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Sunday Brunch ~ The Boiler House

It did! The waiting list mentioned in last week’s piece on brunch reached my name. They called me on Saturday evening to confirm the reservation and I was excited about going back there, and taking my friend, whom I was meeting after 10 years (we’d met a few times after high school), to one of my favourite spots in the city: The Distillery District! Unfortunately, she wasn’t sure if she’d wake up in time since she was feeling unwell and wanted to sleep in. They’d had two spots open, one at 11:00 am and the other at 1:45 pm. I picked 11 o’clock because I wanted our day to start early; she was in the city for only 48 hours and we wanted to make the most of it.

The Boiler House serves a fabulous brunch buffet and we didn’t want to lose our reservation so I woke her up early. We were able to make it there in 10 minutes by cab; we reached well in time and were among the first to arrive. The first batch of mini croissants laid out (you must know, by now, it’s my favourite form of bread ever) were still warm when I got to them. There were eggs, ham, french toast, waffles, bacon, sausage, roasted potatoes, omelettes made-to-order, different types of meat waiting to be cut for you, jam tarts, several varieties of mini bagels, smoked salmon, potato salad, artichoke salad, pasta salad, greens, tomato and bocconcini salad, lots of syrup, cheese, and I’m sure I’m missing many other large trays of food. Oh and did I mention the scrumptious jazz band?! The perfect topping to the meal.As we caught up on the last 10 years of our lives and more, I thought of how we weren’t really that close in boarding school but seemed to get along so well now. Why weren’t we friends back then, I wondered. She wondered that too, out loud. I was more the geeky, nerdy kid who helped everyone with their academics, excelled in studies, elocutions, debates and everything intellectual, but I’d be considered a “social misfit”  because I wasn’t part of any of the large cliques or groups and only had a couple of close friends. I love those girls even today, although we aren’t in regular contact, and I’m sure we would still get along famously.

I went back to the buffet with a fresh plate thinking of an omelette with mushrooms and peppers, but that was too ambitious a thought. It was easy to stuff myself with little portions of everything else which wasn’t custom-made. It all smelled so good and I had to try it! I was on a caffeine high and became more talkative, telling her stories about The Childhood Sweetheart, The Guy who Didn’t Want to be Exclusive, The Ex-Boyfriend, The “This-is-too-Relationship-y” Guy, and my favourite one of all, Mr. Busy. I’m fondest of him. She listened and shared some of her own experiences, as is usually the case in such conversations between girls. “Ok, one last round,” I said, excusing myself. The desserts were tempting me. The last plate I brought to our table upstairs was like a platter of custard tarts, lemon tarts, brownies, apple pie. By now I was starting to realise just how different we actually were. The points of view presented and reading suggestions which were insisted upon were making me see that. I asked her to try the custard tart because that Portuguese sweet dish is a real treat. Wouldn’t you believe me if I told you that I thought I couldn’t possibly eat another bite for the rest of the day when we were finally ready to get the bill at 1 pm?

Our incessant chatting helped digest the food and to further aid the process we walked around the area for hours after it, taking pictures of large metal sculptures in between visits to the unique boutiques around us and dispensing sage advice when walking from one art gallery to another. We, I thought, haven’t really changed. I’m less geeky compared to high-school-me and maybe I’m surer of myself but I haven’t learned how not to be nice or accommodating. I still haven’t learned how to be mean and inconsiderate of the feelings of the person sitting in front of me. I wonder if I’ll ever learn those lessons. Wasn’t there another lesson in there somewhere?

We spent some time at SOMA Chocolatemaker where she picked up a box of the sweet stuff and then stopped at the Mill St. Brewery so she could sample a quartet of different beers. As it was her first time in Toronto we had to make a trip to the CN Tower. I don’t suppose there are many tourists who don’t ride to its top and peer through the glass floor which, incidentally, can hold the weight of 14 large hippos. Despite this knowledge, I walked across it gingerly and my heart frequently plummeted as I tried to capture her in different poses with the ground visible more than 1100 feet below us. We had walked from The Distillery District to the Harbourfront to the Rogers Centre and were tired now. We waited to see the sunset from the tower and headed towards the Danforth for a Greek dinner.

Swapping stories late into the night, there was never a lull in the conversation since she’s a good talker; when I’d drift away into my thoughts she’d pull me back with a quick word. It was easy to talk to each other, I thought, because we’d known each other when we were running around in navy blue pinafores and blue, checked, formal Sunday dresses, and we were both there when the other was growing up, but then so were 30 other girls. It was then the thought that I did learn something came to me. I learned that catching up with someone you knew a long time ago can make you realise how much you’ve both changed and how many qualities you appear to now have in common. I learned that simultaneously you may realise that all the glorified commonalities are merely superficial, and no matter how different you look, how much you know you’ve changed and how self-confident you now are, you’re really just a grown-up version of that young kid you used to be.

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Sunday Brunch ~ Bonjour, Paris!

