Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Annie Lennox.

It's early Saturday evening in London - June 2008. Husband and I have been touristing pretty hard all week, and so decide to grab some nigiri at a Japanese restaurant in Notting Hill before retiring early. And when I say small, I mean small. Room for maybe 20 people tops. We walk right in - no wait for a table - and seat ourselves at a two top, right next to a couple with a teenaged child. I could spit in their soup if I wanted - the tables are that close. My husband is across from me and I'm seated next to the gentleman. I glance over, and catty-cornered to me sits Annie Lennox.

It's my second star sighting in a year. Annie frikkin Lennox. I double check again with lightening speed - one of those glances that screams, "Okay, be casual you've got a superstar less than five feet from you - if you stretched out your foot you could kick her in the shin, but she's here eating like a normal person but she's not a normal person, she's Annie frikkin Lennox." So what do I do? Do I recognize her and ask for an autograph and begin fan fawning? Or do I stay silent and see what unfolds?

My husband doesn't appear to have even noticed that he's sitting next to an award winning singer who sells out stadiums and has the pipes of an angel. I look at him again to see if he's noticed, but he's looking at the menu. I glance around the restaurant. Four other groups are dining - most of them young enough to be my children. Either they don't recognize her, or they are way cooler than me and used to running into superstars at their local sushi joint on a Saturday night on a regular basis.

It is then I decide to go against the grain. Hey, I'm one for that anyway. The expected thing is to fawn and praise. But what would happen if I didn't? What would happen if I just ate my dinner? Think about it. If I recognize her, then her whole demeanor is going to change. She will become much more guarded. It'll change the whole atmosphere of the meal. But if I shut up? Who knows what could happen...

And so we order. Funny, I remember eating, just not sure what it was. I do remember it was tasty, but sitting next to half of Eurhythmics was very distracting to say the least. I didn't stare, but I was incredibly conscious of doing that, "look quick, dart eyes, then look away" thing every two minutes or so. I tried to pay attention to what my husband was talking about but all he got was, "Uh huh, yeah, right," for most of the meal.

Annie's so petite! Maybe five feet tall if that. She was sitting down of course, but I could tell she was little. Wearing a really cute purple smock dress with tights and adorable wedgie sandals. The outfit was too young for her agewise, but she made it work in spades. I was jealous. If I tried an outfit like that I'd look ridiculous and end up as a segment on Maury Povich - Why Won't Your Mother Dress Her Age?

We ate our sushi. Or rather, my husband ate and I tried to. Tried to eat, not stare, provide scintillating conversation to my husband, and listen to what Miss Annie was talking about at the same time. Very shallow of me. I'm very ashamed. But obviously not ashamed enough to stop eavesdropping while appearing to not eavesdrop. I guess I'll be carrying that baggage into my next life. What can I say? It's the starfucker in me - I know these folks are just people, but I'm convinced they're going to say or do something so utterly fabulous that I won't soon forget it. It'll be a story to share when I'm a grandmother. Or as an entry on my blog (sheepish grin).

After her daughter begged off and left early to go watch "Big Brother" (which made me laugh to myself in a "Oh my God! Annie Lennox's daughter watches Big Brother!" kinda way) Annie began to talk about how mad she was at Dave. How Dave didn't appreciate her - after all she was the one who saved him from his drug addictions so many times when he was close to death. How Dave didn't like the kind of music she was doing now, but that's okay, she didn't really like the kind of music he was producing now either. How they're relationship was so dysfunctional, so volatile, and it had been for 30 years. She went on and on, all through dinner. Complaining about Dave. Worrying about Dave. Trashing Dave. After many moments it slowly occurred to me. She's talking about Dave Stewart.


Holy crap. Gossip gold right in front of my face. I was glad I had kept my mouth shut, and shot a quick glance at my husband, hoping he was still oblivious. He tends to get even more googly-eyed than me around celebrities. I needn't have worried. Hubby shot me a look that said, "Wow, she really hates this Dave guy," but he still didn't know she was talking about THAT Dave. Or realize she was THAT Annie.

