[Disclaimer: I realize I haven’t blogged for *coughs* a week now, but I have good reason (see also: stomach flu with the hubs). I didn’t really want to lead into the best meal I’ve ever had with that anecdote, but just like Lucy Ricardo, I had some ‘splainin to do. So with that out of the way…]
“One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.” – Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright
I’ll admit that I eat out very regularly; before I got married and joined bank accounts with my husband, I probably ate more meals prepared by someone else who was paid to do so than I actually made myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy cooking or baking, but I really hate cleaning. Anything. (I am still an awesome wife, nonetheless…plus Husband does the dishes so it all works out beautifully. He needs food to survive and I need someone to clean up after me — it’s a symbiotic relationship.) And in all the years that I have been eating out; all the soups and salads, the appetizers, main courses, pastas, lean proteins, fatty meats, and desserts I’ve had, there is literally just one meal that really sticks out to me, and it is The Meal to beat.
My mother and I were meeting some friends in downtown PDX for dinner before “Wicked,” so it stood to reason that we needed an equally impressive meal. We decided upon Carafe, a small French bistro that has probably the most prime location any restaurant could; directly across the street from the Keller Auditorium (where Broadway touring companies visit, concerts are held, etc.) I hadn’t eaten French food before (or if I had, it was watered down Americanized French food), so I wasn’t entirely positive what to expect. I wasn’t even sure I’d enjoy it. But my mother had been previously and said the food was delicious, so I knew there would be something on that menu that I would like.
Moules a la Creme – pacific mussels, shallots, thyme, white wine, creme fraiche
The special of the evening: roasted duck in a blood orange reduction, served atop butternut squash
A seasonal fruit and cheese plate
For whatever reason, I love mussels and clams but cannot tolerate oysters under any circumstances. It’s a texture thing; mussels are meatier, chewier, where oysters are a little slimy and slithery. I just can’t get behind them. When I took the first bite of the mussels in that creme fraiche sauce, with a little bit of soft shallot, I couldn’t believe food could taste so delicious and have been hiding from me for so long. I think it’s safe to say that I ate the majority of the appetizer, unabashedly, wishing it was socially acceptable for me to lap up the remaining sauce. You know how I feel about sauce. There are some people who pooh-pooh the appetizer, arguing that it’s just unnecessary, additional food that fills you up before you get your entree. To those people, I simply say: you’re doing it wrong, then.
I should interject at this point that my mother is a moral eater. By that I mean she doesn’t eat foods like foie gras or shark fin or veal that are more torturous to the animal than delicious to the eater, and for whatever reason, ducks fall into that category. But I am a rebel, with little cause, and ordered the roasted duck, knowing full well I’d hear about it for the remainder of the evening. I don’t eat a lot of duck; partially because it makes me feel so terrible (emotionally, not physically) but also because to me it’s a special type of meal. I eat it when I’m in the mood for something fancy. If you haven’t eaten duck and don’t have any moral opposition, I highly recommend it. Imagine, if you will, chicken that only has the delicious aspects (flavor, tenderness) and none of the downers (potentially dryness). Duck is chicken, elevated. Literally — I mean, they can fly, after all. I digress. The skin was crispy, which is an absolute necessity if you’re going to be serving poultry, skin on, and the meat inside was rich and flavorful and so tender that it melted in my mouth. The squash was roasted, a little sweet, and soft in the middle, and the reduction was tart and refreshing.
This was the sort of meal that you close with a sophisticated dessert, so I opted for the fruit and cheese platter, forgetting momentarily that it was wintertime in the Pacific NW. I will say, however, that it was some of the best dried fruit I’ve ever eaten in my life (no, really), soft and moist and sweet without being cloying, and the cheeses my server selected (I told him to surprise me) were perfection. Sharp and a little salty, warm and inviting; and everything was accompanied by these delicious walnut toasts that were so crunchy and perfect that sometimes I think about going back and asking for a plate full of them.
I don’t know when I will ever eat another meal like it, and rather than feel disappointed, I hold within me an anticipation of great things to come.