Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Bear's Den

If I felt I was misled by the Bon Ton Meat Market's name, I was completely deceived by the Bear's Den.  Go ahead.  Take a moment to visualize what a restaurant called the Bear's Den is supposed to look like.  My first thoughts drifted to something like the Water Buffalo Lodge, with a large rec center-style room filled with middle-aged men in silly hats.  Then I adjusted my thinking to a burger and ribs joint with Bud Lite neon signs and guillotined wildlife mounted on the walls; and an exclusively meat and starch menu served by a heavy-set biker-chic waitress with an uncomfortably visible skull & roses tattoo on her left breast.

I couldn't have been more wrong.  (Actually, that's not entirely true: our server was heavy-set but opted for an air of mystique and left it to my imagination whether or not there were any tats on his breasts.)

The Bear's Den is instead a beautiful restaurant with some of the finest dining I have encountered in the Calgary area.  It just happens to have a terrible name.  (The prize for the absolute worst name for a restaurant, however, is still safely held by a chain in Utah and Idaho called Chuck-a-Rama.  What the hell were they thinking?)  

The only concession to its name are enormous bas-relief
(yes, my arts degree has finally paid for itself!) scenes covering 75% of the Bear's Den's walls.  However, instead of Greek gods getting jiggy with their half-sisters or wrestling naked with serpents, the subjects are all Canadian wildlife, a wink and a nod to the deer and moose busts I had originally envisioned.  If I were a real food critic, I'd call the rest of the decor warm, rich, and luxurious.  Instead, I think I'll just go with "uber-swanky".  The ceiling is at least twenty feet high and is adorned with dark wood - not garishly painted furnace plumbing - which helps to keep sound reflections to a minimum.  This, combined with tables that are spaced far enough apart to park several baby strollers in between (and yet there are none to be found!) makes for a very quiet environment that is ideal for conversation.

We left the Heir and the Spare at home and were joined by Karen and Heary, so conversation was fortunately more varied than junior high report cards and lost swimming goggles.  In fact, it took a turn into the bizarre when Heary, a drama professor, told us about having to research Nigerian theatre for a graduate class.  It was particularly strange because I just so happen to have a contact in the Nigerian government!  Finance Minister Paul Agabi must have stumbled across my blog and liked it so much that he recently reached out to me to help him with disbursing unclaimed government funds that were just lying around, going to waste.  My fee will be a small percentage of the total amount, an amount that exceeds $40 million!  Even with a modest cut of 1%, I'll get enough to pay off our mortgage and turn the entire backyard into an indoor pool.  Heary is struggling to find Nigerian playwriting resources to research, so as soon as I finish this blog entry, I'm going to forward Heary's email address to Paul.

Heary is so going to owe me one.

For Karen's part, we talked a bit more about plans Alison and I have to take a trip next year to celebrate our 20th anniversary.  Karen works part-time for a travel agency and is helping us find something affordable.  However, even if we end up spending more than we should, I would still prefer to commemorate the occasion with an exciting vacation or cruise instead of buying any more jewelry. 

You see, when Alison and I got married, we were poorer than dirt.  We're still poor, but at least we now get to look down on dirt and mock its discount rack fashions.   (Peat moss and gravel is so 2010.)  So, when I bought Alison a very simple gold (you can still call it gold as long as it contains at least trace amounts of the stuff, right?) wedding band, I made the mistake of saying. "Don't worry, it's not like this is the last ring I'll ever buy you."  Oops.

When our 10th anniversary rolled around, Alison reminded me of my promise, and she felt that waiting a decade for its fruition was more than enough.  I bought her an outrageously expensive ring, and many years passed before we could afford parking at the airport, let alone getting on an actual airplane.  I say "outrageous" because of the inescapable fact that this, like any ring, was still just so much sparkly metal and rock, dirt's upscale cousins. (I guess dirt is still one step ahead of us.)  The value is primarily a matter of scarcity; there are probably planets out there where aluminum is one the rarest shiny metals, and women are obsessed by the thought of an 18-karat aluminum engagement ring.  Oh, but their sandwiches?  They wrap those in foil made of cheap, widely available gold.

Every man has a wish, an ulterior motive you might say, for buying expensive jewelry: they see no value in the object itself but hope that it will encourage a reciprocal gift.  What kind of gift?  Sex, of course.  Not just any sex, but dirty, naughty sex of the kind that has been turned down with every request over the past ten years.  Or maybe the kind that he didn't even dare ask for!  Alas, this dream usually fails, and he is forced to take solace in a scenario that he can only hope will arrive one day to make this frivolous purchase truly meaningful.  It goes like this:

One day, for reasons unknown, a bona fide mustache-twirling villain kidnaps the man and his wife.  The evildoer then places the couple in a glass cylinder that is slowly filling with water ('cuz that's what they do).  In just under an hour they will drown, and there is nothing they can do about it....or is there?  Suddenly, the man reaches for the hand of his love.  She holds her breath in anticipation of a final declaration of his undying love, a love that will survive beyond the bounds of this mortal coil.  He issues no such declaration, so she just continues to hold her breath to keep from drowning.  Instead, he rips the diamond anniversary ring - the one that cost him five months of enduring that jackass boss who couldn't manage his own weight let alone an entire sales department - from her finger and uses it to cut an exit from their water-trap, saving their lives and finally making it all worthwhile.

Short of that, I just don't get the appeal.

However, spending money on food?  That, I understand.  And make no mistake, the Bear's Den's upscale appearance comes with upscale prices to match.  We won't be frequent patrons as a result, but the meal we had was worth every penny.

I started with a prawn parfait (what do you mean it doesn't come with ice cream?) with a Creole tomato salsa, followed by their lime and butter Queen Charlotte Halibut on basmati rice.  Any other day, I would have easily been the evening's winner, but everyone else ordered the special: deer with a saskatoon berry demi-glace. I had a few bites of Alison's and had  to admit defeat.  Dessert was a crepe folded into a square, like a leaf-wrapped sasazushi, around a lemon "custard" and topped with a blackberry sorbet.  The meal and service were perfect in nearly ever way, with one possible exception:

Throughout the entire evening, not a single person got trapped in a watery prison, and Alison's ring just sat there.  On her finger.  Like it has for 10 years.  Doing nothing.

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