I had been starting to go stir-crazy, it had been a week and a half of eating nothing but soup and I had only recently graduated to eating KD*, I was desperate for solid food when one day it hit me: French toast! I could make French toast for breakfast on the weekend!! I immediately sent off an excited (read: typo-filled) text about my (epic!) plans to my fiance. I started salivating at just the sheer thought of solid(ish) food. The response I got back was: why don’t we go out for brunch.

I spent the next fifteen minutes browsing the menu of The Green Wood when my eyes landed on the mother of all sentences: “cinnamon swirled brioche soaked in vanilla custard.” Needless to say, that is all I thought about for the rest of the day.

I was so psyched about our fooding outing to best new brunch of 2017. We were worried about it being busy, even though Google said max. 15 minutes wait, we still went for soon after open. We were worried for nothing, it was not busy. I was hungry for solid food, so it only made sense to order a side of Mennonite sausage. I don’t remember the last time a strawberry tasted that good. It was delicious French toast, alas I was not 100% and I had to forfeit the second half. It was a giant portion to boot. The (ever-so-slight) downside to no wait is that we were out of there way before 11am, meaning nomosas instead of mimosas.


*We’ll leave it here at the bottom as a footnote and not a part of the main post. Soft food because I had gum graft surgery.


Pinky’s Sounds Like Pinka’s

Pinky’s Ca Phe was voted best new restaurant 2017, and what do you know, they happen to be around the corner from Birreria Volo. We got there soon after open and were seated in the front room. I should mention that it is really easy to walk right by this place as it is a house. It was cold in the front room and not much room to sit. The food and drinks more than made up for that though. The restaurant did not have an online menu so I had to make do with what I read in reviews. And that pretty much swayed all of my choices. Even my drink choice. I had to go with the well-reviewed signature cocktail: the Pink Lady. Was it as delicious as I had anticipated? Yup. That goes for all of the dishes we ordered and then some. The ceviche was other-worldly. Even if it proved hard to eat. It was hard to scoop up enough ceviche with the taro root chips and towards the end we were scooping massive amounts onto small pieces of chips. It was only around the third course that we noticed the nearby chopsticks. Oops. This was a tapas restaurant so of course we ordered a few dishes. The second dish was the beef marrow, which was beef with cilantro and red onions with a beef marrow sauce. It was served in a hollowed out half bone. It was incredible, beating out the first dish by barely a smidge. Alas, they can’t all be greats. The third dish, their take on the roast beef sandwich with dip paled in comparison to the other two. It was tasty yes, but only if you really dipped the sandwich in the sauce. Otherwise the beef lacked seasoning (which makes sense, the sauce gives the seasoning). It was a good sandwich, don’t get me wrong but compared to the other two dishes it just did not stack up.


And what better way to cap off the night than at Birreria Volo, which just so happened to be right around the corner. Turns out Tuesday nights are the best day to go as they have a deal on Canadian beers. I was not having it, as soon as I saw they had Cantillon rose on tap my choice was set. We ended up splitting a second glass of it, its so damn good. It was worth every penny. I ordered a cider after that, the Cantillon after all was just 3oz and Brent had tried a bit of it. Luckily the cider was available as 5oz, I was dreading 10oz a bit as I was not anticipating drinking a lot that night. Especially given I had that cocktail earlier with dinner as well.


Worth The Short Walk

Nothing helps after a night of drinking more than a  brisk walk in the biting cold to get a cup of coffee. It helps that best new cafe of 2017, Strange Love, is a few blocks away from our house. While I waited for the barista to make my cappuccino I noticed a few handy things on the wall. The first one made me mad. Why had I not noticed the sign with seasonal drinks?! Augh! Then I noticed the accolades the barista had won at barista-ing competitions. And finally I noticed a sign about some fancy-shmancy fandangled way of processing the water used for the coffee. Whatever they did to that water, sweetmotherofgod everyone has to adopt it.  Brent had just ordered a drip coffee and there was no milk left at the condiments bar so he had it black. I looked at him skeptically- he is not a coffee drinker. I surmised this could only end badly, I had a sip to at least ascertain how badly. Turns out not badly at all. It was damn delicious. Which is more than I can say for the mediocre croissant. I had one bite and gave up on it, so not good. I could see myself going here regularly for a cup of coffee. Maybe next time I will pay more attention and note the seasonal offerings.


