Last night was my wife’s birthday. We went to Castagna, a regular on the Portland restaurant scene for a number of years, but a new fresh menu and new approach in the last year focusing on unique ingredients combine in ways you’d least expect. It ‘s probably the closest I’ve gotten to real molecular gastronomy. The food was intricately prepared and the service flawless. It’s a meal I will remember for a long time.
It also got me thinking about other memorable meals, and the fact that perfectly prepared food, or flawless service isn’t always the key to a great experience. Here are some meals that really stand out in my memory.
5) Asia de Cuba, New York, 1998. I was traveling with four Microsoft employees and we were staying in the Morgans, aPhilippe Starck Phillippe Stark designed hotel with an Asia de Cuba in it. I’m not sure if the Asia de Cuba restaurants are still as cool as they once were — it seemed like a very 1990’s thing, but apparently they are still around. It was probably my first experience in a restaurant that was all about the design. White everything. Even the tables glowed white. It didn’t hurt that George Clooney was at a booth, and rumor was that Michal Jordan was in a private room. The signature dessert was called the Bay of Pigs. It was a giant sunday with sparklers. The five of us couldn’t finish it.
4) Morimoto, Philadelphia, 2003. The original Iron Chef had just hit the US and Masaharu Morimoto opened his first restaurant two years earlier in Philadelphia after working at Nobu. Jennifer and I were out there for a wedding and made it a point to give it a try. It was our first chef’s tasting menu. The food was great. The recommended beer was from Oregon. The best part was not knowing what was going to come from the kitchen next.
3) Apartment floor, Valentine’s Day 1995. It was Valentine’s day, and Jennifer and I had been dating for just a few months. I decided to cook a casual meal. Something I could easily cook at my place and bring over to her apartment. I made Stromboli with a marinated artichoke salad. I served a semi-dry reisling. Jennifer didn’t have a table, so we ate on the apartment floor, picnic style. The stromboli was heart-shaped.
2) El Mercado Centro, Cuenca, Ecuador, 2009. The meal cost lest than $2 USD and it fed both of us. Roast Pig, potato cakes called llapingachos, veggies and soda. We pointed to the part of the pig we wanted and the woman behind the counter reached in and grabbed a huge handful of tender roast port.
1) Mama Leone’s, New York City, 1981. It was probably a tourist trap, and might not have even been very good, but as a 9-year-old boy it was a completely new experience. Seven courses, strolling violins. and sherbet to cleanse the palate. What awesomeness it is that you don’t have to wait until the end of the meal for dessert.