What makes a meal a dream meal? In his 1930 novel Cakes and Ale, Somerset Maugham described a standard British dinner party from the turn of the 20th century. The courses were “soup; fish; a couple of entrées [appetizers]; sorbet, to give you a chance to get your second wind; joint; game; sweet; ice; and savory.”
The “joint” refers to meat, not to the well-known appetite enhancer that any normal human would require to get through this repast.
We’re less greedy today, though I must admit that I left the table groaning from the best meal of my life. It was at Tribute, the award-winning, expensive, French-Asian fusion place in Farmington Hills. Unfortunately, details are lost to history; I wasn’t writing it up for Metro Times, so I didn’t have to take mental or other notes. And this lack of writerly obligation unquestionably contributed to my pleasure.
So ingredient No. 1, for me, is being able to relax and turn off the work part of your brain. That has to be a universal — would anyone say that his or her dream meal was a business lunch?
The Tribute dinner was a birthday party hosted by a dear friend, for herself. The company was exceptionally congenial — old friends, celebrating someone we loved.
So ingredient No. 2 is good company. Again, that lets out the business lunch.
And of course, the food was perfect. Chosen by then chef Takashi Yagihashi, each course (and there were many) hit new heights of flavor, leaving the gasping diners to wonder what other chefs did with their time.
It goes without saying that the food in a dream meal tickles taste buds you didn’t even know you had. And the setting? My preference would be outside, in the summer, on the water, in the city, the latter for reasons of Detroit boosterism.
Your server should be knowledgeable and democratic, not servile. He or she should not call your party “you guys,” nor appear every two minutes to ask for a “how we doin’?” or “still working?” report. I nominate Noelle Charron, whom I met at Atlas Global Bistro last spring, as the model of a modern server. (And I’ll mention, in passing, that long ago, in 2003, I also experienced the worst of servers in the same restaurant: He offered to read us his poetry.) Noelle now works only at Ruth’s Chris in Troy.
In what follows, I’ll take relaxation, good companions and lovely atmosphere as givens, avoid all thoughts of cost, and construct a course-by-course feast. The only restriction is “from a metro-area restaurant that’s still in business” — though my mind strays to that lunch of carpaccio and arugula, on a terrace in Lucca, Italia, with a glass of vino tinto and my dad footing the bill. … You’ll find them all on the MT Web site.
I won’t attempt to prescribe a wine to fit each course, but my dream meal would entail “tastes,” where you can order half a glass at a time and mix and match as you go along. Vinotecca and Three, a Tasting Bar, are two area restaurants that offer this method.
The following dishes may or may not make the best sense as an ensemble; they’re simply the best (I can remember) in their categories, with a tilt toward autumn flavors.
Soup: Peach-basil, as prepared by the folks from the east-side carryout Dish. I sampled this cool delight one scorching summer. The lusciousness of the peaches-and-cream was made refreshing by the slight bite of the herb.
Appetizer: Imam bayaldi, originally from the Alan Manor, now served at its successor, the Mill Street Manor in Windsor. This smoky dish is simply eggplant, tomatoes and olive oil, baked till they give up their essence.
Or the meson especial at TuCan Tango: chorizo with scallops and portobellos, grilled and served with a lemon sauce. Each of the flavors is also reflected in the sauce.
For a simpler starter, I’d go with the bread and olives and a little pot of lemon-infused olive oil with orange zest, from Porcino in Windsor, or the luscious, briny, marinated olives at Centaur Bar downtown.
Salad: Atlas Global Bistro’s house salad of spring greens with pine nuts, a real tomato, red onion and shavings of cheese, brought together by an excellent vinaigrette.
Or MamO’s spinach and asparagus with feta and a honey-poppyseed-mustard dressing. The spinach is gently cooked and warm, the effect pungent.
Or spinach leaves with warm roasted winter squash, caramelized apples and curls of white cheddar, again from Porcino.
Entrée: Breast of duck with parsnip puree, roasted apricots and fig jus, from MamO in Windsor. The crisp-edged medallions are covered with arugula, the apricots add a burst of tart-sweet brightness, and the parsnips are melt-in-your-mouth buttery, both slightly tart and slightly sweet.
Just as good: Porcino’s osso buco or duck confit. Both the tender veal and the risotto that come with it are almost too rich, the risotto creamy and dense. The deep, opulent flavor of the duck is cut by a tart red cabbage that melts in the mouth.
Dessert: Pumpkin-chocolate crème brûlée at Bamboo in Windsor: three great flavors in just the right proportions. Runners-up: McNally’s bread pudding with Jameson’s Irish Whisky sauce, in Corktown. Or house-made super-premium ice cream from Shatila Bakery & Café, in Dearborn. If forced to choose, I’d take the lemon or the caramel.
But I’ve had enough of being forced to choose among fabulous foods. Psychologists call this an “approach-approach conflict” — too much of a good thing. I think I’ll go make a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich.Jane Slaughter dines for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org