New Beginnings

New Beginnings

Much rejoicing in the basement rec room of my brain that England has made it (OK, somewhat implausibly) to the final of the Rugby World Cup. But the breathless tears of joy are nothing compared with the jubilation of 16 front-of-house staff at Mark McEwan’s new restaurant, One. They just found out they won the October 10 Lotto 6/49—total jackpot a rollicking $4,600,201. I’m happy for managerial supremo Tim Salmon and manager Eric McEwan (Mark’s son) who were part of the syndicate; even happier for the food runners and bussers who also take their equal cut. It works out at $287,512 each. And 56 cents. Most inspiring.

As is Starfish’s touching tribute to the maestro Richard Bradshaw—a discreet little photograph of the great man is framed and hung above his favourite banquette. Bravo. No wonder Patrick McMurray is being inducted into the Oyster Shucking Hall of Fame this Thursday. His priorities and his heart are exactly where they should be.

I ate at three new restaurants this week. I’m counting Oro as new since although the décor and the name has not changed, the chef and the management has. Tarek Aboushakka is the new owner and host, finally bringing the smooth savvy and wine smarts he developed over the decades at Pronto, North 44° and Bymark to a project of his own. Sam Girgis, most recently chef-patron of Lure, is in the kitchen—which should interest anyone who loves an impeccably fresh sea bream or Mediterranean sea bass grilled whole with lemon and thyme. Sitting in the opulently decorated dining room is like being fixed in the gilded background of a Klimt painting, which may or may not be your bag. The wine list still includes some fabulous bin ends and collectors’ items from previous owner Domenic Ciccocioppo’s stellar collection, including a Château Le Pin 2000 for the gimme-two tab of $11,200.

I also had the distinct pleasure of dining at Lucien, the new bobbydazzler from chef Scot Woods (ex Habitat) and his co-owner, veteran restaurateur Simon Bower (Mercer Street Grill, YYZ). Open three weeks last Friday, the room used to be Pravda vodka bar but now looks much cooler in a leather-walled, sunset-ceilinged, Vince Noir kind of way. Woods’s food is so impressive. Go there ASAP and stake your claim because this will very soon be the hottest ticket in town. My dinner was … well … I’m saving the detailed descriptions for a column but, if you do go this week, order the bincho-grilled octopus (Kajisan gave Woods the little petrified-wood barbecue) and the Berkshire pork belly (like the god of spare ribs) and the foie gras ravioli (the liver as rich and almost as runny as egg yolk) and the exemplary charcuterie collation. And say hello to me because I’ll be at the bar, slaking my curiosity, having watched trays of tantalizing treats from a completely different menu being carried thither all evening long. Young cooks who want to see how a chef seamlessly works molecular gastronomical techniques into a menu without having to bring in trumpets and kettledrums or clear-voiced heralds to announce the fact should study Woods’s plates. This cuisine isn’t science fiction. Half those curiously textured jellies and arcane emulsions are created by conventional, not molecular methods (and after all, there isn’t such a big difference between the old and the new—it’s more a case of unfamiliarity and some special robes and lotions). The best thing? It all tastes so delicious.

Another scrumptious occasion will take place next Sunday, October 21, at George Brown College’s Centre for Hospitality on Adelaide Street East. Anne Yarymowich, executive chef of the Art Gallery of Ontario, is giving a cooking demonstration that leads into lunch as a fundraising benefit for the Dzherelo Children’s Rehabilitation Centre in Lviv, Ukraine. Her menu includes some excellent recipes that reflect Anne’s Ukrainian heritage and the local-seasonal traditions of Ukraine’s farmers. The fun begins with a mini potato latke served with smoked Georgian Bay white fish, horseradish sour cream and pickled baby beets. Then comes celeriac and potato soup sips garnished with pidpenky (preserved wild mushrooms). “It wouldn’t be a proper Ukrainian menu if it didn’t have two or three dishes with potatoes,” points out Anne. Duck leg confit with brandied damson and prune plums is paired with squash and sage verenyke with roasted duck jus and wilted winter greens. The grand finale brings buckwheat honey crème brûlée with black walnut biscotti. Daniel Lenko Estate Winery is generously donating the wines for this adventure. You should know that when the Dzherelo Centre started its work in the early 1990s there was no therapeutic program at all for children in Lviv suffering from infantile cerebral paralysis or other disabilities. Today the centre operates in partnership with the Children of Chornobyl Canadian Fund, and the cause is a mighty one. Watch Anne cook, learn the secrets of fabulous Ukrainian food and eat a delicious lunch, all for $225 (which includes a tax receipt for $125). Call 416-604-4611 for a ticket.

And on Thursday, the first Gold Medal Plates event takes place at the Carlu in Toronto. Ably assisted by Canada’s elite Olympic and Paralympic athletes, a bunch of our finest chefs (Susur Lee, Michael Stadtländer, Anthony Walsh, Jamie Kennedy, Lino Collevecchio, Claudio Aprile, Lorenzo Loseto, Robert Bartley and Chris McDonald) will be competing for the gold medal and for the chance to proceed to the gruelling three-day Canadian Culinary Championship in February 2008, to be held right here in Toronto. Last year’s CCC Champion, Makoto Ono, is doing hors d’oeuvres. Mark McEwan and Keith Froggett are making dessert. Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy is singing. It’s going to be a wild night. And check out winemaker Norm Hardie’s mood! He’s generously donating and pouring four cases of his stellar pinot noir to accompany McDonald’s dish, but why is he looking like the cat that got the cream? Because this year’s vintage down in Prince Edward County has been absolutely superb. Hardie is comparing it to Burgundy in 1990. Come to the event and quiz him about the details while you eat fabulous food and help to raise $1 million this year for Canada’s athletes. Find out how at