The best meal I ever had

Professor Ceiling Cat is poarly today, recovering from a dreadful cold that was probably acquired when traveling (thanks, Canada!). That, and the lack of substantive material on religion, politics or other weighty matters that could engage me, means that you’ll have to do with persiflage. Anyway, it’s a holiday in the U.S. (Memorial Day), and nobody is reading websites here.

When I was thinking of something in which readers could participate, what immediately came to mind was my favorite topic: noms. And that conjured up thoughts of the best meals I’ve had the fortune to consume.

Some famous gourmet, whose name I can’t recall, allegedly said on his deathbed, “There have been kings who haven’t eaten as well as I.” Perhaps I can say the same thing. Although I’ve suffered my share of vicissitudes, I’ve been lucky enough to have been born with a big appetite and an adventurous palate, and to have had both the financial resources and travel opportunities to encounter many fine noms.

I also like to make “best-of” lists, and thought about the best meals I’ve ever had. They fall into two classes: meals cooked at home, and meals consumed in a restaurant.

The former is easy: it was my 40th birthday dinner, which I cooked myself with the help of a Ph.D student at the U of C, John Willis (he’s now a fancy professor of biology at Duke, and has always been a superb cook). I don’t have the menu at hand, but there were about a dozen courses, each accompanied by a different fine wine from my collection. It began with a fino sherry, olives, and almonds, an entire side of smoked Scottish salmon, then foie gras (brought from France) with a fine Sauternes (Chateau Climens), and progressed through fish courses, meat courses (chicken with 40 cloves of garlic and then a tenderloin of beef with Roquefort sauce, the former served with a 1982 Bordeaux, the latter with a 1982 Hermitage), to cheese and then homemade desserts.

The meal started at 6 pm and finished at 2 a.m. There were about ten guests, and every one of them, too full to move and drunk as well, spent the night at my place, some sleeping on the floor. Nobody was either sober or mobile enough to go home. It was a fine affair, and some day I’ll publish the menu.

And there’s no doubt about the best restaurant meal I’ve had. It was when I was in France on a Guggenheim-supported sabbatical year in 1989. Because I had extra money thanks to the Googs, I spent almost all of it on meals in restaurants, mostly in Paris where I lived. That was money well spent, and it was how I learned to eat. I began with the cheap student places, and then, as the year wore on and my money didn’t diminish so much, worked my way up to higher-class restaurants, finishing with a few Michelin three-star joints. I learned how to order, what wines were good values, and how to convert a dinner into an entire evening of entertainment.

One of the higher-class places, however—and the site of the best meal I’ve ever had—was not in Paris but in Roanne, a tiny village about 90 km outside of Lyon. (I also went to Lyon to eat, for it is a great dining town.) From Lyon you take a rickety train for an hour to Roanne, which consists of a few houses, the train station, and a great temple of gastronomy, the three-star Mason Troisgros. (Wikipedia gives an overview and history.)

The Troisgros now seems to be largely a fancy-food place—not nouvelle, with those ridiculously tiny portions—but a place that serves gussied-up plates with fancy sauces rimming the plate, and so on. But back then it was simply a place to get dressed-up local cuisine, served generously. And it was famous. The Gault-Millaut guide once named it “the best restaurant in the world.” At that time I’d have to concur, although of course I haven’t tried all the world’s restaurants!

My then-girlfriend and I arrived in Roanne at about noon for lunch. Seated at the table, we decided to go whole hog and order the menu degustation, a multi-course “best-of” menu featuring the restaurant’s most renowned dishes. Exclusive of wine, it was 600 francs per person—about $100 at the time. I accompanied the meal with the excellent house Beaujolais, served in pewter pitchers.

I can’t remember all of the dishes, except there were many, and they kept on coming. There were gratis dishes, too—stuff not on the menu.  There was a plate of local crayfish (they’re big on local ingredients), and their famous salmon with sorrel: lovely fresh salmon in a cream sauce with slightly wilted sorrel: an ethereal dish. Everything was fantastic.

6a0120a744499b970b013487e7ad8c970c-580wi

The Troisgros’ salmon with sorrel

The lunch went on and on, and the sun sank lower. But then it was time for cheese. Two men in tandem appeared from the kitchen carrying a six-foot-long basket, with one end on each man’s shoulder. In that basket was a huge selection of the finest cheeses I’ve ever had, many of them local, including aged Comté (the world’s best cheese) and the small, runny discs of ripe Saint-Marcellin, the best cheese of the area.

This being France, we could of course have as many types of cheese as we wanted. What a dilemma given that we knew dessert was to follow, and there were at least three dozen types of cheese! But somehow back then my stomach had a limitless capacity, and I managed to acquit myself well with les fromages.

troisgros-cheese-board-w709-h532

A more recent picture of the Troisgros “cheese board”. It was bigger when I had it, and was in a basket, not on a board. But still, LOOK AT THIS!

Dessert was next—three courses of dessert.  And each “course” consisted of a large trolley, a chariot, loaded with dozens of choices and wheeled to our table.  One contained sorbets and glaces, one tartes and gateaux, and I can’t even remember what was in the other. From each chariot you could choose as many desserts as you wanted, and the server would give you a scoop or a slice. This largesse, or generosity, was, I found, characteristic of the best French restaurants.

All I remember is that I ate from all three trolleys, even though I had no room in my stomach. And then, before the bill came, we got a generous plate of homemade chocolates and cookies.

Somehow we stumbled to the 6 pm train back to Lyon—the last train of the day. Both of us could barely walk, and when we went into our compartment we immediately laid down. My girlfriend literallly passed out from overeating, and I was not in much better shape. We somehow made it back to our hotel in Lyon. Curiously, the next day we were hungry again.

I know some will decry this gourmandizing, or the sheer volume of our intake. But it’s always been my philosophy that if you like good food, you like lots of good food, and a great restaurant will provide both. At any rate, the Troisgros gave me the best meal I’ve ever had in a restaurant. I’ll never go back, though, for fear of spoiling those memories from 1989.

*****

The whole point of this post is to ask readers to weigh in as well. What is the best meal you’ve ever had—in either a private home or a restaurant—and what did it consist of? (Don’t forget the wines if you had any and remember them.)

 

156 Comments

  1. Thomas Beck
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    That quote about kings not eating as well is, as far as I know, from one of Calvin Trillin’s so-called “Tummy Trilogy” books (American Fried”, “Alice, Let’s Eat”, and “Third Helpings”; don’t remember which volume). Trillin was down in Louisiana seeking out the best Cajun restaurants outside New Orleans and met an elderly man in some rural parish who described a lifetime of eating the local crawfish, venison, and other taste treats and then Trillin quoted him as saying there were kings who had not eaten as well as he had. Maybe other people have said it too, before or since, but Trillin definitely quoted the elderly Louisiana man as saying it, and that’s where I read it. Great books, very very funny.

    • Posted May 26, 2014 at 6:48 am | Permalink

      That may be where I got it, as I’ve read the first two volumes. American Fried is a classic of food writing, comparable to A. J. Liebling’s “Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris,” which EVERYONE should read. I must read “Third Helpings.”

      • Merilee
        Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:12 am | Permalink

        Trillin is sooo funny!! Have you read his piece on the sport of taureaux- piscine? I saw him live a couple of summers ago in Toronto, debating Montreal vs NY bagels with Adam Gopnik.

