Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Klok Stops

It doesn't matter what you know, but what you do with that knowledge, and how you share it. This is a lesson I learned most from a fellow Firesign Theatre chatter Brian Converse, whose alias in the chatroom was Klokwkdg, a reference to the clock- work dog mentioned in the Firesign Theatre's Sherlock Holmes parody The Giant Rat of Sumatra. I never met Klok, who lived in Rhode Island (just like my favourite story teller Spaulding Gray) but my chat friends who did meet him are unanimous in his praises. It takes a certain amount of knowledge-hoarding capacity just to BE a fan of the Firesign Theatre, with their everflowing cornucopia of arcana. Part of the fun of chat is sharing and playing with this knowledge. But Klok didn't stop with Firesign lore. Every time I had a minor tech problem I would send Klok a brief email detailing my frustrations and receive massive e-missives of helpful advice. He was volcanic in his generosity. His death comes as a shock to everyone who knew him, but if we learned anything from Klok, it is not to mourn his absence but to increase our own learning and sharing that learning. Wherever there is curiosity, the clock never stops.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Back to Toronto

Bishop met me at the train station and we transported enough cidre for our needs by cab back to his house, where-in I was informed they'd made reservations at
Gamelle and showed me it's menu they'd printed out. Looking good.
Of course, appearance is not what one goes to a restaurant for.

Bishop and Deb were happy with their ordered red, I with my sparkling, as we dawdled on bits of bread and olive tapenade. I'm going with the grilled calamari. Squid has to go out of its way not to taste delicious. Miso is part of its ingredients, and whenever I see the word "miso" on the menu, I know it'll be pretty good.
The squid is indeed excellent, but the thing it's on tastes like coleslaw with pretentions, stolen from a better salad. I tell the waiter, who says he'll inform the chef. Yet the squid itself is so good I don't want to add the smallest sip of wine to it. I'm enjoying a spectacular bite of squid, and then when I sample its celery base, it's as if I've fallen to a newly mined circle of taste hell.
I go with the vegie entree as once more the ingredients Sound delicious, in the sense that something you read "sounds" rather than smells or elicits taste memories.
Deb's quail tastes like really good steak, cooked over alderwood or some very fragrant wood, mmm, more cow than bird about that flesh. An animal from our forgotten past, our creative future?
I order my vegie thingie with some prawns, and they arrive still armoured. If I wanted Kagemusha, I would have dug up Kurosawa. My mouth reels with delayed taste.
My food looks like a taco ufo with some snakey orange innards in search of Miro. Tastes like well-cured cardboard. Wine helps. The lentil thing is intense only in its starchiness. The wine pairing is at best, haphazard.
Deb's caribou tastes like a cow would taste if it were drenched in herbs and good wines all its life and then devoured by people who worshiped what they ate. Strong meaty aftertaste though.
If the Inca had not been counquered and their empire existed to the present day, perhaps this is what you'd get in one of their restaurants. Interesting uses of beans. Too high altitude for my tastes. And what would Inca wine taste like?
A secret forever gone? Where would our guardian llamas take us? Memory lives in tastes longer than any other place, so where do we go with that knowledge?

All in all, I've eaten as well in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal as I could eat in Vancouver, and that's a high standard. They're also splendid cities to stroll around, even in the absence of memories, historial contexts or comprehension of direction.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Feasting in the East 3- Montreal

