Originally published on Torontoist on May 18, 2010.
CFL Illustrated, October 11, 1976.
The man on the left was not a happy fellow. If given a choice, he would have worn his comfortable corduroy sports jacket and checked trousers to the business dinner, but the boss insisted he had to wear a tuxedo as very important clients were attending and the firm had to put on its classiest face. He shuffled off to his neighbourhood Tuxedo Junction at the last possible minute and discovered all that was left was the Prince Edward ensemble. He put on the outfit, stared in the mirror and sighed. Not only did he feel uncomfortable in so formal an outfit, but he thought he looked like a fifth-rate celebrity guest starring on a game show. No, it was even worse than that. This was the same tux his cousin Murray was married in, the cousin who told so many embarrassing, cringe-inducing stories at the altar that half the wedding party fled before the ceremony was over.
While waiting for his dinner ride, our sullen friend picked up a book a friend gave him featuring local restaurants and their prized recipes. He flipped through the pages of The Flavour of Toronto until he reached the section on his destination this night, Danakas Palace.
Mirrored ceilings, wood-panelled walls, richly upholstered furniture, a brightly glowing grill pit: all combine to create a palatial background to an elegant meal. Specializing in steaks and seafood, the Palace has named its delicious seafood platter in honour of Canada’s prime minister…Many theatrical and athletic stars have followed his example. Good wines are a specialty and service is attentive.
He gazed at the recipe for the Prime Minister’s Seafood Platter. How to eat like Trudeau…two lobster tails, six scampis, six prawns, six shrimps, eight crab legs, eight oysters, eight scallops, two ounces of breadcrumbs, a teaspoon of finely chopped garlic, an ounce of dry white wine, three ounces of butter, three teaspoons of lemon juice, and a pint of vegetable oil. The crab and lobster were baked, the smaller crustaceans sautéed in garlic and wine, and the remaining seafood fried until golden. Arrange the lot on a silver platter, douse with cognac and set aflame. The dish had possibilities. Maybe, he thought, he would buy a rose from a street vendor, place it in his label like PET, then enjoy the delights of the sea.
His ride wasn’t due for another fifteen minutes, so he pulled out the box of restaurant review clippings he filed away as potential date destinations. Buried near the bottom was Joanne Kates’ opinion in the Globe and Mail from a year earlier. His heart sunk when the headline read unfulfilled promises.” Danakas Palace got off to a bad start with Kates for producing ads touting its “famous” charcoal broil — she felt it was “strange that a restaurant should be famous in time to make that claim when it opens.” Meant to be the first in a chain of restaurants, she felt that “it’s fitting that a chain begin with a nod to progress. All guests are treated to garlic bread wrapped in that modern wonder, aluminum foil.” The food didn’t impress her, as out of the highly-touted eleven fresh vegetables, only two appeared on her plate (of which one, creamed cauliflower, was mushy and lacked cream). Bouillabaisse featured stringy, tough fish; trout was over-fried; black forest cake was leaden. She sighed that the chain would probably do well, as “it has the ingredients that seem to sell nowadays: underground parking, décor that at first glance looks first class, a la carte dinner for two with wine and tip for about $40, and above all, mediocrity.”
As his ride arrived, all he could hope was that it wasn’t going to be a long night in a stiff tux with middling food. The deal-making possibilities of the evening had better be worth the potential misery.
Additional material from The Flavours of Toronto: A Gourmet’s guide to restaurants and recipes, edited by Kenneth Mitchell (Toronto: Four Corners, 1977) and the October 27, 1975 edition of the Globe and Mail.
And now, for your eager eyes, the seafood platter at Danakas Palace that Pierre Trudeau liked so much the owners renamed it in honour of his position. Whether the story is true or not, it’s not surprising a seafood platter would receive such an honour, as restaurants in the vicinity of Danakas Palace loved showing off their ensembles of lobster, shrimp and other sea creatures in full-colour ads targeted to business executives and tourists—a show of hands from anyone who’s ever actually eaten the “award winning” seafood platter showcased in every Toronto visitors guide by Fisherman’s Wharf since the dawn of man?
It often seems like a seafood platter is designed to look attractive and draw as much money out of a customer as possible. I won’t deny having succumbed to the allure of a broad sampling of delights from the deep. During my university days at Guelph, there was a restaurant in the upper reaches of Stone Road Mall called Legends that accepted school meal plans. At the time, it was one of the few off-campus spots that took meal cards, so it often wound up being the destination for special events among my residence-mates at Arts House. It became a running joke that I’d always order the most expensive thing on the menu, which was the seafood food. A further running joke was that the platter was never the same twice—a good night might bring heartly samplings of crab, grilled swordfish and tuna, a lousy one saw a meagre serving of shrimp and a puny crab appendage arrive at the table.
Come to think of it, Legends was often unpredictable with its fare, such as the time four of us ordered blue lagoons and each arrived with a different colour. Who knew purple lagoons existed?
Here’s how you can make a meal worthy of the occupant of 24 Sussex Drive, though you can choose to eat it as a salute to the current PM or your all-time favourite leader.
2 lobster tails
8 crab legs
2 oz (50 g)breadcrumbs
1 tsp garlic, finely chopped
1 oz (25 mL) dry white wine
3 oz (75 g) butter
3 tsp lemon juice
1 pint (500 mL) vegetable oil
To prepare: cut the lobster tails and bend back in butterfly style; shell and de-vein the scampis, prawns and shrimps; extract the meat from the crab claws; remove the oysters and scallops from the shell and coat with breadcrumbs. Finally, wash the lobster, scampi, prawns and shrimps under cold running water and dry thoroughly.
Proceed with the following cooking methods simultaneously: (a) Place the crabmeat in a small ovenproof dish, add 1/3 tsp garlic, 1 tsp lemon juice and half the white wine and bake in a moderate oven for 10-15 minutes.; (b) Place the lobster tails in an oven pan, add 1 oz (25 g) butter and 1 tsp lemon juice and bake in a moderate oven for 8-10 minutes; (c) Melt 1 oz (25 g) butter in a frying pan, add 1/3 tsp garlic and the remaining wine and sauté the scampi, prawns and shrimps for 2 minutes, stirring continuously; (d) Heat the oil and fry the scallops until golden, then transfer to a small overproof dish, add the remaining butter, garlic and lemon juice and place in a broiler for 5 minutes; (e) Re-heat the oil and deep fry the oysters until golden.
To serve: arrange attractively on a silver platter, pour over the Cognac and flame. Serves 2.
Recipe taken from The Flavour of Toronto, edited by Kenneth Miller, photographed by René Delbuguet (Toronto: Four Corners, 1977).