Friday, May 15, 2009

Memorable Meals

It is estimated we spend 7 years of our life eating. For those of us who love and savor our food, that estimate is probably low. Out of the 60,000+ meals we will each consume in the average lifetime, how many do you remember? Most of us can’t remember what we ate last night let alone years ago, but even as time passes and years blur together certain meals make a lasting impression on us. These meals are often memorable not just because of the food, but the friends, stories, and experience behind the meal. Smell and taste serve as excellent reminders of a point in time, an experience, a pivotal moment in our lives. As a self-professed foodie I can recall many “food moments” because a good dinner is just as memorable as seeing a concert or Broadway show. The list below is a snapshot of my memorable meals. Some were remarkable because of the food, but most were memorable because of the senses the meal satisfied other then taste.

Ivy Cottage “Risotto of the Day” Seafood Risotto
My mother, sister Renee’, and I decided to enjoy the process of choosing a bridal shower location and visited several local restaurants for a glass of wine and a shared appetizer. This allowed us to assess the service and experience the food. We sat at the bar at the Ivy Cottage and ordered a bowl of Seafood Risotto with 3 spoons. After taking a bite we each had the same physical reaction; we placed our spoons down in utter amazement and let the flavors envelop us. While the Ivy Cottage didn’t win our shower business (too small for our group) it did win a place on this list.

Manny’s Scallop Benedict
Perfectly seared scallops, salty bacon, and creamy hollandaise sauce; what more can you ask for in an appetizer?

Cinderella’s Royal Table Beef Barley Soup
Soup is among my top comfort foods and is a staple in my diet. We frequently visited family in Florida and never missed an opportunity to see Mickey Mouse and his friends. After a long day of running from line to line we would have dinner in Cinderella’s Castle and the first course was always the thickest beef barley soup served in a pewter bowl. I hold that soup as the standard for beef barley and have yet to find another that matches its flavor.

Umberto’s Sausage Pizza
Umberto’s of New Hyde Park is one of the last pizza joints in NY who hasn’t messed around with their recipe to save a buck. The crust is perfect for folding the pizza and eating it like a New Yorker. The sauce is rich, thick, fresh, and not over sweet, and the toppings plentiful. I don’t often make it to Umberto’s because Alfredo’s of Westbury is closer and nearly as good, but I will always remember the pizza and Italian food served at our Rehearsal Kegger, er, I mean "Dinner" the night before our wedding. The food at our wedding at The Harbor Club was to die for (the Long Island Seafood Bisque was amazing, but unfortunately the only thing the bride and groom had time to consume that evening). We had plenty of time the night before our wedding to relax with our family and out of town guests and savor the tastes of a fine pizza pie.

Lamb Burgers at St. Leonard’s Vineyard Cottages
Idyllic weather, gorgeous location, amazing company, fresh and local ingredients, and perfectly paired wines transformed an evening meal at a bed and breakfast into a night I will never forget. After a long day visiting the wineries of New Zealand’s Marlborough region my husband and I decided to hit the grocery store and take advantage of the grill outside our cottage (technically the stables if you are interested in visiting these accommodations). The lamb was full of flavor and perfectly seasoned with rosemary, salt, and pepper, served atop a freshly baked bun with tzatziki. Just thinking of that meal I shared with my husband overlooking the countryside makes me smile.

Café Runtz Pork Roast with Sauerkraut
Parisians take their food very seriously; even a one star restaurant serves meals to write home about. Not that Café Runtz is a hole in the wall, but it is a very modest establishment and not mistaken as one of the city’s glitzy and glamorous restaurants. Serving specialties from the Alsatian region of France, the German influences on the food make the meal a much hardier affair then the smaller dishes in many cafes. The Pork Roast melts in your mouth and the sauerkraut is expertly prepared to complement the meal rather than overpower it. If you are visiting Paris make a point to visit this restaurant; you will not be disappointed.

The Natural Resort in Ko Phi Phi
I can’t remember what we ate, but nonetheless this was a meal I will always remember for the setting. Ko Phi Phi is a remote island off the coast of Thailand and we stayed in a little bungalow at The Natural Resort. One evening the wait staff set a private table down on the beach right on the waterline for us, complete with candles and tiki torches for mood lighting. The servers anticipated our every need and went about their business virtually unnoticed, leaving us to focus completely on the moment. Whether we had the Pad Thai or the Thai Dumplings doesn’t really matter; no meal will ever top the romance factor of that dinner on a beach in the middle of no where.

