11 Unforgettable Dining Experiences

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.
~A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

Pooh and I are very like in this. I find food terribly exciting, especially when it is exquisitely prepared and beautifully served. Yes, I eat my fair share of leftovers and occasionally even stoop to fast food on the road. But I am passing fond of meals that nourish the senses. Preferably all of them. I favor long, slow meals accompanied by deep conversation and laughter. And if this happens to occur someplace beautiful with people I love, all the better. Here are 11 of my favorites.

Asia de Cuba, Anniversary March 2010
My sweet husband surprised me with a trip to New York for our 23rd anniversary. He chose the restaurant. He is brilliant. 🙂 Asia de Cuba is a trendy Asian/Cuban fusion restaurant. Philippe Starck designed the unique interior. White curtains and a holographic waterfall help create the unique atmosphere. Our waiter sat down at our table and spent a very long time talking with us to discover what we liked before making recommendations. Everything we ate was beautiful and delicious, but there were two distinct standouts. The calamari salad is one of their signature dishes. Crisp calamari with chayote, hearts of palm, bananas, cashews, chickory and raddichio, and sesame orange dressing. Amazing! And dessert. Oh. My!! The Bay of Pigs was gastrorgasmic. (My friend Maurilio sent this word to me after I tweeted the above picture. He was right!) Bananas covered in an impossibly delicate shell of caramelized sugar, ice cream (coffee I think) fudge and caramel sauces, warm chocolate chip cookies, macadamia nuts, fondant, and whipped cream. It should be illegal.

Gelateria Bellocco, Summer 2010
Our family has eaten our fair share of gelato. We are pretty finicky about what constitutes proper gelato. Last summer, Kelsey and I returned to our favorite gelateria in Florence. We ate there 3 times in 24 hours. But just two days later we were renouncing our favorite for Sergio’s marvelous creations. In particular, he makes a pistachio that uses salted pistachios. I was skeptical, but I was wrong. Salty, creamy, intense, addictive. If I lived in Italy I would have to go to a 12 step program. That’s all there is to it.

Mangia Nashville, Anniversary March 2011
An Italian feast! Five leisurely courses, each featuring two or three selections, served family style. Superb food prepared by Nick Pellegrino, who also sings, dances and quotes lines from the Godfather. It is a wonderful community experience, and a meal you will never forget. (By the way, the desserts at the top of the post are theirs.)

Country Breakfast at my Mama’s
Just ask my kids. If we are going to visit the first question is likely to be, “Do you think Mamaw will make breakfast?” My mother’s biscuits and gravy, and chocolate gravy (I kid you not), sausage, eggs, homemade jelly, fried apples, etc… is legendary. Better than Cracker Barrel. Even better than the Loveless. Yep. I said it.

Picnics in the Japanese Garden at Cheekwood
When the kids were little I would buy an annual pass. We would go every couple of weeks. We would look at the artwork in the museum, then stroll though the gardens and see what was blooming, or putting up shoots, or making seeds. But we would always end up in the Japanese Garden. It was our favorite. And this is where we would pull out our lunch. And just for a while, we were far away in Japan. And this was our garden. And nothing could be more natural than bringing our lunch out onto the lanai and breathing slowly and contemplating the waves of stone, and the colors and textures, the order, the calm.

Cafe Tomaselli, Salzburg
Mozart ate here. It’s true. I think I know why. The pastries are elegant and delicious, and surprisingly affordable. The cappuccino is warm, and frothy, and rich. And everything is served on proper plates and in proper cups, on proper trays, with lovely little sugar cubes and tiny glasses of water, and a spoon laid over the top. And one can imagine, just for a moment, that all of life is just this grand and elegant.

French Boulangeries
It took us exactly one morning to become Parisian, dashing into the local Boulangerie for our morning pastries. Our favorites were the Viennese rolls, soft warm bread with chocolate chips. We would walk down the street, nibbling, till we reached the courtyard behind Notre Dame. There we would finish our breakfast properly, perhaps sharing a bit with the birds.

Boudro’s on the Riverwalk, San Antonio
To sit along the riverwalk at night is nourishment in itself. Then add to that the most amazing guacamole I have ever eaten. It is their recipe we use to this day. Mesquite grilled Texas Quail in a molasses glaze, served over pepper jack grits. Gulf coast blue crab cakes with roasted corn sauce, jicama slaw, and tomatilla cream. Yum. Yum!

Johnnie Foxe’s, Dublin Ireland
Their mussels are legendary, and not without reason. Beautifully seasoned, tender and fresh. Best seafood chowder I ever ate. And our introduction to Banoffee pie. I have been playing with recipes ever since trying to get it just right. Everything is served up in a convivial atmosphere with all kinds of quirky kitsch all over the walls. Makes for interesting conversations. 🙂

Boma Cafe, Animal Kingdom Lodge, Disney World
Boma is beautiful, as is the whole of the lodge. And they serve up a whole buffet of African fare. Lentils, curries, soups, vegetables, meats, salads, all with exotic seasonings. A wonderful opportunity to sample a wide variety of unfamiliar foods.

African Supper, Malawi
We gathered under a great spreading acacia tree. There were a thousand stars overhead. Our freshly scrubbed bodies were chilly in the night air. A fire blazed, and there were lanterns on the tables. We filled our plates with nsima (rather like grits, but softer), greens with tomatoes and onions, beans, stewed meats, and bread toasted over the fire. We drank pineapple and mango sodas. And we relived the moments of the day. Our stomachs were filled, and we would sleep the sleep of the weary. Weary, but glad.

Tell me about the significant dining experiences in your life. What is it that makes them so?

Buon Appetit!

*Special thanks to Giorgio who supplies the topic for today’s post.