        • merilee
          Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:39 am | Permalink

          http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1984/12/24/1984_12_24_058_TNY_CARDS_000342710

          about Trillin’s taureaux-piscine piece

          • Diane G.
            Posted May 26, 2014 at 9:57 am | Permalink

            You must be a subscriber! The version I got was just a short, weird précis!

            • merilee
              Posted May 26, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

              Unfortunately that’s all I could find, and it was weird, with all the Os…I think the precis also says what book it’s from, one of the ones with Alice in the title – Travels with (??). I read the original years ago in the NYer and practically fell off the couch laughing. You can see some taureau piscine (also toro piscine) videos on YouTube. Trillin just had such a hilarious take on an already funny phenomenon.

  2. Genghis
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    There’s a difference between the best food and the best dining experience. The latter has always involved great friends, great wine (and liqueurs), simple food, superb cheese and copious amounts of time. My best food has usually been a more intimate affair where most of the time has been dedicated to the preparation and consumption.

  3. Hempenstein
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    Best meal in a restaurant was in Stockholm, ~7yrs ago. Byn Mat & Dryck (Village Food & Drink), it’s on the northern edge of Stockholm proper, on the corner of Rödabergsgatan & Torsgatan (and an easy walk from Karolinska Institute in case any research types find yourself there). Elk medallions with a blackcurrant jam in a tall stemmed schnapps glass beside it, along with potatoes with an herbed cheese sauce and I think asparagus. To great regret, I was so hungry that I dove in before taking a pic. They take a French approach but that mainly manifests itself through a large selection of ciders, which they serve in little handmade ceramic bowls.

    • Hempenstein
      Posted May 26, 2014 at 6:51 am | Permalink

      PS. The place is tiny. There was a flap going on a few yrs ago started by someone who was indignant that she couldn’t take a baby carriage in the place. One look should have been enough to convince anyone of the physical impossibility, but the flap continued in reviews for some time.

  4. M&S
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    The best meal I’ve ever had was at Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain. You can see (if you want!) photos of the experience here (all 15 courses!:

    http://s280.photobucket.com/user/geosteve/library/El%20Celler%20De%20Can%20Roca%20-%20Sep%202012?sort=3&page=1

    The second best was L’Enclume in the Lake District. Can highly recommend both, though likely (unless you’re very lucky) only for the most extravagant of treats.

  5. Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    I’m a great fan of Why Evolution is True – but primarily for the evolutionary aspects. I quite like cats, but must admit I am getting rather a lot of cat-related messages from WEIT. How to filter? Maybe a Ceiling-Cat filter?

    • Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:06 am | Permalink

      My suggestion is for you to simply avoid this place and look at other more evolutionary websites. Have you read the Roolz regarding complaining about the contents of my posts?

      • Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:11 am | Permalink

        Hi there
        Not complaining about this place or the contents of your posts… I just prefer the Evolution to the cat postings. I must admit when I first started reading many moons again I thought something had gone wrong when I got cat messages… but that didn’t last. I do occasionally do my own cat postings (e.g. today, because a stray cat entered the cellar just after a new concrete floor had been pumped in. It left plenty of clues to track it down! Are pawprints just as unique as fingerprints?

        • Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:17 am | Permalink

          I’m sorry, but I write what pleases me, and if it doesn’t please you, I think you should go elsewhere; in fact, I urge you to. And of course you’re complaining about the contents of the posts: you’re saying that there are too many cat posts—too many to satisfy your tastes. Further, this thread is not the place to express such sentiments. (The thing to do is to write them on a piece of paper and then throw it in the wastebasket.)

          Now stop it and go read Carl Zimmer’s fine site, where there is evolution 24/7 and no cats.

          • Posted May 26, 2014 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

            Deep breaths and a good glass of bourgogne are in order ;)
            BTW Roanne isn’t ‘little’; 45,000 people is more than a few houses! I live in a place where there are 2000 residents.
            Next time you visit Burgundy or Southern Spain, let me know and I’ll be happy to arrange some ~spectacular~ food.

        • Diane G.
          Posted May 26, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

          If you do care to continue following WEIT, you really need to have a look at this page:

          http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/da-roolz/

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:21 am | Permalink

      Every so often the unbelievable self-absorption of some to the point of being oblivious to all others makes me stop and stare.

      Do you think that everyone else in the world is your performing monkey? Or is it just on the internet that you think it’s okay to gracelessly grab what has been offered freely and generously and then complain peevishly that it isn’t exactly quite to your tastes?

    • Dale
      Posted May 26, 2014 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      Is it really that hard to just scroll down the page to get what you want?

    • Bric
      Posted May 27, 2014 at 1:24 am | Permalink

      The simplest thing is to subscribe or follow on twitter and just click on the posts you like. I avoid certain posts that way

  6. David Duncan
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    “…chicken with 40 cloves of garlic…”

    40 cloves of garlic?

    I love garlic too, but not that much.

    Did people avoid you for a week?

    I love the noms stories here, although I’m not a gourmand. I’m also not an authority on wine so I let others make the choices.

    • Merilee
      Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:15 am | Permalink

      I’ve made that 40-cloves-of- garlic chicken and the garlic really mellows out in the cooking.

    • Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:28 am | Permalink

      It’s actually one of my favorite meals, only it needs more than merely 40 cloves.

      By the time it’s done cooking, the garlic has been completely transformed from the crisp sharpness of fresh garlic (which is also wonderful). It more resembles roasted garlic, but infused with schmaltz.

      b&

      • Posted May 26, 2014 at 9:10 am | Permalink

        yes, indeed. At least twice as much garlic. Schmaltz is such an under appreciated thing. :)

        • merilee
          Posted May 26, 2014 at 10:55 am | Permalink

          There’s also that recipe where you put all the garlic and butter under the skin of the chicken and then roast it. To die for!

          • Posted May 26, 2014 at 11:23 am | Permalink

            I must admit…I have no clue how this could possibly have missed my knowledge, but this is the first I’ve heard of such a recipe. Any chance you can point me in the direction of your favorite variation…?

            b&

            • merilee
              Posted May 26, 2014 at 11:34 am | Permalink

              I think it was from Julia Child. Haven’t made it in years. You just chop up a s**tload of garlic and mix it with softened butter(maybe 1/2 stick or more) (kind of like w/ escargots) and carefully (preferably with gloves on) squish this stuff under the skin of the legs, breast, and back, sprinkle with s&p and roast as you would a normal whole chicken. It gets all brown and crispy and greasy and yummy…It might be good with some rosemary or thyme added, too

              • Posted May 26, 2014 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

                Sounds straightforward enough; I’ll have to give it a try. Probably just with a meal’s worth of pieces — an whole chicken is a *lot* of food, and my over-the-range oven is perfect for small meals….

                b&

              • merilee
                Posted May 26, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

                But the leftovers would be great from a whole chicken…

              • Posted May 26, 2014 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

                No doubt, but I’ve often got plenty of chicken leftovers anyway from soup. And, with the soup, you’ve also got the broth and the schmaltz and the mirepoix as well as the meat….

                b&

              • David Duncan
                Posted May 27, 2014 at 7:54 am | Permalink

                There’s no such thing as too much chicken leftovers… :-) They don’t last long at my place.

            • JBlilie
              Posted May 28, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

              I’m pretty sure Julia Child has it, probably in her first book.

              There’s no such thing as too much garlic. That is a metaphysical impossibility! (At least my wife and I think so! :) )

    • stephen
      Posted May 26, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      This is “Poulet a la Bearnaise” as described by Elizabeth David, although I think the story derives from Ford Madox Ford. The point was that the habituation of one’s metabolism to the consumption of large quantities of well-cooked garlic overcame the anti-social consequences. I have never conducted a serious test of this, but raw garlic- which I love – will draw comment even from Mediterraneans.