New Year, New Best Of’s

A new year means new best of’s, replenshing our stock of closer-by places and saving us from trudging afar. Best new bakery of 2017 was Butter Baker, and oh how convenient, it was at Bay and Dundas. Did it live up to the crowning title? Yup. It was damn delicious. We covered the gamut and got a pork bun, lemon meringue croissant, a slice of smores cake and a matcha and strawberry danish. While they were known for their cake, I found it lackluster and a paltry last place. Nowhere near as good as the danish or the pork bun. The lemon meringue was delicious (it was marshmallowy!), but I’ve had better croissants.

We devoured the croissant and bun in the bakery, standing at a small table by the door, crumbs just flying everywhere as we people watched the street. I imagine people walking by saw us and were like damn that must be a good bakery.

Having refuelled, we continued on our way back to our old neighbourhood. Best new bar, Mahjong, was a stones throw from Trinity Bellwoods park. I was not quite sure how to feel about a “secret” bar given how awkward it was trying to find the one in Kensington market. Brent ended up walking right past the place. I seriously thought he was joking. Once inside we grabbed a table and settled in. The place was not that busy (yet- by the end of the night it was crammed). We ordered a drink each, deciding to wait until the next round, by which time hopefully our friend would have arrived, before ordering food.

The first drink I had consisted of salted watermelon and soju. Oddly it was too heavy on the watermelon flavour. Our friend still had not arrived so we put off ordering food, instead going for round two. This time I had a cocktail with mezcal, tequila and ginger. It was way better than the first one, by far. We took a break from drinking, we hadn’t really had a proper meal yet. The braised beef and noodles absolutely hit the spot, even if it was hard to eat with chopsticks, especially towards the end. Having eaten, we were safe to return to drinking. Cocktail #3 had sake, soju, rosemary, lime and peychaud. It was now in second place, losing only to the ginger cocktail. Our friend had arrived at some point during round #3 and it would have been round to only stay for one round and so round four commenced soon enough. Besides there was really only one other cocktail on the fine menu that had caught my eye, the salty bar. It was the third best, losing only to the terrible watermelon one. It was a nice bar, good cocktails, but it’s too far to be a regular haunt.


Hot Springs Weekender: Day 3

Sun. Jan. 14, 2018:
White Sulphur Springs, WV to Charlotte, NC to Toronto:

I woke up at 9am and assumed that Brent was just hiding in the bathroom, so as not to disturb me while I slept. I had heard him rustling about earlier. Except once I woke up I realized he had gone running, duh. I was excited to head to the upper lobby for morning coffee except when I looked at the schedule to confirm I realized, to my horror, that coffee was only served from 6-9am. Who does that?! Who serves coffee so early and stops so short?! Accordingly, the line at the café was long. I was in a rush, I had left the hotel room at the start of a commercial break during yet another SYTTD marathon. I got a caramel latte and a glazed donut and rushed back to the room. I was fairly certain I had seen that episode before anyways. The next one was also old but I was 75% sure I had not seen it before. The old episodes really make me appreciate how much better the show has gotten.

When Brent got back we still had 45 minutes before checkout, enough time for a game of bowling. The scoring mechanism was broken so we kept track on a website appropriately called Bowling Genius. Brent was up first and he started off the game with a strike, setting the bar pretty high. Except that was his only strike. In addition to my only strike I got one spare. The score was 73-62, I won by a margin.

We checked out and went to the café to watch a cooking demonstration. The lady was good at her job, stealthily doing sales pitches as she prepped. At the end we each got to have a slice of spinach-artichoke dip bruschetta (with real parmesan) and I really did learn something. I need new kitchen gadgets. She convinced me I need a microplaner and soft cutting boards. When we handed in our valet ticket we were told it was going to be a 40-minute wait. I wish the people at check-out had said something. It was ok, as we still had a lot of time. I was just in withdrawal from watching SYTTD.

On the drive we passed by a Wendy’s just down the street from the hotel. We stopped for an early lunch, not knowing if we would be passing anything else easy on the way to the airport. It was a scenic drive to the airport. Every time I saw a road sign for a Chick-Fil-A I would briefly get excited for fooding options and immediately remember that it was Sunday and it was closed. I momentarily fell asleep during the podcast Origins about Larry David and Curb Your Enthusiasm but I immediately woke up as soon as commercials started.

