November 30, 2011

Creep Night

Being the horror genre fan he is, Mark has fallen for FX's chilling new show "American Horror Story". Of course, that means I have been watching it every Wednesday night alongside him.

It's a downright creepy show, with some genuinely scary elements. The series revolves around the Harmons, a family of three who moved from Boston to Los Angeles as a means to reconcile past anguish. Alas, their new home is the source of far deeper and demented problems than they could have ever imagined.

The cast is anchored around Dylan McDermott ("The Practice") as a psychiatrist; Connie Britton ("Friday Night Lights"), who plays his wife, and newcomer Taissa Farmiga as their teenage daughter.

However, it's the supporting cast that is actually worth watching. The legendary Jessica Lange ("The Postman Always Rings Twice") plays the Harmon’s neighbor, chewing every scene like only few can. Evan Peters ("One Tree Hill") is memorable as a psychiatric patient and the remarkable Frances Conroy ("Six Feet Under") is the Harmon’s excessively devoted housekeeper. And then there's that guy in the rubber suit...

He Shops, He Scores!

This morning marked the opening of the much-hyped new Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Located on the ground floor, the store promises their Joe Fresh clothing line and a whole range of “food experiences” including a sushi bar, chocolate-by-the-chunk and “The Amazing Wall of Cheese,” an 18-foot-high wall of world cheeses complete with a 100-pound wheel of Stilton.

The upper two floors of the Gardens is being renovated into a new athletic facility for Ryerson University.

I have not visited the new store yet (it only opened 10 minutes ago!) but I applaud this creative mixed redevelopment of the Gardens, located in a part of the downtown core that is rather dilapidated. Hopefully it will help anchor a revitilization of the neighbourhood.   

November 27, 2011

We Went Walking

Sunday morning dawned overcast and rainy, but we did not let that stop us from having a grand adventure.

We started our day by meeting Mark's nephew Jordan for brunch in tony Yorkville, at celebrity chef Mark McEwan's  One Restaurant. This is the kind of place that takes your coat at the door and has full marble restrooms. The decor and layout were impressive. I was pleasantly surprised that our waiter was not only pleasant but down-to-earth. The service was very good and the food was also quite good. I had eggs Benedict and I appreciated that instead of the typical English muffin that it was served on a homemade brioche.

We then strolled around Yorkville, taking in some of the fabulous shops, including Teotro Verde (the most stunning home decor shop I have ever visited) and Pusateri's Fine Foods (an upscale grocery store and foodie haven). 

After saying goodbye to Jordan we checked out the men's department at venerable Holt Renfrew (Holt's, for those in the know) and then strolled westward into the Annex so Mark could go to Greg's Ice Cream for a cup of melted marshmellow ice cream (yummy!). We kept walking westward and entered into Bloor West Village, checking out a couple of bookstores, and just kept going, eventually dfinding ourselves at the famous Honest Ed's (I snapped the accompanying picture of its west facade).

We didn't go into Honest Ed's as our destination was the delightful street adjacent to the store called Mirvish Village. We were amazed by the one-of-a-kind shops, such as Beit Zatoun (a gallery and common space for social justice activism), comic book nirvana The Beguiling, movie poster, books, and collectibles mecca Hollywood Canteen, and our favourite find Vintage Video, home to 3,000 rare movie titles primarily from the 1930s to the 1970s as well as memorabilia and collectibles. 

We were completely in awe of Vintage Video. Opened in 1988 by a passionate cineophile named John Barthel. Mark was hoping to find a copy of "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" (1948) and lo and behold Mr. Barthel was easily able to find us one and give us a great history lesson on the movie. What a lovely man! We respected his passion and knowledge of classic movies and we look forward to returning to look for some more gems.

Before hopping on the streetcar to take us home we checked out Sonic Boom, which has to be the largest used CD, DVD, records store I have ever seen! Besides being the largest independent music store in Toronto, Sonic Boom is als known for its creative window displays.

November 26, 2011

In the Neighbourhood

I took this picture earlier today as we strolled through Roncesvalles Village, Toronto's Polish enclave. Just last month The New York Times described the eponymous main street as being filled with "indie bookstores, quirky coffeehouses and smart boutiques [that] feel more like small-town hangouts...with a blessed absence of the chain stores that have crept across Toronto".

Our day began with brunch at School in Liberty Village, and then we walked westward along Queen Street West into Parkdale Village, which has become a great source for funky vintage clothing stores and antique shops. We discovered a great vintage shop called Philistine, in which I found and purchased a beautiful Brooks Brothers Polo Button-Down shirt. This was a real find as it is was actually made in the USA, a rarity these days in the clothing retail industry.