  7. Steve Knoll
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    I remember that early in your cooking career, you cooked like a laboratory experiment, fastidiously measuring everything out to the gram/micro ounce

    A number of years later I had the opportunity to see experience the evolution of your cooking style: far more of a humanities approach; a pinch of this, a dash of that

    Either way it was fine, I can’t imagine how good it is today. Maybe someday I’ll have the chance to find out

    nom on, my brother :)

  8. NewEnglandBob
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    One of the best meals I ever had was at a place ten minutes from my summer home, Stonehedge Inn & spa in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts. They have a world-class rated restaurant which has a 2200 selection of wine.

  9. David Duncan
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    I can’t say that this was my best ever dining experience, but as part of a tour group I went to a restaurant in Madrid and had shoulder of lamb. Just wonderful. A long time ago so I’ve forgotten the details.

    • stephen
      Posted May 26, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

      Possibly “Casa Botin”,just off the Plaza Reale?

      • David Duncan
        Posted May 27, 2014 at 7:56 am | Permalink

        This was 20 years ago, so I don’t remember. The tour company chose the place, but the food was excellent. Years later I had the same dish elsewhere. Good, but not as nice as in Madrid.

  10. pktom64
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    Lyon is actually called (mostly by Lyonnais I guess) the World Capital of Gastronomy, no less LOL.

    (It appears to come from food critic Curnonsky in 1935)

    • stephen
      Posted May 26, 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      One of the best-but not the very best-meals I have eaten was at the second restaurant of “Leon de Lyon” in 1977. I cannot remember if it called itself a brasserie or a bistro(t). Memorable for the only time I have enjoyed brains, (too claggy) : salad of calf’s brain with green beans and orange segments and mustard vinaigrette; salt pork knuckle with red bean puree; cheese; Beaujolais-Villages by Georges Duboeuf (who was still trying very hard at the time) Oh, salad too,(compulsory almost, in any latin culture meal .

      • Posted May 26, 2014 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

        Yes, I ate there on that trip to; I recall it was a Michelin one star. I had a fantastic dish of local sausage cooked with the green lentils of Puy, served in a brass salver shaped like a pig. It was a lovely restaurant but not pretentious, and the food was great.

        And always, Saint-Marcellin as the cheese.

        • JBlilie
          Posted May 28, 2014 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

          Wow, sir, your memory of meals impresses me! :)

      • merilee
        Posted May 26, 2014 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

        had to look up claggy

  11. Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    One Thanksgiving when I was growing up, Mom and Dad made a full Dim Sum meal. Another Thanksgiving was Peking pressed duck.

    I’ve eaten in some lovely restaurants, but I don’t think any top those.

    b&

  12. davidintoronto
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    One of my childhood favorites was a dish of fried clams – served at a decrepit roadside shack. (I grew up in the “Maritimes” on Canada’s east coast). I loved those fat and succulent bivalves, cooked to greasy perfection! When I moved to inland Ontario, I discovered (to my horror) that “fried clams” where tough strips of something or other that possibly used to be seafood.

    Fast forward many years, and I was searching for a nice restaurant in downtown Nassau, Bahamas. Eureka! An outdoor menu proclaimed “delicious fried clams.” I sat down and ordered them. Moments later, the waiter issued a mea culpa. “We don’t actually have fried clams. We never have fried clams; nowhere in the Bahamas can you get fried clams. But we have something better: fried conch!” I laughed at the well-rehearsed bait-and-switch and agreed to try them. Turns out, fried conch is pretty good too. ;)

    • merilee
      Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      conch ceviche is awesome, too, as is the sauteed variety. After much searching I found some frozen conch at Toronto’s St. Lawrence market at the fish joint called something like Dominic’s (??) which was previously Italian and now run by very knowledgeable and friendly Korenas.

    • Posted May 26, 2014 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

      I love clams but the fried ones usually come out like rubber bands. One of my all-time favorite meals was a skillet of lump blue crabmeat sautéed with country ham, served at a now long-gone restaurant at Nags Head, NC.

  13. merilee
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    ..

  14. darrelle
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    It is difficult for me to say something was the best, but certainly one of the best meals I’ve ever had in a restaurant was also really surprising. It wasn’t abroad anywhere, not in Europe, Japan, Mexico, England or Canada. It wasn’t even in an area with any particular reputation for food. It was called Bacco and it was in the corner of a nondescript ‘L’ shaped strip mall in Orlando Florida, USA.

    I was in my early twenties and was dating my future wife. Valentines day was tomorrow and I had done nothing as of yet to prepare for it. All the fancy restaurants I knew of were booked full. In desperation I started going through the yellow pages. I came across a small listing for Bacco, an Italian place I had never heard of. I spoke with a pleasant sounding woman who, nevertheless, I could not understand at all. I was pretty sure though that I had been confirmed for dinner reservations for 7 PM.

    We walked in and were greeted by a tall elderly (at least I thought so then!), but beautiful, blonde woman who graciously greeted us and placed us at a table. I could understand her a bit, but not much. I don’t know much Italian in the first place and her accent was heavy. The atmosphere was warm and cozy, slightly elegant. We sat there for awhile and were just beginning to wonder if anyone was going to take a drink order and bring a menu when a serving person poured us wine. I hadn’t ordered any, but it was a very nice Chianti.

    And the rest of the meal continued to unfold like that, at an unhurried pace. I never ordered a thing and decided it must have been a set menu for Valentine’s Day. The staff never rushed us, and never let us become bored. Our wine glasses never got lower than a third. A bruschetta, antipasta, an amazing seafood salad with squid and octopus, two pasta courses, two meat courses, and amazing little bite size snacks in between courses. The next course was not brought out until several minutes after finishing the previous course. Each course was brought out by the chef who, though we couldn’t understand him, made sure that we were perfectly happy with what he had prepared for us.

    Everything was amazing. That is one of the things that really made this meal stand out. Every Thing was outstanding. I have since gotten good enough myself that on a good day I can prepare filet mignon glazed in green peppercorn cream sauce at least nearly as well as this chef, but when it comes to the pasta I have never achieved anything even in the same galaxy. And not for lack of trying.

    But then came dessert. Bread pudding. In a sense this was crushing. I almost cried. I had fancied myself somewhat of an expert on bread pudding and thought that mine couldn’t be that far off from what I would get here. I didn’t make bread pudding for years afterward. What would have been the point?

    We ate at Bacco many times afterward, and it was never less than outstanding. We left the area for many years, but then just a few years ago we were in the area and decided to look up Bacco. We were afraid that things may have changed, that we might spoil our fond memories of the place, but our fears were for naught. There was no trace of Bacco, it was gone.

    • Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:44 am | Permalink

      That is a wonderful story, and I greatly regret not having had that bread pudding. So sad that it’s gone.

      • darrelle
        Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:57 am | Permalink

        Thank you Jerry.

        I am sorry you have a cold. I went for a nice motorcycle ride this morning and am now getting ready for my 2nd BBQ of the weekend!

  15. merilee
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    http://tinyurl.com/jwfrxs9

    For pastries, Demel in Vienna takes the cake (no pun intended;-) After several days of starving ourselves I dragged a travelling friend there in 1969 to savor a place I had enjoyed while living in Vienna during high school. The place is slightly snotty and you have to act as if you know what you’re doing when ordering. We probably ordered 4 pastries each. The two rather zaftig middle-aged ladies at the table next to us were aghast and asked us how we managed to remain so slim. I answered that we only got to eat there every 10 or 20 years or so and were taking advantage of the opportunity. I’m sure if I lived near there now I’d be the size of a house…

  16. JimV
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    1) My mother’s beef stew.

    2) Anybody else’s beef stew.

