Insubstantialities

Last night I was lucky enough to be invited by the California Wine Institute to Rogers Cup tennis at York university. Caught the last set of Nadal creaming his opponent. Expected the same from the next match – Roger Federer versus an unknown Frenchman. Instead we saw Gilles Simon defeating the mighty Federer – history being made. Mono was a fashionable excuse for poor A-level results when I was a lad; it seems to have taken a toll on the great Swiss player.

News comes in from here and there, dipping on gossipy wings, crumbs from life’s table. I hear that Albino Silva of Chiado has taken over Mildred Pierce’s old premises and is turning it into Oasi (pronounced O’Azzy), a restaurant, café, event space and eventually a health club with an eight-storey condo-slash-boutique hotel on top. John Szabo is consulting on the wine list.

The venticelli whisper on: Olive and Lemon, the Harbord Street Italian restaurant-grill has been bought by two Frenchmen, namely Jean-Charles Dupoire, chef of Epic at the Royal York, and Sylvain Brissonet, long-time food and beverage manager at Langdon Hall. Both guys come from the same town in the Loire. Their hotels will miss them when they open their new restaurant (its name as yet a mystery) in mid-September, but it represents another plume in Harbord’s ever more ornate chapeau.

Scaramouche regulars had a treat this week – a 90-pound wild Atlantic sturgeon caught in a New Brunswick river and flown quickly to Toronto. Keith Froggett, the restaurant’s co-owner and chef was astonished by the creature, which was caught by his daughter’s boyfriend who is out there for the summer, learning this particularly fishery from Joe Breau, one of the last men to hold a licence for wild sturgeon. Apparently the fish are fairly plentiful, though Breau is allowed to take only two a day. Aside from occasional conversations about England’s soccer team, I have never heard Froggett so impassioned as he described the great creature, so great it had to be sawn into three and shipped in three separate boxes, along with two containers of its caviar, expertly cured by Breau. Its scales are like overlapping armour – no knife can penetrate such skin – and he was forced to fillet the orangey-pink flesk from inside, smoking some and cooking the rest as if it were filet mignon. It appeared on the menu as a special and was an understandable success. Froggett hopes to receive a second fish later this summer.

Down in Niagara, Featherstone winery is set to receive a flock of summer visitors – 40 lambs who will be let loose in the vineyard. Featherstone has its own very natural way of farming, flying a Harris hawk to deter grape-pilfering birds (a most effective idea) and avoiding the use of chemicals. The lambs are an ideal addition to the regime as they make short work of weeds between the rows and nibble off the lower leaves of the vines improving airflow and light. Being so wee, they cannot reach the actual grapes. I am told that Tawse winery is following suit and will introduce 12 lambs of their own on one of their properties.

There is nothing more wonderful than a raspberry. It knocks your strawberry out of the park. The inimitable flavour – unique, archetypical; the small summer miracle of its construction – that cluster of tiny round drupelets, each one a botanically complete fruit, held so delicately together, forming a miniature cup. The intense taste of it – the balance of sweetness and tangy acidity – stains the palate crimson. I’ve just eaten a bowl of perfect, ripe, slightly soft ones dusted with a very little sugar and a spoonful of heavy cream, crushing them between my tongue and the roof of my mouth in a burst of juicy raspberriness. Heaven.

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