I neither need nor expect gifts, but when given the perfect one, it's hard not to revel in it.
That was the case today when I met a favorite couple for lunch at Amuse and gallery strolling afterwards. To my great surprise, the luncheon was a gift to me in honor of the holidays (which they care nothing about and don't celebrate). And what a gift for an eater!
First, when my my thoughtful friend made the reservation, he had asked for a table away from the fray, so everyone else (median age: white hair plus) was on the far side of the dining room and we were situated at a table near the bar with a lovely view of the grounds. The reflecting pool was half frozen and we saw a woman take a spill on the ice; our vantage point was ideal for an observer type like me.
My present contained everything I could want in a gift of lunch. First there was a bottle of Sette Ventiquattro (also known as 24/7 never-ending pleasure), a Prosecco-style Italian sparkler full of fruit and froth and ideal for toasting one another. Amuse's always-excellent herb bread arrived and we were off and running. The three of us can eat like champs.
Our first course consisted of duck pate with onions, cornichons and micro-greens on perfectly seasoned crostini and lacquered quail with ginger-pineapple pickle. Both beautifully plated, the duck pate sang with the addition of onion and the smokey citrus taste of the quail was unlike any quail I've had. If the meal had ended right there, it would have been memorable.
But instead, we continued with the three most interesting entree options: Oxtail chili with cornbread croutons and cucumber/chive sour cream, mint and oregano-braised lamb, pappardelle, rapini and stewed tomatoes and, finally, jumbo lump crabcake with bacon and white sweet potato hash and apple horseradish slaw.
It was when our entrees arrived that we began playing pass the plates. I started with the chili and it was winter-time wonderful. Perfectly cooked beans, tons of oxtail, croutons to die for which perfectly complemented the chili and a generous glob of sour cream, with a taste reminiscent of tzatziki. If we hadn't planned to trade plates, I might have kept this one for myself.
Until I tasted the crab cake, hash and slaw combo, which took the ubiquitous crab cake and elevated it to a whole new level because of those unique sides. The hash had as much bacon as potato, so you know I loved it and the hint of horseradish did wonderful things for the sweet tartness of the apples. Okay, so maybe I should keep this plate.
But then the lamb arrived and the ribbons of pappardelle wowed me, as did the sheer amount of perfectly cooked lamb. Okay maybe this one was the keeper. This was like a gift where you keep finding more and more things in the box.
And then we did another round of plate sharing until we had finished everything. And even after much discussion, we couldn't declare a winner because all three were so outstanding. Since it was my friends' first visit to Amuse, they were full of superlatives; having been there on many occasions, I knew enough to expect an extraordinary meal.
Despite all the food consumed, none of us hesitated on ordering dessert (you see why I love this couple?), although we did compromise by only getting two instead of three. For seasonal reasons, we got the gingerbread with pumpkin ice cream and pecan sauce and for tradition's sake, the flourless hazelnut chocolate torte. Both came with abundant amounts of freshly whipped cream.
I come from a family of chocoholics who frosts their gingerbread with chocolate ganache (I know, right?), but this combination of pumpkin ice cream and pecan sauce was every bit as good. And, as my friend pointed out, the chocolate torte was loaded with hazelnut pieces, making for an unexpectedly nutty texture. Both were keepers, so to speak, since we devoured them.
There are a lot of things I could be gifted with and love, but a superb meal with good friends is certainly one of my favorites. It may not have come gift-wrapped, but the pleasure of sharing great food with great conversationalists more than makes up for that.
Even if they don't really celebrate the holiday for which they were gifting me. Thank you, my friends.