National Post Book Review Nov 27 2010

Deborah Mitford, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire with her great grandchildren

Wait For Me! by Deborah Mitford,Douglas & McIntyre $32.50 345 pages

If you’re under thirty  you may be bewildered by Mitfordmania. You may be saying who are/were  the Mitfords anyway?  Why all the publicity around a 90, yes 90 year old Dowager Duchess of Mitfordshire, I mean Devonshire, and her memoir Wait For Me!
A little history.

Exhausted by world war II, Britain voted in the socialist revolution in the hopes of making the country more egalitarian.  But the older, richer, anarchic England wouldn’t lie down and die.  Today,  the word aristocratic is often used to indicate refinement.  In fact, aristo culture is warlord. In the old days, the landowners used their private armies to make kings.  Today, the greatest aristocratic families still look down on the Royal Family as upstarts.  Thus Nancy Mitford’s novel The Pursuit of Love, published in 1945,  even as the socialists got their teeth into the muscle of the country, was a hunting call to the newly oppressed.  The  affectionate satire of her parents Lord and Lady Redesdale, and their six daughters who insouciantly made their own rules, their own language in their own bubble made readers laugh and cry.   Overseas readers loved Farve, an unregenerate feudal lord who did exactly what he liked, hunted his children across his Oxfordshire acres, and hated all foreigners.   How the dining room was so cold  that the family used to clasp heated soup plates to their chests to keep warm.  One night absent-minded Muv clasped  a full soup plate…. English eccentricity at its most beguiling.

Aristo backlash – then some.   As taxes rose and 80% death duties ravaged many an ancient estate, aristos kept their heads down.   But slowly aristo creep was observed.  Charm is a  prerogative of power, and the aristos continued to use charm in the trenches, anticipating  People magazine and a time when charm and celebrity would be all. Nancy was also a skilled provocateur , writing an article about U and Non-U speech which emphasized the  divisions of  a class-ridden nation. Even the Queen, so it was said, let it be known that she didn’t want to hear any more about how the use of mirror instead of looking- glass made the English despise each other. Of course it was a Nancy tease – how, said one of my cousins, can you say “driving looking-glass.” ?
Nancy’s sisters, meantime, had outraged the nation even more sensationally. Unity had fallen in love with Hitler, and  tried to commit suicide when war broke out. Jessica, having eloped in order to fight in the Spanish Civil War, was now in California, a Communist organizer, preparing her muckraking bestseller The American Way of Death.  Diana had married Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British fascists, in Goebbels’ Berlin house with Das Fuhrer the only witness. She was imprisoned during the war as a threat to the state – and it was Nancy who had denounced her!

What today’s 7/24 news cycle would have done with this. As it was, the press gave the Mitfords  as near  a full Princess  Diana  as print could provide. No wonder Lady Redesdale, brought up to believe that a lady should only have her name in the press when she was born, married, and died, found her heart sinking when she saw the headline “Peer’s daughter….” That was just for starters.  Books  by and about the girls became a cottage industry, followed by a musical, TV….

Enter Deborah,  Debo, the youngest and  surviving sister to tell her story. Her parents nicknamed her Stubby because she had such short fat legs:  she trailed her sisters crying “wait for me.”  She’s funny of course, not  brilliant like  Nancy or spontaneous as Jessica who intoned “Nature nature, how I hateyer” on a nature walk, but deadpan.  And remember, she’s the one who had tea with Hitler.  In 1936, when Debo visited her lovesick sister Unity in Munich, the dictator invited them to tea in his flat. He didn’t say much but imagine  Adolf putting aside his plans to murder millions to spend a couple of hours with the Mitford girls.

Subsequently, Debo pulled herself together and married an English duke. Not any old duke. The Devonshires were magnates like the Duke of Omnium in Trollope’s The Palliser series, owners of vast estates,  above all the greatest country house of all, Chatsworth, a glittering Baroque  gem with 297 rooms and  set in the rolling hills of Derbyshire, surrounded by ll miles of parkland, and stuffed with incomparable art treasures. ( Moviegoers will have had a glimpse of its beauty from the movies of Pride and Prejudice and The Duchess.) Happy ending? Not yet. Lucky she  was battlehardened by the Redesdale school of hard knocks.,

