We finally did it: we went out for a non fast-food dinner, and it was glorious. I caught wind of one of the many recession specials in the city last week via “Chuck,” a lovely young guy who’s a regular at the restaurant where I work. Chuck works for Susur Lee and mentioned that Madeline’s (Susur’s newish restaurant) was doing a five course tasting menu from Shang (Susur’s other newish restaurant in NYC), for only $60 per person. Even better was the dollar corkage fee Monday through Wednesday nights in April. But best was when Chuck told me to include my last name when I made the reservation so that he could “V.I.P.” me. I don’t know what that means exactly, but I needed to find out.
So the last night that the special Shang menu was on offer, the Beast and I reserved ourselves a table.
Foodie: I’m going to ask about the corkage fee, just to make sure it’s for real. Will you look at this table! It’s an amazing table, don’t you think? Do you think we got this table because we’ve been V.I.Ped?
Beast: Stop being such a spaz!
Foodie: I’m just excited! We haven’t been out in eons. The tasting menu looks amazing. Thank God there’s nothing formerly feathered being served because if there was duck or squab or pigeon, I mean, I’d have to try it but I’d be so upset about the whole thing. We are in luck mister oh yes we are!!! Let’s order cocktails!
Beast: (looks frightened.)
Ordering was easy: two Shang tasting menus, no allergies and no finicky tastes; one gin martini for the Beast and a rhubarb & gin concoction for me. Our server was young yet professional, but not too professional as to make us feel funny for being in a fancy restaurant.
Foodie: She was lovely, don’t you think? You read all sorts of stories about bad service at Susur’s restaurants. I’ve never had bad service here, or at Lee. And she didn’t even make me feel funny when I asked if the corkage fee was really only a dollar.
Beast: Why would she?
Foodie: This is my first time corking at a restaurant. Did you like that? I just made that verb usage up.
Beast: It’s good.
Foodie: I suspect that corking can kind of be like a thorn in a server’s side because instead of us paying lots of money on a bottle of wine, which we would presumably tip on, we brought our own bottle in and we’re just being charged a dollar for it. I think servers get especially annoyed when people bring in a seven dollar bottle of some Argentinian malbec to save a buck. Civilized people like us bring in a special bottle that might not be available on the restaurant’s list. That’s why I brought that bottle of Burgundy you gave to me in my Christmas stocking.
Beast: You did? I thought you brought a normal bottle.
Foodie: Say again?
Beast: Well I’m fairly certain I paid about $85 for it. I wrote down all the words from that other bottle of Burgundy you have in the cellar (that’s the Ikea wooden shelf thing that sits on top of the fridge) and brought it into an LCBO and a nice employee told me you’d flip over this one.
I need to address this Burgundy bit. Having worked in an Italian restaurant that only serves Italian wine (albeit, incredible Italian wine that you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in Toronto), I know next to nothing about wines from other countries. I’ve heard that a place called France makes pretty good juice. And I learned this unequivocally about a year and a half ago in NYC. Michelle, one of best buddies, and I were there for our birthdays visiting a mutual friend, Brie, who at the time was working as a wine agent. To celebrate our big day(s), Brie took us to the Waverly Inn for dinner. (Mom, the Waverly Inn is like the coolest restaurant ever. It’s so cool they don’t even have a listed address or phone number. Paparazzi wait outside because so many celebrities eat there.) Anyway, the night will always hold a special place in my heart not only because the lovely staff treated us like Beyonce and her posse, and because of the incredible food (mac and cheese with obscene amounts of white truffle shaved on top tableside) but also because of the wine, in particular, a bottle of 1995 Burgundy, Nuit St. Georges, Cru Coron Pere et Fils (I wrote it down). It changed my life. It contained everything I crave in a wine: red, bordering on ripe, black fruit, like the first cherries of the season and black currents, tons of herbal bits, a smack in the face of anise, and aged just long enough in oak to detect it, but not so long so that the wine tastes like dessert. I became slightly obsessed with Burgundy afterwards. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to replicate the experience with purchases of bottles under $50. The Beast, dear thing that he is, wrote down the specs from my night at the Waverly, which is how I ended up with a bottle of Burgundy in my bag.
The first course arrived during our cocktails: It was white peppercorn marinated skirt steak with pinenut brown butter, parsnip potato puree and some frisee greens.
Server: Shall I open up your bottle of wine for you?
Foodie: Ah, sure. How do we do this? Do I just give it to you out of my bag? That seems a bit crass, no?
Server: No, not at all. I just have to bring it through the restaurant to make it legit and come back with glasses.
