Monthly Archives: November 2010

Montreal Amendment: Schwartz’s

(A recent night after work, standing in the kitchen and watching the Beast wash the dishes.)

Beast: I can’t believe you forgot to include our lunch at Schwartz’s in your Montreal Post.

Foodie: I’m just as disappointed in myself as you are.


Beast: It was one of the best meals we had! And the cheapest.

Foodie: Both true.

Beast: Do you remember how the waiter took our order before we even sat down? And how the food showed up before our coats were off?

Foodie: And how lucky we were that two spots at the counter opened up the very moment we walked in?


Foodie: Can you stop doing that with your hair?

Beast: What?

Foodie: When you toss your head back like a lady would and shake it all out.

Beast: My hands are all soapy!

Foodie: You do it all the time now. It’s just so, so feminine. Aren’t the bobby pins you asked to borrow from me working?

Beast: Not as well as I had hoped.

Foodie: You know, if you got a haircut you wouldn’t have this problem.

Beast: Never! I Googled, “How to have beautiful long hair.”

Foodie: (Pause) What did you find?

Beast: Did you know you shouldn’t brush your hair when it’s wet? That’s when it’s at its most fragile.

Foodie: What do you do then?

Beast: You comb it.

Foodie: Well, I keep a wide-toothed comb in the shower for when I want wavy hair. You could use that.

Beast: It’s not the best kind.

Foodie: What’s the best kind?

Beast: I don’t remember the name but I put it on my Amazon wish list.

I don’t know if he was joking or being serious, but I wouldn’t be that surprised to find that along with a gazillions stupid CDs of throat-singing and jazz-playing nut jobs there’d also be a fucking comb on that list.

You may be shocked to learn that the next day I received an email from the Beast saying he was going to the barber shop around the corner from where he works
and he was bringing this photo.


When I got home from work, I found the Beast curled up on the couch sporting his new haircut and a moderately trimmed beard. He looked so handsome that I gasped out loud. Every day since I’ve told him how lovely he looks, now that I can see his face. But I feel a little sad about the whole thing. I don’t know if I can explain it. I guess the Beast’s long, unruly hair became in some ways a symbol of who the Beast is: a free spirit. And despite me, not to mention his boss, telling him to cut it all the time, and despite it looking absolutely atrocious some days, the Beast loved his hair. He’d taken to blow-drying it recently, and using all sorts of products in it too.

And now its gone.

I know you’re not supposed to want to change anything about the people you love–something about acceptance–but I would change a lot about the Beast: For starters, I would make him learn how to do laundry, I would make him not randomly dink around on his guitar while I’m trying to watch Friday Night Lights, I would make him eager to cook dinner one or two nights a week, and I would make him be not such a fucking A.D.D. spaz when it comes to buying books and CDs and bring those things home and leaving them in every corner of the house.

But I’m not so sure now if I really would embrace such changes because you’d just never know at what cost you got them. What if the Beast stopped wearing women’s sweaters? What if he took over the cooking and the laundry?  What would I do with all that spare time?  What if he became average?  What if his hunger for learning was finally satiated? What if he stopped playing all those instruments? What if the Beast cut his hair for me? Or, heaven forbid, because somebody made fun of him?

It breaks my heart to think about it.

Foodie: ***

Beast: ***1/2

Montreal. What a Gas!

Leaving Montreal after dinner on Sunday night and heading home for Toronto.

Foodie: I feel like I’m in the movie Tron right now! This is amazing!

Beast: I feel like I’m in hell right now–did that smell just come out of your body?

Foodie: I’m afraid so.

Beast: Roll down the window! That’s horrific! What’s wrong with you?

Foodie: Ah well, we’ve eaten a lot of rich food in the last two days man! (Pause) Plus, I get all off track down there when I get pulled out of my normal morning routine. Don’t you?

Beast: Nope. Not one bit. You went at least once though in Montreal, right?

Foodie: I haven’t in four days.

Beast: Are you fucking kidding me? So right now, you’re literally full of shit.

Foodie: Yes I am. Did I ever tell you about the time in grade one where I didn’t get caught farting?

