CUISINE: Fine Dining ADDRESS: 2530 Blair Boulevard DATE: February 14th, 2014
I’m beginning to think that Valentine’s Day is only important to people who aren’t in a relationship. More and more, my married friends are opting out of any kind of celebration, dubbing it a “Hallmark Holiday”.
On the other hand, my single friends seem kind of sensitive to it. I saw a couple of “Celebrating Single Awareness Day” posts on Friday. Since couples don’t care, and single people hate it, is Valentine’s Day becoming just a big serving of OPPRESSION?
Maybe. I remember exactly what I did on my last single Valentine’s Day.
I watched the Canadian Women’s Curling Team win the gold medal in Nagano, and then I went with a couple of girls from Residence to see Adam Sandler’s THE WEDDING SINGER.
The year was 1998.
(When you end up marrying the guy who edited your poetry journal in high school Writer’s Craft, your last single Valentine’s Day seems like eons ago.)
I have to say, though: the kids at school were pretty cute on Friday. Lots of girl wearing red, couples in the hallway with gift bags and flowers, and even a boy who invoked my help to surprise a girl in my class with roses and a hand-drawn My Little Pony portrait of “Sparkle”.
The note said “from the boy who’s always had a crush on you”.
Come on. Even my black heart knows that’s pretty cute.
Ian and I, as is our way, were just the HEIGHT OF JUST TOO-MUCHERY yesterday. We just went over-the-top with our very public displays of adoration.
(Pause for you to remember that I am talking about Ian and I…)
I took romanticism to the next level by posting this ironic card to Ian’s Facebook.
Not, you know, buying the card. But finding it online and posting it.
Ian surprised me by being home from work 20 minutes before he said he would be.
(Yes yes, I know what you’re thinking: we SHOULD submit this romantic tale to some sort of online contest. I agree.)
Anyway, after a last-minute snow-related field trip shuffle, our blog dinner to Katana Kafe with our friends Meghan and John, in their first blog appearance, got bumped to the most romantic day of the year.
And because 4 people dining at a romantic restaurant on Valentine’s Day is bound to raise some Old People Eyebrows, we went for it.
The dinner, I mean.
Meghan and John are wearing pink because ROMANCE.
Ian and I wore our black contacts for the night. #moleeyes
Meghan and I grew up together, and loved/hated confusing people with our similar names.
Meghan’s is pronounced the regular way: Meg-han. Also known as the way that many people pronounce my name, despite knowing me for many years.
Mine is pronounced Me-gan.
Ian’s friend once asked, “how do you spell your wife’s name? How many ee’s? Two? Three? MORE???”
Just remember as you read ahead that the one without the H is the annoying one. That’s me.
Katana Kafe (nope, the “K” in Kafe is not a typo; just an unfortunate choice) is an AIRPORT restaurant. Ok, not quite the California Pizza Kitchen in the terminal of Detroit Metro, but it does overlook the runway of London International (so cosmopolitan) and is located in the Diamond Aircraft building.
This is in front of the warehouse-type building, and once you wend your way through the lobby, around the bend, and to the door of the “Kafe”, the motif continues:
My friend Meghan had made the reservation, but when they offered her times, they didn’t mention that it was a Prix Fixe only meal, priced at $115 a couple.
Nice printer paper. Reminds me of when I used to go to The It Store to buy fun paper for letter-writing.
A quick peruse of the Prix Fixe told us the only choices we actually had were of the four entrees: we decided to each pick a different one so we got the full experience. Ian chose the prime rib, and John went with—
WAITRESS: Hi. How are you doing with the menus?
MEGAN: I was actually just telling my readers about our choices.
WAITRESS: Oooh. I literally have NO IDEA how to read a table’s vibe, and am going to interrupt multiple conversations throughout the evening. Like, a lot. And like, mid-sentence. Is that alright?
MEGAN: Not really, because a restaurant at this price point should really have a more professional—
MEGAN: We haven’t ordered yet.
WAITRESS: Oh, that doesn’t matter. I’m going to offer you pepper at the strangest times. Like, 5 minutes after I’ve delivered both the soup and the entree. You’ll understand. (Pause) Well, actually you won’t because it’s totally random.
MEGAN: Good to know.
The menu looked good, though, and after some tense negotiations, we each picked a different entree. I wanted the prime rib, but since Ian seemed really excited about the Yorkshire pudding, I let him have it.
(Remember that he was excited about the Yorkshire pudding. It comes up later.)
We decided to get wine. Ian picked a simple Pelee Island Pinot, and our intrepid waitress confounded us by pouring a tasting glass for Ian, and after approval, equally dividing the bottle into 4 gigantic pours into each of our glasses. The bottle disappeared.
Our glasses were full to the brim.
