Check out my newly revived Ottawa food blog: Bowsing Nom Noms! The newest blog post is about a local upscale Middle Eastern restaurant – rated #46 in all of Canada! Please check it out and let me know what you think!
Photo of the day: Poutine @ La Banquise. Photo credit: Aaron.
After a late night last night, we decided to slowly get out of bed just in time to check out of the hotel. We drove over to St.-Viateur Bagels for some classic Montreal-style bagels. We picked up two sandwiches – the smoked salmon, cream cheese one on a sesame bagel, as well as a smoked meat sandwich on a rosemary and sea-salt bagel. They had in-house seating with pretty good looking salads to make it a meal, but it was a nice day so we took our sandwiches over to a bench at Parc La Fontaine. This reminded me so much of my days as a student here, when I would bike through this park to pick up bagels on the weekend. My bagel sandwich was quite disappointing. The meat juice has soaked through the bagel and made it very soggy. At the same time, the parts which were soggy were very hard and dense. The meat itself was not as good as the ones we had yesterday at Schwartz’s. Aaron’s sandwich, on the other hand, was nice and soft with quite generous amounts of cream cheese. I’ve realized that Kettleman’s Bagel in Ottawa is actually quite comparable in quality so it’s a great alternative for those who do not want to drive the 2 hours for Montreal-style bagels.
Le Moineau Masqué
After breakfast, we walked around the park and checked out the neighbourhood of Plateau Mont-Royal before stopping at Le Moineau Masqué for some coffee. This was a very cute cafe with a lovely outdoor area with bean bags, a nice cushioned bench and even a cat to hang out with. We are not sure if the cat is a store cat but nonetheless, it stayed there on our table the whole time we were there. I quite enjoyed my iced matcha latte, which was nicely unsweetened; however, I will pass on the shortbread cookie here next time.
We were not too hungry at this time but figured we were in the neighbourhood so we must check out the popular La Banquise for some poutine. Our friends tried to come here yesterday but gave up because the line was too long. When we arrived today, around 4pm, the line was not too bad. In a matter of minutes after we joined the line though, another 10-20 people appeared behind us. The wait itself was not bad, especially if your phone is already preloaded with podcasts for your road trip. We decided to just split the regular-sized classic poutine and I tried a bottle of local Bec Soda, sweetened with maple syrup. I chose the lime-flavoured soda and it was an interesting twist on a Sprite-like soda. It is less sweet and does have a very distinct taste, which makes it not as easy to drink as any regular soft drink. The poutine itself definitely lived up to its name. The potatoes were nicely sweet and seasoned, the gravy not too salty and the cheese curds were nice and “squeeky”. If you prefer the soft, melted cheese curds though, you will not find them here. See photo of the day for a visual representation of this deliciousness.
Before we headed back to Ottawa, we decided to stop by Old Montreal for some exploring. There seemed to many events happening here including a poutine festival as well as a cultural festival called Orientalys showcasing many different cultures, from Moroccan dance performances to an animated wood sculpture craving show by a man from France. Aaron really wanted to do the zipline across the Old Port, so we paid our fees, donned our gear and hiked up the metal scaffold to the top and experienced maybe <1 minute of zooming across the sky. For those who have done ziplining previously, this is not too exciting but it’s a great chance to experience it for those who have yet to do it.
After our mini aerial adventure, we walked by a truck called M Churros Mme Banane selling churros and you know Aaron had to stop for one. It was a clever concept. They only sold 2 items on the menu here – churros and frozen bananas. These can both be customized with your favourite filling/coating. It looked like both items were equally popular and most groups bought one of each. We just got the original churro without any filling and the frozen banana with milk chocolate and peanuts. The churro was pretty average while the frozen banana was quite a delightful way to end our trip to Montreal!
