Lucien of Hogtown (an unforgettable dining experience)
Drove to Hogtown last Thursday with Ylli for a do that was taking place on the weekend. We arrived late in the evening saving our hunger (like virginity? fighting off Timbits along the way) so that we could fall into some cosy little bistro and extasize over a mignonette de boeuf & frites washed down with some claret. Ylli pointed out that a lot of the ‘new’ bar-restos in Toronto have one word names like Eleven, Pravda, McDonalds..After much dithering, I chose an eatery called Lucien. It was Lucien Carr that came to mind, Kerouac and Ginsberg’s handsome sidekick who is said to have shot a pesky suitor named Bill Kamerer and thrown his body into the Hudson River or maybe it was the great British painter Lucian Freud that I was reminded of, famous for his portraits of blotchy fat white men and of course his controversial rendering of a pregnant Kate Moss, the most successful CK girl ever, whom he managed to make look like Mrs. Shrek. In any case, the decor at Lucien’s, an unfamiliar combo of spanish bordello and morgue moderne was the first warning sign. We each chose two starters: the onion soup and a salad with a glass of wine, not wanting to overeat before bed. As it turns out there was no danger of that happening and should have walked out when the soup arrived at table minus the soup, just a big empty bowl with the garnishes, one crouton, one glob of something called gouda foam and a small tired caramalized onion.The broth was in a teapot and when added to these elements formed a brown sludge in which the gouda foam started to bubble like an overflowing septic tank and smell like same. I immediately lost my appetite. This witch’s brew was followed by the ‘heritage’ (biafran?) beet salad consisting of two ball bearing-sized beets with a red stain of something or other on an oversized plate. Ylli started to giggle in disbelief. When a wobbly construction of 3 stacks of dumpster-grade spinach arrived with no dressing but with the red stains, a rondelle of petrified persimmon and more bubbling foam, this time blue cheese, I gagged. We were had. This was a first for us, cuisine vidangeur (catch of the day from the garbagetruck.) The sadistic smile on our waiter’s face (and the Hogtown Sanitation Dept logo on his shirt) confirmed our suspicions and we sat there in stunned embarassment. I got the uneasy feeling that a lot of these ‘new’ establishments in Toronto’s historic gaslit downtown, the resto-bars and the bad art stores, are fronts for the Russian mob. After this ‘dining’ experience, the only Lucien I was reminded of was Lucien Rivard, the wily Québec bank robber and folk-hero who escaped over the walls of Bordeaux Jail sometime in the early 1960s, by sweet-talking the guards into giving him a very long garden hose so that he could flood the prison yard skating rink all on a balmy Spring day. This outrageous event was commemorated by my clever and beautiful cousin A.-M. Fauteux in her epic poem The Ballad of Bordeaux Jail. Her poem was acted out by the local morning man at Montreal’s CJAD radio and released as a 45 rpm single. When I find the written words and/or the recording I will post it here.