Al's Retirement Dinner

There were so many possiblities for the title of the party, but since the company was footing the bill, I figured it would have been unwise to call it Al's "I'm-so-fucking-outta-here" Party.

There were sixteen of us gathered in the wine cellar at
Splendido on Harbord. As usual, I was tardy -- in fact, I showed up an hour late. I'd missed out on the canap├ęs but I can't say I was bummed. Although the treats sounded amazing (mini venison burger, sour cream gnocchi, baked cheese platter, cold octopi with capers) I'm sure I would have pigged out and not left room for the meal itself.

It was interesting to be in a room with so many people who've worked over twenty years for the same company. Dad's been with Imperial Oil for over 30. I know he's done many different jobs within the corporation but I never knew what he was like at work. All I knew was the Al-at-home. When Dad gave up cigarettes, he took up candy. He even bought a candy bowl for his office. We'd teased him about it, and he assured us that it wasn't all for him, but for his co-workers -- because that way, "I'll get more visitors." It made me sad at the time, but now I realize that it was an example of his dry sense of humour which he reserved only for his fellow employees.

The letters and speeches made by his colleagues made be teary-eyed, made me proud. Some things I learned for the first time, others I just needed to be reminded of:
1) the Imperial Oil's annual report to shareholders, the quarterly reports and the Form 10-K annual report were synonymous with Dad's name;
2) the number of letters following his name exceed the total letters in his name (MBA, CMA, CPA);
3) he was the only auditor on his team whose wife packed all of his luggage;
4) he is incredibly polite and gracious, always helpful;
5) he was the most cultured guy on the floor -- ballroom dancing with the wife, opera with the daughter, fluency in four languages;
6) he was the most impeccable dresser on his floor: the suits, the ties -- everyone commented on his monogrammed shirts, which my grandmother had specially made for him in Hong Kong;
7) his deadpan delivery.

Sure sure, the cynic will say "Of course they'd shower him with praise. It's his retirement! They can only say nice things. There's probably a whole lot that's too embarrassing/negative to share." To the cynic: shut your ass. That's my Al you're talking about.

The meal was amazing -- though I kind of wish I'd ordered the sea-bream for my main. I changed my mind at the very last minute and got the lamb, asking explicitly for the cutest one with the biggest eyes and longest lashes. A food writer I am not. But here goes.

First course: Maritime Lobster Broth with Rock Shrimp and Basil Pistou
"Smells like Chinese soup!" observed
Weezerfreak. The broth was deliciously lobster-y with generous portions of shrimp, cauliflower and zucchini pellet-like floaty bits (whichever tool they'd used to make those pellets, I want one).

I pulled a trendoid move and chose the Fairview Cellars Viognier over the Shiraz. I have no idea how to use the words 'bouquet' and 'mouthfeel' in this context -- heck, in any context. But I do know that I liked its grapiness -- without the cloying sweetness of icewine. Make sense? Jon and Mel had a good laugh at my splotchiness, even though I tried hard to sip slowly. "Haha, San you look like someone's been slapping you around!" If they weren't my cousins, I probably would have told them off because it's the ridicule that keeps me from drinking before dark, in crowded places, around other people. But I couldn't. Not in front of Dad. Not in front of all his colleagues who'd just told me "Your father talks about you all the time! We're so glad to finally meet you!" Even Ted got splotchy -- of course he'd already had about three drinks by the time I arrived at the restaurant. Maybe it was the seventh drink of the evening that did it. He'd decided weeks in advance that NFW was he going to be the designated driver this time. Drinks were free and he was determined to milk it for all its worth.

Second course: Nova Scotia Lobster Cuit Sous Vide with Laurel-Scented Butter Poached Cauliflower
The lobster claw was soooo tender. I kept the last piece in my mouth, not wanting it to end. The creamy cauliflower puree could have been completely drinkable on its own.

Main course: Haldimand County Dorset Rack of Lamb with Lamb Osso Bucco and Rosemary Garlic Jus
I love lamb. Even in all of its gamey glory. Tonight's lamb was so juicy and did not contain a trace of gameyness. I am kicking myself though, as I had completely forgotten about the osso buco. I just ate the meat around the bone, and completely forgot to dig out the marrow with the little spoon they'd given me. Boo-urns.

Dessert: Tahitian Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with House Preserved Apricot Compote
It took a while for the coffee to come, which made it only slightly easier to take my time with the custard. It was divine.

Maybe it's a good thing I don't eat like that all the time. All that food made me sleep away one of the last warm Saturdays of the year. Ah, but it was worth it.


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