Most amazing food experiences:
*The absolutely trancendent beet-and-potato gnocchi in butternut squash sauce
in Santa Monica, CA. Sounds so simple, but it was utterly orgasmic. The rest of the meal wasn't too bad, either. (Which is to say that everything I ate that night was outrageously delicious.) The appetizer was this:"Culatello 'the king of prosciutto', Reggiano crackers, & Cremona’s mostarda di frutta."
There was pasta with fresh white truffles, filet mignon in a perfect red wine sauce, and a 1971 Barolo. But honestly, it was the gnocchi that really drove me wild. (For dessert, of course, I took the cannoli.
*Ten-course tasting menu at Michel Richard's Citronelle
in D.C. Plus
the penguins with the Osetra caviar. Champagne and a good Bordeaux. (I peeked at the check while the SO paid: $1200 including the usual extravagant tip.)
*The "set-o" meal at a little sushi bar near Tsukiji
in Tokyo very early one morning, after being up all night and arriving around 4 am at the fish market to wander around and look at everything and watch the tuna auction. It was the only sushi bar that would let us in; the others were apparently not keen on gaijin as customers.
*The incredible skewered things at a yakitori place in Roppongi, Tokyo
--especially the asparagus
wrapped with some sort of paper-thin, deliciously fatty/crispy pork-belly product. mmm....I still dream about that sometimes.
*Dinner at the Hotori-An (Turtle Inn) in Nikko, Japan: Beef sukiyaki
--the real deal. Thin slices of beef, slender enoki mushrooms and other vegetables that we cooked in broth in little hotpots at our table. When the beef was just cooked, we dipped it in raw egg and ate it. It was so good—and I felt all brave & native with the raw egg thing. For the first course, they’d given us a small trout
, filleted but with the head and tail still attached, fried in a cornmeal coating, most likely caught in the lovely river that ran through the town, right past our hotel. We had sake (my companion said, “yum. Tastes like warm hairspray,” and I realized she was absolutely right), and a cute little muffin for dessert.
*Dinner at Scott Bryan's Veritas
in NYC: My first taste of foie gras
, first taste of skate
(in a white wine-cream sauce with Osetra caviar)...and a 1991 Lafite Rothschild.
*First taste of Osetra caviar
, on toast points with creme fraiche, at the Blue Point in Providence Rhode Island, many years ago.
*First taste of Indian food, during my year-long stint as a vegetarian, at a tiny, empty restaurant in Bangor, ME. Pakora, malai kofta, garlic naan, saag paneer, baignan bartha, rice pilau
. I'd never imagined that vegetables could taste so freakin' good!
*An unbelievably scrumptious tofu dish (!)
at a Chinese restaurant in the Pioneer Valley. I don't even think it was ordered off the menu, because the meal was part of an outing that included the entire Asian Studies Departments of Mount Holyoke and Smith, and so the teachers ordered everything in Chinese. I've never forgotten that dish, and I've never found anything that comes even remotely close to it in the 20 years since. I think I also had my first taste of loquats
at the end of this meal--so hard to find, but one of my absolute favorite fruits!
*When I worked on San Clemente Island as a biologist: the predator-control boys would go out fishing and bring back fresh yellowtail
. We'd slice it up and eat it raw, or roll it in sesame seeds and sear it lightly, or grill it over hot coals and make delicious fish tacos. Once they went over to Catalina and shot a wild boar
, then came back and cooked it underground and served it with a kind of apple-raisin chutney. I dunno, there was just something kind of revelatory for me, originally a city kid, about eating freshly-killed food. The botanist on island once picked a whole bunch of ripe elderberries and made a fresh elderberry pie
. I thought that was pretty amazing, too.
*I imagine my first taste of escargot
was revelatory, too, but I don't remember it because I was only about two-and-a-half. My parents tell the story: At a restaurant somewhere in France, they both ordered escargots. I asked to try some. They told me I wouldn't like it. I was unrelenting, so they let me have a little taste, expecting me to spit it out. Instead, I polished off all the remaining snails on the table and then demanded more. Apparently the chef was sufficiently impressed by the waiter's tale of the puerile American gourmand that he came out of the kitchen to meet me.
There are more, but I need to stop now.
These "amazing food experiences" involve revelatory experiences in eating
Meals that are memorable for other reasons (nostalgia, great company, etc.) would be a somewhat different list.
"Amazing food experiences" that involve some culinary triumph on my part would also be a different list....