We stopped at the Circle K gas station. While Brent tried to pump the gas I went inside in search of snacks. I found a plethora of goodies: Butterfinger crisp (the most delicious version of a Butterfinger in existence), Hershey Gold which was a weird peanut butter flavoured chocolate with pretzels in it (the cashier was way too excited about it, it was not that good), caramel M&Ms, spicy sweet chili heat Doritos and stale Halloween Cauldron Skittles (they were only 40 cents! What a deal!). We ended up having to go to a gas station across the street because this one required a zip code.

By the time we got to the airport I was a little bit hungry but not enough for a full meal. My bag had been pulled aside for inspection, I guessed correctly that it was the bags of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee I had stashed at the bottom. Not sure why, but they did swab them. From memory I led us to the Carolina Brewing Co. pub because we could not find it on the map. I had a glass of Alamos Malbec, assuming it was a Texas wine. It was not, it was a not-so-great California wine. Or maybe it was the stale Skittles I was munching on that affected the taste. On the way back to our gate I grabbed an Auntie Anne’s garlic parmesan pretzel, it seemed like just the right snack to tide me over for the rest of the day. Somewhere between sitting in the lounge and boarding the plane I lost my bag of caramel M&Ms. Our flight arrived 25 minutes early in Toronto.


Hot Springs Weekender: Day 2

Sat. Jan. 13, 2018:
Hot Springs, VA to White Sulphur Springs, WV:

It is a shame that we did not have a fridge in our room. The coffee was really good, even though I had to use that fake and gross powdered “creamer” in it. Or else learn to like black coffee? The two combined made for a mediocre but acceptable cup of coffee. Checkout was not until 11am and Brent had woken me up at 9am. We had time to go swimming! The plan was to check out the outdoor pool and then head to the indoor pool. I had deemed it to be not worth it to get a spa treatment to gain access to the serenity pool. Then I looked out the window. It was snowing. So much for the outdoor and serenity pools. We tried to enter the change rooms but apparently those were for the spa patrons. The pool change rooms were down a small set of stairs on the next floor down. It was confusing because we had looked there and the sign just said family change rooms were down there. The pool was very nice, with big windows letting in natural light. You could feel the hot spring water mixing with the pool water. As you swam away from the source the water became colder. Before leaving the pool, we hung out right at the source, where the hot spring water was being fed into the pool via a pretty fountain. It was so nice and warm. I wish the whole pool had been that warm. The change rooms happened to be right next to a door leading to the outside. Poor design, it was so cold and unpleasant. By the time I got to the shower I was shivering. The nozzle was broken so I had to use the other stall.

We packed up and got ready to leave. The plan was to get lunch on the way. The hotel was cashless and you couldn’t express check out if you had charges after 2am. It was not the best system- but then again that was what I had come to expect of the hotel.

It was so cold outside that the doors to the car were frozen (it had been raining when we pulled in the night before). Brent’s half of the king size Milky Way bar that he had left in the car was now frozen. But that is OK, because apparently this is a delicacy and was on our list of foods to try from the book, 1001 Things To Eat Before You Die. I did not get the appeal at all. No stretchy caramel, tooth-hurtingly hard. It was impossible and unpleasant to eat. We planned on having lunch in Covington, VA. Driving in the daytime we finally got to see the beautiful scenery we had missed out on the previous day. We pulled over at a scenic overlook and saw some natural hot springs. I got so excited about it, even though there was a fence between me and the hot springs. As we were driving Brent noticed a walkway leading away from the overlook parking. It would appear there was more to the overlook and it had not been made clear. Down the road there was a bit of a shoulder and we pulled over. Turns out the real draw of the scenic overlook was a waterfall. We stopped at second overlook and were treated to gorgeous views of the mountains and valleys. The gorgeous vistas soon gave way to heavy industry. We literally turned a corner in the road and around a mountain there was an ugly smokestack. The town smelled like sauerkraut, not exactly somewhere you want to stop and eat lunch.

At McDonald’s I finally got to try the buttermilk chicken tenders. They were good, but nothing beats a McNugget. The cup size was enormous. It was easily a litre. It got me wondering how much weight people would lose if the cups were simply smaller? Before we left I went back and ordered a caramel latte for the road. Our cashier had been weird and when I went back, I lined up behind a lady at the other register. The cashier stood there, not appearing to notice any customers, finally she turned and was like I could help someone. I let the lady behind me cut ahead. The second cashier looked at the weird one and laughed that no one liked her. It’s not that I didn’t like her, it’s that she was terrible at her job and id rather wait an extra minute to get my order right without unnecessary confusion. On the side I ordered a holiday pie and it was everything I dreamed of and more. A sugar cookie with rainbow sprinkles crust and filled with vanilla custard. Warm vanilla custard. Each bite was a tiny piece of heaven. I can’t believe we never got this in Canada. I am both mad and relieved (I would have eaten so many otherwise).

