Annisa

 

When I received word last summer that my Uncle Wayne was not continuing with cancer treatment and would likely move to a hospice soon, I was not shocked. Wayne had been fighting illness the past few years, and the man I knew wouldn’t continue on with something that ultimately would not cure him. I hadn’t seen or spoken to him in at least eight years. Family dynamics, distance, and changing modes of communication (if I’m digital, he’d be analog) all factored into this; fear and insecurity compounded the first. I hate the phone, but death gave me the courage to pick it up. So, too, did the memories of my favourite uncle.

Wayne and his family were my only immediate relatives who didn’t live in Edmonton.  Ottawa was so far away when I was little, and I imagined it as a place much more interesting than what I had experienced in Edmonton, especially as my uncle worked for the federal government in the capital of the country. When I finally visited at age eight, the novelty of a faraway family home confirmed my suspicions more than fact did. What wasn’t fantasy was how easily I was made to feel like daughter as much as niece in that home. Being the only niece and only granddaughter often affords unfair privilege, but this blurring of place was because of my aunt and uncle’s inability to draw strict boundaries—and I am forever grateful for that. When I would visit them in Ottawa subsequently, even as an adult in university, I relished the role and structure I had in their house, things I never felt in my own. I can’t describe the sense of purpose I got from being expected to set the table. Yes, yes, that grass, it’s always greener. But obviously not enough that I could go eight years without seeing it.

All I had left was a phone call, to close that long gap, to say hello, and to say goodbye. I was afraid my drama with other family members would creep in and poison the conversation, but I underestimated Wayne. He led the call like the gentleman and father figure I loved. There was no talk of pain or sadness. There was no interrogation or hint of disappointment. He wanted to know how things were going with me and to make sure I was good in life. The truth didn’t really matter. They were glossy, almost small-talk questions to underline the purpose of the call: to have a happy connection on the eve of death. And we did.

Beloved restaurants close here all the time, often without warning, leaving regular customers and neighbourhood residents saddened by the abrupt shutter.  “The rent is too damn high” darkens everyone’s life here, even those who seem to not have such worries. Although I’d never been, the announcement that celebrated West Village restaurant Annisa would close with advance warning felt a little like a terminal cancer diagnosis. If you are going to make that phone call, you better plan on making it pretty quickly.  Chef-owner Anita Lo was someone who I enjoyed watching on Top Chef Masters, and the restaurant was always on My List, but it just never was a priority destination—like so many others.  A death knell proves motivating, however, and I eventually made a reservation knowing that as its closing date (May 27/17) drew near, I’d likely get a non-stop busy signal, literally and figuratively.

As with my call to Wayne, there was fear of disappointment and a sense of futility about the whole dinner. It was not going to be cheap, so would it be worth it? For the time with my friend and companion that night, of course. We could easily have quality time at a less expensive restaurant, and one that we both wholeheartedly liked. But the allures of an ending and having an experience at a place much loved were too great. And thankfully, the apprehension lost its legs once we passed through the doors. Catching up with someone you haven’t seen in months usually means a good time regardless of setting, but its occurrence at Annisa meant for an excellent one. We swooned over our food, were well taken care of by our server, and repeatedly said how we must try to get back before the lights go out.

But, I will not. I had my night to learn why Annisa is a good restaurant and will be missed. I appreciated the chance to say goodbye. I made the phone call and put the receiver down, half heartened, half heartbroken.

Pakora-fried oysters with cucumber, yogurt, and fennel

Broiled Spanish mackerel with garlic fried milk, satsumaimo, and Korean chili

Poppyseed bread and butter pudding with Meyer lemon curd

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