Gordon Ramsay dinner, 2013
One of our wedding gifts was a gift certificate to Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant at The London hotel here in New York. It was for a whopping $370 (!), which I thought would give us a few dinners. Richard chuckled and said, “We’ll be lucky if it covers ONE dinner.” He was right!
Our reservation was for 6:15 PM on 2/6/13.
WIW: light blue shirt, a tie woven out of navy blue, medium blue, iridescent blue, and muted orange silk (a hand-me-down from my Grandpa Ryan), a navy and black mini check sport coat, grey trousers, black belt and shoes.
WRW: light gray suit (The Wedding Suit), white shirt, reversible Countess Mara bow tie, tied to show both the blue/green/pink polka dot side and the pink/orange/blue striped side, black belt and shoes.
We walked through a loud and boisterous bar and restaurant to get to our dining room. It’s silent as the tomb in there, heavenly. Lovely room, done in delicate shades of off white, grey, fawn, and Clinique green. Neither of us were wild for the chandeliers, but the wall sconces were divine. Sixteen tables, probably about half of them with people at them (maybe less than half). The chairs were Clinique green armchairs, on a swivel! Have you ever heard of such a thing.
The table was set with a display plate, three glasses, and a bread plate to the left with a bread knife. No other flatware, which I found interesting. The required flatware was delivered with each course, very high style.
Richard has a friend at the hotel, a hilarious woman of a certain age with the unlikely name of Julie Andrews. She walked us in, sat us down, and chatted us up. She was thrilled that we were there, and she couldn’t have been cuter. She had a waiter bring over two glasses of Champagne, crisp and delicious.
We had looked at the menu online ahead of time, of course. I got the six-course Prestige Menu/Vegetarian at $185. Richard thought he was getting the six-course Prestige Menu [Carnivore], but through some misunderstanding he ended up getting the three-course Prix Fixe, the penny saver alternative at $135 (which he found quite satisfying).
I told my friend Ethlouise here at work about our dinner. I mentioned the $185 price and she turned away in horror, raising her hand in a gesture that said, “Do not say another word.”
ME: And you know me! My attitude is you can spend less than $10 at Subway and be just as full. Your stomach will not be grumbling when you go to bed that night.
HER: At that price, you could take your whole church to Subway!
ME: Including the choir! And you know they’re big eaters.
They started with an amuse bouche before we placed our order, a beignet made of hearts of palm, served with a celeriac velouté (an intensely creamy soup). Divine. I’m going to be using the word “divine” quite a lot.
Our primary server was a lovely charming Japanese woman. Our secondary server was a tall slightly husky blond guy, American. Various other people - - everyone was stellar. A gentleman came around with rolls - - Richard got the Italian roll, I got the olive roll. The rolls were warm and the butter was soft and served on a little round marble slab.
Years ago I went to The Essen Haus, a German restaurant off the capitol square in Madison, WI, with my parents. The waitresses wear dirndls and the waiters were lederhosen. That kind of place. We got a basket of bread with little pats of butter wrapped in foil.
ME: There are few things in this world that I hate more than a frozen pat of butter.
MOM: Why don’t you stick it up your armpit.
And she turned and something to my dad. We went on with our meals, la dee dah, and I discreetly reached into my shirt and pulled out a pat of butter.
MOM: [intense stage whisper] What the HELL are you doing?
ME: I put the pat of butter in my armpit. It was a great idea!
My first course was a baked buckwheat crêpe with wild mushrooms, stracciatella, and black truffles. Delicate and heavenly. Let me remind you that I had six courses and Richard only had three, so with each course that he skipped they brought him a plate, so we could share. Isn’t that thoughtful?
Richard’s first course was sautéed driver scallops with poached Kusshi oysters, a romaine roulade, and Vermouth butter. I had a bite of scallop and it was perfect. Richard told me there’s about 30 seconds difference between a perfectly cooked scallop and an overcooked scallop. These were perfect. Richard was blown away by the romaine roulade: it was romaine lettuce rolled up very carefully in a tiny pinwheel and then cooked. Richard said, “I’m glad it was someone else’s hands that were doing all that tedious work.”
My second course was a white onion velouté (that creamy soup again), with crispy cauliflower, fennel, and fingerling potatoes. Let me say here that each course was quite small, the perfect size. I bet there was only one cup of soup in that bowl. It was this soup that steered me in the direction of the vegetarian menu, and it was spectacular.
Sometime around the second course this group of three guys came in the dining room and went over to the table next to us, took off their jackets, and were talking with perhaps a bit too much volume. One of the guys was a little portly and was wearing suspenders, which to me is like a woman showing her bra straps. Not always a bad thing, but tacky as heck in the wrong setting (this was definitely the wrong setting). The host came over to them almost as soon as they sat down, spoke with them for a moment, and they got up and left. I asked Richard:
ME: What do you suppose the host said to them?
