Cork and Knife

I got an email from someone who has read my husbands blog for awhile.  He has read my restaurant reviews through Fred.  Chip asked me if I could mind writing something for his new blog, Cork and Knife.  If I could answer the question, “What is your most memorable (good or bad) encounter with a chef or back of the house person?  With a server, bartender or other front of the house employee?”  I am not sure I exactly answered his question specifically but it did make me start thinking about memorable experiences that I have had.  The answer I gave him is below but figured I should share it with readers of my blog too. 

I have had a variety of eating experiences that are memorable.  Five different meals come to mind immediately.  Matsuhisa in Los Angeles, Masa in NYC, Babbo in NYC, French Laundry in Napa and salted encrusted fish in Marbella.  There has been others but those five will definitely go down in food lore. 

We went to Matsuhisa in December 1999 with four other couples.  Two from Los Angeles who I met for the first time that evening.  The other couple we were with in LA on vacation and their kids. The other couples were old friends of theirs. We did a fair amount of partying before we got to the restaurant.  When the waiter came over for our order, I remember thinking that there is absolutely no way I can focus on what to order so we decided that the chef should just bring it on.  We had never done that before, the omikase which wasn’t as popular then as it is today.  The food kept coming.  Sushi, cooked food, incredible appetizers, etc.  The sake kept pouring too.  Then just when we thought we’d explode the waiter came over and asked if we were ready for dessert.  We all hemmed and hawed but went with it.  They brought out a warm chocolate mousse that melted in our mouths.  For days afterward we kept saying, “thank god we had the dessert” and then we’d laugh.  To this day when we talk about that meal, we say the same thing, “thank god we had the dessert”.

Although I have been to Babbo countless times, one particular meal at Babbo will always be memorable.  Fred and I had won at the kids school auction, dinner for four at Babbo.  We cashed in on that in the fall of 2000 (if memory serves me right).  We invited another couple to come with us who are one of our oldest friends.  They are both into food but he is particularly a big foodie and that going with them would make the night memorable.  Mario cooked for us.  He had printed out a small menu for us before our meal began.  We didn’t really know Mario then but now that we do I can tell you that one of the things that I absolutely love about him is what you see is what you get.  He is the same guy that served us that night even though we didn’t know him well, he is just as charming and when you do know him as we do now.  Anyway, each course had a different wine.  The sommelier is David Lynch, who is excellent and we now know him from all of our years going to Babbo.  We drank and ate and drank and ate.  When dessert came out, they literally gave us every single dessert on the menu and laughed.  We rolled out the door after eating for 3 hours.  We walked around Washington Square Park and home to Chelsea where we were living at the time.  The night was crisp and cool and felt great after eating such a big meal. It was one of those New York experiences that I will always remember.

Masa is an experience period.  We went there with two other couples but lucky for us one of the people happened to be a well known chef.  We sat at the bar and Masa cooked for us.  I sat next to our friend and Fred was on the other side.  Our palettes were surprised and delighted from the first thing we ate until the last morsel we put in our mouth.  So different than any other experience in food I had ever had.  When it ended, we were so sad.  We could have all stayed and ate another few hours worth of food.  We went back again a year or so later and as incredibly delicious as everything was again, the first time was such an awakening to Japanese food and sushi that it I can still see the dishes, the long knives Masa used to cut the fish and the beautiful wooden bar when I close my eyes.

French Laundry.  I had read about Thomas Keller in the book, The Making of a Chef.  Regardless of everything I had read about French Laundry in all the food magazines, that book heightened my desire to have a meal at French Laundry.  Summer of 2005, Fred had a conference our in SF and I tagged along.  First thing I did was make a reservation at French Laundry.  It is a must for anyone who is in to food.  I believe there are 9 or more courses.  Each with a wine pairing.  Each dish made with love and care with a variety of flavors and textures that only Thomas Keller could have dreamed of.  We oohed and aahed at each course.  The plates are small and it takes a while to get full.  All of a sudden you hit the wall and then they bring out cookies and chocolates to push you over the edge.  Fred couldn’t touch them but I did.  I took a bite of each one even though I was so full.  I had to experience the entire meal as we were supposed to do.  We went to Per Se about 6 months later and although going there is certainly a treat, there is something different and special about French Laundry that puts it in a completely different category.  Perhaps it is just by being in Napa where everything is grown local.  The garden and farm are across the street.  The air just smells different out there, of course.  French Laundry belongs in Napa.  The experience, the wines, the ambiance is California at its best. 

The last experience was probably the first time that I started to think of food differently.  On our honeymoon, we went to Spain.  Our first stop was in the area of Malaga.  We stayed in a tiny town in the mountains near there.  Our friends were staying in the Malaga area for six weeks after grad school before returning to the real world.  We got together with them and other people we knew who were passing through and went to their favorite local restaurant which was basically a shack.  The waiter recommended the whole fish baked in salt.  When he brought out the fish, I was in complete awe.  A huge fish, totally encrusted in sea salt.  The waiter took out a knife and smacked the knife in the middle of the fish and salt cracked open.  I can still hear the crack.  He then filleted the fish and served it to each of us.  The fish was fresh, sweet and juicy.  My culinary palette was just beginning to take a look at the world in a very different way. 

Those are my top food experiences, as of today but I am sure if I think about it for awhile, I could probably write a book.