Kissing the Blarney stone
I love Atlantic Rim cuisine: the dramatically different smoked salmons of Norway, Scotland, Ireland and Nova Scotia; the mighty herring in all its protean manifestations; the other cold sea fish and the crabs and lobsters creeping in the benighted depths; the great arc of oysters that stretches from the shoreline of western France up through England and Galway to the Maritimes. Eating at Starfish (100 Adelaide St. E., at Jarvis St.) always reminds me of this Celtic heritage, and though I’m no more Irish than Patrick O’Brian, I like to run alongside the great cavalcade of all things Erse that trundles through our consciousness every St. Patrick’s Day, claiming a sort of kinship as a Sproule of County Antrim, though I believe our bit of the family only lingered there for a few brief generations en route from Scotland to Australia.
No matter. It is enough. But still I am grateful to Patrick McMurray for reminding me that the Saint’s Day is once again scheduled for later this month. I was at his restaurant/oyster bar, Starfish, on Thursday, you see, with some good friends, scarfing les fruits de mer before heading off to Massey Hall for a truly awesome Blue Rodeo concert. McMurray made mention of his special menu for St. Patrick’s Day, and also that his daughter’s school of Irish dance—the Gilchrist School—will be performing reels and jigs in full costume on Saturday, March 15, at 7:30 p.m.; on Sunday, post-parade, at 6 p.m.; and on Monday at 7:30 p.m.
Starfish’s chef, Kyle Deming, is offering a very Celtic menu for the occasion—and I believe it will run for the entire month of March. I will copy it for you now:
Starters• Irish Flats breaded and fried with oyster stout aïoli • Dublin Bay prawns roasted with salted butter and brown bread• Matane shrimp potted with a butter glaze top• Homemade corned beef hash with poached egg• Deep-fried sprats with lemon aïoli and fried parsley• Stargazie Pie—pilchards and pastry, bacon and baking• Pork pie with raisin and caper sauce• Black pudding with apple and oyster
Mains• Roasted lamb neck in mutton and barley broth• Boiled homemade bacon with apple boxties and cabbage• Claire Island organic salmon poached in stout, with leek and turnip terrine, truckle cheddar scone• Whole baked plaice with cockle butter, lemon-and-pepper-dressed herb salad and steamed potatoes• Nova Scotia halibut, baked on the bone (super for two)
I think it looks absolutely delicious, and I’m especially happy to see Stargazie Pie on the card. It’s a Cornish dish, as I’m sure you know, and the point of the name is that the whole pilchards baked into the pie thrust their heads out through the pastry crust to gaze at the stars. A tad macabre, perhaps (and that’s pronounced McCaber in March), but unique and delicious for all that (mebyon Kernow and sod the emmets, as we used to say).
Another bit of Starfish news: McMurray and Deming have been asked to oversee the food and beverage program at a new golf course called Piper’s Heath (5501 Trafalgar Rd., Milton, www.pipersheath.com) that apparently looks like a proper links golf course such as may be seen and experienced in Scotland and Ireland. Yes, ballwhackers, it’s all going to start happening in the spring, though no one is promising authentic Scottish gale-force winds or the relentless and penetrating drizzle of what the Irish call “a fine soft day.”
And lest you should think that Starfish is exclusively Celtic, McMurray is paying homage to Japan (after travelling there last December) by “diving into the world of the raw bar,” as he puts it, “with fin and shellfish as the season and the weather permits.” Look for sardine, yellowtail loin and belly, kona kampachi, mackerel, abalone, sea scallops, red and green seaurchin (see below), razor and vernise clams, matane shrimp, blue and snow crab. Thursday and Friday are probably the best nights to go as most of the product arrives on those days.
Celts and Greeks, Italians and Lebanese devour the gonads of sea urchins with alacrity (possibly because they are a cannabinoid), but only the Japanese truly elevate them to an art form. March is the best month of the year for these scrumptious echinoids, so I will be heading to Sushi Kaji at some point before All Fools Day to ride whatever unicycle he engineers. I don’t believe there is a creature of any kind in all the terraqueous world that tastes so gloriously and intensely of the sea.