First the enchanted early years of being a Mitford.  Debo,  who’s as fed up with the age of Mark Zuckerberg as  most  everyone over 25, recalls tartly  that “Money was not spoken about as it is now, when it is often the sole subject of conversation, with a bit of illness thrown in.” The children didn’t know their father had squandered his inheritance just that they kept moving. While a new house was being built,  Farve  stashed the family in a cheap Paris hotel. Unfazed, the  children wasted no time making it like home. Debo, Jessica, even Nanny were puzzled by the bidet and hurried out to buy some goldfish to fill it. Fortunately, no formal schooling – the girls had governesses –  squelched  their shiny faced naivete. They must have inherited their insatiable curiosity from  their journalist maternal grandfather, Thomas Bowles, the publisher of the magazine, The Lady, which survives today.  Their fearlessness too because Bowles was  illegitimate in an  unforgiving era. But they got their way with words  from their father, a powerful  imagemaker.  He came home from lunching on sheep’s hearts “still beating on the plate” as he told the children.

Muv was the family’s anchor wherever they moved, running any household to perfection.  A progressive Green, she served only Kosher food (healthier), never drank or smoked. Refrigerators may have saved millions from food poisoning but Muv said “I don’t really like refrigerators: they make the food so cold.”  Aghast to learn Farve had only read one book, White Fang,  she read  him  Tess of the D’Urbevilles, thinking its rural character would please him. But when the story grew sad, he started to cry, “Oh darling, don’t cry, it’s only a story.”  Farve was furious. Books were dead.  He did however read Nancy’s description of him in  The Pursuit of Love – and laughed.

Upperclass women’s destiny was marriage and Muv  had no choice but to  raise her daughters to be subservient wives. She did her best.  When Debo was ten, Muv tested the  girls’ housekeeping skills, asking them to account for a budget of 500 pounds a year.  As the others struggled with rent and wages, Nancy wrote “499 pounds for flowers. one pound for the rest.” After that, “Muv gave up.”  But she remained heartbreakingly loyal to her warring  brood. She had their number.
Dying she told them “You’ll cry at my funeral and then you’ll start laughing.”  She was right.

If Debo had any idea that marriage was a safe  harbour, she was soon disillusioned.  She felt quite at home with her father-in-law . A keen fisherman who made his own flies,  he would lie in his bath pretending to be a salmon and his butler would float the flies above him so he could determine which was irresistible. But then he died inopportunely in 1950 triggering horrendous death duties  which took 4/5ths of the family fortune and 24 years to pay off.  This wasn’t the only problem. Debo’s  husband was a drunk most of their married life, which she discreetly acknowledges. But she doesn’t mention his sex addiction. In 1985 the butler spilled the beans on the Duke’s habit of giving large checks to a series of young women who came to his London house. The  Duchess stayed mum. In the sixties, Debo became a good friend of John F. Kennedy – his sister had married the Duke’s elder brother who was killed in the war – and recounts without irony that she swam with him in the White House swimming pool –  since  revealed as a noontime hookers’ venue.    MItfords don’t apologize or explain.

Anyway,  by this time she was inextricably wedded to Chatsworth itself.  The Duke who liked to tell people he did nothing, did atleast one great thing. He made her CEO of brand Chatsworth. If the estate survives in the future, it will be largely  thanks to her.   Not only did she supervise the modernization of the huge house so a family could once again live in it, but she opened up the  Chatsworth experience to the people.  Channelling Muv, Debo made Chatsworth green.  She  opened the first farm shop at any stately home, stocked with local produce, opened a restaurant and gift shop,  all contributing to Chatsworth’s bottom line.  Chatsworth is now child-friendly with hands-on exhibits, a working farmyard and a maze. She bonded with her neighbours. More than 3,000 couples in Derbyshire  married the same year as the Devonshires were invited to tea to celebrate their golden wedding. Not least,  she led the Chatsworth contingent  to join  750,000 fellow rustics  in the  1997 Countryside March on Westminster to protest the ban on fox hunting. Her daughter Sophie beside her sported a banner “I’m ready to go to jail.”
Somewhere her  sisters must be laughing. .

National Post Restaurant Review Nov 6 2010 *** ICI BISTRO

Ici Bistro is open.

