My Last Grand Restaurant Visit
You see, our point of departure is a city far from the rest. You must pass through if you are crossing the country and while you may take in a view, you don’t get to the heart of a city in passing. Although small, Thunder Bay’s culinary scene is vibrant, yet what it has gained in recent years still does not compare to the established fare of a larger city. We are used to seeking out new experiences, and the Twin Cities continue to please as the nearest major city offering what we don’t have at home, a means to remind us what the rest of the world can offer.
The moment we stepped foot on Grand Avenue, we had entered a scene of warmth, a contrast from the chilly air that comes with evenings dated February 28. Sometimes, I like to pretend that I’m Hemingway, and as we passed through the transient space of the vestibule, I wistfully imagined that we had entered my own neighbourhood café, a place of familiarity in which I could spend hours conversing and dining, meeting new people, and engaging in vibrant discussion.
The best seat in the house was reserved for us, the couple from Canada that had driven down the north shore of a big lake to a state that feels more of an extension of where we are from rather than one of another country. When you enter this room, you enter one of simplicity and comfort, with eccentricities to be found in the details of a décor that is anything but pretentious.
We spent the evening being cared for and checked in on by everyone, from our lovely sommelier and our host to our waiter and even a member of the team who only brought us a single fork for a specific dish. They all expressed gratitude and explained how excited they were for our visit, as if we were relatives that had returned from a long voyage. We were guests of no worthy distinction, only guests that had chosen to dine on Grand Avenue that evening for our own celebratory occasion.
What followed was a progression of chicken liver tarts and duck à l’orange, smoked oysters––just to try––and amaro to end. Wine was served with stories and humble comfort. Formalities eased and honest conversation with our hosts ensued. We could have ordered anything off the menu that night and would have been completely satisfied. The memory of taste has since diluted into one that is indistinguishable from the food to the feeling we felt to simply exist in that space, because each dish was a part of the whole that made up the delicate rhythm of our evening.
“It is liberating to order without regard to price or budget in full comfort knowing that your hard earned dollars are directly supporting a vision of hospitality that you want to see live on.”
The meal was paid for only in gratuities earned from directing tours for a group of Americans last summer through our Canadian side of the Rocky Mountains and Great Lakes, as if passing along the torch in acknowledgement of a job well done. It is liberating to order without regard to price or budget in full comfort knowing that your hard earned dollars are directly supporting a vision of hospitality that you want to see live on.
I skipped back to our Airbnb that evening. A hop and a jump of pure joy in having spent an evening the way an evening at a restaurant should be spent.
Restaurants are homes. They are extensions of personalities and playgrounds for visions to come to life. Now, with our own homes being closed to family and friends, their doors are closed too––with a list of conditions. Some doors may never reopen, and that’s a hard reality to take in.
The borders may be closed, but I am still watching from a distance, wishing I could order a meal kit from the Grand Café that I know is filled with as much love, care, and precise attention to detail as that evening of pure delight, only a few short months ago.