Indoor dining during Toronto’s on-again-off-again restrictions

Toronto has been under various strict restrictions on and off for a period of 22 months. We were briefly less restricted last summer with either outdoor options or capacity limits. But then came back to school and winter and indoor activities and by Christmas we were getting surges again yada yada by January 4th, indoor dining et al were once again shut down.

The beleaguered restaurant industry, particularly the independent establishments not controlled by chain-corporations, really suffered. A lot.

Credit however is due to the many families in the various intimate neighbourhoods who continued to purchase take-out or delivered meals from these little places. Was it enough to keep them afloat? Well, I don’t know about all of them but I’m happy to see some of my favorite places are still operating.

However, pretty much nobody I know was happy about indoor dining being shut down again. It’s winter in Canada, and there isn’t much of anything else going on either; no concerts, no museums, no theater, no bowling or whatever. I mean, maybe some of them were open with capacity limits, I don’t know, I stopped watching the news because why should I keep giving fuel to the fire of my pandemic depressions?

Omicron peaked at some point after which restaurants etc were reopened with capacity limits. Which meant in some cases, tents were erected outside of the restaurant to increase patronage.

I don’t understand it but I’m not going to debate it. It is what it is and we lived with it passively. Call me a sheep. Baa.

So, as suddenly as we were shut down, we were re-opened. It went like a yo yo. Shut down, open with capacity, shut down, open with capacity, lifting of more restrictions, shut down again, OMG. (They decision was based on hospitalizations, ICU bed availability. Also, staffing was an issue… there are many variables that affected the politician’s decisions.)

Anyway, the most recent shutdown was on January 4th.

Two weeks later they re-opened with capacity limits when suddenly a day last week they lifted those, too.

Weird. But I accepted.

Which is why I was able to witness a full restaurant the other night. A little hole-in-the-wall establishment which served Canadian cuisine (hunted/foraged). The place was full, FULL, of patrons.

Even though we had a reservation, we were guided to a tent out back to eat in. The tent had two big heaters located off to the side and one of them was running full-time.

Imagine this little restaurant, which never had a heated tent to deal with in pre-covid times, now having to attach industrial-sized heaters to tanks of fuel in order to keep their customers warm as they sit outside sheltered by canvas walls while snow and windchills raged on.

Yep.

Imagine the additional costs of creating a safe space for patrons in the name of hopefully at least breaking even. I realize Trudeau promised buckets of money for everyone but his plan isn’t sustainable and the economy is already in the tank anyway so unless he’s printing money, who knows what will happen next.

Don’t ask me about the provincial premier. I doubt he and the king of the feds are friends.

But I digress. Back to my restaurant experience.

Still, I must say I was impressed. Other than a wobbly table which was easily fixed by some flattened corks, it was relatively comfortable. I chose the corner with the heater adjacent to me, blowing air away from me but giving me enough heat to be able to take my winter coat off. I let it hang off the back of my chair.

Tent dining in Toronto during pandemic

We’re still wearing masks here in our region although once we were seated we took our masks off. The waiter continued to wear his mask the entire time he was serving us.

The menu was scannable via QR code, which was a sticker on the table we had to take a photo of. So we did and then commenced staring at our phones because it’s the pandemic and this is what we do now. Then we ordered.

QR code menu pandemic dining in Toronto

I ordered a cocktail. I’m not usually a cocktail drinker, but our server, a young millennial who was very friendly and personable in a fidgety sort of way highly recommended several cocktails and I picked one that had the word sour in it. Also gin and egg whites.

It looked weird in a delicious sort of way so I had it. I liked it.

Cedar Gin Sour cocktail

I think I may become a cocktail girl now…

Next I had one of the best Cesar salads I’ve ever tasted. The romaine hearts were crunchy, fresh and only lightly seasoned. You know how many sports bar type restaurants drench the Cesar dressing to the point of it resembling soup? Not my thing. This salad was flavoured with just the right amount of garlicky Parmesan dressing and the wild boar (hunted by the owner) bacon was to die for (poor boar).

We sipped sparking water after we finished the cocktails and waited for the next part: the main meal and a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.

When the main meal came, I was looking forward to the foraged mushrooms. I ordered the cavatelli, which was fresh pasta shaped like little dense shells, with a flavourful tomato sauce tossed with mushrooms. Two things about this meal: as much as I like al dente pasta, it could have been cooked maybe another minute longer. The other thing was the mushrooms. There weren’t many. The sauce though, tomato based, was delicious and I ate every last morsel of my main dish.

The wine sipping of course was enjoyed along with the sparkling water sipping, an essential activity to prevent dehydration or wine headaches the next day. I get neither because I like my water…

We debated a little if we should have dessert. Honestly, we were both pleasantly full, but you know, we were OUT in a RESTAURANT without capacity limits and why not?

We shared a pear tart. I happen to love pears… every time my mom goes shopping she buys me pears. I eat them plain, or with cheese, but not usually in desert format. Well, this pear tart was wonderfully unique – poached pears, still warm, drenched in a light custard and sitting on top of a thin, flaky crust. I’m happy we chose to have it.

Sadly, I don’t have a picture of it. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it was good.

When it was time to leave, I pulled my coat up from the back of my chair and put it on. That’s when it happened: the sleeves were ice-cold and almost frozen. Unsurprisingly since they were hanging off the chair and onto the ground which was, as I mentioned, outdoors. Although we were sheltered by the tent walls there was a breeze coming in from the bottom.

Parking was an 8 minute walk through unplowed sidewalks, which was tricky to navigate because of the slushy snow and the wind, not to mentioned my heeled boots. My arms were cold, but the car had heated seats so I was able to warm up quickly when we arrived at the parking lot.

All in all a lovely evening with a wonderful meal. It was almost a foreign concept for me, dining in such an establishment since before Covid. The majority of time I was treated to food in restaurants pre-pandemic was either at a rink or in a sports bar. I’m not complaining just explaining. I’m a hockeymom and this is what happens when you have kids in hockey.

Which is why it was extra nice to able to explore a unique little restaurant with character and personality.

Send good vibes up to Ontario, please, that this endless shut-down-reopen-shut-down cycle is behind us now. I’m really sick to death of it all and if we can’t learn to live with this virus, then I don’t know what will happen to the humanity. Probably protests and rage. They’ll have to build more prisons and psych wards next to the direly needed new hospitals…

Thank you for reading my post.

And yes, some of you may have noticed I took the tough love post down… It unleashed something ugly that wasn’t my intention and hurt at least two people.

See you in the comments.

9 thoughts on “Indoor dining during Toronto’s on-again-off-again restrictions

  1. You guys have dealt with so much more than we have in SoDak it’s not even funny. I’m glad you were able to have a fairly normal restaurant experience, frozen sleeves notwithstanding. Your meal sounds wonderful from start to finish and I’m intrigued by the cocktail.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A year ago we went to lunch at a restaurant and the waiters treated everything with gloves and tableware sheathed in plastic, plus all that stuff of QR codes scanned to order a simple meat with mashed potatoes. We had no interest in going back there.
    This year all that is over and we are with complete freedom. Although the desire to return to the food houses is not the same as before.

    Liked by 1 person

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