The other fantastic vintage shop we found is called Studio 1686. The store is run by sisters Marya and Irene, who both worked in wardrobe in the film industry for 20 years. The clothing in the store was worn by stars. They cull all the cast-off clothing from various film productions. I tried on two beautiful shirts but did not take any home.

We kept walking west on Queen Street and were soon in Roncesvalles, and enjoyed the recently revitalized main street (Downtown Kingston BIA please take note), with its delis, cafes, bakeries, used book stores, and unique shops. We decided to have an early dinner, opting for authentic Polish cuisine at Bistro La La.  We each had a pint of Tyskie beer, and Mark opted for dumplings with goulash whereas I started with a delicious borscht, followed by a massive schnitzel. Tummies stuffed, we walked home to end our wonderful day of exploring.

November 24, 2011

Preppy Vitals

It's beginning to feel a lot like...

On the way back from a training session I took this picture of one of the wonderful windows of the flagship store of The Bay.

They have created a series of Christmas dioramas that are both heart-tugging in their sentiment and jaw-dropping in their detail.

Reminiscent of the famous Macy's windows in the Big Apple, I was impressed to see the creative investment in the displays alongside the very busy Queen Street West and Yonge Street facades of this very impressive building.

This is not your grandmother's The Bay. The flagship is decidedly upscale (including a gorgeous Burberry boutique), with a snazzy interior design, layout, and focus on customer service. I purchased some new Florsheim shoes there last week and received marvellous personal attention.

Speaking of attention, I patronized Truefitt & Hill Barber this week, since I was off-site all week in the Financial District. Although pricey, the experience was really, ahem, a cut above. When I arrived they took my coat, offered me a shoe shine, and then I was lead to my chair, given a very good cut, a lovely wash and scalp massage, then a neck and shoulder massage, and finally sent off with some proprietary aftershave. I will definitely return once in a while as a special treat. 


November 23, 2011

Up, up, and Beyond

Here's the view out our living room windows from earlier this evening. Thought you would like the sunset view on the Toronto skyline.

That very iconic skyline is the theme of this posting. New data reveals Toronto is building more high-rises than anywhere else in North America.

There are currently 132 high-rise buildings (meaning 12 to 40 floors) under construction in Toronto. For a sense of context, Mexico City ranks second with 88, New York City is third with 86, Chicago is fifth with 17, while Miami rounds out the top five with 16 high-rises in progress. Overall, Toronto has the second-highest number of completed high-rises and skyscrapers in North America, with 1,875.

Fueling the frantic building is a record year of Toronto condo sales of $10-billion. Soon to join the list is a just-announced 75-storey condo called 10 York which will, ahem, trump the soon-to-be-completed 60-storey Trump International Hotel & Tower. Trump has been proudly marketing itself as Canada's tallest residential tower, a title it may only enjoy for a couple of years.

The thousands of new residents will eventually get around downtown in a fleet of new TTC streetcars and new "Rocket" subway trains

November 20, 2011

Geeks, Wine, and a Reunion

This past weekend began with a wonderful reunion with two of our dearest friends from Kingston, Karen & Jen.

They arrived just before noon and, after a tour of our apartment, we set out into Liberty Village in search of brunch. My original plan was to take them to School but it was so packed that we decided to move on and we ended up at Liberty Bistro, an utterly charming, relaxed, and peaceful oasis. The food was great and the service even better!

After stuffing our tummies, we toured the girls around Liberty Village, making sure we hit favourite spots such as For the Love of Cake (for some yummy cupcakes), urban furniture store casalife, and the always fun decor store West Elm.

We then strolled over to West Queen West to take in Toronto's hippest hood, checking out places like the Drake General Store (the best little gift shop ever), BYOB (a one-of-a-kind cocktail emporium), and a pop-up shop operated by the Clothing Brand Experiment.  We finished the evening off with a fantastic dinner at Terroni before saying our goodbyes.

We began Sunday with brunch at Marben, which has quickly become a favourite of ours. Then we were off to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to first embrace our inner geek hood at Toronto Comicon. This was a collector's paradise, with about 80 vendors selling their various wares. There were certainly every stereotype present, from the Kevin Smith lookalikes, to the anime costumed girls, to the pierced goth group. Overall, very good fun. I got excited when I stumbled across a Bloom County compendium, and Mark purchased a two-volume collection of  an Astonishing X-Men series written by our hero Joss Whedon.

