Merge!

A little over a year ago, I split this blog in two. Tim’s Road Noise has remained my intermittent vacation blog, while news of my writing life moved to Timothy Gwyn Writes.

However. It has become increasingly difficult to separate the two. My vacation travels often include a visit to a Science Fiction convention now, and I end up blogging both the con and the restaurants nearby. Some topics don’t fall neatly into either category. Also, some followers started by reading the travel posts here and took up following my writing blog as well.

I propose to merge the two blogs into one again. I will assign category labels to each post to make it easy for those readers who are interested more in one topic or the other.

This brings us to the question of which blog will host the combined content. Tim’s Road Noise is older, and contains far more photographs, but the web address is an awkward one. And whereas Road Noise has always been intermittent, going live for short bursts only when I am on vacation, Timothy Gwyn Writes is more consistent, with a steady trickle of posts. So I’m going to move all the Road Noise content to TGW.

There is one other reason. This summer’s vacation has been cancelled. We had been planning a trip to Spokane in August. I was going to attend the World Science Fiction Convention (home of the Hugo Awards, and called Sasquan this year) and then check out Mt. St. Helens for some book research before we visited some of our favorite wine country spots in Washington and headed home. This is not a good time for me to leave Canada, as I have two new coronary stents. I’m feeling fine, but health insurance might be a problem.That leaves Road Noise with a very long hiatus.

Perhaps later in the year we might visit Halifax. Yes, there’s an SF convention there, too, called Hal-Con. It’s on the Halloween weekend. We could check out the Cabot Trail beforehand and we might pop over the Confederation Bridge for a look at Prince Edward Island.

Tim’s Road Noise will still be here, at least for a while, but there will be no new posts. Our trip to Halifax, if we go, will be written up on Timothy Gwyn Writes. The familiar Drive: and Dinner Debriefing: headers will be there to help everyone to find the travel articles and restaurant reviews.

If the merger works as I expect, the posts will be in chronological order, and for periods when both blogs were active, such as last fall’s visit to Ottawa for Can-Con combined with a leaf-peeping road trip through New England, the posts should be interleaved. Like my life.

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Chaise Cafe and the Cornerstone

I’ve been so busy with KeyCon and Timothy Gwyn Writes that I had to let my visits to  Winnipeg restaurants slide for a day or two. Now it’s time to catch up, and I’m looking forward to telling you about a pair of restaurants that were very different, but both fun in their own way.

On Saturday, after a hectic day of trying to be both a sci-fi geek and a social butterfly -I’m better at the former- I was ready to unwind with my wife and an old friend for dinner. I dropped by Donna’s downtown condo and then the three of us set off for Chaise Cafe and lounge on Provencher. There was a moment’s confusion when we arrived for our seven o’clock reservation, but the staff didn’t panic and got it sorted out quickly and quietly. They admitted that they had misplaced our table, (which sounds so much better than misplacing our reservation!) but in only a minute or two we were seated at a wonderful little table tucked away by the bar. Sheltered from the main room by a low wall, I loved having more conversation and less background noise.

I’m sure the easiest way to get to know this restaurant would be to go for the prix fixe option. Everyone at the table shares a couple of salads, two different pizzas and samples of the entrees. A pasta course is included if you have room, or you can ask for seconds of something. Dessert is part of the deal, too. As it happens, we did not go that route, and please don’t blame the restaurant if I explained any part of that incorrectly. There is one other interesting thing about the menu here. The entrees are not described in detail because the details vary from night to night. There is always pork tenderloin, for instance, but the chef doesn’t prepare the same pork dish today as yesterday. Tired sigh department: if I got a free salad every time a restaurant misspelled Caesar, I’d eat so much romaine, I’d look like one.

What we did was order a different salad each, and we mostly minded our own, then a different pizza each which we herded into the middle of the table and shared. For its versatility, we got a bottle of the Mirasou Pinot Noir. The specifics: Donna chose the Roasted Butternut Squash salad and the Pepperoni pizza with the mushroom option; Caroline went for the Roasted Beet salad and the Fig and Prosciutto pizza; and I picked the House Garden salad and the alfredo based Wild Mushroom pizza. We all enjoyed our salads, and I could see myself ordering the beet salad on a return visit. That means it wasn’t overwhelmingly dedicated to beets- they were more of a garnish or an accent to the greens and chevre. All the pizzas were thin-crust style, and came sliced into sixths, which meant (lengthy pause for Tim to do the math) we could each have two slices of each kind. In actual fact, the ladies ate one slice of each, and I had a second slice of two, so we could comfortably have ordered two pizzas for the three of us.  I doubled down on the Mushroom and on the Prosciutto and Fig. The pepperoni was nice, but perhaps the saltiest. I wanted another slice, but I was being good. Caroline thought the pepperoni pizza was best, praising the tomato sauce. Oddly, the Prosciutto she chose was her least favourite. No one had room for dessert, but we made sure to take the leftovers home.

