Tag Archives: toronto

Priorities

8 Nov

On Saturday, I made this joke: Continue reading

The Toronto Pizza Hunt

9 Sep

The waiter overheard us discussing another pizza joint we had tried a few weeks earlier. Specifically, he overheard us mention the fact that the owner was Turkish, and he offered flatbreads in addition to pizzas. The waiter had been somewhat short with us during our meal, but upon hearing “Turkish” and “wood-fired pizza” in the same sentence, he correctly identified the obscure hole-in-the-wall pizzeria clear on the other side of Toronto.

Our waiter, Maurizio, then launched into a 10-minute monologue into why Dino’s pizza was just ok, but the restaurant where he worked – Queen Margherita Pizza – got it right. It had to do with the way in which the oven was designed. Dino’s oven was designed for flatbreads and has a higher ceiling – this requires more wood or time to get the heat right. Queen Margherita’s oven has a low ceiling, allowing for better circulation of heat.

Normal people under normal circumstances would be annoyed or bored by Maurizio’s detailed story about how the pizzaiolos at Queen Margherita have been in the business for decades, and how they developed their technique at wood ovens in Naples and brought it to Canada. At the conclusion of our talk, he exclaimed in a thick Neapolitan accent, “this isn’t just food for me. This is my culture.”

There are two places in Toronto that have earned and paid for the “Verace Pizza Napoletana” label. This organization requires the restaurant to use very specific, authentic ingredients – Tipo 00 flour, San Marzano tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella. Maurizio explained that the cheese was the hardest ingredient to get just right, but Queen Margherita uses fior di latte, which comes from cow milk, as opposed to Bufala Mozzarella.

The two joints in Toronto that have the VPN certification are Queen Margherita on Queen East in Leslieville, and Pizzeria Libretto on Ossington near Dundas.

The great thing about both restaurants is that it’s not an expensive night out. The pizzas are about 12″ across, so you can get a few for sharing, and they’re about $10 – 15 each. There is something so satisfying about a fresh pie right out of an 800-degree oven, especially when it uses top-quality, authentic ingredients. These pizzas aren’t drenched in grease, they deliver awesomeness on a chewy crust.

I haven’t been to Libretto and Margherita in close enough succession to compare the two, but I’ll try to do so.

The other thing I noticed is that poutine is so prevalent now throughout Toronto, even in gourmet form, but it’s completely absent in cold, hockey-crazy Buffalo. This ought be remedied.

Queen Margherita Pizza on Urbanspoon

Pizzeria Libretto on Urbanspoon

Dino's Wood Burning Oven Pizza on Urbanspoon

The Toronto Weekend

11 May

Let’s say you want to traipse up to Toronto for the weekend. Maybe do some shopping, catch a show, walk one of its great neighborhoods, go to the lovely new AGO or the stark new ROM expansions. It’s cheaper than you think. Just make sure you have a passport, passport card, NEXUS card, or enhanced driver’s license. (I prefer NEXUS because it allows me to use the Whirlpool Bridge almost as if it’s my own, private, traffic-free crossing).

What I commonly do is check Hotwire.com or Priceline.com. They negotiate bargain basement prices for great hotels – rooms that would otherwise go unsold. My favorite is the Sheraton Centre, which is listed by both services as a four-star.

Depending on the time of year, I have paid as little as $70 per night for a gorgeous room that was going for $170 per night on Expedia or Travelocity. It’s across from Nathan Phillips Square and City Hall, right on Queen St and a short walk from the bohemian Queen West strip, and convenient to the Eaton Centre, the subway, the waterfront, and Yonge St. Best of all, you can forego the ridiculous daily parking rate at the Sheraton and instead park in a municipal lot directly across the street, under Nathan Phillips Square. The weekend day and night rate is $6.00 each. The kids love the pool, which is half indoor, half outdoor, and open year-round.

Another favorite that occasionally comes up is the Westin Harbour Castle, which is directly on the waterfront and offers fantastic views of the lake. There are surface lots on the piers a short walk away that are much cheaper than the hotel’s parking rate.

If you’re in town for any event at the Air Canada Centre or the Skydome, try the Radisson Plaza Hotel Admiral, which is just a few short blocks from them, and there’s a Rabba convenience store across the street.

