More Gold! More Gold!

All the goldbugs out there know there’s no such thing as holding too much gold in one’s portfolio. So I was delighted to learn last week that I’d won a Gold award from the North American Travel Journalists Association in the Culinary Travel category for my “Canada’s Best New Restaurants” writing in enRoute magazine.

The NATJA’s awards program is in its 27th year, which is too old for an aged steak but not old enough for port if you follow my house rule: port should always be older than the person drinking it. I brought home a Silver award for “Canada’s Best New Restaurants” in this same competition back in 2014, so it only took five years of alchemical experimentation for me to convert that Silver to Gold. Also I think I might have lead poisoning …

Check out the full list of winners here:

This year’s honorees will be showcased at the NATJA awards dinner next month in Los Angeles. But why would I trek all that way to eat dinner when I’ve already mastered the field of culinary travel? Nice try, NATJA. I eat logical paradoxes for breakfast.

Passing the Golden Fork

After five years, 55k frequent flyer miles, and more than 200 no-holds-barred dinners at some pretty amazing new restaurants all across Canada – from Tofino to Fogo Island and everywhere in between – it is my supreme pleasure to announce that I'm retiring from my post as national restaurant critic for enRoute magazine.

The best job in Canadian media is in good hands: I'm honored to pass the Golden Fork to the wise and discerning Nancy Matsumoto, whose 2018 Canada's Best New Restaurants longlist is out today. Nancy's top ten favorite new restaurants will be published in the November issue of enRoute.

Deep bows of gratitude to everyone at enRoute for giving me this opportunity in the first place, and for making my copy flow so well and look so good year in and year out; to the far-flung Canadian food pros who've scouted these best new restaurants on my behalf; to the talented chefs and servers and somms and barkeeps who've fed my brain's pleasure centers so many delightful things; to friends and family who've sat across the table from me and played it cool while I ignored them to tap out secretive tasting notes; and especially to Neko and TK and Sarah, who never judged me when I abandoned them for weeks every summer for five years and returned 10 pounds heavier each time.

With that, I'm officially out. That'll do, my overtaxed liver and gastrointestinal system. That'll do.

National Mag Awards finalist

I'm honoured and thrilled to have been named a finalist – for the 5th year running – by the National Magazine Award Foundation for my enRoute magazine feature, "Canada's Best New Restaurants 2017." 

I'll be shooting for the Gold hat-trick on June 1 in Toronto! Best of luck to all the nominees.

The Big Snooze

In which I channel Philip Marlowe and investigate the innovative sleep offerings – including a Scotch-and-chamomile nightcap – at hotels across Canada for my old friends at enRoute magazine: The Big Snooze

"He sounded like a man who had slept well and didn't owe too much money."

--Raymond Chandler, "The Big Sleep"

Sugi talk w/ Kengo Kuma

During an April trip to Japan, I interviewed one of my favorite architects, Kengo Kuma. He's a busy guy, so our conversation didn't begin until 10pm on a Wednesday night. Yeah, Tokyo is that sort of place.

Our chat took place in the rooftop conference room of his Minato-ku headquarters in Tokyo, a few blocks from where his design for the 2020 Olympic Stadium is currently under construction. Kuma-san got his assistant to bring us up a couple espressos, so I was pretty wired. But we got along quite well, not least because Kuma's calling card is his use of wood in construction and I happen to know a lot about wood – I'm descended from three generations of lumberjacks, and was born in a logging camp. (FYI: sugi is the Japanese word for cedar.)

After the interview ended, Kuma headed downstairs for another meeting and I picked up my wife from a nearby bar. We decided to pop in on the Big Echo Shibuya location, and put down our money for the karaoke chain's excellent late night all-you-can-sing deal. For 1900 yen each, we got to sing Springsteen and Tom Petty tunes at the top of our lungs until 5am while a nice young Japanese man brought us mugs of draft Asahi. Thank god for soundproof private rooms.

Here's the online version of my Q&A with Kengo Kuma.

Canada's Best New Restaurants 2017

By now you know the story: Air Canada's enRoute magazine sends me out on a five-week, 30-restaurant tour of eating across Canada. I pick my 10 favorites, and my reviews run as the tentpole feature of the magazine's annual November Food Issue. Somewhere in the middle of all that I pop a ton of antacids, partly due to the rich restaurant food and partly to mitigate the pressure of writing a story that more than a million Air Canada passengers will read at 30,000 feet.

This year marks my fifth time hoisting the Golden Fork. They even made a video trailer to promote the story! Keep your eyes peeled for a shot of my handsome backside walking stealthily into Lake Inez in Toronto's east end ...

The Top Ten was announced live at a gala last night in Toronto, with all the winning chefs in attendance. You can read the full story online here.

Defending my NMA title

At a ceremony last night in Toronto, I won a National Magazine Award for my "Canada's Best New Restaurants" feature. The Gold award came in "Service Journalism," which was a new amalgamation of several previous categories, including the "Service: Lifestyle" bucket that I won the Gold award for in last year. 

