Venice, Burgundy, Paris …

I will be eating my favorite picci pasta.

I will be devouring my weight in ripe persimmons every day.

I will be sampling glorious, stinky French cheeses.

And, most importantly, I will be celebrating my 10th anniversary with my oh-so-handsome and utterly amazing husband. I am one lucky lady. Love rocks!

We are now off on our 3-city European food and wine adventure. Here’s to life, love and wine and cheese for dessert every day. Oh, and persimmons.

I shall share pictures and stories upon our return …

A bientôt

Little Serow

Little Serow does not take reservations.

Little Serow does not allow for any menu choices.

Little Serow does not accept more than 4 in a dinner party.

Little Serow does not allow any substitutions. You eat what you are served and that’s that.

And for all this, you get to stand in line (for an hour and 15 minutes in our case),  to dine at the early hour of 5:30 and pay $45 for their multi-course Thai tasting menu.

Oh it was so worth it. And we are clearly not alone in the sentiment.

By the time this Washington DC  restaurant opened at 5:30, the line outside the unmarked door was at least 80 people deep and snaked down the sidewalk and around the corner. We overheard many in the crowd discussing the wait-times (long), how often they had been to the restaurant (many, many times) and where and when to line up to snag a table in the prime 7 to 8 o’clock-range (30 to 40 people back).

We were third in line and happy with 5:30. Having tried and failed to get in any earlier than 10:15 in the past, we wanted a guaranteed table, especially since we had convinced friends to join us for the trek from Baltimore to D.C. just for dinner.  The couple in front of us (who lined up at 4 o’clock), said they had tried and failed to get in three times, so they were not taking any chances either.

Once inside the Tiffany-blue restaurant, we knew we were in for a treat. The aromas — both exotic and familiar — were heady and as intoxicating as a good whiff of my husband’s expensive Scotch. The warm scent of spices mingling with the fresh scent of citrus and herbs promised the delicate flavor balance that makes Thai and Vietnamese cuisine so appealing — spicy, salty, sour and sweet.

We were not disappointed.

The four of us crunched our way through house-made fried pork rinds that we dabbed in a deep red, flamingly hot spice paste made of catfish, tamarind and chilies.

We fought over our two bowls of rich, coconut soup.

We used bits of sticky rice to scoop up every last chunk of meat, pool of sauce or lone herb from the parade of 5 dishes that followed the pork rinds and soup.

“This is my favorite dish,” one of us would say, the rest of us nodding in agreement, our mouths full with that heavenly spicy/salty/sour/sweet combo.

But then the next dish would appear.

“No, THIS one is my favorite.”

“No, it’s THIS one.” And so it went.

We enjoyed snakehead fish with kaffir lime, chicken livers with hot peppers, sour pork with peanuts and crispy rice balls, pork with crispy garlic and beautifully charred ribs doused with Mekong whiskey.

The dishes on their own were utterly delicious. Delicious as in, yes, I would wait in line all over again (and I plan to). But, what elevated every bite and truly made the meal spectacular were the piles of fresh Asian herbs and vegetables that arrived at the table, along with friendly recommendations from staff as to when and how to eat them.

Grab a leaf of Thai basil or mint to cut through the rich, unctuous liver-based dish.

Crunch a sliver of Thai eggplant or radish to temper a spice or enhance a flavor.

Munch a fresh cucumber slice to quell the peppery flames.

The combinations of flavors and textures were endless.

We are already making plans to return and experience a whole new menu — it changes weekly — and a whole new array of flavors.

I suggest you do the same. Perhaps I’ll see you in line.

Dinner Dance Night

It was last minute on a Friday night when my husband and I, itching to put on our dancing shoes, decided to try out a dinner/dance event at an area hotel.

I knew we were in trouble when the eager young hostess greeted us and shouted, “whatever you can see, you can eat!” I don’t even know what that means. But my weirdo/borderline creepy alert sensor kicked into high gear immediately. My husband and I glanced at each other, eyebrows raised, and tiptoed around the corner and into the “dinner/dance” area of the very small hotel.

Let’s just say the scene was far from the fantasy in my head. So far removed, in fact, that I was as disappointed as a desperate-to-be-wed girlfriend on the receiving end of a small velvet box that contained a Pandora charm rather than a diamond sparkler.

My Vision: White linen tablecloths and candles (tealights at the very least for goodness sake).
Reality Check: Flowery vinyl tablecloths, paper napkins and centerpiece bowls filled with candy conversation hearts.