  17. GBJames
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    My favorite meal wasn’t really a meal, just a beverage. And the amazing quality resulted entirely from context, not ingredients… As a senior in high school I had done a day long rock climb in the French Alps, just over the border from Switzerland. We had descended the mountain and came upon a small rural cafe. The “beer avec lemonade” burned itself into my memory.

    I’ve never tried drinking such a mixture since as I’m sure my wonderful memory would be spoiled by the flavor of reality.

  18. Diana MacPherson
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

    In my role as Debbie Downer, I’ve come to hate food. I’ve always had a complicated relationship with it then last year, because of a stomach flu the hit during stress from mass layoffs that went on for months, I developed IBS. Now every bit of food intake results in pain and unattractive stomach bloat that makes me appear 6 months pregnant. Further, so many food items that I liked also give me migraines (chocolate, cheese). So now I eat because I have to not because I want to.

    • jesse
      Posted May 26, 2014 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      I am sorry things are not any better for you, Diana. I remember reading about your problem many months ago but hoped it had gone away. It must be awful to associate food with physical discomfort. I hope you continue to look at possible solutions or remedies. I was surprised to read recently that a high percentage of British people suffer from it as well. I wonder if you are aware of the extensive articles at Ed Yong’s and Carl Zimmer’s blogs about gut flora ecology/human microbiome, and also flora transplants. I can’t help but think that someone has some answers out there for you, whether it’s changing your diet drastically or something else. Look into Archway brand Macaroon cookies (not kidding – try this search word set: archway brand macaroons ibs).

    • Vaal
      Posted May 26, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      Diana,

      I’m really sorry to read of your stomach problems.

      I can emphathise with being impeded from something that was once pleasurable. Much of my life has revolved around a love of sound (love music, audio, part time musician, I work in film sound) – but I picked up a case of tinnitus and hyperacusis, which makes sound the “enemy.”
      Sucks royally. And most “fun” situations involve loud sound these days, so it’s typically a pain/pleasure thing for me to “have fun.” No more going to movies, concerts, big events, etc.

      Food and eating out is one of the few activities in which I can lose myself in pure pleasure (so long as the environment isn’t too loud) so the idea of THAT pleasure being taken away would be awful.

      I did almost experience it once, where for a few months I could eat very little, no dairy etc, and was worried I had irritable bowel syndrome or something. That was like ‘no…you can’t take THIS away!”

      Fortunately for me it went away and never returned. But I can empathize with the situation.

      Best,

      Vaal

    • Bric
      Posted May 27, 2014 at 1:48 am | Permalink

      Oh! Diana! I have exactly the same reaction, I am in Catalonia at the moment and eat the excellent food always with the expectation of stomach cramps and nausea. There are medicines that sometimes work, and scores of diets that completely conflict over what one can and cannot eat. I should probably stick to oats and water . . .

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 27, 2014 at 4:51 am | Permalink

        Or bran. Just bran. :)

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 27, 2014 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      Thanks everyone for your sympathetic ears. I think the stupid gut problems will just fix themselves eventually (I’ve read that it often takes years when you get IBS from a stomach flu). Incidentally, Sam Harris today released an essay talking about his own infirmities & I absolutely loved it. You may find this an interesting read as well. I relate to it 100%!

      • Diane G.
        Posted May 27, 2014 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for posting that. I’m on his mailing list but haven’t gotten far into my inbox yet today. I, too, relate to it in toto. (Well, substituting in specifics, of course. ;) )

  19. Vaal
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Another wonderful noms post, Professor!

    Although it’s hard to choose, perhaps my most memorable meals have been at chef Susur Lee’s restaurants in Toronto. He was one of our first world class chefs, doing very imaginative Asian-fusion. Every meal there was to me the perfect combination of the visual art of presentation, the surprise of the dish, and the incredibly gratifying “my God, I’d never have thought of such a dish, never tasted anything like it, and it’s incredible!” It’s an intoxicating combination when it happens.

    I only wish I could fly around the world to taste the offerings of the best chefs in each city. That is my dream existence.

    A particularly memorable meal also occurred at Pages Okra Grill in the Charleston SC area. It was my first real encounter with a straight up southern cookin’ meal, end to end, from shrimp ‘n grits with cheese, chicken fried steak, cobbler, and incredibly giant home made cake slices. Ever since then it set the bar and I’ve been chasing good southern cooking since.

    Regarding Jerry’s notion of liking LOTS of good food, I’m right there.

    I was thin most of my life but had to lose some weight a few years back that I’d put on due to pigging out mindlessly and stopping my physical activity. In the journey back to my “regular” weight I learned to eat smaller portions, cook more of my own food, and slow down and savor the bites. “The banquet is in the first bite” as the saying goes, and it’s one reason why many chefs in fine dining supply smaller portions of each dish. They realize that the appreciation of the dish generally wears off the more of it you eat, so you get just enough to have your appreciation left at it’s peak.

    However, there is absolutely another mode of pleasure to some great meals: that of unrestricted enjoyment, eating lots, to true satiety and being able to enjoy all the more different offerings in doing so.

    I have to note that every “best meal” I can think of tends to be of that latter kind – as much good food as my guests and I could eat.

    I have two sons, one a super picky and plain eater, the other younger son is super adventurous, a born “foodie,” and he’s often my “eating buddy” as we travel around the city and try out new places to eat.

    He and I are deciding on a bit of a “food” vacation not too far from Toronto, for a weekend. I’m considering New York, but we were there 2 years ago, so Chicago is another option.

    Does anyone have suggestions of good noms one MUST try in Chicago?

    Thanks.

    • Posted May 26, 2014 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      The Great Neighborhood Restaurants list of our best food website (the LTH Forum) is a good way to start. This one lists them by cuisine (click on the name of the restaurant for more info).

      In general, I think Chicago is a better eating town than New York in terms of the quality of the average restaurant. The only better city I know of in that respect is New Orleans. We also have many types of ethnic foods that are better than NYC; for example, Indian.

      • Vaal
        Posted May 26, 2014 at 9:03 am | Permalink

        Thank you Jerry!

        With your endorsement and that list,
        I think you’ve just sold me on Chicago!

      • Posted May 26, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

        I don’t know about Chicago Indian food being better than NYC. There are streets in Jackson Heights so authentic you think you’ve been transported to Delhi. The really good South Indian food is harder to find than the North Indian food, though. Also, we have a couple of interesting Nepalese restaurants. One of my personal favorite places in all of NYC is a Burmese restaurant. If you’ve never had Burmese food, I highly recommend it.

        • Posted May 26, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

          All I can say is that I’ve spent months in India, north and south, and eaten in the most highly-touted Indian restaurants in NYC, and the food is uniformly better in Chicago. We have a huge Indian community here, much larger, I think, than in NYC, at least in terms of area. At any rate, great South Indian food is easy to find in Chicago, and I assure you that much of it is authentic.

          • merilee
            Posted May 26, 2014 at 10:57 am | Permalink

            Great Indian food in Toronto, too. We were disappointed with our one Indian food experience in Chicago, but it was clearly just bad luck.

          • Posted May 26, 2014 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

            Ok. I’ll take you word for it. Though much of the best food in NYC is not in the “best” restaurants. That doesn’t do you any good though if you can’t find it.