Beast: (Silence)

Foodie: Oh this is a good one! So I was in library class in grade one at Mary Bucke School and I had to have a toot and I was certain it was going to be just a little quiet one but because I was sitting on a tiled floor, the fart reverberated and it sounded like a fucking bomb went off! But the worst part was that Mr. Jacobs, the librarian, was a bit up tight and whenever anybody farted in class, which was surprisingly frequent, he’d send them to the washroom as punishment. So when I farted I must have looked guilty as all get out and he pointed at me and yelled, “Go to the washroom!” But I was fucking mortified so I yelled back, “I didn’t do it!” He paused, looked around the room filled with five year-olds and pointed at Ed Dueck, the naughty boy, and told him to go the washroom. And Ed went! He just shrugged, got up, and went straight to the washroom! Isn’t that the funniest thing ever? Oh god I think that’s funny.

Beast: ROLL DOWN THE WINDOW!!!!!

Our weekend in Montreal was just perfect. We stayed with our good friends Matt and Susie in their utterly magical loft apartment.

It’s one of the most beautiful spaces I’ve ever seen. It kind of reminds me of Charles and Ray Eames’ work space, or Ron Weasley’s parents’ place in Harry Potter. You want to explore every nook and cranny. And you want to live there.

Shortly after arriving on Friday night, the four of us made our way to L’Express, a venerable Montreal dining spot on St. Denis.

Over the years many people have told me to eat here. And they always preface it with, “The service may be snooty but the food is perfect: classic French bistro.”


I couldn’t have predicted that I was about to have one of my top ten meals in all my years. We ordered four things with which to start: A steamed artichoke with dijon vinaigrette, a lentil and octopus salad, braised leeks, and bone marrow with sea salt.



Never mind that each plate looked like a little work of art–they all tasted like a million bucks too! We watched the impeccably-dressed man sitting beside us with his wife suck back bone after bone-filled marrow all to himself. Matt and I indulged in the marrow with reserve, but Susie and the Beast took to it with real vigour.

For her main course, Susie ordered a lamb something-or-other with some sort of potato galette that made us all swoon when we tried it.


Matt opted for something lighter: a piece of perfectly poached seabass accompanied by perfectly cooked green beans.


Meanwhile, the Beast and I couldn’t resist sampling L’Express’s Steak Frites.


Steak Frites isn’t rocket science, which makes me wonder why I’ve had so many bad versions of this classic bistro dish. L’Express, not surprisingly, nailed it.

You’d think we’d be really full after all that food, plus two bottles of wine. But we ordered two desserts–some sort of traditional French bread pudding and profiterols–plus a Quebec blue cheese, with the word “Elizabeth” in it, to wash down the sweets.


We all had a round of a remarkable 18 year old calvados too. I tell you, from start to end, it was a perfect meal, including the service, which was warm, congenial and professional. And what’s more is that none of us felt overburdened with food or drink, which may sound shocking. We were certainly full, but not uncomfortably so.

After a sound night’s sleep (read, drunk), the Beast and I woke up to this.


It was perfect start to our day, which involved walking all over the city, seeing the Otto Dix show at the Musée des beaux-arts, and winding down in old Montreal at dusk.


While the Beast listened to some guy play a saxophone outside of Notre Dame, Susie and I visited Papeterie Casse-Noiseet, the most charming stationary shop. We made it in just before they closed.


Good thing too: it was really important that I make it to this shop because I had to buy myself something from my Things You Don’t Really Need Wish List, namely some Verge de France stationary. It’s made in France. And it’s the sort of stationary that both Europe’s royal courts and the world’s fashion elite, like, say, Donatella Versace, use.

I wanted every size and every colour, but in the end I chose a box of ivory note cards and envelopes to match.


After our wonderful day, the Beast, Susie and I were very hungry. Good thing Matt, who had to stay home to work, had a spread of cheese, wine and baguette for us as soon as we came in from the cold.


We were having such a wonderful time sitting around and chatting that we almost forgot about our reservation at Au Pied de Cochon–this place isn’t just one of Montreal’s most exciting food destinations any more: it’s now considered one of North America’s best restaurants.


Situated quite prettily up there on the Plateau, this place is jam-packed every night with people who’re are eager to sample Chef Martin Picard’s pork-heavy, fat-laced Quebecois-inspired fare.

Luckly, we were really hitting our stride with Susie and Matt in terms of eating out: for wine, we’d start out with a bottle of white and then move on to a red (in both instances, something from the Loire region in France), then we’d choose four appetizer to share, and then everybody would choose whatever they wanted for their mains. Although decisions were difficult to make at this place. we managed to settle on pork rinds, roasted suckling pig sliced thinly, a salad of endive, apple and blue cheese, plus an order of poutine to start.