This weekend, however, the rates for a four-star downtown are closer to $100.

Since Priceline and Hotwire don’t show you the name of the hotel before you buy, you can try to make the match one of two ways. On Hotwire, you can have two windows open – in the first, have your blind hotel list, and in the other, select a vacation package (air and hotel or air, hotel, and car). Then just compare the star rating, location, and amenities on the two lists and you should be able to figure out which hotel is which. Another way is to open up a window with Better Bidding or Bidding for Travel. Both of them help Hotwire and Priceline users decipher which hotel they’re looking at based on location, star rating, and amenity list.

Now that you’ve selected your four-star weekend getaway for less than half of regular price per night, check out BlogTO, Torontoist, Toronto Life Magazine, Yelp, or Urbanspoon to pick a great place to eat. Our favorite is Terroni, which has several locations and some of the best Italian food around. The Adelaide East location is particularly attractive, housed in an old courthouse. The original Queen West location is smaller but funkier and has an outside patio. (Although Pizzeria Libretto is for next time). For breakfast, we like OKOK cafe for incredible eggs benny where the muffin is replaced by hash browns, or Bonjour Brioche for a delightfully simple fresh baguette with butter and prosciutto. Both are in Leslieville, on Queen St. relatively far east from downtown, but accessible easily by car or the 501 Streetcar.

We enjoy browsing around Queen West, and also Mount Pleasant, and Yonge in North Toronto. If you can make it there on a Saturday morning, don’t miss the St Lawrence Market, where you can browse amazing foods, kitchen supplies, and get a superb veal (or – better yet – veal and eggplant) sandwich downstairs.

Honestly, Toronto is one of the best reasons to live in WNY. It’s like an amenity – an amenity with 2 million people and a few IKEAs. But the biggest city in Canada is on the cutting edge of just about everything, so it’s fun to fast forward to 2010 on the weekend.

At the End of Yonge

29 Dec

BlogTO posted 2009’s top ten Torontocentric viral videos.  My favorite is this stop-motion that traces the route shown below:

[HTML1]

[HTML2]

Fast Times in the Big City

2 Jul

Last Sunday, I took two oldest boys and their grandpa to Toronto to the SkyDome Rodgers Centre to see the Blue Jays throw away a three run lead to the Phillies and lose 5-4.

Today I took the kids, plus assorted grandparents and aunts and uncles, to the Field Museum in Chicago.

It had been several years since I was in either city. The chance to see them, even briefly, back to back, was quite a treat. I swear half of each skyline was brand new. Ralph Wilson is right – the condos on the way to TO are impressive, and Chicago has some new world class forty story buildings.

Chicago Condo

I could write about many items from such a trip, but I only have time for one small topic: traffic and public transportation.

I drove to both locations.

TO and Chi

If there was ever a time to take public transport, this was it. In fact, we tried to board the South Shore Express in Indiana, but were denied because it was full (Michigan City is not Tokyo, obviously). But except for five minutes waiting to get on the Gardiner off of Spadina, I never regretted driving into Toronto or Chicago. Which helped me realize, again, why public transport will never take off in Buffalo. It takes traffic and a lack of parking to make public transport feasible. Buffalo has neither. TO and Chi-town have both, but not enough to get me out of my car. I parked across the street from the Field Museum, and four blocks down from the Rodgers Centre.

Maybe there will be a time when every surface lot in Buffalo gets filled in, and the mass traffic and parking shortage spurs calls for an increase to the Metro line. But until then, its a novelty.

Yeah, That’s Gonna Happen

23 Jun

If you go around calling people a “f*cking fa**ot” and otherwise maligning their appearance and everything else about them for a living, you’re going to get your face punched. Man up and deal with it Perez. It’s a cost of doing business.

Will.I.Am responds to Hilton here.

It happened in Toronto. No Canadians were harmed during the development of this drama.

High Speed Fail

28 Apr

I am a big fan of the push to build a network of high-speed rail throughout the Northeastern United States. The recent spike in oil prices reminded us that there are other ways to get around that may be more sustainable than others, and given how crappily our road infrastructure is maintained in these parts, rail makes sense.

