work·ca·tion - noun, often attributive
1. a period spent working while simultaneously traveling to experience life in another city
2. a way to travel without burning vacation days
3. something anybody who has never lived outside their home city should absolutely try
Upon explaining to people what I was doing in Toronto, I took the word “workcation” for granted. I assumed that it had entered into our vernacular given how many remote workers my office has, but it was surprisingly not the case. The small but hardy group who have been following my blog for a while know that it’s not a new concept to me, as I was given an opportunity to take one in Montreal at a previous company.
While I have been to Toronto a few times prior to this trip, those were purely for vacation purposes. This trip on the other hand was an investment of sorts - a toe-dipping into living and working in a another city with an arguably more attractive tech/business scene than Vancouver. Although there are several reasons why I was initially turned off by the prospect of living in Toronto, I was gently nudged towards this opportunity and let my curiosity drive me to book a workcation on the promise of good views, food, and company.
At the end of it, I’m still a west coast person at heart, but with enough of a nudge, I could certainly see myself enjoying life out there (minus the heat, summers will be my migratory period back to the west.)
Anyways, enough fluff. It’s time for photos and food.
In an effort to bring a little bit of Vancouver to Toronto, Miku was the first stop, and I have determined that nothing was lost in translation. Yes, you’re definitely paying for more than the food here, but it’s still a delicious experience nonetheless. They’re definitely the benchmark for Salmon Oshi sushi, and while others come close, there’s something about the sauce that nowhere else can get as perfectly as Miku can.
One thing I found after the first night in my Airbnb was that the curtains did not fully cover the windows since there was a blower-style fan that was the only semblance of cooling available in the room. This meant that I had to choose between a dark humid oven and a bright humid oven with a slight breeze. The breeze won, and there were positives: I got to see the sunrise every morning, and I could never be late waking up.
Summer tourists of Toronto take note - AC is a necessity.
Anyways, despite not being able to dim some early morning lights, the next day started with dim sum.
When determining what dim sum place to go to, I was given a homey option or a fancier option. Growing up, dim sum was never a fancy outing for my family, it was the weekly catch-up with friends type of meal which would always favour comfort over frills. With that unnecessary background out of the way, of course I chose the homey option.
Rol San is pretty much an institution in Toronto for decent dim sum that doesn’t break the bank. I’m pretty sure we paid less than $15 each for an amount of food that definitely could have fed a third person. For those of you curious, the fancier vetted option was Crown Princess. With all that greasy goodness finished, the next logical step was to get ice cream.
Just a few blocks down from Rol San, Kekou has some of the most inventive and delicious asian-inspired gelato flavours. While the texture is icier than other gelatos I’ve tried, it certainly worked well to combat the heat. Their storefront is also super cute, and perfect for instagrammers to live their wildest stories in. I’m pretty sure you can’t go wrong with whatever flavour you pick here. Do try the bubble tea if you stop by too and report back to me if it’s good - my stomach was far too full to try it unfortunately.
Food coma and 45 degree weather did not go together well, and the rest of this day consisted of recovering under a shady tree and finding shelter in Fika, an adorable Swedish cafe with a beautiful book-wall and a delicious cinnamon roll. Luckily, the next day’s forecast was much cooler and allowed us to forge ahead with our initial plans.
A great place for brunch, try to grab seats on their rooftop patio as it’s a total gem. I was a bit surprised to see that they poach their eggs hard though, like with no runny yolk whatsoever in my case. If you’re looking for the perfect boomerang of that egg yolk ooze goodness, this might not be the place, but rest assured their food was otherwise delicious.
Brunch was walked off with a little tour of the University of Toronto. Despite being in the same country as UBC, it’s clear that UT takes a totally different approach to how their university is set up. It’s much more modeled on the British system - campus structure, colleges, architecture and all.
Definitely felt Harry Potter vibes on more than one occasion touring around here. After a decent amount of calorie-burning, we made our ways to a super fancy Loblaws to pick up some picnic items for our next destination.
Disclaimer: it is confusing as heck to get here. Firstly, there’s two parts of the bluffs. The first one is the lower area, which is the “official” park. The second is the upper area, in which you cross through a grassy park to see the view over the lower bluffs. We followed this guide to find our way up, and while it was a bit of a long subway/bus ride from the downtown core, it was definitely doable.
We planned to see the sunset there, but much to our disappointment, it turned out that the sun set on the opposite side of the viewpoint from the bluffs, whoops. Would definitely recommend bringing a blanket or lawn chairs if you plan on staying for a while, as there were surprisingly no picnic benches to be found.
The next day was my first taste of the work-commute life in Toronto. Going from a 1.5 hour commute in Vancouver to a 35 minute commute in Toronto was utter bliss. The only downside was having to add a 15-20 minute buffer for TTC delays, which while I only experienced once, I have heard they are the bane of every commuter’s existence in the city.
Outside the receptionless, bleary tunnels, there were a few pretty views along my commute.
Plus, the office in Toronto still had the same culture and relative laid-back-ness as it did in Vancouver. This was quite relieving, as I feared the east-coast work culture would be omnipresent, but this wasn’t the case for my workplace at least.
Perhaps this was correlated with the fact that my office was quite a distance away from Downtown. Anyways, going against traffic flow for my commute was a treat, as was my next dinner destination.
