It's a hot day in 1931. My dandy grandfather drives his Ford down a dirt road near Linden, Texas. A young girl in a cotton dress walks barefoot. He yanks the brake. The girl turns. Her blue eyes clear the swirling dust. She's stunning.
Over eight decades, my grandmother's beauty continues to develop. It's legendary. I call her Nanny. Still do, as she's always with me.
The Fairmont Hotel in Quebec City is my gorgeous grandmother.
A friend of mine used to date Enrique Iglesias. Enrique was such an energetic and passionate lover that their sessions often broke furniture.
At the end they were breathless, totally satisfied, but anxious for more. Thankfully he had stamina.
I've never lustily busted up a Noguchi table, but I had a thrilling dinner at Montreal's Tuck Shop.
I swung open the door where smiling host Miles extended his arm which is lyrically tattooed with a musical note hinting that perhaps he was named for Miles Davis.
His friendly handshake told me that not only was he happy to have me there, he was happy to be there.
Montreal's most innovative eatery,
Au Pied de Cochon (foot of the pig), is owned by a pig and duck farmer who
also harvests prize maple syrup. He concocts gastronomical masterpieces
where he features each item singularly or combines them in a brash,
showy combination that ends up on the news, or on the plate of a
Michelin rater. He also specializes in foie gras, a dish at which I am never
Au Pied de Cochon is in an older part of Montreal where the buildings are low and
the cobblestone streets seem too narrow for cars. It's the
kind of hood with low trees, the part of town where witches live and drunkards gather in pubs and plot to
overthrow the tyrant king.
The restaurant is tiny and
packed -- exactly like the sausages so tastefully created by the chef.
There was a party of four huge men (probably Yanks) attempting to sit at
a table by the entrance, but they literally wouldn't fit and had to
leave. We were first at a table near the entrance, but the host had the
good sense to avoid a fit and move us to the best table in the house, in
front of the window on the old, picturesque street.
busgirl laid a small loaf of bread directly on a napkin on the table,
as if to say, This bread is so fucking amazing that it stands alone and
needs no plate or basket. I wasn't going to touch the bread but within
seconds, I was on it like a priest on a choirboy. It was fantastic
bread, with the thickest, crustiest crust I had ever had -- the veritable
John Huston of breads. Later, I regretted eating the bread, only
because we noticed the busgirl suffered from a terrible case of eczema. She obviously felt that a sleeveless shirt exhibited that best and to
clear a table, and that tucking the bread under her scaly arm made it easier
to manage the dirty glasses and cutlery.
started with 100 grams of foie gras, seared in maple syrup from the
chef's farm, and tossed with chunks of ham raised by the chef, and
pineapple. Normally I would think the ham was gilding the lily, but this
was a terrific pairing -- and all elements were from the same farm! It
was tasty, not too sweet, and gone in sixty seconds. I would have hit the
table and yelled, "Encore," but I had a lot of food coming and it was
kind of noisy in there.
my main course, I ordered the Pied de Cochon Melting Pot because it
was touted as the most comprehensive sampling. Blood sausage, garlic
sausage, super-slow-roasted pork shoulder, and a tiny pork chop,
protecting the softest, gooiest mashed potatoes I have ever had, all
snuggled together in the little pot:
meat was tastier than the previous one. My fork darted around the pot,
jumping from meat to meat like a promiscuous tap dancer on Smash. I reached over more than once and helped myself to Bob's Duck Magret. He didn't really notice because the woman dining next to us had
really shiny, dangling earrings, the kind bought at a craft fair that
included a "story," and that kept distracting him. Later he wondered why
he wasn't full.
Two tourists, likely from China, Korea,
or Viet Nam, you know, one of the richer countries, sat at the table next to us and were relishing in this
Montreal "must do." One ordered the duck in a can -- a marvelous
presentation where the chef heats the duck they canned right in that
restaurant. Once ordered, the chef heats the whole thing up, and the
waiter opens it table-side with a hand-cranked can opener, and in a
flashy show, once opened, the tin is dumped onto the diner's plate --
amid flashing of cameras and tiny oohs and aahs. By me.
that's the can in the center of the table.
My mashed potatoes were so gooey that I vowed to
replicate them at home, but I had to know the secret to do that. See this shot of the
kitchen? I took it through the plants, so the kitchen looks like a
Viet Nam jungle and the chef looks like Rambo before he had a facelift.
(These little hanging bags hold
just-spun-with-maple-syrup-fresh-from-the-farm cotton candy.)
hopped over the half-wall and grabbed Chef Rambo by the neck and
wrestled his chubby body to the ground. I demanded to know how he got
those potatoes so gooey. He wouldn't even give me the courtesy of a
reply. I began bashing his bandana-wrapped head against the bricks,
spitting out my demands between bashes -- "How (bash) did (bash) you (bash) get (bash) those (bash) fucking (bash-bash) potatoes (bash) so (bash) gooey (really hard bash), you (bash) French (bash) bitch (big final bash)?!"
still wouldn't speak, and probably couldn't after all the bashing. I
was spent, and released him. We both collapsed against the grimy,
duck-greased wall, heaving, gaining our breath back. I wiped my brow,
reached up, grabbed a loose duck confit leg and nibbled. I wiped my
chin and struggled to get up.
court, I will say I never touched that non-English-speaking chef. The
waitress cheerfully offered up the secret to the potatoes -- they add
an obscene amount of cheddar cheese curds, the fattiest part of the
cheese. I over-tipped her and left.