I liked the food, the decor, the price and the service, and I’d happily go back.

On Sunday, my convention schedule was shorter. Before I move on to my next feature restaurant, let me just mention that the Winnipeg Radisson hotel’s 12 Resto Bar is not somewhere I would go out of my way to visit. At lunch one day I had a small salad and a large hamburger, but neither was exciting enough to justify the cost. The next day I wanted a light appetizer and ordered the crab-stuffed mushroom caps. The waitress was careful to make sure I understood that the vinaigrette would be imparting a vinegar taste to the dish. She was correct, and it was a little startling how it overpowered the other flavours. I’ve had other versions of this dish that I enjoyed more. Also, I thought $13 was a lot for three mushroom caps.

The month of May does not guarantee spring-like weather in Winnipeg. It does not guarantee howling winds and sleet, either, but they are apparently an option. I joined Caroline at Donna’s village condo again, and we made plans. If I had to live in a city, I have to concede that a downtown neighbourhood with restaurants, coffee shops, a supermarket and a wine store would be fun. Tonight, we took advantage of Donna’s central location to eat close by. It was no night for a stroll, so we decided on the Cornerstone, just steps away from Donna’s place. I didn’t like the bare decor, but it was warm and dry, and comfort food won the day. Well, Caroline had the flatbread and kale salad, which isn’t comfort food in my dictionary… I had the soup of the day, a tasty smoked potato clam chowder. Donna and I both ordered a steak sandwich. This last comes open-faced on a ciabatta bun, and is topped with mushrooms and a fried egg. It was delicious.

“Is there anything that isn’t improved by the addition of an egg?” Donna asked, contentedly.

“Beer.” I replied.

“I meant food.”

“Ice cream.”

It’s this kind of thing that forces me to eat with old friends, instead of refined company. A friend, they say, is someone who knows all about you, and likes you anyway. One day, I’m going to write a science fiction scene about a cantina where the aliens order chocolate ice cream and poached eggs. I’ll dedicate that story to Donna.

Good food, reasonable bill. I’d go there again, but I wish for decor that didn’t remind me of an office.

The weather didn’t worsen during dinner, but the forecast for morning was dreadful. We decided to make the drive in the evening after all. We loaded the car, grabbed a dark roast, and headed out into the rain and wind. It was both hands on the wheel and no cruise control until the highway grew some trees to break the gusty northeast wind. The rest of the drive was okay, if slow. Never turned the wipers off, but the temperatures stayed above freezing until we got home.

Birthday in Winnipeg

It was my birthday this week, so Caroline wanted to take me out for dinner somewhere nice. We had to run into Winnipeg anyway, to pick up her mukluks at the shoe repair place- The Leather Patch added crepe outsoles to them over the holidays.

We had a few things to take care of at Polo Park, so lunch at Joey made sense. I broke out of my usual sushi and steak pattern and had the mushroom cheddar burger with the house salad. Caroline usually has the Ahi tuna burger, but went with a cheeseburger and fries. I enjoyed the house salad, which was a kind of slaw with nuts and seeds and two beautiful discs of watermelon radish. The waitress told me the dressing was a vinaigrette, but it seemed more like a creamy dressing to me. My burger was large, meaty and tasty. Caroline is usually a big fan of Joey’s shoestring fries, but this time around they were on the pale side. Just the way I like them, but she’s more of a crispy golden-brown person. Santa got Joey new chairs, by the way, and I found the stretched leather slings very comfortable.

Polo Park was pretty much a zoo. Boxing week stuff seemed to be dragging on, and it took us several minutes just to find a parking spot. Pedestrian traffic in the mall was heavy – when I wanted to find a railing to lean on while Caroline popped into one of the boutiques, I had to move one store over just to find a free space. Still, we did accomplish her goal of finding a gift set of her perfume, and it was on sale at The Bay.

Cruised on over to the Hilton and got checked in, then headed out to pick up Donna on the way to InFerno’s on Academy. This is InFerno’s second location, and the menu is slightly different, with not quite as French a motif as the Saint Boniface bistro. We found the floor-plan very crowded, requiring you (and the waiters) to squeeze between tight tables to get to your seat. Some tables were separated from the next by only a curtain of strings, giving the barest suggestion of privacy.