We were unsure if we were in West Virginia yet. On the other side of the highway we passed a Virginia welcome centre. And immediately after we said it out loud we saw the Welcome to West Virginia sign. We were staying at the Greenbrier hotel in White Sulphur Spring, WV.  The hotel was decorated as if Kate Spade had collaborated with Wes Anderson. Every time we stepped through a doorway we had no idea what to expect in terms of décor and colour scheme. Upon check-in we were greeted with a free glass of champagne. This time it was obviously free (unlike that first time when it caught us off guard all those years ago). After checking in we booked a tour of the bunker.

We wandered around saw the whole hotel. We found a proper bowling alley, a small but fancy casino, a movie theatre and an ice cream parlour. I had so many different ideas for what I could do later while Brent went running at the gym. After all that we still had 20 minutes before our bunker tour.

The bunker tour was 90 minutes long. It turns out that earlier we had stumbled upon one of the blast doors to it. We were very confused as it seemed to be a decoration, with regular doors where it would have closed. Adding to the confusion there was a sign saying there were more rooms down that way. This all got explained on the tour. The bunker had been secretly built while the hotel was building a new wing of suites and space for trade shows and conferences. It turns out that when there are events happening those doors are open, and the blast door is purely decorative now as it is bolted into place. At first the inside of the bunker was very underwhelming. It was just a plain exhibition room with high ceilings and giant pillars. Things quickly got more interesting when our tour guide showed us the giant blast door at the end of the vehicle entrance tunnel. The tunnel even featured a slot in the wall to hide the door so that exhibitors at the time would have no idea they were actually entering a bunker, not just an exhibition hall. We got to see “state of the art” medical equipment that had been kept in the bunker. I couldn’t help but giggle at the defibrillator, it looked like a 1980s robot. It was because of if that I learned that the robot from the Smash Brothers game franchise is not the Dr Pepper-loving robot from the cheesy 80s movie. The tour could have been shorter. At first it did not seem relevant to go look at the generator and the diesel storage tanks. Until she took us past them to a small room where the incinerator was. Now it made sense. If the bunker “had been activated” (I don’t know how many times she said that sentence) and the worst-case scenario happened, the incinerator is where they would dispose of the corpses. Even still, we spent too much time learning about the diesel storage. When we had first started the tour I had thought to myself that a decommissioned bunker would be great for safe storage. I really regret not having said it out loud, because soon after the tour guide mentioned that part of the bunker had now been bought out by a data storage company. I had been right! Dammit! The whole time we were not allowed to have our cellphones or to take pictures. To the point that they took all of our devices and locked them in an office before we started on the tour. At the end of the tour they made up for this by giving us free image postcards so it turned out ok.

We sat around the hotel room for half an hour. We were going to stop by afternoon tea in the upper lobby just after 4pm and then Brent would continue off to the gym to run. Half an hour was the perfect amount of time to enjoy an afternoon cider. The Woodchuck fall harvest cider was so good, it really hit the spot with the apple spice. The afternoon tea was an absolute zoo. The lobby was crammed with people clamouring for free mini cookies. We bailed and I walked with Brent in the direction of the gym, parting ways with him at the (very empty) café. I bought a chocolate chip cookie and ate it in the lower lobby while debating going to the casino. I was googling how it worked but finally I gave up and asked the lady at the entrance to the casino if it was cash or if I had to preload a card. I started out on a 25-cent machine but my dollar bill only got me 4 plays. On all of which I lost. I moved on to the 1 cent machine but now I was antsy that it was taking too long. I never did find a good groove, part of it is that you no longer get to pull the handle, instead you push buttons. Part of it was my confusion with some of the 1 cent machines having automatically multiplied bets. In total I spent $3, won 40 cents, lost 39 cents, and walked away with a commemorative 1 cent voucher for my scrapbook. I also met a nice employee while I was there. He seemed bored.

