In all the years G and I have been married, I have just one small regret: 11 years ago minus one week, we skipped out on The Gastronomic Menu.
To explain, I need to rewind this story to the last night of our honeymoon. We were staying in a gothic, beautifully restored castle just outside the city of Shannon in County Clare, Ireland. After a week of exploring the countryside, we didn’t feel like taking dinner in town. Instead, we dolled ourselves up and walked the marble corridors to the castle’s well-appointed restaurant.
When we entered the dining area, the maître d’ handed G a slip of heavy cardstock showcasing something called “The Gastronomic Menu”—a seven course meal at £125 a head. It sounded fabulous. Fabulous! But who were we kidding? We were two kids in our early 20s, skipping around the country on our parents’ dime. We didn’t have that kind of coin to toss down our throats. So we opted out.
Opted out. In a castle, in Ireland. I’ll never forgive myself. Even if the food had been bad (which it wouldn’t have been), it would have made for a truly great experience.
Now it’s our anniversary, and we’re seated at M. We’ve tried most of the other hot restaurants in town, but we’ve been saving this for a special occasion. I don’t think M has a gastronomic menu, but I do know this: After a week of eating light to do this little black dress some justice, I’m ready for something extraordinary. G has memorized the menu. Together, we’re mentally and physically prepared for whatever Executive Chef Erin Chittum has to offer.
Really, though, this is all just side-discussion. After all, I’m on a 36×37 mission tonight. Usually, I’m too self-conscious to be voracious in public, but not this time. Oh no, not tonight. Tonight, I send my compliments to the chef!
Before I do, just look at this place:
Our server, J, is pleasant and down to earth. He approaches our table as I’m taking G’s picture, and so he smiles sheepishly.
“You caught us.” G says with a quick laugh.
“Oh, it’s no problem…people have been doing this a lot lately.” J says. “I guess it’s trendy to take pictures of your food and post them online. I read that on Yahoo.”
“So did I!” I say. (No, really I did!) “These pictures are for my blog.” J hands us the wine list and cocktail menu. “Well then, be sure to mention that our spring cocktail menu is coming soon. It includes a Bloody Mary that is completely clear. It’s amazing.”
I like J—he’s like a culinary tour guide—so I decide to oblige him. And really, isn’t a completely clear Bloody Mary worth mentioning? I order a glass of Verdejo because even though I’m a Sauvignon Blanc girl, I want to try something new. G requests a vanilla bean old fashioned: bourbon, orange peel and vanilla beans.
J takes us through tonight’s features. When he describes the halibut, G gets the look of love in his eyes. Halibut is in season, and at M, they’re serving it up on a plate of fresh spring peas and lobster.
And then, dear God, the truffle mac and cheese! Really, there are no words.
I order what J calls “the most underrated dish on the menu” (see the pic at the top of the page): amish chicken breast and glazed root crop on a mound of smooth mashed potatoes. Underrated, indeed; it turns out to be a work of art.
For dessert, G orders the vanilla brulee, and I dig into the chocolate lava cake with housemade raspberry port and ice cream. (Hey, don’t take your jealousy out on me!)
When we’re finished, G and I look at each other and lean back in our chairs. Screw Smith & Wollensky, I think.
Then I start to get nervous.
I chose M for this assignment because I knew one thing: If I was going to give my very first compliments to the chef, I wanted to be sincere. Because here’s the thing: this is the first time I’ve let myself truly, guiltlessly enjoy food like this. Like every woman I know, I’ve seen food as an enemy of sorts for most of my life. I’m a 5’ 2” brunette who has wasted entirely too much energy scraping at the coattails of some impossible female ideal. Just believe me when I say I know from self denial.
I don’t want to be that way anymore. Just as importantly, I don’t want the women in my life—my family, my friends, my colleagues, my acquaintances—to be that way, either. Instead, I want us all to gaze at something delectable without thinking about working out tomorrow. I want us to close our eyes, take a bite, savor it, then take another bite and be kind to ourselves for once.
I’ll always be strict with myself; that’s just how I’m hardwired. But from now on, I give myself permission to indulge without apology whenever the mood may strike. In a way, I think I’ve earned it.
The manager approaches our table. “How was everything?” she asks.
G tries to hold a straight face because he knows what’s coming…
“Please,” I say calmly, “Send my compliments. This was just…it was just…outstanding.”
If I sound like a rube, it doesn’t matter. When she’s gone, G leans forward with a quiet fist-bump.
As it turns out, sometimes you get free stuff at M. Tonight, that free stuff comes in the shape of this fabulous ginger hibiscus cocktail, designed by the restaurant’s acclaimed bar chef, Kris.
After all of this, I think it goes without saying: This isn’t the last M has seen of us.
Two assignments down, 34 to go. Check back next weekend–we’re going somewhere, I just don’t know where yet. And if the spirit moves you, check back before then, too; I’m enjoying this so much, I might just drop you a few lines to say hello…
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