And this marks the end of our 26 hours spent in Montreal. It was definitely food-heavy but we’ve both been here in the past to do all the touristy things. I should really be renaming this post “26 hours of eating in Montreal punctuated by minimal exploring while digesting our food”. Till next time!
A few weeks ago, we decided to take an impromptu trip to Montreal, Quebec, Canada and of course, my #1 priority is food. 7 years ago, I spent one month living in Montreal as part of the Explore Program, so I already had an idea of what spots I had to revisit.
Coffee break @ Pikolo Espresso Bar
It was an easy 2 hour-drive from Ottawa to Montreal and after quickly checking into our hotel on the west side of downtown, we took a nice leisurely walk past the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and through the beautiful campus of McGill University to our first stop – coffee at Pikolo Espresso Bar. It was a very small, hipster coffee shop with window seating, a small upper balcony, as well as a bench in front of the shop, which is where we sat to enjoy our good coffee while people-watching. The weather was perfect at this time, so it was nice to be outside.
Smoked Meat @ Schwartz’s
Next stop, the famous Schwartz’s. This is probably one of the must-visit places in Montreal. It is so famous their walls are full of photos of celebrity visitors. There was also a musical based on it! There is always a line-up but it moves quite quickly. For those who do not want to wait, you can go through the door on the left for take-out instead. We wanted the whole experience, so we patiently waited in line and were seated in no time at a communal table with 2 other couples. Aaron had the fatty smoked meat sandwich, while I chose the medium one. We also shared some fries and a dill pickle. The smoked meat was encased in a soft, unassuming bread as to not overtake the star of the show. There was a thick layer of mustard which paired perfectly with the smoked meat. I took a bite of my sandwich and immediately was impressed with the taste and texture of the meat. This was truly something you can only get in Montreal. The smoked meat I’ve had elsewhere does not compare to this at all as they were usually dry and tough. Then, I took a bite of Aaron’s fatty smoked meat sandwich and realized there was no turning back. The meat was so fatty, it just melted in my mouth with every bite. Immense regret immediately rushed through me as I wished that I had ordered this sandwich instead. The pickle was a nice refreshing touch but the fries were unremarkable. The set up here reminded me of Asia with the communal seating and the cash-only payment up at the cash. The service was super-friendly and efficient! If you haven’t had enough, feel free to purchase smoked meat by the pound to bring home.
My first VR experience
While walking to Schwartz’s, we came across a pop-up Samsung store advertising their VR technology. Now that we are contently full, we decided to drop in to take a look. I became extremely worried when I realized the VR experience was more than just walking around with a device on my head. It consisted of being strapped to a machine which not only tilted you forward and backwards, but also flipped you upside down. I signed the consent anyway and stood in line while hoping with all my might that I would not vomit since all I can feel is layers of smoked meat in my stomach at this time. After securely fastening the VR device on my head and getting strapped into this motorized seat, I was ready. The experience was actually a lot more fun and less nauseating then I expected. It was imitating an experience on a rollercoaster and to be honest, I felt that it was much less motion-sickness evoking than a real ride would. The only awkward part is when you’re on a real rollercoaster, it’s not strange to scream as those around you would usually be also screaming. In this case, I was the only one screaming while bystanders just watched and giggled.
From hip-hop to opera
We were told there was a graffiti festival near-by so we walked over to Saint Catherine Street and were greeted with some pretty impressive rapping with a very enthusiastic crowd. We watched that for a while before walking around to admire the artwork on the walls. There was even a DJ on the roof of one of these buildings while the audience on the street cheered on with their “beverages” in paper bags. We continued to walk along Saint Catherine when we came across an outdoor showing of an opera on a huge screen. We quite appreciated the juxtaposition between this and the hard-core rapping performances we witnessed a few minutes ago. On our way to the hotel, we had to stop by Pappa Roti for some nicely warmed-up coffee bun even though we were still full from our smoked meat sandwiches. It was actually pretty good, despite still not being as good as the one we had in Kuala Lumpur.
