Saturday in Toronto

September 8, 2013

 I’ve spent the last 3 days in Toronto, working on a television show.  And this is what I’ve learned: Canadians really ARE nicer.  There’s a palpable lack of tension. Everything here feels more relaxed.

And Toronto is a wonderful food town. I spent yesterday morning wandering around the St. Lawrence market.  Bustling. Aromatic. And every time I saw a line, I went and stood in it.  The longest one was for the famous pea meal bacon on a bun at Carousel Bakery,  It is, apparently, a de rigueur stop on the chef’s tour, and the place roars with encomiums from Tony Bourdain, et al.  It was delicious- soft bun, lean, mild, slices of pork loin – but it’s never going to figure in my dreams. I prefer the sassy fatness of belly bacon.

The other long line was at the Kozlik’s mustard stand, and I have to admit that I stood there eating pretzel after pretzel of their crunchy triple C mustard. Irresistible.

There are a couple of wonderful cheese vendors, but my favorite stand had to be Whitehouse Meats, which specializes in game of all kinds.  They had fresh pheasants – not to mention sliders made of kangaroo and camel.  I asked the man behind the counter if they actually sell, and he insisted that they’re extremely popular.

I had lunch with Chris Nuttall-Smith, restaurant critic at the Globe and Mail. I love reading his stuff – he has the mix of enthusiasm, knowledge, talent and fairness that makes a really good restaurant critic. I love the fact that of all the restaurants in Toronto, he chose a wonderful little Persian place called Tavoos.  “You can’t get this kind of home-cooking in New York,” he explained. (Read his review here.

 Lunch was wonderful; I practically inhaled the dish of green olives tossed with chopped walnuts, mint and pomegranate molasses topped with barberries- an extraordinary plate of salt, savory and sweet whose flavor resonated in my mouth like a musical instrument, still thrumming long after I’d taken the last bite.  I loved kashk-e bademjan, smashed eggplant, with mint and shards of fried onions, with a splash of whey across the top that accentuated all the flavors. Still, I have to admit that I was wary of the scary sounding  kaleh pacheh, a classic Iranian breakfast.  “Each portion comes with 2 hooves and a tongue,” the waitress explained, and then circled back to correct herself.  “I meant,” she said, “that you get one hoof and 2 tongues in each bowl.”  Oh, right. You also get a side dish of pickled garlic, chiles, lemons and basil to mix into the broth.

 When the soup arrives, it’s exactly as promised _ a tiny, but very identifiable lamb’s hoof and two small lamb’s tongues in a greyish broth. Definitely not pretty.  But I pick up the delicate little hoof and start gnawing at it, and it’s one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tried: subtle, chewy, fun to eat.  I squeeze in some of the lemon, tear off some basil, stir that into the soup. The flavor is transformed.  Then I add one of the soft, robust cloves of pickled garlic, and the flavor is rounded out, smoothed.  I slice off a bit of tongue and it’s soft and pliant, the way tongue is, the most delicious meat.  I squeeze in more lemon, have a spoonful of beets in yogurt, a bite of the home-made bread.  What a way to start the day!  I kind of float out of that restaurant, so satisfied.

But the day is young, and there’s so much more to eat.  I’m having dinner with an old friend.  No, I mean a really old friend – a man I knew and loved in college, but last saw in 1973.  (It’s Mac, if you’ve read Tender at the Bone.) He walks into the hotel and forty years fall away; we can’t stop hugging each other.  And then we start to talk. And talk. As if all those years have not gone by, and we’re just picking up a conversation where it left off.  

I’d asked friends where to take Mac to dinner.  I wanted good food, but not some celebrity-studded place where everyone would dance around and demand that we pay attention to what we were eating.  “Edulis,” four people said, “Edulis is where you want to be.”

And I think Edulis might be where one always wants to be.  It’s cozy. Tobey may be the best front person I’ve ever met – the perfect hostess. Loving. Proud of her restaurant. And utterly restrained.  She made me feel so safe.

They fed us wonderful food. Herring, in a big pot, with onions, carrots and a salad of tiny fingerling potatoes.  The heartiest, most satisfying bread, with great butter and a little pot of tomato.  On the meal went, through the most extraordinary wild Nunavut Arctic char – a revelation to me, who has never had anything but farmed char before. So delicate. So delicious. We ate in a kind of dream; here a bit of sausage, there the softest slice of lobster mushroom.  A tomato consomme so delicious we were scraping the bottom of the bowl. A pungent little square of sausage. And in the end, a plate of perfect raspberries. When those berries arrived I was stunned to discover we’d been there, at that table, eating and talking for four hours.  It had seemed like four minutes.  

It was the company of course. But the food too. We’d been lucky enough to put ourselves in the hands of restaurateurs who understand that there are times when the role of food is to make a good situation better.  It would have been so easy to get that wrong.  But Tobey and Michael – and the entire staff – get it completely. 

So many restaurants insist that the experience is about them: their food, their ambiance, their wine.  At Edulis, it’s all about you. They feed you wonderful food – but they understand that a great meal transcends what’s on the table. 

Mac and I were there to get to know each other all over again.  Edulis – the food, the wine, the ambience – was the perfect place to do that. I am very grateful. And I can’t wait to go back. 


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