We had mostly seafood. Donna and I started with the tuna ceviche, which we both thought was very good. Big pieces of tuna, light lime flavour, avocado and crunchy vegetables. Caroline went with the halibut chowder, but she was disappointed in it. She found it bland, saying it was like warm milk with fish in it. She was surprised that it contained no potato or other thickener. She ate only a few spoonfuls, and the waiter took it off the bill.

For entrees, Donna broke the mold and ordered the half duck, while I picked the salmon with curry and Caroline chose mussels. This finally got her the frites she had been wanting, and the serving was very generous, both of the fries and the mussels. Donna’s duck was a big dinner, too, and looked very good. My salmon needed work. I like my salmon on the rare side, and while chefs often respect this, there is a tendency for restaurants to serve it medium so as not to get complaints. Our waiter and I discussed this, and he said he’d ask for mine to be more rare. It came pretty much medium, with fully cooked ends and pink and flaky with a little moistness in the center. Oh well. When our waiter asked how it was, I said it was okay, better in the middle. He offered to replace it, but the ladies were already eating, so I declined. He came back a minute later to say that he was not convinced I was really happy, and had ordered a second salmon filet, more rare. He brought it out on a side plate, and it was cooked perfectly to my taste, warm red and wet. I ate both. The curry sauce was mild and interesting, so I enjoyed my dinner. I give points to our server, who was not about to let me walk out thinking this was another restaurant with so-so salmon.

For a wine to match all of these diverse dishes, we chose the Mark West Pinot Noir, and it was a good pick. It was versatile enough to pair up with everything.

Caroline saved room for dessert, and ordered an almond lemon pie. I liked it for being more about the almonds than the lemon, Donna thought the cream topping was excellent, but Caroline had hoped for something with a softer curd – this was stiffer, almost like cheesecake. Despite each of us picking up a fork, we did not eat it all.

Overall, the menu was interesting, the wine-list was wide-ranging, and the service was excellent. The tightly packed tables and noise were real turn-offs, though, so the food would have had to have been outstanding to make us interested in going back, and it fell short of that.

PVR 7.1

Spent the rest of the day loafing quietly around the hotel. Finally managed to meet a guest who actually came from Britain. All the other ones I tried turned out to be British expats who now live in Canada or the USA. It takes twelve hours from Gatwick to here, apparently. That would be like us flying to Hawaii or something; I don’t think I’d find it worth that much trouble.

The coffee reverted to about a three on my new ten-point scale today. Out of desperation, I ordered an espresso and threw it into my half-empty travel mug. This brought it up to about a six. It was so good last year, I don’t know what happened. The travel mug was my best idea this year. Coffee gets cold fast on the outdoor restaurant terrace at 0700, and the hotel cups are accordingly small, which means you have to spend the whole morning flagging down waiters. So giant insulated cup with lid was great.

The Kobo was also a lifesaver, and the bluetooth earphones came in handy for drowning out people who are even more annoying than me.

We went up to the sushi bar / rooftop pool this afternoon, just for a change of scenery. This was also the first time I actually put on a bathing suit and got wet deliberately. We met some friendly and fun-loving people, so we did not stay long. (Forgot to bring my headphones!) Besides, it’s a smoking area.

We had heard reports of unusually late maid service here, and found them to be true. Once our room was done at around noon, but more usually in the middle of the afternoon. Today the maid didn’t knock on the door until five o’clock. We declined, as it wasn’t a convenient time to vacate the room. Besides, it’s our last night.

Not looking forward to the trip home much. We’ve had enough time here, I’m just not very excited at the prospect of the whole airport and flying thing. I realize this is ironic for a professional pilot, but do you enjoy doing stuff on vacation that reminds you of work? Also, I was anticipating being able to get to the car for winter coats and boots while we wait for our luggage in Winnipeg, and then I remembered that we’ll have to claim the bags first to go through Canada Customs. Oh well.

Looking forward to seeing the cats and being pointedly ignored.

PVR 7.0

Once a week or so, I get only half a night’s sleep. Last night was that night. I got up and went down to the deserted coffee shop to read on my Kobo. It was oddly quiet between 0300 and 0600.

I did manage to nap a little before breakfast, and then Caroline suggested busing out to the Marina for our morning walk. That went well, the very first bus we saw was the right one. We strolled through the peaceful residential area surrounding the golf course, away from the big hotels.