After changing into clothes more appropriate for the cooler evening climate, we stopped by Kampai Garden for some drinks. The cocktails here were pretty good and were sold by the pitcher – meant to be shared, but it did come with a large straw … for those who like to indulge ;). We decided to try the duck tataki, which was apparently entered into a local competition. It was served over sushi rice and coated with an amazing sauce – quite delicious! We managed to get a seat easily on the patio since it was soon closing but there was a long line to get inside the resto-club, which was open till 3am. After dinner, we headed over to meet up with our friends who were also visiting Montreal this weekend. Overall, an amazing and eventful first day in Montreal. We arrived quite late in the afternoon so it we did not get to try as much of the food as we wanted today but stay tuned for Day 2 for more local favourites!
I’ve always been reluctant to travel to the States since I feel that is it too similar culturally to Canada. It doesn’t feel like I’m experiencing something new. This trip made me appreciate these similarities. The currency was easy to understand (although it would have been even easier if our dollar was stronger and at par, like it has been in the past). Credit cards were widely accepted even with smaller stores and kiosks using ipad-integrated systems. Language is definitely not a problem.
I feel that LA is more similar to Vancouver, both being on the west coast vs. New York, which feels more like Toronto. It had the beaches, the nicer weather, the gorgeous mountains. The people are more relaxed and more into being outdoors. I was so impressed with the number of people hiking on the many trails that were available here.
The weather is absolutely perfect. The mornings can be a little hazy but the rest of the day is nice and sunny. It was hot but not dreadfully so like how Asia and Europe can get in the summer. The nights cool down to under 20 degrees celsius, for those who needed a break from the heat.
Top Food Picks
- Beef noodle soup @ Pine and Crane
- The duck @ Broken Spanish
- Shima aji with fried leeks @ Nobu
- The view from Griffith Park
- TCL Chinese Theatre at night
- Getty Centre’s architecture
- The city view from the US Bank Tower
- Wine tasting in the park
- Seeing Jupiter through the telescope
- Having so much Mexican food in a short period of time
- Sliding down a glass slide on the side of 72nd floor of a building (I guess… still not impressed)
- Hiking on such sandy terrain
- Using the shared Lyft service
Bye bye convertible!
All good things come to an end as we embark on our last day in LA. First, we had to return the convertible. Aaron was very sad to let it go, and even contemplated purchasing one, but it doesn’t make sense to have one in Ottawa, where more than half the year consists of snow, snow and more snow! Before we dropped it off though, we had some coffee and pastries at Nespresso. The decor of the place was very impressive with its modern design and high ceilings but the coffee and food was just below average. After we returned the car, we spent some time walking around the streets of Beverly Hills with its chic restaurants and boutiques. Great place for celebrity spotting!
For lunch, we went to Quarters BBQ for some Korean BBQ. This was pretty different than any other Korean restaurants we’ve been to. The decor is like a nice bar but food was not bar food. As soon as we sat down, our server brought over many side dishes, which reminded me of our time in Korea. So many plates were placed in front of us we did not know where to start. There were kimchi dishes, salads, kimchi pancake and even a cold cucumber soup, meant to improve your appetite. There is also a dish with various sauces and seasoning to dip your meat into. All the meat orders here come in 1/4 pound orders as per the name of the restaurant. There were also combos available if you don’t want to choose your own meat. If you ordered 5 orders or one of the combos, it came with a bunch of other side dishes as well – a stew, an egg soup, a veggie skewer and a cheese fondue! You can’t go wrong with dipping things into melted cheese! The meat arrived and the diligent servers here helped us with the cooking to make sure that the meat is taken off the heat when ready. The side dishes were all good with my favourite being the kimchi pancake and the soy bean stew. They both tasted very authentic. The meat were better than what we would get in Canada but not as good as the restaurants in South Korea where they only specialized in one type of meat (e.g. pork belly, bulgogi). We were once again stuffed and decided to just head home to get some packing and blogging done.