First time I've come to Montreal by train, previous trips here by thumb (71, 73) and plane (67). The short ride from Ottawa is brief and pleasent. It's sort of raining when I arrive. Although provided with instructions on how to get to Huddart's bldg, I ask someone in the train station info centre, who gives me a map, and then several people on the street. I first go to the wrong bank building but eventually find his. As I enter his office with a commanding view of McGill (where I stayed the last time I was here), Huddart tells me he asked around for the best restaurant in a city known for great restaurants, and was told to check out which we then proceed to do. We're off for the Verdun district. I hope we don't lose a few million soldiers on the way.
Huddart not only speaks but reads French, and I learn the French words for "swordfish" and "scallops," or more accurately, I learn that Huddart knows those words. Our bouches are amused with some salmon tartare in a nice mayonaisey sort of sauce. Light and delightful. My sparkling wine shows up just in time. Our swordfish with parsely and lemon is ridiculously good, best swordfish I've had since Portugal 4 years ago. My appetiser had been the scallops, with mushrooms and what may be apples or pears, in kind of a heavy sauce. I'm delighted the entree is lighter.The swordfish is light in the sense that lazers are
This will be last restaurant meal until Monday back in Toronto. The weekend will be spent dining on the Huddarts' supurb cooking. They are also superlative tour guides to their intriguing city. I get a tour of the city's farmer's market on Saturday morning as well as the National Theatre School where Katherine had worked until recently. These young actor-wannabees have more energy in a fingernail than I do in several decades. We debate the various cidre possibilties, before deciding to stock up on Mystic Cidre from the Farmer's Empire (or whatever it's called, to big too be merely a "market.") In the afternoon we drive off to see the Botanical Garden. On the way, we pass La Ronde which I remember from Expo 67. When I arrived in Montreal by plane with my relatives, including my uncle Gib who designed the Western Provinces pavillion at that world's fair, what first struck me on the drive from the airport to their friends' house in the deep suburbs was the fact that all the signs were in French. Now it's a kinda of tease. I understand some of the words, as about a third of the words in French and English are the same words, but not enough to actually function in a Francophone environment. When I try and speak French, Japanese words come out (this happened in 73 too). But no one seems to mind, as long as I have a Francophone "handler." Montreal is a large European city transported to North America. Our own private Basques. A leisurely drive up Mt Royal reminds me of the last and only time I'd been there, staying with a friend who lived there in 71. When I walked up to the top, I was amazed to find two men reciting How Can You Be In 2 Places at Once, the 2nd Firesign album which I also knew by heart. It remains a city of wonders. I expect Leonard Cohen to fall out of a tree as we drive the streets, and Genevieve Bujold to emerge from behind a curtain in a window, revealing some profound secret. The fact that most of the leaves havent turned colour yet works out because the green they still possess contrasts pleasingly with the ubiquitous red brick of the houses.
The gardens are extensive and World's Fair-like in their endless new things to see.
The Chinese gardens remind me of the Sun Yat Sen gardens in Vancouver, which I've only visited once. The aesthetic here is well-integrated from every vista. It has the feel of a very large World's Fair pavillion. The garish displays are well-mitigated by the subtle vistas through tall grass, glowing in the late afternoon sun, at least until I turn my head and view cartoony penguin pinata-like creations.
The First Nations gardens are a visual palate cleanser(ok, weak metaphor there) after all the architecture-meets-cartoonery of the Chinese. We learn about local, lovable plants and how they've nourished the people who've lived here for millennia. Enough with the toy animals, let's learn about the tracks made my Real animals. Huddart and son Kaj are taught to chew bark into interesting patterns, while my camcorder rolls.
At the Japanese garden, we are met by a pond big enough to hide Commodore Perry. Little kids say "wow" or the French version there-of at the colourful carp that swim about in search of photographers. Aged bonsais stretch their limbs to delude us.
Back on the road, we drive off to the Old Town and the Old Port. Mile after mile of visual interest. In what other North American city can you make that statement? The Old Town is Europe with slightly fewer tourists. The Huddarts actually buy something.
The following day Huddart takes me out to their country house. On the way we stop at a couple of cideries(even the word makes me thirsty, but in a good way) and try their wares. The cidre here is different from BC cidres, maybe different apples or different processing, but excellent none the less.
For dinner back in the city, Katherine makes two soups, one yellow-tomato based, the other appley and perfect with cidre. I enjoy playing with their dog Lupe. I remember when they got the dog when they lived in Vancouver 4 years ago, Lupe seemed huge. Now he appears diminutive compared to our vast beast Icy. The two Huddart cats are as small as kittens but are 15 years old. Very deceptive, as cats are fond of being.
The following day I have an excellent spinache quiche (is quiche an english word? It's called something else at the station cafe) and a cup of chamomile tea awaiting my train to Toronto, and then an edible tuna sandwich on the 5 hour train ride.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Ottawa 3

(Canadian architectural deity Douglas) Cardinal's Museum carved into its background like a friendly wave and closer, like an Olmec god. Parliament buildings beyond appear Venetian, against the close curving museum. Loved Cardinal's Indian museum in DC at the beginning of this blog, here I am at another version of his vision. The First Nations University in Regina as well. It's raining, off and on. This was the main reason I wanted to come to Ottawa. Here it is.
Kinda lost city of Petra, for an additional fee. Sounds like a really interesting idea. I hope some other museum develops it into something good. The visual presentation of informaiton is an art form. Non artists should not apply. It was a place I wanted to visit Before I saw this exhibit.
Back in Canada, and we start where our country started, in its foundations. We go down.
Interesting concept, decent into the West Coast nations as your escalator goes past totem poles. That was well thought out. Gives you a sense of the height of the long houses you'd enter for their presentation.
The first house, I like how dark it is, as it would have been in the real house. Not good for my eyes but its says something important about how the things within would have been viewed by their creators. The mice, or wahtever animal toys, or whatever. The images of children. You really have to bend down to look, even with zoom lens. Let gravity draw you down to discovery.
The incongruity of a long canoe from the pacific in a room in Ottawa. The projected story on the skin has a campfire echo, Disney and earlier for me. When I was an Indian Guide, some pre-cub scout thing when I was 6 or 7 or something too far vanished to be recalled through anything but echoes. Such as this.
Another Bill Reid iteration of the Haida canoe sculpture. I try to superimpose the black version I saw in DC last May, the airport green one I've seen so often with this white one. the original plaster cast. Hard to do as a concept but focusing on one image, such as Reid's mouse face and then recalling it in the other colours makes this possible. White has its own pleasures. The way it takes on the lights. The reason we can appreciate art is because it tells us something we need to know, about ourselves, our capacities, and the imminence of their absence.
The revelatory A Separate Reality by Moriseau. As overwhelming in 2 dimensions as Reid's canoe full of wonders is in 3. Kind of reminded me of a Bosch who'd had a happy childhood.
The innuit sculptures look like crystals sprouted out of the rock

