Five Things To Eat Before I Die


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.

Château d’Yquem

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.

Never miss a post!


  • August 27, 2006 8:19am

    ahah I like the opening line. A typical David’ texte!
    Hope that your vacances were good! Corned Beef sandwich…mmmmm, I think I would need to try this… memories of corned beef are just not right I think!

  • August 27, 2006 9:46am

    See, now that wasn’t THAT painful, was it? (matt is ducking under the table)

    oh DAVID! A salad made for you by Judy Rodgers? My head has hit the keyboard. It sounds absolutely amazing. Sublime.

    Your list is amazing.

    Welcome back!

  • August 27, 2006 2:11pm

    Interesting! Well at least I’ve had 2 of the 5. The Château d’Yquem & the Second Avenue Deli corned beef sandwich, fortunately not together. You can’t live in NYC without having that sandwich once. It’s the chocolate I’m curious about. I was lucky to taste Domori’s Porcelana at the Fancy Food show and I wonder how they compare. The Domori is complex and rich and very special IMO Hmmm…

  • August 27, 2006 3:14pm

    I can just picture the scene at Zuni: “Judy, that’s the seventh customer today who’s asked for the salad you once made for some guy named David Lebovitz.”

    I know I’d be pestering her for it! Yum.

    Great list!

  • J. Bo
    August 27, 2006 7:13pm

    But, David, what was your dessert creation for Danny Kaye’s dinner party?!?

  • August 28, 2006 4:54am

    I had Amadei chocolate for the first time this year (Bittersweet cafe in Oakland had procured some) and OMG it is worth paying 13 bucks for one not so big bar that was hand numbered. Amazing stuff of the chocolate gods.

  • August 28, 2006 6:10am

    Béa: Don’t you know the reason for living in the US is the convenient and unfettered access to corned beef sandwiches?

    Matt: Hmmm, Matt?
    Don’t know anyone named ‘Matt’.

    Name doesn’t ring a bell… ; )

    Melissa: I’m sure Judy would have no idea what you’re talking about, but I like the idea all the same.

    J.Bo: Don’t recall exactly what it was, but it had lots of fresh mangoes on it. Perhaps it was a Mango Bavarian (or a Vanilla one) ?

    Carol: I love Domori chocolate and as a chocolate-lover, glad you had a chance to try some. The Amadei is a bit more intense and I think, better. The Sal e Latte, milk chocolate with fleur de sel, is curious, but the San jose is superb (both from Domori.)

    Maureen: If you get a chance, try the Amedei Chuao…it’s incredible as well.

  • August 28, 2006 11:41am

    I love this list. Especially the salad. And that’s probably the hardest one to get my hands on!

  • August 28, 2006 12:42pm

    Stop it! Berthillon glace caramel and my lack of access to it makes me sad.

    I agree about corned beef, I can’t help but order it anytime I see it on a menu and think it will be decent.

    The salad sounds amazing, I had a great one at Chez Panisse cafe a few weeks ago that had potatoes, green beans, and white truffle- still drooling! (Although Judy Rodgers didn’t make it for me, lucky dog.)

  • August 28, 2006 2:50pm

    Hi David!
    Nice to read your list as well! =)
    I myself found it so difficult to list just five things…
    Good I haven’t had that Glace Caramel at Berthillon, otherwise it would have been even harder!
    (You must know I say this but actually mean: why god, why don’t I ever had Glace Caramel?? why do I live in Holland and not in Paris across the street from Berthillon???!) =)
    That Amadei chocolate is as well something I’m really interested in. Lucky you, must be absolutely heaven to try the COMPLETE line… =)

  • August 29, 2006 11:00am

    Okay, off topic, but I must share somewhere. My thoughtful husband went to two bookstores last night to pick up “Room for Dessert” as a birthday gift for me. He’s been paying attention to my interest in your recipes, apparently! After the first 20 minutes of scanning through, I must say: drool.

    When I’ve had our baby and the gestational diabetes is gone, I’ll be picking out one of your recipes to celebrate. Butterscotch banana cream pie, perhaps… suggestions?

    THANK YOU for writing this!

  • August 30, 2006 10:15am

    Great list! Have never had Chateau D’Yquem and with my financial means beign what they are, I’m not holding my breath… But it is one of the things I want to do some day. And don’t get me started on Berthillon ice cream. I had a blood orange sorbet this summer that I went back for twice in two days… Last summer they had pain d’epice that was TO DIE FOR and this year I also loved the caramel-gingembre. Seriously addictive stuff.

  • August 30, 2006 10:27am

    I love glace Berthillon and in fact, after I wrote this up, I went over to the ÃŽle St. Louis for a scoop (well, actually two.)

    I was visiting a very well-known chocolatie and candymaker frmo Brittany a few weeks ago, and he told me he went to Berthillon, the first time in his life, and asked for 4 scoops…and they wouldn’t give it to him. They said he had to order 2 cones, with 2 scoops each (and it’s not like their scoops are so big they can’t cram 4 onto one cone.)

    But the real kicker is that they have an ice cream flavor, Caramel-Buerre-Salé, that was inspired by him! If only they knew…gotta love ’em, though…

  • September 8, 2006 9:26am

    Oh, mon Dieu, that caramel ice cream! It’s on my list too, for sure. The blog’s looking great…hope all is well for you in Paris!