Amy’s Café Paella, Leicester Square Market, London
I don’t know if it was at Amy’s Café or if it was just a stand set up outside the café, but we entered the market and could almost taste the paella in the air. Head downstairs at the market and don’t be shy to order the large size. My husband and I could argue about the best paella ever (the now closed Café Havana in Minneapolis being his favorite) but the paella in the Leicester market is not only delicious, it will be fondly remembered as a dish enjoyed while sitting on the ground that saved me and my friends from an impending hangover disaster.

Coin de Mer Mussels Gratin
Upon entering the Coin de Mer in Brussels, Belgium we began thinking we might be suckers who walked into the first restaurant that offered us a free drink on the Rue Des Bouchers (aka Beenhouwers Straat). Our fears were quickly diminished upon the arrival of a tray of mussels under a sea of molten cheese; two of my favorite things! The rest of the meal (consisting of more mussels!!) was incredible, but nothing compared to that tray of cheesy goodness.

Amy’s Flank Steak with Tarragon Potatoes
My friend Amy has a signature dish, one that she expertly executes for her friends and family. The meal is simple but delicious, but these dishes are remarkable because they are always eaten with a glass of fine wine in a room filled with the chatter and laughter of loved ones.

Sunday Dinner at Grandma and Grandpa’s House
My Grandfather made meatballs with so much garlic and onion that even those with the most iron constitutions would suffer indigestion. Grandma usually served pasta swimming in tomato sauce with a side of ricotta cheese (cavatelli my favorite). Crusty Italian bread accompanied the meal for slopping up the sauce or making meatball sandwiches. This same meal, with some variation on the pasta course, fed my body every Sunday for the better part of my childhood. Through the years I have managed to recreate those meatballs (secret ingredients: paprika and lard) and even managed to perfect the tomato sauce (gravy to those of us with Italian roots). But alas the meal was special not just because of the food served, but because the fun we had playing games, laughing, and spending time with our family. It makes me sad to think how little people appreciate the importance of a slow, traditional meal with their family; I would not be the same person I am today without these Sunday dinners.

Dad’s Beef Stew
Loosely based off of James Beard’s Beef Bourguignon recipe, this meal was a winter staple in the Trombetta household. My sisters and I would help Dad by peeling potatoes and carrots and dumping them practically whole into the broth to simmer for hours and hours and hours. This soup that eats like a meal is best served by the crustiest loaf of bread from Cardinali Bakery in my hometown. I told my father all I wanted for a wedding gift was the recipe and I have tweaked it slightly to make it my own (change number 1: actually cutting the vegetables to bite size!).

Mom’s Thanksgiving Stuffing
American Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays and much of that is because it is the one meal a year where my Mother opts to cook rather then call for takeout. Every stop is pulled out and it is an amazing meal shared with our family complete with well over 10 different dishes. The standout dish on the table for me is the stuffing (aka dressing). Mom inherited the recipe from her mother and it is not only delicious but is responsible for a few family members being born right after the holiday (can gas build up actually blow a kid out?). There have certainly been other memorable Thanksgivings in my life. A 5 star chef in Luxembourg cooked an elaborate American Thanksgiving meal for me and my co-workers since we were away from home (and not remembering the name of this fine establishment started my habit of taking a photo of the sign of every restaurant I eat at on vacation). I once celebrated Thanksgiving in Sydney, Australia with a meal consisting of nothing but pie. Last year I hosted a gourmet Thanksgiving for 24 with my husband and Amy. However, nothing beats giving thanks with my family over a plateful of Mom’s stuffing.

Wade’s Chili
My husband’s chili is never the same twice but it is always delicious. Sometimes he uses buffalo, sometimes beef, but his absolute best batch ever was completely vegetarian. My sister visited us and wanted to taste some of this award-winning chili but didn’t eat meat. Wade took time to read every single ingredient and make a completely meat and fish free batch. The chili is award winning and disappears so quickly my Mother gifted Wade with an 18 quart slow cooker so he could make larger batches!

The Food Network ran a special on favorite foods which sparked the interest in writing on this topic (as my husband references in his “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” article). To me favorite food and favorite meal are two totally different things. My favorite food is subject to a different set of criteria than my favorite meal. A favorite food is something that one never tires of, can be eaten every day, and is always satisfying. If someone asks the question “If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be” the answer would probably not be some random food item from a meal on some vacation but something both satisfying and familiar. My favorite meals above range from simple to somewhat elaborate, but my favorite food is something so basic almost every American child (barring an allergy) has subsisted on it at one time or another; the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Organic, natural, smooth peanut butter. Strawberry or blueberry preserves. Whole wheat bread. Delicious!


Explosive Bombchelle said...

Footnote: I make a mean Eggplant Parmesan.

Amy said...

You are so amazing and gracious to honor me with a coveted spot on this list. I loved reading through everything and wish I could've shared some of those meals with you! The ones I have shared with you that made it on the list are also included on my "top meals of my life" list, too.