Mine was just last week. My husband took me to a pizza place a few minutes away. It was the most amazing pizza I have ever tasted. It was so good, I had to stop for a minute to just absorb how amazing it was. It was wood fired, it had a very thick sauce that was lightly applied. It has small puddles of fresh mozzarella, and huge slices of portebello on it. The crust was crunchy and flavorful. They also served a very thin bread with a house made olive tapenade that almost made me cry. The whole meal cost us under $20. Another favorite is a local Tex-Mex place and their vegetable fajitas. They have the best flavor and are so fresh. It is a stunningly delicious meal. I also had some papusas at a an El Salvadorian place that I can't stop thinking about.
It's really interesting but so far folks are not talking about the 20 course dinner at the latest Michelin 4 star restaurant (they only award 3 stars)! I will fall right in line with the others. I can think of three.
One day when we were sightseeing in Orvieto (Italy) we decided to stop for lunch at a very unassuming little restaurant. We were delighted to be greeted by the owner/chef who proudly showed us a basket of truffles that he had dug up that morning. He prepared us the simplest of lunches which I still dream about. He plated us some freshly made fettucini, moistened it with a beautiful fruity olive oil, and and then shaved an entire golf ball sized truffle over the pasta. It was unbelievable, and I think it cost about $15 with a small salad, bread and a glass of...orvieto wine, of course!
On the left bank in Paris, at Allard, a famous old bistro, we had just finished a delicious duckling dinner when the server told us about beautiful fraises de bois (wild strawberries) that had just arrived in the kitchen. We ordered some for dessert. A huge bowl of beautiful berries was brought to us, with brown sugar for dipping and a mountain of freshly whipped cream. It was amazingly delicious, and the perfect ending to a rich duck dinner.
I used to go to Frankfurt twice a year for business. On one of these trips a colleague from the area told us that the "spargel" season had just begun. Spargel are beautiful white asparagus, which when just picked are sweet, juicy and delicious. Our dinner that evening consisted of a very large portion of just steamed spargel, simply plated with some boiled potatoes, thinly sliced smoked beef and on the side a sauce boat of hollandaise sauce. These were so incredibly delicious, that in years to come, I always tried to arrange my trips to Frankfurt to coincide with the spargel season.
For me, some of the most amazing food experiences have been absolutely the simplest of preparations of absolutely delicious fresh ingredients.
When I was a little girl growing up we lived in the Hudson Valley area of NYS. It was bucolic existence but had distinct touches of the modern industrial suburban owing to the presence of the megalith IBM.
This was the 50s and our culinary life owed most to Swansons and the emergence of modern convenience foods. My mother's cooking was certainly adequate to our needs but it was anything but inspired. ...or particularly good. What's more, I don't remember any of the other moms in the neighborhood taking much of a different approach.
However, every summer we would go to Maine where my father's family lived in a small town on the fringes of Bangor where the university was located. It was almost a mirror image. Despite the university, at that time, Orono was sleepy and might still have been in the 30s or at the turn of the century. My grandfather fed his family -- which consisted of his mother, my great grandmother, and his sister, my great aunt -- by hunting and fishing from his rural "camp" some miles away. He also raised his own vegetables in a small garden plot that provided tomatoes, cukes, and carrots that were preserved for the cold months as well as eaten fresh and beans that were dried for the famous New England Baked Beans that were the staple.
My great aunt was a *fabulous* cook. I wouldn't say she was necessarily an inspired or creative cook any more than my mother. Food was not a hobby or an indulgence -- it was a necessity of survival. Her fare was the same baked beans, pot roast etc, that have become classics of American cuisine. This was, after all, an adaptation to living in a tough and reasonably remote climate before the construction of interstate highways that made trucked in food a possibility.
She cooked at a magnificent cast iron stove that had once been wood burning but which was, by the time I was born to behold it, converted to gas burning. What came out of it was tour de force wonderful. It had aroma, tradition, love, flavor to make the memories of a lifetime and the artistry of having mastered every nuance of cooking without things like thermostats, or much in the way of equipment.
Still, excellence meant something to her. When she made beans she, my grandfather and my great-grandmother would confer about which of the beans from the previous summer were the most superior and should be reserved for planting next year. When she made bread she fed people's souls as well as their stomachs. When she canned pickles and relishes she knew she was adding the spice to their life that made it something extraordinary and provided variety.
That's when I learned that food was a vehicle for culture as well a nutrition and that simple things done with attention and intention could be sublime. Those 2 weeks every summer taught me that I could not only want but *do* more than the frozen and canned foods that were the staples of the other 50 weeks. That my choices weren't ever limited to what was conventional or readily available. And it was all so profound that ti's still present in my life and an inspiration more than half a century later.
I have four, and each is totally different.
The first, and probably number one, was at a little seafood shack in Gulfport, MS, Magnusen's House of Seafood. It was tiny, and would easily have been classified as a 'dive," but their fried shrimp were the things of memories - even almost 50 years later. Even back then, the prices were high, but those shrimp were out of this world.
Next, there was a little grille in Meridian, MS, called The Hub. As I recall, it was either in, or very close to the Trailways bus station. They had a chicken fried steak, that they called their "Chick-steak," and it was the penultimate version of CFS, that I have ever had.
Then, there was Alamo Fried Chicken, on Division St, Biloxi, MS. That was something that culinary dreams are made of. I have attempted to recreate their fried chicken for 40 years, and have not really come close.
Last, and maybe the best, but some of this is based on the wine pairing. While doing the chef's tasting menu at The Green House, Mayfair, London, I had the Apple-infused foie gras. Fabulous, by itself. However, the sommelier had paired it with a Late Harvest Apple Cider, for Quebec, CA, and the pairing brought me to my knees.
Though I have been fortunate enough to have dined at Michelin 3-star, 2-star and 1-star restaurants, plus dozens of 5-Diamond establishments in the US, nothing, however otherwise great, has touched those dishes.
Sorry that I could not narrow things down, and believe me, I tried. Just could not do it.
Wow so many. . . . .
I was in French Polynesia (Tahiti) and we were on a small boat with a tahitian family going around the island. They decided we needed a treat - so they dove over, got a giant clam, cut it up on the boat, and we ate all the different parts (mantle versus muscle versus one other part, not sure what it was) right there on the boat seconds after it came out of the ocean - probably technically still alive. The mantel is this amazing florescent blue/green. It was very good and one of those - what just happened kind of food moments.
Along the same lines we had "varo" on a different island. It is a "mantis shrimp" - but it looks like a giant (I mean giant, the length of a dinner plate) praying mantis - triangle head and all. You eat the lower body segment. We didn't believe that it came out of the sea (as I'd never heard of or seen one before and was convinced it was a joke). So we didn't think about it very long and just ate it before we talked ourselves out of it. It was delicious - like a shrimp almost. I'm told even many polynesians haven't had it since they are very hard to catch and very labor intensive to catch. Very much a treat.
Mantis shrimp (which aren't a shrimp at all) are hard to catch because they are very solitary, like to hide, and are capable of doing extreme damage with rapid and extremely force-filled claws/appendages. (apparently the shock wave alone from their smash can kill its pray).
A mantis the length of a dinner plate could easily take your fingers completely off. (or break an aquarium glass), so I guess you were lucky that one wasn't as alive as the clam :-). One of the more fascinating creatures in the ocean in my opinion (and perhaps one of these days I will get lucky and see one while diving. will keep my fingers behind my back :-)).
According to Wikipedia, they are apparently not uncommon in several Asian and Mediterranean cuisines: