By Cindy Deachman
So let’s forget the beef shawarma for lunch; that unholy mess of pad thai; your sad, weeping slice of pizza. Yes, even the sacrosanct club, such a stalwart. Let’s leave all that behind, shall we, to find higher ground. Why not? Didn’t we, in the day, dine on splendid meals at noon, quaff a few bottles of rich bordeaux? Those golden days, gluttonous ones they were, are long gone — and probably not such a bad thing. Still and all, there’s nothing wrong with a beguiling mid-day meal. Is there?
The Place: Although nowadays somewhat dated, ARC Lounge still maintains a certain minimalist style which can best be appreciated from the comfort of semi-circular booths. Lowlying couches and occasional tables in sombre blacks and browns counterpoint the airy blue lightness of the bar across the lounge.
But take away the good looks? You’re still left with Jason Duffy, ARC’s quiet, plain-speaking executive chef. Quiet until he talks up his recipe for vanilla butter poached lobster. Even then, you could never call Duffy boisterous: restraint is more his style. One senses this quality in his dishes too. Such a whisper of simplicity, perchance heard in a few bars of Mozart is, of course, difficult to fulfil. Duffy though, still cognisant of trends, follows his instinct. He’s certainly devised a respectable repertoire.
Who else, for instance, takes olives, dehydrates, pulverizes them, then tosses the dust with fresh oregeno and salt? Who else flavours fluffy, yet still crisp, onion rings with such a condiment? And then there’s the dipping sauce, a chutney of house-smoked tomatoes, such subtle sweetness and spice.
Beautiful touches such as hot crusty slices of baguette folded into a napkin and butter at room temperature, butter made with peppercorns and ramps — wild garlic — are much appreciated. Tender fries are presented in a warmed ceramic cone. Even the wine is the correct temperature — cool. So I suppose Duffy has no need to tout that trumpet of his: the dishes, the impeccable presentation, all speak plenty loud.
The Dish: Flavours from the house-smoked bacon-edged chicken breast show, but ever so mutely. In this way, classic marriage elements, asparagus and morels, can play together. Spears of sweet parsnip are invited in as well. The sauce, jus de ramps, is a delicate demi-glace with red wine; a line of leek oil, iridescently green, hugging its edge. Two half-moon dumplings, filled with lobster and again, ramps, have been sautéed crisply. The glass of Magellan pinot noir, from France, says yes.
I, too, say yes: sally forth. Discover the unexpected. A matter of necessity, wouldn’t you agree?
The cost: $23
Hours: Open daily
ARC Lounge, 140 Slater St., 613-238-9998, www.arclounge.ca