Chin up, Bobo
The best places for lunch in Toronto? Not too hard a question. The Gallery Grill, Jamie Kennedy’s Wine Bar and his place at the Gardiner Museum, George, Auberge du Pommier, Lai Wah Heen, Vertical and Canoe immediately spring to mind. George is a particularly useful member of the list because people haven’t really discovered it yet (wait until summer when the courtyard is open). And Auberge is also lovely when the weather warms up and the sun shines, though I gather Oliver Bonacini will be closing the place for the month of August in order to renovate. These are the changes that have been hovering, planned, costed but unconsummated, for years, and they sound like a good idea. The familiar glossy terra cotta tiles are to be ripped up (regular customers have already asked to take them home) and replaced by white stone. The murals, too, are for the chop, though they have also been bagsied by fans and, being painted on canvas not wall, can be removed without much damage. The bar becomes a private room. The wall o’ wine between dining room and kitchen gets thickened and rendered a tad less porous to sound. Most importantly to chef Jason Bangerter, the kitchen is getting a major makeover. Chef remembers the awesome induction stoves and other equipment he once worked with in Berlin (they’re ten years ahead of us in terms of hardware) and is hoping he’ll get some here. Time will tell. One thing’s sure—Bangerter deserves them. His core menu hasn’t changed in years but he cooks the dishes very very beautifully, finessing the mod-French plats with an unusually deft touch. Every detail is carressed. The mood of the food is elegant and subtly European. I’ve been trying to figure out what I mean by that and I can only fall back on metaphor. A very high quality Canadian restaurant meal is like a perfectly cut, bespoke velvet shirt. The European version offers the same shirt made out of silk. Does that make sense? Probably not.
The much revered Ben McNally, who has managed Nicholas Hoare’s book shop on Front Street forever, is opening a book shop of his own this summer. He’s calling it Ben McNally Books and the address will be 366 Bay Street (check out the store’s progress here). This is as exciting a piece of news as the opening of a new restaurant from a star chef. Actually, it’s more significant—because a city’s intellectual health can be precisely calculated by the number of literate, independent book stores it supports. McNally says his shop will differ from Nicholas Hoare by offering an inventory with less pictures and more words. Hooray, though I hope he makes an exception for my current favourite tome, Sock Monkeys, by Arne Svenson and Ron Warren (Ideal World Books), a volume of 200 mesmerizing, hilarious, sometimes tragic, always haunting black-and-white photographic portraits of sock monkeys chosen from Warren’s vast collection. Among them is poor wide-eyed Bobo, who must be the most lied-to sock monkey in San Francisco.
Talking of which, Jamie Kennedy, John Higgins and some other chefs whose names escape me are going to San Francisco later this week to check out a shopping mall where the food court has outlets that actually offer good, wholesome food. It seems the Eaton Centre is thinking of following suit and has been smart enough to ask the chefs for advice, sponsoring their trip to the miraculous mall in the city by the bay. A fit-for-gourmets food court right here in Toronto. Imagine!
Image of Jamie Kennedy at the Gardiner’s bluenose bass: Jim Norton