HIM: Well once they were in the dining room there’d be no tactful way for the host to throw them out. I think THEY decided they didn’t want to be there. There wasn’t any fun to be had in that room, and they wanted fun.
My third course was a potato rösti served with cipollini onions, wilted spinach, and smoked egg yolk. Such a beautiful, fascinating combination of flavors.
Richard’s second course was braised sturgeon with crispy wild rice and a mushroom fricassee in a parsley smoked chicken sauce. Gorgeous, firm meat to the fish, delicious. Richard got a glass of pinot grigio to go with the sturgeon. I had a club soda and lime. At some point I went to use the bathroom, which was impossibly chic! White marble with tiny black and white tiles. More Clinique green. A one-seater.
My fourth course was black olive tortellini with sweet garlic, oregano, herb farfalle, and ricotta salata. Amazing. Divine! This course was served with a knife, fork, and a sauce spoon, which I had never handled before: the bowl of the spoon is almost completely flat, and it has a little notch/scallop on the right side. It was lovely.
My fifth course was a grapefruit sorbet, with cucumber meringue and gin. Tart, crisp, just the thing to clear the palate before dessert.
My sixth and final course was a local ricotta mousse with candied pine nuts, kumquat, and fennel ice cream. Incredible. But Richard’s third and final course was the hit of the evening, a cocoa nib soufflé served with Toby’s Estate coffee ice cream on the side. The soufflé had a perfectly flat top and perfectly sharp edges. It was warm and frothy and welcoming. The cocoa nibs added a teeny crunch to the texture. And the coffee ice cream was marvelous.
But wait, there’s more! The tall blond waiter came by with the bon bon cart! He talked us through all the different choices, and we ended up with five or six candies each. My fave was the dark chocolate filled with orange.
The whole evening was like a trip through the looking glass - - so elegant and classy and yes, divine!
Karen and Bruce's 50th birthday dinner
My dear friends Karen and Bruce got a small group of friends together at a fabulous restaurant called Print in the fall of 2013. I don’t remember so many specifics about the meal, though I do remember my entree, a spectacular root vegetable casserole, just the thing on a crisp fall evening. I like to eat vegetarian whenever I can, it makes me feel virtuous. Don’t get me wrong, I spend plenty of time eating processed meat products, and probably always will. But when a restaurant has a promising vegetarian dish on the menu, I’m usually drawn to that, and am never disappointed.
The thing I remember best about the evening was the fun. The people at the table were almost all people I know and yet don’t see very often. It was such a fun, warm, and memorable evening.
Shawarma at MSK
One of the best things about working at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for 17 years was the food! Oh dear Lord the food in the cafeteria was amazing. My favorite thing ever was a made-to-order shawarma, basically a pile of delicious food in a bowl: rice, kalamata olives, caramelized onions, red cabbage slaw, some sort of rich creamy sauce. I’m sure I’m leaving out three or four elements. Give me some warm pita on the side and you can go ahead and have your way with me.
Can I give an honorable mention? I was very chummy with one of the executive chefs years ago, a delightful woman named Pnina Peled. I often wrote her emails when something was particularly delicious, and she loved that I did that. One day I built up the nerve to send her a suggestion:
“I’m sure that you’re flush with sandwich ideas for the grill combo, but I was in the Hamptons visiting a friend this weekend (don’t be too impressed, he says he lives in “the slums of the Hamptons”) and we got lunch at the General Store. I had the sandwich special, which was honey roasted ham, sharp cheddar cheese, and mango chutney on multi-grain bread. It was off the hook delicious. Maybe someday you could feature a Hamptons Ham Sandwich?”
Sure enough, a few weeks later there it was, on a Friday. And she called it “Christopher’s Hamptons Ham Sandwich.” One of the highlights of my years at that job.
Bacon cheeseburger after The Program
Sometime around 2015 Richard saw a video online done by a young man who had done what we called The Program for a month. We adapted it to our needs to mean this:
No red meat
No fried food
No store-bought bread
No processed sugar
Limited processed foods
I decided to do it twice a year, in March and September. I chose those months because they were six months apart and there were no major holidays involved.
I have to admit that I fell off the wagon here and there, which I decided was an essential part of the process. I boxed myself back in by saying that if I cheated, I had to spend at least the next two days not cheating. I always lost two or three pounds when I was on The Program, which was a welcome by-product, but the real point was reminding myself of the choices I make when I’m planning or buying a meal. There are plenty of delicious choices to be had with the above restrictions.
That said (a phrase I hate), I spent literally every day of the month I was on The Program thinking of the things I would eat when the month was over. My <<idée fixe>> was a bacon cheeseburger with fries and a Diet Coke, with a slice of chocolate cake.
Fish boil, Door County
My mom and brothers and I spent nearly a week in Door County in the summer of 2019, celebrating my mother’s 80th birthday. We went to The Old Post Office restaurant, we were told it was the most delicious and the most authentic. It was delicious and it was a complete experience!