Louis Reil's jacket. Does it bring him to life, or emphasize his distance?
Totemic Composition of Women, Animal and Birds gathered at the Igloo, stunning molding ancient Minoan and innuit. My kinda imagery.
Great vista of giant mask in the courtyard outside, as well as a small plane and changing leaves, downtown Ottawa, all the appropriate images from the most appropriate place. And then I look up into the ceiling. Like eye opening for the the first time. And the colours. New senses coming into existence. Kinda Dali, flames, frills, snakes, birds, something red and organic, and at the centre, a painter's wheel in the age of too many choices, but not for you.
A great 3-D-ish map of Canada, a celing bespeckled with lantern fragments like the opening egg of the peyote bird. Cartoon colonials have their speech bubbles neatly split into english and split, as if they were miscreant infinitives.
I learn about the Pemmican Makers, the origins of the Metis. One of those words every Canadian hears but even the well educated know not of this. If my father the car dealer had been active a century earlier, he could have sold Red River Carts. The 1885 merchant's family display, much like the one I'd seen days earlier at the ROM, is somewhere my grandparents would have felt at home. The Saskatchewan stuff seems particularly to hover on the edges of familiarity. Melville was my father's home town and here it is, and my mother's Ukranian heritage in abundance. All that stuff that would have figured prominently in their lives, now just fleeting memories and soon no one will be alive who remembers any of this.
The worker's house 1940 brings to life the Japanese-Canadians rounded up in the exhibit in the War Museum, as only good displays can. Once again, it emphasizes the variety of the Canadian experience, even when not encouraged to be Canadian.
The last section, with Vancouver Airport in the 60s had the greatest resonance of all, as that's where I've ended up too. I leave from Reid's green Haida masterpiece and come to a city I remember covered with snow to see a white copy of the same sculpture. Always a good thing to do. The airport as gateway to Japan. It has always been so, for my family. From my grandparents era, it would have been science fiction, getting on a plane and getting off in Japan in such a short period of time. Back to Reid again, this time the copy of the Aquarium's great statue. Its curves echo those of the building seen without and within. Chief of the Undersea World. Tiny Inuit carvings of large animals, magnified by camera magic. Outside, the portions of faces, from childhood books of facial construction. I think it would get tiresome compared to the eternal colours of the rest of the museum, soil forming colour reality. Dune-ish. Water-rock.

Then it's time for Imax film I'd reserved a seat for. It was about the sea. It was more about vertigo to me. It made me not want to eat fish for lunch.

Looking at the lime beef salad I flimed, now on monitor, it looks so much better than it tasted. But I was hungry and hardly about to shlepp over to the National Arts Centre Cafe to see if it still had a beef sandwich. This looked like a good idea. It was too firey, but that's a common problem for me and somewhat abated by the cucumbers, the white wine and the great view from the window of the rainy capital. I would venture soon accross that bridge, umbrella not flinging me into the river hopefully as Mary Poppins, but now I'm dry and drinking just enough wine to extinguish the beef on fire and then set out to see the gallery. The wonderful gallery of oz? The cafe's chairs of such exploding modernity to cancel out all those Victorian chair smotherments within. I stay inside, breathe fire. Then out into the rainy bridge, and not to be blown away. Perhaps, a token of things to come.

From within, the towers have diamond-like majesty, as exquistite as from without, but cathedral-like it may be with my tax dollars celebrating their absence, as soon as I take out my camcorder and zoom in on some thousand-year old innuit tiny animal sculpture, I'm told that photography is not allowed here. And why not? Is this not OUR Art? Do the yanks care who takes pix of their greatest art in their National Gallery, etc, etc? Do the French restrict photography in the Louvre or the Musee d'Orsay? If Canada lasts longer than the universe, it will never have art in the whole country a quintillionith as good as one floor of the Musee d'Orsay and we don't allow photography? What stupendous hubris. It makes everything in the gallery suspect. A couple of good Monets, one I remember from my visit to its predecessor in maybe 71, sunset Waterloo Bridge looks as good as it did then. The Chagall Eifel Tower painting is evocative. I do see a bit of Group of 7 I had never seen up close that were worth looking at in the museum but it's basically not worth the price of admission. A waste of already sore feet. Thankfully a short walk home, soak feet in tub again, and get ready for dinner at Signatures. Jack Abramoff's restaurant? Hopefully, this is different. The Embassy of French food, as it were. Quebec rather than Parisian. The menu celebrates its Canadianess and I have studied it intently on line. The gallery is kind of like a cathedral that looks good from the outside and from within looking out its windows, but inner directed vision is obscured, daunted. Unwelcomed. We await silent tristero's empire, or at least a democratic approach to public art.
The church accross the street I recall from my Carleton days when it stood out against the city. It made a pretty picture. Now it is dwarfed by its neighbour, the gallery. A giant spider gaurds its entrance. Isn't Sauron overthrown yet?
I walk back in history. An earlier Ottawa, closer to its conception, when French was as ubiquitous as now, perhaps, but modern appliances and energy supplies bring forth a new empire of French Food? I walk up into a Louis the Someteenth realm. Can I handle the Big Menu? I get some exercise walking into an empty chamber, thus far. I unpack the still camera, the camcorder and the microcassette. Let's see how good they do this.
Started with the house cocktail, strawberry liquor and champagne? Very pink. Went well with wallpaper, which seemed to have been there since my grandparents were kids. This would be the 1860s. Walking through all these museums and relics of my and my ancestors' past, my sense of time is increasingly fluid. I wonder if the fireplace is functional, but its seems to have warmed an earlier era.
I'm told the grand menu will take 2 1/2 hours to eat. Do I have that much time? If taxi is prompt, I can be back at the hotel for the new Chappelle Show. That will be done. Ok, bring it on, food. What was Napoleon spreading, anyway? The clap or great cuisine?
The overall decor, of wealth long and well preserved, the background chatter and piano gave me the impression that I'd stumbled into a lodge of rich people, knocking out the economies of thier ill-mannered suppliers as quickly as I knocked back this strawberry drinky. A very intriguing light for the table, of Mona Lisa and other Louvre delights well lit and lighting my meal.
The camcorder took better pix of the strawberry bevy than the still camera but I enjoyed zooming in on the reflected chandelier in the jewalled window, the bits of art right out of the museums I'd just bathed in, here upon functioning walls. An amazing complement to days of visits to the imagined and remembered, place and story.
Each course is perfectly paired with its wine and they got as much out of their ingredients as I imagined could be done within the realm of this style of cooking. Ok all of that is on one side. On the other side is the lobster. The first bite of the lobster, I fell down a hole, into a different universe of tastes. Alice came by and offered a good white. I'd never known lobster as an ingredient could be that good, with its orange-braised endives, ginger and Cointreau saboyan.
Back to beginnings. I'm amuse bouched with fois gras (this is, after all, greater Quebec!)and some sort of chutney. Will I survive? Better chutney than Cheyney.
The server said it was top of the line, as good as you could get in Canada. I would prefer never to have eaten it, but I did order it, sort of, so I'll soldier on, like my father would have done at Dieppe. Yeah right. Wine helps alot so, or, however, it's not bad. Tis profoundly meaty but the apple and chantrelle do soothe.
Wine doenst magnify so much as puts the best possible frame around it all.

