Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Of Lava Lamps and Chocolate

We had a great experience Saturday night. We have a friend, MandoNut, who lives in nearby BigCity. He is divorced, and lonely, with no other family close by. He earns a living trucking so he often calls to talk to GuitarGeek while he's driving. That man gets more use out of his cell phone than anyone else I know. It's also not unusual for him to spend a free weekend at our place, and I try to fill him up with good home-cooked food while we laugh and talk around the table.

Once a year his mom and stepdad come for a visit, and when they come they like to take MandoNut's friends out to eat, partly for the fun of it, and partly to say thank you to MandoNut's friends for being MandoNut's friends. (Is this cool, or what?) This is the second year our family has been blessed to be numbered in MandoNut's special friends.

Now, MandoNut's folks like to do it right when they do it, and they brush aside ideas of what we call fancy restaurants, and they take us to NICE (read EXPENSIVE) places.

We were to meet on Saturday, and on Friday MandoNut called to ask if we had a preference as to where to eat. Well, no. I just said, "Not Amigos." He had two ideas, one being a fancy steakhouse where they marinate the steak in wine, the other being one that served Indian cuisine that involved lamb, seafood, and lots of vegetables. LovelyDaughter and I voted for the Indian food; I wanted to try lamb and LovelyDaughter likes trying new things. All the carnivores in our house voted for STEAK-- GIMMIE STEAK! Because of course, they like not only identifiable meat, but they want it to be BEEF; because, of course, it's what's for dinner. Of course.

Saturday afternoon we drove to BigCity early so GuitarGeek could pick up his new prescription sunglasses (and does he ever look scary in them), and to buy new jeans for MB3, since the only ones he has that fit him are pretty air-conditioned. After that was done, we drove downtown, parked in a parking garage, and walked around the corner to the restaurant. Do any of you see how ritzy this is? Of course, if you live in a big city and spend a lot of time parking in parking garages and walking around downtown it will sound pretty mundane. But believe me when I say we felt pret-ty snazzy.

Then we walked up to the doors of the restaurant. They had their menu on a plaque outside. All I could think was "Oh my goodness, I'm glad we're not paying!" And when we walked inside all I could think was, "Oh my goodness, I think we're not dressed up enough." We weren't feeling snazzy anymore, more like country hicks surrounded by sophisticated city people with a whole lot more money than we have. Even the waiters looked fancier. But we didn't let on, we just acted like we eat at these kinds of places all the time, and told the hostess we were waiting for the rest of our group.

We sat down on the window seat provided for waiting customers and hoped someone we knew would come rescue us. We got to watch a stream of people walk by to the down stairs where there was a surprise party gearing up for the arrival of the surprise-ees, and listen to the gal giving instructions: "Grab a party hat and noisemakers; they're on their way, and Kim is buying domestic bottles." I can write that because I heard her say it quite a few times. I'm still not sure what "domestic bottles" are, but I'm guessing she meant someone was treating everyone to bottles of wine as long as it wasn't imported. I assume imported wine is more expensive. (If I'm wrong you can tell me, but I hope I guessed right, and if I did, you can tell me that too.)

Suddenly, our host appeared and he led us back to the table. They had been there the whole time, but we didn't know it, and they hadn't taken a reservation, just a table, so their name wasn't on the list. Good thing they found us.

We spent way too long some time choosing our meals. This was quite an eclectic restaurant, and I was totally thrilled when I found that the carnivores and the adventurous among us would all be satisfied. Here's what we ate:

Me-- lamb with vegetables and quinoa

LovelyDaughter-- salmon with mango chutney and fancy rice

Hubby-- Steak with "pommes." (in other words, he ordered what he orders everywhere: beef with french fries. Would it surprise you to know that he's always the first to be ready to order?)

GuitarGeek-- same.

DrummerDude-- some sort of Brazilian seafood stew with shrimp and mussels and other things. (I guess he's more into trying new things than the other males in the family.)

MB3-- Buffalo Steak and mashed sweet potatoes. (I couldn't believe he voluntarily ordered mashed sweet potatoes, but I think the call of the buffalo must have been stronger.)

