Source: Bravo, November-December 1982.
Hungry? Here are a few dining options at Village by the Grange that could have been among your choices for a celebration as the 1982 holiday season kicked into high gear. We covered Ginsberg and Wong last week; here’s the scoop on its fellow foodie tenants.
Ristorante La Gamba was one of the original eateries in the Village by the Grange complex when it opened in 1979. It was run by John La Gamba, whose family had a lengthy resume running restaurants and catering firms. Most of the information we’ve dug up about La Gamba comes from Mary Walpole, who never said a bad word about any restaurant during the decades her advertorial column ran in the Globe and Mail. Mary dripped with hyperbolic praise for La Gamba when it opened, so take her advice with a grain of salt (or a spoonful of parmesan cheese):
It was a night to remember! A glorious feast gastronomique!…Success blew in the door with the superlative six-course dinner—a triumph for chefs Salvatore & Mario. Applause soared for their culinary dexterity and delightful dance to soft accordion music before the cake-cutting ceremonies!…This new ristorante in the unique Village by the Grange is multi-levelled, cleverly combining sophistication and rustic simplicity. Beautifully bright tiles imported from Italy; real silver-birch trees reflected in shining mirrors. Look for their amusing logo on the walls “Italian with a Twist”!—for go you must—tomorrow or sooner!—to be welcomed by Shaun; to choose from a consummate menu ranging from Rome’s Fettucine alla Carbonara to stunning Frittatae co-ordinated by the knowledgeable Julio Polanari. Not “just another Italian restaurant”—this is a celebration of creative cuisine!
One of the restaurant’s attractions was an eight-course Roman feast, complete with harpist, offered on weekend evenings and overseen by La Gamba, clad in a white toga and sandals. According to Globe and Mail society columnist Zena Cherry, when La Gamba once made a last-minute ingredient dash to another store in the complex, a boy asked him if he was God. He looked at the kid and responded, “Only Fridays and Saturdays.”
John La Gamba also briefly ran Saks, which was located in a cursed corner of the complex. When the mall opened, a retired Peter Witt TTC streetcar and a similar vehicle from Ottawa were placed in the middle of the McCaul streetcar loop to serve as a dining spot. First came The Trolley, which, joked Star food writer Jim White, “went off the tracks.” Next was Hot Jam, which proved to be “a sticky wicket.” Saks arrived in 1982 and, as today’s ad demonstrates, struck pun gold when it came to advertising group bookings—how could diners resist a dose of “group Saks” for a large gathering? They did: La Gamba closed Saks in 1983 and redeveloped the space as a T.J. Applebee’s Food Conglomeration, an eatery inspired by popular American casual chains like TGI Fridays.
Of the restaurants in the ad, Young Lok had the longest history. Opened on Spadina Avenue in 1970, Young Lok developed a reputation for cheap, well-prepared Chinese cuisine. It moved over to fancier digs in Village by the Grange in 1982. Among the fans worried that the upgraded space might ruin the food (which the hard-to-read text in the ad describes as “Sizzling Szechuan, pungent Peking, and the mysteries of the Mongolian Grill,” the latter a new draw after the move) was the Globe and Mail‘s Joanne Kates:
In the good old days the place was kind of drafty. They’d give you a stubby old pencil to write down your order and you knew you never had to dress up to go there. It was comfortably tacky. But now the pencils are monogrammed and the pad of paper for writing your order is custom-printed. The floor is ceramic tile, the plants are real, and there are enough mink coats to make you think you’ve fallen asleep and woken up on Bloor Street. So long, linoleum. Bye-bye Formica Schlock. This is the path of upward mobility, and Young Lok, formerly the gastronomic doyen of Spadina’s saintly scruffiness, has taken that path.
Kates was pleased to discover that while the surroundings had changed, the quality of the food hadn’t. She delighted in dishes like Mandarin crispy duck, a meal for “unrepentant grease lovers, with its fat layer of duck fat cushioning the crunchiest of skins, with the whole sinful affair elevated to the nadir of decadence by a chilli and hoisin sauce.” The restaurant remained in the complex until 1995, while a North York branch survived a few more years.
Additional material from The Joanne Kates Restaurant Guide by Joanne Kates (Toronto: Methuen, 1984) and the following newspapers: the April 21, 1979 and August 26, 1980 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the May 18, 1979, February 24, 1982, and July 20, 1983 editions of the Toronto Star.