In the 70s, when my grandfather's boat, the E.B. Barber, came into Toronto during the summer season, it was a family event. He was chief engineer on that lake boat and was away from us from March to December. We'd drive into the city and spend a few hours with him. My grandmother Theo would do the same. All of us circled the wagon and spent time together in restaurants.
I remember having lunch at Shopsy's on Spadina. There was a steam table to your right on the way to the dining room — a panelled room with black and white celebrity photos nailed to every square inch. I remember matzo ball soup. Thinking of that lunch makes me feel light and sweet. Food brought out the best in most of the people I loved. And then there was the fun of being with Harry. I was sure he loved me. Before going to the restaurant, we bought bagels and cream cheese from a Jewish dairy in Kensington Market.
I'm here because last Saturday, under a periwinkle late May sky, I stood across the street from what once was Sai Woo restaurant. I was filled with happy memories of being a kid. And there was a bittersweet twinge in my heart about the passage of time.
Theo loved the restaurant, and again, when Harry's boat was in Toronto, we would sometimes meet them there. The room and food were grand and elegant to this seven- or eight-year-old girl — plus ultra.
It was above street level. You went through the doors to the left of the building and up the stairs to a waiting area. It was always busy. There were a few round banquets in that large room. The extraordinary restaurateurs were Bill and Mary Wen. Look at this photo of Rompin' Ronnie Hawkins and Bill.
That's where I had sweet and sour soup the first time. My memory was starting to get good about food. The hot earthenware oval dishes and the round plates with the colourful band came piled with bright, saucy, lacquered goodness. Learning to eat with chopsticks was a challenge. Having so many delicious things to eat all at once was a delight.
Sai Woo is long gone but remains forever vivid in my memory. Do you have a restaurant like that?
I have despaired over the whittling away of Chinatown since before the pandemic. It could be a natural evolution. But consider Queen Street West between University and Spadina to see how quickly the culture and character of a place can be stripped. Corporate encroachment is heart breaking. I hope there's another way. After more than a decade of mediocre leadership in this city, maybe we'll vote for the kind of mayor who will make haste to grant Chinatown heritage designation. History and culture are worth protecting.
Someone put the idea of Tom Jones in my head this week. What a performer. His show was one hundred percent a reflection of 70s chauvinism. The way he moves — channelling Billy Preston.
Also, this new The Weekend, Madonna and Playboi Carti’s song is a perfect summer song. I love the Festival de Cannes backdrop (and The Weekend in a tux). It's been thirty years since I was on the Côte d'Azur during May and June — a forever golden life experience. The review of opening night this year in Vulture is *chef's kisses.* It’s mandatory reading for anyone wanting to be a critic.
Madonna: You can't take my soul without a fucking fight
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