Although we had taken the luxurious subway to the restaurant, I obviously needed
to walk off my hostility, and meal. After walking about half an hour, we happed upon a fantastic chocolate joint, where I resisted eating any chocolate.
I did, however, have a crepe laced with salted caramel and fried
bananas. I took a picture of it, but I'd rather show you the type of
chocolate this family-themed cafe features. This confection puts the
Kama Sutra to shame. It depicts many naked, obviously limber, and
sexually aroused men and gravity-defying women engaged in what most
would call a sex act. I left immediately, out of shame and guilt.
I walked away, I thought of the dude ranch where I worked one summer in Colorado and adopted a little pet pig, Arnold, and why one should never, ever name your farm
animals. They might end up on my plate.
Toronto is like if NYC and LA had a baby, then abandoned that baby in the cold, expecting the endless community of new, towering skyscrapers to raise him.
Toronto has theater, nightlife, beautiful parks, and sits on Lake Ontario which is so vast you will think you are staring at the sea. They also have some terrific restaurants. I was most excited about eating at Momofuko, without actually fuko-ing some host in NYC to get a table. Since it's currently #93 on the 2013 list of the world's best restaurants, the Big Apple branch has a wait list as long as, well, what I would fuko them with.
Only open a few months, the Torontonians haven't caught the Korean-American fusion fare fever. While I wish culinarily hung chef/owner David Chang much success, me rather love his food long time than wait in line long time. Did I mention it's freaking cold up there?
Ignore the crazy-ass sculpture out front. Obviously Barbara Walter's asked Chang what tree he would like to be and he said A dragon, with birds all over my body like flying leeches and maybe it can look like a jellyfish tooor a scratch on my back from the birds. Walk past fast. I'd post a picture but you're aboot to eat.
Once safely inside, the warm walls with their dark colors are wombishly comforting.
A womb is where babies are grown, and must have inspired his most popular dish -- the steamed pork buns. This must be what baby tastes like. The pork is so tender it seems more than steamed, more like it formed from vaporous meat and an angel gracefully floated the newborn down, gently placing it between the firm, yet comfy soft-as-a-baby's-bottom buns.
The welcoming bowl of chilled spicy noodles (noodles here are served as authentically cold as a Korean mother-in-law) with sichuan sausage, spinach and cashews was next.
I took the warm bowl from the kind waitress, thinking how different the service might be in NYC.
I dug my chopsticks fearlessly down to the bottom of the bowl, careful to grab just a bit, then pausing as I pulled out to pick up a little passenger of each ingredient on my way out. As I took the first bite, I wanted the flavors to introduce themselves to me, one by one, so I cleared my throat to get their attention. The shockingly hot spice took advantage of my open gullet's hospitality and settled in nooks and crannies of my throat. I tried to warn my dining companion but I sounded like Stephen Hawking trying to spell h-o-t. This might burn three times, I noted.
I know people come for the Fuji apple kimchi, but after trying it, I don't care to know those people. It's not the nasty feet-like taste of kimchi, that's not it, really, I promise.
This dish was missing the acid from the apple as much as Apple misses acid-dropping Steve Jobs. I wanted the dish to be better. But life's too short so I left the wimpily flavored salad and fortified my strength with mussels.
As I forced the shell open as if I were a mean gynecologist, strong garlic wafted up protectively and let me know this dish was no pushover. Trace amounts of fennel and fermented soy could be found as I dredged the bowl with the porcelain spoon, wishing for bread.
The service was caring, warm, and most likely not
to end up in fisticuffs like perhaps in might down South in NYC. The waiters took turns bringing dishes to
our table; maybe to get a look at the guy who was ordering so much
food, or maybe because they understood the higher concept of cooperation
and wanted to get the food to the guests as quickly as possible both to
ensure better quality of the chef's art and to get us out faster and
have another party seated to perpetuate a clever but logical
lather-rinse-repeat interpretation of order-serve-repeat.
benefits for crossing over to the cold side is that Toronto is a great
place to film movies and television shows. Parts look enough like NYC to
use it as NYC, and those Cannuck rubes are attitude and union free, so you
don't have those grumpy Teamsters and pesky SAG rules that get in the way of completing your
project. Their streets are wider so you can close them to film,
unlike NYC, where only parades, natural disasters and babies-in-a-well
shut down 5th Avenue.
Americans like to cast stones after we cast our ballots if the
election doesn't go our way; disgruntled yanks threaten to yank
themselves right over into Canada if the wrong party prevails -- handy since most Canadian cities
are a stones throw away from the US border. That vast tundra holds the
promise of free-health care and a lack of guns, which may be
connected. And they don't hurl paint on you for wearing fur.
As I left, I was really, really rude to the hostess. She was shocked and as the tiny tear streaked down her tender, gentle face, I told her that it was for her own good. Soon, the New Yorkers would find out the Momofuko Toronto secret. She needed to get used to it.