The excellent somelier informs me that
the wine was chosen to enhance the asparagus with the crab, the first serious course. I am offered it before the chartreuse of Alaskan crab arrives, but send it back. Want it cold when the food arrives.
Finally the lobster arrives. I had never eaten lobster used as an ingredient with such genius before. I didnt know it could be done.
The server has told me as I was pondering my order that the reason the most expensive meal is the best is because of the fine wines that really show off Julie the somelier's stuff. That would appear to be an understatement.
Another meaty meal arrives, the peppercorn-encrusted Alberta beef tenderloin flambeed in Calvados (can't get enough apples) right beside my table. More theatre than cuisine. I would say it went well with the fois gras if I were a fan of fois gras. Still, it comes After the wondrous lobster which remains the best reason for going to Signatures. Julie's suggested wine does indeed go well with the peppercorns.
Next I'm served frozen fruit in what looks like a Bill Reid canoe, full of Haida characters. Is the cantelope Bill? Supposed to cleanse the palate and does its job well, just like Bill Reid.
The meal ends with apricots sauteed with Saskatchewan honey (is this a meal or a geography lesson?). I order the Signatures coffee, but find it too bitter to drink. The meal ends up costing me twice as much as the even better meal I had at Beckta, but I can't complain. It's been an experience. As I'm leaving, the server chases after me with the microcassette I'd forgotten on the table, or I wouldn't be typing up these notes. Shes deserves a tip. Signatures deserves a trip to Ottawa for, just as the assorted museums justify the price of your room in a hotel. It's been a great touristy 3 days in Ottawa, now back to bigcity land where ALL the signs are in French.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Ottawa 2

