Story by Rod Charles
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor
It was Februray 25, her birthday, and Brenda wanted a ring. She wanted a ring, wasn’t hiding her feelings, and was asking me almost twice a month what I thought about getting married. She was a little grumpy, somewhat irritable, and a bit impatient. In short, I had her right where I wanted her.
I had asked my friend and Vacay.ca Managing Editor Adrian Brijbassi if he could suggest a reasonably priced restaurant that would play along when I popped the question and add personal care to the evening.
“Try PicNic Wine Bar,” he said, pointing out the restaurant placed 48th in Vacay.ca’s 2012 edition of the Top 50 Restaurants in Canada. “It’s a great spot, comfortable, warm atmosphere. The owner is a terrific guy and will be happy to help you do something special.”
I telephoned Ian Risdon, the restaurant’s owner, and explained my plan for the evening. “Tell me what you have in mind. We’re happy to help,” he said. With the decision made and the plan in motion, the next task was coaxing Brenda out of the house. She is at that stage of her life (just north of 27) when birthdays aren’t seen as occasions to celebrate (at least for some people), and hinted strongly that she wasn’t really in the mood for dinner. I pointed out the food this restaurant offers and that was convincing enough.
The first thing you’ll notice about PicNic is the giant window on Queen Street East. Soft lighting with candles on the tables make it ideal for dating and even when the place is full, because of the table layout, you never feel overwhelmed, crowded, or boxed in. Restaurants too often make the mistake of packing them in or playing the music so loud that you can’t even hear yourself think while you eat. Hardly the way to relax and connect with your companion.
After walking into PicNic, which is just west of Broadview Avenue in Toronto‘s Leslieville neighbourhood, I took Brenda’s coat and handed it to the host to hang. That was when I slipped the host the ring, as per Risdon’s instruction, and she took it into the back with her.
A Big Surprise Over a Charcuterie Board
A staple at PicNic since it opened five years ago has been the Charcuterie Board ($22). You can build your own treasure with meats and cheeses from Eastern Canada and afar. There are seasonal garnishes and house-made baguettes to accompany your choice of meats and cheeses. You can also trust the instincts of the server and let her surprise you. Brenda’s birthday dinner at PicNic began with this signature dish — along with the star of the night: A big, bright ring placed in the centre of it.
Prior to the board’s arrival, I was doing my best to play dumb, even indicating to Brenda that the thought of proposing hadn’t even crossed my mind. In fact, I went above and beyond annoying, constantly asking her “Is everything okay?” and “Is there anything I can do to make you happy?” When the Charcuterie Board came, Brenda was so aggravated with me that she didn’t notice the ring on the Charcuterie Board. She asked our server to describe what was on the board and it wasn’t until about 15 seconds had passed that she saw the ring. Her hands went up and covered her face and in an instant, I was the world’s best boyfriend again.
And on cue Adrian and Vacay.ca Visuals Editor Julia Pelish showed up — without telling me, the sneaks — to take pictures of the moment. My favourite picture of Brenda is and I think always will be of her, sitting at the table in stunned silence, her hands covering her face, holding back the tears, her brain comprehending what had just happened over an innocent-looking platter of wonderfully prepared food. It was a beautiful moment, but a man can only wait so long.
“Brenda, it would be nice to hear a yes to my question. I’m getting a bit nervous.”
Her hands still covering her face, she nodded. “Yes. Yes.”
I sat with my newly minted fiancée and, along with Julia and Adrian, enjoyed the rest of the evening with glasses of wine and satiating tapas at PicNic, which will forever be known as “our wine bar.”
We joked around, shared stories, and giggled at Brenda as she smiled uncontrollably, unable to peel her eyes off her birthday present.
We celebrated what had just happened and what was to come — a life together sealed by a question at a table in a gently lit room. A life together centred on love, laughter, tender moments, fun times and hopefully — with God’s help — few frustrations along the way.
More About PicNic Wine Bar
Location: 747 Queen St E., Toronto (see map below)
Contact: Telephone 647-435-5298. Twitter: @PicNicWineBar
Cuisine: Charcuterie and French
Notable: Since my visit in February, Abra Secord has taken over the kitchen at PicNic. She and owner Ian Risdon have revamped the menu to include more Spanish-inspired cuisine. Secord has pumped her vision into her dishes and her sparkling personality comes through in the menu that includes choices such as citrus-glazed pork belly ($9), green beans with tomato sauce ($6), and absolutely delicious smokey cauliflower ($6). Follow those small plates with the Beef Cheeks ($22), with Red wine, orange zest, summer baked potatoes, roasted red peppeers, or house-made Butternut Squash Agnoliotti ($18), with Apple cider, shallot vinaigrette. And, of course, there’s always the hard-to-resist Charcuterie Board ($22).
Menu Price Range: $14-$23
September 7, 2013: Rod Charles and Brenda Johnson were married at a beautiful ceremony at Emmanuel College and Victoria Chapel at the University of Toronto. Many glasses were raised to their bright future.