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My 10 Most Memorable Meals
Back to July-August 2021
I love lists, from “Real Zombie Attacks That Actually Happened” to the “Most Ridiculous Craigslist Ads of All Time.” So I offer “My 10 Most Memorable Meals,” in an effort to discover what, if anything, I have learned from a lifetime devoted to the culinary arts.
Frédy Girardet, Crissier, Switzerland On a skiing trip in the’80s, I stopped by Frédy Girardet’s for an interview and lunch. Girardet was perfectly happy tending to his small-town eatery, going to the market himself at sunrise. The food was exquisite—the sautéed foie gras with a bracing herbal vinegar sauce was a standout, along with tarte Vaudoise à la crème in a paper-thin pastry shell. You can find world-class perfection anywhere.
The Yellow Farmhouse, Vermont Noon dinner was always a roast, baked potatoes, green beans or peas, homemade bread (white or anadama) and cookies or pie for dessert prepared by the town cook, Marie Briggs. This was the table of my childhood, complete with wet dog, wood smoke, yeast and a hint of maple syrup, the place where I learned to split a hot baked potato with a quick smash of my fist. There was always a place at Marie’s table.
The Cliffs Above Oran, Algeria In 1969, I drove from Tangier to Nairobi and stopped to camp one night on the cliffs above Oran before heading south. I took a walk and found three Berber men sitting around a campfire and they shared their couscous. Food is the universal language.
Rabbit Hunting, Peru, Vermont I went hunting for snowshoe hares and met up with Holton, who had long-legged beagles, perfect for running down hares through deep snow. And the snow was deep on that cold, sunny January day, not far from the Bromley ski area. Holton built a fire and we grilled hot dogs for lunch (no buns). Happiness is relative.
Pub Outside Manchester, England After a family tour of a nearby castle, we headed to a typical English pub for Sunday lunch. The meat pie was everything one fears about bad English cookery: overcooked meat in a gluey sauce encased in a tomblike shell. But the pub was filled with neighbors engaged in a delightful weekly ritual. Neighbors make the meal.
Restaurant Herzl, Salzburg, Austria My wife, Melissa, spent summers in Salzburg with her grandparents, and so we return frequently. The first meal is always at Restaurant Herzl, a small, classic Austrian restaurant with waitresses in Dirndls. We order Weisswurst, pretzels and a Gemischter Salat, plus a glass or two of the local Stiegl beer. Home is where the Weisswurst is.
Le Bernardin, New York Few restaurants epitomize the classic notion of hospitality, and every meal I have had at Le Bernardin is first in its class when it comes to service, to say nothing about the exquisite food. It’s a large helping of understated grace, charm and culinary rigor. You walk in harried; you leave a lotus eater. Hospitality is the heartbeat of civilization.
Raohe Street Night Market, Taipei, Taiwan At this football-field length of food stalls, I started with $2 pork buns, then tried grilled squid, pork bone soup, fermented tofu and “fire and ice”: warm mochi balls on shaved iced flavored with a flower syrup. Street food is the best food.
A Bistro Somewhere on the Left Bank, Paris
My first trip to Paris was in 1967 on our family’s way back from a summer in Uganda. The first morning, I opted out of the planned tour of Paris and went on a walkabout, ending up solo at a bistro on the Left Bank. Just 16, I ordered duck with lentils, a glass of Beaujolais Villages and pamplemousse sorbet for dessert, all served by a mustachioed waiter. Treat children like adults.
Gundel, Budapest, Hungary In 1992, George Lang bought and restored famed Budapest restaurant Gundel. We visited a few years later and experienced one of the great classic European restaurants of the 20th century, replete with domed serving dishes, each removed simultaneously by a gaggle of waiters, plus a five-piece band propped up on a dais and enough paprikash to float the Titanic. The past is history.July-August 2021