Have I ever told you the story about how I came around on eating medium-rare steak? Oh it’s charming! You see, when I first moved to Toronto, back in 1998, I was, how do you say, younger: I cooked with garlic powder, I loved frozen french fries and chicken fingers, and I ate my meat well-done. And then I went for dinner at La Palette, a little bistro in Kensington market. I ordered steak frites, and I asked for my steak to be well done. That’s when the server, dear thing, crouched down table side and said, “Listen, I’m going to bring you your steak cooked medium. I want you to at least try it for me. If you don’t think it tastes better, I will march back to the kitchen and get it cooked to your liking. Now how does that sound?”
Of course, the steak was delicious–more flavourful and tender than any steak I’d ever had. More importantly, the lights were dimmed just so–and I’d consumed enough wine–so that any flicker of squeamishness I had about eating meat that looked like meat, rather than a piece of grey protein, had vanished.
That was almost 12 years ago. I know I shouldn’t admit this, but even though I know it tastes better, I’m still squeamish about meat that looks like meat (red), unlike the beast whose heart begins to beat very quickly upon eying a heard of cows in a meadow. That’s why I usually have to be a bit drunk to eat steak, and resourceful: I find that restaurants, at least in Toronto, have taken the liberty of reinventing the well-defined terms by which meat is cooked. If you order medium-rare, you get get rare. Using this logic, I’ve become accustomed to ordering my steak medium. That way I’m sure to get a perfectly cooked medium-rare piece of meat. Any rarer, and I’d have to be so drunk that I’d be barely functioning as a humanoid in order to wolf it down.
I’m telling you all this because last night the Beast and I, after watching Quentin Tarantino’s new movie Inglourius Basterds, made our way to Le Sélect Bistro for a late night dinner. It was our first time eating here, and we were both excited, and starving.
Foodie: I want everything on this menu. I want to try it all, except the cock’s combs. What are you going to get?
Beast: I think the cassoulet.
Foodie: Really? I would have thought you’d get steak frites?
Beast: I was thinking about that.
Foodie: I can’t get the pepper steak out of my head so that’s what I’m having. Want to share a chacuterie plate to start?
Beast: How about the mussels?
The Beast has been obsessed with mussels lately. I think because the sauce that they’re inevitably cooked in provides a vehicle for him to consume large amounts of bread and butter. They arrived moments after ordering them and were devoured in an equally short time.
Foodie: I feel nervous here.
Beast: You keep saying that. Why?
Foodie: I don’t know.
Beast: I don’t know either–this place isn’t overly fancy and the prices are really reasonable.
Foodie: I think this place is very fancy, and those mussels were almost $20! Maybe you’re fancier than I am. I think this place is fancy.
Beast: There are kitchy French art posters hanging on the wall that aren’t even framed. In fact, I think their laminated. And there’s even one by Van Gogh who’s not even French.
Foodie: I guess you’re right. I just don’t want to order anything by the french name. I’ll feel silly trying to pronounce stuff.
So when it came to ordering a glass of red wine for my steak, I went with the Chilean carmenere because I can say, “carmenere.”
Foodie: This is the best glass of wine under ten dollars I think I’ve ordered at a restaurant. Try it.
Beast: Eeew. It’s too…jammy.
Foodie: You just said jammy! That’s so cute sweetie! Jammy is a real wine word used by real wine people! I can understand why you don’t like it though–it’s not your style kiddo. But it’ll be great with my meat.
Just then, our mains were dropped off.
Foodie: How would you say this steak is cooked?
Beast: Definitely rare.
Foodie: That’s what I thought. It’s delicious though–just really, really….red. How’s your cassoulet?
Foodie: It looks amazing–like it was especially designed for you! There’s sausage, pork belly, duck and beans.
Beast: It’s good, but the duck is a bit dry. I wish I’d ordered the steak frites.
Foodie: I wish I ordered the bouillabase.
Beast: That can’t be a good sign–both of us wishing we’d ordered something else.
Foodie: I mean, this is delicious, but I can’t eat the middle part.
Beast: Are you kidding me?
Foodie: I’m not drunk enough. Do you want it?
Well that was a stupid question. The Beast’s eyes lit up as I carefully forked the tender, red center of beef to his plate. He cut it in two and proceeded to mop my plate of the remaining brandy cream pepper sauce.
I had the lemon tart for dessert and the Beast had chocolate gateau, er, cake. We both had espresso. There’s no denying it was a lovely meal in a lovely setting with top notch service, but I never quite felt comfortable enough to enjoy it. Maybe it was the beautiful people–young and old–that kept passing our table; maybe it was my shitty grasp of the French language; or maybe it was that we just watched Inglourius Basterds-a movie so visceral that I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that I was starring in a movie while we ate Le Sélect. I think it’s simpler than that though: I’m just not as fancy as I’d like to think I am. For example, I like pink meat, not red. And while I haven’t had frozen french fries or chicken fingers in quite some time, I do, on occasion, enjoy frozen pizza. And you already know about the hot dogs.