After returning from mon vacance, I timidly opened up my e-mailbox, and out spilled a few hundred messages. As I scanned each one, I found I’d been tagged by my pal Matt, who responded to Melissa’s list for Five Things To Eat Before I Die. While the last thing I wanted to think about when I got back from vacation was dying (well, until we hit le traffic bouchon returning to Paris on the autoroute), here it goes…
The Salad Judy Rodgers Made For Me
When we were both working at Chez Panisse, one evening Judy Rodgers asked me if I’d like a salad. “Why yes,” I responded, and a few minutes later she handed me the most memorable dish I’d ever eaten.
The salad was composed of a big pile of bitter, thick leaves of escarole. Tossed in with the salad was just-softened (and still slightly-warm) slices of tiny Yukon Gold potatoes, garlic chapons, slices of baguette that had been toasted and grilled, then rubbed with fresh garlic, with chunks of roasted rabbit loin. The whole salad was bathed in a mustardy vinaigrette, and it was all just the perfect confluence of ingredients, tastes, and textures.
The Corned Beef Sandwich From the Second Avenue Deli
Almost without warning, New York’s Second Avenue Deli closed, taking with them perhaps the best corned beef sandwich on the planet. Okay, before you get all New York on me, yes, there are other delis in New York making excellent corned beef sandwiches (Katz’s, Carnegie, etc…), but the Second Avenue Deli was my favorite spot.
A heaping mound of salty, coarsely-textured stack of sliced meat piled on soft slices of rye bread with the unmistakably scent of caraway seeds. Only a smear of spicy, dark mustard was necessary, before diving in. The seasoned waitresses were always happy to see me, like a long-lost family member, and were never failed to oblige me by bringing me an extra bowl of their crunchy half-sour pickles, which I’d polish off well before my sandwich ever hit the table.
Porcelana Chocolate from Amedei
If you’ve never tasted Amedei chocolate, it’s probably because it’s so rare they can’t keep up with demand. I was lucky enough to spend a morning with Alessio Tessieri tasting the complete line of Amedei chocolate at his small roasting facility near Pisa, in Italy.
Slipping a tablet of Amedei’s elusive Porcelana into my mouth and savoring the creamy, bittersweet chocolate as it melted lovingly into my complete being, was without a doubt, the pinnacle of my chocolate-tasting experience.
Sauternes is a wine made from grapes that are left on the vine until they begin to rot (called ‘the noble rot’, in fact). Although there are several other fine Sauternes made in this region, Château d’Yquem is produced in the town of Sauternes, near Bordeaux, and is situated at exactly the perfect point where the fine mist from two converging rivers blankets the grapes, forming the basis for this noble rot. The half-dried grapes are hand-picked, and each musty, funky-looking cluster produces perhaps just a tiny sip of this precious, sweet nectar.
The first time I had Château d’Yquem, I was asked to create a dessert for a dinner party where a rare vintage from the 1930’s would be presented (actually, all Château d’Yquem’s are rare vintages, since they don’t release a wine during years when the grapes are not excellent.) During dessert, the host of the party (Danny Kaye) handed me a glass of the deep amber-colored liquid, and as I drew the glass up to my face, the smell of caramel, apricots, toast, and fresh mangoes came tumbling out. By the time I tipped the first sip into my mouth, the sweet liquid totally overwhelmed me with it’s fruity complexity. I’ve had subsequent glasses of Château d’Yquem and each one is unique and rare, but that first sip was unforgettable.
Glace Caramel at Berthillon
Living so close to Berthillon, I can practically go there everyday…and sometimes I do! (Except during most of the summer, when they’re closed.) As I ponder which flavor to order while waiting my turn in the inevitable line, by the time it’s my turn, I’ve changed my mind perhaps a zillion times.
I always walk away with the same thing: Caramel Ice Cream.
Imagine biting into a smooth, creamy mound of frosty caramel, with lots of buttery-sweetness but with a burnt, slighty-bitter edge, totally smooth, without being cloying. Paired with a scoop of chocolat amer, a chewy sorbet made from bitter chocolate, it’s two scoops of heaven piled into a neat little cone.My tradition is to race over to the nearby Pont Marie, so I can enjoy my cornet overlooking the Seine and the city of Paris. If you’re in my way, stand back as you’re likely to be bowled over, so I can can make it to the bridge before my precious frozen boules des glaces melt away.