It was the 40th anniversary of the NMAF awards, with a bevy of changes to the program. They tried to throw more competitors into my Battle Royale, but I was too strong to be denied. Must've been all that meat I ate on the road ...  

I got the news of this huge honor via Twitter while standing outside the Orpheum Theater on Market Street in San Francisco, waiting to watch a musical. It was my second time seeing "Hamilton" during the show's SF run, and I couldn't have been more pumped. As the boys sing, "Immigrants, we get the job done."

Here's a full list of this year's winners.

Fuck you, 2016

Good riddance to a bad year. At least I'll always have this joke in my quiver: "I finally became an American citizen in 2016. I feel like I joined just in time!"

Canada's Best New Restaurants 2016

For the fourth year running (and the 15th in the history of enRoute's program), I ate my way across Canada and picked out a tasty Top 10 best new restaurants. That list hits seatbacks of Air Canada planes today, and I'm told that by the end of the month more than 1 million people will have read my story. No pressure.

The best new spot of the year is a Japanese-Italian joint in Vancouver's Chinatown, tucked away in a neon-lit second-floor space that's designed to evoke a 1960s Tokyo jazz cafe. Kissa Tanto wowed me off the bat with Wendy McGuinness's My Private Tokyo cocktail (a killer plum wine twist on the classic Amaretto sour), and sealed the deal with a tofu-whipped tiramisu that "could bring a ninja's nonna to tears." 

If you're too lazy to book a flight to Winnipeg for the sole purpose of reading a free in-flight magazine, you can read the online version here. Buon appetito.

Snøhetta's new SFMOMA

For the the September issue of Azure, I wrote a cover story about Snøhetta's sublime addition to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. I still remember exploring the SFMOMA on my first visit to San Francisco in 2006, when the museum was located in a postmodern, fortress-like brick building built by Mario Botta in 1995.

The Snøhetta addition manages to retain and improve upon Botta's original spaces, while expanding the museum upwards and into the back alleys of a SoMa neighborhood that had undergone drastic change in the intervening 21 years since Botta's building opened. I was fortunate enough to cross paths at the SFMOMA's official opening with photographer Nic Lehoux, a longtime Azure contributor and fellow Canadian who was in town to shoot the cover. We scouted the building together, marveling at how Snøhetta managed to make use of those gritty back alleys. A partial view of the glacier-like façade we discovered via Natoma Street links the project to the hardboiled era of Dashiell Hammett's San Francisco. 

Check out the full story, now available online at Azure's website.

National Magazine Award Gold

Third time's a charm: following a Silver award in 2014 and an Honourable Mention in 2015, my story "Canada's Best New Restaurants" for enRoute magazine won a GOLD award in the category Service: Lifestyle at last Friday's National Magazine Awards in Toronto.

It's a huge honour to be recognized with this most prestigious of industry awards, judged by the best of my Canadian magazine writer peers. I was unable to attend the ceremony in Toronto – I, uh, had dinner plans. But my sublime editor Sarah Musgrave, who routinely makes me sound like I actually know what I'm talking about, was on hand to accept in my stead. I can't wait until I'm old and poor and I have to melt the award down for its cash value. It's a gold statuette coming my way, right?

The full list of winners:

Canada's Best New Restaurants

The votes – aka my votes – are in: Pigeonhole in Calgary, from chef Justin Leboe, was the best new Canadian restaurant I ate at in 2015.

The Top 10 list was published yesterday by enRoute. My most memorable meals included a Noma-trained chef's cabin in the woods on Galiano Island, an Art Nouveau stand-up tapas bar on College Street in Toronto, and a vegetable-forward wine bar operated by a superstar female sommelier just across the border from Ottawa in Gatineau, Quebec.

It was also a pleasure to be the first critic in the 14-year history of the list to recognize a restaurant from Manitoba in the Top 10: chef Scott Bagshaw's Enoteca, located in the site of a former Quiznos in Winnipeg.

You can check out the full online feature here, including my top dining trends for 2015 and our Sommelier of the Year, DaiLo's Anton Potvin:

Gold award from the SATW

Imagine my surprise upon learning this afternoon that I had won a Gold award from the Society of American Travel Writers! I'm not American, and neither is the magazine that published my winning piece. But I guess it's like baseball: America invites a few Canadians to participate just so that it has a few more people to defeat. EXCEPT FOR 1992 & 1993 WHEN THE BLUE JAYYYYYYSSSS TAUGHT YOU AN IMPORTANT LESSON!!! BACKFIRED BIG TIME ... IN YOUR FACE!!!

Ahem. Anyways, I won a Gold in the Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition for work published in 2014 and 2015. The category is Special Packages/Projects, and the winning piece was my "Canada's Best New Restaurants 2014" feature for enRoute magazine. Here's a full list of the winners:$ravel-$ournali/2013-list-of-$inners

The most amazing part? I beat out Silver- and Bronze-winning stories from the New York Times and the BBC.