Because Ian was a server at the hoity-toity Hunt Club when we first got together, I usually defer to him on all things etiquette-related. I asked him if it was normal to equally divide a bottle of wine and get rid of the bottle.
Ian replied that white wine should be kept on ice, and only poured to 1/4 of the glass.
To be quite honest, it wasn’t only the airplane conceit throughout the restaurant that didn’t really jibe with the most assuredly fine-dining menu. There was the location, and the service, of course (…..), but also the dollar store snowflakes hanging from the ceiling, the heat set to high, the faded and seemingly rarely-washed fabric billowing above our heads, the cafeteria-style chairs…
JOHN: What do you think of the open concept kitchen?
IAN: I like an open concept. Black Trumpet has one, but—
MEGAN: Black Trumpet’s is nice though. It’s all—
WAITRESS: I’m just popping in to ruin the flow of your conversation!
MEGAN: I figured as much.
MEGHAN: So, are you saying that Black Trumpet’s open concept kitchen doesn’t have a 90s-style CD player with a blinking display?
MEGAN: No. Or a dirty blender. Or industrial box of foil and 20 plastic tubs in view.
Meghan was the only one in our group who had been to Katana Kafe before. When she worked in packaging, she and some ladies from work used to drop over for lunch.
MEGHAN: I didn’t really know this was a fine dining restaurant. This is a place you come on Fridays for lunch if you work in a box factory. And sometimes, you wear jeans.
While our giant glasses of wine got warmer, our amuse-bouche arrived.
And as soon as I saw the presentation, I knew we were in trouble. SPOONGATE was once again about to rear its ugly head.
(2010. Ian and Megan, in the car on the way home from their good friends’ Sarah and Bryce’s wedding. Polka dots and curls abound)
IAN: Well, you’ve humiliated me again.
MEGAN: Undoubtedly. It IS my specialty. But why this time?
IAN: The palette cleanser.
MEGAN: (looking down at her dress) I didn’t spill anything!
IAN: You just picked it up and ate it.
IAN: You were supposed to use utensils.
MEGAN: But it was served on a spoon!
(The above scene may be paraphrased slightly, but the horror expressed was the same).
This same argument about whether you can use the ceramic Asian-style serving spoon has gone on, regularly, for four years.
IAN: That spoon was far too large for your mouth. It was like a ladle. MEGAN: But why would they serve it on a spoon if they didn’t want you to use it?
IAN: Then. WHY. Was. There. An. Extra. Spoon?!?
(Repeat ad nauseum)
So when the tiger shrimp ceviche arrived on spoons last night, I thought I was in trouble. But Ian picked it up without a thought.
I stared at him.
IAN: Well, this spoon is MUCH smaller.
We all slurped our tiny shrimp out of the spoon, and were pleasantly surprised by the citrus flavour and tenderness of the shrimp.
MEGHAN: When it arrived, it looked like a tiny shrimp from a grocery store shrimp ring, but it was good! The citrus was nice.
The next round was described as a consommé with lobster and truffle oil, and was provided to us by our friend the waitress, without comment:
The presentation was interesting, for sure, but we all just stared at it for a moment.
JOHN: (signalling the waitress) Hey, sorry. How do we eat this? WAITRESS: (with a cursory glance) Oh. Just dump it out.
So we reached our disgusting hands into the soup to fetch the shot glass of lobster and carrots out, and elegantly “dump it out”.
SPLISH SPLASHHHH FINE DININGGGGGGGG
We each got about three large chunks of lobster, which was nice, but all four of us are commented that lobster doesn’t necessarily do it for us.
IAN: Lobster is fine, but I’m not one of those people who sees it on a menu or buffet and is like, “Ooooh, lobster!!!”
MEGAN: But I also don’t think you’re like that about ANYTHING. What do you guys think?
MEGAN: I had it as a “meh”. Would you agree with that?
MEGHAN: Yep, pretty much.
Anyway, the consommé was very mild, but Ian noted that the truffle oil muddied it a bit, when consommé, if done well, should be completely clear.
All of this conversation, and half the soup, was completed before our guileless waitress appeared with the aforementioned pepper grinder.
Do I want pepper in my soup that is almost finished? No, thank you.
The third course on the menu were two words that usually have Ian and I salivating:
Unfortunately, this one had some weird combinations: salmon mousse (No. Fish should not be presented the same way as BUTTER), a giant pile of capers, wild blueberry compote, marinated artichoke, Salami and pancetta pinwheels, and only four curried garlic naan squares.
Hmmm, some of those flavour profiles just don’t belong….
And once you run out of little breads, blueberry jam is pretty hard to pick up with a piece of salami.
If you wanted to do that.
It was around this point that we noticed who was inhabiting the table next to us: a mom, with three impeccably dressed children under 8. Beautifully dressed. Like, I’m talking bow ties and satin dresses. Suspenders were involved.