I reverted to my old habit of scoping out the licence plates on cars. American plates included California, New Mexico and Utah. Mexican plates, besides the obvious Jalisco and Nayarit, included the Federal District, Agua Caliente and Guerrero.

Twenty five minutes into our walk, we reached the highway again. Rather than retrace our steps, we walked back to the Hilton, hiking along the highway past the Marine hospital, the Harbour Master’s headquarters and Wal-Mart. That gave us about an hour, and since we didn’t get properly started until nearly 1000, it was getting warm by the time we finished.

Right now, I’m waiting to pre-select our seats for tomorrow’s flight home.

PVR 6.1

Okay then. We cabbed to the Cathedral and walked to our old haunts from there. Got completely lost for a few blocks; everything has changed so much! Then we found Daquiri Dick’s and things started to look more like we remembered. Andale’s is gone. I wasn’t sure I remembered it from last year; I guess not. Tres Huastecas is still there, and so is Cafe de Olla, although it was closed for Christmas. That let us off the hook in one way. We had hoped to change some money in order to eat there, but all the money exchanges were closed. Probably because the banks were.

So we just walked around for a while. Suites Claudia and the Villa Blanca are still there, and so is the manager from the VB that we remember from twenty five years ago. He manages both of those buildings now, and neither of them is a hotel any more. Both have become condos.

Another of our old hotels, the Las Glorias has taken the name of it’s sister property across the road, so it is now known as the Hotel Suites Emperador, and it seems to have expanded. Restaurant row on Basilio Badillo has seen some changes, but Fredy’s Tucan is still going and I see Roberto’s Puerto Nuevo hasn’t closed after all, it has simply moved across the street from where it used to be. We made no attempt to go inland far enough to see if La Hacienda or Los Arbolitos are still around. I could google them, I suppose, but that’s not the same as walking down memory lane.

Snagged another cab to come back to the hotel. We’ll eat here after all. Caroline’s not really in the mood for pasta, but she’ll just have to suck it up. That’s a spaghetti joke, son. Try not to take everything so seriously.

PVR 6.0

Apparently I cannot count. Today is not day 6, tomorrow is. Oh well, I’m not going to go back and renumber everything now. But part of me wants to!

Down for breakfast early again today, as the staff were just getting set up. Most of them probably had a late night last night, but not one of them showed the slightest sign of having over indulged. Coffee rated an eight on my ten point scale, which I just instituted today.

I cringe whenever I see someone open the glass doors to the restaurant by placing their hand on the glass. The staff spend all day wiping off the prints. No wonder they jump to open the door for you! I am very careful now to only touch the handles. There is a young man on the staff, Marco, who we see everyday cleaning the mirrors in the elevators, and polishing the stainless steel doors. He must have the temperament of a saint. I would go berserk on my first day, and they would never get the bloodstains off.

We both thought it would be a nice day to walk on the beach, as it was cool and would likely be quiet all morning. Caroline quickly decided the sand was uncomfortably cold and chickened out. I set off to walk as far towards town as I could manage, and made it to the south end of the designated turtle hatchery zone. I soon found out it was much warmer to walk at the edge of the surf, where the warm water had taken the night chill off the sand.

I waded through one of the little rivers, and that’s where I stopped to photograph these birds, which I assume are egrets.

Waders

There were sandpipers, too, and pelicans, but they didn’t let me get close.

Got caught by a wave on the way back, and thoroughly splashed to the waist. I did see it coming a few seconds in advance, but was not quick enough to escape, or quick-thinking enough to hurl my smartphone to safety on the dry sand. Luckily, the phone was not affected, but I dared not return it to my saltwater soaked pocket.

Back to the hotel to check in with Caroline and get a change of clothes. Napped until the maid came, then bailed out and went to sit with C at the cabana. Over lunch, we decided we would like to get a proper look at the south side at least once during this trip, so unless the weather turns rainy, we are going to take a cab downtown in the afternoon, walk around a little, and go to the Cafe de Olla for supper. I didn’t think they would be open today, but their website doesn’t say they’re closed, so we’ll go see.

Only a handful of restaurants still remain from our first visits to PV. Pizza Joe’s morphed into an art gallery years ago, Puerto Nuevo came, prospered and went. Cafe Adobe burst onto the scene in a flurry of great reviews but faded away again just as fast. Same with the Argentine place. Last year, we noticed that Tres Huastecas is still going, as were Andale’s and a few others we used to eat at. The Choco-Banana lady turned into a kiosk. Let me rephrase that. The Choco-Banana lady turned her business into a kiosk. Sometimes writing is more fun if you don’t stop to think too hard about the grammar!

More after supper.