Bring On More Lobster, The Economy’s Fine.
It seems that our social and cultural attitudes toward dining out fluctuate in harmony with the DOW, the NIKKEI and NASDAQ. While I find that the Rolls Royce poll and the Real Estate poll are quite reliable barometers of a rising or falling economy, what works most accurately is the Scaramouche poll.
In the early 1980s, everything was crystal clear. The more it costs, the more we have to have it. In restaurants, two cents worth of pasta went for $10. At Scaramouche they pulled out all the stops until they had us wishing they would push a few back in: the whispering hushed pretension, the patronizing attitude. But no one would argue with the fact that edible luxury and a pantheon of pleasures came from the kitchen.
Come the 1990s, wallets flatten like a catastrophic soufflé. Conspicuous consumption becomes déclassé, and the Pasta Bar at Scaramouche really takes off. We cried a little in our California Chardonnay but, with careful menu surfing, two could keep up appearances for half of what we would pay in the dining room, a few steps away. But PB took no reservations. First come–first served. Who knew in these precarious times? One bone-crushing margin call and any dinner reservation was history. The Pasta Bar thrived. Dining room business was respectable, kept up by international expense accounts, Hollywood legends and families whose money dated back to the War of 1812.
Things change. Today my poll confirms a groundswell of renewed interest in the best that money can buy. In fact, many lesser restaurants have brazenly upped their prices to near Scaramouche levels, but, alas, not to its quality.
Witness a recent Saturday evening. You’d think they’d discovered high grade ore at this gold mine of gastronomy. We arrive for dinner at 7 PM to rooms filled almost to capacity. By 9 PM p.m. the second surge arrives hungry and hoping for window tables. On this clear night the window wall displays a twinkling tableau all the way to the CN Tower. The room is inviting. The servers are more than pleasant, they’re absolutely nice.
A thoughtful, philanthropy-forward gesture is first on the menu: Prairie Boy organic country white bread, Sterling Creamery Butter and Sea Salt for two, $3.00. “This small charge for bread will help us to reduce significant waste, and half the proceeds will be donated to Community Food Centres Canada.”
Outclassing the norm is this kitchen’s rendition of Foie Gras Terrine. The generous portion arrives with a brioche, Ontario hot house rhubarb, pickled wild leeks, triple crunch mustard and Reisling rhubarb jelly. Enough accoutrements to make every luxurious bite a new taste experience.
Chef Keith Frogget and his kitchen are in great form tonight. Good, down-home groceries re-energize as exquisite offerings laced with savoir-faire. A grilled Ontario AAA beef filet mignon for example, the savoury essence of sensual pleasure in food, comes escorted by a trio of superb mushrooms, shallot and French green beans. Porcini mushrooms have been patiently coaxed into a puree that nestles alongside crisply pressed potatoes with lemon, parsley and garlic. It’s all brought into focus by a glorious, liquid velvet Bordelaise sauce.
My apologies to the pastry chef. Though I lust for the taste of Valrhona Milk Chocolate Nougat Bar, an ethereal composition of salted peanut brittle, flourless chocolate cake and caramel sauce, and yearn for a spoonful of the renowned coconut cream pie with Chantilly cream, white chocolate shavings and dark chocolate sauce, just reading through the dessert menu is spiritual high enough.
As a pollster, I believe in my own stats, and you can be certain, with plus or minus 4% accuracy, that we shall all return.
Scaramouche, 416-961-6240, 1 Benvenuto Pl Suite G3, Toronto
Sara Waxman is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.