Jul. 19, 2006. 01:00 AM
JIM LEFF
SPECIAL TO THE STAR


It was the perfect day amid a memorable week of delirious chowhounding around the wonderful city of Toronto.

First stop was lunch at a generic-seeming pizzeria that was actually a hidden gem of Turkish culture. The sweet-tempered owner of Pizza Pide wielded his few dozen words of English to produce elegant little haikus on topics like opening and closing time, sausage topping options, and the unfortunate non-presence of Turkish sour cherry juice.

Riddled with guilt, he rushed to our table to apologize for accidentally having served us a doubly spicy lahamacun. I explained that I'd never ever want my lahamacun any other way. He beamed back relief and then pride, then retreated to the kitchen for a fresh tray of kadaif. It was slammingly great: buttery, melting, an immersive world of warm semolina and lightly honeyed pistachio.

Then back to my hotel, where I had more fun than I'd had in ages splashing around the pool with my 9-year-old friend Lucy. After drying off, we shared some Maui Potato Chip Factory chips I'd brought her, which she munched with awed reverence after hearing the tale of Mark Kobayashi, the elusive Hawaiian chip-crafting legend who'd fried them.

On to dinner at an evocative Uyghur restaurant in Etobicoke, where the other customers fell into a hush as an enormo platter of fried lamb and spaghetti was hoisted to our table full of seeming gringos. I love that.

Where does one go for dessert after a Uyghur banquet at Silk Road? Why, all the way across town to a tiny Bangladeshi storefront on the Danforth, for sweets, snacks and milky chai. Nearly too full to keep pace with the onslaught of plates too scrumptious to resist, we nibbled with abandon at Gharoa Restaurant.

Then I met posh friends for a drink at a trendy Yorkville restaurant, where I sipped a soulless $11 glass of wine, feeling as if I'd landed with a clunk in the wrong culinary universe. But that was nothing. I was then brought for a nightcap to a venue so trendy it had two velvet ropes (one at the door, another to the rear leading up to the rooftop bar).

My friends hustled me through the crowds queued at the second barrier, clutching a tub of Moët & Chandon champagne, and we ascended to a space densely packed with tanned, chattering bodies. "They serve food here, but, really, it's all about the scene," one of them explained, shouting into my ear to be heard above the roar.

"All about the scene." My day — which I'd simply lived, never connecting the dots — flashed before my eyes: the otherwise sterile corner pizzeria impossibly permeated with the warmth of Istanbul; a generic chain hotel pool transformed into a giddy adventure, and a post-swim potato chip snack expanded into a religious experience via the sheer genius of a chip-maker 7,500 kilometres distant; Uyghurs filling a boxy storefront with the intoxicating aroma of smoky, spicy kebabs and the surreal sight of outrageous noodley platters; a homey Bangladeshi joint where I was repeatedly summoned ("Excuse me! Sir?!?") to the counter to retrieve snacks while regulars sipped tea and stared, unsure what to make of a stranger who appeared, inexplicably, to be some sort of regular.

My smug conclusion was that my friend lacked even the faintest notion of what a "scene" truly was or could be. But then, as the techno music blasted up a level and a bevy of mega-coiffed young things squealed greetings at each other, a realization flashed.

This was just another place where I was privileged to have passed through barriers into yet another inner sanctum — another space transformed by the hopes, dreams and bonds of those with whom I seemingly have nothing in common. I mustered my dormant reserves of poshness, adjusted my posture, and took a long, insouciant sip from my champagne glass.

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