Got a cab to Carleton around 9. He asked if I were on my way to teach a class there. Oddly, I've had a whole career as a teacher, now ended since I was last in this city. Now I'm just a tourist in my past. The chatty cabby let me off at what proved to the the Loeb bldg, a conglomerate of towering red brownishness I remember fondly from my days as a student here. Used to get tea from the basement, which would warm me on my way to classes and fog my glasses if I went outside. I find the Loeb basement filled with vending machines, not a tea service in sight. Instead, the nearby library has a sort of Star Bucks-lite place where they do indeed dispense hot water and tea bags. When I go back outside, its too warm to fog glasses from tea but the Quad feels familiar, I can almost imagine being here 37 years ago.
In the student centre, I search for the radio station. Some stairs and some escalators take me up but none to the 5th floor, until with repeated assitance from students, I find my way to the tunnel-like station where a man just opening up shows me around. They are celebrating their 30th anniversary as a broadcast station. I inform him that I narrowcasted from a precursor to this station in 69. From the tunnels, instead of this tower. He tells me of recently talking to Bo Diddley on the phone during a pledge drive. Always loved radio, and delighted to see how far up its come since my days here.
The tunnels are not as I remember. In 69 people scrawled or drew whatever and wherever. Now they seem to have orderly panels, devoted to various groups, years or res. groups. The mail boxes under res looked familiar but the dining area where you could eat bad hot dogs at 3 AM has been given over to various franchises. I had been shooed away when I tried filming the food court in the student centre and saw no reason to antagonize them. I remember getting raspberry jam filled donut thingies and tea in the tunnels on my way to class. The tunnels were a great way to avoid winter but grow quickly tiresome now. The res does not allow entrance to strangers, and that's as it should be these days. The place where I first met the people I'm coming to visit on this trip, Bishop in Toronto and Huddart in Montreal as well as C. Dale I visited recently up north. All of us lived at Glengarry residence. And now live elsewhere, but remain in touch, for some reason.
Both Carleton friends I'm visiting on this trip had told me to visit the Canadian War Museum so that was first on my list after I left Carleton. A very moving experience. The architecture of the building, within and without, speak eloquently of the desolation of war. I thought the special exhibit, about the 7 years war, for all its importance in the creation of the US and Canada, was uninterestingly presented. The same could not be said of the massive exhibits of wars from earliest history to Canada's soldiers dying in Afghanistan as I type. Always the radio fan, I thought the use of voices, push a button and hear in English or French the stories of soldiers in hundreds of years of wars telling you what they experienced was most effective. I learned a lot about Canadian history that I didn't know. The incarceration of Ukranians during WW I (when Ukraine was part of the Austrian empire, and thus my ancestors were considered The Enemy in their adapted country) was an event that I knew far too little about. Bishop had told me it was as much a museum of Canadian history as a military museum. What was refreshing (in a grim sort of way) was how much the exhibits focussed on not just soldiers suffering on the front lines but how people coped back home. Games kids would have played during WW II for example. There was a good section about Dieppe, the Canadian catastrophe, a preliminary to the D-Day invasion, where my father was supposed to go but luckily spent that time in the hospital while his fellow soldiers went off to be slaughtered. How lucky he is to be celebrating his 89th birthday.
The exhibit about the Canadians captured in Hong Kong led to a portrait of The Japanese soldier. Gee, didn't look like my father-in-law at all. Also a segment on the Canadians interned during the war. The war's influence on both my family and Fumiyo's was palpable. I remember going to elementary school in LA in the 50s and being given pencils with their erasers labelled "for rubbing out Nips." And that was more than a decade after the war. A headline from the Vancouver Sun read, "Japs, All Enemy Aliens to Move from Defense Zones; Whites to Run Fish Fleet." Bet those fish were confused.
In general I admired how balanced the view of all the wars were, not just suffering Canadian soldiers. I can't imagine the Americans (or the Japanese or any European countries whose museums I've visited) being that balanced about their military histories. For example, an exhibit of the liberated prisoners from Nazi death camps, which well illustrates why the war was necessary, is near another exhibit questioning the military value of the bombings of Germany and Japan, and whether they were worth it. My father-in-law's first family, his wife and 3 daughters, were incinerated in the firebombing of Tokyo, which killed many more people than the more famous bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I was also impressed with the problems Canadian soldiers faced because of the poor equipment they were issued. Their WW I rifle is a famous SNAFU but I didnt' know until visiting their museum that our soldiers' nylon uniforms in the Korean War were so noisy they had to take them off when approaching North Korean lines, where the soldiers wore quilted, quiet uniforms. I wonder if they're wearing appropriate uniforms in Afghanistan now?
Thankfully the museum, which starts with neolithic savagery, ends with our present tense military situation, contains a chilling portrait of camouflaged Gen Dollaire. Lack of support for his UN mission led to the genocide in Rwanda. Canadian soldiers righfully fought against Hitler's genocide but not Rwanda, or now not Darfur? What's wrong with this picture?
The museum ends with a number of questions on the wall to make visitors think seriously not just about wars of the past but how we live now. Signs ask What Do You Think? Louis Riel, hero or traitor? When is war necessary? Who would you miss? Where were you (during recent historial events)? What do you fear? What will you do? History is not just the story you read. It is the one you write. It is the only you remember or denounce or relate to others. It is not predetermined. Every action, every decision, however small, is relevant to its course. History is filled with horror, and replete with hope. You shape the balance. A very eloquent way to end a tour of a war museum. The building itself resembles a bunker. You can almost expect to hear bombs falling. The overall effect was quite depressing, however rightfully so.
On my way to the National Arts Centre, which I wished to visit, didn't look too far to walk, at least on the map. It was a pleasent walk, right by the scenic Parliament buildings. I wanted to go to the arts centre because I had a baron of beef sandwich at its cafe in 1971, the only restaurant meal I'd ever eaten in Ottawa before my fabulous feast at Beckta last night. I wanted to find out of the cafe still had good food, but the long walk to it brought me there after it had closed for lunch. Very hungry and with aching feet, I walked accross the street to the Darcy McGhee Irish Pub named after the famous Canadian Father of Confederation, assassinated a few blocks from the pub on April 7, 1868. I wonder if I can get a John Wilkes Booth Burger anywhere near Ford's Theatre in Washington DC?. I was so happy to finally sit down. The server asked me if I wanted a newspaper. I didn't, but was delighted at the offer. The only drink on the menu was Guiness so I inquired if it was the only drink available. She said there were a variety of beers. I asked if she had any Belgians, or perhaps the Quebec Belgian immitations which are also quite flavourful. At first she said, no Belgians, but then remembered that Stella was Belgian (that's why the Belgian bar I reviewed on this blog earlier is named Stella!) and brought a tall cold one. MMM. All that walking had made me exceedingly thirsty. Even if it had tasted terrible, it would have tasted great at that moment for me. From a list of Irish favourites on the menu, I ordered the Gallway Seafood Medley: shrimp, scallops, salmon and haddock simmered in a white wine cream sauce served with basmati rice. Sounds scrumptious to this hungry tourist. The menu also says "wine to complement any meal." From this I deduce there must be a beverage menu, so I request one. If I'd have known I could get wine, I wouldn't have ordered the beer. I finally get a glass on cold white wine and my meal is edible. After witnessing the privations of Canadians throughout history at the War Museum, my minor hunger and sore feet seem so petty.
Nourished once more, I wandered around Sparks Street Mall, which I vaguely remember from past visits to Ottawa and then returned to the hotel to soak my feet in the tub and drink cans of excellent Irish cidre from a nearby liquor store until the pain went away.
I last remember seeing my cousin Terry in our home town Yorkton in 1973, which was also the last year I visited Ottawa. Much has happened in his life and mine since then. He had just retired from a 35 year career in the military, so not surprisingly, one of the first things he asked me when we met for dinner was whether I'd seen the War Museum. I told him I had earlier today and then mentioned I learned about the Ukranians (that would be us) imprisoned in our new homeland of Canada as enemy aliens during WW I. Terry said it was an acquaintance of his who got that installation into that museum. It seems everyone I meet has some connection with that museum. Although Terry had been married to Bonnie for 28 years, this was my first time meeting her, and seeing photos of their now adult children. It's odd when you know someone in childhood and then meet them when you are both old. It's not like the old person today has anything in common with the youth you only vaguely recall from long ago. One thing I did recall was that Terry was very funny. He still is.
They took me to The Black Cat Cafe, thankfully a short walk from my hotel. I had studied its menu online, but when I got there, it seemed to have a new menu. Appetisers were labelled Barcelona Style Tapas. As Barcelona was the city Fumiyo and I had discovered tapas in, this boded well.
I had the Hamburgesa de Kobe, mini-kobe burger with angry tomato tempraillo sauce, buffalo mozzarella, choriso and sour dough. It was as if Gaudi had designed a cheese burger. Chef Rene Rodriguez also offered us small bowls of some sort of cod-based pudding which tasted kind of Portugese. Eating all this fine food was complemented by listening to Terry and Bonnie's stories of their lives in Europe and how it made them wine connoisseurs. Terry was able to find a red wine to his liking on the Black Cat menu while I stuck with sparkling wines. One place one must visit between bottles is the men's room, and the Black Cat actually has a tv set embedded in the floor. You don't have to be Elvis Presley to piss on the news!
Normally I eat mostly seafood, but the Gaudiburger was so good I decided to try the
"Roasted rack of lamb with sourdough, green olive panzanella, warm smoky sundried tomato vinaigrette, buffalo mozzarella, fennel puree and cumin scented roasted red pepper tempranillo coulis" which sounds like it would segue well after the burger. Twas not to be. It quite overwhelmed me with its sheer meatiness. Still it was great to meet Terry and Bonnie and learn of their lives over the decades.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Feasting in the East 2- Ottawa