She also talked about how hard it was for a woman her age to get music produced, to really do the kind of music she wanted to do. I wanted to lean over and exclaim, "We love you Annie! Your music rocks!" but of course I'd taken a vow of fan silence and so just stuffed my face with another piece of unagi instead. If it wasn't awkward before, it would be doubly awkward now to acknowledge her presence after she had just trashed her ex-bandmate all over the place.

Again, I'm not proud I eavesdropped. This was a private moment between her and whoever she was with. Then again, those tables sure were close together. You'd have to be a deaf non-lip-reader to not hear what she was talking about. Not sure what my motivation was for listening so closely though. Morbid curiosity I suppose. I'm also not proud that I'm writing about it. Having a Perez Hilton moment here. But it happened. And it did affect me enough to write about it.

Because you see, Annie didn't come off as all that great during her tirade. After a while I felt pity for her. Thinking to myself that she should let it go. Let it GO already. I mean, how long has it been? What is the life expectancy for something like this anyway? For holding onto a volatile, toxic relationship that should've been let lose years ago. I guess even stars can be co-dependent. At first when I realized who it was she was holding onto, I wanted to give her a hug. But as the minutes wore on, the words coming out of her mouth began to sound narcissistic and childish. A lot of "me me me" and "my my my" as if she had such a horrible lot in life. I glanced her way quickly again and didn't see a star anymore. Just a woman in her 50's, trying to hold onto that golden aura of stardom. That shining mantle of celebrity. Not quite Norma Desmond, but in another few years?

Annie was definitely having a Madonna moment that night. In denial, not aging gracefully, Here's hoping it was just a slip, a bad moment after too much sake during a pity party. I would hate to believe someone I've looked up to for her massive talent would be so, I dunno, near sighted? Unable to age gracefully? It came across as an example of what not to do as you grow older. Don't need the limelight so badly as proof of your own worth.

Annie's still a beautiful and talented woman. I love her to death and always will. And I still feel bad about writing about it. But it's my truth - what came across to me that night. Important enough to share and learn from. We're all human, we all have our weak moments. Unfortunately, Miss Annie had a writer sitting next to her that night. An observer. But I want to thank her too for what she inadvertently taught me without even knowing it. That sometimes the best thing to do is to just surrender your pain. Let it go completely.

We left the restaurant and I told my husband who that woman was. He freaked, so of course we had to casually walk past the restaurant again, just so he could verify what I already knew. That it was Annie Lennox, and that while she was still glamorous and could probably break a champagne flute with her voice, she was a woman holding onto a painful past maybe a little too tightly. Just a flawed human like all of us.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008


So while in London this past June, my husband and I had the great good fortune to watch the 2008 European Cup quarterfinals. Italy versus Spain. It was an exciting match that left us on the edge of our seats. But what was more exciting were the spectators watching. In the Italian wine bar where we happened to be. And the whole night happened purely by accident.

During the weekend in question, a friend had traveled in for a visit from Manchester and was staying at a posh hotel in Notting Hill. We had spent Saturday together, roaming around Knightsbridge in her huband's rented Jaguar, oohing and aahhing over the fashions in Harrods (and the husband's rented Jaguar) before going our separate ways for a rest, promising to meet later for after-dinner drinks. You see, hubby and I were *expected* to make an appearance at dinner with his family, or we would probably have gone straight from Harrods to drinks.

Except dinner ran late, then there was some sort of a communication breakdown, and so we missed each other on the phone multiple times and never hooked up for those drinks. Consequently, husband and I found ourselves in Notting Hill after dinner, on a Saturday night, with nothing to do. We decided to locate a payphone (no cell service us) and tuck in to a bar nearby – having some drinks and calling my friend every couple of hours to hopefully hook up once again before she and her husband had to travel back north.

We were looking for a pub that wasn't crowded to the gills. Instead what we found was, of all things, an Italian wine bar specializing in grappa. I had never even tasted the stuff, but understood from reading food books that it's basically the fermentation of the grape skins discarded after wine making. And it packs a powerful punch – often served in tiny aperitif glasses because of this. Looking at each other we thought, "Why not?" and ordered two - different ones of course, so we could trade and have a mini-tasting. The European cup quarterfinal was on the flat screen - Netherlands versus Russia. Russia, the underdog, was beating the pants off the Dutch. And so we tucked in to enjoy our match and our grappa.

