I’ve always had trouble ordering food in a restaurant. I don’t trust my judgment. Unfortunately, either Bruce doesn’t trust his own judgment either, or he’s tired of picking something off the menu only to have me try to persuade him to get something else (we usually order two dishes and split both), but lately, he’s had me do the ordering for the both of us. And so it was at the Chinese restaurant we went to in Toronto.
I had been looking forward to the meal because I knew Toronto had a large Asian population, and I figured they had a lot of good Chinese food –which they did. But once in the restaurant, I was at a loss as to what to order. I always seem to get the old standbys: hot and sour soup, spring rolls, a vegetable like baby bok choy or spicy string beans, and chicken in garlic sauce. That night, I opted for soup, spring roll and two vegetables. In the end, as often happens, I chose badly.
Making matters worse, the four people at the table next to us ordered impeccably. Every dish brought to their table – and there were many – looked absolutely delectable. They had sautéed grouper with snow peas and celery in a black bean sauce. They ordered sautéed shrimp with chili pepper and eggplant – though they told the chef to hold the shrimp. They had eggplant and celery in a black been sauce, as well as sautéed tofu with Chinese mushrooms and vegetables in a garlic scallion sauce. I know because I tried to ask the waiter, surreptitiously, what they’d ordered, but they saw me pointing and gawking and the waiter whispering in my ear.
“It’s the grouper in black bean sauce,” said an older gentleman, who had a mop of white hair like Einstein.
“That’s eggplant,” he said. “Where are you from?”
“New Jersey,” I said.
The man said his name was Dr. Kosoy. After talking about food and restaurants in New York, he and his wife fired off a list of restaurants we had to visit while we were in Toronto. You like Italian? He suggested an Italian. Greek? He had just the right Greek restaurant. Indian? Ah, now that was his favorite restaurant of all.
“You must go to ‘259, the Host.’ It’s the most wonderful Indian restaurant. Ask for Amir, and tell him Dr. Kosoy sent you,” he said.
He took the piece of paper onto which I’d been writing all of the restaurants and wrote down his name and the restaurant’s phone number.
“Remember, ask for Amir. Tell him to give you the same treatment he gives Dr. Kosoy,” the man said.
The next night, we set out for 259, the Host. It wasn’t far from our hotel, but we were early so we took a walk along the waterfront. It’s a strange area of the city because there are a line of high-rise condominiums along the water’s edge with nice views of Lake Ontario, but you have to cross two busy highways to get there. They’ve essentially quarantined their waterfront.
By the time we got to the lakefront, I was tired. We sat down at a picnic table, and I put my head down to take a nap. But I couldn’t relax. There was a ship docked behind me, and the wind kept rattling the sails on the mast, causing them to make a constant clanking sound. Bruce had taken a short tour of the area the day before, and he said the tour guide mentioned how a lot of the Toronto Raptors basketball players had condominiums in one of the buildings nearby but that they didn’t like living there. Many of them left town for other teams. I wondered if it had anything to do with the incessant rattling of that sailboat.
We made our way to the restaurant and found Amir. We told him to give us the same treatment as Dr. Kosoy. Upon hearing the good doctor’s name, Amir was more than cordial.
“Would you like to sit here? Dr. Kosoy usually sits here,” Amir said, pointing toward a table by the window.
“Great,” I said.
We sat down and talked with Amir. It turns out he’d worked at an Indian restaurant in New York City for many years before coming to Toronto two years ago. He missed New York, he said. Toronto was nice and clean, but it was too quiet for him. He planned to move to London in a year or two to join his brother.
We looked at the menu, and I spotted “Butter Chicken.” I’d recently read an essay by a fellow writer, who went on about her father’s butter chicken, and I’d wanted to try it ever since.
“What does Dr. Kosoy order?” I asked. I trusted Kosoy’s track record, implicitly.
“He likes vegetables,” Amir said.
He pointed to several vegetable dishes, and we decided to get two of them.
They were delicious, every dish, particularly the butter chicken. But we ordered too much and then ate too much. I always feel nauseated these days and having over-indulged only made it worse. I tried to figure out where the bathrooms were in case I had to make a mad dash. I didn’t see one. I asked Amir.
“Third floor,” he said.
“Well, one of the flights is a half floor,” he said.
I’ll never make it, I thought. I imagined running out of the restaurant and relieving myself right there on the sidewalk. I couldn’t imagine a worse reflection on a restaurant than to have someone standing right outside its doors throwing up their meal. And I knew if that happened, the only thing Amir would remember of us, the Americans who came and threw up, would be two words: Dr. Kosoy.
I made it to the bathroom, and in the end didn’t even throw up – though I wished I could. I felt dreadful. There seemed to be some disagreement going on in my stomach between the spinach and the yoghurt drink, and they were having a very heated discussion. The rice and naan bread also seemed to be expanding by about ½ an inch every 10 minutes, making things a little tight in there. Dr. Kosoy was able to tell us where to go and what to eat. What we really needed was for him to tell us when to stop.
As we walked back to the hotel, I could feel my arm throbbing from where a bee had stung me several days earlier. I’d gone onto the internet to find out whether bee venom could hurt a fetus and found a remedy for the itch. Someone recommended making a paste of baking soda and water, which I promptly did in our hotel room that morning. I lathered it all over my arm and left it on til it dried and flaked off in chunks. I then went to the police station to conduct more interviews for my story. By the time we got to the restaurant that evening, my arm had swelled like a balloon. There was so much excess skin there, if I put weight on my elbow, it felt like I was leaning on a sack of clay.
In fact everything is swollen. My breasts. My belly. My bee sting. Who are these women who love being pregnant? Either I missed that part of the movie, or I haven’t gotten to it yet.