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If you were offered one free meal anywhere in the world...

If you were offered one free meal anywhere in the world...where would you go?

I saw an article recently where top chefs were posed this question, and their answers were mostly predictable. Grant Achatz went to Per Se to see what his former colleague Thomas Keller was up to. And I thought... Chowhounds could be more inventive that that! So here's your chance.

Where would you go? It should be about food. You shouldn't say, I'll eat at Treetops Lodge in Kenya because even if the food is horrible (it's not) I'll get to see wild animals out the window. And I don't think it should be about the money. You might pick a $350 meal at Masa, or you might also pick a perfect Shandong jian bing from an old street vendor in Shanghai, which costs about 50 cents.

If you really wanted, you could time travel, and see (and taste) as Vatel or Carême did his best. Of course if you break some obscure rule of 17th century court etiquette and Louis XIV has you flung in a dungeon, don't blame us.

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  1. El Bulli -- just so that I can see what it's like. I'm much more likely to end up eating street food in Shanghai, though!

    4 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler

      You beat me on the El Bulli!! That is on my top TO DO list. The hype and nostalgia on it seems to be the most alluring elements to wanting to dine there (besides the amazing food!!). Yet Alinea in Chicago is calling my name...

      Yup...Alinea, and El Bulli.

      1. re: cocktailqueen77

        Yep. El Bulli. First thing that popped in my mind.

        That or that place in England with the word Duck in the name that does different thing with food.

        Anywhere in the US ... Frontera in Chicago.

      2. re: Ruth Lafler

        Me too. It seems very dificult to get reservations. We were planning to go to Spain last year to go to El Bulli to find out that they stopped taking reservations for the entire year. When I usually travel, I pick a place and plan the trip (restaurants, sights, hotel, etc) around the city/country. In El Bulli's case, I think I need to plan my entire trip around El Bulli.

        1. re: Miss Needle

          Yeah, they take reservations for the whole year sometime in the fall. You have to email or fax in a list of possible dates, and hope you get chosen. I seem to remember reading last year they had 400,000 requests for 8,000 slots (it's easier to get into Harvard!).

      3. I would have someone buy me doubles in Trinidad. It's been so many years since I lived there but I crave them very frequently.

        1. Billy Kwong in Sydney. Mix of traditional and inventive Chinese cooking with shockingly fresh and rich ingredients.

          However, I feel like this game calls for a pricey answer -- someplace I would not pay for myself -- so my alternative answer would be a full-blown kaiseki dinner, served in my room at a top-end ryokan in Japan.

          If plane fare is included in this game, then my answer reverts back to Billy Kwong.

          1. Pizza in Naples, Italy!

            1. I would respond and say Urasawa right here in Los Angeles... primarily because one free meal probably won't include the transportation cost. It'd be really difficult to cash in a voucher at some place I'm not likely to visit in the near future.

              Other than that (and beyond the typical El Bulli or French Laundry answer), I'd probably say some villa in Tuscany, but I do like the game preserve idea of yours in Kenya. How about a beach-side cookout in Fiji?

              1. I would like an evening with guide touring street food of Singapore or a morning tour of the fish Market in Tokyo. Walking, looking, eating, learning; repeat.

                1 Reply
                1. re: thinks too much

                  I've been craving chili crab, pepper crab and fish head curry (fish cheeks, yum!). . . .

                2. Reminded of the old Steven Wright joke, "I went to a diner that advertised 'Breakfast Available Any Time', so I ordered French toast during the Renaissance."

                  I would've opted for Masa, interesting you included it (although really, with tip and drinks, we're talking $500). Not to disparage what Ferran's doing, but seems to me Masa has a Zen thing going that's beyond gastro. From everything I hear and read, he understands how to prepare and present his food on any given day than perhaps any chef on the planet.

                  1. Although my favorite eating places tend to be cafés and diners and bistros, more than a little of that has to do with opportunity and financial resources than anything else. So if I were presented with this particular opportunity, I would pick the long tasting meal at The French Laundry. Besides comprising a cuisine that I like very much, this food is also the product of a kind of careful intensity of passion and purpose, a pure expression of utter reverence for the food being prepared. Keller's stuff is emphatically not about showing off, but about a brilliant cook's doing his best work every time. I have never experienced this sort of meal, and I probably never shall...and even if I could afford it I'm not sure I'd do it more than once. But I would love to do it once.

                    1. Would this be a contender or is it too much of a one off?


                      1. I would like a seat at the staff table in the kitchen of the emperor's palace in Japan, with the chefs preparing me whatever they want.

