Thursday, September 18, 2008

One Meal, Two Plates

Ever wonder how twins can grow up in the same household, go to the same schools, and turn out totally different? Consider this a case study in how two people can sit at the same dining table, eat the same foods, drink the same wines, and have totally divergent worlds in their heads…
The UE Said...

I tend to be a person who is constantly seeking greater knowledge from the pundits of life, wanting merely to sit at the foot of their pulpit to soak in the knowledge they offer. I recently read that one of my favorite notable chefs took on the challenge of a 20 course tasting trial at a restaurant in Japan. Eager for the chef in the kitchen to provoke his palette again and again, the eater ravenously consumed every morsel he was given in search of the limits of both his and the chef’s creative scope and culinary understanding. In a similar spirit, I felt we too should seek to push and be pushed to new heights by those around us, and in that spirit asked our waiter to go to the back and ask the chef to turn out five of his best, most succulent and distinctive dishes for the hungry chicks awaiting in his nest, with the ultimate hope that through the combination of tastes and talks, we would find some deeper meaning of these moments in existence.

An air of excitement began to fill my head as I contemplated the full scope of the food journey upon which we were beginning to embark. If anyone could be capable of comparably internalizing what the chef was saying to us through the Rosetta stone of our plates, it was Lemon. Thankfully, because her birthday was so near mine, we had an excuse to spoil ourselves with this little indulgence. I fully released myself into the capable hands of the waiter and chef, and sat back to enjoy good food and unmatched company in what was arguably the best seat in the house.

Lemon said...

I was early in a new-to-New-York-good-lord-that-girl-is-so-gauche sort of way, but it didn’t matter. I was going to eat at Del Posto!

And I deserved it. It’d been a long hard summer. Professionally. Personally. I needed to just indulge in something for me that didn’t concern my brain or my heart. Pure simple pleasure for the palate.

The UE arrived, and after a quick catch up over a light, carefree Prosecco, we promptly seated in the best seat in the house – an intimate yet roomy booth in the back of this vast room. Menus magically appeared soon after.

By nature, I am a greedy little thing. I want to experience everything any one place or person can offer. So naturally, I suggested we indulge with the five course menu. The UE agreed, and after light banter and consultation with our delightfully Falstaffian waiter, we ended up letting him craft the menu for the evening. As soon as we gave our trusting nods, he vanished in an excited glee. I fell back into the plushness of our seats. It was nice to let someone else take control for a change. It’d been a long month of making decisions – trying to control my life and what would happen next – and after all the thinking and agonizing, I was still unsure if they were the “right” ones. But I patiently awaited our first course with the trust and security that our waiter would make the “right” choices for us. It was comfort food before it even hit my mouth.

Primo Piatto

Food: Horseradish Panna Cotta with Insalata d’astice & Sclopit

Food: Abalone Carpaccio with Asparagi & Garlic Scrapes

Wine: Krug Brut Grand Cuvee NV Champagne

The UE Said...

The first course proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was going to be an experience to remember. Somehow, the waiter managed to bring us both foods that spoke to our inner essence. My love for lobster was captured in my small plate of lobster with a horseradish paste that scintillated (and cleared) my nostrils. Lemon’s abalone was right on the money as she mentioned how expensive just the base ingredient can get in some places, and how lucky we were to have this. I felt lucky just to be caught in the crosswinds of fate that brought me to this seat at this table on this night.

Lemon said...

An irreverent start to the night.

The paper-thin pieces of abalone rested precariously on a foundation of abalone mushroom. One quick ladylike bite. The exotic taste of the sea washed over my tongue and slid easily down my throat. I gently sipped the Krug. A liquid mirror of what I had just experienced. Deep and delicate – all at once.

Secondo Piatto

Food: Del Posto Agnolotti dal Plin with Golden Butter & Garlic Chives

Wine: Pinot Nero Saltner 2006 Alto Adige

The UE Said...

As the UE has mentioned in previous posts, he is a control monger, perpetually unable to relinquish control to others of anything in which he is involved. This overbearing mindset stems not from a lack of trust in any one individual or group, but more from the innate desire to see things done absolutely PERFECTLY. I don’t want to have to do everything by myself, and I also tend not to want to blame others, but within that mindset I am forced into a quagmire of having to do things myself in order to avoid the blame falling to anyone else. Well, in this instance, the blame fell solely on the chef. We sat back and awaited our second dish, a small pasta dish of braised veal stuffed into handmade, flourless agnolotti. The esoteric flavors that exploded over my palette caused me to falter in speech, lost for words at the David-like perfection this dish offered. Never before had the UE experienced such a robust punch from such a small fist.