The highest rated restaurant I could find in Ottawa on the internet was Beckta, which sounds like the Irish playwrite in a parallel universe where Godot finally does show up, bringing drinks. I call for a reservation as soon as I arrive at my hotel in the capitol, the only city in the east where I had once lived, although too long ago to carry much memory. I thought, considering its ratings, Beckta would be hard to get into but I'm pleasently surprised that I could get in this evening. The cab driver seems to have some difficulty finding it, but it is found and I enter what seems more like a house than restaurant. Immediate vibes are Lumiere, Vancouver's highest rated restaurant, although Lumiere is much bigger and less inviting.
I'm welcomed with a fruity cocktail, topped with a gooseberry or whatever the berry that wears its own paper coat is called. Mango seems to be the prevalent taste. It is made more amusing by the amuse bouche, a halibut and cucumber concoction pictured above. Fishy on its own, but perfect with the merry berry drink.
I'm also offered several types of bread and two kinds of butter. I try the carmelized butter on a small piece of bread and am reminded of butterscotch-marshmallow candies I'd enjoyed as a kid. Not what I'm expecting with butter!
I spend some time admiring the decor. Had really enjoyed the decor exhibit at the ROM I'd seen the other day, and this made me think that some of this furniture seems purloined from a modern interiors museum. Many faces in the crowded restaurant appear familiar. A man nearby has a forehead bigger than some Canadian provinces. Must be parliamentarians I'd seen on TV. Perhaps new legislation was being discussed at the next table, between intricate appetisers.
I had studied the menu online before coming here and had decided on the tuna appetiser with the citrus oil. Whenever I see the word "citrus" I'm likely to order whatever its applied to. The servers are very attentive and informative when I ask for a wine pairing for the tuna as well as the striped bass I order as an entree. Mr. Beckta, the man whose name is on the restaurant, walks by and concurs with the wine paring offered. He asks where I'm from and I tell him Vancouver. He says he's just returned from there and dined well at West. I mention my cousin David Wolowidnyk invents cocktails for them, and Mr B tells me the cocktails he's had at West were the best he's ever tasted. I'll have to tell David.
The citrussy tuna speaks of a very high calibre restaurant, such as West and few others in Vancouver I can think of. The last sip of my mango cocktail goes magnifcently with it, as does the perfectly paired wine, a Cape Spring Chenin Blanc 2001 which has a very clean, clear finish and no aftertaste. I debate entrees with myself before going with the striped bass. I asked the server what's the difference between striped bass and sea bass. She tells me the striped bass is more subtle. Indeed, the only good sea bass I've ever eaten in a restaurant was at the restaurant Caruso in Sorrento, Italy where the local lemons and tomatoes have a flavour you really can't get anywhere else.
My striped bass arrives. It is accompanied by a rose from the Niagara penninsula. I'm back in 1001 nights territory again, as my palate becomes a magic carpet. There is an odd smokiness to the fish I'm not expecting, an intensity that fights against the subtle pleasures of the rose. Then I discover I've eaten the sea bass skin! I have always avoided skins of fish and meat and do so from the moment I discover what it is. The fish becomes immeasurably better. I thought the tuna couldn't be beat, but the striped bass actually beats it, once I subtract the skin. A genie couldnt' have prepared tastier food. I try and eat it as slowly as possible to savour each molecule before it gets cold. Servers keep asking me if I want more bread. No, a few grams of bread at the beginning, to introduce me to the carmelized butter- fine but I'll fill up on this wonderfood, not bread, thank you. This is nouvelle cuisine paradise. Small portions, perfectly prepared, presented and paired. They really know what to do with sprouts in Beckta as both tuna and bass are magnified by their sprouty companions. Sadly, the aftertaste of my first mistaken biteful of skin remains after I finish an otherwise perfect meal. Hasn't the paleolithic era ended yet? I inquire if Beckta has its own coffee and am told there doesnt' appear to be a market for one yet. I take her suggestion and order a Monte Cristo, which arrives in a cup so hot I need to hold it in my napkin to drink it. It does happily dispense with the echoes of fish skin in my mouth and I'm able to enjoy the accompanying pear tart as much as it deserves. I try and drink the coffee with a spoon, but this seems ludicrous. When it does cool down enough to enjoy, it, like everything at Beckta, it is superb. The raspberries on top of the pear tart manage to cancel out the sodden pastry shell. It reminds me of peche cardinal, a desert I learned to make hanging out with foody friends in jr. high.
As I'm awaiting my cab, I'm presented with another treat, a tiny sake cup full of some perfect citrussy beverage. I spend the cab ride back to my hotel wondering exactly what it was, and resolve to call the restaurant and ask tomorrow. But I forget, as new taste empires open up.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Toronto 4

