Dining al fresco
Dining al fresco depends so much on fair weather. The word al fresco comes from an Italian term which means “in jail” or “in the fresh” but English speakers refer to al fresco when they express the wish “to eat out.” And eating out is typical in warmer or temperate climes.
Certainly, sunny days are perfect for an occasion to sit by the patio, bask under the sun and enjoy good food. In the true North, some Canadians are like tournesols (sunflowers): They follow where the sun is. Whether it’s a picnic by the lake, dining out at the park or enjoying the view by their cottage, it’s the best time to enjoy good food under the warm sun al fresco. It’s definitely a perfect day for eating hotdogs and burgers fresh off the grill.
Al fresco restaurants, notably in Paris, are not only known for its food but its patrons who take time to enjoy their food! Sun worshipping Southeast Asians dine al fresco; be it by the beach, in an urban café or even amongst the rice fields.
Al fresco dining may have evolved in many forms and to the serious gourmand, finding a good one in least expected places is a bonus. Even amidst the chaos of urban life, one can find an enclave or an occasional hole-in-the-wall where one can relax and enjoy good food. In Cluny Abbey, France, a ubiquitous corner with open air dining is home to the best burger I have ever tasted. In San Francisco, an open-air dine in restaurant with a few tables and chairs near the streetcar stop brings me back to the halcyon days of old Manila. At the Waikiki beach in Hawaii, dozens of colored cabañas mark the presence of beach bums taking a break while enjoying the best of ocean’s harvest. In Davao City, I was treated to an al fresco dining experience of seafood with a view of a small lake as it converges to the sea.
At the Harbourfront Centre overlooking the Toronto Islands, a row of restaurants gives the best of both worlds: a great view of Lake Ontario, the ferries that cross to the Centre Island, birds flying over the lake, the sun caressing your skin and an epicurean feast for your senses to indulge in. And in an event that a fair weather forecast is expected over a long weekend, having yourselves seated in one of these restaurants mean waiting to be seated for almost an hour. In our case, the wait was worth it!
Once our orders came in, there was no turning back! True to the spirit of Italy’s al fresco, our simple meal was a take off from the al fresco dining menus in Rome: hand-tossed pizza flavored with basil, arugula, cheese and prosciutto, spaghettini with basic tomato sauce, soda and gelato for dessert.
Surprisingly, despite the slightly bitter presence of arugula, my kids loved the pizza. Probably it reminded them of the Dear Darla flavour of a local pizza restaurant back home!