The stuff packed a punch as promised. Strong spirity taste - more like liquor than port or sherry. I wasn't sure how I felt about it, but after tasting hubby's decided I was beginning to like it. The one he ordered was softer, but rather than order his for the second go round, we got two different ones. Why not make it a full tasting? The owner was more than happy to oblige. He and the waiters were full Italian, spoke almost no English, but were eager to show off their country's drink. I ask if he drank grappa, and laughed when he shook his head and replied, "No, no, no, too strong."

We enjoyed ourselves so much that evening we decided to come back the following evening for another quarterfinal match. Italy versus Spain. What better place to watch Italy trounce Spain than in an Italian wine bar? In London? I remembered as a newly-annointed college grad that I had watched a World Cup final in Scotland. At a pub that projected the game from Germany. It was big big fun. The announcers yelling things in German and Scottish football hooligans cursing in brogue at the screen. I didn't understand a thing, but it didn't matter. I could only imagine the excitement that these Italian owners would project during the game.

And so we returned the next night. The place was packed. Beyond packed. With Italians! Imagine that. It must be like Steeler bars in America. Doesn't matter what city you're in, you can always find a Steeler bar - full of people who used to live in Pittsburgh, who at one time passed through Pittsburgh, or their family is from Pittsburgh. Yeah, London isn't that far away from Italy - still it surprised me that it seemed as if every Italian currently visiting or residing in London was crowded into this tiny wine bar with room for maybe 20 people.

But that's what made it all the more exciting. Every goal that came close or just missed by "that much" was met with cheers, then groans. Curse words in Italian flew about the room. Bottles of beer were opened with a hiss, then gulped down. A few people sipped wine, most guzzled beer, just like at American football games. We American tourists were the only ones drinking grappa - working our way down the tasting menu. Looking back on it now I bet we came across as a little hoity-toity, but by that Sunday night I had develope a true taste for the stuff. They don't call it the water of life for nothing.

A few Brits were in the place as well - hooting and hollering along with the rest of them. At one point this guy walked up to the bar - imagine Alexi Sayle with the attitude of Begbie approaching the height of Andre the Giant. He slammed his fist down on the bar and yelled, "Milk! Gimme a milk!" The place howled with laughter. The owner looked confused. "Cosa?"

"Milk!!!" he yelled, slamming down his fist again. The whole place got quiet. "It's for my kid," he clarified, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. The place roared with laughter again.

The kid he spoke of was damn lucky he didn't get his ass kicked from here to Tuesday. Not sure what was in that milk, but as the night wore on, this kid got bolder and bolder. He was maybe 7 or 8 years old, but already had the attitude of a true football hooligan. Every time an Italian player missed a goal, he'd yell, "Haaaaaaa-Haaaaaaaaaa Italy is stuuuuuuupid! You're going to loooooose!" in this shrill, very loud, sing-songy voice. Yelling insults about Italy to a whole roomful of Italians. He was like a blond version of Damian - that creepy kid from the Omen movies. Every time they missed, he'd yell an insult, at one point calling the player, "A stupid girly Italian man," and other stuff that wouldn't dare come out of a hooligan's mouth. The father would just laugh and order another milk.

The kid's yelling ramped up when the penalty kicks began. I just knew someone was going to bean that kid in the head with a beer bottle. Spain would miss and the bar would cheer. Italy would miss and the kid would cheer. Spain would make one and the kid would cheer as if he just won a trip to Disneyworld. Italy would make one and you thought it was VE-day.

In the end, Italy just couldn't hold their end. Spain won, 4-2 on penalties. The kid was ecstatic, jumping up and down, hopped up on milk I guess. The bar was inconsolable. Ten minutes later, the bar was empty. We hadn't finished, and had planned on ordering another round. It was still early after all. The owner polished glasses, looking at us while shrugging his shoulders. The waiters, frowning and morose, started to upend chairs on the tables.

