Come for the Paradise Con - stay for the grub! Toronto is for restaurant-tourists!

This past weekend Toronto, Ontario hosted the PARADISE CON, Canada's gem of a comic book convention. I was invited by my friend and co-writer for Hidden Robot, Jeff "Boss Hogg" Brown, along with my bestest Jersey friend, M. Sean McManus of THE LAST SIN OF MARK GRIMM writing fame. As both of us are fans of the Ontario metropolis it seemed a comic-con was a great excuse to check out that city up north once again.

My last excursion to T.O. was several years ago for the CANADIAN NATIONAL EXPO, a con that was both huge and disappointing whereas Paradise con always aims to please and usually does. The convention was held in the Holiday Inn on King Street, a mere few blocks from the CN Tower and Lake Ontario as well as the hippest street in the land, Queen Street West.

While I wish I could say my column this week focuses on the convention goings-on, it really doesn't. I used this vacation to take an eating tour of Toronto, with stops to various restaurants around the city. While my FOO (Friends of Oeming) bretheren was out full force, I leave the real con details to my fellow columnist Boss Hogg to relay to the Hidden Robot readers while I whisk the rest of you hungry lot to the best food in Canada's most awesome city. Bon Appetit!

DAY ONE - We arrived in T.O. late afternoon and checked into our very hip hotel, THE REX which is an inn above a very popular jazz and blues bar. The room was small but rather modern with a glass shower and newly tiled bathroom and a flat screen TV mounted to the wall. The window looked directly onto Queen Street west, a strip known for it's many hip shops, restaurants and overall trendy vibe. The REX has musical acts from noon until midnight and is almost always packed. It's hard to pass by and not want to stop in for a drink and listen to the bands. The rooms upstairs can be rented daily, weekly, and monthly for as little as $500 Canadian a month!! If only I could come up with a good excuse to hi-tail it to Toronto for a month. Ah well...tis something to strive for.

After a nap and freshening up Sean and I hit the streets in search of dinner. We walked west down Queen street and happened upon THE BLACK BULL, a bar and outdoor patio that seemed pretty darn popular so we decided to stop and try it out. The Bull is right across from THE SILVER SNAIL, one of the most popular comic shops in the city. They had a huge HELLBOY display in their window; a street artist was putting "THE GIRL WITH THE PEARL EARRING" in chalk on the sidewalk; the weather was beautiful and we were about to partake in pub fare with a delightful twist.

I had The Black Bull's "classic" fish and chips which was done just right. A lightly fried cod with perfectly fried fries - Yum! Sean had the appetizer sampler that came with fries of its own along with mozzerella sticks, and pierogies. These were the gem of the Bull - made with feta cheese instead of the typical base. Amazing! The feta did not overpower but instead provided a great little twist to the rather simplicity of the potato.

After dinner we met up with some of our fellow FOO and headed to Gabby's on King Street. While Sean and I did not partake in food there, our cohorts enjoyed the menu with no complaints. Scott Wegener (Atomic Robo artist) particularly enjoyed Ricketts Red beer. I cursed myself for being on a wine kick and not really being in the mood for beer. After some catching up with our friends, we made a cameo at the Holiday Inn where the Paradise Con was being held, shared a celebratory shot (or 2) with BIONICLES artist STUART SAYGER.

We took a walk North of Queen St and found THE VILLAGE IDIOT PUB, a semi-swank little spot where we had a couple drinks. In truth I was sad I was so full because the specials looked absolutely boss. One drink later and we were ready to retire in anticipation of the next day's comic book events.

DAY 2 - We rose early for the convention and found a greasy spoon on the way to the convention thanks to a local that we passed by as we were loudly lamenting about our hunger. In truth, this was the 2nd time a local helped us after loudly lamenting about a problem we were having. I have never had this happen in the states let alone twice in a 24 hour period. Breakfast consisted of dippy eggs, toast and sausage for me while Sean tried piemeal (basically Canadian bacon) that Boss Hogg had recommended to us the day before. A great way to start the morning!

The convention was in full swing when we made it into the hotel and our first stop happened to be the EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL booth. McManus was fortunate enough to see the show on Broadway in NYC during its run and after conversing with the booth boy about "splatter zone" tickets that go on sale at 5pm the night of the show, we decided to check out the show that night. A 11pm showing sounded like fun especially when combined with splatter zone tickets!

We traipsed around the con, found some hip tank tops designed by artist ANDREW FOERSTER (rew.foe@gmail.com), and before I knew it lunchtime was upon me. A pretty little block of Baldwin Street was discovered filled to the brim with restaurants of the Italian and Japanese variety. KON-ICHI-WA SUSHI caught our eye, so we made our way into the little raw fish merchant.

Sean and I decided to share the "lunch special" consisting of the chef's discretion based on the fresh catch of the day along with miso soup and the house salad with ginger dressing. I noshed on the salad while Sean had the soup. Both were excellent. For the main course we had a small selection of the classic sashimi spread (salmon, tuna) and several sushi rolls (salmon, yellowtail tuna, shrimp). This was my first taste of yellowtail and MAN ALIVE! I was in love! Everything was tasty. It inspired me to order another 2 pieces of sweet shrimp but I was let down to find out that the sweet shrimp was not in stock. I was feeling sushi adventurous and decided the salmon caviar would be a decent substitute. I was wrong. =(

Beautiful huge eggs wrapped plainly in a seawood roll sans rice. I dived in, and within 2 bites could not stomach the texture of the large eggs as opposed to the smaller garnish roe I enjoyed on other sushi pieces. I did the unthinkable: I spit the food out into my napkin. I would be surprised if my face was not bright red in shame. I lurved the food - I really did! The experience was great. The space was charming as was the street. We had a nice little window seat/bench that looked right out onto Baldwin. I enjoyed the salad and the sushi prior. I HIGHLY recommend this place. My palate just couldn't take the texture. It's not you KON-ICHI-WA, its me!

In between lunch and dinner we had a light antipasto snack at the KIT KAT, an Italian restaurant that was only seating reservations. The wait was 40 mins at 4pm in the afternoon. Pretty impressive! We got in by taking up at the bar and some crudites, bread, cheese and meats was a nice light snack. The Kit Kat was situated on King Street amidst many a restaurant but none of them chains, which was a nice surprise. I wouldn't have felt touristy going into any one place.

Our excursion into Asian cuisine was not yet finished that day as we made our way to Chinatown for dinner that evening. Chinatown is located mostly on Spadina Avenue, Northwest of the CN Tower. LEE SZICHUAN was our dinner spot, a typical looking Chinese restaurant but with extraordinary food. Chicken with almonds was my choice while Sean opted for the General Tso's chicken. We also had pot stickers and steamed buns as well as fried rice and brown rice. So much food! Sean's Tso's Chicken was not too spicy like the dish I'm used to in the states, and the steamed buns were hot and tasty. While we waited quite a long time it was all worth it.

Before we knew it the time for EVIL DEAD: THE MUSICAL was upon us....
~Till Next Time Kittlings!

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