                        1. The Lady & Sons. Just to see if it lives up to the hype.

                          1. I'd like to go back to Agadir for a nice lamb tagine. oh the flavor.

                            1. Since time travel's allowed, I'd go back to 1791 and join in the dinner given for George Washington at McCrady's Longroom in Charleston during his Southern tour. Back in the present, I'd relay all the details to Sean Brock, chef/mad scientist at the current incarnation of the restaurant (same name, same building), so he could design a modern tasting menu based on the original dinner. I'd pay for that one, though hopefully Sean would comp me for my trouble, time-travelling and all!

                              1. Since you threw out time travel, I would have to say shabu shabu at my dear friend Ysauko's house. She passed away last Feb. This is seriously the very first thing that popped into my head,

                                OK, enough downers, I know what you meant. El Bulli so I could see what all the hype is about. But, man! I heard the road up to it is pretty darn scary!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: chaddict

                                  I would have to say the Hong Kong Hilten, and I would order a spainish steak, with all
                                  the trimmings. I had that when I was in the navy, best meal bar-none that I have had.

                                  1. Its hard for me to get too excited about any one particular restaurant. Maybe when I try French Laundry & Cyrus later this summer I will have a different opinion but I really doubt it.

                                    In any case.... given the hype of El Bulli I would choose El Celler de Can Roca. A restaurant owned by Juan Roca a Bulli alumnus. According to different things I've read... Can Roca has surpassed El Bulli as the new darling of Spanish cuisine and by most accounts the student has surpassed the master although in a much different manner as Can Roca is back to quality ingredients and less dependent on the molecular gastronomy stuff.

                                    1. Good question. I've done El Bulli & can Roca & can Fabes & many a many Fijian beach cookout & villas in Tuscany. The Fat Duck did pop into mind. So did Per Se & the French Laundry. So did those amazing places I've already been. I'm starting to think somewhere totally romantic in Paris, with an incredible view and actually, I'm thinking it's about the setting & who you're with and amazing food mutually enjoyed and service that's warm and kind and... I can't pick just one.

                                      1. If I could, I'd go to my dad's restaurant, George's Cafeteria in Coffeyville, Kansas. But it's been defunct for almost 20 years now, so I can't.

                                        8 Replies
                                        1. re: revsharkie

                                          I'm with you . . . I'd go to my mom's restaurant, The Orange Horse Gift Shop & Tearoom, in Sacramento, California. It's been gone for about 20 years, too.

                                          1. re: onebite

                                            revsharkie & onebite, go there! Brian S offered you time travel. Each of you, put on music from 20 years ago, sit down, make yourselves comfortable, close your eyes, relax, ...and go back to those two so special restaurants in Coffeyville and Sacramento where Dad and Mom, repectively, will again be with you--cooking, serving, eatin, talking...

                                            1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                              When we sold the cafeteria, my mom got the "cookbook" (actually just a bunch of sheets of dot-matrix printer paper). She put it in the computer and gave me the original sheets. So we can "go there" in some way now and then.

                                              1. re: revsharkie

                                                Yes, I also have all of the old recipes. My Mom, who is still alive and kicking, has the old cookbook (a huge binder with mostly handwritten recipes). I copied many of them when I went to college, and now have my own huge binder.

                                                Revsharkie, your post took me right back to those days. That restaurant was my second home while growing up, and I worked all positions from when I was 13 years on through college -- cook, baker, dishwasher, waitress. While I don't miss being a teenager, I sure loved that place and have lots of great memories of it and of my family.

                                                1. re: onebite

                                                  I did the same--even did a stint in the kitchen before classes (starting at 5:30 a.m.) my first year in college. My very first job was filling in for the regular stockroom guy when he went on vacation when I was maybe 13. (My first on-the-job injury happened during that time, too...) I worked the line, the cash register, the floor, the kitchen, the office--just about everything except the bakery and dishwashing. We also used to would eat in there just about every Sunday after church; my dad (and my uncle when he worked there) and grandparents would join us. we had turkey & dressing and pumpkin pie every Sunday.

                                                  After my dad sold the place, a couple different people tried to keep it going, but they just didn't have what it took, and it closed. Stood empty for more than ten years, until here recently when it reopened as a Mexican restaurant. My folks eat there pretty regular, as do I when I'm in town--but it's sorta weird to go in there because they only did the barest minimum of remodeling. It's "El Charro" now, but we tend to call it "El George's." I have no doubt that if my dad still had it, he'd be preparing to retire and my sister and I, probably with the help of our cousin who's now a chef, would be taking it over.

