We have all been there; served “that perfect bite” at a restaurant. You know, the one that sends you to heaven – your eyes roll back into your head. It’s simply magic. All chefs worth their salt strive to transport their patrons into this state of bliss. But have you ever been in that “almost there” state? It’s like being teased into nearly having an orgasm, but being frustrated when you don’t reach it. Food for me is this way in many cases; something will be out-of-place and not quite there. My brain tries to figure out what is wrong or missing so that I can achieve that perfect balance of flavors with the dish.
Not too long ago, I ate a salmon dish that left me with just this frustration. It was a pan-seared salmon cooked to perfection in a pumpkin cream sauce. The pumpkin sauce was a good complement to the flavor of the fish, but it lacked dimension. It needed something, but what? On the way home from the restaurant my mind wandered on what the sauce lacked so that it could be the perfect enhancement to this plate. It needed to be something with a bit of zing, but nothing too overpowering to ruin the subtle flavors of the pumpkin.
When it was my turn to recreate the dish, I came up with the perfect thing. I made a spicy red pepper puree and added it to the pumpkin sauce. It gave the sauce the lift it needed, without changing the integrity of the original dish. My taste buds were finally satisfied.
For me, this is one of the joys of dining out; I have the opportunity to gain inspiration from other people who cook and sometimes even improve on those ideas. There are occasions where I don’t have the skill to produce their dishes and I just eat with envy and happiness.
Recently, I ate at two restaurants that gave me inspiration. One was in the form of fish and chips, with a side of AMAZING homemade tartar sauce. The batter of the fish was unusual. We are all familiar with the regular beer-batter on our fish. This particular restaurant added garlic, lemon, and a finishing kick of cayenne pepper to the crispy light batter and tender juicy fish. It left me wanting to rush home and try to recreate those flavors! (And, of course. to take credit for the genius of coming up with the idea too!) The tartar sauce made me want to eat it straight with my spoon; as in no fish needed. Even though I don’t normally care for the flavor of dill this had a beautiful fresh flavor that was both complemented and challenged by chunks of crunchy pickles, tartar, and mayo.
The other plate was a scallop dish served on a lovely bed of risotto perfectly complemented by a creamy beurre blanc with a ribbon of blood orange reduction for the wow factor. I have had seared scallops countless times in many ways, but I have to say this was one of my favorites. The combination of flavors and textures had me singing in my seat.
One of the joys for me of writing this blog is being able to put my thoughts down and share them with you. It not only makes me appreciate the effort involved in preparing the dish I have eaten, but it also challenges me to be a better home chef. Even if you don’t cook, but just appreciate good food, you will know what I am talking about. It is always better when you can share the experience of a great meal.