Then we strolled over to the south building at the MTCC to take in the Food and Wine Expo.  I was in heaven, strolling around all of the various wine vendors. I took in a few tastings as well, notably a 21 year-old Balvenie Portwood single malt scotch, and a Cab Sauv from the Diamond Collection of Francis Ford Coppola.

November 17, 2011

Are You Ready to Go Back?

James Cameron's epic boat movie has been remastered and converted into 3D and will be back in theatres in March 2012. I loved "Titanic" and have never been embarrassed to admit so. I was never too cool for this movie, as so many claimed to be (As I like to joke, "Titanic" was the highest grossing film of all time for nearly 15 years that no one saw and that everyone hated). Looking forward to seeing this improved version of the film. Cameron proved with "Avatar" that 3D executed properly can be a marvel. My heart will go on...

November 14, 2011

If Only it Could Walk

I took this picture of the landmark building at OCAD U, the Sharp Centre for Design, last week on my way to a meeting. Known affectionately around the city as "the table top", the Sharp Centre has quickly become a tourist destination in its own right. 

I am always seeing folks stopping to take pictures of the Centre, which is nicely complemented by the CN Tower if you are looking southward (my picture was taken looking north). In fact, we can see the distinctive black-dotted, 12-legged monolith from our condo. 

Winner of a 2004 RIBA Worldwide Award, the building was described as "courageous, bold and just a little insane." It certainly added a whimsical jolt in 2004 to what had long been an architecturally staid section of the city (Frank Gehry's outstanding transformation of the neighbouring AGO was not completed until 2008).  

November 8, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

I snapped this picture of the Toronto skyline as seen from our living room on Saturday afternoon.  I love how the CN Tower is framed by the lines of our patio door and the balcony railing.

It's already been a month but I still get chills when I look out the window in the morning, and more so at night. It's a solid reminder that we're not in Kansas anymore, if you know what I mean.

This past weekend was more relaxed. Once again, we hit the Wellington Street Art Gallery for an opening of work done by a Kingston artist named Connie Morris. We also met up with a Kingston friend named Hugh at the WSAG, which was a nice treat.

On Sunday we explored the neighourhood immediately to the west of us, Parkdale. Home to one of the largest Tibetan diasporas in the world, Parkdale is very ethnically and socioeconomically diverse. We wandered along the Queen Street portion of the 'hood and I found it to be remarkably genuine, full of all sorts of interesting characters. The yuppy/hipster gentrification of nearby West Queen West has not fully reached into Parkdale, so there was a mix of the rough-and-tumble street folk as well as tons of immigrants, and the odd yuppy here and there. I felt I was walking in a real Toronto neighbourhood.

Our destination was actually to visit Glen, a friend of Mark's from OCAD U that he lived with in Campus Co-op with back in the '90s (in a lovely coincidence I was living in Science'44 Co-op in Kingston around the same time!). It was so nice to see these old friends reunite, and we made plans to see each other on a regular basis.

Closer to my office in the , I was thrilled to stumble across Little Nicky's, a fantastic, locally-owned coffee shop. It's tiny but adorable, with home made baked goodies and a very good coffee indeed. I loved the one-of-a-kind ambiance. I also checked out Canteen, the O&B joint on the ground floor of the Bell Lightbox (home of TIFF).  Their grab and go section is very well stocked and I could see this becoming a regular option for my morning coffee and treat.

November 4, 2011

A Gentleman's Oasis

I had the distinct pleasure to patronize Terminal Barber Shop 2 this week. Located a block west from the original landmark  shop (est. 1925), the second location is exactly what you expect a proper barber shop to look, feel, and even smell like.

Besides the warm and beautiful wood floors, the centrepieces of The Terminal are their vintage barber chairs. Absolutely stunning, they are magnificent works of craftsmanship.

Clients are treated to classical music emanating from hidden speakers as they hang their coats in a handsome wardrobe. With the comforting odour of talcum powder floating about, you slip into one of their leather lounge chairs, enjoy a newspaper or one of the neatly stacked men's magazines from the UK.

There are three barbers, neatly dressed in 3-button white coats, and they are meticulous, courteous, and very professional. I meet one of the owners, Karim Saaden, and he welcomes me and asks my name. My barber is Frank, and he quietly and efficiently works on my hair, with scissors, a very quiet shaver, and a straight razor. 

The experience harkens back to a centuries old tradition. I have to say this was one of the most civilized 30 minutes I have ever spent. I'm sure it was not that long ago one could have expected to be offered a scotch or a cigar. This was indeed a proper barber shop, not a "hair salon" or "stylist" or however else folks with scissors like to call themselves. This is the real deal, old school, musk and all. What a wonderful discovery amongst the cacophony of downtown Toronto.