          • Vaal
            Posted May 26, 2014 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

            Is it worth it to schedule a weekend during the “Taste Of Chicago?”

            Or is that one of those “better left to unwise tourists” events?

            • Posted May 26, 2014 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

              I don’t know about Chicago, but Taste of New York is usually very good, but I don’t know how they decide which restaurants to feature. Their choices and yours might not line up.

      • Posted May 26, 2014 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

        I have eaten at several wonderful Indian restaurants in Chicago; reading this post reminded me of a meal at India Garden several years ago where a whole fish covered in bright pink yogurt appeared on the lunch buffet. A bit of cardamom, a bit of rosewater, and perhaps other unexpected things that you’d be more likely to associate with dessert, but that Pink Fish was lovely.

    • jesse
      Posted May 26, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      And Italian Beef Sandwiches : ) It’s a unique Chicago flavor. Portillo’s is the most ubiquitous.

    • merilee
      Posted May 26, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      Jerry mentioned that great Mexican restaurant in Chicago recently (Sol de Mexico on on North Cicero Avenue).

      I was going to mention Susur and Lee in Toronto. Fantastic both! Susur’s sons also have a new spot on Queen St., I believe, which I want to check out. An former bf took me to Susur maybe 15 years ago for my birthday. We had the full tasting menu and it was to die for!!
      Here’s the link for the Susur sons’ restaurant, Bent:

      http://www.torontolife.com/daily-dish/openings/2012/08/29/introducing-bent/

      • Vaal
        Posted May 26, 2014 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

        I ate at Bent not long ago. It’s had mixed reviews but we had a fabulous meal. Perfect and memorable in every respect!

        Vaal

        • Merilee
          Posted May 26, 2014 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

          What dishes do you recommend at Bent?

          • Vaal
            Posted May 26, 2014 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

            Merilee,

            At Bent:

            The braised short ribs were melt in your mouth.

            Sashimi tasting menu excellent.

            DUCK CONFIT + GOAT CHEESE SPRING ROLLS
            CRISPY CHICKEN DUMPLING
            ROASTED SCALLOP WITH SUNDRIED TOMATO CRUST 27
            WARM BANANA + CHOCOLATE CHIP CAKE

            All amazing, IMO.

            (But I have no idea how consistent their kitchen is, day to day)

            Fantastic Manhattan’s there too, if’n that’s your drink of choice.

            • MERILEE OLSON
              Posted May 26, 2014 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

              All sound great ( except the goat cheese which I find overdone lately.) Love duck confit and dumplings and scallops. Off to California for a week ( where I intend to pig out on Mexican food ( including El Tarasco in El Segundo)) and will try to get to Bent soon after I get back.

              Thanks for the tips!

              Typo ergo sum Merilee

              >

            • merilee
              Posted June 7, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

              Best Mexican food I’ve had anywhere!!

              Bar Ama on 4th just W of Main in downtown Los Angeles.

              http://bar-ama.com/home.html

              Funky bar-like atmosphere but very sophisticated food. We had the enchilades con mole (small and incredibly flavorful), a Brussels Sprouts dish and a Cauliflower dish that my local friend recommended – awesome, the best guacamole I’ve ever had, plus some fried pork belly thing with avocado sauce. Almost too rich, but deelish. Try it if you are anywhere nearby! My friend lives in a loft across from the new police hdqtrs on 2nd Street
              and there is an incredible variety of excellent restaurants within walking distance (what?? walk in Los Angeles??) The Indian restaurant on the ground floor of her building smelled divine, but I get good Indian food in and near Toronto. Mexican not so much.

          • Vaal
            Posted May 26, 2014 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

            Oh, also…

            If you are in Toronto there’s a fantastic gem called “416 Snack Bar” downtown. It’s casual, but deceptively high-grade cooking.

            The woman who cuts my hair is major foodie and I always get her take on the latest hot restaurant. She made me swear not to tell anyone about this place so it wouldn’t become too booked up (and I’ve since told her I can’t…it’s too good).

            It’s a little bar with tappa style servings. Try their mini reuben sandwich and it will set the bar for reuban’s from then on. Same with their Trini-Doubles.
            Once you try them you’ll be searching out Trini Doubles wherever you can find them. And their spicy Korean fried chicken on a stick. Great oysters, excellent charcuterie plate, and terrific bar tender service. Both times I’ve gone have been great experiences.

            http://416snackbar.wordpress.com/

            Vaal

  20. Jonathan Smith
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    My best meal was at a Fish&Chip shop in Kettering England call Bradshaw’s.The shop was owned by the same family since 1924. Cod,Chips and Mushy Peas covered with a large dose of malt vinegar and salt.all wrapped in regular newspaper.

    • merilee
      Posted May 26, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      sounds good except for the mushy peas;-(

  21. Posted May 26, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    One of the best meals I ever had was when I was in college. I had a scholarship but little spending money since my folks were relatively poor country folks. I spent an entire month’s allowance at the Pasta Piatta (spelling may be suffering) in the Shadyside part of Pittsburgh (it alas doesn’t exist anymore). I got a huge porterhouse steak covered in cracked peppercorn, seared to rare, and then covered in the best red wine sauce ever, with a side of perfect Fettuccini Alfredo. Alas, at that time I was under the drinking age.

    I’d kill for a recipe for that sauce.

    • Kirth Gersen
      Posted May 27, 2014 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      Pittsburgh isn’t exactly known for food (unless hoagies with fries on them are one’s idea of gourmet), but I’ve had some truly excellent experiences at Joseph Tambellini Restaurant, near the zoo. Fine dining without being the slightest bit pretentious.

  22. Vaal
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Since the topic is great meals…though at the risk of this being not exactly on topic…I have a question:

    Is anyone else noticing, or bothered by, the rise in sound levels at restaurants?

    This is a particular problem for me as I have
    tinnitus and hyperacusis. However, restaurants have indeed become louder in general.

    The over all trend in the past decade or more has been to produce a sense of “liveliness” in the dining environment, where it feels “happening.”

    For this reason in designing new restaurants, bars etc hard, sonically reflective surfaces are favored over the once sound absorbing surfaces (like carpet). Where once find dining was associated with hushed, library like tones, now the expectation is a “happening, lively, energetic vibe.”

    So hard surfaces are used to reflect back the voices of the diners, raising the volume of the din, to make the place sound lively, even if it’s not full. When such places ARE full, and especially when pumping music is added for voices to compete with, the din is often incredibly loud, where everyone is practically shouting.

    I know that even people without any ear issues have noticed and complained about this. The reaction from quite a number of restaurants (in interviews I’ve read) about this issue is “If you don’t like a loud environment, you are probably an old fogey and you aren’t who we want here anyway.
    This isn’t changing, we want our place to feel energetic, so find somewhere else to eat.”

    Anyone else have thoughts, observations on this trend?

    Val

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 26, 2014 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      YES! I thought I was just getting old and cranky but I can never hear because in too of the background noise there is blaring music. I also detest the trend in sports bar restaurants to sing happy birthday. If there are several a night it is too much.

    • jesse
      Posted May 26, 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      I have noticed this too. I prefer quieter places for conversation/socialization during meals. I always have, even when younger. I am a person who apparently cannot hear three conversations at one time and be able to distinguish the one I want and filter the others out. I read years ago about a study where the researchers played two conversations into earphones, one in each ear. One sex generally found it impossible to focus on only one of the conversations; the other sex found it easier to pick one out. I think the latter were men but not sure anymore.