Canoe is probably my first official “fine dining” experience, and I can say it was certainly something to remember. Firstly, the view was just stunning. Secondly, the food was quite inventive, with every dish coming off as unique and something I wouldn’t have been able to try elsewhere. Lastly, the service - each server was extremely enthusiastic to not only explain the dishes, but also to join in and nudge me towards coming back to Toronto for a more permanent stay.
For the value, there’s definitely many other places that your money is better spent, but in terms of the whole package, Canoe was an outstanding one-off. Minus the washroom - if the menu prices are this high, I’d expect some top-notch paper towels to dry my hands with, not that standard two-ply commoner parchment.
Joking aside, the next dinner was a much more familiar albeit unfamiliar experience for me.
This was my first foray into Persian food, and while I’ve been told that this isn’t exactly authentic, it was absolutely delicious. A forewarning to anybody coming here - check yourself before you order a pitcher of Doogh - in our sample size of 4, it was definitely shown to be an acquired taste.
The next day, I learned that Toronto summers can have spontaneous spouts of heavy rain despite the lack of clouds in the sky. This forced me to cut my peaceful walk short to make a mad sprint through as much covered ground as possible, with a disintegrating paper bag carrying a precious sandwiches within.
Despite that surprise rain, we did in fact make it to Vaughn after a short blowdryer break to dry off. We went all the way over to support the wonderful Debbie Pai during her race for Miss World Canada, which she totally killed. I mean just look at her in that gown.
A solid 0/10 rating for the convention hall the pageant was hosted in though, as they didn’t turn on their AC until somebody fainted from the heat/humidity in the waiting room. We were probably in the top 5 of the most obnoxious cheer squad, after a kind stranger joined a support pact with us.
Having the next morning off, I got a change to explore a bit during a weekday morning. Something about being able to explore somewhere off-peak hours has a bit of a soft spot in my heart.
Described as one of the best breakfast sandwiches in the city, Egg Bae was a whole new paradigm for breakfast sandwiches to me. Despite being a bit messy, every part of the sandwich was done just right, and paired perfectly. A pretty solid recommendation from me.
I also managed to stop by a library I hadn’t heard of until this trip out east, and despite fearing that I’d miss the summer hours which unfortunately overlapped the hours I’d be at work, this morning off gave me a splinter of time to stop by.
Despite my initial concern, it did turn out that photography was allowed in the library. The only caveat being that I wasn’t allowed to capture the people within it, which made sense given its legal purpose. The entire building was something to take in, as the ornate and meticulous details were absolutely jaw-dropping.
No, my luck with spiral staircases out east did not improve here though. I feel like the sign below was specifically put out for me.
This totally looks like it popped right out of a Wes Anderson film though. Given its prime location (right by city hall), I’d highly recommend popping by for a quick jaunt if this is something that would interest you.
With that bucket list item checked off, it was Thai-me to celebrate with some Thai cuisine.
If you’ve never had southern Thai food, be prepared. This ain’t your typical mild Thai spice, be fully prepared to shed tears for the deliciousness that this food will being you. Those with sensitive stomachs may need to prepare themselves, but those brave enough to take the heat will surely be glad they did.
PS - Hattendo just a few doors down will have the Japanese cream puffs necessary to help cool you down.
After this meal, I decided to once again test my luck with spiral staircases. After several disappointing attempts, I hoped to finally see the legendary spiral staircase at the AGO, especially since they had an offer of free membership to anyone 25 and under during my visit. Unfortunately, we arrived just 10 minutes before closing, but I was able to get a membership in preparation for the next morning.
Art Gallery of Ontario, II
3 attempts later, and I finally got to see the staircase in all its glory. 10/10. Would recommend. The rest of the museum is pretty neat as well of course, as well as the surrounding area.
OCAD’s campus is right nearby as well. Known affectionately as the “cow block” building, seen in the accidental double exposure below.
We caught a street festival on Ossington on our way to our next destination - there were enough little stops and cafes on that street alone to fill a day’s itinerary, but there was one thing that brought us down this street - the promise of ice cream wrapped in a bubble waffle.
We did make a pit-stop for coffee at Pilot along the way however, due to just how beautiful the space was.
“…is that the line?” we asked as we saw a crowd of people lining out the door of a nondescript shop with nothing but “Ice Cream & Bakery” written across the top banner. Once we got in, we quickly settled on miso cherry as well as a hibiscus flavour, both of which were life-changing. The bubble waffle was a little disappointing as it had none of the balanced crisp-chewy texture we expected, but the ice cream more than made up for it.
A stroll through Trinity Bellwoods park led us to dinner.
If you’re a firm believer in al dente pasta, Gusto 101 will wow you. The open atmosphere is perfect for the summer, and I’ve never realized how good mushroom pasta could be. Also, don’t feel alone if you’re confused by how the washrooms work down there, it’s a bit of a dungeon.
As hinted in the beginning, the takeaway from my workcation is that Toronto wasn’t the fiery, formal, and frantic urban sprawl I always imagined it to be when I first pictured the work culture out east. Perhaps the greatest lesson wasn’t about one city, but rather my viewpoint on living outside of Vancouver to begin with.
Catching up with a high school friend who was similarly born and raised around Vancouver but moved out east for school, a line of conversation stood out to refine the way I was thinking about one day “moving out” or “moving away” from Vancouver.
“Vancouver is where I’ll spend the rest of my life anyways, what are one or two changes along the way?”
A seemingly obvious thought to some, the effortless wording had the perfect amount of weight to conclude my journey in Toronto.
Farewell for now.