As we browsed through books at Chapters, the friend insisted I go back to Bonjour Brioche, Leslieville, Toronto. By myself. She thought the guy waiting on us there likes me.
“I don’t think so,” I told her.
“Oh, but he does! It was the body language. You could see it!”
I saw nothing of the sort and told her as much. I picked up a copy of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. “Um…he likes this author too, you know.”
“Put down that book.”
“I want to buy it.
“Put down that book. That waiter seemed like a nice guy. He was into you. You could see it.”
I told her again that I could see nothi–
“Okay, I could see it!”
“I don’t think so,” I conclude.

We dug into the bag of carbs–croissants, pain au chocolat, and other little goodies. I was acquainted with the owner and the wonderful person that she has always been, she got our waiter to hand me that treats-filled bag with the bill. I had tried their baguettes and had heard wonderful things about this cafe/bakery/brunch spot on Queen St. E. I had wanted to try the place for the last two years and hadn’t got  a chance to…until now. It was every bit as good as I had expected. It has a Parisian feel which wafts over to you as you stand at the threshold, looking in, waiting to be seated. I’m a lover of croissants and the ones I broke my fast with were delicious, soft, buttery, moist, with a perfect slightly crisp exterior. My bowl of café au lait was creamy and strong, the way I like it. The coffee flowed in abundance, as should be the norm on a Sunday morning, and our table despite being at the furthest corner of the patio, closest to the street, was never ignored. A waitress even came around to the other side of our fence to pour us some coffee.

I had the Croque Madam and my friend had the Provençal Omelette. Served with a warm baguette, on par with the ones you’d find in France, the country, with its own little triangle of butter, the very sight of my open-faced sandwich was mouth-watering. The greens served with it had a kick to them too and it made for an extremely satisfying meal. To finish it off, we each got something for dessert, a lemon tart for the friend and their crème brûlée tart for me. I don’t enjoy the taste of lemon in my sweets too much, so I declined an offer to try hers, but mine was heavenly! I’m no food critic, so I cannot elaborate any further on the exquisite taste of the creme and the sound made by the breaking of the hardened caramel cover. But trust me when I tell you I have never had a better brunch. (I’ll admit I’d already started digging in before I thought, OMG, I almost forgot, I must take a picture!)

“Come on, you have to go back!”
“Ok, come with me.”
“No, you should go alone.”
“Why in the world should I go alone?”
“Did you think he was good-looking?”
“I didn’t get a chance to pay close attention.”
“You’ll see when you go back.”
“I’ll go back if you come with me.”
“Noooo!”
“Why the hell not?!”
“He was hitting on you and I noticed it! Don’t you see?”
I was missing some point which should’ve been clear as daylight apparently.
Then, it was pointed out to me that if we went back together he’d think she liked him. “I’d be looking at him and you’d be avoiding looking at him, both with this same knowledge, you know. And then, I’d be the one looking at you and then at him and then back at you to notice his behaviour and your reactions and I’d be giggling and smiling and before we know it he’d think I’m in love with him. I don’t want anyone to think that about me.”
Fair enough. I nodded. “But I don’t believe he likes me.”
“Argh. I’m an objective observer! Trust me!” she demanded.

Observer, yes. Objective, hardly; we’d spent a considerable part of the brunch talking about the dilemma within me. If I had to liken it to something, I’d probably pick Janus, that Roman god whose head–well, a likeness, actually–is placed above doorways, one face looking out and the other looking in. It was mentioned in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice or something. Correct me if I’m wrong. Looking out, I had done the right thing, but the face looking in saw a storm a-brewing. With those topics of recent discussion in mind, one could hardly call the girl an “objective” observer. To silence her on that topic, we watched a movie; we couldn’t talk much during it (but that movie still touched a raw nerve and my friend gave me a much-needed hug and some quality alone time in the powder room). We went on to a little place for drinks where that waiter was forgotten and we analysed the dilemma to death, and ended up at a jazz bar, as promised last week, with the music lovely, loud and just what we needed after an overly articulate day.

I have a friend visiting this weekend and The Boiler House in The Distillery District has a waiting list already for its Sunday brunch! The last time I went there about 4-5 weeks ago, it was on an impulse, since I was in that enclosed area and hungry after shopping at The Sunday Market, and there was no wait. I am now racking my brains for other options which are as good, just in case that waiting list doesn’t reach my name, you know.

Sunday Brunch ~ The Drake

This is a backdated piece, yes. At about 2:56 am on a Friday night (the one right after that Sunday), I’m deciding to make this a weekly feature here. It’s a weekly thingamajig in my life so this is my attempt to integrate the two things I absolutely love: writing and Sunday brunch. Do bear with me as I get the hang of it.