Barnsdall Art Park
It was Friday and Aaron found out there was an weekly event going on at the Barnsdall Art Park close to us. It was a fun picnic party with wine tasting in the park and a live DJ. We had to get tickets online ahead of time and then we were given bracelets with 4 perforated tags. We then could head over to the wine tasting area to try various wines from around the world. They had 4 wines and served them in order from white, to rose, to the reds. Those with young children could also come but would have to stay outside the fenced wine tasting area. We both felt this is such a great idea to get people together to just hangout at the park, picnic on the lawn, and enjoy the sunset. You could bring your own food or buy some from the food trucks on site; however, we had other plans. Remember the Northern Thai restaurant from last night? We knew we had to go back.
Night + Market Song
We caught a shared Lyft, which was actually pretty convenient and economical. We arrived at Night + Market Song and it was packed! We placed our name down on the list with at least 10 parties in front of us. Fortunately, the wait wasn’t too bad, as you could order drinks and just hang out at the bar/lobby at the front. The staff here are super attentive. I had apparently spilled some red wine on my top at some point during the evening and after I came back from the washroom trying to wash it off, one of the staff had given Aaron some white wine for “his lady” since “white wine is the best stain remover”. Because we only had 2 people, we only waited perhaps 20 minutes or so. We knew we had to order the khao soi, as we have been unable to find good khao soi since leaving Chiang Mai. Believe me, we’ve tried and failed. We also ordered the crispy rice salad as recommended by many on Four Square and also by the enthusiastic lady sitting next to us. We also tried their Thai iced tea, which was pretty comparable to the one we had the other day – definitely very sweet, just like the ones you get in Thailand. The crispy salad arrived first and I quite liked how spicy it was and the crunch of it. As someone who does not like cilantro and ginger, I couldn’t eat too much of it. Aaron felt it was the sour taste that prevented him from eating too much. Then, the khao soi, the reason we came here, arrived. The crunchy noodles on top wasn’t quite like the ones we had in Thailand and they fried their chicken here – which was quite an interesting twist. The curry and egg noodles, though, were very good and probably the best we’ve had since Thailand. Big thumbs up! After another short Lyft ride with a very friendly driver, who was apparently born in Canada, we were home! Today was definitely a nice chill way to end our trip.
It is not necessary to travel very far to enjoy the summer. There’s no need to wait until you’re on vacation to go hiking or to take that fun class or to go to the beach. You can have lots of fun just exploring your own city. And my city is Ottawa. Ottawa’s winters can be cold and long, so why not take advantage of the good weather when it’s actually here! The summer is more than half over, so I figured I should write this post before it’s too late.
So, here is my list of 10 things to do, in no particular order:
Check out a music festival
Whether it is Blues Fest, Folk Fest, West Fest or Jazz Fest, there seems to always be some music festival going on. Check out the line up and you can decide which ones you want to check out!
Celebrate Canada Day
Of course, one of the biggest events every summer is July 1st, a huge celebration of Canada Day right in the country’s capital city. If you don’t mind crowds, then go ahead and try your luck downtown for some live performances all day long as well as fireworks at night. This year, we tried something a little different and spent most of our day at Dominion Day – a craft beer festival at the Experimental Farm and it was quite fun. I’m not sure if they will do this every year but it’s worth looking into. We enjoyed a few local beers, took a look at some farm animals, ate some good food, then only headed downtown later on for fireworks. Driving downtown is not a good idea. If you’re ok with surge prices, then Uber is an option. Otherwise, public transportation (free that day) is the way to go.
BBQ at Mooney’s Bay
Head over to Mooney’s Bay for a BBQ and then lie on the beach. If you’re still hungry, they have a burger shack with live music sometimes. If you have little ones, don’t forget to check out the super expensive new playground there.
