980's Black Sabbath and Judas Priest covers, which took me back to my own band days, as we used to cover a couple of those tunes as well.  Rod did an incredible job on the drums, and the entire band was remarkably tight for a first gig.  There aren't too many metal acts with female leads...but if any members of the audience had any doubts going in, they were erased before the end of the first verse.  That girl Martina can WAIL!

I hardly ever listen to metal these days, but this was an excellent opportunity to catch a great band, support an even greater friend, and rekindle some childhood memories of my own.  It also heightened my desire more than ever to get back on stage.

Raw Food and Raw Sound!

#7: Live Food Bar.

I'm not a vegetarian, let alone a vegan.  One of my favourite quotes on the subject is from That 70's Show, when Kitty serves Red salad for dinner.  He states, "That's not food.  That's what food eats".

Still, I do find myself moving in that general direction.  There are several pro-veggie arguments - for example, animal cruelty, impact to the environment - but there is one overarching and apparently undeniable fact: I feel better physically when I eat less animal.

Which leads me to First #7: Live Food Bar (near Dupont and Spadina) with Piera on Friday night.  My thanks to Piera for the lovely suggestion.  As it happened, this was also my first official 'Raw' meal.

The first thing I noticed upon entering was the very cool and laid-back vibe.  The service was warm and unpretentious.  The company was outstanding...but I digress. :)

Calling my main 'Beet Ravioli' was questionable, as any resemblance to ravioli was purely coincidental.  It was tasty, but when served appeared to be a little sparse.  Yet when I was done, the portion felt right-sized - any more might have been too much.

The chocolate-avocado cake was a superb choice for dessert.  It was so much better than I'd expect a dessert containing avocado would be!

#8: The Piston

Friday also happened to be my cousin Ryan's birthday.  After dinner, Piera and I cabbed over to The Piston (Bloor just west of Ossington) to meet up for a celebratory drink.  One of Ryan's friend's band was gigging, and we arrived in time to catch the first set.

It's been way too long since I've seen a live band with a horn section.  The music was a throwback to the 1970s/1980s...funky with a Motown twist.  Particularly impressive, considering they were only one-fifth black. :)  They had the joint jumpin', as the grooves made it hard to stand still - not that you'd want to, even if you could.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


#6: Coffee with...honey?

Sometimes it's the smallest changes that can be the most satisfying.

Eman and I met up for brunch at Aris Grill this morning.  Instead of pouring in white sugar, brown sugar, or some artificial chemical sweetener (like I would typically do), I followed Eman's example and went with honey.

While not a particularly daring or outrageous first, it's noteworthy if only for the fact that I've been drinking coffee for 25 years, and hadn't yet paired it with this natural and healthier sweetener.

I'm converted.

Though trying maple syrup with my refill might have been trying to take a good idea a little too far.

This Is It!

#5: Film screening of 'This Is It' at The Spoke Club.

Last night, I had the privilege of attending a private screening of Michael Jackson's 'This is It' at the Spoke Club on King West.  My thanks to Eman for the exclusive invite.

This was my first viewing of the film, and my first viewing of any film at the club.  The screening room itself was a great little venue...very comfortable seating and excellent visuals and audio.  The soundproofing was impressive, considering the 1980's-metal retro birthday party going on directly overhead.  Styles were clashing!

It was amazing to hear about the impact MJ had on other people's lives...including a couple of screening attendees, not to mention the musicians and dancers in the documentary.  I've never been the world's biggest MJ fan, but when I thought of my favourite musicians/artists and how their music continues to inspire me, I could totally relate to what was being said about The King of Pop.