Friday, May 30, 2008

The Linkery, San Diego

San Diego is very green, and you forget how close it is to the desert:

But this guy is a reminder:

Up until recently, I am told, the city was not noted for its food. I went one evening to a Mexican restaurant named Candelas, and found out why. The food here was good, the wine-by-the-glass excellent, and the service elegant. But I was depressed by a party of six, who ordered enormous plates of food and scarfed it all down before my soup came. I don't know if they were military or athletes or what, but the mere sight made me feel slightly queasy. And they're the customers. No wonder the plates are full of food to the point that you face the main courses with apprehension in your heart.

I ordered two primi: a black bean soup made with beer, which was terrific -- lots of complex flavours -- the black beans, pretty much as expected, and then a nice dark beery finish. Then, an avocado and shrimp concoction that tasted more of lime than of the seafood or fruit.

The next night, Jonathan and I tried The Linkery, a restaurant that advertises single-source everything, and having been to Chez Panisse and Cowbell recently, I thought it would be interesting. Jonathan even had a coupon for a free main course.

The Linkery turned out to be an industrial looking restaurant, which had just moved into new quarters:

Single sourcing is at new heights here. They even tell you how the paper is made and where it comes from:

We ordered a charcuterie plate to share, and then lamb. The charcuterie itself was very good -- from top to bottom, landjager, bresaola, copa -- but it was the accompaniments that made this plate:

Each carrot, date, walnut was full of flavour and it was all that I could do to leave Jonathan his fair share. And a wonderfully inky, deep tasting Nebbiolo from Mexico. The main was breast of lamb with merguez, the former tasting milky and the latter perfectly spiced with pepper (but no turmeric that I detected). A great Bordeaux-style blend called Chukker accompanied. (It's wonderful being in California, where one regularly drinks wine of quality that one would go broke for in Canada.) Like Chez Panisse, the vegetables were terrific; unlike CP and Cowbell, the meat was good enough, but not memorable.

With dessert, another first: a dessert beer. An edifying end to a most enjoyable evening.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Two Equestrian Statues

This is a statue of King Edward VII: an egregiously stupid and gluttonous man with a flexible sense of private morality. Son of Victoria, he became heir to the throne because his brother, who was severely retarded, died before their mother did.

This fine statue once stood in Delhi, as this plaque below it recounts:

Now it stands in Queen's Park in Toronto, a sadly shabby space in the centre of this appearance-oblivious city. Paul Fonseca remarks in the Globe and Mail about the "rundown fountain surrounded by unplanted gardens," "the dilapidated benches" and "the neglected monument to a dead monarch." As for the last: how did it get there?

Delhi had many such statues, some of which had their ornamental qualities. The one shown below was at one end of Rajpat, or Kingsway, which has the fabulous Rashtrapati Bhawan, or President's Residence, at its other end.

This one has now been removed, and the pedestal stands empty. It is of George V, a somewhat thinner, but equally uncultured son of the man on a horse. The statue of Edward VII was also removed. These and many other statues were stored in kind of graveyard for imperial relics, on the grounds of the old Coronation Durbar, in Civil Lines near Delhi University.

Sometime in the sixties, Henry Jackman had the good idea that Toronto was in need of an equestrian statue. It had many good statues in front of the legislature building in Queen's Park, but all the men so honoured stood on their feet. Jackman contacted his friend, Roland Michener, then Canada's High Commissioner to India, to see if the Government of India would give Toronto its exiled Edward VII-on-horseback. GOI was only too willing to oblige.

The statue was cut into three pieces, shipped to Toronto, rewelded here, and erected in 1969. It looks good where it stands (though grass, as you can see, is a struggle in Toronto).

Canada and Toronto were unappreciative recipients. In her memoir of her father's time in India, Michener's daughter complains about how long it took to process the papers needed to export the statue. Nowhere in this memoir is there a word of gratitude for the gift. Nor is Toronto properly appreciative for who gave it its equestrian statue. Look closely at the plaque above: you'll see it says that the gift was "made possible" by the Government of India, along with "the former High Commissioner to India, His Excellency Roland Michener C.C, C.D., Governor General of Canada." Michener did indeed make the gift possible, and Jackman paid to transport and install it, but surely the Government or the people of India should be acknowledged as the donors (rather than as facilitators).

Jackman was right about equestrian statues: no city is complete without one. Soon others began to hear the call. A couple of blocks away, in St. Michael's College, there now stands this charming example of the genre:

Not quite as imposing as Edward Emperor of India perhaps, but at least this one doesn't look like the type who cadges money and mistresses from his

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Grace, College Street

Grace is a new restaurant at 503 College Street – where Xacutti used to be. It’s billed as “modern farmhouse”, and we discussed what that might mean – the look is light wood, if that helps, but the cuisine is hip urban. A party of us had plenty of food and lots of fun – the restaurant has only been open a week and seems to have caught the attention of young professional types. There were lots of stylish people to look at, and there was an excellent atmosphere of eating, drinking, flirting, and ogling.