Hiking in Gatineau Park
Gatineau park is merely at 30-minute drive away and here, you will find many different trails with varying difficulty. I enjoyed the King Mountain Trail’s view but I appreciated the Luskville Falls Trail for its more difficult ascent. Just remember to put on some sunscreen and drench yourself in insect repellent.
Water sports at Dows Lake
Alternatively, you can stay around town and head to Dows Lake for some stand up paddle boarding, canoeing, kayaking or pedal boating. You can also walk across the street after to check out the gardens.
Fireworks at the Casino du Lac-Leamy Sound of Light
If you are a fireworks fan, this is the show to watch out for. There are usually 5 nights of fireworks for your enjoyment and it’s happening right at the gorgeous Canadian Museum of History across the bridge. Get your tickets online and bring some folding chairs to enjoy the show!
Watch the Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill
An annual tradition since the first year I moved to Ottawa, this show is visually impressive, using the Parliament Buildings as a backdrop. You can even pick up a few tidbits about the history of Canada!
Take a free salsa class at City Hall
Did you know there are free salsa (/kizomba/bachata) classes every Wednesday from 6-7pm at City Hall? If you are lucky and there are no other events happening and the weather is nice, it will even be held outside! For those who want more, there is social dancing right after until 11pm! No experience is needed and the basic steps are taught again every week. They change up the DJ, instructors and dance styles every week!
Eat your heart out at a cultural/food festival
Ottawa is truly the city of festivals, especially when it comes to food. It feels like every weekend there is some kind of festival happening and sometimes they occur on the same weekend and requires you do to some festival-hopping. Whether it is Asian Fest, Greek Fest, Lebanese Festival, or the Japanese Natsu-Matsuri Festival, head out and enjoy some good food while learning something about another culture. Otherwise, you can always check out the always popular Rib Fest or Poutine Fest as well.
Check out some Canada 150 events
Since it is Canada’s big 150 birthday, there have been quite a few special shows going on this year. The most impressive one, of course, was La Machine, which happened at the end of July. I heard people in the crowds saying they cannot wait to see this next year. Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but my understanding is that this was truly once in a lifetime. I don’t think they will be coming back again 😦 #LaMachineWithdrawal. On to events you can still catch: Get a free ticket online and check out Kontinuum – another very unique experience, happening in the light rail station on Sparks Street until September 14, 2017. Cirque Du Soleil, Volta, is happening August 3 – 27, 2017. I still haven’t had the chance to see it, but I’ve seen pictures of the plant sculptures at MosaïCanada 150 at Jacques-Cartier Park which looks amazing. You can still catch it until October 15, 2017. Download the Ottawa 2017 app for more events you might be interested in.
Photo of the day: The gorgeous architecture of Getty Centre. Photo credit: Aaron.
Aaron had planned to do a road trip up to the mountains today and our first stop was at the Getty Centre, which we did not get to see yesterday. Like the Getty Villa, entrance is free but parking is $15 ($10 after 3pm). Again, if you plan on visiting both the Getty Centre and Getty Villa on the same day, you only need to pay for parking once. It is not as simple as presenting the parking ticket though. Apparently, you will need to go to the information desk to pick up a voucher to present at the other museum. There is a tram which connected the parking lot to the museum and it provided a nice view on your way up. At the entrance, there was a restaurant with gorgeous views of the city, as well as a cafe and coffee cart for snacks. We decided to relax and sit down for some wine and cheese at the restaurant before exploring the centre. There were multiple free guided tours at the centre, each lasting around 45 minutes. We managed to catch the architecture tour and it was very informative and interesting learning about the story behind the design of the Getty Centre. Apparently, after Mr. Getty died, he left a hefty sum of money in the Getty Trust. With this large sum, the Getty Centre was built over 17 years as designed by the award winning architect, Richard Meier. The stones found on the walls of the building are from the same quarry as those used to build The Colosseum in Rome. The square tiles throughout the site were all 30 by 30 inches and this same theme was found throughout the building, on the walls, windows and even the seat cushions and garden hedges! There were also informative iPod audioguides you can borrow for free if you leave your ID with them. As someone who does not particularly love museums or art, I still spent 2 hours here wandering around and admiring the architecture and outdoor sculptures.
