2. I went to kindergarten and first grade at a little private school called St. Luke's, out in New Mexico farm country. Once a year they did a fundraiser where they sold make-your-own-pizza kits. The resulting pizza was probably pretty lousy in the grand scheme of things, but I truly loved it.
3. On a family trip to San Diego when I was 13 or so, I ordered shrimp tacos at some divey Mexican joint, and they were covered in chopped fresh cilantro, which I may have tasted a couple of times, but certainly not in such quantities. This was before you could buy cilantro just anywhere. It blew my everloving mind. I had no idea what I was eating until later, back in El Paso, when I smelled that taste in the produce section at a grocery store and was stopped in my tracks. (I feel like cilantro isn't that fragrant anymore; I wonder if we use different cultivars now that there's higher demand.)
4. In high school, the gorditas from Pepe's Tamales on Mesa, in the same little strip mall that housed our Blockbuster Video. The crispiest, daintiest little gorditas in history, served in a little paper tray, delicious every time, RIP.
5. Once in college my brother and I stayed in a house on the beach (near Corpus, maybe?) with our friends Robo and Stacey (now married) and Stacey's mother and sister. One night we bought a bag of shrimp fresh off a boat, and I made a batter with a lot of Tony Chachere's (salty Cajun seasoning) and fried them up, and we ate them hot as they came out of the pot. Possibly the best shrimp I've ever had.
6. College again: At Jazz Fest in New Orleans, dripping in sweat, my roommate Kate and I stopped and bought a shrimp po'boy to share from a food stand. Just shrimp in a remoulade sauce with cold shredded iceberg lettuce on French bread. We looked at each other in disbelief as we took our first bites. That sandwich was so fucking good!
7. On my 21st birthday I went to Mark's, a beautiful restaurant built in an old church on Westheimer, and had some kind of carpaccio (tuna, I think, not beef) and seafood risotto garnished with – and this is the most memorable part – the most delicious sliver-thin slices of roasted fennel. This still stands out as maybe the most I've enjoyed a meal at an upscale restaurant.
8. John and I once spontaneously stopped for dinner at Bin 26, an Italian restaurant on Charles Street in Boston, and had an amazing mussel dish. It was just mussels in marinara, but there was a thick slice of grilled bread, that kind of really porous airy peasant bread that gets super crunchy, olive-oiled and almost blackened in spots, sitting on the bottom of the bowl soaking up the sauce, so you could eat it when the mussels were gone. If I could eat real bread one last time, that's the bread I would want. We also had an incredible Cabernet that tasted like coconut. We went back for a birthday or anniversary or something later that year and it wasn't as good, and they were out of the wine.
I'm sure I can think of others, but those are the standouts right now. Some conclusions:
- I've been to lots of fancy restaurants. Simple foods really are best.
- A lot of memorable meals occurred in Texas and/or involved shrimp. Of course, you can chalk up the first part to the fact that I lived in TX until I was 22, and we tend to form our most intense memories when we're younger. I still think Texas has better food than most places, though. I don't eat shrimp much anymore because John is allergic to it; also it's just not that great when you're not on the Gulf. Most seafood is flown in from wherever anyway (so it's silly when people are squeamish about eating sushi away from a coast), but shrimp is the one thing I've noticed varies wildly in quality from place to place. I never had exceptional shrimp in Boston. Gulf shrimp may suck now too, in a post-Deepwater world.
- None of the food I ate during my two weeks in Europe was particularly delicious or memorable. I think you have to spend a lot to eat well in Europe. I mean, you can just buy bread and cheese, but I tend to disagree that random bread and cheese from Europe is any better than random bread and cheese you can get here. I still obviously had an awesome time, but the food was neither here nor there. The food we ate in Spain, in fact, was straight up bad; when we crossed into France, we bought a rotisserie chicken and devoured it like characters in a Goya painting on the floor of our hotel room. For some reason we ate pizza in Monaco.
- I think of New York City as a great food city but can't pinpoint a great meal I've had there. Maybe in NYC, as in Europe, you have to spend a lot to get past the abundance of mediocrity.