The food is a somewhat mixed experience. Take the halibut poached in olive oil:

The technique is very effective, since the fish is treated delicately at a relatively low temperature and comes out tender and moist. But the leaves on top did nothing for the dish: it's hard to get them on to the same forkful as the fish, and so they came into my mouth separately. The point of constructed dishes of this sort is that each mouthful should offer you a mixture of textures and flavours -- appearance should be secondary; this isn't El Bulli after all. That didn't happen. I regret to say that the pink stuff underneath was grapefruit. Now, whose idea was that?

There are other glitches: corn soup with crab fritters sounds like a fantastic appetizer -- but the fritters were doughy and didn't have any crunch; there was a pleasantly presented potato salad -- but the potatoes were overcooked and mealy. However, the scallops you see on the right below were perfect: a little crust on perfectly tender and sweet meat.

This is a fun place, and our party of five had a very good time, starting from the wine, the friendly service from good-looking waitstaff (though the kitchen was somewhat overwhelmed by the sudden influx of many hearty eaters at about 8 pm), and the atmosphere -- I am sure they will get their act together.

Friday, May 9, 2008

The crystal and the horse

The Michael Lee-Chin Crystal is an impressively futuristic addition to the venerable and beloved Royal Ontario Museum on Bloor Street and Avenue Road in Toronto. Here it is, as it looks from Bloor Street looking east.

It was designed by Daniel Libeskind, who also did the much more intimidating Jewish Museum in Kreuzberg, Berlin. This is a view of the latter:

Perhaps you notice some similarities.

The ROM in Toronto is, as you can see, a much more cheerful building -- as it should be, since it has been a weekend destination for many generations of chattering school children. Libeskind's crystal looks as if the old building had been dipped in a supersaturated solution of sugar, and a crystal has grown around it.

Actually it is a free-standing building, and doesn't even touch the original. Its marvelous aesthetic qualities derive in part from its being such a feat of engineering.

As you walk south along Philosophers' Way, which runs along the west side of the building, you lose sight of the main bulk of the crystal, and this is what you see:

A corner of the crystal just overtopping the roof line of the old building. From the south, it looks like this:

From here it doesn't look so much like a crystal, but more like a head-like form with its throat resting on the roof line, with the chin hanging over. It reminds me a lot of this . . .

. . . the great horse from the Moon's chariot, with its chin overhanging the east pediment of the Parthenon.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


Cowbell (1564 Queen St. W, Toronto) is a restaurant devoted to meat -- but it is nothing like a steakhouse. In fact it has a rather esoteric specialty: whole-animal butchering. They get sides of beef, or whole animals, and butcher them on-site. They are not, they insist, a steakhouse -- and they are right. The emphasis is on pieces of meat not usually found in restaurants, and on combinations of cuts. Very little goes to waste, they say: all the meat finds its way to the table.

It is hard to get into Cowbell, since it is all the rage right now. When you arrive, you find yourself in an unpretentious room (in an unpretentious part of town), evidently done to the owners' taste (no Restaurant Makeover stunts), with an ornate but slightly tatty plush covering on the benches, and bare wood on the chairs. They claim it looks like a French bistro -- and Joanne Kates seemed to agree in her September 15th review. Maybe it does look like some examples of that genre, but where's the zinc on the ceiling? And there were no shiny, floury, boozy sauces either -- the meat is embellished by natural broths, reduced but not thickened, and enhanced by the flavour of very fresh vegetables.

The table that's closest on the left was a party of very loud louts who caused us to ask to be moved. You might think that restaurants would either install sound deadening ceilings (though that wouldn't have helped with this crowd) or get people to quiet down when they are over-exuberant (read: drunk).

Anyway, I went there with a friend I hadn't seen since we were undergraduates together.

He ordered a plate of greens ("Soiled Reputation Greens") and a plate of pork, which had sausage, belly (I think), and a bit of ear. I ordered duck soup and a hot pot, which is Lancashire style. We were too busy catching up, and too distracted by the louts, for me to do any serious tasting or photography. The quick impression is that the duck soup was Chinese-influenced -- a clear and non-fatty broth with a good taste of mushroom and pepper, all fat taken out. The hotpot is a large piece of brisket in another rich broth -- beautifully tender and rich tasting.

This is a great restaurant -- it's Toronto's shot at Chez Panisse, though not quite in the same league -- and it deserves another, more serious visit. It's run by enthusiasts: Michael Cutrara, the chef, dropped by to chat -- wow he's serious. Like Bill Buford, he apprenticed as a butcher half-way through his (still young) career -- worked at the Healthy Butcher.

It cost 120 for two including two glasses of wine each. More later.