Sunday, August 24th, 2014, 7:16 pm
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Per feedback, I’ve included star ratings for the dishes we ate on this trip. Your tips on how to further improve trip notes is always appreciated!
This past Tuesday I drove to Canada with my wife, my son Rafi (3 years old), daughter Talia (11 months), and 2 of my 5 brothers, Mendy and Akiva (19 and 15).
Let me tell ya’, keeping a group with ages like that entertained is no easy task. We didn’t do nearly the amount of things I had on our list, but that’s just fine. We kept everyone entertained every day and there’s no shame in leaving things to do for next time.
It was our first road trip with the kids, who have flown on dozens and dozens of flights. But sometimes flying just makes no sense and this is definitely within those limits.
We left Cleveland at 9:20am and got to Niagara Falls at 12:40pm.
Even with a somewhat favorable exchange rate (C$1=USD$0.91), Canada is shockingly expensive. The 13% tax on top of everything makes it even worse.
The Niagara Bridges website was very helpful for deciding which route to take.
Niagara Falls is overwhelmingly touristy and frankly I didn’t have much interest in overnighting there. While I’m a sucker for waterfalls my preference are the once discovered on epic drives like on Maui’s Road to Hana or the Great Ocean Road west of Melbourne. Or my favorite, Iguazu Falls that rises out of the rainforests between Argentina and Brazil.
But Niagara is a whole lot closer than those.
We started off grabbing some food from “Tatty’s Pizza.” The GPS isn’t great at finding it and the signage on the building says “Traveler’s Delight Restaurant” which doesn’t make it too easy to find.
Inside there is a “Mendel’s Burgers” section and a Pizza section.
Both are shockingly overpriced. A Plain pie is C$26.95. The meat side was even more overpriced with side dishes like onion rings costing more than C$10 with tax and sandwiches over C$20.
The food was below average, but I guess when there’s nothing else kosher for miles you take what you can get. The Men’s bathroom was caked in feces and there was no soap. For better or worse I didn’t discover that until after eating.
Felafel pie was edible but the price was hard to stomach, C$31.45. (4/10 stars)
Spicy Fries (C$4.95) (5/10 stars)
Don’t get the poutine at Tatty’s, it’s C$8.95, and we couldn’t eat it. (3/10 stars)
Maid of the Mist has been ousted from the Canadian side and the boat rides are now Hornblower cruises. You can buy tickets online so that you don’t have to wait in line. The time you pick doesn’t matter, you can ride earlier or later without issue.
Much of the trip was only made possible thanks to our new ErgoBaby baby carrier. Previously we had a BabyBjorn and it was just about worthless. But Mimi found the ErgoBaby a pleasure to use and she used it to carry Talia around to several places on the trip where a stroller would never fit, such as on the cruise.
It’s tough finding nearby parking so I was elated to find street parking right near the cruise. Alas it was a whopping C$10/hour. So I first went to find myself a bucket of ice (that I figured would be cute to pour over me once I was already soaked on the boat) and then paid for an hour of parking. The boat ride is just 15 minutes and runs every 15 minutes, so I figured that would be enough.
Alas the lines turned out to be long and I wound up with a parking ticket to boot. Luckily it was just C$30. The long lines also meant half my ice had melted, c’est la vie.
It was actually more ice than one of the people I challenged, AJK, got his hands on. Though the coolness factor of doing it in a shower onboard an A380 far exceeds doing it on a boat!
Niagara Falls (American Falls):
Is Rafi being left with an indelible impression and priceless memories or is he just thinking that he can really use the bathroom about now?
Everyone gets a poncho but it was hot and muggy so we didn’t put them on. That’s was a mistake as all of us got completely and utterly drenched.
Originally we had planned to do Cave of the Winds on the American side of the border as well. However coming from Cleveland that would mean going out of the way to get there and the border crossing times at the Rainbow Bridge were an hour compered to 5 minutes on the Peace Bridge.
Additionally there are lots of steps and it would have been something that Mimi and I would have enjoyed by ourselves, but not shlepping 2 kids along. so we jettisoned that idea. Had Rafi been a few years older we probably would have tried it, but the boat ride got us close to enough to experience the falls up close and personal that none of the other tourist traps seemed necessary.
Traffic to Toronto was very heavy nearly the entire way on the QEW and it took nearly 2 hours to get there. We checked into the Park Hyatt at about 6pm and started getting the kids to bed.
