Sunday, April 3, 2011


by Sheila Connolly

Now that I've made you suffer through all those memories of terrible food, it seems only fair that I ask you about the other end of the spectrum:  the best food you've ever eaten.  What does "best" mean?  I suppose it's anything that you still think about, years later; the benchmark against which you compare restaurant dishes or your own creations.  Or just the first bite of something that made you say "wow!"  You decide.

I've told you that my mother was a rather conservative cook, but I should add that I was a picky eater as a child.  You know--the kind that keeps everything on her plate separated, and eats all the potatoes before starting the chicken.  I am grateful that my mother introduced me to such then-exotic items as asparagus and artichokes at a tender age, and for some reason I embraced those enthusiastically.  But for many years I wouldn't go near onions, raw or cooked.  My mother tried to sneak beets in now and then, and they made me gag (still do, alas, although I'm working on it because the golden ones and the stripey ones are so pretty).

Note that I say "my mother," because my father didn't cook.  He did enjoy good food, and he favored meat and fish.  After my parents split up, when he was between wives and living alone, his idea of cooking was to grill a piece of something on his handy indoor portable grill (which he rarely cleaned because all those fat drippings added flavor), and then take a knife and cut himself a nice slab of ice cream.  Seriously.

My earliest food memories?  Pistachio ice cream with my father (yes, he really liked ice cream).  Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup with my mother (liked the soup, hated the slimy little bits of mushroom).  I think in both cases I was about three.

The biggest change in my eating came the first time I went to France, when I was in college.  I went with a friend, and we stuck to the $5 a day regime, apart from the indulgence of a rental car, so we ate a lot of inexpensive prix fixe meals in small restaurants in small towns.  But, oh, it was a revelation!  Scaredy-cat me was suddenly eating pate and cornichons and whole-grain mustard and obscure shellfish and gooey cheeses--and loving every minute of it.  I never looked back.

But if I have to come up with only one memorable dish, I found it on a much later trip to Paris.  I was traveling with my mother (who had never been abroad) and my then nine-year-old daughter.  One ambled, the other ran, and I was stuck in the middle trying to keep an eye on everyone at once.  Not a combination I recommend, but we all survived. 

One evening we strolled the boulevards in search of dinner and came upon a mid-size restaurant that was only semi-crowded.  I can't even remember the name of it, although I could tell you where it was.  The dish that has etched itself on my memory wasn't even the main course, it was the appetizer:  a salad of tender young greens, pate de fois gras, duck confit, and slices of green apple, all dressed in a mild vinaigrette.  I stopped dead in my (eating) tracks when I tasted it.  It had everything--it was sweet, sour, salty; creamy and crunchy; all perfectly balanced.  Fifteen years later it's still my gold standard for the perfect dish, and I've never found anything to equal it (although I'm happy to keep trying!).  I won't even attempt to recreate it--I'd rather treasure the memory.

What about you?  What is the single most memorable eating experience of your life?  It can be anything, anywhere--your grandmother's signature dish, your vacation splurge (which reminds me, there was that amazing hazelnut gelato from a street cart in Florence...).  Share it with us!

PS.  For the Awful Food contest, I'll give you until midnight tonight to come up with the best of your worst, and then I'll pick a winner.  Which may not be easy!


  1. Shortly before the earthquake in L'Aquila two years ago. I visited. I came upon a restaurant tucked on a side street. There was a courtyard with a well in the center. I ate freshly made fettuccini with wild mushrooms and grilled lamb with sauted eggplant. It's the best meal I've ever eaten. And I live in Italy, remember, where every meal can be memorable. I doubt that the restaurant survived the earthquake, so I treasure the memory even more.

  2. My father made the best meat pasties - this was the only thing that he did, not my mother, because she didn't like them and also couldn't work with the pie dough. He tried to show me how to do them, but now I'm not sure of the recipe. And they were the best, warm right out of the oven and even later on at room temperature as a leftover.

  3. Wow, tough one. On our recent trip to Europe we had so much wonderful food that it's difficult to choose one to mention. Back here in the States, however, my husband and I once went to a lovely little French restaurant (no longer there, unfortunately) and I had the most amazing chocolate mousse dessert I've ever tasted. Now, you need to understand that I don't generally care for dessert. Sure, I love chocolate, but after a great meal at a restaurant, I don't want to ruin it all with a sweet. Weird? Yes. But that's me.

    This mousse, however, was so incredible that every single mouthful was pure joy. So amazing. I've never tasted its equal.

  4. Best food ever? Yorkshire pudding. Real Yorkshire pudding. With butter. Not gluten-free Yorkshire pudding. It just can't come out the same. Sigh. I wish. But I will forever remember the deliciousness of the flaky puffed pastry. My grandmother loved serving roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and string beans, (cut perfectly so, doused in butter and salt). We had the meal at least three or four times a year, and always on Christmas. It is still what I serve on Christmas. I've never had a complaint. And people always want seconds of Yorkshire pudding.


  5. One of my favorites meals is chicken pie (but usually homemade because they are not always good in restaurants).
    In 2009, I visited Edinburgh, Scotland,and in a port's restaurant I ordered a "leeks, mushrooms and chicken pie" that was fabulous.
    To this day, I haven't been able to make one as good.

  6. Oh, it was amazing pasta in a hole in the wall restaurant in Florence when I turned 21. Absolutely fantastic food, and you'd never have known it from the outside of the place.

  7. The first thing that comes to mind is the pulled pork potato skins we had at Woodstock Inn & Brewery last fall in New Hampshire. OMG they were so good! A real close second were the chicken & waffles with maple reduction and fried leeks at Hash House in Las Vegas. Sooooo good!

  8. Maybe not my best meal ever, but when we moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1994, I only knew about salmon from a can. I wrote about my poor cook-challenged mother yesterday - yes, salmon from a can. In any case, my first taste of Cedar Plank Salmon, fresh salmon, in Portland, Oregon was a revelation. Yum, yum!! I've loved grilled salmon ever since and order it all the time still.

  9. Is it tacky to say that Shepard's Pie is my favorite... I've been to the Woodstock Inn also - and wow they had and Allsion is saying what I would say... The pulled pork was very good.. Very good article and now it's time to raid the fridge...

  10. First place to English Stilton served with pear and port at a formal dinner in an Oxford U. dining hall. I’ll never forget it. Second place (like Kay), a salmon dinner, Alaskan salmon in Anchorage with Kona coffee to finish. Sweet memories!

    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse
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