by Lauren Mote
As we awoke on the balmy Thursday morning at 3:30am, I stumbled to find the light, the coffee, and my suitcase. In 2 hours time, Johnny and I would embark on our first trip home to Toronto, the chilly, nostalgic nesting place we left a while ago.
We get off the plane in Toronto, and it’s dropped about 20 degrees C since we boarded in Vancouver 5 hours earlier. Our agenda? A 10 day trip involving family, friends, food, wine, and relaxation. Our first night in town was spent with my two brothers, dining at a Yorkville Japanese restaurant called “Yamato” – here they specialize in fresh, delicious sushi, as well as the skilled “Tapenyaki Chef Show” – how entertaining to watch these talented boys cook – the cheesy part, but the most enjoyable part is watching them build a tower of charred onion rings, and set the whole thing on fire. I seem to recall in the 80’s going to a similar restaurant at Bay and Bloor called “Tenaka’s” where the cooks tossed eggs into their hats from great lengths. Next, we stroll down Cumberland, and pop into Hemingway’s for a pint of Guinness. An energetic “karaoke” guitarist and singer serenades us with the words of Paul Simon as we reach our table, beneath the shelves of old garage-sale books, most likely “Ernest Hemingway’s book shelf” – but I couldn’t find my personal favourite, “Old Man and the Sea”. After a couple of rounds, and the outrageously loud server trips with the martinis in her hands, it’s time to call it a night.
The following day, we meet my mother at a downtown pub for lunch, rent a car, and head out to wine country – Niagara, Ontario.
A quick stop at a St. Catherine’s liquor store gives me the desire for Ontario VQA wine. Pelee Island Pinot Noir, Cave Springs Cabernet/Merlot, and Cave Springs Chardonnay (done in French and American oak treatment).
Reaching the home of Johnny’s parents, on the edge of Niagara-on-the-lake and St. Catherine’s, we realize just how COLD this place is! A day later, we both awake with a wicked cold. Go figure.
We make the trek about 10 minutes from the in-laws place to Port Dalhousie, a township known for it’s quaint lakeside living, and it’s popular Friday the 13th biker celebrations. Little did anyone else know, unless they’re avid watchers of channel 56 that Chefs Michael and Anna Olson have their Boulangerie here. Right on the edge of Main and Lock Sts stands Olson Foods, a modest shop amongst many others. Immediately we gravitate to the cheese display, and spot Chef Anna doing prep in the back. We speak to her about many cheeses on display, and overzealously grab some of Canada, and Quebec’s finest: Le Silo (8 yr. old Cheddar), Delice des Appalaches (cow’s milk cheese washed in apple icewine), Pied-a-Vent (raw cow’s milk – mushroom notes), Comte Juraflore (a classic semi firm that we adore) and lastly, a small wedge of Le Pont (a super creamy pasteurized cow’s milk cheese). Chef Anna graciously amuses us with stories about Toronto food and wine, and we rebut with stories of the Vancouver version. After we throw in some home-made biscotti and breads, we’re off.
Passing over the highway in our Hyundai Accent, we find a stretch of road, perfect lighting, lots of orchards and grape vines. They’re not hard to find in this area, but it’s certainly nice when the lighting is perfect and I can safely pull to the side of the road and showcase the beautiful white snow draped over this fruit basket of Ontario.
What a lovely day. It’s so cold, we feel slightly under the weather, but how amazing to still experience something so wonderful. The only qualm about our experience at Olson Foods, as we would discover later that evening when we consumed the baguette, and the following day when we consumed the walnut loaf (a signature Olson product), for a baker/pastry chef, the bread was bland. Really, really, bland. It was boring, and we’ve had better, for half the price, at Safeway or Loblaws.
The countless meals we had at the in-laws house were simple, delicious, and always accompanied great wine – Papa Corsi is known for his sneakiness, when his great Italian wines make their was to the table, and to our glasses. Bright Chianti Classico, big Barolo, and some others from Piemonte…. so good.
As we head back down to the “big smoke”, we ponder what else could be in store for us.