It was theatre of the highest order watching the hunky blond guy display the white fish to us, put it in a big iron cauldron, and set that mother on fire. Unforgettable.
La Veranda, Rome
This is from my travelogue from our trip to Italy in 2018:
We walked back to the street and weren’t able to figure out how to get an Uber - - it was asking us to choose which one we wanted and where we wanted to meet it, it was very confusing. We took a cab. Richard checked his phone and got a text from Michele, saying that he had hoped to come to Rome to see us that night, but that didn’t pan out, so instead they made us a reservation at a restaurant near our hotel, La Veranda.
Here’s how I wrote about it on tripadvisor the next day:
Five stars out of five
“My husband and I are on vacation in Rome and a friend sent us to La Veranda. It was one of the highlights of the trip, such a beautiful restaurant, spectacular food, and stellar service.
“We couldn’t decide on a first course, so we got three. Ricotta and semi-dried tomatoes, sardines and butter on crostini, and mortadella served with a sharp, hard cheese and (would you believe) a few blueberries. All of it sublime.
“My main course was amatriciana in a dreamy tomato sauce with bits of crispy, spicy bacon. My husband had lamb shanks with sautéed vegetables. Incredible."
Richard and I got married in May of 2012. The year before, February of 2011, we became registered as domestic partners, which was as legal as we could get at the time. We celebrated our partnership with our nearest and dearest by throwing a dinner party at our favorite restaurant, the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, a fabulous kitschy place in Greenwich Village.
My brother Howard asked his server, “What would you recommend?” The server said, “I have the chicken fried chicken every single time I work a shift.” What more proof do you need! Ever since I heard that story it’s been the only thing I’ve ordered. Divine.
Our wedding was at The Princeton Club in May of 2012. Our friend Tracy works at the Club and worked with us on every detail of the planning. It was a brunch - - we had a made-to-order omelet station, that was a big hit. But the thing I remember most is an addition to the menu that was made at Tracy’s suggestion in one of our meetings with her. She said, “So we have a ham… Wouldn’t it be nice to have mac and cheese?”
Our friend Katherine made a gluten-free cake, made with almond flour. She said the highest compliment you could pay her would be to say that you’d never guess that it was gluten free. Mission accomplished.
Richard and i went to London, Paris, and Amsterdam on our honeymoon in November of 2012. The best meal of our trip was at Cafe Quincampoix, a priceless restaurant in Paris in the Marais neighborhood. Here's my account of this meal from my travelogue (one of these days I have to put that trip on my site):
Our final stop was one of Richard’s favorite neighborhoods, the Marais. For our last meal in town we decided to use the method that brought us so much luck: we walked around and found a place that looked good. It was called Café Quincampe, named after the street it was on, the rue Quincampoix. This was another of those greatest meals of my life. We were seated in the back room, which couldn’t have been more charming. Our waiter was wonderful. I told him right off that we were from New York and would have a lot of questions. One of the starters was a velouté of vegetables, and I asked him to explain what a velouté is. He said, “C’est comme une soupe [it’s like a soup]…[short pause, then in English] but more creamy.” Sounded good to me, and it was amazing! Tasted like it was mostly cauliflower, a really gorgeous soup. They gave me a wooden spoon to eat it with, which was a first for me, and it only added to the experience. Richard had the gravlax for a starter, which came with a little salad and some sort of spicy green business as a garnish.
Richard’s main course was the shrimp risotto, which he said was very good. My main course was the Assiette Quincampoise (the Quincampoise Dish) - - gravlax and smoked haddock, served on a bed of salad greens, with cubed kiwi sprinkled over it and julienned zucchini on the side. Also a little pot of something sweet and frothy on the side, I have no idea what it was, but it worked real well to counteract the saltiness of the haddock. The whole thing was spectacular. We each had a glass of champagne with the main course, and a slice of the fondant du chocolat for dessert, a warm soft chocolate cake swimming in crème anglaise. Unbelievably delicious. Such a lovely place, such a special meal, we’re sending our Parisian friends there, also anyone visiting Paris.
I went to San Francisco to visit my brother Howard in the spring of 2015. I had done a little project for a friend of a friend, I helped with some formatting for her dissertation. She paid me $150 for my work and I didn’t want to just put it in the bank and spend it on rent or toilet paper, so I decided to spend it by taking Howard to Chez Panisse for lunch.
Chez Panisse is a world-renowned restaurant in Berkeley, run by Alice Waters. We ate upstairs in the cafe, which was half the price of the hoity toity restaurant. It still cost $150 for lunch, so it wasn’t cheap! But it was an amazing meal. I don’t remember what my entree was, the thing I remember best was the salad. It was billed as “mixed lettuces” - - it wasn’t too lightly dressed, and let me tell you, I’ve never had a more delicious salad. Just mixed greens with dressing.