The Beast had a little panic attack because we didn’t get the poutine with the wedge of foie gras on top–a staple at Au Pied de Cochon. But the rest of us were weary about the richness of the meal ahead. Perhaps to spite us, the Beast chose the most absurd dish I’ve ever heard of for his main: Pied de Cochon’s namesake dish–a stuffed pig’s foot topped with a giant wedge of foie gras.


Susie opted for the seafood special of the evening, which was a gigantic slab of swordfish served with gnocchi, herbs, butter and white wine.


Quite frankly, I was overwhelmed by the menu and in a panic, I settled on the grilled pork chop served with braised cabbage, mushrooms and onions. I’d wanted to get the PDC Melting Pot, which I think was a stew of some sort, but they were all out.


Somebody had to order the duck in a can–a dish that put Au Pied de Cochon on the map and has made people like Anthony Bourdain devoted followers of Chef Picard. So Matt rose to the occasion. And thank goodness too because it was a quite a spectacle to see his meal presented table-side.


Now this might come as a bit of a shock, but I didn’t finish my plate. It was the biggest pork chop I’ve ever seen. It was good, but after a few bites, I felt over-saturated with those tastes. I don’t think any of us finished our plates–not even the Beast. Don’t get me wrong: everything was good–delicious in fact–but I don’t know if I’d go back. L’Express on the other hand, I’d be there in a heartbeat should someone invite me. And you know what the difference was? Every dish we ordered at L’Express I’d be interested in devouring, whereas there wasn’t one plate at Au Pied de Cochon that I’d be eager to clean, let alone physically capable of finishing.

Save for one exception: the lemon meringue tart I ordered for dessert. It was heavenly.


We talked about the differences between the two dinner experiences on our walk home. One of the only similarities is that we spread out both meals over about three hours. That second night, we slept like babies (read: drunk and full).

The next day the Beast and I braved the city on our own. We went to St. Viateur bagel on the Plateau because my friend Kate from work said they are the best. We even got treated to a little show.


Outside, we dug into our bag and picked out too piping hot delights and enjoyed them plain and simple right there on the street, just like Kate advised us to do.

A few record shops, bookstores and kitchen supply places later, we headed back to Susie and Matt’s and said our good-byes. Before leaving the city, we had one more spot to hit: a poutine place called La Banquise that both the Beast’s brother and Kate from work recommended we go to in order to try real, Montreal poutine.

The place was packed with students (it’s open 24 hours and has about a couple of dozen types of poutine from which to choose). The Beast, disliking most people under 45, was not impressed. We scarfed down to orders of classic poutine, and hit the road.

Back in the stink-infested car, driving along the 401 home to Toronto.

Foodie: You know what I think? I think Poutini’s in Toronto has better poutine than all the poutine we tried in Montreal.

Beast: I agree. But I bet if you had let me order the poutine with foie gras from Au Pied de Cochon, that it would have been the best.

Foodie: No way. It would have been too much!

Beast: Remember when you farted in front of Matt on the walk to the restaurant last night?

Foodie: SHUT UP! I almost forgot how mad I am at you for bringing it up in front of everyone!

Beat: Well, it’s better to own up to something like that than just ignore it.

Foodie: I didn’t bring it up because I thought maybe Matt didn’t hear it! It was awfully loud though. I thought it would just sort of slip out undetected-like.

Beast: Of course he heard it! When I brought it up, he admitted that he heard it loud and clear but just chose to not say anything to be polite.

Foodie: WHICH IS WHAT YOU SHOULD HAVE DONE! I whispered to you in confidence what I’d done and then you mortified me by bringing it up–at the table no less!

Beast: You’re just mad because you got caught this time, not like with Mr. Jefferson in grade one.

Foodie: Mr. Jacobs. Please don’t do that again.

Beast: Please stop farting.

Foodie: (Pause, with a couple of farts probably) I bet I gained about five pounds this weekend, which is probably good. I was getting a bit sinewy, don’t you think?

Beast: (Silence)

Foodie: With all my exercising, like my soccer, my running and my biking, I have to watch my weight loss and control how much muscle I gain. I don’t want to look like Madonna for crying out loud!