My abstract intellectual nature implored my rational side to reevaluate my position on control. Here we are, in one of the most important arenas of my personal existence, where one slip, one mis-order, would mean hundreds of misspent dollars and hours of subsequent regret. But here, in the veritable Coliseo di Roma, where the heavyweights come to do battle with their senses, I put down my weapons and uncharacteristically let my anonymous allies fight my battle. And I lived.

Lemon said...

I inhaled deeply. The wine was oily with promise. I drank with trepidation. It was heavy with the weight of what it could be… should be… And then…

A pocket full of goodness and hope. I bit into the steaming piece of tender veal wrapped in buttery pasta and sighed. It was the hug I needed so desperately all month.

I reached for my glass again, and was taken aback. What had happened? With one small bite, the Pinot Nero changed. No longer heavy, it danced on my palate, making rosy circles now that it had been freed. I drank again. It laughed.

I laughed too. But somehow, I wished I could capture that initial moment of brevity again. It was important that I not forget.

Terzo Piatto

Food: Handmade Orecchiette with Lamb Neck Sausage, Chanterelles & Green Onion

Wine: Ca’Viola Barbera d’Alba Brichet 2006 Piemonte

The UE Said...

Lamb – one of the UE’s most beloved game meats. I will never forget the first time I had lamb. It was a moment inadvertently seared into my memory for eternity. But a mere teenager, I decided to treat myself to a dinner at Smith and Wollensky’s, a famous steakhouse in East Midtown NY. Stepping out on what was then a budding limb in my tree of culinary exploration, I ordered rack of lamb. When it came, my initial musings were of disappointment to the sall serving size. 3 ribs? That couldn’t possibly satisfy my raging teenage appetite. And this green stuff, mint jelly they said? Impossible! Clearly there was a misunderstanding about the order. But the waitress assured me that it went together. So the UE bravely took a forkful of lamb and mint. And chewed. And consumed. And, forever changed, finished the meal with a childlike glee.

At this point in the evening, I believe Lemon and I began revisiting how we met. Each of us was the tag along for opposite halves of a former couple at a piano concert, and we both were the only people interested in staying the entire time. As we chatted in between acts, we discovered the many similarities between our very different upbringings. Since then, it has blossomed to a fruitful friendship, independent of any time length or visit frequency. Physics teaches us that in a nebulous environment, opposites are the only atoms to attract, but I propose that that only applies to the ultimately intimate nature and purpose that opposites serve in their bond. Similar elements, unbeknownst to the others’ existence, will find a way to each other. Just as water and oil seek their brethren when mixed, so do people seek to find a reflection, a simple facet or two, of themselves in the friends they surround themselves with.

The dish was great, but I was still stuck on the Agnolotti. The wine, a velvety and fatty Brichet, was incredibly delicious, as were all the wines from this eve. Lemon began professing her love for the wine, and we launched into a discussion about how she would want to be as a wine. This wine was a bit sharp, but enjoyable to drink in any environment. When the wine was first poured, we both instantly agreed it would be something to enjoy. The light plum color visually connected with us each, creating a sense of comfort and familiarity that one feels when meeting someone with whom you feel you have been friends for years. I found that fairly appropriate, given the context of friendship at the table.

Lemon said...

Bright, easy and fun. The Orecchiette and the Barbera were tasty, uncomplicated treats. And at this point, I was so happy, I just didn’t want to overthink it too much anyways.

Sometimes, you just have to enjoy what’s in front of you for what it plainly is.

Quarto Piatto

Food: Cacciucco with Baccala Mantecato & Zuppeta di Pannada

Wine: Ca’Viola Barbera d’Alba Brichet 2006 Piemonte

The UE Said...

Funny how the stereotypes of women can show itself during the most unsuspecting times. While enjoying our fourth course, the wine paired with Lemon’s food stepped forward to remind us it was present, bursting with flavor. The Barolo grape is an Italian favorite to accompany heavier dishes, and given the tomato sauce on her tuna was roasted for 24 hours straight, it made intuitive sense. The wine was structured, strong with cherry aroma and a crisp, smooth finish. My dining mate began to profess her love for this wine, absolutely sure this was her favorite wine. Seeking to validate her claim, she cited the age old adage that women cling to in matters of the heart, one that transcends all cultural barriers. “When a woman knows, she knows”. The UE found a small bit of delight in the conundrum this presented, as no more than 30 minutes prior had this woman known how she felt about another wine.

