To T.O.: Tourism 101

Out of all the blog posts I write, I most enjoy recounting my travel experiences. If you are a regular reader, however, you know that this category is the most neglected. Because they are the most time consuming, I tend to procrastinate on them, a habit that is becoming worse as the years pass (I still haven’t finished writing about San Francisco, a year and a half later!). I hope to turn the tide with a short series on a week-long trip I took to Toronto in July 2011 to see my sister Amanda. Mack joined me there towards the end of my trip.

This wasn’t my first time to Toronto; I visited a friend for a few days back in 2006. It was a brief stay, but I managed to hit up some of the attractions that I had on my list at that time, including the Bata Shoe Museum and Casa Loma. This time around, although it really didn’t matter where we went, Amanda was game to look at her adopted city from a tourist’s perspective, and I was able to take in quite a bit of what Toronto had to offer.

Watching the Blue Jays

I’m not much of a baseball fan, but I’d never been to a Major League Baseball game before, and tickets were cheap – rail seats at the top level of Rogers Centre were just $10. It was also a beautiful night to be outside, not too muggy, with a breeze to cool things off just right.

Rogers Centre

Rogers Centre

Rogers Centre

The view of the CN Tower

All smiles!

The Seattle Mariners were in town, but the real star that night was Roberto Alomar, who watched the game from one of the sky boxes – he was in town to prepare for his entrance into the Hall of Fame at the end of the month.

Rogers Centre

Roberto Alomar!

I loved the jumbotron, and as a non-fan, being able to keep track of the players and their batting record so far that night – it really made it easier to get into the game. The other noticeable differences between this game and Capitals games I’d been to was the lack of aggressive beer sales in the stands and no “entertainment” between innings – mascot runs or little league pitchers or the like.

Rogers Centre

Batter up!

That said, I didn’t expect that number of extended innings – after runs in the first and second, it dragged on, scoreless, until the eighth, when tie runs resulted in extra innings. Five additional innings to be exact. Finally, after 14 innings and four and a half hours, Rajai Davis stole two bases and scored the winning run.

Rogers Centre


Being Part of a Live Studio Audience

I’m never really home during the day to watch CityLine, but I knew it was a lifestyle program, and that they filmed with a live studio audience. It seemed like it would be a fun way to spend a morning.

City Line

Holding room

After a short pep talk in the holding room, the audience (99% women) was herded down into the studio. Host Tracy Moore (a bombshell in real life – it’s hard to believe she had a baby a year prior) was gracious, welcoming everyone and making sure the audience felt comfortable.

City Line

With Tracy after the show

The topics explored in that particular episode (which would be aired exactly one week later), weren’t really of interest to either Amanda or myself – children’s activities, resistance training, pet safety issues and random kitchen tips – but it was interesting to see how the production crew had to scramble to arrange the different sets in the tight space.

City Line

Filming a segment on de-seeding tomatoes

And really, it was worth our time just for the parting gifts! We each received a $50 PetValu gift certificate and Body Shop package. Thanks, CityLine!

Experiencing the Humidity

Of all the weeks I could have gone, I ended up choosing the heat wave Toronto experienced last summer. Walking out of Amanda’s basement suite on the hottest of those days (in the morning, no less!), my camera lens literally fogged up when I took it out to snap a photo.



Given it was +48 degrees with the humidity, people weren’t only joking about being able to fry eggs on the sidewalk – they were literally doing it.

Checking Out the View from the CN Tower

The mothership of tourist attractions in Toronto wasn’t really on my radar those first few days. But after seeing the CN Tower from almost every angle over the course of the week, we decided to just take the plunge…or rather, ascent.

CN Tower

The glass floor

As expected, the views were breathtaking, especially on such a clear day. Given it was the hottest day of the year, the outdoor platform/wind tunnel was also not a bad place to be.

CN Tower

Lake Ontario

CN Tower

Toronto from above

Visiting the St. Lawrence Market

Named by Food and Wine Magazine in 2004 as one of the “World’s 25 Best Markets”, we knew we’d have to check out the St. Lawrence Market on a bustling Saturday morning.

St. Lawrence Market

Outdoor arts and crafts vendors

Their produce was a sight for sore eyes – at that time in Edmonton, we didn’t have the same variety in our markets yet.

St. Lawrence Market

Ontario peaches (we noticed that there was a real emphasis on “Ontario” vs. “local”)

St. Lawrence Market

Multicoloured zucchini

St. Lawrence Market


St. Lawrence Market

Garlic scapes

The market was spread over several buildings, and was absolutely massive. The main building featured two levels, packed with permanent vendors that would enable anyone to do all of their grocery shopping in one trip. It reminded us of farmers’ markets in Calgary – imports like cheese and olives were permitted.

St. Lawrence Market

Rice vendor

St. Lawrence Market


St. Lawrence Market

Whole pig, anyone?

St. Lawrence Market

Peameal bacon was everywhere in Toronto!

St. Lawrence Market

Yum…baked goods (yes, we indulged)

St. Lawrence Market

Great use of QR codes – links to the vendor’s recipes

Given how the market was such a tourist attraction, it was curious that there was no information table in sight – as a result, we couldn’t locate the one vendor we were looking for: Ewenity, a dairy cooperative which sells sheep’s milk ice cream.

We also ended up stopping into the St. Lawrence Market again on Sunday. The smaller building had been converted into an antiques fair. We didn’t buy anything, but we did did peruse the tables, and came across a Lucky Strike tin!

St. Lawrence Market

Antique fair

St. Lawrence Market

We had no idea Lucky Strike was a real company (we really miss Mad Men)

Taking in a Show

Toronto stages attract some big names, actors I wouldn’t have the opportunity to see in Edmonton. One example of this was Carrie Fisher, whose show, Wishful Drinking, was playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre that week. Based on her memoirs of the same name, Fisher discusses her family, personal life, career and mental health issues.