And so ended my introduction to the glorious elixir that is grappa. Putting chairs on tables is the universal sign of, "We're closing, get the hell out." An implied cue to go, and go now. To go very carefully in fact, staggering a little actually. Thing about grappa - you don't realize it's hit you until you stand up. Gotta remember that one for next time...

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Petrus. Desserts.

My last entry, for now, on what was the best meal of my life - created by Marcus Wareing, shortly before he called it quits with Gordon Ramsay and struck out on his own - to succeed valiantly in my opinion. The dinner was June 23, 2008, at Petrus (then and now a Gordon Ramsay holding) now called Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley. I dined with my soulmate and fellow foodie, my husband. For those who are interested, I hear Petrus is going to reopen at a different location sometime in early 2009, but for my money, Marcus has surpassed his mentor.

At this point in the meal, I have enjoyed sweetbreads, suckling pig, numerous amuse bouche, and the best wine I've ever had. All the numerous tastes and smells and sensations have washed over me to the point that everything is a blur. And here comes the cheese course and desserts. Jeez Louise.

Now mind you, I'm writing this, what, six months later, attempting to describe adquately the entire meal, but truthfully, while the remaining courses were delicious they were overshadowed by the mains. It's all a blur. All I can clearly remember is, "Man, that pig was good." But I will do my best.....Marcus deserve all the praise I can give him. He rocks!

The cheese course arrived next. I do remember a delicious walnut and raisin bread was served with it. And I do remember the "Cheese Guy" (is there a title like sommolier?) asking us what kinds we'd like. I think we were so overwhelmed at that point we just shrugged. My notes say, "Goat, hard, soft, blue, stinky." Real descriptive, right? It's just that we were in such a stupor from so much food, and probably drunk, that Velveeta might've tasted great at that point. He was throwing all these French names and regions at us, and here we are the dumb American tourists going, "Uh huh, that sounds good," shaking our heads, zombie-fide from so much deliciousness. I do love cheese though, and felt silly that I didn't know more about what I was eating. To his credit, the Cheese Guy didn't make us feel stupid, but placed one of each on a plate. They were all scrumptious.

The next offering was a pre-dessert amuse bouche: apple jelly, topped with apple granita and vanilla foam in a shot glass. And we have a winner. Favorite dessert of all time. As I get older, I find I can't eat a whole slice of pie, but just a forkful - my tummy can't handle it. This was the perfect forkful of apple pie a la mode, served in a shotglass. The icy-applyness of the granita paired perfectly with the soft airy creaminess of the foam. And the jelly was like the pie filling. It was so damn good I licked the inside of my glass, then upended it and tapped on the bottom to get out every bit. Oh yes, I'm the epitome of decorum, me.

Here's where the problems begin. I kinda remember the cheese, I CLEARLY remember the apple shot glass, but I don't remember the actual desserts that well. It's not that I didn't enjoy them immensely, I did. I remember them being very rich, very tasty. Sadly, I can't even go back to the website (which used to have the menu posted) to look. So sorry. Again, at that point it was like I was drunk on food. And yeah, maybe a little bit on wine too (sheepish grin). I did write down the following notes:

Lime, pineapple on lime biscuit (mine)
Cake with cognac, macerated blueberries & white chocolate (husband's)

Something I won't soon forget - as we were enjoying the desserts, there was a loud CRASH coming from the kitchen. It sounded as if someone dropped a huge stack of metal pans on the floor. Either that or Marcus was supremely pissed off and threw something at the wall. We started, and then the funniest thing happened. Every single person dining turned at the exact same time and looked directly at Je
an Phillipe - head waiter extraordinaire on Hell's Kitchen and our maitre d' for this evening. It was hysterical. He looked at us like, "Well, what do you want ME to do about it?" (in a French accent of course) before shrugging his shoulders and walking off into the kitchen. The whole episode sent us off into gales of laughter because it seemed like something right out of the show. At the time I didn't know about all the trouble Marcus was having with Gordon, and I can't help but wonder if this episode didn't have something to do with that. Or maybe they just dropped a pot...