Whew. For more than year now, Ici Bistro has been the phantom of the West Annex,  appearing and disappearing like the Cheshire Cat, now opening, now not opening,  the victim of municipal red tape.  Neighbours longing to taste chef J.P. Challet’s boeuf  bourguignon were frustrated when the  liquor license was refused. The city feared the smell of lobster bisque might distract pupils at the school next door from shooting – up or each other.  Next thing for god’s sake, the kids will be demanding Beaujolais to perk up the cafeteria’s cottage pie. And that was just for starters.

Bon Vivant can’t wait – Ici’s travails fit right into his thesis on why people eat. Not because they’re hungry? “ Too tea parties” he sniffs “I got the grant to write something loftier — our hunger for community.” I move the chewing gum from one cheek to the other.

So now we’re bonding knee to knee with neighbours. Ici is delightfully small, only 24 seats, soothing grey with a stripey banquette for serious eaters. We’re going the whole nine yards – we’re eating French. You may have heard that the Spanish are now the great innovators, that foraging is  the new rave, that the Italians have taken over the restoscape. Hmm.  When I  dream of gustatory pleasure, I  wake up hungry for sweetbreads  financier. Not that I kid myself I’ll find anything  so rich today. Like other great empires,  the luxe French cuisine,  butter, cream, truffles, foie gras, caviar,  has had to adapt to changing times.   The classics on Ici’s carte sound  the same as those made by Escoffier a century ago, but they’ve been  reinterpreted to suit the Canadian palate  – and in a bow to grazing, each dish comes in both small and large sizes.  Need more explanation: ask the server Sukaina who has a PHD in food and charm besides.

We start off with a glass of celebratory fizz,  13th St Cuvee Rose Brut ($12)the right  way to begin a French dinner. So is the  platter of oysters (Maritimes at $3 per). We toast oysterman Rodney who has made Toronto the queen of oyster cities. As we butter a slice of Challet’s angelic baguette (no charge) we notice the plates are all shaped like tear drops. Yes to steak tartare $18. A platter of six elegant ovals of hand-cut raw beef – tart  and creamy, mustardy, a whisper  of chili and a few  potato croquettes as counterpoint.

A baby-pink torchon of foiegras with floating figs, a crisp  black trumpet mushroom croquette $18/28 is the kind of food that is so good you can’t bear to finish eating it.

Lobster thermidor is one of the showgirls of the classic cuisine, the crustacean baked in the shell with a sauce bolstered by lashings of cream.   Challet’s version (18/30) is lots skinnier with emphasis on lobster’s taste which evokes the antiseptic smell of the ER.  The claws and tails are  steamed, shelled and set out on a long platter with  mayonnaise kissed with chili and accompanied by  tender lobster/bechamel croquettes and a deep red flower of a beet.

We’re sipping one of those soft shouldered Cote de Rhones (Vignerons D’estezargues ‘Terre de Mistral’ $48)  which is perfect for our next dish. Blanquette de Veau  is a stupendously rich white veal stew.  But what is this?  A platter displaying a large cannellono shrouding a brown stew.($17/29) Of course –  today chefs use rose veal , the calf given a kinder, gentler death.  I cut into the pasta to find strands of  pulled veal, silky button mushrooms,  black trumpets all bathed in a bronze-toned veloute sauce which tastes just as inspiritingly earthy and profound as the old super-enriched one.  A little pumpkin mousse  provides another texture. So does the traditional  boiled potato with the firm consistency of soap.

Of course we must end with a souffle, the classic cuisine’s Koh-I-Noor diamond.. Grand Marnier souffle ($16) is  just a few mouthfuls of orange-tinctured bliss.  Then Bon Vivant spots the chocolate platter $12 on the next table. A must. Dark and medium chocolate mousses puckered up with a sweet-sour red currant ice cream.

Choc’s too heavy for me. I prefer my chocolate mousse ultralite, made from just eggs and semi-sweet chocolate with Cognac trace.

Over  Armagnac, another estimable tradition, Bon Vivant says he’s  uplifted by the spiritual sustenance from sharing food.  But not any food. In future, he’s only going to eat in three star restaurants.

NOTEA new star system is in effect. One star: worth a detour. Two stars: Exceptional cooking and/or unique surroundings . Three Stars: The Package – signature cooking/style, atmosphere, service.