Foodie: Well then, here you go.
Server: (examining the bottle). Very nice! I’ll be right back.
Foodie: Did you hear that? Are you going to drink some too? You can order beer you know.
Beast: Not on your life.
The Shang tasting menu was constructed in typical Susur fashion: we began with the heaviest course and finished with the lightest. We were both shocked at the substantial portion size of our perfectly cooked skirt steaks.
The server came back, opened the wine without fanfare and away we went.
Foodie: Okay. Oh my God. Oh my God. I’m going to cry.
Beast: Is it okay?
Foodie: (Fighting back tears.) This is perfect. It’s what am always trying to find during the week for my home-time wine but I can never make it happen at $15 to $20 a bottle.
Beast: Wow. This is good. It’s delicious in fact. What wrong?
Foodie: I’m just so happy you like it! You get it now, right? And this calibre of wine would sell here for at least $250, which means we would never be able to experience what we’re experiencing right now; this combination of remarkable food and memorable wine, if it weren’t for us corking.
Beast: How many more times tonight do you think you can use “corking” in a sentence?
The second course, sauteed black tiger shrimp served on artichoke szechwan ratatouille with a celery root blini, was just as satisfying as the first.
Beast: Whoa. This is spicy.
Foodie: Too spicy?
Beast: No (gulping down water.)
Server: How is everything here.
Foodie: It’s wonderful. This is nice and spciy.
Server: Yes it is but don’t worry-we cools things right down with the next course.
And that they did: sashimi of big eye tuna in a spoon with marinated artichoke, a potato puff ball, and a truffle vinaigrette. It was hard to get the whole thing in your mouth, but worth every effort.
Foodie: Oh look–it’s Arsinoe whatchimicallit. She’s married to…you know…that director…Exxotica…
Beast: Atom Egoyan.
Beast: Stop staring.
Foodie: Don’t worry. I used to serve them all the time and their little boy who’s so sweet-
Beast: You know, just because you’ve served famous people doesn’t mean you’re friends with them.
Foodie: Well, I think Renee Zellwegger might beg to differ–
The arrival of the fourth course saved the Beast from my “Serving Celebrities: an Autobiography.” monologue. It was steamed tofu custard with creamed spinach, shitake, king erangi and wood ear mushrooms, and soya juice. I must admit, I thought this vegetarian dish would be a flop-especially to the Beast.
Beast: Okay, this is my favourite one.
Foodie: Are you fucking serious?
Beast: Never in my wildest dreams did I think tofu could taste like this.
The Beast was bang on. This tofu just sat on your tongue and then disappeared into mouth heaven leaving just a pleasurable memory of what it had once been.
Foodie: You know what’s sad is that all the people who read my blog won’t be able to experience this because today is the last day. But I think everybody likes reading more about our relationship than the food. I think that’s what makes my blog unique.
Beast: Ah, I don’t think it’s unique. First of all, you lie about everything I say and steal my jokes to make you look more clever, and second of all, didn’t that Julie lady talk about her relationship in her Julie and Julia blog?
Foodie. Fuck that was a good idea. (This Julie cooked all 536 recipes from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in 365 days, and she blogged about her kitchen–and relationship–adventures and mishaps along the way. Then she got to write a book and now there’s a movie coming out starring Merryl Streep as Julia Child.) Maybe somebody will make Foodie and the Beast into a movie!
Beast: Dermot Mulroney will play me.
Foodie: What? No, Robert Pattinson will, from Twilight. And I’ll play myself and I’ll get to kiss him.
Beast: That would be really inappropriate. You’re probably 15 years older than–
Foodie: Oh look! Here’s dessert.
It was a warm molten chocolate cake with hazelnut chocolate crunch and vanilla bean ice cream. I must admit to being slightly snobbish when it comes to all these fucking lava cakes served up everywhere–only because I believe that one of my best friends, Giovanna Alonzi, makes the ultimate version: her torta calda al cioccolato served at a restaurant called “Terroni” is my benchmark for every chocolate bomb. The Shang molten cake was a very close second to Gio’s, which is still pretty darn good.
Foodie: (To our server) Would you mind bringing us two espressos and the bill please? I didn’t realize we’d been here for so long and I know you folks have a pretty tight reservation program. I’m sorry-
Server: Are you kidding? You two can stay all night!
Foodie: (To the Beast) Do you think she said that because we’re V.I.Ps?
Beast: (Just shakes his head.)
Doesn’t matter. From the food to the service to the corking, we had a perfect evening.