Tuesday, August 28, 2012

People Watching

It all started with discussions about where to go for a long (3 day) weekend. Baltimore? DC? Niagara Falls? Niagara Falls.

While seeing the falls themselves is a must, I wasn't too excited about the wineries, many of which I have visited on past trips, and the 'tourist' things like Skywheel, House of Frankenstein, and Crystal Caves have no appeal for me.

But Toronto... Toronto is just another hour or so of driving. I haven't been to Toronto since I was 10 or 11 years old. 

Then I realized there is a whole lotta stuff to see/do/enjoy in Toronto, not to mention its proximity to Canada's Wonderland amusement park, which piqued SP's interest.

And that's how a 3 day weekend turned into an 8 day vacation.

Sunday, day 2 of our Canadian adventure, started off with a drive to Niagara on the Lake (NOTL). I had not been to NOTL, situated along the south shore of Lake Ontario at the mouth of the Niagara River. It's a cute, picturesque, slightly touristy town. We drove around, parked, and wandered up and down what I think is the main street, Queen Street, in what I presume is the Heritage District. Lots of shops, eateries. We browsed a tea & coffee store, a hat store, lotions & perfumes, clothing, decor... and of course we ate.

By 12:30 pm we were pretty hungry but of course many of the restaurants we wandered past were filled and there was a wait, or they were not accessible. Then we spotted The Irish Tea Room and decided to venture in.

After going through a shop selling Irish goods (sweaters, blankets, etc.) we entered a small, maybe 15 seats, cafe area. We took a seat at a table and pondered our menu options. It's a very limited menu: boxty, quiche, steak pie, and maybe one other entree. 

Since I didn't want a large portion of food, we decided to share the quiche and for our two sides, we chose the mixed greens and the broccoli salad. There also was a beet side and a beans side.
Our table was right next to the baked goodies selection! They have a lot of gluten free goodies, and while he no longer must eat gluten free, finding gluten free goodies still excites SP. 

The quiche is gluten free. It has a rice base. We chose cheese & ham. It was delicious! The greens were crisp and fresh. The broccoli seemed raw, but maybe had been blanched a wee bit because it wasn't as crunchy as I had expected, and had a light mayo-like dressing with tiny bacon bits.

It was enough to share and fill our bellies, especially since we had plans to return to a place we had walked past earlier: Nina Gelateria.
So many tempting flavors of gelato and sorbet. SP chose Peach Sorbet, I chose White Chocolate Raspberry gelato. His peach sorbet was creamy and very peachy. My gelato was a smooth, rich white chocolate with raspberry swirl mixed in as well as some raspberry sauce drizzled on top. Just what we needed after lunch and on a sunny, warm day before heading back to the car and driving to Toronto.

We stayed at the Westin Hotel along the harbourfront in Toronto. This turned out to be a very good location for us. We were able to walk to a lot of places and an accessible subway stop was just a few blocks away. After checking in and freshening up, we headed out for a stroll along the harbourfront.

There are a lot of tourists in Toronto! There is a lot happening along the harbourfront on a late Sunday afternoon! People lounging on the grass, people boating, performers like 'fire man,' concerts, food... it was great! We walked and walked and walked.
Cool wavy bridge walkways, planes that fly in over the lake to land at the airport, the ever visible CN Tower. And boats. Lots of boats.

Of course eventually we wanted to eat. We had asked the hotel concierge for a pub like place within walking distance, and of the two places suggested, we had already walked past one of them, so we decided to make it easy and just go there. No Urbanspoon research. No Yelp research. We just went.
The Watermark is supposed to be an Irish pub, but like many supposed Irish pubs I have entered, it somehow seemed not so Irish. It was located right along the water, we sat outside and had great views of the water and of all the people. And thank goodness for the amazing people watching because service was slower than molasses. It took about 10 minutes before our server came over. At that point, I discovered the iced tea issue.  

I ordered iced tea and asked for sugar since there wasn't any sweetener on the table. She said something about how we must be from the States and that the iced tea was already sweetened with Nestea. I was confused, sad, and ordered water instead. She offered to brew me fresh iced tea, unsweetened, but knowing that the word "Nestea' had been tossed out there, well, I was reluctant. I was afraid that they would not know how to brew fresh iced tea, the proper strength and then icing so it wasn't too weak tasting.

Upon reflection, I wonder if they brew fresh tea then sweeten it with Nestea, which seems odd to me, not just because, well, ugh, Nestea and its fake, gross sweetness, but why add an iced tea powder to fresh iced tea? 

The iced tea issue cropped up nearly everywhere in Canada. They must not be a nation of fresh brewed, unsweetened iced tea drinkers! 

So, water for both of us. We ordered. And waited. Our food finally arrived and we dug in. As we were swallowing our third or fourth bites, a server came over. The server was bearing our meals on a platter. He started to serve us and then stopped, saying, oh, gosh, you already have your food, sorry. He had our exact order on his tray. Hmmm. Big kitchen mix up?

SP had Seafood Chowder and Strawberry Spinach Salad (with blueberries, watermelon, onions, pecans, goat cheese in a raspberry vinaigrette). SP said his seafood chowder was a little greasy, it had an oil slick on top, and his salad was a salad, good but nothing special. 

I had the Lobster Club (lobster with arugula, bacon, tomatoes, chipotle mayo, ancient grains bread). My lobster ended up being a bit watery and not too flavorful and the chipotle mayo a little to spicy for me, but the bread was very good. SP thought it was OK but that it didn't seem to have that much good lobster on it.

By this point, the sun had set, we were tired from a long day of walking, but we decided to peruse the dessert menu. Here is where service got really slow. After asking for a dessert menu, it took 5-10 minutes to get one. It took another 10+ minutes for her to return, at which point I was so annoyed that I passed on ordering an Irish Coffee even though I was a little chilly and wanted something warm. I feared it would take forever to get it. It took another nearly 10 minutes to get the check, 5 minutes for her to return to pick it up, and 5-10 minutes for her to bring it back with our credit card. I am not kidding. I actually started using a stopwatch app on my phone to time everything. I know we asked for the dessert menu around 8:05 and we didn't get out of there until 8:50. Absolutely terrible, plus, by this point, our server was having a really bad night and her demeanor had gone from chipper and friendly to annoyed and harried. I cannot remember an instance in our 5+ years together when we  have had such horrible service and been so annoyed that we tipped less than the usual 15~20%, and honestly, she's lucky she got what she got because it was so awful we discussed leaving no tip.

So, so-so food, terrible service, apparently confused kitchen, but terrific outdoor seating, lake view, and people watching. Only go if you have time and patience.

And then we stopped at Sobeys Urban Fresh (small grocery store with deli and bakery) to buy breakfast for the next morning and went back to our hotel to snuggle up.

I've been saying how the people watching was so great from our restaurant. The restaurant is right next to a boat dock. I think the boat does sight-seeing tours and evening party cruises. I think it was Mariposa?Anyway, there was lots of entertainment right next to us as party guests began arriving for their party cruise. 
We did our very own version of Fashion Police as we sat there and watched everyone arrive and board. I think that barely on her body, hanging by a thread shirt left SP speechless! (He snapped the above photo of the barely there shirt.) There were a lot of stripper shoes and tight dresses, barely covered bums and barely covered boobs. It was quite the sight!

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