Friday, August 27, 2010

Rundles In The Jungle

Maybe it's not the most couth move to discuss platefuls of delicious food during Ramadan, the season of fasting for Canada's Muslim population, but on the heels of a fancy family dinner last night, I'm just going to plow ahead and brag for a second.

One of my first boyfriends was a chef - like, a real one, a guy that had been to chef's school and wasn't afraid of cooking unusual dishes - and we used to eat Big Food all the time. Stratford, our hometown, is a good place to be if you're interested in restaurant food. While not terribly diverse when it comes to regional cuisines (we're heavy on the French and Mediterranean side of things, but underrepresented in all the glorious foodstuffs of the Thai, Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese cultures. Stratford, as a town, is pretty white), we do have a number of high-end restos that will cater to your desire for lemongrass soup and rabbit with a mole sauce. We had a series of dates that took us to some of Stratford's finest places, places he had, at some point, likely worked. As a result, we were attended to most rigorously, and got all kinds of free wine and fancy little amuse-bouches. You want good food? Date a chef. He knows all the best restaurants.

Case in point: I was once taken to Canoe, one Toronto's high-roller joints, where we ate, like, fifteen courses of seafood and wine and gazed over the harbour. Even though I was ultimately not a match with my date (another chef, naturally), that night stands out in my memory as one of great pleasure. It was so nice to have a common thread between us, and a desire to splurge and pamper. The food was superb. The atmosphere at restaurants like that is one of unstudied wealth - the waiters, in their blue smocks, were experts at putting everyone at ease and taking care of their tables. It wasn't ostentatious; it was delicious.

In the years since, I've become a little allergic to restaurant eating (panic attacks in The Butler's Pantry will do that, I've noticed), but I'm slowly coming back to the land of normality. There are tricks I use, like not drinking until I get my food and having some bread on the table in order to ward off the I'm-so-hungry-I-could-die freakout, but mostly it's just breathing and being a little bit irritable until the appetizer comes. Restaurant eating, which used to be my idea of a great night out, has become a bit of a chore. I love food, but I hate not being in charge of it. Waiting 45 minutes for my main course? In a busy restaurant, that happens. I hate it. Makes me crazy. Makes my tablemates crazy, since I am a vocal whiner.

In any case. Last night, in a graduation celebration, my family and I got sort of dressed up (I wore a fur hat, my new favourite thing, much to the embarrassment of my sister, who has much better taste than I do) and got dinner at Rundles. My sister has worked there off and on for years, but it's intimidatingly posh. Thank god they've recently installed a slightly less swish room; it's more whimsical in its decor, and less openly servile in its attitude. Rundles' main space is reserved for proposals (both business and romantic) and Kevin Spacey, while their "sophisto-bistro" contained my family and a grandma supping with her teenage daughter. It was a little more our speed.

It was lovely. It was one of those nights we got to be ourselves, as a family and as individuals. It came right on the heels of a mini-festival of graduation celebration, but it wasn't about me. It was a chance to be together, in a beautiful place, eating delicious food. It reminded me of this graphic - all you need is love, and food, and water, and shelter - but the nicest permutations of all those things. Sure, sometimes it's easiest to grab a bite and eat in your car. But sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes, we like to come together, make each other laugh, and celebrate each other. If we happen to do it in a place with salt cod croquettes and hot-smoked trout on the menu, then that's just the way we roll.

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