Wandering downtown Toronto, I am surrounded by bigocity. In search of reflections, I am endlessly rewarded. Camera in claw, I follow imagery around Yonge street, and finally in a sort of alley, I find a restaurant called BeerBistro with menu items as a kind of art on the windows. The lobster quesadilla sounds good. Entering the spacious place somewhat north of lunch hour, I have it mostly to myself, reflected in windows and ceiling mirrors, and enough different beers to start a museum. Then menu conveniently offers pairings but I'd rather be more adventuresome. To go with the probably tiny sums of lobster and however much smoked gouda, I order the grapefruit beer, a seemingly contradictory beverage they turn out not to have. The server warns me the Belgians are mostly not in, but I do find a fine raspberry beer and order that. I'd had a bowl of raspberries and blueberries for breakfast and this seems a segue my stomache would approve of. I'm thinking the raspberry would neatly complement the smoked gouda as well as garnishing whatever lobster taste possibility survives its quesadilla incarnation. The staff is remarkably helpful in this. To work in a restaurant specializing in tidbits to interact with its internet-sized beer list would be a challenging and rewarding thing to do, I imagine. Order the raspberry wonder Liefmans Frambozenbier, bypassing the suggested pairing of a beer from the Quenching list. It went as well with the quesadilla as any wine I've had paired and "beer" is something you don't normally think of having with lobster. The raspberries and the cheese did wonderful things to each other. It was a lot of food. I was initially reticent about ordering a bigger bottle of beer, the only size it came in, but was relieved to have enough of its liquid fruit to wash away the increasingly dry quesadilla skin and unleash the lobster in all its Impressionistic exuberance.
Instead of dining out, Deb cooks some wondrous stuffed vegetables that never stop applauding as they're being stuffed.
On the morrow, it's off to Ottawa.