***Ici Bistro 538 Manning Ave 416-536 0079 jpco.ca/restaurant

Not wheelchair accessible. Dinner for two, food plus tax: $140

National Post Restaurant Review Oct 30 2010 STRATUS

I lose 65 calories after a ten-minute spin on the excersize bike. Hmmm.  This means it’s gonna take me almost an hour to work off a Tim Horton walnut crunch donut destroying once and for all the cherished illusion  that an hour’s workout gets my metabolism racing in carb-crushing mode. I leave my health club at my hungriest and then have to run the gauntlet of the  hi-cal temptations which flank it.

A fit, buffed acquaintance tells me there is  no need for all this calorie angst. A friendlier enviro for gym rats exists at Stratus, the Toronto Athletic Club’s restaurant  atop one of those  TD Centre giant  I-Pads by Bay.  You don’t have to be a member to lunch in the clouds. The space is as effervescent as a petillant wine,   a dramatic and welcoming room, long windows offering a panorama of downtown with Porter flights skimming the lake.  Yellow and orange shiny tiles frame the windows, the walls are neutral gray, the place fizzes with negative ions.  Lunchers range from  designer sweats  eating  iconic salad to Bay street suits.   Everyone looks extraordinarily  cheerful including the waiters. Water is the jus de jour except for one emeritus partner, the ghost of business lunches past. He sips  a martini with a twist. We want to cheer.

We order a pleasant glass of Butterfield Chardonnay,$9, and feel great.  This is the way to reward oneself after gruelling pool lengths  and surviving a  session with the Spanish Inquisition aka personal trainer. I have the mushroom soup $10  — sublime. I think it was Wolfgang Puck who pioneered the ineffable wild mushroom soup a few decades ago, and this hybrid, which includes farmed fungi,  is even  sleeker, an intense broth of atoms of buttons, portobellos, shitakes.  And it’s more ecologically correct. Word from England suggests that the wild mushroom forage has gone too far.  Enthusiastic amateurs,  urged on by the likes of Jamie Oliver and  anxious to prove their fresh’n’local chops,  are depleting the forests of the favourite diet of deer, rabbits, mice and insects such as flies and beetles. Hey there humans, stop being so greedy.

Chef David Ross’s kitchen has another wonderful soup, a tawny Thai broth filled with shitakes, onions, a few slices of tiger shrimp $10, so rich and satisfying it could make a whole meal. The beef carpaccio is equally flavoursome, a  coral carousel of transparent discs spiked by chimichurri sauce, onion, garlic, olive oil, which could be better defined, leaves of nutty aged Asiago and a glossy pea shoot salad.

Don’t expect Maryland lump crab in a crab cake here. But still, the crisp patty of well-seasoned strands $24 with charred tomato aioli  is good although the accompanying black tiger shrimps seem overgrilled, but then the black tiger is one tough hombre. The plate’s runaway hit is the salad. Now here’s a presentation to turn on any salad-phobe. A coil of cucumber is wrapped around a mildly astringent  bunch of leaves small enough to be eaten easily and with little enokis tucked among the greens.  For once I eat all the salad.

Omelets are  the dieter’s security blanket.. Stratus’ omelet $20 is stuffed with home-cured Juniper smoked salmon and gruyere,  such a good and complementary pairing. At another lunch, we throw  calories to the winds and have a blow out – fish and chips. Panko-crumbed Ontario perch is perfect with tartare sauce $23  and a small mountain of **** sweet potato fries. Terrific.  Not so the South-Western Chicken Supreme $23 which fails to deliver on its implicit promise of Tex-Mex spice. Sliced, grilled chicken breast is moist but otherwise without any redeeming gastro  importance. It’s poised on top   of hefty chunks of romaine lettuce tossed in an effete ranch dressing which has never kissed garlic or onion. This kitchen’s flaw is its’ erratic use of spice/seasoning. Even the cornbread croutons and sprinkling of grilled corn are bland.

Is it fair to even suggest desserts in this milieu? The dessert menu is longest of all! Is there a saboteur at work?  I’d say yes, except the two desserts are such downers.   The chocolate mousse cake with cherry compote $9 has the fibre of a cake mix and the mousse is heavy.  But it’s ethereal compared to the apple tart with caramel glaze and cinnamon icecream. The tart $9  turns out to be a cakey apple mush.  We finish neither – and feel virtuous.

** 1/2 Stratus 36th Floor, 79 Wellington W.  416-865-1924 Wheelchair accessible. Breakfast/lunch only.  Lunch for two, food and tax.Food and tax for two: $100

National Post Restaurant Review Oct 24 2010 *1 1/2 Fabbrica

The existential  question of the day: is there Italian food after pasta and pizza?