This is my least favorite Park Hyatt property in the world, there’s really no excuse for it having the Park Hyatt flag. Service is not at all personal and the rooms are dated. But the rates reflect that.
I used some Hyatt free anniversary nights for a double room for my brothers and used 7,500 points plus $100 with a suite upgrade certificate for our room. We were booked into the Park Suite but were upgraded to the Luxury One-Bedroom Suite.
The Park Hyatt is located between downtown and the Jewish community in south Bathhurst.
The suite had 2 entrances and 2 full bathrooms.
Luxury One-Bedroom Suite Dining Room/Living Room:
Luxury One-Bedroom Suite Guest Bathroom:
Luxury One-Bedroom Suite Bedroom Sitting Area:
Luxury One-Bedroom Suite Bedroom
Luxury One-Bedroom Suite Master Bathroom:
The Park Hyatt Toronto won’t provide a free kosher breakfast for diamonds, but they did provide a kosher amenity consisting of Martins Malbec, crackers, bread, and a couple of dips:
The hotel housecleaning is a bit odd. They threw away the box to Rafi’s favorite toy, his Magnatiles. But after 3 days they still didn’t clear away the amenity leftovers…go figure.
Once our kids were asleep my brothers came in to babysit and Mimi and I walked to the Windsor Arms hotel, a boutique hotel just a few minutes walk from the Park Hyatt.
Every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday they have kosher restaurant nights. For C$75 you get an appetizer, entree, and dessert. The menu changes monthly and you can view the current options on their website here.
The ambiance and service at the Windsor Arms was impeccable and the food was very good as well.
Foccacia bread is included and is delicious (8/10 stars):
Roasted red pepper gazpacho is very spicy, but hits the spot (8/10 stars):
Felafel with babaganoush was the best I’ve tried in a very long time (9/10 stars):
The grilled white asparagus with pesto orzo was very good as well (7/10 stars):
The Ribeye steak was phenomenal (9/10 stars):
The portion of duck breast was very generous and very good (7/10 stars)
Flourless chocolate cake was good, but was a bit too “pesachdik” (6/10 stars)
The Cashew maple crème parfait was also just OK (5/10 stars). Shame that desserts here are just an afterthought, as everything was perfect otherwise.
Windsor Arms Kosher Dining Room:
Windsor Arms Kosher Dining Room:
The next day we drove an hour to the African Lion Safari. In the planning stages of the trip we had though that we might be able to squeeze this into the day after Maid of the Mist.
Don’t try that.
The safari is excellent and you can spend 1-2 hours driving leisurely through that.
Plus there are several shows as well as a train ride, boat ride, and a kids water park included.
The Safari isn’t cheap a C$32.95 plus tax per adult, but how mamy activities are there that will keep 6 people from 11 months to 29 years old thoroughly entertained?
When driving through the safari they require that you stay in the car and keep your windows closed. Listen, it’s no Kruger Park, but it’s a whole lot closer. Only bummer was that you couldn’t feed any of the animals like you can in some other safaris.
You drive through all of the different continents to view the different animals found on each.
The lions were neat to see, go in the morning unless you want to see them sleeping:
The highlight though were the monkeys. Perhaps not for the Jeep behind us which had its windshield gaskets ripped off by a monkey (you do sign a waiver acknowledging damage can happen) but it was really cool to view a monkey through our moonroof. You can also take a bus through the safari, but what’s the fun in that?
OK, so the kangaroos/wallabies kept in a cage is very disappointing, especially considering we practically played with them in the wild in Australia…
The kids water park with slides and other water games is included with admission:
There are also several animals in cages you can walk around and see:
Rafi loved the train ride around the grounds:
A boat ride is also included in the ticket price:
There are several bird and elephant shows. We only went to the birds of paradise show which was excellent. But after that point Rafi had his fill of shows.
I’ve never seen a parrot talk or sing as well as the one they have here.
We got to the Safari at 10:30am and left just before 2pm. You can easily spend 2 more hours than that there.
We figured we might try to get to Centre Island, which requires a ferry ride from downtown Toronto. On the island there is an kids amusement park and you can rent family style bikes.
However after leaving the Safari we got stuck behind a broken down train where we sat for over an hour which killed any other activity plans for the day.
