Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Raw Bar

Christmas means different things to different people.  Some traditions and memories belong to a collective experience that, with the briefest mention, much of the population can relate to and fill in remarkably similar details.  Stockings, shortbread cookies, inedible fruitcakes, turkey leftovers, and crying babies on the knee of a mall Santa.  Just to name a few.
Then there are Christmas trappings that are somewhat more unique.  For my family that has included things such as lobster, home-made root beer, new pajamas on Christmas Eve, piñata parties, and vomiting.
Yes, I said vomiting.
(Before I go any further, I want to assure you that this is not meant to be reflection on the Raw Bar.  As far as I know, no-one threw up at the Raw Bar when we had breakfast there, but the events leading up to Alison and I having breakfast there are relevant.  Stay tuned.)
One of the early beginnings of this unpleasant Gregson Christmas tradition has been recorded on film.  Long before the invention of video cameras, my dad would capture our holidays on good old-fashioned 8mm film.  This would require some setup, including some very powerful lighting.  On Christmas morning, my siblings and I would wait anxiously at the bottom of the stairs while our father arranged his lights and camera.  It couldn’t have taken more than a few minutes to prep, but it was an unbearably long wait for pre-teen kids.  By the time we were allowed to climb out of the basement, Jeff and I were starting to fight, Brent was burning off nervous energy leaping from one piece of furniture to another, and my sisters had tears in their eyes from giggling like a pair of hysterical stoners.  (Sorry, Ryan, you weren’t born yet.) 
Finally, the main floor of our house vanished in a flood of blinding white light, our signal to ascend the stairs, and we entered the celestial glow with one arm outstretched to feel for the last step of the stairs and the other shielding our eyes like Richard Dreyfus entering the mothership at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  We moved slowly, tentatively reaching out for furniture and adult relatives to guide our way, being very careful not to brush up against the floodlight.  (That thing could burn off a layer of skin with the slightest touch; the fact that none of us were permanently scarred is nothing short of a Christmas miracle.)
One particular year, when Jeff and I were still only about 6 and 7 years-old respectively, we must have waited a moment or two too long on the basement landing, because we were positively vibrating by the time our vision cleared and we saw what Santa had brought us.
On the DVD (transferred from the original 8mm film), you can see Jeff and I in matching PJs (his blue and mine brown, as usual) standing on the step leading to our sunken living room.  There is an identical expression on both of our faces, something between rapture and distress.
Then, suddenly, there is an abrupt cut in the film, and a few minutes of missing footage that was likely excised for the benefit of viewers with weak constitutions.
Now we see Jeff and I standing on the same step, each of us sporting a large wet spot on the front of our pajama tops.  And thus a tradition begins.
(I’m a bit sorry the actual event has become a deleted scene; according to our parents, we tossed our Christmas cookies simultaneously with a precision that would have made an Eastern Bloc synchronized swim team proud.)
Anyway, once doesn’t a tradition make, so many yuletides followed that reinforced the importance of not swallowing large pieces of candy cane (in case they need to make the return trip).  I even remember one year when our paternal grandfather, Papa G, stepped up when all of his grandkids appeared to be keeping down their Christmas spirit.  Of course, I think his bout was flu-related and not brought on by too many Linzer Schnittens or too much excitement.  And, making the next generation proud, my sons have found several opportunities to spread a bit of Christmas cheer around our home and vehicles over the years.  Just a few days ago, Will ate too much heavily-spiced Thai food on New Year’s Eve and cauterized his sinuses with the Spicy Hut take-out that revisited him like a vengeful Ghost of Christmas Past.
I always thought this was a relatively unusual way for my family to greet the season, but then I started attending company Christmas parties (now more commonly known as non-denominational “winter” or “holiday” parties.)  These events rarely have open bars - due to liability issues - but alcohol is typically sold at greatly discounted prices, and let’s just say that “other duties as assigned” takes on a whole new meaning when you are helping your manager by holding her hair.  (No, I didn’t have to hold my manager’s hair; he couldn’t make it to our most recent Holiday Celebration and besides, he keeps his hair very short.)
You would think this type of behaviour would be frowned upon at corporate gatherings, but it is actually expected.  So much so that the CEO and other executives made themselves scarce well before things really got going.  I think it’s called “plausible deniability”.  I’m sure many of our employees are very grateful for the consideration, especially that one guy who was carried out by four of his co-workers and dumped unceremoniously into the back of an awaiting cab.  I knew he was headed for trouble when I ran into him earlier in the evening and he tried to hug me.  Everybody in our company knows I don’t do hugs.
My company's party was hosted by Hotel Arts, a very funky downtown establishment that decorates its lobby and halls with retro-chic furniture, original artwork, and handblown glass light fixtures.  They put on a great Christmas buffet that finished with Egg Nog Creme Brulee served in individual wonton spoons.  (Yes, it is definitely possible to stack five spoons so you only have to make one trip to the dessert table.)
As guests attending the party, we were also offered a special room rate if we wanted to spend the night.  (This was presumably offered as an alternative to waking up in a pool of "frankincense and myrrh" on the backseat floor of a moving taxi.)  Alison and I didn’t need to stay for that reason, but we like the hotel’s modern, Bauhaus-inspired rooms; and our boys were having a sleepover at their grandparents. 
The hotel also has a couple of restaurants/bars onsite, and the Raw Bar, done up like a muted version of an Austin Powers set, serves breakfast.  Our expectations were high based on the meal the previous evening and the tastefully fun decor, but we were unfortunately disappointed.  The thin layer of Hollandaise sauce on the Eggs Benedict was dried up like the filmy stuff on a paint can lid, and the egg yolks were overcooked.  Also, the Montreal smoked meat (a thick slice of ham) on mine overpowered the rest of the ingredients.  Alison had Raw Bar's vegetarian version; we traded one English muffin’s worth with each other as we typically do, but my wife quickly repossessed her half after tasting mine.  On the side, the thickly cut hashbrowns were okay, but nothing special. 
Breakfast didn’t spoil our stay at Hotel Arts, but it did border on the anticlimactic.  It’s just a good thing I didn’t get overly excited looking forward to our morning meal.  It certainly wasn’t worth tasting twice.

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