We picked The Drake hotel pretty unanimously on Friday and on Saturday morning I called to make reservations for Sunday.
“12:30?” I asked
“12:30?” she repeated.
“12:30,” I said to confirm that her hearing had not suddenly gone kaput.
“I can seat three at 2. Would you like that?”
“Is there anything else?” I really wanted to catch the new Guillermo del Toro horror flick at 4:50 Sunday evening.
“Yes, I have 11 am.”
“2 will do,” I responded without hesitation. 11’s too early for Sunday. It’s too early for the kind of Sunday we wanted anyway. The movie would have to wait. Today’s the Friday after, by the way, and I still haven’t watched it.

My much younger cousin and I got there a little before 2, maybe a minute or so early. My lovely friend was running late. Nothing new about that. I usually get a text from her saying she’ll be a few minutes late due to some unforeseen natural disaster, and it came right on cue, around the time I should’ve been laying eyes on her. So, I got a croissant to start and they brought me butter and jam in two little pots and that’s when the trouble began.

Before getting into this, I should tell you that we were seated on an outdoor patio. It was a beautiful day with the sun playing hide and seek with us and the lightest breeze floating about. There were potted plants around us so maybe we disturbed their daily nectar-sucking routine or maybe our perfumes were too strong. Only those stinging winged creatures know why they descended upon us. As soon as the jam appeared, so did the bees. First there was one, and by the time my friend waltzed along,  wearing a gorgeous, uniquely ruffled dress, they had doubled in number. They were buzzing about our table, interrupting our conversation every time they got too close to us and drawing intermittent shrieks from every member of our brunch. Then another one decided to join the others in the fun they were evidently having terrorising us. We were convinced that they were competing with us: One more and they’d have us out-numbered!

The waitress moved the jam to a vacant table nearby and brought some honey to add to their feast. This attracted yet another bee and now they were going back and forth between that table and ours. My cousin finally lost her mind and got up, screaming. Her hands by her eyes, half-covering them, in one swift move she left the table and leaped to the centre of the courtyard. “Can’t we go inside?” she begged. “It’s such a nice day, sweetheart,” I coaxed her into sitting down again. The bees did their biminute-ly visit of our table again and my cousin jumped, leaned towards me and grabbed me, saying, “Can’t we please go inside? Please?!” I don’t blame her, really. It’s most unpleasant to be stung by a bee. We went inside and there we could concentrate on our meals: The scared girl’s Scrambled Burrito, my friend’s Eggs Caleb (Eggs Benedict but with salmon instead of bacon or ham; I’m so going to remind her to try something different next time; she did say she wanted to be reminded) and my Bagel + Lox. Delicious, was the overall verdict.

Without the bees to distract us, the conversation got more attention too and I unloaded my story of Mr. Busy on them. We were still talking via text messages through the brunch and for the next 5 hours following it too. I was trying to balance two conversations, with my darling friends and the award-winning fella. No, it wasn’t rude. They understood the need of the moment. We are past such superficial niceties. I love them and they know it. I didn’t forsake my brunch plans with them even when Mr. Busy said he might do a quick lunch with me just because he’d be in my neighbourhood to buy some sort of toiletries. I politely informed him that I had long-standing commitments already and he said no more about it. So they know their importance in my life. I’ve picked a guy over friends before and, oh, I’ve learned my lesson. We’ll have no more of that, thank you very much. I will have another coffee, s’il vous plait. The waitress, I must tell you, was extremely sweet and I really wanted to leave her a tip. Luckily, we had the same waitress outside and inside and if we had asked to be moved to my lady’s chamber, I’m sure she would’ve been there too.

How do you cut a bagel, one that was now cold after all the hullabaloo and screaming and moving, with a butter knife? It was an open-faced sandwich. I thought perhaps I should not make a clearly futile effort with the knife, but when I lifted up an entire half-bagel to my mouth to bite into it, blobs of cream cheese found my nose a suitable spot to rub off on. I contented myself with letting the table tremble–the smoked salmon was worth it–as I picked up the useless knife and went to work at the bagel, while joining in the conversation at the table, feeding myself and replying to the Man With No Time. My efforts would not be in vain. I only grew tired of the strenuous cutting when there was half of the second half of the poppy-seed bagel remaining. Should I have asked for another one? Probably, but it didn’t occur to me then, so fixated was I on my “problem” with that elusive creature whom you’ve heard so much about now. (I thought of linking to that piece here, but I won’t. I do hope you will find it anyway.)

I left our adorable waitress a good-sized tip–at least I hope she thought that too, after putting her through all that heavy-lifting of plates and mugs and glasses and silverware and figuring out which coffee cup is whose. (We already had that under contro,l by the way: My cousin’s was the one with lipstick on it, my friend’s was the one with my stir-stick in it and mine was the one with neither of these. Quite efficient, what?) We skipped the movie, walked down the boutique-filled street, stopped customarily at every “Sale!” and “Up to 80% off” sign, relaxing our 4″-heels-decked-feet in every other store’s couches, bought some macarons and other indulgent goodies at Nadège, and parted ways in front of The Rex, utterly distracted by the live jazz playing in there, making us promise to make it a part of next week’s itinerary.