Before heading to Toronto for this week’s Ontario water leadership summit, I noted that my hotel was on Blue Jays Way, and joked to my wife that maybe I’d be staying in that hotel where some rooms overlook the Skydome baseball field (called Rogers Centre since 2005). Sure enough, I am: The Renaissance is a great hotel, with solicitous staff, a freshly printed Globe and Mail at your door every morning and Aveda products in the bath. The Blue Jays are on a road trip right now, so there’s some major artificial turf replacement going on … I can report that this process is exactly as exciting as watching real grass grow.
It’s a rainy week here, but you can’t let that stop you from walking in the big city. My first night I walked a bit past the immediate tourist district (with what looked like several fine Italian restaurants) to Queen Street, took a right, and discovered Queen Mother Café, home to some fine contemporary cuisine, a warm and glowing atmosphere and fine art on the walls. Most of the staff members are artists too. Have the Ping Gai, a marvelous Asian chicken dish with coriander, garlic and black peppercorn marinade, served with a lime and coriander dipping sauce that you should just pour over everything before you dig in.
If you sit at the bar you might just have some stimulating conversation about Canada’s environment, politics and culture, as well as the age-old rivalry between Toronto and Montreal over which is the most cosmopolitan. You can sample numbers of languages (apparently 80 different languages can be heard in Toronto) or sample the ample Chinatown and other ethnic neighborhoods. But you know how I’d measure it? A simple tally of scarves around the neck, on men and women both. It’s a great look worldwide, and the most immediate way to tell you’re not in America anymore, even in the nation right next door.
Queen Street has just the right mix of Indian restaurants, tattoo shops, quirky boutiques and music venues. Where else are you going to find a 14-piece big band jazz combo playing on a Monday night?
Last night while devouring a pizza rustica at the eponymous Pizza Rustica around the corner from the hotel, I made my latest game effort to enjoy watching hockey. And you know what? I actually got caught up in the excitement as the Bruins came back on the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 2 of their Stanley Cup playoff series, scoring three goals in the first seven minutes of the second period after being down 2-1 at the first intermission. I even burst out with a “what a shot” on a blind backhander that was deflected into the net by the Lightning. I’ll never be a rabid fan, but there may be hope for me yet.