Keep in mind that the Prix Fixe menu that we were eating was the ONLY option that night. I wanted to lean over to the girl with the large pink grosgrain ribbon in her hair.
"And how did YOU enjoy the ceviche? Did you eat in directly from the serving vessel, or use utensils?"
Anyway, despite the regular sojourns as a group to the washroom, the kids actually seemed pretty contented. Although I had to admit, it was a little disconcerting to hear the little girl order a Shirley Temple.
(Shirley Temple died this week at the age of 85.)
John suggested I really let her have it.
TOO SOONNNNN. A WOMAN HAS DIED. HAVE SOME RESPECT.
We were laughing about that when—
WAITRESS: Was there something wrong with your soup?
MEGAN: The soup that you took away 10 minutes ago? No.
WAITRESS: Oh. I just saw that you were enjoying your conversation and I. Wanted. To. Stop. That.
MEGAN: Mission accomplished.
Our entrees were next, and when I saw Ian’s much-anticipated Yorkshire pudding, I had to laugh.
Hint: Look upstage right.
MEGAN: Aww, look at Ian’s little pudding!
JOHN: I can’t even see it from where I’m sitting.
MEGHAN: It’s like a two-bite Yorkshire pudding.
The Yorkshire pudding, in close-up. Please note that those are MICRO-greens next to it.
Ian enjoyed his entree; in fact he commented later that it was only the entrees that saved the meal. He said the potatoes were good, but not memorable, but the pudding, of course, a massive disappointment.
IAN: The prime rib is under-seasoned. It usually has a salty rim that was missing.
MEGAN: (making notes) So you missed the rim job?
When we were ordering, I felt like John ended up with the grilled sable because no one else was interested in the “beet hash” that accompanied it. I was picturing scores of beets, but the side was actually diced roasted new potatoes with an accompaniment of beets with a sweet glaze. I stuck a finger in the sable’s sauce, which was a delicious blood orange garlic butter. John really enjoyed the fish, which he described as “rich and buttery”.
Despite the fact that none of us are lobster-obsessed, Meghan liked her lobster-stuffed chicken.
MEGHAN: I was more into it for the chicken than the lobster. And the Parmesan.
She also commented that the chicken was well-prepared, and the roasted potatoes a nice accompaniment.
I ended up with the lamb, served with Israeli couscous and a cherry-mint sauce.
When we ordered, Ian was suspicious when I ordered the lamb. I admit, I did it more for the fact that we would have all the different entrees than my love of red meat.
I’m the kind of person who goes to the Keg and orders Chicken Oscar (I love Hollandaise!!).
IAN: Are you going to like the lamb? Have you ever HAD lamb?
MEGAN: Yeahhhhh. (pause) Well, I’ve had a gyro…
JOHN: Well, luckily, it’s EXACTLY the same.
I did enjoy my medium-rare lamb, despite the fact that it had some hard, unidentifiable chunks on the outside (my closest guess would be… walnut shells??), and the fruity sauce went much better with this than the capers.
I don’t know if I’ve ever actually had couscous before, but it brings back a painful young-adult memory.
(2002. A Christmas potluck at Megan’s friend’s Katie’s. Megan’s poor skills in the kitchen have resulted in her contribution being fudge squares that look more like chocolate puddles.)
MEGAN: (perusing the options on the table of food) Oh, salad. I love couscous!
KATIE’S FRIEND: Actually it’s not couscous, it’s TABOULI. And it’s made with bulgur wheat. Who made these brown things?
(Then Megan died of embarrassment and wrongness.)
I enjoyed actual couscous though. It was pillowy and light, but didn’t really have a lot of flavour on its own.
Lastly, we received sharing plates for desserts.
The classic cherry cheesecake was good, dense and creamy.
The “chocolate mousse on genoise cake” was not worth putting on the plate.
MEGAN: So, this chocolate cake is not a thing.
MEGHAN: So dry.
MEGAN: No chocolate flavour at all. And this mousse on top? It’s like a Jos Louis. But less good.
The idea of serving both of these desserts on the same plate, I guess, was supposed to be romantic for Valentines Day . Intertwined arms and feeding each other bites, all that stuff. But when dessert is this bad, I feel the partner who gets stuck eating the chocolate thing is going to be pissed.
In the end, Katana Kafe’s food is not all bad. It IS fine dining, and most is well-prepared. But the decor, location and especially the service leaves it—
WAITRESS: Was there a problem with the service?
(She didn’t really ask that. That would have been way more professional and way less self-involved than she was capable of being.)
I really don’t think that it’s a bad thing not to be super-romantic on Valentine’s Day. No rose-coloured glasses for me. It lets me see things clearly: Katana Kafe, despite its prices, is cheesy, bland, and doesn’t have the quality of service that its prices demand.