Back in the room I opened a nice cold beer. This time we had a fridge and unlimited Wi-Fi. The Purple Haze raspberry lager from Abita brewing was delicious. It was like a less fruity version of Frulii. Brent was going to be gone for about 2 hours. I had a fridge full of cold drinks and there was (as always) a Say Yes To The Dress marathon on TLC. I sprawled out on the bed and got comfy, I was in it for the long haul. The Redd’s Black Cherry Ale was delicious and the best beer of the trip. After 2 hours the TV shut itself off, I had barely moved and now I was being forced to reach for the remote like a sucker.

We had a 7:30 dinner reservation in the main dining room at the resort. The Cajun shrimp amuse bouche was amazing, it was some of the best shrimp I have ever had. We ordered appetizers and once again disagreed on whose pick was better. I was convinced that the beef carpaccio was way better then the fried oysters, but Brent disagreed saying it was the other way around. Yet we did not trade back. Having ordered some fancy juniper-ash encrusted venison for my main, it only felt fitting to have a glass of red wine from France. Once again, we disagreed on which dish was better, to the point that we swapped back. I was not a fan of the pork, it was rubbery. For dessert Brent ordered the Greenbrier peach ice cream and I had the lemon meringue. Both dishes were amazing. Who knew peach ice cream could be so good? After that we also got a plate of mini dessert as an amuse bouche. They were not as good as the actual desserts we had ordered.

We tried to go bowling but some of the lanes were not working and the others were occupied. We went back to our room to wait a bit, also giving me a chance to change into more bowling-appropriate attire (I was in a dress with heeled boots). I went back to my usual channel, TLC but there was a different wedding dress show on about designers competing to make a dress for the lady from The Bachelorette. It was alright, but thankfully the scroll at the bottom said there was another SYTTD marathon coming up. Yes! In anticipation of it I wondered if ever I would see a rerun. Thankfully they were newer episodes. At 11pm I was gonna go to sleep, but then the episode they had been advertising all day where the lady calls her (secretly pregnant) twin sister fat came on and I had to watch. What’s another 30 minutes I thought. Except then I looked at the clock, it was 11:40 and the episode was still not over. Then it dawned on me… how many more hours had I spent watching this show, given I had assumed the episodes were only half an hour…? I had to stop, I had to go to bed. If I let myself finish the episode I would keep watching the next one and the next one. What can I say? I love, love, LOVE, watching SYTTD in bed while on vacation. It is my idea of paradise.


Hot Springs Weekender: Day 1

Fri. Jan. 12, 2018:
Toronto flight to Charlotte, NC, driving to Hot Springs, VA:

The 4:30am wakeup was unbearable, due in no small part to the boilers quiet nighttime hissing. Making things worse was the fact that Brent had already flown into Charlotte, North Carolina the night before so I had to take TTC to the airport, instead of the usual which is a cab paid for by his company. The whole reason for this impromptu weekender was that he had a one-day meeting and we figured heck, why not.

It was a long bus ride to Kipling- the subway was not open yet, it was that early. At least I had a cherry Coke Zero. Even though it was a Friday the airport was not busy at all. I was almost three hours early, making it just after 6am. In total I waited longer in line at Starbucks than I did checking in and getting through security. My wait would have been even longer had I gone to Timmie’s but it was too early in the day. In retrospect I should have gone. The breakfast sandwich I got from Starbucks was mediocre at best (still better than the only option by my gate, Great Canadian Bagel). Walking to the gate I was having flashbacks to that time we tried to fly to Hartford, I was departing from the same section of the airport. And then over the speaker they announced that the Hartford flight was delayed and taking a detour through Montreal. It was happening all over again! Except this time I just watched from the sidelines. My flight was not as affected by the oncoming bad weather, except for the fact that my gate got changed three times. At least it was only a difference of one gate each time. It made me antsy, I was just hoping my flight would not be delayed. I needed to get out of there before the winter storm arrived.

I tried to listen to podcasts on the plane but inevitably, as always, I fell asleep. Thankfully the seat beside me was empty. There was no coffee being served on our flight so I had to settle for a Coke Zero. I fell back asleep, awoke startled, readjusted and played it off as if it was nothing and fell right back asleep. Once we landed I made a beeline for the Chick-Fil-A that was now open (we had missed the opening of it last time by a month). Despite the breakfast sandwich, I was voraciously hungry. The deluxe chicken sandwich, sans tomato, was so good and it was just what I needed. I stopped in at Starbucks for some much-needed coffee and headed over to the car rental place where id be meeting Brent. Thankfully it was just across the way and I didn’t have to take a shuttle or a train. My phone was not connecting to the Wi-Fi so I resorted to reading Fall On Your Knees. Pretty soon another coffee craving kicked in but now it was too late. I had emailed Brent (the iPad did connect) telling him I was at the car rental place before leaving the airport. The car rental place did not have Wi-Fi, nor did the airport Wi-Fi reach there. I was stuck, dreaming of another cup of coffee. In the end it kind of worked out, we had a four hour drive ahead of us and it was unclear if there would be anywhere to stop.