Swimming from Alcatraz

Last weekend, I swam from Alcatraz to mainland San Francisco. It was incredibly fun.

I didn't write anything about it, and don't plan to. It wasn't an assignment for publication. I did the swim because I wanted to do it. That's it.

The 1.5-mile swim was run by my club, the Dolphin Swimming & Boating Club. I finished 25th of 76 swimmers in a time of 42:59. The bay was about 63F, give or take. Nobody was eaten by sharks. Afterwards, we drank whisky in the sauna and then came downstairs to eat soup. 

Bring the Pain

In late April, just before I left for a non-working holiday in Peru with my wife, I ran an idea past her: "maybe I should just pitch this one little story?" She tends to like it when we have assignments to research on vacation, as long as they don't cramp our style too much. Which, given how obnoxious I am about turning over every last lead, they often tend to do. But Sarah was game.

When I wrote to my editor at the Globe and Mail's Travel section, her reply began, "This is such a bizarre pitch that I feel I must say yes."

What resulted is a piece that ran on the front page of the Globe's Travel section this past weekend, under the fabulous title "Bring the Pain." (Props to the page editor that came up with that one – I swear it was not I.) In the story, I zip around Lima eating ceviche:

The twist: I'm moderately allergic to citrus, and citrus juices are a pretty damn essential part of ceviche. But as much as lime juice makes me break out in welts, I'm even more allergic to not eating delicious things. You can understand the moral quandary this puts me in.

Spoiler alert: hedonism wins!

Eat and Vote

Continuing a fun little contest that debuted in 2013, the first year I wrote "Canada's Best New Restaurants" for enRoute magazine, this year Canadians can once again vote for their favourite dining hot spot among the 32 finalists for the 2015 edition of this prestigious list:

This year's grand tour took me from tiny Sooke, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, all the way to St. John's, Newfoundland on the country's opposite coast. I found finalists in seven provinces, and was lucky enough to make my first-ever eating trips to Manitoba and New Brunswick (Enoteca in Winnipeg and Port City Royal in Saint John, in case you're wondering).

My official "Canada's Best New Restaurants" Top 10 will be published in enRoute's November issue, where the magazine will also name the "People's Choice" winner. I've already picked and ranked my own winners and filed the copy, so now I just need to sit back and keep my mouth shut for three more months. Should be the best method to help shed those five extra pounds, anyways ...

Everyone Loves Snøhetta

For the June 2015 issue of Azure magazine I profiled the Norwegian-American architecture firm Snøhetta. The article posted online earlier this week:

It seemed a perfect time to take a deeper look at the firm as it moves into its third decade. In the past year, Snøhetta opened its first two buildings in Canada – Queen's University's Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, in Kingston, and Ryerson University's Student Learning Centre, on Yonge Street in Toronto. I visited both buildings, and in February I also attended the opening of the firm's third office on 8th Street in San Francisco, joining an office in New York and the flagship in Oslo.

I had a fun time meeting the firm's two principals, Kjetil Traedal Thorsen and Craig Dykers. True story: Craig invited my wife to attend the office opening party in San Francisco, and I asked him what she should wear. "Tell her to come naked. That ought to cause a stir."

At the party, we drank a local porter on tap and ate Señor Sisig filipino-mex tacos from a food truck while a disco ball spun from the office's rafters. I heard from more than one Snøhetta staffer that their beloved leader Craig had a history of "losing" his pants at office parties. My wife, bless her soul, kept her shirt and pants on all night. It was a great party.

NMA nomination hat-trick

This morning, Canada's National Magazine Awards Foundation announced the nominees for the 38th edition of its annual awards. And I was beyond-blown-away to find myself a finalist for THREE pieces that I wrote for Canadian magazines in 2014.

For the second year in a row, I'm a finalist in the category "Service: Lifestyle" for my story "Canada's Best New Restaurants" in enRoute magazine. Last year, I was the Silver award winner in this category.

In the category "Travel" I had TWO pieces nominated among the ten finalists. They were both published in enRoute, Air Canada's in-flight magazine that apparently punches above its weight (at 30,000 feet, no less). My piece "Bright Lights, Tech City" about San Francisco from the August issue will be competing head-to-head against "South Side Story," a piece I wrote about the south side of Chicago for the magazine's October edition.

Good luck to all the nominees. But slightly less luck to them than to me. 

"A tale of people following a dream"

Last week, the Calgary-based wine writer and critic Tom Firth penned a very nice review for the food and drink website Eat North of my non-fiction novella, "An Inconvenient Fruit"

Tom called my book a "brisk read," which is really a compliment for a story that I designed to be read in a single sitting! I would have preferred the phrasing "zippy romp," but I'll settle for "brisk read."

I'll leave it to Tom to sell you on picking up a copy: "I think that anyone who enjoys a tale of people following a dream (and enjoys a nice glass along the way) will enjoy 'An Inconvenient Fruit.'"