As is usual each year, I felt it was important last year to get away from home during the summer months. As much as I love July and August in Manitoba, the rigours of everyday work-a-day life are demanding and draining, and I think there’s nothing like travel to reinvigorate oneself. So I usually try to take a holiday of some sort during July and August.
Last year, my husband, who scours the internet regularly to find great travel packages, discovered what we felt was a really good deal through WestJet Vacations for a trip to Barbados. We’d visited this tiny island in the Lesser Antilles six years before for six glorious hours, when we’d stopped off during our one and only cruise. (He got incurably, viciously seasick, and we’ll never cruise again. Not together, anyway. Which is sad, because I loved cruising!)
Anyway, back then, we walked a lovely beach, had great local beer — Banks is the beer of Barbados and certainly the best we sampled there — and in general, had a wonderful time.
So when we had the chance to go back for a full two weeks, we thought "what the heck" and put our money down.
While many flights to Barbados are direct from Winnipeg from November through April — the high tourist season — this summer excursion was simplest flying out of Toronto.
We used Airmiles to get to TO, and spent a memorable overnight there before heading off to the land of palm trees and calm seas the next day. And the reason the Toronto portion of the journey was memorable was because of — you guessed it! — good service, great food and decent wine.
I know lots of folks travel to Toronto for exactly the reason we did — to catch a plane to somewhere else — so I’m really pleased to relate what we experienced there. Most of the hotels have free shuttles to and from the airport, and the Best Western Plus Travel Hotel (Toronto Airport) on Eglinton Avenue was no exception.
The service was prompt and friendly — they came and picked us up as soon as we called — and the basic room was nicely appointed (check out the pics at traveltorontohotel.com), the stay was wonderfully quiet, the shower was refreshing — I mean, it was all impressive. Especially for $110 a night. In Toronto. Near the airport.
I was amazed. And I’d certainly recommend the hotel in and of itself.
But wait — there’s more.
Eight steps from my hotel door — I counted — was a fantastic Italian restaurant. Michele’s (or Mickele’s — they were undergoing or have undergone a name change because everybody always gave the name a French pronunciation rather than the intended Italian one) is an intimate, elegant, delightful establishment. (It’s attached to the hotel, but not affiliated with it.) And since we were still trying to decide what to do with our evening (translation: where we going to eat) and really were hoping not to have to venture too far — we decided to grab a glass of wine in Michele’s/Mickele’s and scope it out.
Well! From the moment we entered, we were impressed. The decor is lovely — very old world — and the atmosphere very much like other authentic Italian spots I’d visited in recent years in the heart of downtown Toronto.
We ordered drinks — me a glass of the house Chardonnay (which they were out of — not a really great beginning, but they remedied that shaky start down the line) and my husband, I think, ordered a beer.
The waiter suggested I try "something similar (to a Chard) from Italy." I said yes, and a large, well-chilled glass of Fontana di Papa Colli Albani soon arrived at my table.
I tasted it. It wasn’t remotely like Chardonnay. Not by a long shot. It was nondescript, really more like a weak, watery Soave on first sip, and Soaves aren’t intense to begin with. But then — Holy Improvement, Batman! — there was this blast of smoke, maybe oak, on the finish. And it went on a long, long time. It was one of the weirdest, but consequently most interesting, whites I’ve ever tried, simply because of that post-sip turnaround. And it was — I think — six bucks for a generous glass.
The rest of the evening passed in a blissful, pre-vacation haze — more wine, of course, this time the Hardy’s Stamp of Australia Chardonnay (which I drank for much of the vacation — it’s the white house wine in many establishments in Barbados because it’s inexpensive (usually around $11 Canadian in the liquor stores there and $20 or $22 in the Bajan restaurants) and delivers a lot of punch for the price. We had some of the best calamari we’ve ever had, lightly dusted with Mickele’s special seasoning and flash fried, then dipped in creamy garlic sauce. There was more than enough to share plentifully for $12.
Then we ordered a wonderful Caprese salad — again, tons of food, lots for two, for just $11. Then we moved on to the main course — I was dying for pasta, and the Veal Linguini had my name written all over it. Veal strips , rapini and mushrooms, shaved cheese and truffle olive oil. There was enough for two, but I ate as much of it as I could — not all of it, to be sure — and it was a more-than-reasonable $20.
We noted throughout the course of our evening that we were two of perhaps six diners in the place — and it was packed — speaking English. Everyone else was speaking Italian. If that’s not an endorsement of the authenticity of the cuisine, I don’t know what is. I mean, if Italians are patronizing an Italian eatery when there are probably hundreds of options in a city the size of Toronto, it’s got to be good.
So if you’re heading to Toronto, I can’t recommend the food, the wine, the accommodation, and the prices at the Best Western Plus Travel Hotel (Toronto Airport) on Eglinton more heartily. Great food, good wine, excellent accommodation, superior service — who could ask for anything more?
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 11, 2012