We had only one scheduled stop on the drive: Publix grocery store. Josh and Chuck, of Stuff You Should Know podcast fame, had been talking up the Publix white cake and I just had to know what it was all about. Plus we needed to grab some singles so I could add to my bottle cap magnet collection. Along the way I also grabbed some Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.

Driving to The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia we passed through the Allegheny Mountains. Pretty soon the coffee started wearing off and my hunger came back. I don’t know how I was possibly so hungry again already. It was a really pretty drive, with mountain peaks poking out overtop of low fog. Pretty soon though the fog moved away from the mountains and onto the road. Not helping matters were all the 18-wheeler trucks. Oh, and it was getting dark. Pretty soon we could not see the beautiful landscapes, just dark, fog, and the occasional headlight. Soon we were driving on switchbacks through the Allegheny Mountains. It made for interesting views and I was desperate for pictures but there was nowhere to even pull off, the road was narrow. Thankfully we had a car-buddy ahead of us. Brent astutely pointed out that they must be heading to The Homestead as well. We turned to listening to the radio because for some reason Brent’s iPhone wouldn’t play through the USB cable, only through the AUX and we needed to charge it- it also refused to play with both plugged in. Near the mountain top we passed frozen icicle waterfalls. It was all very eerie and creepy but in a beautiful kind of way. It reminded me of the scenery from a horror movie, the creepy bare branches against the dark blue sky, fog everywhere. Eventually the car in front of us caught up to someone who was driving much slower, they pulled over and joined our convoy at the back. We lost them somewhere on the main road, turns out they were not heading to The Homestead. When we got to the hotel and saw our car-buddy emerge from his Land Rover we both had the same reaction: what a yuppie! At check-in I was amused to discover that he even had a yuppie name.

We had been upgraded to a room with a view and a balcony. Except it was dark and raining outside. Our balcony did not have an awning. We didn’t even get a proper view of the hotel with the mountain backdrop. We had a drink in the hotel room before heading out to explore. The Leinenkugel grapefruit shandy was surprisingly good, especially given I don’t particularly like grapefruits or beer.

The arcade was confusing, we had no idea how to pay for the games. We left it for later and took off looking for the hotel and the indoor pool that is fed with hot springs water. The outdoor serenity pool was apparently closed on Saturdays so the indoor pool would  have to meet our hot springs needs. The pool was beautiful. We gawked at it from the gym, even still it was awkward to take a picture of. It reminded me of a scaled down version of the pool at Hearst Manor. It had beautiful tiles, gorgeous windows and a nice ceiling. We went back to the arcade. This time we tried swiping a room key in the card reader on the arcade game. Nothing. Just an error message. We went to the concierge and after waiting a really long time (there was a chatty guy who would not shut up and only one person working at the desk) were told to go to the bar to load money onto the card. Of course, who wouldn’t have thought of that, the busy bar that the arcade entrance is near. Makes total, perfect, sense. We flagged the bartender but then an oh-so-polite lady informed Brent that she had been there first. Clearly she does not know how bars work. We loaded money onto the card, Brent got a beer and I borrowed a fork. I had seen a guy with takeout containers so logically I though the bar had plastic cutlery to-go. We needed it for the cake back in the room. The guy handed me a metal fork. I shrugged and put it in my back pocket hoping for the best (aka hoping I don’t fall/get shoved resulting in an awkward-to-explain stabbing injury). Back at the arcade we tried the card. Insufficient funds. Ok, the guy said to wait a few minutes of that happens, it takes a second to load. We did a full circle, determining what we would play. We glanced at the bowling. Brent had said there was a bowling alley in the hotel, it was more a modified bowling game, not a full one. Back to the Pac-Man arcade game, it had been 15-20 minutes and it should work. It did not. Back to the bar which is now even busier. Again we wait, some staff talk to us, no one addresses our issues. Finally, the same bar tender comes back, he had forgotten to put the transaction through. From start to finish it was unbelievable how bad a system they had in place, we complained and a staffer said she agreed. My stomach was hurting pretty bad by this point. I had chugged my beer too fast and now I was super bloated.