Wishful Drinking

Wishful Drinking set

Mack and I are both fans of Star Wars, and though that part of her film career was referenced quite heavily in the play (i.e. the “social contract” she signed when agreeing to put on that metal bikini being that she would remain that shape for the rest of her life), we learned a lot more about her. She had many funny witticisms and wry observations (the most entertaining portion was “Hollywood 101”), and involved the audience at times as well. Fisher had a casual way about her, and it was clear that she was very comfortable with herself, her past and her ghosts. I’m glad we were able to go!

Dining with a Celebrity Chef

Or at least, dining in the restaurant of a celebrity chef. One of the only restaurants I had bookmarked prior to the trip was Lee Lounge. In March, I was fortunate enough to be invited to an Element of Taste with Chef Lee at NAIT, during his Chef in Residence tenure. He was humble, and from all reports, was a respectable teacher in the kitchen – I wanted to see if his restaurant lived up to the hype.

We arrived a half our before our reservation (the skies opened up just as we arrived), but were seated right away – later diners wouldn’t be so lucky, as the place was packed by the time we left. The interior was very dim (apologies in advance for the poor photos), but was tastefully decorated, with red accents and a wall-sized family photo at the entrance. And yes, Chef Lee was in the house! We saw him a few times checking in on things in the dining room.

The only blemish to our visit was the waitress – she pushed certain dishes (such as the Singaporean style slaw) much too hard, to the point where we felt guilty when we didn’t order it. All it did was communicate to us that it must have been his most profitable item.

But other than that, it was a note-perfect experience. The spicy crisp tofu was our favourite – well crusted on the outside, and silky smooth on the inside. The sauce also played between sweet and savoury flavours quite well.

Lee Lounge

Spicy crisp tofu

Mack in particular was looking forward to the cheeseburger spring roll (a single one for $7). It should have been pre-cut, but was flavoured with great spices, and really, we loved the idea of simulating a cheeseburger in another form. It begged the question – what other spring roll possibilities are out there?

Lee Lounge

Cheeseburger spring roll

The asparagus and green bean salad was wonderfully balanced – the vinaigrette first presented itself as tangy, but smoothed itself out. We also liked the braised beef ravioli, with thin skins that didn’t overwhelm the beef, and a slightly sweet finish.

Lee Lounge

Asparagus and green bean salad

Lee Lounge

Braised beef ravioli

We finished our meal with a banana cake, served warm, melding the fruit and chocolate in smooth and creamy bites.

Lee Lounge

Banana cake

We would recommend Lee Lounge – there is no doubt the care that goes into the food. That said, it wasn’t my favourite meal that I had in Toronto – I’ll be writing about that in another post!

The “Element of Taste” with Chef Susur Lee

For three years now, the NAIT Hokanson Chef in Residence program has brought world-renowned chefs to Edmonton, for the purposes of mentoring students who are training in the Culinary Arts program. This year’s Chef in Residence, Susur Lee, not only brings extensive restaurant experience – with establishments in Toronto, DC, New York and Singapore to his credit – but also the most diverse cooking influence thus far. Chef Lee is known for his fusion cuisine; he first rose to fame with his Chinese fare blended with French techniques and ingredients. In recent years, he has dabbled in other styles – inspiration that some lucky diners were able to experience firsthand this afternoon.

NAIT hosted a special luncheon dubbed the Element of Taste at Ernest’s today, with Culinary Arts students tasked with preparing a three-course meal under the tutelage of Chef Lee (recipes for all of the dishes served today can be found in Chef Lee’s book, Susur: A Culinary Life). I was fortunate enough to be invited to an event mostly filled by Edmonton’s hospitality community, alongside a few other local food writers and bloggers including Valerie, Kevin, Evonne, Maki, Mary and Liane.

Element of Taste with Chef Susur Lee

Chef Susur Lee

The meal began with a spicy lobster tart with bonito. It was no doubt a bold introduction to Chef Lee’s cuisine: puff pastry adorned with tomatoes, lobster, olives, bonito flakes, goat cheese and a spicy tomatillo sauce. The presentation was gorgeous, a decorative arch of red draped artistically over the tart. There were mixed reviews around the table, and I had to agree with some of the opinions that there were too many elements at play – the briny olives overpowered much of the other flavours for me.

Element of Taste with Chef Susur Lee

Spicy lobster tart with bonito

Our entrees were much better received: rack of lamb with chickpea puree in a sweet olive and spicy cumin tomato sauce. The dish had a vibrant quality about it, and perfumed the air with a cumin-scented fragrance as soon as the plates were delivered. The lamb, cooked medium rare, had been treated with an intense curry and coriander spice infusion that paired perfectly with the mint chutney. There were raves about the hummus, heady and rich. We later discovered (with Allan’s help) that the chickpeas had been individually shucked before preparing the puree – talk about attention to detail.

Element of Taste with Chef Susur Lee

Rack of lamb with chickpea puree

Dessert arrived like spring, a taste of warmer climes. A bright, fresh passionfruit sauce enlivened a vanilla-speckled panna cotta. I particularly loved the adornment of thinly sliced pineapple and the tang of the raspberry paste. It was a beautiful end to a lovely meal.

Element of Taste with Chef Susur Lee

Vanilla panna cotta

At the end of the meal, the students, deservedly so, received a standing ovation from the dining room. The service staff were also fantastic today – each course was delivered with a flourish fit for royalty.

Element of Taste with Chef Susur Lee

Allan (who helped prepare the entrees), chats with Valerie and Kevin

Thanks again to NAIT for the invitation. It was a wonderful afternoon to be a part of.