Friday, February 13, 2009

The Proust Effect

(image from

One of the many things I love about The Girl is she never needs an excuse to go out for dinner. She worked in the food/beverage industry for years before doing what she does now so the woman knows her way around a kitchen, behind a bar and the front of the house. We don’t do Valentines Day so it wasn’t like we were going out to celebrate what we see as a non holiday. I wanted to go out because I was tired, pining for a cocktail and fancy food. So last night I greeted her at the door with: “Let’s go out to dinner. You choose.” After ten minutes of a good natured back and forth of: “No, you choose. . .“ I finally decided on this place. I hate making the restaurant decision because if the food sucks, I feel responsible. At Mizuna’s, we walk into the room where TG is immediately greeted by a charming man who was genuinely thrilled we had come in for dinner and then he spent the rest of the evening treating us in the manner we so richly deserve. Like princesses. Our meal was fabulous: she had the mac and cheese with lobster and lobster oil; I had the escargot pot pie. But dessert. Dessert was amazing.
I’m usually disappointed in my desserts. Even in my favorite restaurants dessert is usually meh at its best and sent back at its worst. I don’t think of myself as a picky eater but when it comes to dessert I guess I am. Dessert is a special occasion for me. When I was a little girl, my mother--Susie Homemaker--always served dessert with dinner. Mind you, it was a Duncan Hines cake frosted with resentment and a sense of duty. When my dad started gaining weight and his blood pressure went up she gratefully gave up the cakes and dessert then became a rare thing. It is still a rare thing for me and as I try desserts in my city’s restaurants it is becoming even more rare to have a dessert.

The most memorable dessert I’ve ever had was in 1987 at a country club in Orlando. A small serving of fresh raspberries, served in a frosty martini glass with a sugared rim. The presentation was simple and the berries exquisite. Frankly this dessert is the litmus test for all other desserts. Unfortunately, the last great dessert I had was a crème brulee in 2008 at John Gray’s in Puerto Morelos. The rest of the experience was so bad I wrote and tried to contribute an online review but the Trip Advisor nanny didn’t approve of my reference to the bartender as a “surly bitch”. Besides that, she was so busy trying to get into Chef Gray’s pants it was obviously an inconvenience to serve anyone at the bar, especially a couple of middle-aged lesbians. This year, in Mexico, we went to one of John Gray’s restaurants and revisited the crème brulee. He tried to whore it up with espresso powder and ruined it. He happened to be in the house that evening, and because I will say anything to anyone, when he asked me how we enjoyed our desserts I told him. Something to the effect he ruined it by trying to make it fancy. Chef Gray’s excuse was he couldn’t get vanilla beans. In Mexico. Yeah. Whatever. Wouldn’t it have been funny if I asked him if he was still getting some strange from his homophobic bitch of a bartender.

And please, don’t hide a mediocre dessert behind a huge portion! In the south suburbs (land of the minivan and mega church) there is a restaurant called “The Claim Jumper” and it is the glutton’s paradise. The chicken dinner? Half a chicken. A piece of chocolate cake? Half a small sheet pan. Is the chocolate cake any good? No it tastes like my mother’s Duncan Hines cake. So give me enough for a small family and I’ll think it’s better? Um…no.

Last night our lovely waiter/bartender told us he was buying us dessert. In the past, I’ve learned this is most likely because the pastry chef fucked something up and they are trying to get rid of it. I was crossing my fingers he was going to bring me a flight of their sorbets but instead He brought out a bruleewith these amazing macaroons for TG and a flambé with bananas and grapes for me (it wasn’t even on the menu). Not only did they do what dessert should do, but they were transcendent. I never wanted dessert to end. I wanted those lovely tastes to linger on my tongue for the rest of my life. These desserts became an existential experience. (Please don’t lose sight of the fact a trip to Walmart for tampons can become an existential experience for me!) Like Proust’s cookie, they triggerd memories and became the creators of another wonderful memory with The Girl. We waxed philosophically about dessert, how it should be the end note to a meal; without overshadowingit in either it’s mediocrity or flamboyance. It shouldn’t be the late arriving guest, that is like, your best friend from college rolling into your dinner party--late-- all sloppy drunk and loud.
TG explained to me the German for dessert: nachtisch, literally translates “after the dish”. Well of course it does! Leave it to the Germans to be completely pragmatic about dessert. “Und now vee eat cake und vee will undjoy dee cake for we have had our dish or schnitzel!” I woke up this morning thinking about dessert. I doubt I’ll have any for a few months and when I do have one it will have to be as delightful as a simple goblet of raspberries or last night’s vanilla induced petite mal.

Here’s to the Proust Effect! Happy Valentines Day!

No comments: