The Beast and I met outside The Black Hoof last Tuesday for his birthday dinner. But the Black Hoof is closed on Tuesdays. Like a little baby African gazelle trying to escape the hungry clutches of a very hungry lion or hippo or zebra, I reacted quickly and recited names of other restaurants within walking distance in hopes of soothing the Beast’s disappointment at not being able to eat balls or brain.
Foodie: What about Foxley? We haven’t been there in a while! Or some place new, like Pizza Libretto?
Beast: I know where I want to go and it’s right around the corner.
Foodie: Oh goodie! You want to go to Grace, right?
Beast: No. California sandwiches.
Foodie: What?! It’s your birthday dinner! You can choose anyplace you want!
Beast: I just did!
Foodie. You know what. You’re right. Let’s go to California. I’m sorry. It’s just that I was excited to do a new blog post (California–been there, done that), and I’m letting my own motives get in the way.
Beast: What I really want is steak. And mussels too with frites.
Foodie: This is progress…this is good!
Beast: What about that place run by that Cuban lady on Ossington where we went and you had the fish and I had the steak that one time?
That place is Deluxe. And the lady is Corinna Mozo. I couldn’t have been happier to take the Beast there. Much to my surprise we were warmly greeted by a former colleage, Svetlana–a Bulgarian beauty who’s humoured me at wine tastings with her inspired and uncanny wine descriptions. She’s now managing Deluxe. As we settled into our adorable window table, two glasses of sparkling wine (Cava, I think) appeared before us. Capably serving the near-packed house were two more former colleagues, who both went out of their way to say hello and make us feel welcome. I think the Beast may have been a little shell-shocked by all the attention. I had to act fast.
Foodie: What’s wrong?
Beast: Nothings wrong. I’m just reflecting on my life. I’m 26 now and I haven’t accomplished anything.
Foodie: Oh boy. It’s going to be that sort of night then, is it? Why don’t I order you some food right away. I bet your blood sugar is just low. How about the oysters? They’ll be so nice with the bubbly!
Beast: (sighs) Okay. They’re supposed make you want to have sex you know.
Foodie: There you go kiddo! You’re sounding better already!
Tonight they were shucking little guys from BC called Kusshi oysters-served with a Champagne-shallot mignionette.
Foodie: I love tiny oysters better than big, fleshy ones. But you know what, I don’t care for fancy sauces. I want a squeeze of lemon and that’s it.
Beast: No, not even lemon. Just the oyster in all its glory.
The menu at Deluxe is well-curated: they have 5 or 6 selections each of appetizers, mains and desserts. Before we’d indulged in our last oyster, the Beast and I knew exactly what we’d be eating: To start, mussels in a curried broth and the Cuban pressed sandwich: a decadent layering of of gruyere, grainy mustard, cornichons, red onion and a whack of cider-cured pork shoulder. I’d follow with the sablefish served with fingerling potatoes and steamed clams in a smokey “chowda” sauce. And the Beast would get his steak frites, along with a little watercress salad. Svetlana came over to find out what we’d be drinking with our food.
Svetlana: (in a thick-but-charming Bulgarian accent that sounds a bit French) Listen, you need to try this Ontario Riesling–and don’t let the name of the winery disinterest you. They’re out of Beamsville and they’re called Organized Crime! The name refers to some sort of feud between two feuding Mennonite churches who were fighting over a pipe organ. Anyway, this Riesling is oily, slick and woolly, sort of like a Newfoundland fisherman’s sweater.
Foodie: Wow. I don’t know if I can afford not to try it. He (nodding to the melancholy Beast) will stick with beer, but I’ll try whatever wines you want me to, especially anything from Ontario because I want to be converted. Convert me Svetlana.
Svetlana: Perfect! After your riesling you have to try this Cab Franc. I like to think of it as a young girl in a skirt running in a flowered meadow. It’s so perfumy and beautiful!
The Beast’s eyes widened ever-so-slightly.
Svetlana: We also have this Ontario Pinot Noir and you’d never guess in a million years it wasn’t French. It possesses Italian rusticity at first but then opens up like a Burgundy–like a French man who lives like a peasant but who’s still snooty when he goes into Paris for a visit. It’s from Lailey in Niagara. They also make a Syrah that’s like liquid steak in a glass.
Beast: I will try that thank you.
And then our appetizers arrived. They looked so impressive that the couple who sat down beside us said, “we’ll have exactly what they’re having.”
Beast: (quietly) They’re not having exactly what we’re having because they don’t know that these are just appetizers and that we still have more to come.
Foodie: They couldn’t handle what we’re having man. Look how itty-bitty she is.
Beast: And she took off her shoes. That’s disgusting. You know what? I think I’ll call my album, The First Punic Wars. And the follow up will be The Second Punic Wars.
Foodie: How the fuck do you know about the Punic Wars?
Beast: I started reading some History of the Ancient World book. It’s yours I think.
Foodie: Ask me anything you want about ancient Greek or Roman history and I’ll tell you the answer. Example: Who were the architects of the Parthenon? Iktinos and Kallikrates. Snap.
Beast: When were the Punic Wars?
Foodie: Moving on, they’re playing really nice music. Did you notice?
Beast: It’s Johnny Hodges. He taught Sidney Bechet and he was an alto saxophonist in the 30’s for Duke Ellington.
Foodie: Well look at you! 26 years old and you know all about the Punic Wars and Johnny whats-his-name!
Beast: I know what you’re trying to do and I don’t like it. But go on–you might be getting through.
Our mains were both beautifully presented and delicious. I don’t have any documentation though because I got carried away with eating them. The Beast and I were so stuffed that we decided to skip dessert and go straight for espresso.
Apparently this wouldn’t do for Svetlana because a delightful chocolate pot of some sort appeared alongside our caffeine. Somehow we managed to consume it in its entirety.
But Svetlana still wasn’t satisfied. She brought over three red wines for us to sample; the Lailey Pinot Noir, another Ontario Pinot from Rosewood Estates, and the liquid steak, aka, the Lailey Syrah. And then, much to my surprise, the Beast began to swirl the reds around in their glasses and sample them all.
Beast: This is the peasant one, right? She was bang on. It is floral.
Foodie: (mouth agape in shock.) I don’t remember which one it is but if you say so-
Beast: Which one’s the liquid steak? Here it is. (Sticking his nose into the glass’s bowl) It’s peppery don’t you think?
Foodie: Yes it is! This is so much fun! What a nice birthday you’re having!
Beast: I would have been satisfied with California sandwiches and a PBS documentary. But yes, this is very nice. Thank you so much.
Deluxe was more than nice. If we lived close by I have a feeling the Beast and I would make this a regular dining spot. You can eat like our skinny table neighbours did and share a few dishes, or you can dine like you’re preparing for the next ice age. Either way, the bill won’t scare you. The food, the wine, the room and the service are all extremely classy, but comforting. Sort of like the Parthenon with a few throw-cushions and chaise lounges in the cella and everything’s illuminated with Danish designer lights and everybody is filled to the gills with good food and unbuttoning their $200 jeans–some of which are strategically ripped– and sipping and swirling their Ontario vino with a little jazz by that Johnny guy playing in the background.
Footnote: The First Punic Wars were fought between 264 and 241 BC and the Second between 218 to 201 BC.