Saturday, August 9, 2008

If I'm going to hell it better be for something good

No, that that good (or bad). I'm talking diet hell, and I'm talking not just good food, but good food, food that is so delicious you think, "If I die right now, at least I had a great meal first!"

You might think that I'm in no position to judge good food, since I consider salad greens and wheat bran legitimate diet staples. You might think that any time a carb crosses my lips I go into such an insulin-fueled frenzy that I have no ability to judge what is truly delicious and what is simply yummy.

Not so, my friend. I would have thought that myself, since most food is in fact simply tasty and while I enjoy a good meal of any kind, I generally get as much pleasure from a salad with grilled chicken as I would from a cheeseburger. But every once in a while you get the opportunity to eat something that is so delectable that you feel almost honored to have eaten it.

I hope I'm not overdoing this. But it's true, the dinner I had tonight was so good that I feel no guilt, only pleasure at having experienced it.

The restaurant I went to was Palomino in Seattle. I never realized that Palomino was essentially a chain with sites in a number of cities (but lucky you, if you have one), until I looked at the website and got signed up with the email club. Thanks to the email club, I had a $20 discount certificate for my birthday this month, and since there are a lot of birthday dinners to come, my mom and I started early in the month with this one.

I remember from more than ten years ago the delicious chopped tomato sauce served with the house bread. Back then we got some directions for making it, but it was never quite right. I'm sure that the key is the tomatoes. I can't be quite sure if they use fresh or canned tomatoes. (Even though, in addition to finishing every drop, I spent a good amount of time poking, prodding, and analyzing its appearance and texture!) I almost think it is a good quality canned tomato, since it would be very hard to get a reliably good fresh tomatoes, especially this early in the summer. If the tomatoes are fresh, they have been peeled and seeded, and chopped into a fine, juicy dice. I also detected olive oil (probably plenty), lots of garlic, maybe basil (the only reason I am confused here is we had another dish with basil, so now I can't remember which was which), and there was a little bit of finely crumbled feta cheese, chopped onion, and green olive. Maybe some red wine vinegar, and undoubtedly salt. This was served with chewy bread and oh, it was just as good as I remembered.

I spent a long time deciding what to order as an appetizer, and finally selected the grilled prawns. Six large char-grilled prawns were garnished with sundried tomatoes and a large amount of chiffonaded basil, and balanced on two large pieces of grilled baguette atop a pool of olive oil. I regret to say that the bread had absorbed some of the olive oil, which made it all the more decadently unctuous. We carefully scraped every scrap of sundried tomato and basil onto the bread before allowing the plate to leave the table. It's probably for the best that we didn't have any extra bread to start sopping up oil.

Because our main course salads, still to come, were big. I had expected something a little more nouvelle cuisine-sized, given the stylishness of the restaurant, but the Grilled Steak Salad, which both of us ordered, included a large pile of greens, several generous, well-seasoned slices of steak, crumbled blue cheese, hazelnuts, and a small mountain of crispy onion strings (that means skinny onion rings, folks). I had luckily requested my dressing on the side, so in addition to a light vinaigrette (with which I was very sparse) I got small tureen of blue cheese dressing (which I dipped into a little teeny bit). All of it so, so good. I ate all of the lettuce, most of the meat, and managed to leave about half of the onions to send home with my mother's leftovers.

At that point we had definitely had enough olive oil-drenched food to make us very happy, and we were ready to get the bill and go. But there was something more to come. When I made the dinner reservation the person on the phone asked if this was a special occasion. I said something about my birthday, thinking I had to identify that we were using the coupon. And instead of the bill (at that time), the waiter brought us two long spoons. I wasn't completely surprised, because earlier I had seen something with a candle go by in the distance. Then a candle came our way—a tall skinny candle stuck into a large square of chocolate tiramisu. Oh, layers of chocolate cake with a slightly boozy kick, oh lashings of foamy creamy sauce, oh crumbled amaretti cookie garnishes. Not planned, and certainly something we would not have dared order, the tiramisu was a lovely surprise.

As the waiter placed the plate between us on the table, he said "make a wish." I was unprepared, not having expected a candle to blow out. I quickly wondered what I should wish for and then, unbidden, an uninvited wish came into my head as I blew out the candle.

I said, to my mother, "you can't believe what I wished for!" Then I said, "I'll tell you because then it won't come true." Because it's definitely not something I want.

My mother said, "what is it?" She looked kind of excited and expectant. Poor thing, she probably expected me to say something like "I want a baby" or something else similar. (My sister and I are a disappointment to my parents, who are no longer allowed to talk about these things!)

So I told her. I wished... I wished to run a marathon.

I don't wish that. I don't wish it at all... it was simply a passing fluke of a thought!

When you leave Palomino, they give you little cards which are their version of a Chinese fortune cookie (and similarly, tend to contain aphorisms rather than actual fortunes). Mine was a special "happy birthday" version, and said, "You are never too old to yearn."



Michelle J said...

Kristin, oh my!!

First of all i have no idea what unctuous means! I am going to google that first thing...

Second, i so want to go to dinner with you!! Your descriptions are amazing, i am hungry and i just ate dinner!!

Seriously, very nice post and Happy Birthday girlie!! You so deserved that dinner after your great 8 on 8 run!!!

Laura said...

Eeek your blog accidentally got lost in the annals of Google Reader! So sorry but I'm catching up now.

All that food just made me INCREDIBLY hungry. 9:15 PM on a Friday night and I'm stuck at the office without having had dinner yet :( I would LOVE some of that deliciousness!