Part of the problem is that it won’t be Shinkansen or TGV or ICE high speed rail. We won’t be whisked along tracks at 180+ MPH – more like 110. That’s better than our early 20th-century technology in place now, but not as good as can be.

Getting to Boston in 5 hours or New York in 4 hours by rail is good, but not as good as 3 or 2, respectively. Plus, it’s better to arrive at South Station than Logan, and it’s better to arrive at Penn Station than JFK, La Guardia, or Newark.

But that’s only part of the problem.

For high speed rail to really matter in Western New York, it needs to be connected southward to Erie, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh, and it needs to be connected westward to Niagara Falls and Toronto. Buffalo ought not be the end of the line.

Yet CSX, which controls the rights-of-way that would be used throughout most of upstate New York is playing hardball.

Connections to Toronto and the Falls would be critically important, and it would also make sense to extend down to Cleveland. If it’s worth spending tens of billions of dollars to do, it’s worth doing right. Speed the damn trains up to world-class standards, and point the tracks towards places people go.

High Speed Rail in Tor-Buff-Chester

3 Mar

Douglas Turner in the Buffalo News wrote about Congresswoman Louise Slaughter’s push for high-speed intercity rail for upstate New York:

Reversing more than three decades of neglect, even attempted bureaucratic suffocation, President Obama has placed the White House strongly behind Amtrak and a national intercity rail passenger system.

In one month, Obama has proposed sending $13 billion into the cause. And if Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, has her way, upstate New York should get a good share of it.

Slaughter’s goal is what aides call “a third track” dedicated to passenger rail running 300 miles from Buffalo-Niagara to Albany along the current CSX right of way.

As everyone knows, with some very specific exceptions, long-haul passenger rail in the US shares the track, and yields right-of-way to, freight. That means that the 70s-era service you get from Amtrak has the added value of extensive delays.

Dedicating a track along existing rights-of-way for passenger travel would be a huge leap forward. A corridor between Buffalo and Boston, with branches off to New York are called for in the federal plan for modernizing rail service in this country.

This is well overdue. But for Buffalo’s purposes, I don’t know that HSR to Albany is as valuable as a link between Toronto, Buffalo, and Rochester would be. If we buy the Floridian notion of a Tor-Buff-Chester megaregion, it would help to integrate the economy of each area into the other, and enable hitherto crazy notions such as commuting between any of the three. If you pre-clear customs and immigration before departure, like you can at some airports, it would be even easier. But at speeds of 150 MPH, HSR service would mean that Toronto or Rochester could each be a 30-45-minute train ride from Buffalo.

The International Bowl

2 Jan

It seems as if half of all Buffalo will be in Toronto Saturday watch the UB Bulls take on the Huskies in the International Bowl.

The WNYMedia.net sports guys will be liveblogging starting around 11am on the 3rd:

http://www.coveritlive.com/index2.php/option=com_altcaster/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=28f176f56d/height=550/width=470

The Problem

8 Dec

The problem with playing a couple-three Bills games in Toronto is that, while it might make you richer and help build the team’s regional appeal, it pisses off the local folks who bust their asses every week to afford tickets to go to your games.

Twoeightnine at BfloBlog wrote this:

The season, the team, the coaching, the ownership and this Toronto experiment. I can’t think of a better word to describe it all. I’m sure Kevin will have much more to say, I’m at the point where I just don’t care anymore. The only positive I can take out of this season is the complete joke (for everyone but Ralph’s wallet) that is the Toronto Bills. Seriously, take a look at that crowd. I think Ted Rogers himself was sitting in every other seat. Who tarps over hundreds of seats against the sidelines at midfield? I’m guessing the answer, should anyone ask and they won’t, is that you can’t sell those tickets because of the sight lines. Looking at pictures of Argos games they do the same thing then but they cover less seats. Probably because of demand. I heard that they get 200,000 requests every year. And don’t even get me started on the tailgating.

*Update. Watching the news right now and I guess Ralph’s response to the game was that the “team doesn’t have enough talent.” I’m not even sure where to start with that. So much is and isn’t said with that statement that my mind can’t even process it yet. Thoughts?

I’m starting to wonder whether Torontonian buzz over the Bills is not dissimilar to Buffalonian buzz over the Argonauts.

I’m also glad the girls were watching a Christmas movie, so I was spared watching the not-sold-out game.