Monthly Archives: March 2010

Opening night at Ruby Watchco – Lynn Crawford’s new Leslieville restaurant

I’ve been really, really (ok – just one more time… REALLY) excited about a new restaurant opening in the old Citizen

Lynn Crawford (left), Lora Kirk and me.

building on Queen East, just east of Broadview. The windows have been covered over for weeks. Word had it, it was opening Tuesday night.

The excitement? Well, the Queen East strip is really up and coming. It has lots of restaurants, but I would argue still looking for an top-tier restaurant (don’t get me wrong there are three to four I’d go to every week if I could). I was hoping (am hoping) Ruby Watchco will take Queen East to the next level in food sophistication.

And, by my judging last night, it does that.

I snagged a reservation on opening night. Everyone knows you shouldn’t judge a restaurant on its first night. But there’s a rush about an opening night — staff are excited and none of the reviewers are there so us normal people can be left in peace and quiet.

While the food and decor are sophisticated, none of it is austere or snooty. Really interesting light fixtures, very cool Ruby Watch Co sign. The guy next to me grew up in this space — his father named a clothing store after him in the same spot.

That type of comfort actually imbibes the space. The food is sophisticated but it’s still distinctly a neighbourhood place.

The interior doesn’t look anything like its predecessor. The best part is actually at the back, it’s an open galley kitchen with a massive butcher’s block, of sorts, in front. That’s where Lynn Crawford was all night, plating everything as it came out of the kitchen. All of the sides come out in Le Crueset mini red pots.

When you call to make a reservation they’ll ask you if you have any dietary restrictions — be honest. This is NOT a restaurant with a menu. It’s a prix fix ($49). You don’t pick what you’re eating. You eat what they’re making. And, frankly, I love it. The menu changes every night. At first I just said oh yes — everything is fine, but I called back to whimper out, when I realized it’d be prix fix, that I didn’t eat red meat. They totally took it in stride and accommodated, but be honest at the outset.

The servers were courteous, knew what they were serving, and were very knowledgeable about the wines, which I definitely appreciated. The wine list is impressive with quite a few options by the glass.

Dinner started with Ruby’s chicken caesar with red romaine, pulled chicken, egg, avocado, and a garlic comfit.

The main course for my friend Catharine was grilled flanked steak. I had grilled pickerel — which was good (crispy skin, not over-cooked) if slightly bland. But really, the meal was all about the sides (which came in their own small red pots).

The smoked mushrooms with caramelized onion were divine. The parsnip fries were actually hit and miss — some were undercooked (ok, they were raw) while others were nice and crunchy. But it’s opening night. I’d definitely forgive that.

The cream spinach and leeks could be my breakfast every day if I wanted to weigh 300 pounds.

The main course was followed by a really great cheese course, with 10-year-old Ottawa Valley cheddar, a home-made balsamic and onion pickle with honey and walnut bread. (The combo of pickle and honey was amazing).

The desert was a lemon tart with a lemon thyme sweet cream. The tart involved probably the best lemon curd I’ve ever tasted — and I make lemon curd myself.

I’ve got to say the two most refreshing things about this meal was nothing was overcooked (hurray!) and the seasoning was immaculate.

Lynn Crawford was chatting to everyone and as I said to her last night, I don’t think Leslieville would have been ready for this restaurant five years ago. But it is the right restaurant, at the right time, in the right place.

I’ll definitely be back.

There’s nothing like Italian, leather shoes.

Hello new shoes. You are so sweet. So comfortable. I love you.

There’s something so great about shoes, about Italian-made, leather-lined shoes. They look awesome, feel awesome . . . and are, quite frankly, awesome.

This pair didn’t look like much on the shelf. You had to try them on to realize how fantastic they are. As soon as they were on my feet I knew I’d be buying them.

So the question becomes what do you buy online?

I’ve bought:

Wedding presents (BEST place to get wedding presents. Way easier then printing off registry, trying to read the numerical codes etc etc).

Books (Obviously)

Music (who buys it anywhere else now?)

Movies (both buying/renting)

Groceries — I bought from Grocery Gateway in 2001 while at Ryerson University.

Tickets. Concerts, mainly, but also cultural events.

All things travel-related (rental car, flights, package holidays).

Bulbs — the kind you plant in your garden. In fact, I’ve ordered, bulbs, seeds and living little plant-lets that arrive in a protective wee box.

Toilet flapper replacement. True — bought it online. Have odd “Toto” toilet and it’s hard to find the flappers. I should note the stupid flapper still leaks.

I don’t order home renos online, but I do investigate things and people online when it comes to renos — look up homestars and Better Business Bureau.

What do I not buy online?

