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.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

At The Drive-In

I'm not usually one of those back-in-the-good-old-days people, but I have to say, I'm sad for the future generations who will never know the old-fashioned fun of a drive-in movie theater. There's something nice about movies in general - the dark room, the big screen, the surround sound, the promise that you will probably be entertained, possibly wildly - and to marry that with hanging out in your car and eating popcorn with your dog is a genius idea.

I've been lucky enough to summer near a drive-in movie theater, so over the years I've seen a number of movies al fresco. I saw Wall-E with an ex-boyfriend, and we couldn't figure out how to turn the headlights in the new car off for, like, half an hour, committing one of those head-shaking drive-in bonehead moves that annoys everyone else at the show. I saw Grind as part of an end-of-summer staff party, leading to a host of quotes shouted at each other over the deep fryers. I saw Armageddon during a church youth group outing, where all the girls cried and all the boys make explosion noises with their mouths during the action sequences. It's one of the places I identify strongly with the cottage, and the cottage, to me, equals youth and freedom, nature and beauty, something just a little outside the ordinary. In our civilian lives, we go to the movies; at the cottage, we go to the drive-in.

Drive-in movie theaters used to be part of the entertainment landscape. Invented in 1933 by an American named Richard Hollingshead, the drive-in morphed from a curiosity with cars on blocks, to a full-fledged market for hormonal teens. An entire movie genre was created for drive-in theaters. Unsurprisingly, not very many of these movies are any good: kung-fu flicks, Blaxplotiation movies, beach-monster reels, crime capers, and more. Think of Tarantino's source material and you've got a pretty good understanding of what was being shown in all that fresh air. But the theaters fell from favour as people wanted to watch their big blockbusters indoors, and drive-ins all over North America closed.

I have no idea how the one near my cottage survived, but I'm glad it did. In addition to playing first- and second-run movies, this theater also occasionally indulges my fetish for goofy animations and retro aesthetics by playing a snack-bar jingle, one that highlights this venue's allegedly terrific nachos. Since the theater is run by white folks and the nacho "cheese" is that plasticky yellow goop that's served hot and salty, I kind of doubt it, but I like anything with anthropomorphized food, so, really, everybody wins.

Most of the time, I relish the idea of living my life car-free. I'm a cyclist, I've been one for years. But it makes me sad to think that my future kids may not get the pleasure of getting ready for a night at the drive-in: packing a bag of snacks and drinks, putting on their pajamas, grabbing a blanket to stay warm, and, just as the sky darkens, heading out to see a movie.