Somewhere outside Portland, Maine, almost 40 years ago: A char-broiled halibut steak. There were probably other things on the plate, but I don’t remember.
The steak au poivre a la creme at a small corner pub in Brussels. With house made fresh fries to mop up the leftover sauce.
I never loved cauliflower. Didn’t hate it, but didn’t love it. Then one day, I was staying at a hotel in Carlisle, PA, and ordered room service. The fish dinner came with a cauliflower and cheese side dish. Oh My Fucking God, it was so damn good that it changed my life. To this day, the memory of that awesome cauliflower side dish makes me enjoy even a prosaic cauliflower side to an incredible level. It is strange but true that once you have something that well done, the memory makes even mediocre versions of the same food incredibly enjoyable. At least, it does for me.
Chili’s Relanos in s Diner in Amarillo, Tx. Off route 66. It was a late breakfast/brunch on the way to my brothers wedding. I might have been exceptionally hungry or it was perfection. Not sure. I seem to remember going on and on about it, til everyone told me to shut-up.
The chilli chicken wings at the Eastern Bamboo chinese restaurant in Darlington
A half dozen oysters, gratined with breadcrumbs, olive oil and cheese, fresh from the lagoon at Bouziques, southern France. (mopping up the juice in the shells afterwards with crusty bread)
tiny little fresh sardines dusted with polenta and salt and fried in olive oil, eaten off the bone.
Porto Marina in Sorrento
Some great stories in this thread from a few years back:
Not long afterward, another Doper was able to identify my little pizzeria in Wisconsin, with a photograph and everything. Sadly, I don’t think it’s there anymore.
I had huevos rancheros for breakfast at a tiny restaurant in Philadelphia, maybe 7 or 8 years ago.
I still think about it from time to time.
When I was a very small child, back in the 1950’s, the first taste of tangerine sherbet, from some little Mom and Pop ice cream stand somewhere on the Atlantic coast of Florida. There were the days before air conditioning, before development, before high rises and big chains everywhere. So sweet, so citrusy tart, so cold. Sixty years later, I remember it with pleasure.
The first taste of cilantro I ever had, in a dish of chicken vindaloo in a now-defunct Madison restaurant. Exquisite pleasure in every bite of the sauce.
The first time I tasted Sartori’s Bel Vitano cheese. In a store sample, the cheese was just the right temperature to hit my taste buds just right. I think my eyes really did roll back in my head.
Certain flourless chocolate cakes, dark chocolate, low on sugar, high on fat, definitely have given me great pleasure, but I don’t remember any specific ones.
I have been lucky enough to have fantastic cooks in my mother and both grandmothers. Probably my earliest best food memory is when I was about 12-13- we visited my grandparents in Long Beach, WA and my grandmother made poached salmon caught that same morning with hollandaise sauce that just in one bite changed my whole perception of how good food could be.
I had beef ribs at a very buckaroo wedding that were amazing. The first time I tasted Thai food (Tom Yum soup actually). All of these things are still good but nothing like the first time I had them so there are many best things I’ve ever eaten.
If you’re ever in Riga, the capital of Latvia, go to the Lido restaurant off Aleksandra Čaka iela (Street) for Schweinshaxe (roast pork knuckle), enough to feed two and served on a platter. The first time I was there, I had it with potato pancakes, sauerkraut, sour cream, and beer. I felt stuffed for the next two days, but man, was it worth it!
Should have asked if they had applesauce to go with it. Damn!
The bouillabaisse I had at a waterfront place in Marseilles.
The moules à la provençale at a bistro in Brussels, although I make a pretty damn good version of it myself.
Your post reminded me of one.
During a visit to my maternal grandparents’ farm in Montana, my grandmother, a Ukrainian, made us varenikis. Her version was large dumplings stuffed with farmers’ cheese, boiled, then simmered briefly in a sauce made from onions sauteed in butter and then sour cream added. The butter, sour cream and farmers’ cheese were all made from her Guernsey dairy cows’ milk. The onions came from her huge garden.
I still drool to remember them. I can replicate this dish, but not all the ingredients she had available to her.
Oh yes! Pan fried sardines in Brittany.
And pumpkin ravioli in a restaurant in Parma.
Ya gets no bread with one meatball.
In early 2008, my wife and I went to New Orleans for our last pre-parenthood trip. Can’t remember the name of the restaurant, but it had crawfish etouffée that remains one of the culinary highlights of my life. (We went back there a second time while we were there. It was every bit as good the second time.)
In the summer of 2001, the Joint Statistical Meetings were in NYC. One evening, the restaurant we went to had lobster ravioli on the menu. I tried it. Amazing.
My wife and I went to Glacier National Park in 1997, and again in 2005. There’s a restaurant in Whitefish, MT called Truby’s. Their Thai pizza is easily the best pizza I’ve ever had. Alas, Truby’s closed last year.
I’m always torn trying to replicate the experience of that magic food (or anything else) moment when it just clicks. I’ve made prime rib several times since that magic one and temper my expectation that I’ll somehow recreate the exact combination of beef and heat (I never have).
I’m always hesitant to eat seasonal fruit as some years the last peach is ambrosia and other times best left on the tree. And sometimes, you just have to leave that last bite on the plate because the one before it was perfection!
The burger I had at the Opal Country Cafe in Spencer, ID.
I was eleven, a Tenderfoot and on my first weekend camping trip with my new Scout troop. We were told to bring something from home to eat for dinner, and I had a bologna sandwich and an apple. Mr. B, one of the assistant scoutmasters had gone out early and had made a Dutch oven full of Venison Stew for us to add to our food from home. It had vegetables, deer meat (which I had never tasted and a thick tomato gravy. I can still almost taste it.
Circa 94 I went to a Thai restaurant in Greensboro, NC during their opening week. The pad thai is still the one I measure that dish by.
Or perhaps the smoked chicken my friends and I made this summer. It was almost a different animal. Ch-ham, if you will.
Scallops broiled with garlic. Seafood restaurant in Galveston, Texas about 30 years ago. I’ve given up trying to reproduce the recipe.