Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Monday, August 9, 2010

"Imagine this is a church... and you're drinking [and eating!] in it!"

Last Saturday, I had an amazing seat for what those in 'The Biz' refer to as the rare and elusive "Triple Threat". 

Did you see a sensational acting & singing stand-up comedian? you might ask.

That too, but I also had great wine, superlative food and gracious service at The Church Restaurant... after which yes Sean Cullen performed a brilliantly absurd Cabaret for the Stratford Summer Music Festival that I will always remember, with amusement, as one of the highlights of my summer. 

Along with my meal that night!

The Church's owner and host Mark Craft greeted me warmly at the door and led me to a table where my camera and I would have a great view of the show (a huge thanks to Sean Cullen's management for the permission to post some footage of this performance on my humble food blog!).

I had the choice of ordering from the a la carte or the prix fixe menu, and went for value: $39 for a choice between two appetizers, three mains and two desserts at this venerable fine-dining establishment.
The first course was a choice between a cauliflower and green apple soup enveloping a Qualicum Bay scallop and a charcuterie plate featuring DeMartines Wild Boar. I went for the soup and scallop, and was blown-over by the combination of the silky-smooth cauliflower puree, the tang of the green apple drizzle, and the warm, lusciously chewy, but not under- or over-done scallop sitting just below the surface.
For the main course I chose a fillet of local Lyndon Farms arctic char served over a potato and almond cake with French beans and an arugula veloute sauce. The fish was delicate in flavour and texture, and elevated by the crunchy toasted almonds and crispy potato platform it was perched upon.
For dessert, I picked the goat's yogurt vanilla bean panna cotta atop toasted cocoa nib granola and Perth County honey, which came sprinkled with a handful of in-season raspberries. It's smooth-yet-crunchy texture was light but decadent... the perfect punctuation to a first-class meal. 

Before the show, I was privileged to meet the organizer of the 2010 Stratford Summer Music Festival, John Miller, who informed me that the night's performance was one of a series taking place every Saturday night this summer. Over the years, Stratford Theatre Festival performers had established a  somewhat impromptu late-night Cabaret that was hugely popular, and which eventually came to be part of Stratford Summer Music Festival, which is celebrating its ten year anniversary this season! Last week, the series featured Stratford Festival favourite  Bruce Dow; next week, John Miller himself will invite the best Cabaret performers from years past to return; and the final Saturday night Church Restaurant Cabaret, on August 21, will feature Michael Therriault.

The Cabaret began... not with Sean Cullen, but rather with a special cameo appearance by Dame Sibyl, a living legend of  the Stratford theatre  scene. The Dame was in the middle of telling us how the Stratford Festival actually began by her breaking into random people's houses and reciting monologues in their bedrooms, when she was rudely interrupted, which was clearly NOT cool in a former church:

After Dame Sibyl layed down the law, it was safe for Sean Cullen to come out and throw-down a hilarious and genuinely entertaining Cabaret set of singing and comedy. He shared Dame Sibyl's reverence for the churchly setting: "Imagine this is a church... and you're drinking in it!"

Bless his heart.

The dapper, linen-suited star of the Festival (he's playing Smee in Peter Pan this season!) proceeded to croon "Sweet Stratford", a heartfelt song that included a little skat about his favourite downtown breakfast spots:

Cullen finished his homage to Stratford with a little ditty about the scariest hotdogs in town:

In between more straight-up songs by the Beatles, Tom Waites, Sinatra, and someone referred to enigmatically as 'The Singing Detective,' Mr. Cullen made some more observations about this once-sacred culinary venue:

I think more churches should be made into restaurants:
'Thank God for these porkchops!'

Amen. The Church of Sean Cullen was in session Saturday night, and it was as entertaining and hilarious as it was delicious!

Thanks to the wonderful staff at The Church for the beautiful meal, great wine and top-notch hospitality! But watch-out for that Dame Sibyl - she drinks straight vodka onstage and has been known to rip anyone who crosses her limb-from-limb with only her bare hands and a stiff purse!

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