Toronto 3

First visiting a baker friend of friends for some admirable baked goods, then wandering around the Word on the Street festival soaking in the words, then strolling through the exhibits at the Royal Ontario Museum, home through serious rain to find a poet I thought I'd missed waiting for me with his latest collection- ok enough footwork! What's for dinner, Bishop?
Olivia's Place, an Italian restaurant he and Deb had savoured in the past now loomed as our culinary destination. Not too much more walking, I hoped.
We both ordered a couple of appetisers, salads and crustinis.
I tried to have just a bite of Bishop's bread covered with assorted goodies and it was so good I didn't want to stop. Maybe I should have ordered an entree! But the appetisers looked so good, on the menu. Many are the restaurant where the appetisers, like tapas, are more than enough for me as a meal. This unfortunately wasn't one of those. My ensalata is 90% spinach with an occasional mushroom wandering through like poorly reported UFOs. The combination of spinache and mushroom would perhaps enchant Pop Eye but enough to drown me in excessive greenery. Hot and piquant, the cheese does add considerably to the texture and eventual flavours. One must search for the mushrooms, as if one were in a children's book where one is encouraged to find the animal hiding on the forested page. Do I get a gold star? Shall I try the crustini, which seemed to evoke Florence's fantastic Boboli Gardens for discovery's possibilities? Olives, on leave from their planets, meet artichoke, in town for the Series. Looks like the head of Roman god. Fills mouth with words of worship. Do I break open this sacred head signalling me from a small piece of bread? Do I then gain its wisdom?
A much wiser Bishop had ordered smoked trout with pasta. He found it fishy. My bite reminded me of something I'd never eaten before. It wasn't fish. I'm thinking maybe the cheese flavour overwhelms trout and pasta but know not. Very intriguing, whatever it is. A pleasent break from the labyrinthe of spinache I ordered my way into. Is that a minotaur I hear?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Toronto 2

Our next restaurant should be this Ecuadorian fish place, El Bodegan, Bishop had assured me and after an eventful day, it was our destination. We'd spent the day watching and filming high quality poetry and then baseball. After being a Jays fan since they hatched from their egg, finally seeing them play in their stadium was a long delayed dream made manifest as suprisingly good baseball kept the Red Sox and Jays see-sawing back and forth and finaly most suspensefully, as our great reliever seemed about to deliver the absence of relief, finally victory, and the Jays finish in 2nd, above the Sox for the first time since their World Series win in 93.
Anyway, the Ecuadorian fish. I went with the white fish and coriander.

As an appetiser, I went with the chile relanos, red pepper stuffed with seasoned beef, potatoes and corn wrapped with tomatoes and sauce. Mussels and a fish stew were also summoned. Mixed seafood stew, served with rice and yucca. Its a hot evening and the prospect of spicy food does not entice me, until I discover sangria on the menu. It eventually makes its way to our table as well.
Although spicy, the whitefish is smothered in cilantro, a bit of tomato and onion as well. The cilantro acts as if you were in a really hot room and then you turned the air conditioner on.
The asparagus is a pleasently accompanying vegetable, a Sancho Panza to pick me up after the joust between my cilantro saviour and the demonic fish heat. The potatoes sit next to it like a Persian ruin that has just recently been uncovered. We don't quite know who the emperor was we're supposed to be celebrating here but he kinda looks unhappy to be buried in this imagery, on top of my white fish. He'd rather be conquering Greeks.

Deb's mussels are"very small but very tasty little tidbits. and the sauce is delicious." The sauce is of "garlic, tomatos and beer. And a lot of cilantro."

Bishop describes his fish stew as, "its not too heavy. The flavours are all just nice, natural sea food flavours. Nothing's overdone or overspiced, it's just very very." Bishop runs out of words, returns for more food.

"Is there any alcohol in your soup?" I inquire.

"No, just a broth of some kind," reassures the prince of Church street.

Feasting in the East 1- Toronto

The Pomegranate, at 420 College Street, Traditional Persian Cuisine, I'm looking at what appears to be a Persian tagine and order that. You can almost melt in it by looking at it here.

Last time I was in Toronto visiting my friend Bishop, in 1984, we ate well. This time, we were determined to eat even better.

At first, Bishop had suggested Thai, but I demured so he came up with this place they'd savoured before and thus, again. It was walking distance.

Vegetarian caviar, tapenade of green olives marinated in pomegranate/walnut sauce. I mean, it's called Pomegranate so how can I lose? With a generous amount of fresh garlic, intones the menu. Sounds healthy. Maybe it will do push-ups for me?

Back to the entree above, described fruitfully as dried apricots in a safron sauce with boneless chicken pieces, served with creamy yogurt. Are there non-creamy yogurts? Do some yogurts just sit there, yoga-like, motionless, yurt-inspiring. Yawning into health.

The specials of the day both involved lamb, one lime oriented, the other quincy. Bishop went Quincy.

I thought about the lamb lime but haven't the experience with this meat to choose to begin my culinary tour of the best of the east with visions of babyhood lamb wallpaper deconstructing my tongue's dreams so stick with chicken. I mean really, how much harm can you do with chicken?

This was so good I wished I could eat it endlessly. I stupidly ordered the olive caviar thing which was intriguing in a Sherlock Holmes discovered he's not dead kind of way and you wanted to go and pay BBC taxes for the best digitally delivered discovery of the things that can be done with olives when Alexander the Great is in need of a wife. So just a microslice of bread diminished my capacity to consume even more of the divine Iranian tagine with plums (careful of the pits, the server told us. she was well tipped) with was further diminshed by how tired I was from the trip.

Thankfully Deb enjoyed the taken home magic food, as Bishop and I caught up on our decades-interrupted conversations. Interrupted by a phone call from The Pomegranate, telling me I'd left my microcassette there. Great food. Greater service. Toronto welcomes me. The fruit tasted like it had been married to the species chicken since before the garden of Eden.