CUISINE: Fine Dining ADDRESS: 36 Grand Avenue DATE: April 26, 2013
Back in the 90s, where I’m from, my church youth group hosted formal dinners (!) at the Idylwild on Grand Ave. My memories of those meals mostly involve fancy updos, formal jumpers made by my mom (remember Friends? I feel like formal jumpers were a thing. Correct me if I’m wrong), and hideous wallpaper.
But the environment inside this historical Bed and Breakfast has changed a bit in the last 20 years. The decor is pretty neutral, if a little Country Clubby (and we know Country Clubby—Ian spent the 90s working at The Hunt Club), and the dining room is creating fine food a little TOO sophisticated for 1990s Megan, curled tendrils and all.
I arrived 15 minutes late for our reservation (surprise, surprise), and Ian had ordered a martini for me, but when I arrived, it was “on ice”. Swiftly, our waiter brought it from the kitchen with a warm welcome. Our waiter was the perfect mix of knowledge, warmth, lack of smarm and fakeness, and very knowledgeable. He was truly a professional waiter in the best sense of the word.
(The college student in suspenders at Earl’s the other night, with the facial expression, lack of spacial awareness, and vocal expression of a children’s party clown, was NOT.)
The restaurant was quiet on a Friday, with only Ian and I and a table of six, COUNTRY CLUB couples (conversation topics included reputable house painters, dinner parties, and golf). The service was the perfect speed: that speed where you don’t notice it at all—you aren’t still eating your salad, but you’re not checking your watch, either. I feel like speed of service is only something that you notice if it’s wrong.
I was rolling in from a marathon in the school theatre (rehearsal, costume parade, and stage painting—ONCE ON THIS ISLAND opens in 4 weeks!), so I obviously had EARNED the bread that was delivered.
(Did I earn the infused olive oil and 10-year aged balsamic vinaigrette? YA DAMN RIGHT.)
I even joked about my mantra of not filling up on bread with Ian:
Me: DON’T FILL UP ON BREAD, DON’T FILL UP ON BREAD.
Waiter: (10 seconds later, surveying the empty board) More bread?
Me: (sadly) Nooooo….I’ll just eat it.
The appetizer menu looked pretty great, with a couple of rustic salads, risotto, mushroom bruschetta and clams. Ian and I chose the black rice risotto and organic greens in pommery mustard to split.
(Why yes, that IS a parmesan crisp under the shaved asparagus. There was also something on the menu decorated with “cheddar brittle”.)
I remember when Ian and I used to go to restaurants, and he would study the menu carefully, set it down, and say, “I’d like to see how this place does a Chicken Finger.”
Clearly, palettes change, because I don’t believe I’ve been in a restaurant with Ian in the last two years where he’s managed to resist the risotto. But this black rice and parmesan was exceptional: creamy, cheesy and with a good amount of sharpness as well. It didn’t feel HEAVY.
And the greens were bright, lemony and very fresh. I will pay $13 for a lettuce salad if it tastes this good.
When our lovely waiter described the specials, they seemed impossible to resist. He talked about how they were prepared, how delicious they looked, and all in a way that was informative and not the least bit pretentious. So Ian ordered the gnocchi carbonara, and I went with the halibut in thai curry sauce with asparagus and roasted potatoes.
(My mom must be rolling her eyes. Back in the 90s, where I’m from, me ordering fish in a restaurant would have been akin to me ordering unicorn in a restaurant. I used to say, “if it’s from the sea, it’s not for me.” Now it’s for me, in moderation.)
I’ve found stuff to enjoy about all the restaurants so far, and am trying to look at all the aspects that make you really want to go back to a restaurant, or recommend it. But I also finding myself comparing them to each other. And as far as gnocchi goes, I’m sorry Amici, but there’s NO CONTEST.
This gnocchi was comparable to the best I’ve ever eaten (from our marathon of eating at Barbuto in NYC): pillowy, light, with distinctive textures in both the pasta and the potato inside. And the egg, bacon and parmesan that made the simple carbonara were rich and delicious.
But if anything, my halibut was EVEN BETTER:
(Halibut with Thai Curry, Asparagus and Roasted potatoes)
Ian and I met when I transferred to Oakridge in 1995. He was quiet, unassuming, and wore a lot of band t-shirts with flaming guitars on them. He was a drummer and used to hang out in garages. Before I knew him, he was in possession of both a Grubwear hat AND an undercut.
None of these facts would lead me to believe that 20 years later, we would be long-married, having food where the chef comes to pour the sauce on your meal tableside, and saying things like this:
Ian: Halibut has got to be my favourite white fish. It’s just so delicate.
(But guys, it WASSSSS.)
The sauce also had a really nice hit of spice to it. I was impressed: many supposedly “spicy” things in fine dining restaurants are muted to appeal to what I would call an “old people palette”.
Ian’s Grandma: Black pepper? No, THANK YOU.
I said to Ian at one point last night, “with restaurants like this in London, why do country club people go to Michael’s on the Thames? Blahhh.”
The mission requires that we order apps AND dessert, something we would never usually do when dining out, but we went for the Pumpkin Sticky Pudding.
(candied walnuts should be required on all food)
The dessert I would give a MEH out of FIVE. It tasted FINE, but could have been warmer, saucier, and bigger than a mini-muffin for $8.50.
The wait service, the presentation, and the absolutely delicious food make this place a beautiful choice for special occasions. Like your next Church Youth Group Formal. Or whatever.