I pose the question to three colleagues – Maryam Siddiqi, Sheilagh McEvenue, Ben Kaplan,  who’ve come with me to Fabbrica, Mark McEwan’s new restaurant in Toronto’s very own version of a Californian outdoor mall, The Shops at Don Mills.

Their faces fall. They look around the slick modernity of Fabbrica, a posh factory with shiny white tiled walls in an open kitchen, woodtopped tables with striped napkins and glom immediately to the  state-of-the-art wood-burning oven.  Look, there’s the  Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana seal of approval. Sure, the pizza isn’t going to taste exactly the way it does on the bay of Naples lightly dusted with the last Vesuvian eruption, still it’s bound to be good because pizza is a triumph of industrialization and thus global tastemaking. We sense even before we actually smell the bronzing of dough, the honeyed tomatoes with minty basil. Ditto pasta. The menu has a choice of temptations. like  Orecchiette – chipmunks’ ears wrought from flour and water,  with rabbit, rapini, chili and pecorino cheese.

But taste is one thing, addiction another. Look, I argue, Toronto is awash with places enabling our wheat habit – the food equivalent of crack cocaine – but Fabbrica bills itself as Italian rustic, I look forward to roasting veal and pork, fresh grilled fish, that kind of thing.

Oh, Ok.

Now wait a minute. There’s a three buck charge for bread! I cannot remember an Italian restaurant – or any restaurant for that matter-  being so unwelcoming.  We make do with a plate of Bruschetta, bread stroked with invisible  bone marrow and horseradish gremolata tasting strongly of lemon $10. Today, our excellently prompt and informed waiter tells us, the Fritti $15 is fried smelts from Lake Huron. Smashing – little fish captured in crackling,sprinkled with fresh squeezed lemon, energized by tartare sauce.

Ben says he’d like his fave veal parmigiana ( a crumbed cutlet of veal from Parma) as his main course.  Fresh out of luck. There is no veal (or pork) on the menu. He settles for grilled lamb sausage and caponata, a spicy all-purpose Sicilian condiment $19. Good but no cigar. The lamb sausage? “I could get it anywhere.”   Now bread is needed to sop up the jus.   Like Chilean miners, we fall on the few slices of nice warm carb. Ben says he’s still hungry and poaches chicken salad from Maryam who says “It’s kind of flavourless, it needs something.” Funny, gorgonzola is advertised as the dressing.

I’m happy to give Ben a slice of  of my olive-oil poached Albacore tuna with puttanesca sauce (black olives, capers and anchovies) $29.   It’s cooked fine, rare and tender, but it too is taste challenged.   I often wonder whether cooked tuna, so often billed as the sea’s equivalent to the meaty steak,  would be on any menu if it wasn’t for sushi’s popularity  –  chunks of raw tuna spritzed by wasabi and soy sauce –  My tuna today has the transient allure of a pretty face with nothing to say.

Would a side of baby carrots have helped? Wait a mo, they cost $15 half the price of the majestic tuna!

Sheilagh orders two baby goat crepes $26 because she loves goat cheese. Texture’s fine so is the soffrito, minced onion, celery, carrots, but “I expected something more goaty.” Another overhyped meat. I think there’s a correlation between the character of animals and the way their meat tastes. Pigs  are smart and tetchy but taste fab while the larky goat is bland.

Of course we must have dolci $11 each. Both the Tiramisu, coffee cream sandwiched between caramel crackle and the lemon-stuffed zeppole, the Italian version of Tim Horton, are lip-smacking meal-enders.

Suddenly all eyes turn right. A man at the next table is digging into an oval bowl of something which looks,  smells wholly enticing – Tortiglioni, little pasta tubes with meatballs, tomato and buffalo mozzarella $19.  I swear our table tips in that direction.

Truth-telling arrives with the bill.  Our meal has cost $200 for four, including  a glass of wine/cocktail each but it doesn’t add up to a proportionately satisfying meal. Perhaps we expected too much of a mall restaurant where the food is designed to appeal to the palate of the largest number of people possible.  To call Fabbrica rustic Italian is like calling a Big Mac a hamburger.

