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A weekend in Kingston

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KINGSTON, Ontario — There's nothing like a weekend in Kingston in the summertime. I was invited to participate in an annual boating trip with friends. We journeyed down the St. Lawrence River from Alexandria Bay to Kingston's Confederation Basin marina. It took a little under two hours by boat; by car from the Thousand Islands Bridge, it's about 45 minutes.
The Kingston waterfront is a hub of activity. We hit in the middle of their jazz festival, and enjoyed nonstop music each day from a big stage set up in the park by the marina.
Two blocks from the water, vendors were in abundance at the weekly farmers market in the heart of downtown. It was late June, and we couldn't believe the array of fresh veggies being trucked in from all over Ontario. Lots of berries, fresh herbs, onions and scallions, ripe red tomatoes, even corn (how do they do that?).
For restaurants and pubs, there are only two streets you have to know: Ontario and Princess. Ontario Street parallels the waterfront and is one bistro, outdoor café and homemade ice cream shop after another. Princess is perpendicular to that, with retail shops alternating with eclectic restaurants, pubs and coffee shops (some of my friends can't live without their Starbucks in the morning).

FRIDAY LUNCH
For lunch the first day, my friends always go to Woodenheads (192 Ontario St. 1 (613) 549-1812, www.woodenheads.ca ).
It has wood-fired gourmet pizza and much more — tapas, salads, paninis and light entrées like jerk-spiced chicken, wild boar and ricotta-stuffed crepes, grilled sweet sausage and gnocchi with basil-tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella.
Spring rolls stuffed with blackened chicken, feta and red cabbage were a favorite at the table, as were the Indian-spiced calamari rings simmered in tomatoes with lobster butter. A panini with grilled portobello mushrooms, goat cheese, roasted red peppers and baby spinach was magnificent, sandwiched between two pieces of wood oven-baked focaccia.
Pizzas were most popular at the table — three dozen to choose from! Our adventurous crowd went with the Arribiata (pomodoro sauce, mozzarella, calabrese salami and banana peppers), the Prosciutto (roasted garlic, mozzarella, tomatoes, prosciutto, sweet onions and rosemary) and the simple and effective Margherita (tomato sauce, tomatoes, bocconcini and basil).
There was a very extensive choice of beer and wines, too. A chardonnay called Kingston, from Kingston Estate Wines in Australia, became a favorite of the weekend.

FRIDAY DINNER
For dinner, we took a chance on Frankie Pesto's Italian Eatery.
Frankie Pesto's (167 Ontario St., 1 (613) 542-1071, www.frankiepestos.ca) has probably been on the strip longer than any of the bistros or cafés. Only one person in our party had been there before and was skeptical about going back.
If it had been good at one time, Frankie's is now way past its prime. The atmosphere is Italian villa, but it's dusty and dated. The menu looks OK on paper but lost something in translation to the plate.
We knew when we asked for anchovies on the Caesar salad and our waiter said they didn't have any that we were in trouble. We even offered to run down to the local supermarket and buy some for them. And a “homemade Caesar dressing” with no anchovies in it? In an Italian restaurant? Pleeeeease …
Next setback was the restaurant's reluctance to please the customer. One of our people asked if he could get a half portion of the spaghettiini alla Bolognese for a starter. “I'm sorry, but we don't do half portions,” our waiter responded. “OK,” shot back my friend, “How about you charge me full price and only give me a half portion?” “Can't do it” was the reply.
Antipasto platter was pretty good, with triple cream brie, peppercorn chevre and Gorgonzola with grilled garlic bread, prosciutto, bocconcini, kalamata olives and arugula leaves. Calamari “Griglia” was marinated and grilled-tasting calamari rings over a bed of way too many raw sliced onions presented in a small skillet. Did someone forget to sauté the onions? No human being could eat all those raw onions in one sitting.
Entrées were generally blah. The Bolognese was nothing special, as it turned out. A fresh fish feature — pickerel — was cooked a little too much. The veal used for the veal Marsala was pretty nice, but the wine sauce had a funny taste, not Marsala that I'm used to.
We're not going back there.
We walked down the street and stopped at Monte's for an after-dinner drink. “Belgian beers” and “martinis” on the sign out front coaxed us in.
A tray of very simple black Russians took forever. The bartender had to carefully measure a half-ounce of vodka and a half-ounce of Kahlua which virtually disappeared over ice cubes in a rocks glass.
We're not going back there, either.

SATURDAY BREAKFAST
For breakfast on Saturday, some went to Morrison's (318 King St. East, 1 (613) 542-9483), others went to Pan Chancho (44 Princess St., 1 (613) 554-7790, www.panchancho.com).
Morrison's is your typical noisy, crowded, fast-paced greasy spoon breakfast place. Steak and eggs, bacon and eggs, homemade hash, plain old coffee served with a smile or a scowl, depending upon who you get for a server. It is what it is — a downtown diner with a 1950s feel.
Pan Chancho, comparatively speaking, is new and hip and cool and trendy. Fresh muffins, fresh croissants, biscotti, lemon currant rolls, pain au chocolate, scones. Fresh-squeezed OJ, smoked salmon, breakfast wraps, french toast with apple butter crème fraiche.

SATURDAY LUNCH
For lunch, we considered Amadeus Schnitzel Haus (170 Princess St., 1 (613) 546-7468). The menu looked fabulous — schnitzels, goulash, chicken paprikash, chicken Kiev, filet of sole Viennese.
There's also Greco's (167 Princess St., 1 (613) 542-2229, www.grecos.com). But except for a few authentic Greek specialties (dolmas, tiropita, saganaki) we were seeing too many un-Greek things like pizza, chicken fingers and club sandwiches on the lunch menu.
There's nothing like lunch in the courtyard at Chez Piggy (68 Princess St., 1 (613) 549-7673, www.chezpiggy.com) on a beautiful afternoon, so that's where we headed.
It was magnificent — the pleasant bartenders inside (no one-ounce mixed drinks here), the wine selection, the eclectic menu, the poised wait staff.
Here's a sampling of what we got: fresh oysters on the half shell, duck and green peppercorn terrine with red onion confit, Vietnamese spring rolls, Caesar salad with crispy pancetta and shaved Parmesan, smoked haddock chowder with shrimp and mussels, curried chicken salad with pears on whole wheat bread.

SATURDAY DINNER
It's Saturday night, our final dinner of the weekend. After disappointing Italian food the night before, we chose to visit Casa Domenico (35 Brock St., 1 (613) 542-0870 www.casadomenico.ca).
This is Italian fine dining, but nothing is pretentious. It's relaxed, the servers are low-key and the bartenders understand us. And the food is the best.
House-made spicy sausage with braised sweet peppers and salsa verde, veal meatballs with tomato sauce and Romano cheese, risotto balls stuffed with porcini mushrooms, peas and mozzarella. Black-peppered tuna served rare with caramelized fennel, tomato oil and citrus mayo, beef tenderloin with caramelized onion potato cake and roasted garlic, roasted arctic char with warm potato salad, Genovese pesto and red pepper relish.
And every pasta dish was outstanding.
Fettuccine with pancetta, roasted garlic and basil in a lemon cream sauce; penne with garlic, shallots, basil pesto with Parmesan in a tomato vodka rose sauce; rigatoni with rapini, anchovies, chilies, garlic and bread crumbs tossed with olive oil (we were determined to get our anchovies!).
Lots of food, lots of fun. I'd recommend heading to Kingston to find out for yourself.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via e-mail: wsiebel@wdt.net.

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