standing as i am on the precipice of unemployment, i’ve been making a point to take advantage of my flagging solvency while it lasts (and of course accelerating it in the process*), which has meant buying funny-tasting wine from private importers, eating ribs for breakfast, going to fancy cocktail and charcuterie joints, and flying to Europe on short notice (more on this last, later).
the other night i went to Bar Chef in Toronto, which was pretty bananas – when i first arrived, i found myself assailed by what appeared to be the heavy scent of incense, which struck me as ill-considered for a place that prides itself on well-crafted and complex cocktails. and for my first drink, i had a really hard time sorting out its particular aroma from those already in the air, which made things pretty confusing because it was already a confusing and intentionally provocative cocktail: the “Symphony no. 5,” which consisted of gin, vanilla cognac, dill bitters, and rosemary syrup with a green chartreuse rinse and aerosolized orange blossom spritz. i can’t imagine that the bartenders there are insensitive to how strongly this suggests cacophony as opposed to symphony; in fact i only ordered it in one of those “I am calling your bluff” moments (like that time at a pub in Ottawa when i ordered a curried lamb & mushroom w/ old cheddar and sour cream wrap, that i must say fully justified my skepticism), but it turned out to be a pretty alright little drink. i eventually surmised that it wasn’t actually incense, but the residual effects of some of the more extended procedural “molecular” (barf) drinks they make, such as the Vanilla Hickory Smoked Manhattan (pictured, sort of, above), which involves much smoke and fury – a big chunk of elaborately bespoke ice, whisky and bitters, in a glass nestled into a bed of smouldering hickory embers, served in a domed display case. so it stands to reason that with so many aromatics flying around, the air is bound to get a little heavy, but you’ve already got the heat of a million candles, you may as well properly ventilate the place, right?
the following evening i went to Black Hoof, which i had been meaning to check out for some time. we had the terrine plate, horse tartare, bone marrow, carnitas tacos, and a fennel + blood orange salad. everything was good. the tartare was excellent, and totally invigorated my only very recently realized love for the raw art. overall, i would say we were satisfied, if not impressed.
taken together, Black Hoof and Bar Chef highlight some of the inadequacies and inaccuracies of “satisfaction” for describing my experience. satisfaction is a funny word. while i thoroughly enjoyed both, and had no complaints, what was probably most salient about the experience was how it reminded me that i need to spend more time doing this shit myself. experimenting with cocktails. eating raw meat. going big. there wasn’t the dull and sort of embarrassing feeling of “this is good, but nothing i can’t do at home,” that one sometimes has at fancy establishments, but it did serve to remind me of what i am (potentially) capable of, of my own powers; in short, it was inspiring without being impressive, if that makes any sense.
it got me excited to go home and get down to business: mess around with some grapefruit rinds, roast some bones, rustle up a Brita to see if i can’t start making me some harder ice (so it melts more slowly), maybe put Hickory Sticks in something, perfect my pepper bitters. and it also reminded me that for all the pleasures of being cooked for and waited upon, the thrills of doing shit oneself lend a savour to one’s affairs, to say nothing of not having to fret over the cost of wine in a restaurant. i mean, it’s not like i’d forgotten, it just revived the desire, perhaps.
which is to say that, all in all, it felt like a challenge. a challenge for which i am hella game.
now seeking seconds, sous, co-conspirators. knife skills an asset, bad ideas a must.
* stated thus, i suppose it is less like standing on a precipice than a graduated decline that terminates in a sheer drop onto some pointy rocks. i can see them below, not too far in the distance, but what can i do? young bones groan.