On the steps of the AGO on Thursday at 5:30pm:
Beast: I want my money back.
Foodie: How do you mean?
Beast: When we bought our annual memberships we were under the impression that this place would be open late Wednesday through Friday nights and now they’re closed and it’s 5:30pm on a Thursday. They should refund a portion of our membership fee.
Foodie: Why are you wearing a shirt that hasn’t been ironed?
Beast: It was in my closet.
Foodie: Why don’t we just walk over to Nota Bene now? I’m sure they’ll have a table for us.
Beast: Are you really sure you want to go there?
Foodie: We’re celebrating, so yes! (The beast co-wrote some original music for a Fringe dance performance. Eye magazine called it, a glitchy set of folky electronica [that is] extraordinary. I decided to take him for a fancy dinner before going to see the piece performed at The Factory Theatre. And we decided to meet at the AGO before dinner to see the new summer Surrealism show.)
Beast: If you say so. Do you think I could pop into that record shop on St. Patrick? It’s on the way.
Foodie: Sure. It’s your night. Just don’t buy anything.
(Walking out of the record shop, with a bag full of goods under the Beast’s arm)
Beast: Listen, I’ve been looking for this Thelonius Monk record (It’s Monk’s Time) for a really long time! And we can watch this DVD of Charles Mingus’ sextet playing in Europe together!
Foodie: Spend your money how you like but I’m saving for Italy.
Beast: But it was your idea to go for an expensive dinner!
Foodie: That’s different.
When we got to Nota Bene, it turned out they didn’t have a table at the early-bird hour of 5:50pm. But they did have plenty of room in the front lounge where people can order anything they want. We were seated at a lovely window table with a view of Queen Street West.
Foodie: This isn’t so bad: we’re the only ones here so it’s nice and romantic. How much better could the actual dining room be?
Beast: They certainly wouldn’t get this charming view of the Condom Shop across the street.
Because we were the only ones in her section, our server was very attentive to our needs. The Beast started with a pint of beer and I chose a glass of rosé (Niagara’s Megalomanic) I could see her watching us as we looked over the menu, ready to pounce as soon as our decisions were made. It took us a long time, or rather, it took me a long time to decide. I usually know exactly what I want when I go out to eat, but I had no such luck tonight. Intuitive super-server appeared table-side in a flash.
Server: Do you have any questions about the menu?
Foodie: Why yes, I do. How good is the suckling pulled pork?
Server: It’s very good: excellent, and very rich.
Beast: That’s what I’m having.
Foodie: I can’t order it then.
Beast: We are both allowed to order the same thing you know.
Foodie: It just doesn’t seem right.
Beast: Well, there’s that old saying: you can never have too much suckling pig.
Server: I haven’t heard that but yes, I suspect it’s true.
In the end, the Beast chose the the crispy duck salad to start, and the suckling pig. I decided on the zucchini flower salad, followed by the scallops. We also ordered frites to share.
Foodie: I think we should do a special F & B for Julia Child’s birthday on August 7.
Beast: Since when do you refer to your blog as F & B? I’m beginning to think F & B has become too self-conscious.
Before we could further discuss this, our appetizers appeared.
Foodie: How’s your duck? It looks over-cooked–I don’t see any pink at all.
Beast: It tastes like really fatty, greasy bird. It’s good. How are your zucchini flowers?
Foodie: Delicious. Looks like they’ve been coated in some parmigiano and then deep-fried.
Beast: You mean parmesan?
Foodie. Yes, parmigiano. And there’s some arugola, capers, balsamic vinegar and roasted peppers too. It’s quite nice. But I think zucchini flowers are best served deep-fried in a simple light flour batter. You know what? I think I’m turning into an old Italian man: I’m most satisfied with familiar, simple flavours, like some grilled Barese sausage, or a plate of good prosciutto with some cheese. Less is more.
That certainly rang true regarding our company: as time passed, more and more people began to congregate in the lounge. In fact, there was a group of six or seven business men standing directly behind us drinking white wine.