                                                  1. re: revsharkie

                                                    Yes, that would be weird. I haven't been back to the last location where the restaurant was, so don't know what's there now. The original location of the restaurant, which is what I see in my mind when I think of the place, is long gone -- bulldozed away when the shopping center decided to "renovate." Such a shame.

                                                    Revsharkie, I see from your profile that you live in Iowa. Interesting sidenote, my parents are both from Iowa originally (Charles City and Lanyon), though they moved to California before I came along.

                                              2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                Since time travel is allowed, and I have no family food memories to revisit, I might go to that fateful feast at Chantilly, run up to Vatel, and say, "I've been sent to tell you... the fish is on its way!!!"


                                            2. re: revsharkie

                                              Back to Mom's kitchen. the seven of us around the big old round oak table..maybe some pan fried soft crabs, or deep fried crabcakes,with fried green tomatos or in cool weather someSauerbraten with potato dumplings....sigh

                                            3. If someone else was paying, I'd start doing some serious research on the best place for Manchu-Han Complete Banquet (man3 han4 quan2 xi2). The genuine version involves 108 courses spread over 3 days. For Chinese readers, here's a list of dishes from "Baidu knows" - Baidu's version of google answers: http://zhidao.baidu.com/question/2538...

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: limster

                                                Not to be totaly unoriginal, but that ^. An opportunity to enjoy, "a perfect combination of food, nutrition, health, art, aesthetics culture, etiquette, and science." is not often presented so this would be the perfect choice for me.
                                                "The banquet featured many of the world’s edible delicacies from land and sea, famous mushrooms and fungi, and choice vegetables and fruits. Quality was the key selection criteria, and only the best were chosen. For example, the bear’s paw had to be the front paw of the black bear in autumn because then it had short sides and much gelatinous protein. Because the black bear has plenty of food to eat, its paws are strong and fat. The paw is delicious when cooked and contains many nutrients. Another example is the preparation of roast pigs. The pigs must weigh 12 to 13 catties and have been fattened with porridge for three to four days before being slaughtered so they would be more tasty. Moreover, Peking duck, roast chicken, and harba (pork leg) were requisite banquet dishes. "
                                                What an experience that would be.

                                              2. After some thought.... given that I am most infatuated with Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican cuisine... I would have to say that by far I would like to have attended an Aztec emperor's feast.... but probably not Moctezuma... he was like the George Jr. of Aztec Civ.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                  i would sit on the beach in hawaii, eat the most incredible fish dinner and watch the sunset with..... for me that would be the most unforgettable. its not just the food although that is a very important part but the whole experience. mmmmnnnn just thinking about it !!

                                                2. it would definitely be fish, a beach and a sunset and the someone special. i would have roy or ina cook for us. i dont know that any one restaurant could be the ultimate it would have to be my dream come true.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: foodwich

                                                    A bouillabaisse in Marseilles, ca. 1925 - when the Mediterranean was sparkling clean; as long as we're fantasizing, let's have it prepared by A. Escoffier, the fish so fresh he has to kill 'em to cook 'em.

                                                  2. At my late grandmother's house, circa 1958, we'd start with bacon (which was taboo at my house) and the most soft, supple, moist creamy scrabled eggs ever served to mankind. After a brief siesta it would be grandma's chicken and plum dumplings.


                                                    1. I would pick the Buckingham Palace.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: DarthEater

                                                        "The Queen loves good, simple, honest food" http://www.waitrose.com/food_drink/wf...

                                                        You'd have done better to dine with the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) in the 1890s.

                                                        1. re: Brian S

                                                          If i could go back in the past, then i would pick the Forbidden City.

                                                          1. re: DarthEater

                                                            Yes. That's basically what Limster did above when he picked the Man-Han complete banquet. In the middle of this article is a reference to a 320 course Man-Han banquet served in 1764. http://www.flavorandfortune.com/dataa...

                                                      2. I'd say Rao's in East Harlem, because it's probably the hardest place on the planet to get a table.

                                                        1. Time travel allowed?


                                                          a crust of bread... and a piece of fish, at the Sermon on the Mount.

                                                          1. In the imaginary world: Bob Cratchit's table on Christmas Eve in Dickens's A Christmas Carol. In the real world: endless street food in Mexico City, with immunity from Montezuma's revenge.