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A Good Excuse for Ladies Who Lunch

clunyFrom the beginning of time human beings have gathered around food; hunted, gathered and prepared as a community while sharing stories, passing down wisdom, and nurturing the divine within each person.

Food then, is not just nutritional sustenance, it is a tangible vehicle through which we come to know and care for one another.

Our lives have become so busy that the cultivation, preparation and intake of food has been condensed to a faceless speaker and drive-thru window. Not good.

I work too much. I rush too much. I eat too much pre-packaged, prepared, processed food, and it makes me sad.

For the “Ladies Who Lunch”,  it’s been ten years, maybe twelve. We’re not really quite sure, and we don’t really care darlings.  What we know is that every year we can count on Summerlicious and Winterlicious to encourage a ‘Ladies Who Lunch’ afternoon of catching up with one another over a slow, delicious meal.

You see, sometimes a gal just has to get together with her pack of women. You know, the intelligent, beautiful gals who raise her up when she can barely lift her own head and who raise a glass to her every success, even if that success is just making it through the day without flipping the bird with her well-manicured hands.

We take time out of our busy lives to connect  with other intelligent, compassionate and kind women who know the same joy, pain, frustration and daily triumphs that women feel deep down in their bones.

Lately I’ve been neglecting moi. Yes, I’ve been time-starved. It’s made the-little-old-laid-back-lush that is yours truly, anxious and neurotic. The freak show that is currently performing in the three-ringed circus of my mind is a shit-show of the most grand order, requiring pharmaceuticals, but settling for the odd gin and tonic after a long day of being held hostage by the nine-to-five grind.

Summerlicious with the girls is something which requires planning, research, multiple telephone calls, and always last-minute-begging to change reservation numbers and times. It’s the event-planning equivalent of herding horny cats during a midnight rainstorm. But we’re fabulous cats, and it’s always worth the effort. Besides, it’s a wonderful opportunity to practice patience and not-being-attached to outcome.

Given my state of mind this year, I was pretty sure that I was going to forgo the event unless someone else picked up the ball and organized the event. Alas, I decided at the last-minute to create the event in the most simple way possible. Choose the venue, make a reservation for six, and go forward. Usually I take requests for locations on a first-come-first-to-be-called basis, and then dial a zillion numbers until I find a place which will take a Saturday Summerlicious reservation for a dozen or so. Not easy.

We started with a reservation for six and ended up with eleven ladies at our table. Cluny Bistro was more than gracious accommodating our group (We will all be back, and appreciate your patience). Some arrived early, some arrived late, but in the end, we all managed to take a few hours out of our busy lives to connect and share that face-to-face interaction that I’ve been so starved for, for so long.

Lunch with the ladies is something we say we’re going to do, but never get around to doing it. One of my friends and I have been planning lunch together, and had to think back almost four months since our last visit. Four months is pretty darn good. This year I’ve had multiple reminders that taking time to spend with friends who nurture me is something I’ve neglected for far too long. Months turn into years, and years and years…

Summerlicious may be a marketing ploy to open our wallets and spend more money, but we’ve used it as the excuse we need to come together, try a new restaurant and remind ourselves that our friendships matter, that we do not need to exist as solitary, stone angels who do it all.

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Winterlicious 2015 – Let’s Review

first we eatEvery year for the past decade, I’ve organized a Lady’s Winter/Summerlicious dinner for the Ladies Who Lunch. There are usually between 6-12 of us who use this culinary celebration as an excuse to get together and try a new place.

Trying new restaurants gives us another card to play in our social repertoire, and when we’re impressed, we return; for birthdays, anniversaries, dates and weekend lunches that involve a bottle of wine…or two, depending on the deeds we need to dish with our dear ones.

Winterlicious was a wash with business for me. Alas, I was only able to get out to two new places. I’m sad to say that this year, everyone, including myself, my ladies and my kiddo, were underwhelmed by both the food and service.

Before the restaurant world whines about bad tippers and losing money on the endeavor, I would like to say that it’s a fair shake for diners and staff alike. If you don’t like Winterlicious don’t participate. If you don’t enjoy facilitating a happy dining experience for people, please, for the love of digestion, get a job somewhere else.

Today I spent a fair amount on lunch at  Archeo in the distillery district after braving the freezing rain and slick roads. It took an hour and a half to get there, and not once did a server ask how our meal was, nor were we offered a beverage once the meal started. Apparently coffee and tea with dessert is passé, because it wasn’t offered at all at Archeo, and only as an afterthought last week at Hush.

Both restaurants served French fries with meal options, yet neither offered condiments such as wonderful vinegars or tangy mustards for their sandwich choices.