Foodie: I hope I never wear a BlackBerry in one of those little holsters attached to my waist.
Beast: I would rather kill myself, or live in poverty.
Foodie: Tell me, has it become fashionable for men to have their pants hemmed so short? Look at their pants. Look at how short they are! This place must be a real destination spot of the Bay Street type. Somebody should tell them about their pants, and somebody should show them how to properly hold a wine glass–they’re getting their grubby little fingerprints all over the bowl of the glass. That’s why there’s a stem you know–so you don’t muck up the bowl.
Beast: So you’ve told me again, and again…
Server: May I get you another glass of rosé?
Foodie: You know what? I’m going to switch to the Barbara d’Alba. No, wait–I forgot I ordered the scallops.
Beast: Oh come on! There are no rules tonight! Order the whatever-you-called-it! Live on the edge!
Foodie: You’re right! Yes, I’ll have a glass of the Barbara d’Alba
My wine and our two main dishes arrived simultaneously, and each item was carried by three different staff members.
Foodie: I have to say the service here is seamless. But they should rethink the uniforms: the little vests they’re wearing look dopey. It makes them look like Mennonites. How is your pig?
It was amazing, but oh-so-rich. The shredded suckling pork was served on a savoury tart, topped with big chunks of boudin noir (blood sausage), mushrooms, maple-smoked bacon and a touch of truffle oil. My scallops, accompanied with a little pineapple, jicama, coriander, and snap peas–were much lighter. I don’t think I’ve ever ordered scallops. I thought they were good but the Beast was underwhelmed by them. The fries, however, were a huge hit.
Foodie: I keep looking at the hair that’s popping out between your buttons. I can’t believe you wore that shirt.
Beast: Who cares! Look at that guy: he’s wearing Crocs! And that guy is wearing tights!
Foodie: Who’s wearing tights?
Beast: Don’t look now but it’s the man beside you.
Foodie: Oh my God he is wearing tights! Do you think that woman he’s with is a call girl?
Beast: What makes you say that?
Foodie: Well, she was here before him, waiting. Then when he arrived they introduced themselves to each other like it was the first time they met and now she’s practically sitting on his lap.
Beast: You could be right.
Neither of us felt much like ordering dessert but we still needed just a little something to finish off the meal. So we decided on the choose-your- own cheese plate. The choice wasn’t easy but we settled on the creamy Riopelle, the really old Beemster, and a unpasteurized Roquefort.
Beast: This is the best blue cheese I’ve ever had.
Foodie: I agree. It just sort of melts right in your mouth, but not before giving your tongue a little kiss. Do you remember the first time we tried Brie de Meaux? It changed my whole perception of brie cheese. Don’t you agree?
Beast: I guess so.
Foodie: Or should I say, do you abrie or disabrie? Hahaha.
Beast: (silence) Well, I can say that the suckling pork was truly excellent. It was incredible. But to be honest, this location sucks.
Foodie: The location is actually fantastic from a business perspective: they get the theatre crowd, the Bay Street crazies, and a whole load of tourists. It’s the crowd that sort of sucks. Maybe we suck though. Let’s get two espressos and the bill. We need to get moving to see this Fringe show.
I was pleasantly surprised at Nota Bene’s prices: that ample zucchini flower salad was only $13. And our generously portioned cheese plate was only $15. I bet the wholesale price of those three cheeses would have been at least $10.
Beast: Thank you so much for dinner. We don’t have to go to the Fringe show you know.
Foodie: Are you kidding me? I love contemporary dance! And I wouldn’t dream of missing the sight of four 20 something girls dancing to your music!
Beast: And afterwards we can watch that Charles Mingus DVD.
Foodie: Oh sweetie, it’ll be so late by the time we get home and I have to get up early. But you go ahead and watch it without me. I won’t be mad.
He did, and I wasn’t (mad.) The Beast’s music was indeed extraordinary. And our Nota Bene meal wasn’t half bad either.