My Vision: Romantic lighting, glossy furniture and chandeliers reminiscent of a swanky speakeasy.
Reality Check: Rickety tables, uncomfortable metal folding chairs and a knickknack-filled room reminiscent of grandma’s covered sun-room. With a big messy kitchen clearly visible.

My Vision: Ok, I wasn’t expecting a sit down dinner with white-glove service, but come on, I was expecting at least a carving station, a fresh green salad and a glass of red wine.
Realty Check: Kitchen counters piled with random plates of food (Ah, now I understand the “if you see it you can eat it” bit). Limp shrimp cocktail. Blocks of cheese. Baby carrots. Gray meatballs in broth. What appeared to be boiled chicken. Oh, and an oddly sweet warm white wine on offer.

My Vision: Sweeping dance floor, big band music, couples doing renditions of the Waltz, Rumba and Foxtrot on the gleaming hardwood floor.
Reality Check: Old wooden floor marred with an accident-waiting-to-happen raised electrical socket, 3-piece twangy band of sorts, the rare couple doing a stand and sway.

Clearly my romantic notions that conjured up visions of New York City’s The Rainbow Room far exceeded the reality that was the Peralynna Inn in Columbia. I do give them credit for trying, but whatever the event was, it was NOT a dinner/dance. I suppose they did attempt to feed people, but it was nearly impossible to dance to a band that didn’t play dance music. And my husband and I will dance to ANYTHING. We have danced to bad karaoke. We have danced on the horribly uncomfortable Chattahoochee at an outdoor pool party. We have whipped out a Foxtrot in between tables at a restaurant. We have danced when there IS NO DANCING. So when I say the music did not inspire anyone to “get jiggy with it,” I am not kidding.

We would have left immediately after eyeballing the scene, but we were expecting friends. Thankfully, they were great sports about the whole event and the evening was worthwhile as we had the opportunity to catch up with them. Clearly, however, we’ll be getting our dinner and dance kicks elsewhere.

Vacation Dining Highs & Lows

Dining High: Munching charcoal-grilled pork chops with mounds of fresh Greek salad on a sailboat in the Caribbean Sea. Really, who cares what we are eating? Could have been Beef a Roni out of a can given the spectacular views.

The WheelDD boatDDtoes

Dining Low: Said pork chop. It was still raw and gelatinous and jiggly inside. Ah well. Once again — the view. Who wants a belly full of pork anyway when a bikini and a dive into the warm blue waters are on the afternoon agenda?

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh

Dining High: Enjoying a rich, tender, if-I-were-at-home-I-would-pick-up-and-gnaw-the-bone-braised lamb shank. I am not usually even a lamb girl, but I most definitely want to try this at home. And soon. So expect a braised lamb shank on my menu shortly.

Dining Low: Gluey hunks of fried plantain. Greasy, limp, fried plantain chips. Heavy (and fried yet again) patties of mashed plantains that tasted (and felt) like kindergarten paste going down.

Dining High: Milk-fed veal chop. I actually did pick up the chop and go to town on this one. Couldn’t help myself.

Dining Low: Overhearing 4 pesky women interrogate an extremely patient waiter about WHY, WHY, WHY their turkey Parmesan (as listed on the menu) indeed had Parmesan cheese on it.  Actually, this should really be a highlight — pure comedy.

Dining High: The cheese cart at a French restaurant on-board the ship. Oh the cheese!

 

The Per Se Experience

Please go to Per Se. If you like food and enjoy going to restaurants, then do yourself a favor — Go. To. Per Se.

Yes, it’s still just food on a plate, but dining doesn’t get much more exciting than this. It knocked the high-heeled pumps off the City of Light’s famously French restaurant La Tour d’ Argent — which was indeed incredible. But, view of the Eiffel Tour aside, Per Se, quite simply, made me moan.

I will dream about the delicate ribbons of cheese chef Thomas Keller paired with a persimmon cake. I will compare every steak tartare to his. And, who knew a perfectly prepared hunk of sturgeon could make me close my eyes and sigh with pleasure? I don’t even have a sweet tooth, but I only managed to take my hands off the freshly fried doughnuts long enough to open a surprise little blue box from Tiffany’s  — they were THAT GOOD.

It was a dining experience well worth having.

The only mistake of the evening? Thinking it would be a one-time dining adventure for us. Not a chance. I cannot imagine NOT going back for more.