I find there’s nothing like a little peek behind the scenes to really appreciate a thing. Like, I could watch an Alfred Hitchcock film and enjoy it. But I always have a greater appreciation if my film-buff boyfriend has told me something about it beforehand, like Hitchcock’s affinity for blonde actresses, or how he only made the film for the money. The juicy stuff.
Where am I going with this? I recently got to step into the kitchen and behind the bar at Charbar in East Village and it brought me a whole other level of enjoyment for one of my favourite restaurants in the city.
First, I met executive chef Jessica Pelland. I was a little nervous about meeting a chef because I’m a pesceterian (basically a vegetarian who eats fish and seafood) and sometimes chefs aren’t so impressed by people like me who spurn a whole category of ingredients.
I had nothing to worry about. Chef Jessica was so welcoming and on top of her hospitality, Charbar’s menu is already very friendly to vegetarians and pescetarians.
She took me into the still-busy open kitchen just after the lunch rush and showed me the wood-fired Argentine grill where vegetables and meats are licked by flames. (Meat-eaters might be interested to know the grill is rather unlike what you’re used to BBQing on in the backyard. The grate is a series of v-shaped canals that capture the beefy juices and it can be raised or lowered by turning a handle to adjust the heat.)
Under her supervision, I assembled the vegetable ceviche. That meant pulling petals from a sweet grilled onion and arranging those sumptuous pieces, along with freshly quartered tomatoes and chunks of avocado, on top of a citrusy gazpacho that made up the base of the salad. On top, I sprinkled a crazy-addictive Argentine spice that I need to find for my cupboard at home. So fresh. So good. And vegan!
Next up, the scariest part of the day: learning to shuck an oyster. Again, it turned out I had nothing to be nervous about. Chef Jessica got me over my fear of stabbing a hole through the palm of my hand when she demoed how to safely open up an oyster without grunting, sweating or stemming the flow of blood. Nailing down the right angle and the proper wiggle to open up the delicious bivalve is an art—an art nobody will be hiring me to perform anytime soon.
Following my kitchen exploits, I met Justin Foltinek, bar manager for Charbar to work on my cocktailing technique. I am a cocktail fan, and shake up drinks at home on the regular, but Justin had a few things to teach me.
We worked on my shaking technique and my ability to put the Boston shaker together (Pro tip: align one side of the top and bottom piece to be parallel to create a seal; the other side can be at an angle) and take it apart (Pro tip: squeeze the rim of the bottom part of the shaker to release the top) without looking too ridiculous. His bourbon sour looked frothier than mine, but I got to drink the fruits of our labour, so there were no losers in that encounter.
To round out the day, I got to be one of the first people on the Rooftop Bar at Simmons for this summer season. The brand new menu up there is different from Charbar, and designed to be enjoyed in the fresh, riverside air and Calgary sunshine. The plantain chips with avocado is already a favourite of mine and you can’t miss out on the thin-crust pizzas. The cocktail menu up there is killer, too. Oh, and they have grown-up slushies. Get ‘em virgin or spiked and make your childhood self super jealous.