Food for thought…
Can you think off the top of your head the best meal you’ve ever had? How long ago was it? Who was with you? What about that meal made it so shockingly phenomenal that your taste buds were singing “Hallelujah”? I honestly believe that the first requirement leading into such experience has to be some element of surprise. We have to be caught off guard before fulling diving into the heart of the dining experience.
I have been struggling over the past few days trying to decide whether the Spanish tapas place, “Amada” I ate at three years ago is king or the new American cuisine at “Blackfish” that I indulged in two nights ago wears the crown. Either way, my eyes opened wide within first bite. Amada had been the result of an impulse decision when my husband picked me up from the airport. We were new to the Philadelphia area and wanted to embrace the esteem that the local culinary innovation carried. My greasy face and tattered composition from a full day of flying were the least of my worries. Scott mentioned “a place he heard was good” and that was about all it took to get my gastric spirits in motion; I was starving beyond belief. We entered a dining room of class beyond the aura I released; however, the aroma steaming off each plate blanketed my shame and brought an immeasurable sense of comfort knowing my hunger would subside soon. The serving staff immediately mentioned the option of a “chef’s tasting menu” that might include obscure items such as octopus and a plethora of Spanish ingredients completely foreign to our ears. Our tightly squeezed check books from my jobless state and a recent move made us ponder the decision for a bit. Should we really be spending over $200 on one single meal right now? With a bit of hesitation, we both said yes! Close to seven courses of modest proportions graced us with their presence. An array of cured and smoked meats with aged authentic cheeses simply peaked our interest from the start of the meal. Flavor combinations and tender quality of meats literally melted in our mouthes. We sat at one moment looking into each other’s eyes and nodded while thinking, “yep, a new chapter in our lives begins now.” We were newly married at the time and the level of excitement to spend our lives experiencing events like this brought joy to our faces.
Two evenings ago, we decided on a date night. For the past year, Scott has been deployed for almost every holiday and away for at least the better part of the year. I have been diligently working to satisfy customers through the peak wine season. This week has been our first opportunity in a year to spend the week together and “staycation” at home. Having tasted through the majority of Philly’s top restaurants, I decided to book a place with a little adventure. Little did we know, the restaurant would be a good hour from our house and thirty minutes past the city. Out in the boonies as I would later tell a friend on the phone wanting to meet up for a cocktail, we began to doubt our decision with each mile further from civilization as we knew it. When we finally were welcomed into a trattoria style establishment, we felt more than ready to pop open a seven year old Syrah from Washington that a producer had given to me as a gift. For this dining experience we didn’t even blink an eye thinking about the chef’s tasting menu. Three years later, our feet have trudged tirelessly through different battle fields to succeed in both of our careers. We’ve earned these meals and will continue to indulge in them. A simple gift promptly reached the table, “complements of the chef”. Local oysters topped with caviar. This pleasant surprise went down in one slirp and the silky sea delight lit up our faces. Our menu continued with Asian spiced bass crudo and home-made pasta in saffron sauce. The wine became magical with the seared fois gras, parsnip purée, and pickled onions. Our meal concluded with carmelized pork belly and au jus. I have been feeling drained and lacking in all forms of creativity. This main course revitalized my taste buds and brought me back to the culinary excitement I once carried. Scott and I looked at each other in content, “We’ve come a long way in three years bud. Still happier more than ever to be sitting across from you.”
As I write these two separate but equally delightful accounts of dining, I realize that one doesn’t need to be better than the other. Each of these meals represents the best meal I have had at that point in my life. Of course the food in front of us has a serious impact on how enjoyable the experience is; however, it truly has been the person sitting with me that has brought the unfathomable contentment. I love to cook because Scott is the person that enjoys it most. I love to dine because of the laughter I engage in when Scott is with me. Merry Christmas, I hope that you all take a step back this time of year to enjoy those most important to you.