We were both in agreement that this wine represented the ideals of who she was. I believe that this was a much higher quality wine, despite the bottle being cheaper than her original choice. Often times price seeks to validate some irrational belief that quality must be expensive. Tell that to anyone who has ever savored the goodness of a good hot dog off the street, or a cheap slice of pizza from your favorite shop.

At this point in the night, I was already fully satisfied. After the agnolotti, there was very little that caught my attention. My thoughts continued to drift back to that dish. How was it prepared? What were the seasonings? There was so much life in such a small package, I was beginning to feel as though the agnolotti represented me in food form (much as the wine represented my counterparty). Underestimated at times, simple in construction, but packed with vigor and ambition, ready to compete against any foe. Such a delicious course deserved a ticker tape parade, but in its stead, I regaled it again with satisfied sighs of contentment.

Lemon said...

My grandma often calls me up to ask me if I’ve found a nice man to settle down with. To ensure that I am “trying”, I’ll sometimes tell her about a couple of the different men I’ve met since I last talked to her…

But it always ends with me saying, “But I don’t know. It doesn’t feel… I don’t think that he’s… Well…”

This is where she’ll interject, “When you know, you know. It’ll happen.”

My first sip of the La Mozza Aragone 2005 Tuscana… I knew.

Quinto Piatto

Food: Dolci Misti

Wine: Feudi di San Gregorio Privelegio 2003

The UE Said...

To the UE, dessert wine is up there with Boston, dishonesty, and onions. I hate them all. So when the waiter brought a glass of an exquisite Italian dessert wine and a bowl of dolci misti, with a freshly made custard whipped from 3 different Italian wine bases, it was no surprise to anyone that he turned off and poured himself into the other desserts offered. What was refreshing was the ability to be totally up front with his dining partner about his distaste for the wine. Yes, it was a good wine, I could recognize that. Yes, it was expensive. But Yes, I hated it. The raisin flavor distinct to most dessert wines, and the obtuse sugary taste and viscosity turned me off as soon as it touched my lips. Having friends with whom you can completely be yourself is a priceless gift. AS soon as we smelled the wine, we gave each other the look. I knew. And she “knew”.

The dolci was good, but again is just not my cup of tea. I tend to feel anyone serving berries and custard is looking for the easy way out by avoiding making a more complicated dessert. I have applauded the Italians for making the best foods out of the most simple ingredients, and this was no different. The berries were garden fresh, and the custard right off the flame. But this is just not a dish I like. Where was the tiramisu???

The most memorable and contemplative moment of the night came when our second dessert was served. The waiter overhead one of us saying “happy birthday” to the other, and took it upon himself to bring us a special birthday dessert – coffee gelato with sugar cone crumbs. First, I will address the comedy in the dessert. I earlier mentioned how I believe certain dishes are the easy way out – obvious ploys to save something, be it time or money. Well I found personal amusement in the fact that the sugar cone crumbs on the gelato were the same crumbs served to us on the dolci misti – and obvious attempt by the head chef to save food costs. And while this in no way negatively influence my perspective on either, it was satisfying to see proof of what so many chefs have said about being a good executive chef – save them money, save your job.

Second, and probably most important, was the effect this dessert had on me. When the plate was served, we had no clue what we were eating. As soon as the first spoonful hit my mouth, my eyes dilated with joy. It was as if by some feat of telepathy the waiter scanned the deepest recesses of my mental journal to find my passion for mocha. Tiramisu was just the beginning. One of the most memorable parts of my trip to Italy had to be walking in a piazza with friends at dusk in Rome and going to every corner of the square to sample the different variations of the same flavor – mocha gelato. It sounds odd to have 4 different types of the same flavor all in one square, but food is simply a person’s way of telling you something, interpreting flavors into something tangible that influence the way you feel. Biting into this gelato brought a delightful wash of high school memories flooding over me in an awesome wave.

Lemon said...

To be quite frank about it, I turned 32 this year. Yes, I'm officially old.

And it’s true what they say about your body changing every five years or so… So I’ve weaned myself (for the most part) from the high-sugar diet of my twenties. So much that I couldn’t handle the Feudi di San Gregorio.

The waiter shook his head at the waste, but it wasn’t as if I couldn’t appreciate it. I just couldn’t handle its cloying, syrupy nature. It was too much and not enough.

I needed something more… Real. Direct. Strong.

Reaching for my espresso, I smiled. Because maybe this birthday – my first year away on my own to truly test who I am – was going to allow me to be just as strong and direct as the tiny cup of reality I was sipping.


viridiansun said...

i couldn't
i couldn't finish.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't finish it either... damn bruh!