      Years ago there was a spectacular Italian restaurant that had only hard walls, no soft things to absorb sound. They prided themselves on that “European ambiance” but it was always hard to have conversations there. I have sensitive hearing.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 26, 2014 at 9:47 am | Permalink

        I can handle multiple conversations but I hate noise. I’m a real dream to work with in an open concept office (which thankfully I’m not in)

        • Posted May 26, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

          Cube farms are bad enough. “Open offices” are the veritable spawn of Jesus — evil incarnate.

          I faced my biggest logistical workspace challenge earlier this morning when Baihu fell asleep on my left arm, leaving me to sling SQL with only my right hand. Gee, shucks, was that miserable. Who says there’s no use for caps lock any more?

          b&

    • Hempenstein
      Posted May 26, 2014 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      Completely agree. And another gripe – menus written in some fancy script (fine vs bold, to boot) that, combined with dim light makes it nearly impossible to read.

    • Diane G.
      Posted May 26, 2014 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      Yes, I hate that trend! Also, movies played at eardrum shattering volumes.

      My daughter–only 23–has hyperacusis. The way things are going, it will be epidemic in a few years.

      • Posted May 26, 2014 at 10:19 am | Permalink

        …and movie theaters wonder why they’re facing declining audiences….

        b&

      • jesse
        Posted May 26, 2014 at 10:58 am | Permalink

        I started bringing earplugs to movies. It works, especially for the previews. You can still hear fine thru them… which in itself says something about the volume.

        • Diane G.
          Posted May 26, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

          Ah, I’ve been doing the same at rock concerts for a while. :D Makes sense.

        • merilee
          Posted May 26, 2014 at 11:37 am | Permalink

          Yes, haven’t previews becom insanely loud!!??

    • Posted May 26, 2014 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      Loud restaurants is part of the reason I so rarely eat out.

      I’m not (quite) an old fogey…and, besides, it’s the old fogeys with the money and leisure time to dine out at fancy places. Restaurants chasing them away are missing out….

      b&

    • Posted May 26, 2014 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      Yup, I too detest high sound levels in restaurants, along with very dim or overly bright light, as well as the uniquely American waitstaff’s obsession with taking my plate away (whether I’m done eating or not) and handing me the check as soon as they assume I’ve ordered my last drink.

      • jesse
        Posted May 26, 2014 at 11:01 am | Permalink

        I’m thinking that each country, and even region within a country, has its own idiosyncrasies and one must go with the flow on some things. Find amusement in that last thing you mentioned, and work with it to attain what you want.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted May 26, 2014 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        And continually checking in to see if you are ok or want anything, often interrupting conversations to do so. I think there must be a relevant Monty Python sketch. The Beethoven one comes to mind, where Beethoven is trying to work out his music on a piano and at a key moment his wife keeps interrupting to ask if he wants tea, or scones or jam on scones.

        • Posted May 26, 2014 at 11:29 am | Permalink

          “And continually checking in to see if you are ok or want anything ..”

          UNLESS, of course, you’re not okay or want something.

          • Diane G.
            Posted May 26, 2014 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

            LOL–so true!

          • JBlilie
            Posted May 28, 2014 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

            I agree Jacob. I hate getting the “bum’s rush” in a restaurant.

            One of the reasons I love eating in France: Being a waiter/waitress is an honored profession there and they do it so well (almost always — with some memorable exceptions of course!).

        • merilee
          Posted May 26, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

          I vaguely remember a sketch in which John Cleese is trying to have a romantic dinner with a woman and he ends up totally losing it with the waiter…(and it’s NOT Manuel).

        • Posted May 26, 2014 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

          I think it’s ok to interrupt as long as you DONT MENTION THE WAR!

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted May 26, 2014 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

            Ha ha!

          • Merilee
            Posted May 26, 2014 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

            Or goose-step around…

          • Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

            I mentioned it once, but I think I got away with it.

        • Posted May 26, 2014 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

          Beethoven’s…wife?

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

            I think it was his wife. It was John Cleese playing Beethoven and he called her a ratbag at one point. I was a kid when I watched it. My parents etc me watch everything.

            • Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

              Oh, I’m just being unnecessarily pedantic and implying that MP must’ve taken generous artistic license since Beethoven never married.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

                Well, she was also vacuuming so….

                I actually found the skit. I couldn’t find one without subtitles though I didn’t try hard. I laughed all over again. I love John Cleese’s expressions!

              • merilee
                Posted May 26, 2014 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

                Too hilarious! Funnily enough the Portuguese translation was not peanut butter but something else. Maybe Portuguese – or Brazilians – don’t do pb. The vacuuming was the best.

              • Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

                “…vacuuming…”

                lol :)

  23. Richard Bond
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    One of my most memorable meals was in Catania. I occasionally visited ST Microelectronics there (now Micron), as a representative of one of their biggest customers. Naturally, they looked after me rather well: lunch was always in the site “executive” canteen, and that was as good as a pretty fine restaurant. The meal that I remember, however, was on an evening when I was taken to a restaurant on the lower slopes of Etna during the mushroom season. I love mushrooms! The first thing that I saw on entering was a tray a metre across piled high with Ceps, all picked freshly from the wild. My first three courses were based on this wonderful fungus.

  24. frankschmidtmissouri
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    I don’t remember meals so much as what they celebrate. One of the best was the time several years ago when my wife and I took her aunt to Charlie Trotter’s for her birthday. It was the first time her aunt had ever been to a place with Michelin stars. The menus wished her Happy Birthday by name which was also a first. Because she was driving, my wife got the non-alcoholic drinks, and they were more fun than the wines. Which were great.

    How sad he’s gone from the scene.

  25. Blue
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Mighty simple mine.

    .Time frame —- the 1950s, four years old, then five, then six, then et etera … … et cetera.

    .Dining out —- solo, ‘cept for several ( sometimes upwards of 13 or more in various sizes and ages thereof ) kittehs longingly watching from contiguous rows m’fingers and my lips; midst of the towering rows so consciously and carefully hidden from mama’s / siblings’ views, seated on bared soil.

    .Service —- best ever: m’own for preparation o’ the rawish noms and companionship o’ said kitties.

    .No vines’ worth of fermented grapes’ liquids … … then. Nada to drink at all, actually.

    .One course only: fresh, on – / then off – the – vine and pod – stripped … … garden peas !

    .Cost —- diatribe and censure for, year after year after year, my decimatin’ the peas’ harvest – for – others – of – “the family” … … which my kiddoship – thievery had wrought upon mama ( so she slammed ).

    Blue

  26. Jonathan Smith
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    I will be staying in San Diego for a few days this week,any suggestions for some good noms?

    • stephen
      Posted May 26, 2014 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      George’s at the Cove, 1250,Prospect Street, La Jolla San Diego etc. continues to get rave reviews … I must warn you that there is possible bias, I was the head chef for a while when it was called ” Le Sainte-Maxime” in 1981-1982

  27. Granny Sue
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I grew up a country girl so any vegetables directly from the garden to the table were wonderful, especially tomatoes and corn. And peaches ripened on the tree were favorites.

    • Posted May 26, 2014 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      Today, for lunch we had brocoletti, which were cut in front of me from the plants of a vegetable grower just minutes away, and for dinner we had string beans picked just before I got the brocoletti. We steamed the brocoletti and seasoned them with fresh olive oil and garlic, pulled out of the ground just before I left the vegetable garden. In Italy and France there are still restaurants that have their vegetable gardens, but they are becoming hard to find. I just listened on French radio on how restaurants are increasingly buying complete frozen meals from suppliers and sell them with a mark up of several hundreds of percent. People are brought up with frozen food, and they don’t taste the difference, one of the commentators said.