1 1/2* Fabbrica.  49 Karl Fraser Road in Shops at Don Mills 416-391-0307 Wheelchair accessible. Food for four plus tax $160

National Post Restaurant Review Oct 17 2010 Chiado 4 Star Yums for Bucks

Missed it by golly. Salt Wine Bar, featuring Portuguese tapas, on Ossington opened and shut in the twinkling of an eye. The couple of times I called, I was put off decisively. Seems owner Albino Silva is being strangled by government red tape. And I was so looking forward to buying some expertly -selected  Portugese canned sardines. The canned sardine is my childhood mnemonic. Or I should say the European sardine. Because North American canned sardines are actually herrings which in terms of taste is as desperate as if your snark is a boojum.

I was sustained on canned herrings on toast as a kid in those dark food-rationed days.  We kids weren’t crazy about them – the bones! – but Pouncer the cat loved the discards even though he choked on them. Later we learned that we’d only had entry grade sardines, well on their way to becoming a pilchard, and rather too large for true gourmet joy. Or so I learned later from the revelatory Elizabeth David who declared the queen of the canned sardine was French, the silvery, slippery nipper – caught at the Lolita stage and thus raised on a refined vegetarian diet  –   and made into a luxury food by Philippe et Canaud of Brittany .

What lese majeste. The sardine is the patron fish of Portugal where in season, the summer, a fresh grilled sardine as meaty as a tuna with the saline, pungent flavour of a fish proud to be a fish, is the diet of feast days. I channel Portuguese because of my long sojourn in a Connecticut coastal village dominated by a vibrantly coloured fishing fleet manned by immigrants from the Azores.  I’ve long wondered why the Portuguese are so under represented in restaurants here. Frustrated by my Salt experience, I think  well, it’s only October, and  the sardines will be still be flown in fresh at Albino Silva’s other place, Chiado, on College west of Ossington – Toronto’s legacy Portugese restaurant since 1991.

Chiado, named for Lisbon’s most famous square,  has a self-assurance any restaurant would thank its lucky stars for. Elegant without being stuffy. Formal,  dark pannelling, modern art, comfortable chairs, white tablecloths, waiters in trad black and white – yet pleasantly informal. Even as the waiter delivers sweet black  olives from Morocco but cured at Chiado, and spongey Portugese corn bread with an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dip, a link is formed. My companion has recently visited Nazare, a famous fishing village just west of Lisbon and snap! Our waiter it just so happens comes from Nazare…

We eat from the tapas menu. First up, salt cod, historic survival food,  what else? Three crisp little toasts topped with tangy ribbons of  tossed salt cod ceviche $7.  Next comes the grilled sardines $12, gracefully seasoned with lemon, garlic, parsley, a handsome mouthful.  Seared quail is awesome, tender and delicately seasoned $8.  The Portugese make a nuanced Chorizo (sausage)  from pork and paprika and we get  two kinds, light and dark along with a not-too-sweet plum chutney $7. Excellent toasted fresh goat cheese poised on a slice of eggplant and portadello mushroom $8. We end with the artisan cheese platter $14.  Serra and Azetao are both softish sheep’s cheeses, pleasant enough, but Lourais, a crumbly cow’s cheese from the Azores, has a more distinctive character.

Chiado is famous for its choice of Portuguese wines. This is a chance to get away from ubiquitous Prosecco and  try the dryly piquant Luis Pato sparkling wine $13 a glass. When I scan the rest of the extensive list for reservatrol, I’m confronted with many unfamiliar names and prices starting at around $50 a bottle.  We’re lucky that Carlos, who has come to take our order, is such a smooth diplomat. Stumped, I suggest we’d like something that tastes Bordeauxish. Words hardly out of my mouth I wish to withdraw them – have I insulted Portuguese grapes?  I’d never know it because Carlos returns with very pleasing, dryish red, Lagualva Reserva and at the price we suggested, $60 – prices start here around $50.

Chiado has a certain demureness: low music is playing. Ordinarily, that would rate a fist bump.  But tonight is an exception.  What is a Portuguese dinner without  the lonely wail of fado music? Where’s Amalia Rodriguez? we ask. It takes a while to find the right tape, but finally,  the harsh demanding neediness of Rodriguez, comparable to the blues of  Edith Piaf, fills the room and bourgeois pretensions fall away.

Chiado Restaurant, 864  College St 416-538-1910 Not wheelchair accessible.  Tapas for Two, food plus tax: $58