The fish and chips at Hush were sad. The batter had the potential to be wonderful, it looked crispy, but was flavourless, and lukewarm. The accompanying bacon and apple slaw was as outstanding as the fish. The spicy edamame beans were not spicy, and the soup was bland as well. Nothing tasted hot, fresh or flavourful.

Nine of us at Hush were served barely warm meals, but the service was at least friendly.

At Archeo, the food was hot, which is really the least you should expect when dining. The bruschetta was flavorful but served on the same mass-produced bread as the chicken parmesan sandwich. Both the tiramisu crème brule and chocolate pudding were delicious. Unfortunately the service was so cold that by the time dessert came, we were chilled by the poor service.

Our meals may have been hot at Archeo, but the service was as cold as the blizzard outside. Instead of ordering wine, and lingering over coffee this afternoon, we headed back down the street and stopped at Balzac’s for a little something ‘to go’.

An impromptu stop at  Le Saint Tropez  during Winterlicious,(not a Winterlicious meal) reminded myself and my gal-pal what service was all about. We did not have a reservation, we were not there for a multi-course meal, but we were welcomed warmly and sincerely. The waitress/server knew how to have an engaging conversation. That kind of four-star service and delicious food, will guarantee we come back again and again. It’s the kind of place you can count on for a special occasion.

Our 2015 Winterlicious experience was underwhelming indeed. We will however, look forward to Summerlicious 2015, hoping that the restaurants live up to the wonderful food and extraordinary service we enjoyed at Destingo last year.

Until we see you at Summerlicious, Bon appetite!

 

 

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I Can’t Make It

"Female friendships that work are relationships in which women help each other belong to themselves."
“Female friendships that work are relationships in which women help each other belong to themselves.”

Today I had to send regrets to an event I’d been looking forward to for months, and I felt awful about it.

Yesterday, after much planning on my part, and much coordination of transportation based on the almost impossible traffic situation in the GTA, four out of 7 of us arrived at our Summerlicious ladies lunch destination.

I was disappointed that there were only 4 of 7 of us there, and I had a serious self-talk in the morning about why I would never bother to organize a bunch of women again. “Like herding cats,” I grumbled to myself.

Some cancelled last minute, an other was the victim of the traffic-hell that we have become so apathetic about in Toronto.

But the dynamic of the group never ceases to amaze me. For every situation, whether it be social or professional, no matter who shows up, it’s always worthwhile.

For the press, these dining events have become a battle of dining between what I consider to be ignorant servers, and customers;

For you, it is a chance at a satisfying meal at a restaurant you might not typically be able to afford.  For the people who get your meal to the table, it means weeks of unpaid overtime, exhaustion, unforgiving diners and crummy tips.” by  Siobhan Morris , as posted at Newstalk 1010.

In any business, there are going to be customers you want to kick out the door, and in some cases, you should absolutely take your patent-leather stilettos and shove one up a backside or two. Employers should also be paying fairly, but this just isn’t a mark on the food-industry, it’s a symptom of greed at-the-top in every industry.

Despite the spin the press puts on these events, it’s usually been a lot of fun.  And these events are meant to be fun.  We want to be there. We want to know about your restaurant, your menu, your wine list, and we want to find a place that we can depend on to offer excellent food and service.

Yesterday one of the gals tried a wonderful grapefruit, rosemary cocktail, one stuck to a juicy cabernet, and I tired a micro-brew lager that was delicious.  We all ordered coffee, and left better than the minimum expected, 15% tips.

Yesterday we dined at Destingo, and the menu did not disappoint. More importantly the atmosphere and the service were beyond welcoming.

As in; the staff didn’t look down their noses at the middle-aged table of women who were only half in number of their initial reservation size.

As in; the staff were knowledgeable, polite, prompt, and seemingly unrushed, despite hosting a packed house.  That is a mark of good management, and happy employees. We all know that happy employees create happy customers.They were smart enough to realize that we’re tired of cooking and coddling, and we’re the market who doesn’t just celebrate events, we’re experienced lushes who prefer to have someone cook for us. We are good business.

menueBravo Destino! After 16 Winter & Summerlicious dinners with groups ranging in number from 3 – 16, you were the best experience yet!

So, to the chefs and servers out there who don’t want our business, don’t worry, we won’t’ be knocking on your door any time soon.

For the folks at Destingo, I know that they will have repeat business from our group who were so well treated and well-fed yesterday.

Finally, for the ladies who tried to make it, but got caught in traffic hell, and the ladies who couldn’t make it; we missed you, and we understand.  Winterlicious is only 6 and a half months away.

And for my impatient, overworked – self; remember it’s ok to change plans once in a while to keep oneself on that sexy-even-keel, remember what a wonderful feeling it was to have everyone together yesterday. I think I’ll go  ahead an organize a Winterlicious that’s wonderful.