So we headed over to BaLi Laffa for a late lunch. We took the 407 toll route rather than the free 401 due to a 30 minute accident delay on the 401, it was the only time we took the 407 on the trip. It’s hard to figure out exactly how much I’ll be billed, but it seems like it should be about C$9-$10.
The baby back ribs, C$30.99, had a great flavor. Unfortunately they had almost no meat on them making them a terrible value for the money they cost (6/10 stars)
The steak sandwich, C$17.99, also had a great flavor, but was a bit too tough to eat on a sandwich. (6/10 stars)
Shwarma Laffa, C$10.99, is very good (7/10 stars)
Kebob Laffa, C$10.99, was good as well (6/10 stars)
Afterwards we went hunting for what Rafi calls “Banff Cereal.” It’s actually Quaker Oatmeal Squares and it’s only certified kosher parve in Canada. We had it in Banff and brought home some boxes, but he’s been asking for it since we finished those over a year ago.
I know Costco in the US carries it so we went there first. They didn’t have any but I did bump into a DDF’er there. Costco did have several discounted gift cards including including 2 adult admissions to Canada’s Wonderland for C$78.99, adult admission to the Royal Ontario Museum for C$17.99 or kids admission for C$12.99, Niagara Fallsview Indoor Waterpark for C$28.99, and admission to the African Lion Safari for C$28.99 for adults and C$21.99 for kids.
Next we tried Super Walmart but struck out there as well.
In the end we finally found it at No Frills.
Then it was back to the hotel to put the kiddos to bed and take advantage of my brothers’ babysitting services.
We went up the CN Tower, which is a total rip-off tourist trap. But I had to actually do it to confirm that 😉
It’s C$32 per person to go up the main viewing platform/glass floor and another C$12 to go to the top. If your money is burning a hole in your pocket then just be sure to allow for lots of time as lines going up are long and lines to come back down were far longer.
View from the observatory:
The windy outdoor terrace:
The glass floor is not very photogenic, not nearly as neat as Chicago’s Willis Tower where it actually juts out of the building. I won’t bore you of a picture of me on it though it always is a thrill (for a few seconds at least) to walk on a floor like that.
Afterward we went for a late dinner at Marron Bistro.
Fried Cauliflower, C$16, was excellent. So was the dipping sauce it came with (8/10 stars):
Smoked Brisket Sliders, C$18, were basically just hot pastrami sandwiches. They tasted very good (especially with the dipping sauce that came with the cauliflower) but weren’t what I was expecting. (7/10 stars)
Duck Spring Rolls, C$18, were inedible (1/10 stars):
The braised ribs, C$54, were delicious, with more meat than I’ve ever seen on ribs and a wonderful sauce. (9/10 stars):
The Ribeye, C$45, was a good steak, nothing out of this world though the peppercorn sauce was excellent (7/10 stars):
Creme Brulee, C$12, was very good (8/10 stars):
For breakfast the next day we went to Omni Java & Jewels, home to their famous cheesecakes:
We ordered lots of sweet goodies and everyone gobbled them up.
Cheese Blintzes were excellent (8/10 stars)
Mimi got a caramel macchiato, C$3.85:
And I had a mocha frapuccino, C$4.95:
Belgian Waffles, C$9.99, were good (6/10 stars)
The chocolate chip pancakes, C$8.99, were good as well (6/10 stars):
French Toast, C$8.99, was excellent: (8/10 stars)
But the real treats were the desserts:
The Brownie cheesecake, C$6.99, is pure heaven and a must try (10/10 stars):
Peanut Butter Smores Pie, C$5.99, was too rich for my blood, (5/10 stars)
Lemon Meringue Pie, C$5.99, was good, but not the best version you’ll find around (6/10 stars):
Caramel cheesecake, C$5.99, was excellent (8/10 stars)
The white chocolate cheesecake, C$5.99, was excellent as well (8/10 stars)
We spent the day at the CNE or Canadian National Exhibition which runs this year from 08/15 through 09/01.
Admission was C$18 for adults, C$14 for kids 5-13, and free for under 5.
The grounds are enormous and there’s more than enough here to keep anyone entertained for the day. There are tons of live performances and shows, games, rides, etc.
Bird shows are held throughout the day:
The rides pricess are pretty confiscatory. You’ll pay C$4-$5 per ride or another C$38 for unlimited rides per person. Rafi went on a couple rides, but considering Cleveland has a great kids amusement park in Memphis Kiddie Park where better rides are just $1 each, we cut him off pretty quickly.
