Wednesday, August 02, 2023

Best/Most Memorable Meals I've Ever Had

On a recent episode of The Dave Chang Show podcast, Dave and co-host Chris Ying listed their best and/or most memorable meals of all time. As I listened, I realized that I have lots of memorable meals, but they're not necessarily the best. Some meals are memorable because of bad food or service. Creating a list, even a short one, of truly great restaurant meals, is a difficult task for me. Perhaps I am jaded. Though I haven't eaten in the world's greatest restaurants--excepting Le Bernardin--I have dined in as many notable places as a person who doesn't travel much and who isn't wealthy can dine. 

Here's a list of restaurant meals that were highly memorable, even if they weren't the best, in alphabetical order.
pasta tasting menu for August 2004
Babbo - We celebrated Mr Minx's 40th birthday here, back in the early aughts, before we knew that Mario Batali was a rapey douchebag who stole his staff's tips. Mr Minx was somewhat of a pastaholic back then, so we opted for the seven-course pasta tasting menu with wine pairings. This was in the year before we started Minxeats, so there's no official write-up of the meal, but we did save the menu. I do recall that the starter was a bit awkward to eat. Whole cannellini beans on crusty bread might be a traditional antipasto, but it was impossible to take a bite without beans rolling off the bread and onto the table and the floor. Why not smash the beans? Dunno. Seems logical. In any case, the rest of the meal was fantastic, the first course being the best. So simple. So much butter. So good. We also enjoyed the wine pairing with the cheese course, a sweet sparkling wine called Brachetto d'Acqui. Sometimes we buy that to drink on New Year's Eve instead of champagne.  

foie gras with raw tuna 
The Bar Room at the Modern - I was in NYC for a Sniffapalooza event. I had not yet met my current NYC dining companion, Daisy, so I usually dined alone. One afternoon, I blew a wad of cash on a rather extravagant meal at the bar room of MOMA's restaurant, the Modern. The restaurant was an oasis after my morning of mingling with a crowd of chatty individuals amid clouds of perfume. Service was excellent--eager but not obtrusive--and the food was interesting and quite good. The unusual foie gras and raw tuna dish was particularly memorable.

Charleston is an example of a meal that has stayed in my mind for the wrong reasons. I had enjoyed a meal at Cindy Wolf's Savannah at some point in the 90s and looked forward to having a similarly splendid meal at Charleston. Instead, I found an oppressive atmosphere created by the ever-looming waitstaff. A "wilted spinach salad" arrived as a unadorned mound of barely cooked spinach with all its harsh tannins present. Cindy was at the pass and let this dish go by even though it clearly was not a salad and not particularly edible. Finally, the sauces for our entrees had been so over-reduced that it literally glued our lips shut. Even after eating dessert, I had to work to open my mouth to speak. The rest of the meal was unmemorable.

We've never been back, though we have eaten at other of Foreman/Wolf's restaurants. They may be run by one team, but I find the quality of them overall to be inconsistent. Pazo and Bar Vasquez were the best of the bunch; both are now closed. Petit Louis is a distant third. We haven't tried Cindy Lou's Fish House yet, and we miss the original Milton Inn. 

Harry's Seafood Grill on the Wilmington, Delaware waterfront was the site of a fun birthday lunch hosted by my best friend Kate, who had recently moved to Wilmington. While checking out the local restaurant scene, she had befriended a chef couple, one of whom worked at Harry's. Chef Applebaum generously sent out a couple of dishes in addition to the three courses we had ordered for ourselves. There was too much food, and all of it was delicious and of high-quality. I especially enjoyed my first sticky toffee pudding and my first taste of soft shell crab.

Herb & Soul is the site of another memorable-for-the-wrong-reasons meal. We had eaten there in the past and mostly enjoyed our food. It wasn't perfect, but the biscuits and fried chicken were stellar. On this particular occasion, we partook of a multi-course meal arranged by a member of the local Chowhounds board. I'm not sure whose idea it was to serve a selection of New Orleans-inspired foods, but it was pretty clear that the chef wasn't particularly familiar with any of the dishes he cooked that night. The first course of crawfish and octopus with brussels sprouts comprised two fingernail-clipping-sized shreds of crawfish on my plate and a dried-out, chewy octopus so small it was probably a fetus. Another dish was billed as an etouffee (which means "smothered") yet barely had any sauce. The bits of alligator meat in it were so chewy, if I hadn't washed them down with water I'd still be chewing them 9 years later. The fourth course was better: a well-prepared half chicken served with not nearly enough of a very good fig pan jus and a soupcon of cauliflower puree. The best course was dessert, French beignets (made with choux paste rather than a yeasted dough), and I could have eaten several more of those. Thankfully the dinner was dirt cheap. 
barely cooked scallop in brown butter dashi
Le Bernardin -- Mr Minx's next milestone birthday was celebrated with a 6-course lunch at Le Bernardin, a 3-Michelin star restaurant in NY. The service was impeccable, and the food almost perfect. I know, who am I to criticize a dish served at one of the "World's 50 Best Restaurants?" I'll tell you: someone who doesn't think a dark red wine sauce works well with wild rockfish. Mr Minx agreed with me. So there. The scallop in brown butter dashi, however, was mindblowing. So simple, yet so delicious. My one regret about the meal: I didn't take a roll every time the bread guy came around. There were about eight kinds of bread on offer, and I was only able to taste three of them. Le sigh.

NOLA - Back in the days before Minxeats, even before Mr Minx became Mr Minx, we took a trip together to New Orleans with a group of rabid Emeril Lagasse fans whom I had met online. Someone or other from that group was up our butts every time we tried to turn around. One person in particular stuck to us like a tick. After a couple days of eating at only Tick-approved restaurants, my beloved and I snuck off to have lunch at NOLA, one of Lagasse's more casual establishments. We ordered starters of gumbo and turtle soup, and a couple of pizzas to share. My soup was very good, but Neal's seafood gumbo was insane. We stopped short of literally licking the bowl clean, but we were tempted! 

As fate would have it, the man who made that gumbo now owns Cajun Kate's, a restaurant in Wilmington. We make a pilgrimage every year to keep our freezer stocked with gumbo.
my favorite course at Volt, tuna tartare in a delicate rice gelee wrapper. Photo credit: Kevin Eats.
Volt - We discovered Volt during chef/owner Bryan Voltaggio's turn on Top Chef. After our first delicious meal there, I was obsessed with getting seats at Table 21: a 21-course meal served in Volt's kitchen. We made our reservation ten months in advance, and the wait was worth enduring. For a measly $121 per person, we had 21 courses of surprising and delicious food. Sadly, this was back in the foodie stone age (2010) and I didn't have a phone with a good camera. Rather than bothering with my crappy little Canon, I sat back and enjoyed the meal. (Check out the post linked in the caption above for excellent photos of a meal very similar to the one we ate.) 

While the food was incredible, the service was a tad annoying. Servers replaced the silverware with each course, whether we had used a particular utensil or not. Remove clean spoon, replace with another clean spoon. Having disembodied hands appear over my shoulder or beside my forearm (we were seated at a counter in front of the garde manger station and couldn't see the utensil movers behind us) was a little disconcerting. It was like being served by Thing. I'm not a fancy-service kind of gal. Just give me my food and if I need a clean fork, I'll let you know.


I'm sure if I thought about it a little more, I could come up with a few more meals to add here. These were off the top of my head, clearly very memorable. I hope to have many more meals like these in the future. The good ones....

* Any products in this post that are mentioned by name may have been provided to Minxeats by the manufacturer. However, all opinions belong to Minxeats. Amazon links earn me $! Please buy!

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