The Drake Hotel, Not Just for Celebrities and Trend Setters

My first experiences with the Drake Hotel in Toronto consisted of waiting in line to pay cover, or waiting in line to get onto the rooftop patio and then paying $15 for a drink. One time we weasled our way onto the patio for a romantic, delicious dinner an hour and a half after we had arrived; another time I brushed elbows with Adrian Grenier of the hit show Entourage as he prepared for his band to play downstairs. I agree that this is a great spot to spend a summer evening, but it doesn’t always seem worth all of the fuss.
Then I was introduced to the Drake weekend brunch by a good friend, and haven’t turned back since. You have a few options as to where you want to dine: there is the Drake Café, located on the west side of the hotel, which has a casual, simple patio; the spacious and uniquely decorated bar area; or the darker atmosphere of the restaurant itself. All dining occurs on the main floor for breakfast, but dinner includes service on the rooftop patio or “Sky Yard”, on fashionable benches covered with pillows, giving it a Mata Hari harem sort of feel, but with lighter overtones.
The nice thing about breakfast is that it is a casual meal, and you usually don’t have to wait in line to get in. We did wait on one occasion, but they brought us melt-in-your-mouth mini croissants with jam, and all was quickly copacetic. They offer healthy options, such as granola and fresh fruit, but if you’re like me, when you go out for brunch on the weekends you want something hearty. I personally enjoy ordering eggs Benedict the morning after an evening of red wine, but they can be a risky choice. Some places will overcook your poached eggs, so that you miss out on that mingling of egg yolk, hollandaise, and ketchup. This is no good. But at the Drake, they always poach their eggs perfectly. And I will make this bold statement, but only because it’s true: the Drake Eggs Caleb is my favourite breakfast in Toronto. It comes with scrumptious smoked salmon, and hand cut French fries that marry exquisitely with the hollandaise sauce. The restaurant also offers unique choices like Southern Fried Chicken and Waffles, which comes with sweet Niagara cherry jam; this may sound like an odd combination, but it works. Especially for hangovers.
One of the most appealing things about the hotel space is the eccentric décor. It is artistic, trend setting, and has a gallery feel to it, which makes the experience one-of-a-kind. In the restaurant area, the walls are covered in life size pictures of a forest, illuminated in a way that reminds me of the Science Center in the 1980s. It works in modern decor because of our environmental consciousness and return to grass roots, especially in Toronto where the eco-friendly population is massive. There has also been a move towards nature in the decorating world, where we are seeing more and more natural wood, deer antlers, and other elements you’d expect to see at a cottage or a ranch.  Some of the decorating choices are really out there; I’m referring to the very realistic reproduction of the upper torso of a man, and his partially bald crown, replete with real hair on both his head and his back. It hits you as you come down the stairs from the patio and/or washrooms, and it is hard to avoid. I’m not completely sold on that piece, but overall, I’d like to get the name of their interior designer. The one recommendation I have for the Drake is to sort out the washrooms upstairs, because the smell was off-putting, and took away from the positive experience of the hotel.
If you don’t get a chance to try the fabulous blueberry scones during your meal, be sure to take some to go. They are a delectable way to reward yourself for being so forward thinking, and going to the Drake for breakfast.
The Drake Hotel is located at 1150 Queen St. W., Toronto. For more information, visit the Drake Hotel website at http://www.thedrakehotel.ca/dining/menu

When You Feel Like a Radio Station was Made for You

I know I speak for the masses in Toronto when I say that the radio culture has been going downhill there for years. When I first moved back to the GTA from the U.K. in 2005, there were still a few options: 93.5 was still old school hip hop and rap; 99.9 had a decent mix of new music and older classics; 104.5 hadn’t gone completely mainstream yet. However, by the time I left in 2010, most radio stations had become a melting pot of pop music, played on repeat. Often times I would switch stations, only to hear the same refrain from the same song. The only station I will really miss is 102.1, and even then, they go a little extreme-screamy-grunge sometimes, which I can only handle in small doses.
It was difficult to leave the amazing land of BBC Radio One in England, and with apologies to the CBC, nothing in Canada ever really compared to that experience. Until now.
I’ll admit that I was a bit nervous moving here, as my first summer  was littered with bad radio and scrolling through a lot of static, but then someone mentioned “The Peak” and I remembered the rogue, relatively little-known station with lots of potential, which had emerged at the end of last summer.
In the past year that station has found its identity and its audience, and my days of switching stations are over. It’s such a refreshing change to sit back and relax while driving, instead of fumbling with dials or changing songs on your IPod. Their tagline is “World Class Rock” and they play a mix of the soundtrack from my high school life (which happened in the mid to late 90s when alternative/rock music was at an all-time high), and new music that is both well-known and less-known, introducing new and local artists who are pumping out organic sound and powerful lyrics.
Today I enjoyed Beck’s “Girl”, Pearl Jam’s “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town”, “The High Road” by Broken Bells, “Cigarette” by Jeremy Fisher, “Ready to Start” by Arcade Fire, and the new single “Radioactive” by Kings of Leon. More seasoned bands like Sublime, The Kinks, U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Killers, and U2 also appeared on their playlist today. Sigh. I think I’m in love.