Shoes and clothes. I’ve thought about buying from J Crew online, because they don’t have stores in Canada. Also thought about buying from Anthropologie until they came to Canada, but never actually have. I think the hold back is that you really really never know if something is going to fit, look good, be the right size and it’s such a hassle to send it back that the hassle of perhaps having to mail it back means I just don’t buy.

This weekend I was on a quest to get flat, brown-ish shoes for work. I walked away with not flat tan-ish shoes. They’ll still go with the brown pants, but they’re not what I had in mind. And that thrill of the find, the unexpected whimsy of a pair of shoes, is what makes shoe shopping — and clothes shopping — fun.

Lessons from my week unplugged*

Most people who know me know I was a pretty hardcore crackberry addict. Three years on, I’ve graduated to an iphone. Still  addicted.

Surfing

Me learning to surf in Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Last week I went on vacation to Tamarindo, Costa Rica, home of the original type of surfers.

When I got on the airplane here in Toronto, I turned ye olde iphone to airplane mode. I cut the umbilical cord. Good bye. No incoming anything.

I’ll confess (this explains the * in the headline) before  people call me on it — that I did check personal email twice buying a card from reception and using the dial-up connections in the resort internet room. (Afterall, I did have to talk to my mother who was holding the fort back home). But other than that, I was unplugged.

Strangely,  many people didn’t think I could or would cut the cord. When I got home, I had quite a few emails from people at work either assuming I’d left it on or sending test emails to see if I’d actually unplugged.

And let me tell you — it was like a time warp… back to 1995. I mean, I talked to people face to face . . . and they talked back!

Huh. Interesting.

The whole trip started with crowd-sourcing. I picked the trip based on online reviews. First I narrowed to a handful of resorts, and then I picked the Barcelo Langosta based on the mostly positive reviews on tripadvisor.com.

Tripadvisor.com isn’t fool-proof. Some people have bad experiences, some are just party poopers, and sometimes I’m convinced people are writing about myths that have developed at their local hotel.

I had no idea about the earthquake in Chile (or concerns about a tsunami), had no idea what happened with our budget. I was in a news blackout.

I took the time away from my iphone  to read something I should have long ago (am actually a bit embarrassed I hadn’t already) Clay Shirkey’s Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations.

Most people unplug when they go away — the only people I saw at the resort with a smart phone were Costa Ricans, there for the weekend.

While I used crowd-sourcing to pick the place, the most difficult part of turning my iphone to airplane mode was that I was suddenly cut off from that same crowd-sourcing. How was I expected to navigate the hotel waters? How would I know which day trip to pick? Whether they’d put up a fuss if we wanted to change our room? Had anyone crossed the river to the beach on the other side?

The day after we got there, it was the Canada vs. U.S. gold medal Olympic hockey game. I overheard some other Canadians talk about it, and chimed in with questions — when was the game and could we actually watch it?

Canada vs. US gold medal Olympics game

Canadians (and one American) convene on the hotel lobby bar to watch the game.

I found out where and when, and figured I’d be one of a handful of die-hards. Um, ya. Not so much.

Exhibit A for old-school crowd-sourcing (aka talking to people) working. (see picture at right).

As soon as we met people at the resort we were asking questions — had you been to the volcano? Was it worth the long day? What about the trip to Nicaragua? Was that one fun? Did you see many animals in Paolo Verde? We’d ask people at dinner, at the lobby bar, on other trips we were on. We were looking for suggestions. It meant, sadly, that that was all you could really talk to strangers about — if we were only going to have a conversation for two minutes, I had to be sure to pump them for all the information I could in that two minutes.

At the airport on the way home, everyone was trading stories — one group talked about a man in a wheelchair who was left out in the sun and got third degree burns. Others talked about an ATV accident that forced some Canadians to go home early.

This is all I thought: Right and Gordon Lightfoot is dead, right? Um, well no. But everyone thought so for a while there.

I’m told this is generational. Maybe … but I just hadn’t needed to rely on talking to people to get feedback on something in well … a few years. So in some ways talking to people worked: lots of people showed up to the hockey game. But I gotta say word of mouth isn’t great for reliability — when you’ve only asked two or three people, one party pooper and the results are swayed significantly.

After seven days unplugged, I missed the interaction.

I wanted to set up a message board at the hotel. I didn’t want my iphone, but I wanted a way to talk to everyone at the resort. Under the heading: Volcano — people could post sticky notes about whether it was good or not. Under taxi names/numbers of good ones. We needed a way to go beyond the one-to-one interactions. A way of people coming in late, or getting up early, to hear what the others had said … we needed a hyper-local message board. And it could have been ~ gasp ~ just a cork board.

So under “Costa Rica Roots tour” I’d put “Best trip ever.”  Under snorkelling: Great puffer fish, watch for the nasty floating things that sting you. Under surfing I’d say: Best lesson from Marina at the Bikini Shop.

Under theme for the week? Retro, dude.