...In any case, next was the bon-bon tray. The bon-bon tray!?! Never in my life have I dined somewhere that served one. What arrived was an abundance of chocolate - tiny little chocolate morsels in all flavors. What's that scene in Monty Python? "It's just a thin mint." Yeah, I kinda felt like that, like just one chocolate would force me to start calling, "Bring me a bucket!" But I ventured forth anyway, and selected a chocolate-covered Turkish delight which melted in my mouth on contact. Hubby got a mango/passionfruit chocolate. Of course we each took teeny bites and traded. That's what married foodie couples do - NEVER order the same thing, and always trade for tastings. Both were out of this world. And I do remember them.

Did we want to end this glorious meal with cognac? Even though it was a once-in-a-lifetime event we passed. Too much wine and rich food (i.e., old tummies). Coffee? I don't think we did, and now I'm sorry. At this point it was late and I remember thinking about the staff, and how they probably wanted to clean up and go. As we left the restaurant, supremely sated and feeling very happy, there were still three or four couples dining. I remember thinking, "Crap! We should've stayed! We need to drag this evening out more so it won't end!"

Now I wish we'd stayed because with this economy lord knows if we will ever experience anything like that again. But again, both of us have worked for restaurants. So while we were there for one night on the other side of the glass, pretending to be wealthy, and enjoying all that life has to offer, at the same time we were remembering what it felt like to look out of the kitchen door porthole, wishing those rich assholes would leave so we could go home.

The wait staff were also a huge part of what made this experience such a memorable one, and another reason Marcus has those two stars. All through the meal they were present, but not present, whipping by with menus, glasses, our courses. Gliding by effortlessly as though they were dancing. Everything from the first amuse bouche to the last bon-bon was perfectly choreographed. When I flagged down a waiter to ask for directions to the restroom, he immediately stopped what he was doing, grandly pulled the table out from us (without spilling anything) and walked me to the door himself. Someone else who noticed my return stopped what they were doing to replace my napkin with a new one. Now that's service. And I think that's way we didn't stay. People who work so hard deserve a break.

More than once Bruce and I looked around and noticed how bored the other diners seemed to be. The boredom of the supremely wealthy who sigh with ennui because they dine like this all the time. Ho-hum. One couple across from us didn't speak their entire meal. Meanwhile we were living right in the moment, cherishing each bite, each sip of wine, and for weeks after that, talking about how stupendous this was - the meal of our lives. We still talk about it. Thank you Marcus.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Petrus. Main Course.

Another entry in the continuing narrative that is the best meal of my life - so far. In London. At what was once Petrus, but is now Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley.

So after finishing several amuse bouche and a glorious appetizer course, we were clasping our hands in glee to set upon our mains like a pack of wild hounds. Really, the anticipation was just that huge, because not only had I ordered farm-raised Scottish halibut, but hubby had ordered Norfolk suckling pig - which had been marinated, then cooked for 24 STRAIGHT HOURS! Holy crap. So basically they had begun cooking this succulent juicy piece of pork yesterday while we were tooling around South Bank trying to find a place that served tea and scones. The mind reels.

Now don't get me wrong, I love halibut and ordered it specifically because it was from Scotland. I had had the best oysters of my LIFE in Scotland (and I need to write about that actually). Yeah, yeah, don't order fish on a Monday, whatever Tony Bourdain. I just knew that this fish, here, at this time, would be out of this world. And I was anticipating it - but I was literally jumping out of my SEAT at the thought of eating that pig.

Our main courses arrived. My halibut was delicious. So perfectly cooked it flaked right on my fork the second the two made contact. Served with charred asparagus and asparagus puree. A transparently curling slice of parmesan was arranged on top. Genius paring, as the salty parmesan was really good with the tender fish and the smoky bitterness of the asparagus. The asparagus was charred to perfection - charred way better than either one of us has been able to do on a grill at home. Pencil-thin spears, so tender they just fell away in your mouth. Out of season? Yes, but when you've got a party going on in your mouth you're not one to split hairs...