Cool down from the humidity:
See sand and rock sculptures being created:
Rafi loved the Dog Disco show, though he had no interest in seeing the dogs afterward:
Rafi had a blast with the firefighter exhibits where you can test your skills and climb into the firetruck. The playful firemen even photobombed our family picture in front of the truck 😀
Open a credit card and get a free T-Shirt. Yay!
We were at the CNE from 10am-4pm. We never did get to other activities like the Science Museum or Aquarium. Perhaps on the next trip, though by then maybe Rafi will appreciate the NHL hall of fame as well.
That night the Park Hyatt held one its monthly kosher nights at Annona Restaurant. It’s asininely ridiculously priced at C$175, but how could I not try and review it for the benefit of my dear readers 😉
Ambiance and service was not as polished as at Windsor Arms. And the subway rumbling through every few minutes didn’t help. Nor did the plethora of flies.
A menu outlined the 8 course extravaganza that was to come. It’s a menu that a true foodie and someone that cares about presentation would love.
The evening started with a glass of champagne:
The chef talked about the challenges of cooking kosher:
The Edimame lime dip was the most intriguing part of the starter course (7/10 stars)
The duck was far too rich for my tastes, it actually for me fairly nauseous. So much for me being a foodie. (4/10 stars)
How bad is it that I enjoyed the “baguette” more than the rockfish? I mean the fish was fine, didn’t taste like much though the spicy sauce on top was nice (6/10 stars)
A nice small salad, served in an odd container from the Jetsons (7/10 stars)
A very good piece of chicken with a yummy potato flower on top (7/10 stars)
This may have been the highlight of the night (9/10 stars)
The steak was very good, but again, not exceptional. I couldn’t stand the pate. The herb toasts were good though. (7/10 stars)
Everything was good, nothing outstanding once again. (7/10 stars) The parfait was probably the best thing
A take-home package with a sunkist-like candy was given out as well:
We wanted to try out Ben & Izzy’s but they were closed on Thursday and Friday. Would have been nice if their website or phone mentioned that before going there to find the sign in the door.
There were a couple of DDF reports lavishing praise on their Jack Daniel’s pulled brisket sandwich and a couple DDF reports saying it was rubbish, so I was hoping to try it the polarizing sandwich for myself. Alas it wasn’t meant to be.
For brunch on Friday we went to D-Lites in Thornhill/North Bathurst.
One of my brothers got the breakfast special for C$7.99 which came with a bagel, eggs, hash browns, and a pancake. He actually asked for a sesame bagel but a poppyseed one came out without explanation. Just a few minutes later the table next to us ordered the special and the waiter brought out a sesame bagel saying that it was the freshest flavor they had. He said the breakfast food was pretty bland.
The french onion soup in a breadbowl, C$7.99, is good, though the soup could be thicker (6/10 stars)
Ravioli, C$14.99, was not too shabby (7/10 stars)
The Eggplant Parmesan, C$14.99, was excellent, crunchy and zesty in all the right ways (9/10 stars):
I asked if I could substitute the caesar salad (which comes with the eggplant) for some garlic bread though the salad still came out:
Mimi ordered a veggie sandwich, C$11.99, that she liked:
We ordered tempura vegetables, C$11.99, that were pretty good, they came with a great spicy mayo (7/10 stars)
And we split a sushi pizza, C$11.99 that was decent as well (6/10 stars). But they’ve got nothing on Chicago’s amazing Rice Crackers you can get at Shallot’s.
In the same complex as D-Lites is the amazing looking Sobey’s market, though we didn’t have time to go through there. There’s also a kosher Second Cup where we got this delicious Icepresso cholov yisroel frozen coffee drink (9/10 stars):
Second Cup has lots of other great baked goods. The Blueberry cake muffin was very good (7/10 stars) but what really stood out was the phonominal lemon meringue pie, which was heavenly (10/10 stars).
And with that we drove straight home. We left Toronto at 11:45am and got home at 5:15pm. We took the 401 which added 10 minutes but cut out the 407 tolls. We went via the Peace Bridge which had a 45 minute delay and we made a 25 minute pit stop for gas and bathroom breaks at the Angola rest stop, which brought back childhood memories of stopping there and looking down at the cars on the highway below your feet.
I made sure Rafi took a gander as well.