The Peak can be found at 100.5 FM, or for those who are outside the Vancouver area, you can stream the music on the web at http://www.thepeak.fm/

Sweet and Savoury Fusion Food is a Guaranteed Treat

Most people know by now that I am a foodie who loves to try new restaurants and experience great cuisine. Thus, it is a testament to high quality that the first place I returned to upon my arrival to Vancouver was The Flying Tiger. Sensory recall can be some of the most vivid in memory making, and The Flying Tiger never fails to deliver excellent results.

Coined as “Asian Street Food”, the menu entices the taste buds with a selection of curries, dumplings, short ribs and noodles, all using local ingredients. Most people who frequent The Flying Tiger treat it as a tapas restaurant so that they can sample several flavours throughout the evening. Although we have tried different specialties, we are always drawn to two things: the Roti Canai and the Pulled Duck Confit Crepes.

The Roti Canai consists of Malaysian fry bread with a yellow curry dipping sauce that is to die for. It is a thick curry that balances both sweet and savoury, and it always leaves you craving more. A woman at the table next to us was gushing about it, and said she wanted to eat it with a spoon she loved it so much. It was like she was reading my mind.

As for the crepes, the duck confit is tender and has a citrusy-orange taste that is complemented by a crisp jicama and cucumber slaw, and lots of fresh Vietnamese herbs such as mint and basil. It comes with mini sesame oil pancakes, and half the fun of eating it comes in putting the crepe together yourself. You can take your time smelling the fresh herbs before making your pick, and you can add as little or as much of the duck or slaw as you want. But the result is always the same: a delicious combination of flavours that command your attention and stay with you in the hours, days and weeks to follow.

The Flying Tiger is located at 2958 W 4th Ave. between Balaclava and Bayswater St. It is often busy, even on weeknights, so a reservation is recommended. You can book a reservation by calling or by filling in a form online: http://www.theflyingtiger.ca/

Surviving the Wet Coast

My first week in Vancouver was relatively uneventful and mild in terms of the weather – a few hot days at the beginning, followed by cooler days in the high teens (not exactly beach weather, but still nice enough to go for a walk along the Fraser River). After dealing with over 40 degrees of humidity back in Ontario, I was surprised to hear that most people don’t use air conditioning here. This bodes well for summers to come on the west coast.

I have never been one who dealt well with gloomy weather, but every time my hands were on the verge of frostbite this year, even with gloves on in the car, I figured any rainy day would be better than suffering through the double digit negatives out east.

Time will tell whether or not that is the truth, but for today, there is rain. And more rain. And more rain. I’m no weather girl, but you can often sense that the rain will end in reasonable time in Toronto, whereas my powers of prediction are lost out here. So when I embarked for the day in flip flops, I was on a mission for one thing: rain boots.

I went to Winners, hoping for a deal, as rain boots are unexpectedly expensive. Maybe because my only experience with them is “duckies”, the most popular shoe in my elementary school. To my dismay, Winners only had one style, a gold and blue flashy boot, which at $80 wasn’t really what I was going for. Instead, I went to The Bay, which just happens to be where I used to get my duckies, and after trying on the less comfortable no-name brand, saw some rain boots out of the corner of my eye. I recognized them as the rain boots from my dreams; the kind with a little white square at the front that says “Hunter”. Ever since I spied them on a friend in Montreal, I hoped for my own.

Everything inside me was telling me not to do it, but I took off my flip flops, put on my socks, and slipped one on. It fit like a glove. I walked around a little, debated a lot, wondered about the fact that I am unemployed, and brought them up to the cash. If I am going to survive the Vancouver rain, it is worth investing in the right footwear.

Ironically, the sales woman told me that I was the second girl from Ontario that she had sold boots to that day. Looks like I wasn’t the only one who was ill-prepared.

True to form (I used to wear new shoes to bed when I was younger just so I could wear them right away), I put the boots on in the store, and walked out confidently into the rainy weather. I have no fear.