      • stephen
        Posted May 26, 2014 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

        Fruit off the tree is the benchmark.

        • Merilee
          Posted May 26, 2014 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

          One summer we had 7 rows of different kinds of corn, each of which seemed to ripen a week apart. The next yearbthe sqrls discovered them…Nothing like fresh corn right out of the garden.

  28. Posted May 26, 2014 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    sub

  29. Simon Hayward
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Did the juxtaposition of the picture of a nightjar at the bottom of the previous item with a title that reads “the best meal I ever had” strike anyone else as amusing? Or am I just sick?

    Can’t come up with a “best” – as a previous commentator noted, there is a difference between technically the best food and the most enjoyable experience (where the company is important and the food is not, perhaps, the central component of the experience).

    I did happen to see Anthony Bourdain’s show last night, at one point he was at Troisgros eating the salmon and sorrel. So did a double take as I went past that picture.

  30. Matthew Jenkins
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Best meal ever; my first in the ‘Recanto Gaúcho’ an all-you-can-eat churrascaria (steak restaurant) in Curitiba, Brazil. I was 25, I’d been living in the UK, the USSR and Japan, none of which had perfectly-cooked huge steaks in unlimited quantities, and I could barely believe my eyes. If Professor CC ever visits Brazil, he will be very impressed by the churrascarias…

  31. Moishe
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    My best meal? Harbour House in Sooke BC on Vancouver Island.

    Local fresh caught seafood accompanied by locally grown produce and wonderful wines.

    This was in 1974 and I gather it is still very highly rated.

    • Posted May 26, 2014 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      Being reviewed can have a miraculous effect for a restaurant. During the 1980s, I lived on the intersection of W 10th street and W 4th street in the Village in New York (the location of the weird convenience store run by Asian people featured in some of Kinky Friedman’s novels). Next to that store appeared a new restaurant called “Chez ma tante.” It did not get any business until New York Magazine ran a story on them. The next day, and weeks, there was a line all around the block.

      • Merilee
        Posted May 26, 2014 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

        Love Kinky Friedman ( and the litter box in the shower). Haven’t read him in years. Is he still churning them out?

  32. Colin Campbell
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    I have no hesitation in remembering the best meal, it was at El Bulli, in Catalonia about 15 years ago and I went in utter and blissful ignorance of its fame.

    I should say that I have had the good fortune to have a mother who is a superb cook, who combines creativity with perfectionism and many years of exhausting entertaining experience. A meal of hers is never second rate, but El Bullli was something else.

    To give you a little background, I had been invited to the wedding of a friend and housemate with whom we had spent a most splendid final year at university in England, creating our own cellar and spending all our money on fine dining (home-cooked). At the time of the wedding, I was working in Australia and, as a memento of our many meals together, I brought back a new Penfold’s Grange for him to lay down.

    As it happens, the bride’s brother was brother-in-law (or something) to the chef Ferrán Adriá and had managed to get us a table. The restaurant itself was on the waterfront in a small bay on the wild northern Mediterranean coast of Spain, a spot unruined by the construction blight. On arrival we were informed we would be having the tasting menu and promptly handed a drink (I forget what, but remember it was good) and little thin bread stick things with chocolate and curry or white chocolate and dill, the thin dill leaves looking like the veins in a white leaf, It was wonderful and bode well.

    Inside, each course was served with its own wine, uncannily complementing the food, and coming with instructions! We started with little brown pillows to be eaten whole and then immediately followed by spoon of white crushed ice, the pillows crunched and out flowed olive oil (the best I remember) and combined with a tomato ice recreated “pan con tomate” in the mouth. Moving on we had a fresh clam with “sea foam” which tasted like the smell of storm washed rocky shore, pea soup served in a tall glass which started hot and ended ice-cold, the taste and aroma changing with the temperature, prawn tails with pistachio, in which the textures and tastes blended unexpectedly and dish after dish of delights for what was probably a couple of hours.

    I think we spent most of the evening making noises of appreciation; the food was too good and interesting for much other conversation. It was the closest I have been or am ever likely to be to culinary perfection. Taste, colour, texture, temperature, aroma, quantity; it seemed as if all possible variables had been considered and none were found wanting.

    Afterwards, I wrote down the wines and menu on my palm pilot for posterity. When back in Oz, I decided the best place to keep the palm safe in the car was between the front seats, and promptly crushed it with the handbrake. The greatest loss was the menu.

    • merilee
      Posted May 26, 2014 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      Yum!!
      Might I suggest that we make piggies our porcine mascot (piggies as in humans who love lots of good food;-)

    • Vaal
      Posted May 26, 2014 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      If I could, I’d make the typeface on this post green (with envy).

      I dream of such dining experiences.

      (Loved the El Bulli movie!)

  33. Posted May 26, 2014 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    My best ever meal was at The French Laundry in
    Yountville, California. It was in the mid-80s.Alas the details, except for the fact that the meal comprised 10 courses, escape me now, but, in the words of old song,”The memory lingers on”. As much as I enjoy this WEIT website in all its aspects, having been, as the English say, “fond of my belly” for most of my 86 years, I enjoyed this more than somewhat.

  34. trou
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Some of my favorites foods I ate years ago in France & Mexico. In the south of France at Carcassonne I had cassoulee. I loved it so much I’ve tried to make it since but, although good, did not live up to the original. In Poitier I used to drink Panache’ (beer avec lemonade syrup) which I loved.
    I also made some Enchiladas for some expatriate classmates in Poitier. Looked all over for ingredients to no avail. I made it work with crepes, various cheeses, some ground beef that almost brought the wrath of the butcher down on me for desecrating a piece of perfectly good meat. It turned out to be wonderful. Maybe I just missed familiar food or maybe I caught lightning in a bottle. No fine wine. We could only afford “chateaux flip top” back then.
    In Mexico I caught a Marlin quite unintentionally one day as my wife and I hired a tiny boat to go whale watching. Didn’t see any whales. I let the skipper have the fish although he gave us enough for a meal. It turned out to be the best fish I ever ate.
    Also, same trip, I had a coquille saint- jacques cooked by a friend that I’ve never been able to duplicate.
    I don’t know if it’s the food or the setting that makes it so great.

    • Merilee
      Posted May 26, 2014 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

      Crêpes work well for all kinds of things, including lasagne. I used to have some excellent spinach flour with which to make crêpes or tortillas or lasagne. Can’t seem to find it anymore. Saves wringing the hell out of fresh cooked spinach for such uses.

  35. Posted May 26, 2014 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never been able to narrow my favorite to a single meal, but here are some of my fondest food memories.
    During the 1994 NCAA nat’l champ game between Nebraska and Miami a friend’s father made the finest prime rib I’ve ever had. Barely had to chew. The meat was eager to please your tongue. Magic. December of 2000 I had a chicken salad at Cafe Luciano in Chicago that made me scratch my head. It was after all just a chicken salad, wasn’t it? My eyes said yes, but my mouth said no. It was so good that it didn’t make sense. 2003, Guilin, China gave me barbecued goat on a street corner. Street meat is the all time champion of foods. 1997 in Barcelona I ate a squid sandwich with lemon, salt and pepper. I can still taste it. 1999 in Caerconlish, Ireland brought me to a table with carrot, ginger and barley soup served with soda bread and uisce beatha. So simple, so delicious that I cried. I have dozens more but I must encourage everyone to explore the use of fennel pollen in your food. It’s powerful stuff. Use sparingly, but by all that is meaty, use it.