I watched in suspense as Brent played Gallaga on the Pac-Man machine. Played a 5-round game of (kids?) bowling. Even with the gutter I was so epically bad at it. I wanted to blame my shoes. It was still fun though. It had taken us so long to actually get credits for the arcade that we didn’t have time for any more games. We had to get changed for dinner. We got dressed while watching Final Jeopardy! and guessing. We also chowed down on the Publix cake which weirdly made my stomach feel better. It was worth all the hype and rave reviews, way above what you would expect of a grocery store vanilla cake.

It was a good thing we had gotten a reservation…not. Other than a few other tables it was pretty empty. Evidently the rich prefer to dress down and eat dinner at a bar. Even though it was a hotel restaurant there was a dress code. In this case it actually seemed to be enforced, everyone around us was dressed to the nines, even the kids. It looked good, especially when people took to the dancefloor while the three-piece ensemble played the theme song to Snoopy. Looking at the dinner menu we opted for appetizers and mains, given we had just eaten dessert in our hotel room. Nothing on the dessert menu stood out either. Brent had a glass of white wine from Virginia that was surprisingly good. I opted for a cocktail with bourbon, another liquor and ginger ale. It was intended to soothe my stomach, however it was more liquor than ginger ale. I nursed it during the whole meal. The lobster bisque with smoked lobster was confusing. When it first arrived, I thought I was being served an amuse bouche: I had been given a giant soup bowl with a tiny quarter-sized piece of something in it. Then the server started pouring and I realized that had been the smoked lobster and he was pouring the bisque. The soup spoon was awkwardly wide, I resorted to eating with the slightly-too-small dessert spoon. I tried a bit of caviar from Brent’s Caesar salad, it was good. His salad got a solid F for eatability. He was presented with one giant romaine lettuce leaf, flat pieces of thin brioche on either side as croutons and a row of caviar down the middle of the leaf. How is anyone supposed to eat that?! Looking over the menu I had assumed that Chateaubriand had to be the vegetarian dish, I had no idea what the name referred to but there weren’t any other vegetarian options. The choice was easy: I’d get the organic roast chicken. Then the server told us that the Chateaubriand was a steak. Dammit, because the sides sounded really good. I ended up going with between the two and the chicken won. The chicken was amazing. I always find it impressive when a chef can take something as plain as chicken and turn it into something so incredible. We traded halfway, but the chicken won ahead of the Allegheny Mountain river-caught trout, by a smidge. The crispy fried grits with my chicken were great at first. Then the sauce ran out and they were just so dry and awful. It was like eating a mealy french fry. As I tried to finish the last bites of my dinner it was nice to watch people dancing. I couldn’t even finish my drink, I relinquished the last few sips to Brent. There was no way in hell we were ordering dessert.

I was so full and my stomach was hurting again. Swimming would have to wait until tomorrow. After resting (and burping) I felt better. Brent poured his beer into a glass and we casually headed down to the lobby. Every time we passed by the mini games room there were different people in there playing chess and working on a puzzle. I got distracted by the puzzle. I just wanted to put two pieces together. And then two more. Brent had to pull me away. The lobby was busy, a mingle of wedding guests and rich guests. Many lobbyist jokes ensued.

We went back to the arcade to finish what we started. The bowling machine ate $3. So instead Brent played Pac Man. Except, adding to the suspense, the top half of the screen was cut off. It was riveting to watch as he disappeared to the top to clear off all the dots. Afterwards we played Star Trek pinball. The machine appeared to eat our first credit, we swiped again and realized we were supposed to push the start button. So really we had two games. It was impossible to tell where one game ended and the next began. I also had no clue what was going on. Brent kept almost losing but then somehow the ball got saved or he got a free ball. A lot of bells, whistles, lights and noises. The game seemed to be going forever. Then I stepped in and immediately lost the ball, which was saved, then I lost it again. Oops, my bad. Our total score was just under 3 million. The lowest score on the leaderboard was 24 million. I don’t understand how the scoring worked!!! There was a kid playing the basketball game next to us. He was trying o get a new highs core and Brent went from encouraging him to shooting a few hoops for him.

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