This may not sound fancy, exactly. But it was. Nearly everything had fruit in it: the quinoa had berries, and so did the rice, and so did the salad-- one of the best salads I've ever had by the way. Did you know that blue cheese and sunflower seeds and dried cranberries taste marvelous together? I had no idea and I would have never put them together myself, but it was very good.

After the meal the waitress came by with a long platter with one of each kind of dessert they offer. I had no intention before that moment of having dessert. I was so full I had given half of my plateful to MB3. (Teenage boys make eating out worth our money. I don't know what I'll do when they leave, because I, by myself, do not eat enough to be worth the expense.) But when she held that platter of beautifully arranged, tempting goodies next to me I capitulated very quickly, and so did everyone else at the table-- even MandoNut who was already talking about being a beached whale.

And y'all. It was wonderful. First I split a Tiramisu thingy with Hubby. He didn't think he wanted any dessert at all, and I was sure I couldn't eat very much. But part way through LovelyDaughter gave me a bite of her dessert, which was a rich Pot de Creme, a fancy sort of pudding that was very chocolate-y, very creamy with a huge dollop of real whipped cream on top. Oh. My. Word. I quickly asked Hubby if he was enjoying the Tiramisu. He said, actually, yes. So I gave the rest to him and grabbed the waitress the next time she walked by and ordered me a Pot de Creme.

It looked something like this, but with a LOT more whipped cream:

When it came, I took a bite and let it coat my entire mouth. Oh was it good. MandoNut asked me, "How is it?"

I said, "It makes me want to cry." This was true. It was so good, so chocolate-y, so rich, so smooth, so creamy, so tasty, that it brought tears to my eyes. I've never felt that way before. (Has this happened to anyone else?)

He looked at me incredulously. "Is it that good?"

All I could do was nod my head slowly and seriously. And keep eating.

But what I really want to tell you about is the drink I ordered. You may know already that Hubby and I have been wetting our feet in the world of wine, so to speak, trying to find something we can stand. So when I saw the large drinks menu, and remembered that our host was well-versed in wine lore, I began reading and asking lots of questions. I won't bore you with that conversation, but here's what I ended up getting:

A drink called a Lava Lamp. It's champagne with berries in it. Just imagine it with dried cranberries, and you'll see what I had. The cranberries sink and float with the same effect as a lava lamp. I was impressed. And, incredibly, I liked it.

So did Hubby. Every time he took a drink, he'd say, "Be careful with that stuff." So I'd take the tiniest sip possible. Later, he and LovelyDaughter were discussing the odd feelings they got from drinking it; they could feel it going to their heads whenever they took a swallow. I thought, good heavens, I must be a hardened winebibber already-- I didn't feel a thing! And then I found they were drinking in gulps, not sips, and Hubby said he was talking to himself when he said "Be careful with that stuff." Oh. So I was TOO careful? Well, I enjoyed sipping on that champagne for two hours, sharing it with Hubby, LovelyDaughter, and GuitarGeek. We got a lot of taste mileage out of that little glass.

This discovery, of course, does not solve our dilemma of what to drink for a bedtime relaxer. I learned that champagne is expensive, and does not keep well, and I really wasn't figuring on drinking an entire bottle of champagne every night, as well as it might make me sleep.

However, MandoNut ordered an Irish Coffee, which I guess is coffee with some sort of alcoholic something in it , with cream, and I tasted it. Hmm, I thought. A HOT drink at bedtime. Hmmm. So I've been researching liqueurs, which are different from liquors (see, I'm learning) and there's a whole world of possibilities out there. Someday I'll get brave again and try some of them.

But for now, forget the wine-- I'm checking out recipes for Pots de Creme!


Sniz said...

Yumm!! The mango chutney made me think of that commercial with the cavemen. Only really, really fancy restaurants serve mango chutney. Mmm...that lava lamp drink looks yum-O!

My Ice Cream Diary said...

My very favorite fancy restaurant dessert is Creme Brulee. I finally learned to make it at home and am VERY happy because of it.

carrie said...

Oh I am SOO drooling over here...And Irish coffee is very good ;)

slouching mom said...

I am so glad you got to do that. There have been a few times (I can count them on one hand) when I've eaten something at a restaurant so good that it's been almost a religious experience.

Amazing that food can make you feel that way, isn't it?

s.j.simon said...

lol. did you know that chocolate was banned in switzerland for many years. read this