    • Merilee
      Posted May 26, 2014 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

      Where the heck do you find fennel pollen?? The squid sandwich sounds divine.

      • Posted May 26, 2014 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

        Hi! I found fennel pollen at a deli in Salt Lake City. Caputo’s Deli. Can’t remember the brand. It’s very expensive but very intoxicating.

        • merilee
          Posted May 26, 2014 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

          Thanks! I’ll have to go a-lookin’. Is it good mainly with meat? Does it taste very licoricey? I love the vegetable fennel but find fennel seed can be easily overdone.

          • Posted May 26, 2014 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

            I don’t think it smelled like anise. It was much more fragrant, like a bouquet of old wisdom.

            • merilee
              Posted May 26, 2014 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

              Now you’ve got me really curious to add something to my already overflowing weird spice drawer. The usual spices are in a rack.

  36. genotypical
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Our traditional family Christmas Eve dinner is wonderful, but requires so little work that hardly qualifies as cooking. It also has to be in San Francisco. Cold cracked Dungeness crab with an oddly colored but delicious dipping sauce we call “crab goop”. Very crusty Italian bread, preferably from Danilo’s on Green Street. Giant bowls of green salad. Different wines every year, selected by the brother who used to be a sommelier. Heaven.

  37. Carl Schultz
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

    ’96 Barbados – forgot the name of the place. It was more of a bar than a restaurant. The best jerk chicken washed down with Bank’s beer. As I write this, the memory its creating a visceral response-wow.

  38. Posted May 26, 2014 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    If you get a chance, Anthony Bourdain did a “Parts Unknown” show on April 28, 2014, in Lyon, France.  One of the restaurants featured in this episode was Maison Troisgros, which is where Paul Bocuse hangs out.  Everything looked pretty damn delish just watching the show.  Food porn at its best.   http://eater.com/archives/2014/04/28/parts-unknowns-lyon-episode-just-the-oneliners.php   Regards, Barbara Hope      

  39. ploubere
    Posted May 26, 2014 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    The Sunday buffet at the Sofitel hotel in Hua Hin, Thailand, about 10 years ago. Anything you could ask for – lobster, fish, steak, and on and on, everything perfectly prepared, and as much as you want.

  40. Hypatias Daughter
    Posted May 27, 2014 at 4:45 am | Permalink

    I guess I am a “reverse food snob”. I like my food unfancy – workingman’s meals.
    I grew up in Ontario but my family came from Prince Edward Island and we spent every summer at my aunt’s on PEI. My uncle was a foreman at the West Point lobster fisheries. He would work for two weeks then come home for a weekend with a HUGE bucket of fresh caught lobster which we boiled up and ate with butter, white vinegar and buttered bread. I was a teenager before I realized that lobster was an expensive delicacy and we were pigging out on food that would be worth several hundred dollars in any restaurant.
    I cannot abide a fine ingredient hidden under excess spices and heavy sauces. Lobster thermador or with herbs, garlic or lemon juice? Just, no. Grilled lobster – nope, must be steamed or boiled. I think grilling toughens the meat.
    My grandparents, who also lived on PEI,had a potato farm but raised a few dairy cows, chicken and pigs and had a half acre kitchen garden. One lunch I remember from 45 years ago was a pile of fresh picked green beans, boiled and served with home churned butter, home-made bread and fried fresh bacon cut from a pig that had been slaughtered the previous day.

    • JBlilie
      Posted May 28, 2014 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      Totally with you on the lobster. Boiled, placed live into the bath. Nothing with it but butter and bread (though mild vinegar sounds good too.)

      • merilee
        Posted May 28, 2014 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

        Though I have had stir-fried whole lobster with black bean and garlic sauce in a greasy spoon seafood restaurant on Spadina Ave. in Toronto.
        Excellent, though very messy (but a lot of the best food is).

  41. Posted May 27, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    “the former served with a 1982 Bordeaux, the latter with a 1982 Hermitage”

    Prof. Ceiling Cat,
    We winebores like to hear more information than just the vintage and the appellation. What about the producers of these wines? :)

    My most satisfying meal was in Ghazir, Lebanon. I had just visited the famous Chateau Musar winery and had bought and old vintage of their white (1975 – sublime wine!) and took it to a seaside restaurant. A mix of mezze for starters (the best I’ve had outside of Aleppo) and squid in its own ink for main. Drinking one the greatest wines ever made just downhill from the winery with superb seafood was amazing. But I also bought a second bottle of the ’75 white Musar and drank it at home in the cold, dreary north of Europe. And enjoyed it every bit as much. So much for the idea that these experiences aren’t transportable.

    At home, I prefer very simple dishes. I live in land with lots of lakes – and therefore much superb fish. And really the most satisfying dish imaginable is some common whitefish (Coregonus laveretus) fried quickly on pan, some lemon and herbs on top and a glass or two of good Muscadet. For there really is such a thing is as great Muscadet if you go to producers like Jo Landron, Luneau-Papin and Pépière. Simplicity is however difficult to execute well in cooking, but when it all goes right, that fish with a good Muscadet is the closest I’ve experienced to culinary perfection.

    • Posted May 27, 2014 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

      The Bordeaux: La Lagune
      The Hermitage: Jaboulet

      Both were good, but the Jaboulet was great. The 82 vintage, which was superb for both regions, was my entree into French wines–and futures. I paid only $6/bottle for the La Lagune as a future; now it would be worth well over a hundred, I think.

      • JBlilie
        Posted May 28, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

        Holy cats, sir, you scored on that La Lagune! Whoo-hoo! Hard to believe those prices these days …

  42. Posted May 27, 2014 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    it sounds absolutely wonderful! this is my last meal in a collage I put on Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/560135272377112363/

  43. JBlilie
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    As several have noted above, it’s hard to pick the very best one(s). As my tastes have matured through experience, and especially travel, old memories become questionable.

    Best fish: Fresh halibut, right off the grill and off the boat, in some podunk roadhouse in the middle of nowhere Alaska, right after coming down off Mount McKinley.

    Best meal in France: Les Florets in Gigondas, prix fixe, can’t remember what we ate, accompanied by (what else?) fine, aged, Gigondas (AC rules requires minimum 85% grenache, yum, yum), served on the patio, looking out over a wild little canyon where the restaurant sits almost at a dead end (the roud goes through, but just barely). This was in the 1990s and much has changed here. Still great but not quite as it was. And the wine cellar is sadly diminished, very few old, local wines anymore. And some of them have even gone to the “international red” style and are new-oaking Gigondas, Vacqueyras, etc. — quelle horreur!

    Best meal in the US? Probably the chef’s choice prix fixe with matched wines at La Belle Vie in Minneapolis. Expensive; but worth every penny.

    Best Asian food: Hawker stands in Singapore.

    So much good food, wine, and beer, so little time!

    Best beers: Belgium and Franken in Germany. (I love UK real ales too; but, for me, it’s Belgium and Franken.)

    I once went into a pub in Antwerp, famous for the length of its list of Belgian beers. I was proud to note that I had tried nearly all of them. Yum, yum.

    I think that almost none of the glorious beers I tasted in Franken is exported. Each village (seemingly) had its local brewery, with local ingredients, especially an endemic yeast or yeasts. Holy Ceiling Cat, was that a beer tour! It help to have a local to take you around of course, and we were so blessed.


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