After trying unsuccessfully to fly to Toronto last Wednesday, on Thursday I had better luck. My Westjet flight that day left late, but nevertheless, an hour later I arrived at Pearson International Airport where a prearranged SUV from Avenue Car Service met me, and 20 minutes later I arrived at the downtown Hilton Toronto for a happy re-union with my lovely wife who arrived at almost the same time as I did.
Our room at the Hilton smelled like someone had been recently smoking in it, and when we complained, they upgraded us to a suite (with a sitting room area set apart from the bed, and a tv in between that could swivel to face either). They also sent us a bottle of decent red wine (local vintage) and a cheese plate to apologize. It pays to have status with Hilton! We settled in a bit, and then decided to go for a walking tour of the surrounding area before dinner. I found a self-guided tour, jotted down some notes on our map, and off we went.
The first stop on Queen Street was the New City Hall, a modern building that opened in 1964 whose complex is still under construction. Across the street from that is the Old City Hall, a beautiful Romanesque Revival building that is still in use as a courthouse.
From there we headed in the general direction of St. James Cathedral, stopping at Hudson’s Bay Company along the way to admire their decorative accents, large Native American-style canoes and white moose figures.
St. James Cathedral struck us for a couple of rather negative reasons. First of all, the building, while beautiful, looks rather run down and badly in need of repair. Second, the well-manicured grounds around the Cathedral are home to many people walking their dogs, so that the dogs are doing their business all over the grass and shrubbery surrounding a sacred building! I was astounded to see that this is allowed, but in searching the Internet, I can find only one person complaining about this. So I guess I am the second one! This is disrespectful, terribly wrong, and should not be allowed to continue.
Leaving the Cathedral behind, we crossed the street to St. Lawrence Hall, and then walked around the block to King Street and St. Lawrence Market, reputed to be one of the best and largest indoor markets in the world. Unfortunately, the Market was closing, but we resolved to come back another day and explore it fully.
There were still a few more potential destinations on our tour, but we decided that since I had been directing where we were going until that point, Therese should now have a chance to say which way to go and where. The first place she led us to was the Flatiron & Firkin, a stylish tavern full of dark wood and friendly people, for a much-needed break from our walking tour. We each enjoyed a pint of Barking Squirrel Lager, a local award-winning brew that was quite refreshing and delicious.
At this point it was getting a little late, and Therese allowed me to take back the reins just a bit and steer us more or less in the direction of our dinner destination, Ematei Restaurant.
Some people think that Ematei is hard to find because it is on a side street, but even though their sign was not lit, we found it with no problem. Ematei has the reputation for doing Japanese food a little differently than the usual way, with the result that some Torontonians, who after all don’t have many Japanese-run restaurants to choose from, feel like Ematei is not doing it right. But for those who enjoy the unconventional, Ematei strikes a chord. And since we love unconventional food, as long as it’s good, we were sure we would love Ematei.
The menu is extensive, but after some considerable examination, we came up with a list of things to order. Our order included: grilled eggplant with bonito flakes, sexy calamari leg tempura, a fried eel roll (the one rather ordinary thing we tasted), Ebi-Su (a dish with pickled seaweed, cucumbers and shrimp that was my favorite), Sukiyaki don (beef and rice with a raw egg on top of it) and Karubi Yakitori (a short rib skewer that I had all to myself). We enjoyed the meal immensely. If I had had any more appetite, I could’ve continued eating the rice from the Sukiyaki don until there was none left. And not only was the food good, but it was reasonably priced.
I can’t really say that my first day in Toronto was so much fun that I completely forgot the ordeal of enduring cancelled flights and bad weather that I went through in getting there. But dinner at Ematei and being with Therese steered me in that direction. And the great thing is that we had 3 more days in Toronto ahead of us!