Friday, May 14, 2010

Best Dining Ever - Part 1

Since our kitchen is still in disarray from its "refresh", there is still not much cooking happening here. The drawers are full of sawdust and the dishwasher isn't connected yet. I'm hoping that this weekend, we'll get enough parts back together that we can at least enjoy some spring vegetables. And maybe the weather will be warm enough that we can clean up the patio and enjoy an outdoor meal as well. I'm really tired of perpetual takeout.

So while I haven't been pouring over recipes and menus and grocery lists, I've been thinking about what were some of my favorite dining experiences of all times. A dining experience isn't necessarily just the best food, but could combine the ambience, the unique atmosphere or even just the challenge of making it happen.

In no particular order, five of my top favorites are:

1) Ubuntu restaurant in Napa. I never dreamed vegetarian could be so good. Now that chef Jeremy Fox has left for new endeavors, I don't know if it will be the same, but the two times we dined there, it was one of our favorite restaurants ever. We especially loved the cauliflower in a cast iron pot. Usually I find cauliflower terribly boring, but this was divine. Oprah must like it too, since she has published the recipe in her magazine. Go to Ubuntu if you have the chance.

2) All the pairing menus as Kendall Jackson Wine Center. If you read my blog you know about these already. So much fun! They publish the menus on their website.

3) Acaraje on the street in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil. On our first trip, I didn't have the nerve to eat street food. But Salvador is known for the Bahian ladies and their acaraje stands. One of the most famous is across from a McDonalds. At 5pm just before the stand opens, there is a line in the street at the acaraje stand and there is no one at McDonalds. Acaraje is a pastry whose batter is made essentially of black eyed peas. It is filled with tiny shrimps still in the shells, along with "salad" and dende oil, a spicy oil made from a local palm. I kept telling the ladies to make mine "mais picante" which means hotter, and they just shook their heads thinking I was crazy. It was great except that the shells on the shrimp were scratchy on my throat.

4) Borscht in Poland. I ordered borscht in every restaurant in Poland, lunch and dinner, for a week. It was fun to compare all the different preparations. I was extremely disappointed a few times when they had run out and I had to choose something else. We were chaperoning a group of high school kids and I also enjoyed hearing them groan at every meal, since they absolutely refused to eat anyting made with beets.

5) North Carolina barbecue. I never knew how good it was until I can't easily get it anymore. We are unable to duplicate the central Carolina, cook the pig all day, vinegar-based style of barbecue at home. When I go back to NC for a visit, I try to visit all my favorite restaurants and eat barbecue two or three times. Barbecue, slaw and hush puppies.Why can't somebody do that here?

Stay tuned for more favorites and also my worst culinary nightmares.

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