Beast: (Silence)

Foodie: I mean, I don’t want to waste away or anything.

Beast: I don’t think you have to worry about that.

Foodie: Whatever.

Beast: For crying out loud! You’re going to burn a fucking hole in the seat of this rental car if you keep this up!

L’Express: Foodie **** Beast ****

Au Pied de Cochon: Foodie: **1/2 Beast ***

 

 

 

The First Repeat: Cabbage Rolls

Foodie: I have to ask you something.

Beast: What’s that?

Foodie: Did your pee smell funny today?

Beast: (Pause) No.

Foodie: Mine did. It smelled like cabbage rolls! Isn’t that funny?

Beast: You’re disgusting.

This is FATB’s first repeat: I did a post on cabbage rolls back in 2008, but the ones I made on Sunday afternoon deserve their own website. Now remember, the kind I make–and the kind my Aunt Sandy, Uncle Ron and Mom make (although the four of us all have slightly varying recipes)–aren’t the sort of cabbage rolls that you’d find in the Ukraine, for example, where they often use pickled cabbage leaves. They learned how to make cabbage rolls from their mom, of course, and she–a sturdy, formidable woman whose ancestors came from Alsace Lorraine– learned to make them from Vi Moffat, an English lady who lived down the street from them in Strathroy, Ontario. In other words, I’m pretty sure that these cabbage rolls aren’t traditional in the Eastern European sense, but my God are they good! In fact, it might just be my favourite dinner of all time, or at least my favourite autumnal dinner.

Anyway, the Beast and I have had them for dinner for the last two nights and I hope we have them tonight too.


The Beast got home late from work the first night we dined on them, so we didn’t eat until about 9:30pm. As soon as he got home, we filled our plates with a couple cabbage rolls each and a helping of corn (I know that sounds odd, but my mom always serves her cabbage rolls with corn and I’ve become attached to the odd, yet winning, combination), and tried to find something good to watch on the televison.


Foodie: Oh Love, Actually is on! Let’s watch that!

Beast: We both hate that movie though.

Foodie: We do? Oh yeah, we do, don’t we. I forgot.

Beast: Our mutual hate of the movie brought us together many years ago.

Foodie: I wonder if I lied about not liking it just to have something in common with you because this movie looks fucking awesome! Let’s watch it man!

Beast: Fine.

As I teared up on several occasions during the poignant film, the Beast–out of nowhere–suddenly turned the channel.

Foodie: What are you doing? Turn it back!

Beast: But Billy Madison is on! Come on–it’s so much better than Love, Actually.

Foodie: Actually, it’s not. Can you please turn it back?

Beast: Let’s just watch Billy until he goes to commercial.

So we watched Billy Madison for a bit. What was scary is that the Beast knew all the jokes before they came and started laughing ahead of time, in anticipation of said jokes, which was actually way funnier to watch than Love, Actually. Actually, Billy Madison is a really funny movie.

In order to avoid conflict during Supreme Cabbage Roll Dinner #2, we decided together to rent Gone with the Wind to watch with supper. But there was still conflict in picking out the movie: the Beast wanted to watch a Jazz documentary on some guy named Louis Bluey. Never heard of him? EXACTLY. In an attempt to win me over, the Beat pointed out that Woody Allen endorsed the film. I believe Allen’s quote on the DVD case said:

I like Jazz and I like Louis Bluey. So this is the perfect movie for me.

Fair enough, but it’s not the perfect movie for me, especially while dining on award-winning cabbage rolls. Anyway, reason prevailed, and Gone with the Wind it was. But right in the middle of the Civil War action, the Best paused the film.

Beast: Can I talk to you about something without you getting mad?

Foodie: Yes.

Beast: I think next time you make cabbage rolls, you should salt the meat more.

Foodie: I disagree whole-heartedly.

Beast: You do?

Foodie: Absolutely.

Beast: I think this is the first time in this relationship that I’ve thought something needed more salt and you didn’t.

Foodie: Can you press play please? Did you know that the book I’m reading right now–the biography of Louisa May Alcott– has too do with the Civil War a bit too? Did you know that she grew up in Concord, Massachusetts, and people like Emerson and Thoreau were her neighbours? She could see Walden Pond form her bedroom window!

Beast: I did know that. Actually, a relation of Buckminster Fuller, an intellecutal named Margaret Fuller, lived there too. She taught at that school that Alcott’s dad started. What was it called…The Temple School? She was quite instrumental in that transcendentalist stuff.

Foodie: (Putting fork down–briefly–to look at the Beast) How in the hell do you know shit like that?

Beast: I read.

Foodie: Thoreau was very important to me in my youth you know. I remember–

Beast: I know, I know: your Dad bought you a collection of his works for your 15th birthday and you thought to yourself, What a shitty thing to buy a teenager for their birthday, but Walden ended up enlightening you and–

Foodie: I take it you’ve heard that one before.

Beast: You know what gets me? You don’t even know who my favourite New Orleans trombone player is.

Foodie: Who is it?

Beast: I don’t really have one. Maybe Jack Teagarden, but he’s not from New Orleans. But my point is YOU DON’T LISTEN.

Foodie: I think these are the best cabbage rolls I’ve ever made.

Foodie: ****

Beast: ***

There and Back Again.

(Sometime, two weeks ago.)

Beast: Who is this “Aaron” guy anyway?

Foodie: He’s the student that I met in Italy who lived with those other students who were all great and now he’s the chef in NYC who was also on Iron Chef that one time. Remember?

Beast: Sort of. How long is he going to stay with us?

Foodie: A night, or two.

Beast:  How old is this kid?

Foodie:  Actually, I think he’s going to turn 28 tomorrow.  I saw it on Facebook.

Beast:  He’s older than I am?!

Foodie:  (Pause.)  Oh fuuuuccccckkkkk.  This all feels so wrong all of a sudden.

Beast:  What?

Foodie:  Our age difference.  Oh god.  I’m old enough to be your teacher.

Beast:  You were only a teaching assistant, not a teacher.  (Pause.)  Fine.  “Aaron” can stay with us.  But tell him he can’t go into my music room. I don’t want this kid touching any of my instruments.

You’ve certainly heard me speak of how I lived in Italy for a year. I was a teaching assistant at one of the many schools in Florence where American students come to spend a semester to make and learn about art. My job was to assist the art history professor, who happens to be one of the most eccentric characters I’ve ever met, with marking papers and conducting field trips,which included visiting museums and sites in places like Ravenna, Pisa, Arezzo, Venice, Naples, Urbino, Siena, Rome and Tivoli.


You know how that one guy wrote a book and said something about it being the best of times and the worst of times? Well, Italy was sort of like that for me. It was the worst because nearly as soon as I arrived, I got dumped, which was the end of a pretty long relationship.

I was devastated. I was alone in a foreign country with no T.V. Can you imagine? After work, which included grueling days of looking at some of western civilization’s most important works of art and architecture, I found the best remedy for my melancholy state was watching movies on my iBook. I passed all of January and February lying in bed each night after dinner, watching my entire DVD collection over and over again with my computer resting on my stomach, and a box of tissues on the nightstand.

In between bites of prosciutto, olives, fennel-specked taralle, and sips of cheap red wine, I found that I would inevitably see myself in every character, and my life in every plot-line. I may have been overly-sensitive at the time. I say this because now I can watch Die Hard without crying. I cried while watching the original Star Wars trilogy back to back. That goes for the trilogies of Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings, and the Godfather too.

Anyway, my poor, dear roommate (and one of my best friends) Michelle suffered through my sad spells with great poise. That woman sat up with me at our little kitchen table drinking wine, eating delicious smoked mozzarella di bufala, robiola cheese, prosciutto, and finocchiona and listened to my confessions and my amateurish philosophical musings. That time continues to be special–sacred even–for both of us and I will not mar it here by trying to recount it further.


There was one morning in the middle of my sad, sorry slump that I had to be up at the ungodly hour of 6:30 in the morning for a field trip to Siena and I called my mom and complained about not wanting to go to and how annoyed I was and how stupid everything was. My mom rarely disciplines me but then and there she said, “You’re complaining because you don’t want to go to Siena. SIENA. Think about that for a moment.”

She was right of course. But all I wanted to do was watch Sense and Sensibility again because that was me! Marianne Dashwood was me! (Also, Elinor Dashwood was me. And the character played by Hugh Grant in the movie was me.)

After that, I began to see the city, and my job, in a new light. Helping me along with that was a group of students who lived up the street from me and Michelle on Via Ghibellina. They were just the loveliest bunch! Other students tended to not pay attention during field trips but these guys would often be up front and centre. They’d even ask questions!

We were also able to have a little giggle, with all due respect of course, over some of the things that the Professor would say. This woman, who most likely knows the city of Florence better than anyone else (when president Bill Clinton was visiting, the Whitehouse called on her to take him around.  She politely declined, because she had a field trip to lead), left America in the early 1970s after completing her PhD and has pretty much been in Italy ever since.  That might explain why she has a funny way with words: she’s essentially Italian, except she retains some thirty-year old American tactless sentimentalities, like calling Asians orientals, for example. And when she led the the students through “forbidden” Pompeii, which includes some pretty shocking wall paintings that explicitly depict sexy things, I actually wrote down some of her remarks in my journal (where I also wrote a lot poems about my feelings and emotions and stuff like that.) Here are the best ones–and remember, she voiced these words without a hint of irony or humour.

On the right, you see is a very huge male part.

These were the women’s quarters and the women were good for working and they were good for sex.

I’m used to talking about Madonna and Child’s and these are not, definitely not, Madonna and Child’s.

You might say that this is to get the action going (about a dildo).

The dwarf creeping across the floor really reminds you that this was built for human proportions.

You get the idea.

Anyway, this fantastic group of students invited me over for dinner a few times, and I had them over for an Easter feast I believe. Long story short, Aaron is one of the students–and the one who used to cook for us all–and he came to stay with us last week.

As soon as he arrived, he parked his car out front of our house and walked to Roncesvalles to do some exploring. Meanwhile, I rode my bike home from work and decided to make a quick pit-stop into the cheese store on Roncesvalles. Do you know happened next? I ran right into Aaron! He’d already sampled some Polish delights and had himself a coffee.

At home, while we waited for the Beast to get home, I opened up a bottle of really bad Ontario riesling, which I had bought to show him how great Ontario riesling could be. We drank it anyway, and in the little sun room Aaron began to tell me what he’d been up to for the last six years. I could listen to his kitchen stories until the cows come home–especially because they include people who I read about every week in the New Yorker and the New York Times or who I know of through watching Top Chef for the last four years. I was in heaven, squealing with delight over the gossip and intrigue.

And then the Beast got home. At first, it was like two gorillas checking each other out.

Beast: Hey man.

Aaron: Hey.

Then there was a moment of silence as they examined each others beards. I stood timidly on the sideline, like a cameraman filming a nature show in Kenya, just waiting to see what would happen next.

Well, they just started talking mostly. About everything. I couldn’t get a word in edge-wise. I did, however, do a pretty admirable job of bringing the Beast up to speed on Aaron’s New York City culinary adventures since he’d returned from Italy. In a singular breath I blurted this out:

Foodie: So, like, when Aaron got home from Italy he totally realized he’d rather be cooking than making paintings and besides, he found cooking more creative anyway and he loved it so much that he marched himself into August, Tony Liu’s restaurant (at the time) that’s smack-dab in the middle of Greenwich Village on Bleeker Street, you know, right near all the Marc Jacobs shops? And after a few years there he went on to A Voce and not too long into that stint his old boss Tony Liu gave him a call and asked if he’d be part of his team for Iron Chef America! Can you believe it?! They didn’t beat Mario Batali and Co., but man oh man did they put up a good fight! And the secret ingredient was opah, which is like this huge fish that’s really popular in Hawaii. And then after A Voce, Aaron went onto work at Susur Lee’s Shang in the Thompson on Orchard Street and that was followed by a position as sous chef at Torrisi–a restaurant in Little Italy that was opened up by two Cafe Boulud alumni! And the place got these amazing reviews from Sam Sifton at the NYTimes and in New York Magazine, and now there are line ups every night and they serve Italian American food using locally sourced ingredients so like, instead of getting mozzarella from Italy, they get it from somewhere in the State. Isn’t that great? The place was even the featured “Table for Two” in an August issue of the New Yorker.

Beast: Can we eat now?

Aaron was actually in town on some very specific business: turns out he’s just recently left Torrisi in order to pursue a little idea that’s been swimming around in the back of his head for years: he wants to cook Jewish food, but not the kind of Jewish food that’s served in New York’s most famous delis, like Katz’s or the Carnegie.  Those places all get their pastrami, latkes and matzo balls from the same industrial supplier rather than making them in-house .  Aaron wants to do Jewish food with a little more love than that.  In fact, a place in his Brooklyn neighbourhood recently opened up called Mile End that’s run by a married couple–Montrealers in fact–and after a couple of talks, it turns out that Aaron is going to be the chef there!

We had research to do.  The three of us headed straight to Caplansky’s, a deli in downtown Toronto.  We all got sandwiches–the Beast and I chose smoked meat and Aaron chose the pickled tongue–plus an order of knish

and an order if kishka.

I’d never had either.  They were good.  Actually, they kind of tasted the same to my Gentile palate.  The Beast said the kishka tasted like stuffing.  My sandwich was really good, but I don’t know anything about deli food. I do know, however, that the best smoked meat sandwich I’ve ever had was at Schwartz’s in Montreal.  This was something that Aaron would hear over and over again in Toronto: “Smoked meat?  Well, you have to go to Schwartz’s.  It’s the best.”  This kind of food really is polarizing: I’ve heard people verbally slay Caplansky’s food and others defend it down to the last matzo ball.  Aaron was like a bookish anthropologist as he ate away, observed, and kept his opinions to himself.

That is, until the next day.   Aaron went back to Caplansky’s on his own and tried some more food, including their matzo ball soup, which he admitted was the saddest example he’d ever sampled.  He also visited the Art Gallery of Ontario with my membership card, and dropped into a dumpling place on Spadina, which he chose from all the other spots on account of seeing a man walk into the store with a whole pig slung over his shoulder.  But when he Googled the name of the place, once he was sitting inside and had placed his order, he discovered it had been recently shut down by the city on account of a little rat infestation.   Regardless, the dumplings were good.  In fact, he noted that they had an interesting sort of dusting of cornmeal on their exterior and the only other time he’d seen dumplings like that was in Susur Lee’s kitchen.

We all convened at home that second night.  The Beast and I wanted to take Aaron for a few of our favourite snacks.  We made our first pit-stop at Ali’s Roti–a West Indian Roti shop on Queen Street West.

Not everything is a hit here, but their doubles–lightly curried and stewed chickpeas stuffed between cloud-like, tumeric-laced fritters–make the Beast and I swoon.  And they’re only $1.70 each!  If I’m working at night, the Beast will often make a meal out of consuming 4 or 5 doubles.  He says they’re the most reliable food treat in the entire city.

Aaron’s verdict?  He loved them.  Whew.

Since Aaron couldn’t get to Montreal this trip, we had to take him for poutine at Poutini’s.  This place is a delight to visit on a lazy Saturday afternoon, or a rainy Tuesday night.  But pass it on a Thursday, Friday or Saturday evening after midnight and there’s a line that snakes out the door of club kids needing a fix of fries, cheese curds and gravy.

Poutine, especially when it’s made well, is hard not to like.  We shared a large one and it disappeared pretty quickly.  I kept telling Aaron it was chicken gravy.  I could tell he looked skeptical so I asked.  It turns out I am occasionally wrong:  they use beef gravy, just as Aaron suspected.

We ended our evening with an Italian meal at the restaurant where I work so I can’t provide details or photographs because that would tarnish my professional image.  Suffice to say, we three had a lovely meal, with plenty of lively conversation and lots to drink.

Aaron left the next morning.  Not long after, the Beast called me at work to tell me that there was an article in the National Post that very morning about Mile End, the Montreal delicatessen where Aaron now works.  And you do you know what restaurant was featured in the New Yorker’s  Table for Two that week?  Mile End!

I’m counting the days until I can visit this Brooklyn deli, which was just voted the best deli in New York by the Zagat guide.

Anyway, sorry about being a bit self-indulgent in this post.  At least I didn’t reproduce one of the haiku poems I wrote while walking around Pompeii listening to sad Icelandic music on a Discman or something, although those poems are pretty amazing.  And sorry about the iPhone pictures: I left my camera at Giovanna’s house weeks ago now.  I was taking pictures of her newborn baby. To be honest, I’m a little disappointed that she hasn’t found the time to return the camera to me yet.

Caplansky’s:  Foodie **      Beast **

Doubles from Ali’s Roti:  Foodie  ****   Beast ****

Poutini’s:  Foodie:  ***  Beast ***