We ended up spending more time than we intended at the museum, and we were once again hungry. Aaron had already planned out a route for our drive and we were running behind our schedule, especially with the always present traffic of LA. On our way, we had to stop by In-and-Out. From our fancy breakfast on the hip-top this morning, we now turned to some greasy burgers and fries for lunch. We tried the cheeseburger and fries, both regular and "animal style". We were both impressed by how the burgers had load of vegetables and was definitely more substantial than a cheeseburger you can get at McDonald’s. I cannot distinguish the burger "animal style" vs. the regular burger to be honest. We were both not a fan of the fries compared to McDonald’s tasty salty delights. The "animal style" fries, however, was quite tasty, with its secret sauce and grilled onions. I would probably come back here for its burgers, but I’ll stick to McDonald fries.
After lunch, Aaron had a ball driving along more windy mountain roads with the top down. We finally made it to Mount Wilson. Unfortunately, the observatory was closed by the time we got there. On our way back, we got to enjoy the view at various lookout points.
For dinner, we had originally wanted to go check out the 626 area for some soupy Asian noodles; however, from our research, we found out that there was a good Taiwanese restaurant in Silver Lake which was ranked as the number one Chinese restaurant in America on Foursquare. We knew we had to try it! We have not yet been to this area during this trip and we were very intrigued with all the restaurants here. We found a very popular Northern Thai restaurant close to where we parked. Our plan was to check out Pine and Crane, the Taiwanese restaurant, then restaurant-hop here afterwards. Pine and Crane was not easy to find as the roads were blocked off for an outdoor movie event. As soon as we saw the long line in front of the restaurant, we knew we were at the right place. It was actually quite nice that there was an outdoor movie showing, as we were able to enjoy that while waiting in line. The line moved quite quickly and we reached the front counter in maybe less than 30 minutes. We ordered the beef noodles and Dan Dan noodles, along with a side of their seaweed salad. We saw many people ordering their bubble tea so I ordered the Salted Cream Jasmine Green Tea with boba and Aaron had the Taro Milk Tea. We were then given a number and were seated pretty quickly. The drinks arrived first and we were both very impressed. My Salted Cream Jasmine Green Tea was aesthetically pleasing with its layers of cream, tea and boba. After some mixing, I took the first sip and was further impressed with its taste! I haven’t had too much bubble tea in the recent years and when I tried it again the week before in Vancouver, I felt it was overly sweet and artificial tasting. This had a strong tea flavour and was not too sweet. It was the perfect balance. Aaron’s Taro Milk Tea had real chucks of taro in it! The seaweed salad was refreshing, similar to a Japanese wakame salad with more flavours from the bell peppers. Then the Dan Dan Noodles arrived. I’ve had quite a few different versions of Dan Dan in the past and this was probably my favourite. It was not too oily compared to other ones. The sauce/soup was amazingly delicious. The best part was the noodles which had the texture of instant noodles and soaked up the flavours of the sauce so well. This meal kept getting better as the beef noodles was truly the star of the night. The beef was so tender and flavourful. The soup had a good profile of salty and sour. The noodles were thick and looked handmade. Then there was some bok choy as well to change the taste and texture up. This was the best beef noodles I’ve had in North America. It is comparable to the first time we had the Rod Yiam beef noodles in Chiang Mai. We had already toned down our ordering by not getting appetizers but we were both too stuffed to eat any more. We were both super pleased with this meal but wished we had another stomach to order more food here or to check out the Thai place we had intended to also visit. I guess that will have to wait. We ended the night driving down Hollywood Boulevard and it was even more lively now than during the day.