...And the pig? The pig. I could wax poetic on the pig. It was all I could do to convince my husband to let me try it as all I could see were his hands and face tearing into it like the Tasmanian Devil. Bones were flying! I did manage a tiny chop and some crispy skin. The chop was so small it was almost quail-like. Except this quail tasted so much better. Like a porksicle. So yummy it's criminal. Words cannot adequately express the pork yummy goodness of euphoria I was feeling as I obliterated that chop and chewed up that skin in all its crispy crunchiness. So good. When I was a kid I used to read the Little House books and was jealous when Laura was given pork cracklins during hog-killin' time. This must be what that's like. Crunchy porky goodness squeaking between your teeth and a porksicle to go along with it. Sigh. I've toyed off and on over the years about being vegetarian, but after eating Marcus's pig those thoughts just floated clear away. Even watching a horrific documentary about hormone-injected factory-produced piglike creatures couldn't tear me away from this stuff. It's just that damn good.

Not to be outdone, the sides presented with the pork were equally yummy - although it took me a while to remember them while writing this as the memory of that pork seems to have erased all else. The suckling pig did have chicory with it in some form or fashion which added a nutty dimension - as if you needed another dimension! Before we devoured the pig entirely, a waiter brought over a tiny steaming copper pot of the most finely whipped mashed potatoes I'd ever seen. He delicately spooned a tiny hill of them onto hubby's plate before placing the pot on its own little serving tray. Jealousy doesn't describe it. I got a few mouthfuls, but the remainder of the meal saw me gazing hungrily over at that little copper pot like it contained an antidote I needed so I wouldn't die right there at the table. These potatoes were so smooth it was like you were eating milk. So smooth you could drink them like Jamba Juice. Yeah, I love asparagus, but....those potatoes!

I must admit after all that deliciousness I knew there would be dessert. There had to be, right? Oh my god, how am I going to fit in dessert? Must. Have. Willpower. I'm not of the age where I can necessarily eat like Henry VIII anymore. But here? I'll try...

To check out Marcus Wareing and hear what a truly cool chef he is, check out his video interview, which he did ONE HOUR before opening his new place. Grace under pressure indeed.

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Friday, October 3, 2008

Petrus. First Course.

The next entry in my continuing saga that is "the best dinner of my life". As described in previous posts, hubby and I dined at Petrus in June before it moved/closed/changed, whatever you want to call it. But the important thing to note is that Marcus Wareing was still at the helm (and still is actually). A very important note because I firmly believe he was the reason why this meal was so special - and why I'm spending several blog entries describing it!

I've been reading some reviews of his new place on the Internet, something now I think I shouldn't do lest it color my own. My experience was in early summer after all (months ago) and I'm not a professional restaurant critic. I'm glad I'm not - maybe I'll bring a perspective the professionals can't. I don't know every detail, I don't take pictures. Mine are impressions, snapshots. What I clearly remember with a very few notes. What stood out to me. A layman's perspective from someone who just enjoys good food, who sees eating as an experience, not just a way to stuff your craw.

As we entered, who should be standing there but Jean-Phillipe Susilovic, Gordon Ramsay's maitre d' waiter from Hell's Kitchen. Working at 10:30 on a Monday night? You would think his celebrity might have bought him some time off, but no. Here he was smiling broadly and welcoming us to Petrus, napkin draped over his arm, looking all the world like a cartoon caricature of a French maitre d'. Not that this is a bad thing. Where he appears miniature and birdlike on the show, here he is tall and very handsome. He uses broad sweeping gestures, one eyebrow seemingly always raised. His graciousness comes across as purely genuine, not just something dreamed up for the tourists. Very professional. I am swept off my feet.

