Recently, I took my husband out for dinner to celebrate his birthday. We went to what’s considered one of Birmingham’s best restaurants, and it was easy to see why. The service was spot-on and the food was fantastic. We left feeling happy to have had the experience, but talk of our meal didn’t last beyond the restaurant’s front door. The next day I received an email from Open Table, which I’d used to make our reservation, asking me to take a quick survey. I’m a sucker for online product, restaurant, and travel reviews, so I filled it out. I gave the restaurant a rave review, but I got tripped up on the last question: “Was this one of the best meals you’ve ever had in a restaurant?” I couldn’t confidently say that it was, but I also couldn’t say that it wasn’t. I marked the “Unsure” option—to the chagrin of online-review readers everywhere.
All day, I kept thinking about that question and about my own restaurant experiences (including the many over-the-top meals I’ve had thanks to my work—a 17-course meal at Joel Robuchon’s eponymous Las Vegas restaurant and a sushi feast fit for an empress at Morimoto in Manhattan spring to mind). Which of them could I honestly say was the best, and for what reasons? When I actually posed the question to myself, it took about 18 seconds for me to realize my answer—a simple, pure, and flavorful lunch at The Whale Wins in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood. We’d chosen roasted carrots and fennel with harissa; a fresh butter-lettuce salad topped with soft herbs, pistachios, and pecorino cheese; crunchy toasts topped with Matiz sardines, curried tomato paste, and shaved fennel; and a ridiculously good dessert that involved rhubarb and crème fraîche. Perhaps it was the weather on that trip to Seattle, or the restaurant’s rustic decor, or the just-picked freshness of the produce they used. Perhaps it was the company. I think it’s all those factors combined, but, for whatever reason, I just keep coming back to that meal.
Suddenly re-inspired by that lunch and determined to recreate it (or, at least, portions of it), last week I ordered chef/owner Renee Erickson’s cookbook, “A Boat, A Whale & A Walrus.” And you guys, it’s the most gorgeous cookbook you’ll ever see, from its cover design to its paper to its photography. I plan to work my way through this book, but for now, I’ll be reliving a few unforgettable dishes from that most wonderful lunch.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever had? What made it so great?