Universal Grill, at 1071 Shaw; call (416) 588-5928
Nearly a month ago now (ain’t it funny how time slips away?), I joined Sean for a baby stag dinner at Universal Grill. It was the Sunday before Victoria Day (see the Leslie Spit post). Anne was having her baby shower and Sean decided to get together with some friends for his baby stag concept he had dreamed up. I was skeptical, and it turns out others were as well, since I was the only one that showed up.
It’s not where but who you’re with that really matters.
Sean has been a good friend for a long time. We met in Vancouver in 2004. I was 23 at the time, just over a year after I had graduated university and as far away from home as I had ever been. I was having serious misgivings about moving across North America to go to grad school, leaving family and a job where for the first time in my life I felt like I belonged. I had made a ton of friends, really the first close friends I’d ever made. I also learned that this work crush I had since I started work there nearly a year ago was into me as well.
I had just spent a tumultuous week driving across the US to end up in a place where I felt alone and stranded. I remember meeting Sean pretty early into my time in Vancouver at the graduate residence we lived in. He wanted to to go London Drugs to buy a mini-fridge, and I happened to have a car, so we decided to go it together. I remember joking around in Future Shop about buying a joystick instead of a mouse to make it a good year.
Sean struck me as a man who loved to laugh, was extremely comfortable in his own skin, and who was caring and compassionate. I got really busy with the first year of grad school so I didn’t see him that much anymore. Our residence college had a nightly dinner that was really quite surprisingly good – wild salmon, grilled steaks, robust curries, and the like – and we’d touch base once in a while with a group of friends that became closer as the year wore on. I always enjoying seeing him, often the loudest person in the room slapping his leg as he laughed at some joke that really wasn’t that funny.
To this day we still marvel at how that group of friends that came together at very different times in our respective lives meant more to each other than one could really ever expect. Sean was in his mid to late 20s, Desmond was around the same age, Pete, Darryl and Gaby were my age, but we all managed to keep in touch. When Sean got married several years later, that group of friends – despite spending less than a year in the same place – was remarkably cohesive in our resolve to attend his wedding across the country in Montreal.
Now it’s 10 years later and Sean has proven one of my closest and most loyal friends. 10 years. There were certainly years in which I never heard from him. He went to law school in Ottawa, fell in love, and got married. He moved to England and had adventures there. It was lucky that when he moved back to Toronto, I happened to be here as well.
I thought that perhaps our reconnection would be different than how it turned out to be. But Sean has always been remarkably generous with his time, and one of the most supportive people I know. I don’t know the butterfly effect-like reaction that would have occurred if I never met him, but I’m glad I did.
So, when Sean invited me to his baby stag – really a significant moment in any man’s life – it was a no-brainer. I biked over to Dupont and Shaw and was a bit early. The restaurant was more or less dead and manned by a single server. Simply put: she knew her shit. I think she mentioned having worked there for over five years.
This is just a great neighborhood restaurant. It’s small, but everything is well considered. People come in there not to see and be seen but because they want a good meal at a decent price. Sean knew what he wanted. The ribs here are a local institution. I was skpetical because they aren’t smoked, and ended up getting the roast chicken. I probably should have gotten the ribs, which while not smoked, are slow cooked in a terrifically complex sauce redolent of Chinese five spice. I immediately regretted my choice of well-executed but somewhat bland roasted chicken.
It was a fine night that Sean and I capped it off by watching several Game of Thrones episodes. The food was good, not transcendent, but it didn’t need to be. It’s good ingredients, executed well, with excellent service. Who complains about that?