He seats us, placing the menus in our hands. Would we like some champagne? Why of course, we're about to spend over a month's food allowance on one meal. Why not? The champagne tastes delicious, particularly in this atmosphere. Petrus is dark and purple. Very purple and plush. Tables draped in white encircle the space and the walls are very eggplant. But oddly, it's not too dark because of wee halogens directed to each person's spot. So while I am VERY farsighted and often need my reading glasses to look over a menu, here I don't. It's perfectly bright, just bright enough to read what I can order. Wow. Love that. It's a little detail many restaurants today too easily forget. As my old interior decorator friend David used to say, "Lighting is everything."

Our first amuse bouche was a foie gras biscuit - one teeny tiny triangle of foie gras with a thin crust of wafer. It dissolved in my mouth like butter. A sip of the champagne just heightened the experience to the sublime. Little bubbly explosions with a background of earthy, buttery goodness.

While we waited for our wine to arrive, we enjoyed some pre-appetizer munchies, arranged just on our large, round table. At last a restaurant that doesn't try to cram two people and 8 courses into a 2-foot by 2-foot square little space. Here we had ROOM. The hummus was yummy, especially when you dipped a parmesan cheese straw into it. the honey potato campagne bread was delicious with butter - thick chewy crust, with lots of meaty sweet bread inside.

And then our wine arrived. A 2003 Gevrey-Chambertin ‘Au Vellé’, domaine Denis Mortet. I simply ADORED this wine, and relished every sip of it with the meal. Again, the sip after the bite heightened the taste, and made what was "more" - MORE. The sommolier did a terrific job of selecting the champagne and wine. We told him what we liked, what we would be ordering, and he went to work seamlessly. This wine was delicious - it tasted like silk, smooth, velvety on the tongue. Just yummy.

Second amuse bouche - a shot glass full of cucumber and green tomato gazpacho. I will be making my gazpacho with green tomatoes from now on. It tasted like the best gazpacho you've ever had, but with the tartness of green tomatoes and the added garden pasture herbiness of the cucumbers. I have never tasted anything as light and summery and palate-cleansing as this in an amuse bouche. Just lovely.

After looking at the menu, my husband and I agreed we wouldn't order the Chef's Tasting menu. Not because of cost, mind you, we were ready to fly to the moon after all. Simply because there were so many other things we wanted to try. I've since learned (from Bill Buford's "Heat") that ordering a Chef's Tasting at or near closing time in a restaurant is an amateur move, a CARDINAL sin. The staff is ready to close up shop and nothing pisses them off more. I'm so glad we didn't. Even with a reservation I would've felt pretty stupid. It's not that I want to come off as a know it all when it comes to restaurants, but I have worked in them, and really appreciate how hard the staff works. I want to respect them and honor them by having the meal the way they would themselves. So no tasting menu for us.

First course - I ordered the sweetbreads having never had them before, I figured, hey, if you're going to eat offal for the first time, might as well have them by someone who knows damn well how to cook them. Honey got the foie gras - he's a foie gras fanatic from way back - one of the reasons I married him.

My sweetbreads were a taste of heaven. A huge slab of them rested on parsnip puree with a Sauterne sauce. The sweetbreads were equal parts earthy, nutty, redolent of the earth with a pleasant, not overpowering gaminess. I've had liver and kidney and heart - not prepared great or anything, and have often found the flavor just too strong. This was anything but. The organ meat taste was soft like a pillow and the sauce provided a sweet wine background to the flavor. The parsnip puree was a perfect foil. Mashed potatoes but a step up.

I got exactly one bite of husband's foie gras - he wouldn't let me have more. Served alongside a bing cherry sauce and hazlenut puree. Pure genius. The two "sides" added a sweet dimension to the foie gras, making it almost like a dessert from the earth. And the foie gras portion was huge, as it should be. Too often you order it, pay through the teeth, only to get a skimpy poorly-prepared version of this misunderstood item. This was a slab, perfectly perfectly cooked. It didn't just dissolve in my mouth, it almost didn't exist there. So buttery and flavorful of the earth with that tart aftertaste of cherries followed by the sweet nuttiness of hazlenuts. Follow that up with a sip of the Geveray Chambertin and you've got the most perfect sublime mouthful possible. My husband agreed it was the best preparation of foie gras he had EVER tasted in his life. We still talk about it.

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where i've escaped...

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